Review of Lynne Twist’s “The Soul of Money”

Reviewed by Steven Walsh (Co-ordinator, AMI Chicago Chapter), February 2007

Ms. Twist has written a book to change our attitude toward money.  Twist reflects on her personal experiences as a fundraiser for The Hunger Project to suggest what money is and how it should be valued.  In today’s world just hearing the words, ‘soul’ and ‘money’ together, can be taken as an oxymoron.  Twist acknowledges this paradox, but prepares us to shift our view of money:

Now, rather than relating to money as a tool we created and control, we have come to relate to money as if it is a fact of nature, a force to be reckoned with.  This stuff called money, mass-produced tokens or paper bills with no more inherent power than a notepad or a Kleenex, has become the single most controlling force in our lives (page 8).

Ms. Twist’s view of money as a fiat or convention happens to be consistent with Aristotle’s: “Money exists not by nature but by law”(Ethics, 1133).  Twist goes on: “Money has only the power that we assign to it, and we have assigned it immense power (ibid.).  But the way this power is used comes from the economic world created by Adam smith (pages 46-55) particularly his false assertions about an assumed scarcity: 1) there are not enough resources, wealth or money to go around; 2) more of anything is better than what we have; and 3) the rationale: that is just the way it is:

…and the people who have more are always people who are other than us.  It’s not fair, but we better play the game because that’s just the way it is and it’s hopeless, helpless, unequal, unfair world where you can never get out of this trap (page 53).

The negative consequences of accepting the philosophy that’s just the way it is:

…is that it justifies the greed, prejudice, and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race.  For … generations, it protected and emboldened institutionalized racism, sex discrimination…and still today, enable(s) dishonest business and political leaders to exploit others for their own financial gain (page54).

Globally, …According to Geo 2000, a 1999 United Nations environmental report, the excessive consumption by the affluent minority of the earth’s population and the continued poverty of the majority are the two major causes of environmental degradation.  Meanwhile developing nations adopting Western economic models are replicating patterns that, even in political democracies, place inordinate power in the hands of the wealthy few, design social institutions and systems that favor them, and fail to adequately address the inherent inequities and consequences that undermine health, education, and safety for all (pages 54-5).

Taking the lead from Buckminster Fuller and others, Twist counters the negative values of scarcity by stating there is sufficiency for all if only we know how to approach our relationship to money.  This paradigm borrows from a deeper understanding of community in nature (pages 153-5) and likens money to water or blood: flowing it can purify, cleanse, create growth and nourish versus becoming stagnant and toxic to those withholding or hoarding it (pages 102-6).

At the heart of The Soul of Money there is a moral imperative: “When hungry children cry for food, they cry out not as Bangladeshis, or Italians, or children from the other side of town.  They cry out as human beings, and it is at that level of our humanity that we need to respond” (page 62).

Twist solves the problem of inequity by inviting every human, no matter how rich or poor (page 101-2), either alone or in collaboration with others (pages 146-7, 169), to align money with “our most deeply held values, commitments, and ideals” and with a concern for “the well-being of the people we love, ourselves, and the world in which we live”(page 11).  That if we truly do this we can recognize the sufficiency we have on the earth and we can share and collaborate for the benefit of all.

From my perspective, this is where Twist hits a limitation, arriving only at that part of the solution that deals with our attitude to money.  However, our entrenched money system itself is structurally flawed, and essentially under private control, where banks make interest bearing loans which serve as our newly created money supply.  The alternative is that more of the money supply can be under society’s direction, through government, where programs for the public good are much more likely to be undertaken, especially if Twist’s attitude change is realized.

These lessons are recorded historically in Zarlenga’s The Lost Science of Money. The Catholic Scholastics of the Middle Ages worried about the same problem of hunger and real scarcity.  They recognized private property, but held this principle on the condition of “utmost need” (real hunger, for example) that all things were considered as held in common, and anyone in the utmost need could take the goods held in abundance by another for the preservation of his life (Zarlenga, 2002:180).  Zarlenga writes that clearly much of today’s commerce would not measure up to the Scholastics’ standards of justice in trade (ibid.).

This underlying structural injustice in the monetary system can be seen as early as the first millennium B.C.  The Greek farmers were novices in the game of money and speculation, similar to the Achuars of the Amazon Basin that Twist describes.  Greek farmers who were once free became slaves when harvests were poor and they could not pay off their monetary debt.  By 600 B.C. the free Greek farmers were a vanishing class of people.  At this time Solon came to power and instituted structural monetary reforms to take the farmers out of slavery and give them some measure of protection from the oligarchy’s lending schemes.

For Zarlenga and other monetary reformers the central point here is that money is a creature of the law and it will always have immense importance in society much like water or blood.  It is a powerful tool; however, an “elite” that is concentrating wealth and supporting Adam Smith’s false scarcity assumptions is presently abusing it.  Once the money creation power is back in the hands of the federal government Twist’s soulful view of money should be taught as principles of good citizenship. Governments would then be able to create the needed money in an interest-free manner to spend on infrastructure, health, education, and other programs that would eliminate hunger and poverty in the United States, and, as this movement spreads, all parts of the world (Chapter 24).

It is clear to this reviewer the present economic engine of monetary policy and global warming together is marching humanity off a cliff.  To stop this Twist rolls up her sleeves and with the likes of Mother Teresa, the Dalai Llama, the Achuars, Bangladesh villagers from the district of Sylhet, Senegalese women from the Sahel Desert and soulful people from all backgrounds and together are part of The Turning Tide to create a You-And-Me instead of a You-Or-Me world.  We now need to get these soulful people connected up to the monetary policy reformers like Zarlenga so we all can move the world forward to one of sustained justice and beauty.

 

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