About once a week, I get an angry email from a reader who has stumbled upon The Simple Dollar and views it solely as a giant ode to materialism and capitalism. Usually, this reader has come in via a Google search and found an article where I discuss how to maximize the money one can make from an investment. They check the contact page, realize that they actually can contact me, and let loose their anti-capitalist rage in email form. Here’s a sample:
The biggest shame is all of the time and talent you have wasted just telling people how to make more money instead of doing something worthwhile. The world has enough greed in it without people like you teaching people how to be greedier. Why don’t you find something decent to do with your time instead of helping greedy people get rich?
What these messages all have in common is the general belief that money is evil and that people who believe that money is good (the initial conclusion that people often draw from The Simple Dollar) must inherently be evil themselves.
Here’s the real deal: money is neutral. It is neither good nor evil. Instead, money is a tool, like a hammer. You can use it to build something amazing or you can swing it wildly and break your thumb. Does that make the hammer good or evil? What about a garage full of tools – are they good or evil? The truth is that they’re neither good nor evil – it’s all about the intent of the person wielding the tool.
Let’s carry this metaphor forward: if money is a tool, then The Simple Dollar is all about how to use those tools safely and suggestions on how to use those tools to better yourself and better the world. The Simple Dollar is the equivalent of an episode of This Old House or Trading Spaces or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition where the people are learning how to use the tools as they go along and hopefully they’re building something that actually has meaning to them, like a Habitat For Humanity house or a room that someone they care for will love.
Money isn’t good or evil; people are good or evil. The entire purpose of The Simple Dollar is to teach people how to use their money more effectively (the mechanical articles about paying off debt and so on) and guide people to make good choices with their money (articles about introspection, personal development, and goals). To me, it’s a good goal, but I do also understand how people might use some of the information for negative purposes (investing ill-gotten gains, for example), but I know from talking to readers that the net gains for the world far exceed any net losses this information might cause.
In the end, The Simple Dollar is what the readers make out of it. Do they take away lessons that can bring about positive changes in their own lives and in the lives of others? I tend to believe that the average person tends towards wanting to do good things with their money, so by teaching people with good intentions some good techniques, as a whole The Simple Dollar makes the world a better place.
Maybe the next time I get an angry email, this is what I will respond with.