“When the institutions of money rule the world, it is perhaps inevitable that the interests of money will take precedence over the interests of people. What we are experiencing might best be described as a case of money colonizing life. To accept this absurd distortion of human institutions and purpose should be considered nothing less than an act of collective, suicidal insanity.”

David Korten


“Money decides how it wants to live.”

Ryan Gravel, City Designer


Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games

We got everything you want, honey, we know the names

We are the people that can find whatever you may need

If you got the money, honey, we got your disease

Guns ‘N Roses, Welcome to the Jungle


Money. It seems like every time someone brings up money it is about haves and have-nots, who deserves it and who gets to keep it. I am going to attempt a different discussion. The definition of money. My view is that money has lost its meaning and in order to make some progress with regard to some of our social ills, including “money decides where it wants to live”, we need to step back and define the meaning of money for the future. We need money so we may as well make sure we all make sense of it the same way so that we can begin to make some better choices with regard to a myriad of issues with it.

Where I begin. Power and money, money and power. They are inextricably linked.

And this is important because, well, it makes you think about who owns the future – the ones with the money, the ones aspiring to have the money, or the ones who do not have the money <and even whether it should matter>. And THAT is important because, well, “money decides how it wants to live.” I believe if we continue on the path we are currently on we run the risk of money determinism, not human determinism. What I mean by that is money becomes the design, and designer, of human society not a tool used by humans to implement the human-designed design of human society. That said. I would be naïve to suggest humans have the power, because they do and they don’t. They do own the future because they can be the architects of fate and the future as well as architects of what money should be, yet, money will always be power until the world, itself, decides to change. Money is power and power is money. That is the world we have today and that is the world we need to deal with.

So, I circle back to who owns the future, who owns the power, who owns the money? And whoever does, can they handle the power and the money they have?

Power subverts the intentions of a free market. Today’s marketplace is a system of competing powers (players) each of whom are seeking an advantage. And while most often that advantage is information <knowledge, wisdom>, money buys information. I say that because if the world, the market, isn’t sane <power distorts traditional view of sanity>, technology will not solve it and money is simply power to eliminate things that are obstacles to more money.

Ponder that last thought.

Ponder it because taken to its natural conclusion it suggests using money for altruistic initiatives is simply a means to eliminate an obstacle <public sentiment? regulations?> to more money. Cynical? Well. That is what money, as it exists, has wrought.

Which leads me to Money has changed.

Money has changed in the minds of people and its absurd to develop ideas, systems or even solutions until we address how money has changed. What I mean by that is “value.” Absurdly the financial industry continues to think of money in simplistic speculative or transactional terms. It would behoove them of they began thinking about how people view its ‘value’ beyond simply 100 pennies for a $1 bill.

Bitcoin, or cryptocurrency, is probably the poster child for this <albeit stocks are not far behind>. One of the most maddening, but insightful, conversations I overheard was about how there was no difference, in valuation, between fiat currency and bitcoin. A younger person suggested they were no different in that neither was grounded in anything tangible – both grounded in perception with regard to value. This argument disregards the thousands of years and transactions, based on hundreds of years of a gold standard, in which fiat currency gained credible value stability – it earned its value and valuation – and equated it to, well, the gamification <called “mining” by the crypto world to create some semblance of valuation credibility through association with how fiat currency was created> from which crypto is created. This is nuts. But it is also how money has changed perceptionwise in the minds of people. Ultimately this is a mindset shift leading to a belief shift leading to, well, behaviors.

Which leads me to cashless.

We have shifted away from using hard cash to using soft cash.

BBHLabs, 2021

We talk about financial literacy all the time, yet, ignore the fact that money has become significantly less tangible to a large swath of people as they have become cashless. I, personally, believe debt has become more of an issue because cash has become cashless. If I do not see a physical transaction day in and day out then almost all my transactions become less real <until paying the piper becomes due and, well, in today’s world the piper is willing to wait for his payment as long as you pay him some bit today>. For a subset of that large swath of people in an age group within households with wealth they have existed on debit cards/credit cards and cashless transactions almost their entire life. This has repercussions because, well, money chooses how it will live and those with money, but have a dubious relationship with the real value of money, are gonna be building the world through those financial eyes. Unfortunately, there is another swath of people who carry a smallish bundle of money around with them who watch their monthly budgets because, well, they have to. It’s a monopoly money universe versus a real money universe. They do not share a definition of money. This is an issue.

