How is money like language?

“‘Money talks’ because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill and experience… money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber” (McLuhan, 1964).

There are many metaphors for money. We talk about money and related financial concepts as solids (eroding capital, cutting budgets), liquid (pooling assets, pouring money into an investment, the farce of trickle-down economics), and even gas (inflation). But McLuhan suggests that money itself is a metaphor – for example, for work.

One of the most life-changing books I’ve read is ‘Your Money or Your Life’. In this book, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin describe money as ‘something we choose to trade our life energy for’. They say ‘This definition of money gives us significant information. Our life energy is more real in our actual experience than money. You could even say money equals our life energy. So, while money has no intrinsic reality, our life energy does – at least to us… Life energy is all we have. It is precious because it is limited and irretrievable and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our time here on Earth.’

Money = Life Energy.

Take a look at your wrist.
How would you feel if it displayed the time you have left to live?
If, in order to extend that number, you had to work or fight or steal more units.

This is the plot of the 2011 movie In Time, in which everyone stops aging at 25, but is engineered to live only one more year. You have to buy more life by working. And working itself takes time.

Although described as a dystopian science fiction film, the parallels between In Time and real life are many. As Dominguez and Robin note, if you are 40 now, you can expect to have approximately 349,763 hours of life energy left. About half of this is spent on necessary ‘body maintenance’ – sleeping, eating, washing, exercising, and what the authors politely term ‘eliminating’. This leaves you with 174,882 ‘units’ or hours of life energy left. How many of these will you devote to yourself? To others? Creativity? Work?

Are you listening to the language of money?

Money isn’t just like words and language in the way that it is ‘a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill and experience’ used to translate between different people. We can also draw an analogy between how we acquire knowledge of these symbolic systems. In the next post, How do we learn to speak money?, we’ll explore the analogies between money and language and how we grow up to ‘speak’ different varieties of the language of money.

Looking at life through the language of money, money = life energy

This post is the sixth of a 10 part series over 10 days introducing Enrichmentality.

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What does life energy mean to you? How much do you have left, and how do you want to use it? Let me know in the comments.

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