I met a very interesting gentleman last week. He’s the chair of the board of a foundation that works with school boards to integrate immigrant youth. He explained that he’d been very lucky in life, and all appearances seemed to agree. His home was inner city, gigantic and hyper-modern. But from his elevated vantage, he sees a number of problems with our society. The crux of it all, however, comes down to the conflation of power with money. If we could divorce power from money, in his opinion, all would be well.
Is money a source of power? There is obviously economic power attached to money. If I have no money, I can’t buy what I want. The more money I have, the more I can buy goods or services. If I want someone to do something for me, such as wash my car or clean my house, I simply need to be able to pay the market price. There are some things, however, which don’t have a market price because our society deems them dangerous (illegal) or priceless. An example of something that’s priceless is democracy, where we don’t have the right to buy or sell votes.
Political power doesn’t reside solely in government. Most companies have an element of office politics, which is simply another way of saying that not everyone has the same amount of influence. Usually, those with more influence, whether from a position of authority or from individual charisma, have an outsized influence on decision-making. At the same time, they often receive an outsized salary. This idea raises the question of whether the money is the source of power or the result of power?
I believe (without any proof) that people who value money will use their power, to whatever degree they can, to gain more money. They are also likely to be influenced by people who have more money, likely in the hope of emulating their perceived success. People who don’t value money, however, will not only use their power for other purposes, but they are unlikely to be swayed by those who have money.
The situation is compounded, in my mind, by the taboo we have in our Western society, of talking about how much money we have or spend. Besides the gentleman in the hyper-modern house, I am very rarely able to tell how much money someone has or earns. As such, I generally assume by default that they have “about as much as me.” In that case, I must rely on other clues to develop a sense of the power balance that makes up our interactions. In the end, I don’t believe that money has any inherent ability to bestow power. I agree that our society would be better if people worried a little less about money and a little more about helping those who need it. But even that thought becomes non-sensical when I recall that money is simply a means of trade, and whether we help others by giving money, by giving time, by giving good advice or just by being a friend, it’s all helpful.
Do you think money brings power? How do you develop your influence?