Additional "Philo$ophy" Articles


Money and Choice, An Introduction
Published: 10/19/2013 2:02:17 PM


Money and Choice, An Introduction
Money isn’t inherently bad. I don’t have any statistics to back it up, but I would bet that one of the most misquoted verses in scripture is 1 Timothy 6:10: "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” which often gets incorrectly paraphrased as "Money is the root of all evil.” While money isn’t the root of all evil, it isn’t necessarily good either. Money is merely a tool, a neutral tool, which can be leveraged to serve good or evil. Money does give you choices, and choices come packaged with moral responsibility. The more money you have, the more choices you have to make about how to use it. The less money you have, your financial choices tend to become more limited. If I barely make enough to scrape by paycheck to paycheck, I’m most likely going to choose to pay my rent, utilities, and buy food. I don’t have to worry about what to do with the extra, because there isn’t any extra (although I may try to create "extra” through debt and credit cards, but this merely limits future choices). But if I’m Phil Mickelson and am pulling in 40 some million a year, I’m going to pay my bills, splurge on some big ticket items, take some nice vacations, give some away, and still have a lot left over that needs to be managed (even if he does have to pay California taxes). Most of us probably fall somewhere in between, we pay our bills, and we have some left over and must "choose” what to do with it. Do we choose to spend it? Do we choose to save it? Do we choose to give it away? This two-part series is meant to further examine "Money and Choice”.
 Barry Schwartz, a psychologist and professor at Swarthmore College, gave a TED talk in 2006 which offered a compelling case that the abundance of choice in our industrialized western world is actually making us more miserable. While conventional wisdom says that greater choice equals greater good, Schwartz sees it differently. With 175 different types of salad dressing at his grocery store, 6.5 million potential combinations of components to put together a stereo at the electronics store, and a virtually unlimited number of investment options in our companies 401k, the infinitude of choices often causes paralysis and anxiety. I can relate. I’m by nature a pretty analytical person and love to research things (just ask my wife, I can drive her nuts at times). I’ve literally stood in the deodorant aisle at Walgreen’s for 30 minutes or more on numerous occasions analyzing which is the "perfect” deodorant. Is it a good value? Do I like the smell? Is the aluminum content strong enough but not too strong? Is it gel or spray or a roller ball or organic? And after I finally make what I think is the perfect choice (after walking up to the checkout, and then changing my mind and going back a few times), am I ultimately happy with my decision? No, usually not. I usually have buyer’s remorse and feel unsettled with my decision; even if it is the best deodorant on the market. Why? Because the abundance of choices produces unrealistically high expectations that can’t possibly be met. It doesn’t matter if I have the best deodorant, because the second best deodorant is pretty much the exact same. I’ve never received any compliments on the scent, I still sweat when I work out, and my undershirts still get yellow stains (which I learned aren’t from sweat but from the sweat interacting with the anti-perspirant, a tangent I know). So how are we to live in the age of abundant choice? Schwartz argues two things: 1) that we need to have realistic expectations, and 2) that we need to place limits on our decision making process.
While Schwartz’s insights are quite fascinating, we have to keep in mind that he approaches the issue as a professional psychologist, one who studies human behaviors. While there’s nothing wrong with psychology (don’t want to offend any psych majors), how does our faith inform money and choice from a theological perspective? Stay tuned for part 2…

Contributed by Jon Graf

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