Interrelations between Money and Moral

Aug 6, 2019 by

Mr. Bernd Villhauer, director of the institute of the “Weltethos” or Global Ethics Institute at the University of Tübingen, gave us a short introduction into some basic questions concerning freedom, money and ethics. The main part of the session consisted of an interactive group work, activating us to use our minds to gather thoughts about different scenarios of social organization concerning a differing (or non) use of money. The idea behind the global ethics concept is that despite different cultures, locations and religions humans share a universal core of common ethics, in other words an overlapping moral consensus.

What has money to do with ethics? According to our lecturer, it is relevant because it not only shapes our conducts, but is also deeply intertwined with power relations, is a key element for all economic purposes and works as a transcultural force. Villhauer presented debt, interest, accumulation, dislocation and injustice as the basic ethical problems associated with the existence of money.

The task for the second time slot consisted in creating possible scenarios for the state of BokUtopia: Group 1 dealt with the scenario of No Money comprising of a radical sharing society; Group 2 with the scenario of Free Market where no currency was mandatory and the free market rules everything; Group 3 brought the scenario of Ecological Money into being where the members elaborated on systems where nature is valued and externalities get internalized; whereas Group 4 dealt with the scenario of Money for the poor, installing a universal basic income. Even though in the brief period of time the imaginaries could not be elaborated completely, they gave interesting insights and raised several questions of moral.

Concluding the different positions, it was suggested that even though it seems that each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, a mixture of them could fit into a universal scenario to deal with money in a way that is not in conflict with global ethics.

Stressing some of the aspects raised in the session, I want to critically discuss three aspects:

I wonder whether the statement “money was there from the very beginning” is true or if it is rather a naturalisation of a social artefact. What could be the reasons for this possible fact? Is it perhaps the utility of money? It might also be rather a path-dependency – one time started, it is very difficult or perhaps impossible to abolish it. One supporting argument would be that it is really hard to imagine how a world without money would work. Nevertheless, there are self-organized communes and collectives which function without money or use money as a commons.

Thinking through the different scenarios we came up with, it seems as the existence of money and the form the monetary system is shaped, has huge implications for the whole organization of our society. Concerning this, I ask myself which hidden implications there are and if these are rather for the good or the bad. For example, the “Money for the poor”-scenario seems to be capable to guarantee a basic income for everyone as well as a cap for income. Others might argue that this cap is not just, as people who work a lot do not have a profit out of it. Simultaneously, the No Money-scenario seemed like a lot of wishful thinking and was based on a quite positive conception of humans.

A third aspect I would like to stress is exchange logics. In my opinion a logic of exchange – if we give something we can expect something in return – is quite inherent in our society. For myself, I am not completely convinced if that is a good institution from a moral perspective. Maybe it is more important to set living beings needs as a starting point, whether something is given back or not.

In this context there are a few remaining questions to reflect on: How does the existence of money change our individual and collective behavior? How deeply rooted is the knowledge about money in us, how does it structure our thoughts and values? How does money structure our own society? Which differences do we see in comparison to other societies/social contexts? If the monetary system changes, does it necessarily mean that the whole system changes? Can we create a monetary system that suits the universal ethics better than the actual system does?

The existence of money and the shape of the monetary system has huge implications for the organization of our society as a whole.


Written by: Alina Beigang

Based on the lecture “Money and moral” held by Bernd Villhauer during AEMS 2019.