The following essay is a review and guide of the “Good Money” podcast series produced by New Polity. Every episode of the series is briefly summarized. We encourage you to follow the many links below to listen and learn more.
According to the Philosopher (Ethics IV.1) it belongs to the liberal man to part with things. Hence liberality is also called open-handedness [largitas], because that which is open does not withhold things but parts of them. The term “liberality” seems also to allude to this, since when a man quits hold of a thing he frees it [liberat], so to speak, from his keeping and ownership, and shows his mind to be free of attachment thereto. Now those things which are the subject of a man’s free-handedness towards others are the goods he possesses, which are denoted by the term “money.” Therefore the proper matter of liberality is money.
Summa Theologiae II-II Q117. A2. co.
Everyone needs possessions, material goods, or money to survive, but surviving isn’t the only purpose of wealth. Rather, every time that we acquire, spend, or use our worldly treasures is an opportunity to build up particular virtues which have to do with material wealth. This is the philosophy of Good Money.
Two basic rules of Good Money are Thou Shalt Not Save Wantonly and Thou Shalt Spend Like God. Basically, don’t save money without a clear purpose and recognize the God-like power of money, so that you use money virtuously for the benefit of others, instead of your own private gain. A third rule is to Act now! because if you spend your life worrying about profitable investments, you will not have time to build the virtues you need to be a good person. It’s spiritually dangerous to be a multi-millionaire (or, God forbid, a billionaire) since the purpose of having extra money is to give it away.
The virtues of Good Money are liberality (gift-giving), magnificence (serving your community with your surplus wealth), temperance (only spending money on good desires), beneficence (doing good with every dollar), and almsgiving (caring for the poor).
How do we live these virtues personally? First, we should avoid sins like usury (taking interest on loans); we need to “forgive our debtors” if we want to have our debts forgiven (Matthew 6:12). Second, we must not hoard all our money until we die. This means that instead of investing and saving our money for an independent retirement, we should invest money in our friends, family, and community. When living with family, the elderly have an important contribution to make, even if they retire from other forms of work. Breaking up with your 401k plan may mean less money in a few decades, but it builds up virtue and community right now. “Blind investments” on the stock market (like 401k’s) are spiritually harmful because they participate in the profits of unjust and evil corporations (like MindGeek and Amazon). This doesn’t mean all saving is immoral, but we should desire prudent emergency accounts and truly local investments, not hoards of unlimited growth. Being rich isn’t sinful, but it comes with a great moral duty.
What about Good Money on a social level? We must remember that in our day money is used as an alternative to loving friendships, and ultimately degrades Christian community. To ordinary people, the symbolic money economy acts like magic, and obscures the real social relationships of a society. For the elites, commodification makes us predictable pawns of Wall Street and the technocratic state (and Bitcoin is no alternative!). We’ve returned to the days of pagan idolatry: money is a quasi-sacrament which binds capitalist society together. Just like Saint Thomas Aquinas warned against, we’ve become a city obsessed with money. So instead of subscribing to modernist economics, let’s return to the medieval wisdom of the scholastics.
What’s their alternative? How about a society where God’s gift of redemption is applied to our economy. Our Heavenly Father has been advising humanity on economic policy ever since He gave Moses the Year of Jubilee in the Old Law. We envision a society where justice and custom define prices not the free market, where we are insured by our community instead of a global bank, where renting a home is only transitional and local institutions (like an ‘almonry’) help families to perform the works of mercy. The Church believes it’s best to give a man a fishing pole (i.e. his own means of production) instead of the conservative and progressive “solutions” to poverty. In conclusion, the goal of Catholic Social Teaching is an ownership society.
Indeed all the institutions for the establishment of peace and the promotion of mutual help among men, however perfect these may seem, have the principal foundation of their stability in the mutual bond of minds and hearts whereby the members are united with one another. If this bond is lacking, the best of regulations come to naught, as we have learned by too frequent experience. And so, then only will true cooperation be possible for a single common good when the constituent parts of society deeply feel themselves members of one great family and children of the same Heavenly Father…
Quadragesimo Anno § 137