Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?

Via Jeff Bogart
on Mar 4, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
Photo: Keith Ramsey

Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?

I recently read the book Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path to Abundance. The headline on the introduction page immediately caught my eye. It said:

“No money, no spiritual life! Money is humanity’s greatest invention.”

This stopped me in my tracks. Before reading this quote, I thought I’d heard just about every quip about money. Obviously, this got my attention.

The authors Kulanada and Dominic Houlder consider money to be “almost a magical invention.”
They further state, “Without money, there would be no civilization.” (Okay, now I was hooked).

 Without money, they claim, we would have to do everything for ourselves. Grow our own food, make our own clothes, etc. They write, “At first this way of life may seem romantic, pure, and even spiritual, but we wouldn’t feel that way for long.” Many of us would soon starve to death and the hardy folks who survived would “spend all their time foraging, working, sweating, aching–all just to scratch out an existence.”

    Mankind discovered a long time ago that we are interconnected and if we want to enjoy any leisure time, we need a specialization that we can offer others.

At first, this specialization took the form of a barter system, but it had its limits. Bartering only works if two people are in the same place at the same time and have exactly what the other needs. For example, let’s say I need medicine, and you need a gallon of gasoline–but I can only offer you a shirt, and you can only offer me a loaf of bread; we can’t make an exchange.

So this inefficient system was replaced by the creation of professions that offered specialized goods and services.  Money evolved as the most efficient way of compensating one another.

The authors of the book also wrote that “money is a triumph of mind over the material world. The man-made miracle of money can enhance life, stretching our imagination and opening up new, inspiring possibilities.”

Certainly, money allows us to live in ways that were unimaginable to people centuries ago.  In fact, we live better, more comfortably, and longer than royalty did back then.

Money has allowed for significant lifestyle advances such as health and longevity. It also gives us ample leisure time–time to practice yoga, the religion of our choice, or to enjoy our favorite art medium.

Sure, hunter gatherers had religion and art, but how many people of that time actually saw the cave paintings at Lascaux ? Beyond their own inhabitants, I’m guessing very few.

Money acts as a medium of exchange and is our standard of measurement. But it is complex.   Like a double-edged sword, it can represent opportunity as well as be used wisely or recklessly.

   Some argue, like our two authors, that without money we would not have advanced civilization, spirituality or enlightenment.

There’s a popular story of three servants who were each given ten talents (money) by their master.

All of the servants eventually returned the talents, but two of the servants figured out how to create opportunity with them, and the master was pleased.  Look at money not only as a measure of self-worth, but also as a medium for opportunity.

Editor: Brianna Bemel



About Jeff Bogart

Jeff Bogart is a Registered Investment Advisor who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He has been practicing yoga for over eight years and has been helping people with their investment and planning issues for over 25 years. He recently decided to merge two of his passions, yoga and investing and created the website He and his Belgian sheepdog, Carlos Santana, participate in Therapy Dog programs, specifically, hospital and nursing home visits and children’s reading programs.


5 Responses to “Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?”

  1. Charlotte Wyvill says:

    I find the point of view that money makes spirituality possible to be deeply flawed. I agree I am incredibly lucky to spend my time teaching and practicing yoga, that I am able to make a living doing what I love is amazing. However, to me spirituality and the purpose of practicing yoga is about feeling more deeply connected to one another and the planet. I think the reason we feel so disconnected in the first place has to do with money. If we spent our time making our own clothes, growing our own food, working, sweating, foraging and aching – as much as I love my practice – I don't think we would need yoga so much. We would be living it all day every day, connecting to the planet, the food we eat and the people we share it with. I am not saying life would be perfect or beautiful or romantic, but one thing it would be is spiritual.

  2. timful says:

    The problem with money is it teaches us to value our experience for what it could be traded for, as if everything is interchangeable, and we wish to be rid of what we have and acquire what we don't. Yet, each moment in life is unique. Nothing is interchangeable. A $1000 painting is different from a $1000 vacation. If we drive everything down to a single common denominator there is not much left. We learn not to appreciate a sunset because it is free, and to covet a handbag because it is expensive.

  3. […] After working as a financial planner for over 25 years, I’ve learned that it’s not about the money. It’s about our relationship with money. And like any other relationship, our relationship with […]

  4. […] 2. cooking, and 1. language). One year ago today, elephantjournal posted an article asking, “Is Money Humanity’s Greatest Invention?“ And here is an interesting short discussion on BBC radio about humanity’s best […]

  5. Natali_78 says:

    Well, spirituality is extremely important. Money give us an opportunity to make our life better and interesting, if you can money you can enjoy the best things in life, you can choose interesting and expensive hobbies, travel and see the world. You can make your life full of events. Money do not bring us happiness, but we can buy things that make us happy or make our beloved happy. A lack of money make people sad, for example when they should borrow or apply to online lending company [email protected] they do not feel really comfotable, like they would feel in case they had money and be totally financially independent. But anyway, it's not worth to forget about sprituality and remember who you are while you are making money and raising your wealth.