The Love of Money...and Handsaws

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
March 26, 2006

The theory that money can't buy happiness has always seemed more than a bit implausible to me''especially when I was just out of college, broke and eager to test the hypothesis.

I was more a student of the 'the lack of money is the root of evil' school of thought. At least that was an experience with which I had intimate familiarity.

My wife and I were happy, but I think I would have been happier if our family car, affectionately dubbed the poopmobile, hadn't needed another gallon of water in the radiator every 30 minutes. As I ironed one of my two dress shirts each evening before going to my first real job each morning, I couldn't help but think that a little more money would do wonders for my happiness, if not my professional appearance.

Money gets a bad rap in our society, mostly from people who wish they had more of it, or those who think someone else has more than their 'fair share.' It's interesting to see the things that make people jealous.

A friend of mine collects saws''simple hand saws, the kind with wooden handles that you might use to cut a 2x4. He has old saws, new saws. Saws from around the country. Saws made from unique woods. Saw blades that are indestructible. Old saw blades that barely still exist. This fellow is a bit strange, and so is his hobby. Few people, however, would consider either him or his collection immoral.

What about the man who collects money? Should he be considered any different? Why do so many people look at the man who collects money as some sort of financial pervert, a soulless miser, committed to make every peasant work on Christmas Eve?

We're jealous of the man with money, and we often assume, wrongly, that wealth can be accumulated only by taking it from another person.

Ours is a culture that loves money, as long as we have it, not someone else. Mark Twain noticed an interesting cultural phenomenon: 'Few people can stand prosperity. Another man's, that is.'

No state lottery tempts gambling addicts with the prospect of hundreds of rare handsaws. No one would ever judge the value of a man by the number or scarcity of the old saws in his garage. But we do it all the time with respect to money.

What does it mean to discuss 'how much a man is worth'? When we ask the question in our culture, we certainly aren't discussing or measuring generosity, social contributions, intellectual capacity or spiritual health. When we ask how much a man is worth, we want to know how much money he has.

Our universally accepted definition of worth is almost exclusively in monetary terms, yet we then turn around and wonder why our children are so much more materialistic than we were at similar ages.

How could they be any different?

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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