The magic of money is a very complex matter. Much more happens than an exchange of time for money to make an economy but this is obvious. What isn’t obvious and has been covered over in our historical moment is that this abstract measurement of value in money is a relationship having more to do with credit and debt. I owe quite a bit to David Graeber’s penetrating anthropology of debt in a great many civilizations spanning the globe. To give a quick peek: markets have always developed along with military States and they use class divisions and the imperative to pay off one’s debts to keep people producing for it. Money requires separation of debt and credit and a large stratifying state, but other relationships are possible involving exchange.
I certainly don’t agree that we must look at ourselves through the lens of money or even own it as a natural fact (there is a guy out there I heard about that gave up on money in America); but contingently, in these times of high Capitalism, one’s personal wealth is a dominating factor evaluating and defining oneself. It need not be this way and abstract measuring of interpersonal relations tends to hamper communal existence. In fact, the excessive focus on the self and personalized lifestyle choices pervading our culture can be linked to the economic efficiency created in isolating individuals and valuing them based on a number. Getting together and celebrating agreed values is harder when money looms over those people’s relationships: it creates “haves and have nots”.
The free circulation of money opens up many opportunities to connect a range of pursuits to one’s life, but it also inspires some of the worst urges in us: greed, corruption of the body politic, ignoring mass plight of the poor, and hardening class divisions. One cannot be negligent about finances and survive in our world, but interpreting money today is a big battleground for forgin new possibilities of relating to one another. You know, without all those negatives. *understatement*