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Mammon: Best Idol?

There’s a famous expression, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Which is a damn shame, because money fucking rules. I don’t just mean in the typical sense, in that money opens up a lot of doors and also lets you buy cool ass shit – I mean in the sense of its utility and the different abstractions money can represent. For example, there’s a pretty popular movement right now called FIRE, meaning financial independence / early retirement.

The goal of the movement is for its followers to break down their expenditures into a monthly/yearly spend, extrapolate the amount of money needed to live out their remaining lives, and save money to hit that financial goal and live in retirement. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have to quit their jobs – this financial independence opens up the door to them doing whatever they want. What’s interesting here is that money is transformed into essentially units of living time – that is, X amounts of dollars now represents Y number of days/months/years in which a person can subsist. As they say, time is money. But in this case, money is time.

Here’s another conversion: money to social status.¬† The more money you have, the more mobility you have in social status. This gets mixed up a bit with upbringing and social class, because it’s also possible to have a glass ceiling on social status despite your richness. How so?¬†take a look at the concept of the nouveau riche – new money. Think of The Great Gatsby: Tom and Daisy can shit on Gatsby’s parties as ostentatious and flashy – while he may be in the same stratosphere of wealth, he’s still culturally inferior. His concept of displaying wealth is the poor man’s envisioning of how rich people live. Conversely, Tom’s form of wealth is how rich people envision the rich living. It’s another form of putting the poor in their place. “Sure, you seem wealthy, but you know you’re just playing at being rich. You still ain’t shit.”

There’s also the most obvious conversion – money to influence/power. You can see this in political lobbying and businesses. Businesses in particular is an interesting application of converting money into social influence. You take money and human capital and use it to solve a problem in the real world. If you think about it more abstractly, that’s essentially the core concept of a business: applied problem solving. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem. Or, as is the case with all multinationals, more problems getting solved. Its’ obviously good to diversify your business streams as you grow, because the problem you solve might not be a problem in the future. Look at any number of industries that’s been superseded by upgraded technology. You see it happening with television now – the problem of people spending their free time. Television is no longer the only game in town: there’s tons of other forms of media competing for people’s attentions, which lessens the amount of money television broadcasters can make as a whole. You see them resorting to bundling strategies and crippling new media companies (ISP throttling) to keep a competitive advantage, which leads to my next point: At a certain point, you start to see companies strategize around maximizing profit, instead of solving a problem.

Going back to the television example: the core problem that television broadcasters and ISPs solve are no longer the main priority – that is, delivering content. These companies want to maintain current systems and just extract more wealth from subscribers. Television is having a hard time because people are simply leaving the television packages altogether. However, ISPs have the advantage in that many areas are monopolies, so subscribers can’t leave to go to different broadcasters. Ideally, this is the point where government steps in and is like, “Hey, quit dicking around and do your damn job”. But then you get into regulatory capture, and, well… you can see the current state of broadband in the US. It kinda sucks.

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