Which leads me to paper wealth.

The rise of paper wealth is linked to a variety of things but for this discussion I view it as tied to cashless trends. What I mean by that is as money becomes more intangible and value is some amorphous blob that isn’t tied to anything real, then investing in the intangible seems less risky and simply part of the amorphous blob of wealth available to anyone.

BBHLabs, 2021

The first point I will make on this has to do with hard cash versus paper wealth. If I have a $20 in my pocket, I clearly have $20 of wealth. If I have $20billion in stocks, my $ wealth is actually a bit trickier. Let’s say all the stocks in that portfolio dropped to zero in one day. What’s my wealth? Uhm. $0. Now that may all sound silly, but the truth is that we have begun confusing paper wealth and money. Because paper wealth seems so extraordinary, almost like monopoly money, almost everyone now thinks of investments as part of the monopoly money game and they want in on that game.

The second point I will make on this is the stock market is increasingly an alternative universe from hard cash. Company valuation is completely out of whack and stock prices don’t meet existing actual value but some speculative value <which often seem absurd>.

I imagine when you combine my two thoughts what you get is a monopoly money world in which the Park Place in the game is speculatively valued at the value of Kryptonite <something that does not exist>.

I imagine my grander point is cash has lost its moorings. It is what we believe it to be.

Inevitably all I am really suggesting is money’s “story” has changed and as its story has changed its value foundation has shifted. As it became less “an extension of I” and more “emblematic of success” the value equation shifted. I will end this section by suggesting money is simply a story system. It tells people a story and it gives people stories to tell. And maybe that’s why I have always told the financial folk, “articulate the definition of money for the future”.

Which leads me to zero-sum capitalism.

“When your neighbor grows fat, you grow thin.”


What you say becomes what you think which becomes what you do.

Attitudes can lead to behavior, but often they do not lead to real action <or are an accurate predictor of action>. I would suggest attitudes toward money or wealth DO lead to real action. More is never enough and there are no rules when it comes to maintaining or protecting one’s wealth.

If you buy into that thought, or thoughts, then we need to become concerned when the institutions of money <people with money> rule the world. We should be concerned because when those people begin to talk about fairness or shared prosperity they do so with a catch. The catch is “as long as it does not infringe upon my pursuit of my money and my wealth.” Without context, that is a fine and dandy thought. But in a zero-sum mindset it suggests HOW I got my money and wealth was fair and equitable and the system of money rewards those who deserve it.


“We’ve made it really easy for good people to do the wrong things.”

Josh Tetrick


Here’s the rub. Chasing the limitless is both dangerous and freeing in general, but in a zero-sum world it is just corrosive. The truth is chasing limitless piles of money debases its actual value – the only value is more and each additional dollar placed on the large stack diminishes in actual value to its owner <it is simply a prize, not prized>. Chasing anything with no limit can be a freeing feeling, but what I would suggest, in this case, is the no limit actually represents a soulless cage. I could go on and on about how zero-sum capitalism attitude begets zero-sum behavior which begets lousy extremes <because ‘winners’ increase probability of more winning not because of skill/better but because they have, well, more money>. I don’t begrudge people money, but, zero-sum doesn’t exactly create a fair game for all players.

Which leads me to ‘not wealth distribution but rather wealth de-clustering’.

“Money decides how it wants to live.”

Ryan Gravel is a city designer/planner. While he is arguably one of the most positive thinkers and creators of “good” I know, I would argue he is actually a problem solver. In this case he solves the problem of ‘the natural arc to cluster.’ I believe he is in the “human de-clustering design” business of which one of its outcomes, when successful, is to decluster money.

Left to its own devices, wealth clusters and decides how it wants to live. This is true in actual money and housing and cities and, well, everything. Clustering in and of itself is natural and if based on fairness isn’t bad. The problem is within today’s system, and institutions, the wealth is not only clustering, but it continues to get amplified so it grows exponentially versus the rest of the system in which, at best, is additive. You either remove the exponential aspects or make it easier to shift from additive to at least multiplicative. Make the race more equitable or clusters will grow to such a point equity is impossible.

