The Moral Issues of Money

From the article:

Professor Hülsmann phrased it this way:

Ethical problems of production have been assessed in a great number of industries, ranging from agriculture to textile manufacturing in developing countries to pharmaceuticals. Today only a few important industries have escaped such scrutiny. The most important of these is the production of money. Money is omnipresent in modern life, yet the production of money does not seem to warrant any moral assessment. (2008, p. 1)

A perfect example of this “nondiscussion” came through my pastor’s sermon last weekend.

Let me first say this, though: My pastor is an awesome guy. He passionately loves God and people. He preaches from his heart — that is, with conviction — and he continually challenges me both morally and intellectually. I could not ask for a better pastor.

But on last Sunday I was asking for a better philosopher.

My problem was this: He was talking about the “ethics” of handling, spending, and earning money, and yet he never even defined what money is. It was like talking about war without mentioning weapons, or like discussing religion without uttering the word “God.”

Something was missing.

His sermon came from the book of James, chapter 5, verses 1 to 6:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Now, if you’re a “rich person,” this passage seems quite grim. But it’s not that simple of a read. With a little analysis and clear thinking, it is evident — and my pastor pointed this out — that James isn’t speaking to “the rich” per se, but to the capitalists — that is, to business owners, wealthy industrialists, and those who employ the masses. James says to them, Do not exploit.

James warns against four types of exploitation: (1) money debasement, (2) defrauding employees, (3) gluttony, and (4) legal/civil aggression.

Now my pastor did a fine job on addressing points 2, 3, and 4. He instructed us on the ethics of being good employees and workers. He talked about the ethics of running a business in a way that is fair and (economically) gracious to its employees. He even talked about the ethics of spending our money in a prudent and virtuous manner. Simply put, he made the case that money is value neutral — that is, it’s not “bad” to have money — and therefore it is what you do with your money that determines if you are an ethical (business) person.

The question remains, though, what is money?Download PDF And after that — what is ethical money?