Sunday, February 22, 2015

Money and Religion

What is money? I am coming to realize what a complicated question this is.

Somehow money is intertwined with debt. Through the magic (or black magic) of fractional-reserve banking, the act of making a loan creates money. Since I am an executive at a financial institution that makes loans, that is a sobering thought. I appear to be involved in the creation of money without fully understanding what I am doing. (I wonder if anyone fully understands it.) On my list of books to read someday is Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber. Perhaps that will help me understand.

Somehow debt is intertwined with how countries govern themselves. Democracies issue debt which becomes money. That is a sobering thought, too. As citizens in a democracy, do we have any idea how our government's debt affects money, the economy, and the sustainability of our society? Also on my list of books to read someday is A Free Nation Deep in Debt: The Financial Roots of Democracy by James Mcdonald. Perhaps that will help me understand.

The subject of today's post, however, is money and religion, prompted by this column by Spengler (aka David P. Goldman):

Why Jews are good at money

His thesis is that the value of money depends on debt; that the value of debt depends on trust; that trust depends not only on a government that enforces contracts but also on something broader and deeper - an underlying faith; and that the Jews were the first to develop religious faith.

It's an interesting thesis. I recommend reading the whole column. It's not long.

So money and religion have something in common: they both depend on faith. That's an interesting thought. Douglas Adams said something similar. I'm not sure, however, that this is the lesson one gets out of Matthew 21:12-13. The story of the moneychangers in the temple does not seem to indicate that Jesus thought that money and religion had much in common.

Islam has some ideas about money, too. I need to learn more about that someday.

And what about bitcoin? The idea of the block chain seems to be a new concept in the world, made possible by the computing power of today's information networks. Perhaps the block chain will provide the faith that is needed to sustain the concept of money.

But returning to the ideas of money, religion, and faith - what about doubt? Can we live without doubt? It is a basic principle of science that we must always leave room for doubt. On my work blog, I once wrote about the tension between belief (another word for faith) and doubt: Two Greek Maxims.

Coincidentally, my favorite source on the essential role of doubt in science is Richard Feynman, who was born a Jew.

Oh, the world is so complicated! Someday I'll figure it all out.

Tip o' the hat to Maggie's Farm for the link to Spengler's column.