Clustering always existed in capitalism, but it seemed to become more of a business science, rather than simply power-driven, when Milton Friedman’s essay for the New York Times was published in 1970. The “greed is good” philosophy became a business acumen <with theories, practices and models> based on the economist’s idea that the sole task of executives was to enrich shareholders – provided they played by the rules. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out “the rules” became vague outlines as business people relentlessly pursued profit and growth.


“The world is not as simple as we like to make it out to be. The outlines are often vague and it’s the details that count. Nothing is really truly black or white and bad can be a disguise for good or beauty … and vice versa without one necessarily excluding the other.

Life is an uncertain adventure in a diffuse landscape whose borders are constantly shifting where all frontiers are artificial where at any moment everything can either end only to begin again … or finish suddenly forever … like an unexpected blow from an axe. Where the only absolute, coherent, indisputable and definitive reality … is death. We have such little time when you look at Life … a tiny lightning flash between two eternal nights.

Everything has to do with everything else. Life is a succession of events that link with each other whether we want them to or not.”

 Arturo Perez Revarte


This vaguery includes money. Money is a vague concept in its value. To be clear, I believe this is true even with the rich and the financially-educated wealthy. The “rich club” sees this monopoly money through a lens of some alternative universe in which their level of subsistence is representative of the average.

It’s kind of mental masturbation in order to justify a level of high living and hedonic adaptation. The middle class just sees all this monopoly money floating around and wonder why they aren’t getting their piece of the pie and the poor, using money as a transaction with survivability, see all this monopoly money as proof that the system doesn’t care about them. This all begets a set of divided mindsets on what money’s real value is and who gets the money. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this mindset universe is partially crafted by governments who actually treat budgets and spending like monopoly money and do nothing to be truly accountable for all that absurd amount of money. Vaguery, in general, is rarely good, but in the case of money this vagueness simply creates a sensemaking that is divided, yet, in a shared grounding that money exists in the purview of the few, not the many.

All that said, in general, the majority of people only really have some vague outline of how the world works, how effective or ineffective a leader is and any specific relationship between cause & affect.

This vaguery exists because it takes a lot of work to parse the details, and the appropriate details, and the ‘right’ details to make the outlines less vague and more tangible. Even capitalism is vague. Capitalism promises desirable things – freedom, opportunity and prosperity — but perfectly competitive, fair and efficient is fiction.

In a productivity, growth-obsessed system, while many people are enjoying outcomes, fewer are enjoying wealth. And those who are wealthy invest a lot of energy saving the ‘winners money’ from everyone else <they safeguard the system that created them>, in other words, money protects money <or money decides how it wants to live>.

So, what should we seek? Commercial symmetry. I want to be careful here. No neat graphs, no distribution curves, no models, this is simple symmetry through de-clustering. Rather than accept the lousy extremes, and lousy money clusters, with a wretched in-between of zero-sum precarious mindsets, money should seek some symmetry. This demands a sustainable model of transactions – products and connections (value given – value received equaling a fair monetary transaction). Currently many transactions are, well, simply transactions of less-than-fair asymmetrical value exchanges. For example, an Uber transfer of money is simply a transaction of lesser value than what is fair, in other words, the transaction labor is essential, but relatively worthless. I would argue the social contract is broken in this situation. When a social contract works you recognize what is good for them is good for you and what’s good for others, in general, is ultimately good for you. Economically, this social contract is made up of mini-money transactions. Currently it is an asymmetrical cash transaction world and we need to create some symmetry.

This is going to be difficult.

The underlying purpose of the existing consumerism-based capitalism is not to provide public services or goods, but rather, to control and sell resources, even basic sustenance, like water, and provide a profit for the few who control the resources. In addition, money is actually being used to buy one’s place in society by, well, buying the ticket in – churches, donations, philanthropy, etc. It’s like a Faustian bargain with society funded by money. I could argue our sense of community has even been corrupted by money. In the past capitalism and community spirit walked hand-in-hand, but in today’s world capitalism is just another money maker, or funder, for community. The ‘spirit’ has been chipped away and now it is just another monetary transaction. What this actually does is isolate people from community and, simultaneously, divides the community into ‘those who fund (have money)’ and ‘those who use’ (the money). In addition, it has freed business from any civic obligation <unless they see it as an ROI investment of their money>. This simplistic monetary transaction has trickled into education, home ownership, renting, childcare, well, everywhere. All transactions tainted by that ‘monopoly money’ lack of accountability. That isn’t to say people don’t recognize the outlay of money as real, my point is that even things of substance <education, investment in meaningful materialistic things, childcare> have been stripped of the substance and are simply transactions. Basically, people pay more, receive less, and are told that is the way the world is supposed to work. In other words, we are actually told that money chooses how it lives.


