Money – the inconspicuous designer of our lives?

Aug 21, 2018 by

“Money and moral” was the title of Bernd Villhauer’s lecture and one question immediately came to our mind: is money even related to moral? Does it have its own morality? Or is it rather a neutral medium of exchange facilitating our everyday life?

Before Bernd Villhauer could turn to talk about the morality of money, he needed to address the question: what exactly is money? Funnily enough, it seems that economists very often do not have an answer to the question. If they do, they often limit their definition to the functions of money, such as money as a means of exchange. Bernd Villhauer stated that money is much more: it shapes our conduct and gives power to those who possess it. According to Bernd Villhauer the design of money is determined by the society’s notion of freedom. He distinguished between quantitative freedom (“more of the same”) and qualitative freedom (“more of the better”). The latter implies a pluralist approach to money meaning that different types of money can exist. Moving away from these theoretical considerations, we were asked to experiment with different notions of money in an interactive session.

The aim of this session was to imagine BOKUtopia – a state in which monetary system is created by us. To do this, we were split up into four different groups, each group designing a monetary system focusing on a different outcome. Which were:

  • A state with no money.
  • A state with a free market system.
  • A state with monetary system, that serves the environment.
  • A state with a monetary system, that serves the poor.

The task to create a new monetary system within a few minutes time was challenging and some of us even felt a little bit helpless, as it was quite obvious that none of us would find a satisfying solution. However, the exercise gave us the important insight that money has many characteristics and that depending on which one you chose to be dominant, the effects on society, the economy and the environment will be significantly different. And it is probably impossible to find one monetary system that serves all three of them in a adequate way.

Another interesting observation was the unspoken truth that it is hard for us to imagine a world without money. This became apparent when the first group presented to us their vision of a society that introduced a time-voucher system, which guaranteed that each hour of work was worth one hour of work – which in the very end also is some kind of monetary system.

The lecture with Bernd Villhauer made us realize that money is a human invention and not something you can’t change. We developed it, so we can change it. In our daily life we don’t think about the convertibility of our monetary system, but if we do, we might be able to solve some of the problems our society faces.

Written by: Jens Metzger and Marilena Höffmann

Based on the lecture by: Bernd Villhauer (“Money and moral”)