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Money: Is it Really the Root of All Evil?

Throughout history, wise men and women have commented on money. Which one do you agree with?

  • "Money alone sets the world in motion." Publius Syrus, 42 BC

  • "Remember that time is money." Benjamin Franklin, 1748

  • "How pleasant it is to have money!" Arthur Hugh Clough, early 19th century writer


"Money is the root of all evil" is perhaps the most famous adage. Unfortunately, it's a misquote. The actual words come from Timothy 6:10: "The love of money is the root of all evil." If you think about those two added words, the original meaning changes. In fact, 8 verses later in Timothy, the rich are encouraged to use their wealth "that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute."

I can't help but think of all the good works and "readiness to distribute" exemplified by people like Bill and Melinda Gates, who in 2004 gave $3 billion to their foundation, and there are Oprah's numerous charities, like her Angel Network. There are the Rockefellers, who have been giving money to charity for decades, and Ted Turner, who seems more obsessed with giving money away than making it and says philanthropy is "better than sex." In 2005, Slate.com's list of 60 most generous donors totaled $4.3 billion-with the smallest donations at $20 million and the largest at over $400 million.

Who benefits from all this philanthropy? All kinds of people and places and programs. McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc earmarked her donation to the Salvation Army for construction of more centers where the indigent could find food and a place to sleep. The Gates Foundation is organized around fighting killer diseases around the world. Many benefactors give money to universities for scholarships and to fund research that benefits countless people. Others give to environmental and animal welfare organizations.

Of course, the average person is no slouch when it comes to giving, either. Donations to the Red Cross flood in whenever there is a disaster: 9/11, the tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina are just a few examples of when ordinary people showed their generosity. The average American gives a little over $400 a year to various charities, and that doesn't count money given to religious organizations or the value of personal property they donate.

Of course, there are plenty of immensely wealthy people who are complete misers. They won't give anyone a dime. You've probably seen Dickens's A Christmas Carol a dozen times. Scrooge woke up just in time, but there are plenty of Scrooges out there who never will. Loving money just for the sake of being rich, and refusing to share your wealth with others, that may indeed be a teensy bit on the evil side.

I'm reminded of a boss I once had. Born into a wealthy family, he was a multi-millionaire at 26. My desk was right outside his office, and I have to admit I eavesdropped on his phone conversations. It wasn't hard to do when he'd call up a friend and shout heartily into the phone "Hey Mark! Let's go to Switzerland this weekend for some skiing!" I asked him once what it felt like to be rich. He explained it like this:

"The only thing having money does is free you from worrying about money."

The only thing? I was struggling to make ends meet at the time, and freedom from worrying about money seemed like it would be the most wonderful thing in the world. It wasn't that I wanted to go out on a shopping rampage. I just wanted to be able to pay the rent and eat something other than spaghetti for dinner. Of course, being without money was something he'd never experienced.

But let's get back to our quotes. I like them all. Having money is indeed pleasant. Not having it is decidedly unpleasant, especially when the bills roll in. And, to rephrase Publius Syrus, money does make the world go 'round. My favorite of the three quotes is Ben Franklin's, though: Remember, time is money.

You exchange the 8 or 10 hours a day you spend at work for money. The time doesn't belong to you; it belongs to your boss. The company decided how much money your time was worth when you were hired. It may be a lot; it may be insultingly small. Either way, what would it feel like to control both your time and your money? If you work 2,000 hours a year (fifty 40-hour weeks) at $18 an hour, your gross income is $36,000. Suppose you could average twice that hourly wage. You could either get 1,000 hours of your time back, or you could still work 2,000 hours and make $72,000!

What if you didn't have to spend an hour or two commuting every work day? That's 500 hours a year in traffic, burning up gas and feeling frustrated. If you spent that 500 hours at home, averaging $36 an hour, you could add another $18,000 to your income. Now you'd be at $90,000!

Of course, this is just an illustration of how true Benjamin Franklin's quote is. He understood that a person should be able to decide what their own time is worth. It also illustrates the wisdom of considering a home-based business where you are in control of time and you decide how much it's worth.

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