Money is Not Energy.

Via Carolyn Elliott
on Mar 5, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

Money is only energy to the extent that all inert pieces of paper are. Otherwise, it’s an instrument of debt.

{The following is based on reply to the wonderful Elinor Predota—both to her comments on my recent post about Love & Anarchy and my interest in gift economy and to her post about her purpose for money which takes into consideration Marx and Durkheim}

Like most of us spiritual folks, I’m interested in earning money and spending money in with integrity. To me this means both receiving & giving gifts and also payment for products and services that contribute to the shifting of our world out of its current difficult state. I’m not against making money or using it, but I’m very interested in transitioning to a sacred economy centered in gift ethics, because I’m  fundamentally suspicious about the nature of money as it exists in our present system.

This means I get especially grossed-out when I hear the New Age axiom, “money is energy.” That hopeful metaphor, meant to assuage our doubts about our worth and enable us to become more prosperous, is actually a bitterly incorrect idea that helps to foster the yucky state of affairs currently enjoyed by our global economy.

Since we’ve set money up as interest-bearing debt (which means whenever money is created, more debt is created—so that there’s always more debt than there is money in the world) we’ve made it so that it actually encourages the creation of scarcity, competition, and hoarding. In the way things are presently work, it requires a broad mind and a deep sense of principle to live as you and I want to live—without hoarding, with lots of connection.

In other words, if you’re a person of principle, you have to actively work against the built-in tendencies of debt-money.

That’s why I’m not able to get on board with the notion that “money is energy”—because it’s not.

Energy is energy. Money is an abstraction, a flawed human fiction that actually most often hinders energy from going where it’s needed. How much important work is there in the world which needs to be done—restoring ecosystems, educating children—which won’t be done because there’s ‘no money in it’? Money as we know it gains in value as it’s hoarded.  It never decays.  It never dies.  There’s much more incentive to hang on to it in giant piles then there is to spread it around. Money is a tricky means of channeling energy and limiting energy, it is not energy itself.

The poet Ezra Pound liked to say that the notion that “money is energy” constituted a “satanic transubstantiation” because it falsified the facts about where energy really exists: in nature, in people, and in the divine.

The idea that “money is energy” is also a “satanic transubstantiation” because it draws our attention away from the real mystery of transubstantiation and incarnation: the presence of miraculous divine love in ordinary life. Jesus (who had a lot of great mojo) said “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” By “Mammon” he meant the notion of the separate, egoistic self that strives for control through leveraging material wealth and power. You can’t serve both God and Mammon because God is an ultimate unity that transcends separation and egoism.

Saying that “money is energy” when money as we know it (and as Jesus knew it) is designed to be scarce is a lie.

Energy isn’t scarce. Energy is infinite and abundant while money is finite and limited. We have enough energy, enough resources to heal and care for everything and everyone that lives upon this earth. But we don’t accomplish that care because the agreed-upon illusion of money hypnotizes us into behaving as if our love is scarce.

Here’s a prime example: there’s no shortage of houses in the United States.  Houses abound.  There’s plenty of gorgeous houses standing empty. And yet there’s hundreds of thousands of homeless people. The abundance, the plenitude is there.  Yet homeless people can’t go live in the empty houses because they lack money. We have police forces, laws, judges, courts, prisons fully ready to prevent people from living in those empty houses.  Does that make any sense at all? Does that sound remotely compassionate or just?

I’ll go ahead and say no, it doesn’t. Because justice and compassion are built into our hearts.  They’re not built into our money.  And money as it presently exists acts as a hard veil that very often prevents us from seeing and acting upon the true impulses of our hearts.

As you can see, I spend a lot of time thinking about this and I’m glad that you do, too. It’s an important time to be thinking deeply about the nature of economy and the purpose and structuring of currency. A thinker who really inspires me on the topic is Lewis Hyde who wrote The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.


Photo: [sushi♥ina]


Editor: Kate Bartolotta


About Carolyn Elliott

Carolyn Elliott is a bad bitch with a bodhisattva vow. She's also the internet's favorite writing teacher. You can grab her free lesson on The Dangerous Secret to Growing Your Online Audience to 1000 Raving Fans by clicking here. Carolyn also co-edits BAD WITCHES magazine and teaches courses on practical magic. Carolyn is the author of the cult-favorite creativity book, Awaken Your Genius, and has a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in Critical and Cultural Studies. She currently resides in Ubud, Bali where she spends a lot of time writing and doing yoga. What's Next? On November 16th, 2015, registration will open for THRILL, Carolyn's virtual masterclass on writing for the social web, growing your online audience, and getting paid. To find out more about THRILL and be alerted when registration opens, make sure you sign up for Carolyn's free lesson and email list by clicking here. 


3 Responses to “Money is Not Energy.”

  1. ahamsa says:

    Hi Carolyn. I've been pondering on this post of yours, mulling it over. I agree with you completely about there being nothing special about money as regards it being energy, as opposed to, say, mud or rocks or the curtains I'm looking at right now. Everything is energy, right? Nothing special about money there.

    There is something that the New Age 'money is energy' mantra is trying to reach towards, though, that is worth considering. I think what it's reaching towards is the need to make money flow, circulate, move; the need to make money do something (and I don't mean sitting in a bank 'earning' interest).

    The 'money is energy' idea strips money of its ethical and moral component, by pretending that money just appears out of thin air. When we think, though, of money in terms of flow, we have to think about where the money has come from, where it's going to, and what systems and relationships it's supporting and undermining on the way.

    None of us can escape inclusion and implication in the systems which make the global economy as it currently stands so toxic. But we can at a minimum change our thinking about money and exchange, and experiment with it.

    The gift economy is one way of doing that. Local currency and LETSystems are another way of doing a similar thing, allowing people their attachment to the idea of exchanging something for something, while at the same time pointing up the imaginary nature of money. Taking money as far outside of mainstream economic systems as possible, into ethical mutuals and small / solo businesses is another way (and the one I'm exploring and will be experimenting with).

    In all of this, we need to keep expanding our horizons: beyond our personal concerns, beyond our neighbourhood, beyond our cultural and economic context, beyond the boundaries of our nation, and beyond People Like Us.

    I'm really enjoying our conversation! Let's keep exchanging ideas 🙂


  2. Hi Elinor! Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness and your reply! — Yes, I totally agree with you— the idea that "money is energy" reaches towards the right idea that money should flow. I guess I'm just of the opinion that the way we as a global society create and organize currency needs to change before that flow can be realized on the major scale that it needs to be in order to alleviate the present inequity. — I think a major step in that direction would entail switching from an interest-accruing currency to a negative-interest or demurrage currency. In the mean time, it's certainly the case that we as individuals can do our part to make flow happen, even though it's a bit of an uphill battle within the current economic system.

  3. […] I think I know why. They believe they will. It seems like a bummer sometimes that it comes so easily to some and not to others. I want it to be just as easy for the “do-gooders” (that’s what I’m calling people in the helping professions) as it is for people who already have a lot of money. […]