“The American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what colour skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account.”

Sarah Smarsh Heartland


Which leads me to where we are and what happens next.

First. A new definition of money.

Let’s just say that the money we use today is more like monopoly money than it is hard cash. What I mean by that is while we use money to pay for the important sustenance things, for the poor-ish those payments are often supplemented by needed government programs so it isn’t really their money, in fact, they never even see the money, and things get paid for. Governments toss around trillions of dollars and businesses pay executives absurd salaries the normal everyday schmuck cannot even fathom and stock prices soar even when the headlines suggest the economy isn’t particularly good. All of which creates that huge amorphous blob of “what the hell is money worth” attitudes and beliefs.

So, in the absence of any real understanding of what the value of money is, it comes down to greed, wealth and things – and the accumulation of <More>. Look. I do not believe money corrupts people; people corrupt people. That said society does encourage us to look at wealth in some fairly unhealthy ways and there are a lot of “shaky people” <as Tom Petty referred to them> who don’t care who they hurt in their quest to have more money than they’ll ever need. But. As I noted when I wrote “The Rich Club” I certainly do not buy into the belief that wealthy people cannot be compassionate or morally responsible or even that they cannot envision the needs of the less fortunate, but I do know that their wealth gives them a very warped view of money and life.

So, what do we do? One of the ongoing debates I have with my friends in the financial industry has to do with this idea – a new definition of money. And when I suggest a new definition of money, I believe it is beneficial for everyone.

We need to stop seeing wealth as money, and start seeing wealth as some version of societal health. I don’t mean everyone be altruistic, but rather wealth is viewed through a ‘envisioning a greater society” or of “we value” rather than some simplistic “I value”. In other words, you use your wealth in making the ultimate grand bargain with everyone else – I can help you and I want to be helped back – kind of the opposite of zero-sum.


Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today

But if you ask for a raise
It’s no surprise that they’re giving none away

Pink Floyd, Money


Unfortunately, Life has everything, and nothing, to do with money and wealth. What I mean by that is money and wealth is a means to an end. For 95%+ of the people … if they think about the people in their life who they like & I love the most or maybe think about whose existence is the most important to them, they actually recognize that it has little to do with money or wealth. In other words, the meaningfulness of life has to do with people, not money. Yet. Money is in today’s warped world fundamentally a signal to self, and others, that you HAVE meaning. But, even more importantly, money is the pragmatic aspect of holding onto the reality we have and reaching out to a reality we may desire. I imagine the debate should be surrounding “reality”, as a human being do you think the reality of the economy is to support you and your dreams or, well, support society. In the latter concept resides a belief that a healthy system and environment permits anyone and everyone to thrive, and survive, not just those who have the most money. The latter concept also demands people to agree on a system, rules and policies that not only provide a construct for desired behavior and outcomes, based on a common language, common agreement & common understanding, but one in which everyone agrees on fairness not zero-sum. My guess is that in a human design society money shouldn’t be status, but value – not only in things but of something.

Second. So where does that leave us? Anti-monopoly money strategy.

I have many ideas on how to do this but I imagine some really smart folk in the financial industry could resolve this if, well, they had the resolve. My guidance would be to avoid Purpose, avoid purpose over profit, avoid some esoteric metaverse concepts and hunker down on making money real, and tangible, and of tangible value in and of itself <not defined by transaction but by its being and essence>.  Generally speaking, it would be nice if we arrive at a definition that suggested if you are a human being, the thing you need to realize is that the economy should be there to support the society, money does not design human society and that humans should design a society in which money doesn’t choose the winners and losers. That, in a better society, money will be equitably distributed to skills, talent and work – not just because you already have it. Or maybe, as Guns ‘n Roses suggest, maybe money shouldn’t be the invitation to some disease in this jungle society we have created. What I do know is money decides how it will live and, therefore, we should care how money defines itself. Ponder.

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Written by Bruce