Wealth & Well-being: J.D. Anderson

John D Anderson writes:-

 

Are wealth and well-being the same?

Etymologically, yes. In our modern minds, no.

Many words that used to concern morality now relate to money. “Economics” dealt with the good management of the home. Now it embraces the production and consumption of all goods and services. We even use the weird neologism “Home Economics”.

“Profit” is used forty times in the Bible, never concerning money. Jesus said in Mark 8:36 “What would it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

We all know that “to purchase” means “to buy”. In 1 Timothy 3:13 we read “They that have used the office of deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree.” “Purchase” meant “obtain”.

“Save” used to mean putting money in a savings account. Now it means “Don’t spend quite as much as you might have done”: “Buy one; get one free.” I saw a recent supermarket advert “Save more. Live better.” This hardly meant “Do not spend; save your money in a bank.” “Better” still survives as a moral term, but here it plainly means “possess more things by buying here.” Moreover, for Christians, the most exalted meaning of “save” is as in Luke 10:10 “The Son of Man came to save the lost.”

“Earn” used to mean gaining a wage or salary for actually working. Now, oddly, money can “earn” interest without anyone labouring. Even more amazingly, it is often called “unearned interest”. The interest is often “earned” at the expense of the poor who pay the interest to the rich. But as Francis Bacon said, “Money is like muck, not good unless it be spread.”

“Credit” formerly meant “approval.” “Credere” in Latin means “to believe”. Now with amazing linguistic sleight of hand “credit” can even mean “debt”.

“Invest” meant “clothe”. We still have vests. But now investment, is, astonishingly, by money, not cloth.

“Priceless” should mean that something cannot be bought. It actually now means that it costs a very great deal. It means that it has a high “value”. Yet the Latin “valere” means” to be strong,” which still survives when we say that a person makes a “valuable” contribution to a church.

Aconsumer” is now someone who buys things: but it has a much harder deeper significance. It is from the Latin “consumere” meaning “to devour”; “consumption” is from the Latin “consumptio” meaning “a wasting”, as in TB.

A “market” meant a place where goods were bought and sold, often in the open air, such as at a “Farmers Market”. In Matthew 20:3 men are “standing waiting to be hired in the market”. When the BBC Today programme regularly tells us the state of the market, it concerns only the rate of currency exchange and share prices. “The market” has become our god. We believe in it. It controls us. And yet, although made up of people acting, it lacks the face of God. Astoundingly, it is impersonal, yet made up of persons. We cannot “buck” the market; and yet we humans do all the actions in it. There is no such thing as a “free market” since all have complex rules, often made by governments, controlling them. The apotheosis of the “market” is dangerous and debilitating. (Ed: definition of apotheosis: the elevation of someone/something to divine status)

The status of financial dealing has been, in theory, much enhanced since 1969 when the prize (variously named) in “Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” was endowed by the Swedish National Bank. This has, rightly, caused major controversies. The Nobel family pointed out that no Nobel money was being used. That the intellectual status of economics is by implication equal to that of the natural sciences is to say the least dubious. Yet we frequently see economists labelled as Nobel Prize winners, as eminent, apparently, as the scientists who win the real Nobel prizes.

The transmutation of our language from moral to monetary meanings would have astonished Adam Smith. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” is an essential accompaniment to “The Wealth of Nations”. We need to remember the Cree proverb “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.” We should return to the original meaning of “wealth” as “well-being”.

Posted in Church Magazine, Economics
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