Family, Money, Virtue, and Caritas

As some of you know, I come from a family of eight brothers and no sisters. While we have a great many similarities, we are also rather diverse. Three of my brothers are ministers: a Methodist in Atlanta, a Baptist in far upstate New York, and an Anglican in Baltimore. Over the years I have become very close to the latter two. The Baptist (my oldest brother Jim) goes fishing with me in Canada every year, and my Anglican brother Bill and I became very close because he housed me for two terms while I did my MA. We have remained close ever since. Both have for various reasons been an influence on me, and while not casting any aspersions on my brother Jim, Bill has always been an image to me of true liberality. His home was open to anyone in need. I know of at least seven children he and his wife Kim took into their home, one of whom, when he turned 18 legally changed his name to Jenkins. Bill has always been a real liberal, that is, he spent his own money on helping those in need, gave from his own sustenance to the orphans, and has always had an open table. In this he is very much like our dad. Bill’s liberality has been blessed in many ways, not least in that he knows a lot about money, and how to make it. He runs a financial blog. This morning he posted something on his website that was very revealing, and in one sense I think a key to real financial success, even though it is only tacitly implied: don’t let money be the goal of why you are working/investing/saving.

In keeping with this, and while not stated in the post but something he knows all too well, for we have talked about this, is that money is nothing other than another commodity. Its particular utility (part of its value) is that it is easily tradeable for other commodities. One of the reasons we have seen the rise in gold and silver prices over the past few years is that people are trading one commodity for another, because they value the one more than the other (this is the same thing that happens whenever you eat out: you value the steak or hamburger more than you value the money you exchange for it). As we see of late, people are starting again to value gold and silver more than they value the dollar. At the moment both gold and silver are off their highs relative to the dollar since as a commodity people are valuing the dollar more than the Euro, and making the dollar relatively strong in comparison to other commodities.

Some years ago I had someone tell me he hated money and sought to get rid of it when he had it. This all sounds nice and pious, but would he say “I hate food and seek to get rid of it whenever I have it,” or “I hate medicine and seek to get rid of it whenever I have it?” This disposition betrays a fundamental misreading of “the love of money is the root of all evil.” First, it is not money that is the root of all evil, but the desire for it in and of itself, as though money (and here we can substitute any other commodity: food, oil, gold, cattle futures) were an end in itself and not a means to an end. But second, what God blesses us with is of course ours, but it is ours as a means to the end of the kingdom of God. First and foremost in the preservation of our household, but then in the ministering to those whom we meet. Money as a commodity can be used to buy time so that I can work at my parish, or also sit and think, that is, glorify God by my leisure and my thoughts, thoughts which if mature and well-developed, should be used for the benefit of others.

At one point in our nation, and not too long ago, the virtues of thrift and diligence enabled us to become both a prosperous people and the most generous in the world. My father never finished high school, as he dropped out when he was 16 to join the Merchant Marines in WWII. But eventually he was able to run his own business and provide for my brothers and me. Besides the contracting business he was active in our church, and had about a half acre garden every year (we needed it). Life wasn’t easy, but we were never hungry, and my mom stayed home with us. The adage of St. Paul, owe no one anything except to love one another, was played out every day in his life. This goes to the question of money: it is just another commodity, one we use to facilitate exchange, so that we aren’t trading eggs for milk, and leather for iron. My clever but uneducated dad traded his money as well so that my brothers and I (with one exception) could get an education at our parish school, because he valued such an education, even though he did not have it. He worked hard to stay out of debt, because indebtedness keeps us from loving. Were he busy paying off debts, he would have had no money with which to love his sons and the numerous people who passed through our doors. Thrift and industry allowed him to do it. Saving money, as opposed to investing in new TVs, meant that he valued the ability to make decisions in the future more than he valued a new TV in the present.

I think this virtue is quickly diminishing in our culture of instant gratification. I think we will see it even more so once people realize that the U.S. dollar is little better than the Euro, as then they will be ready to trade it as fast as possible for other commodities, whether TVs or new cars. Those investing in gold and silver are already repudiating the dollar in a way, as are those investing in hand-cranked grain mills and canning equipment. I recommend listening to Bob Murphy’s talk on the Fed’s exit strategy from their current practice of inflating the money supply. Pretty dour stuff.

If I have debts, as our nation has not only with respect to what we have borrowed to run our government, her wars, and her graft payoffs on both the left and the right; and as so many in the populace have with respect to overextended borrowing (artificially low interest rates that stimulate these malinvestments), I am hindered in my ability to love. But if I seek first to love, then I am less likely to be looking at new TVs and better cars and bigger houses, and more interested in how I can create the next opportunity for charity and benevolence. Consequently, money as a commodity is a way to love, and the more adept I am at handling the commodity, the better prepared I am to love. I close by saying, that of course we don’t need money to love, just as we don’t need it to breath, but it does come in handy when we leave the man beaten up by thieves at the inn, and tell the innkeeper that we will pay for all extra-expenses. And further, if the innkeeper knows we have bad credit, he may leave the poor fellow outside the door.

About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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3 Responses to Family, Money, Virtue, and Caritas

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Visibilium says:

    I’m impressed that you know whom Bob Murphy is, but I’m less impressed that you recommended him. I’ve found his views to be uniformly inferior for an Austrian, and I’m not surprised that much of his oeuvre consists of study guides pertaining to his betters. I watched a few minutes of the recommended video, mostly toward the end where I was hoping to encounter a punch line, and his thesis was characteristically unimpressive, namely that the Fed may not be successful at contractionary monetary policy. Ho Hum. Little wonder why he’s the only economist he knows who’s thought such thoughts.

  3. Cyril Jenkins says:

    Thanks for visiting. I thought this post had died (sadly got more response on FB). Anyway, yes, Murphy is not Mises, he’s not even Tom Woods, but the note he struck was clear enough, even if ho hum. Niall Ferguson said essentially the same thing in his Newsweek article about three weeks ago. Regardless, it was only ancillary to what I wanted to say.

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