Frances Moore Lappé with Anna Lappé
isn't what it used to be. Traditionally, money was not only
a means of exchange but also a "ticket" to inclusion: by
earning a living through contributing their labor, people
both sustained themselves and felt part of the fabric of
community life. Unfortunately, though, money has begun to
acquire a new meaning, and it is spreading throughout the
world: money is becoming the global scorecard.
a few hundred people (no more than would fit into Anna's
high school auditorium) control as much wealth as half the
world's population. Such concentration is far beyond anything
wealth holders could possibly use to meet needs for exchange
or to feel included in society. In this growing trend, the
goal is simply being able to say, "I win. My score in the
grand money game is higher than yours." Whether or not this
is the motivation of an individual accumulating wealth,
our society treats the wealth holder as if this is the purpose
of money. We give status to those who make the most, counting
and comparing the salaries of highly-paid actors and athletes
and corporate CEOs.
trend fuels the concentration of money in ever fewer hands-because
how much one has doesn't matter; what matters is getting
ahead of the next guy. I remember reading the
issue on the fifty richest people in the world.
The "runner up" to Bill Gates wasn't focused on how happy
he was with his billions, but on his plans for upping Gates
in the coming year. In an atmosphere where we publish rankings
of the wealthiest people to compare their "scores," there
is never an end to the cycle of chasing after more.
as Contributor to the Common Good
To create a healthier human society, we can rethink the
role we want money to play. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict's
work gives us a clue. When examining what distinguishes
high-functioning from low-functioning societies, she found
that one critical factor held explanatory power: whether
the individual was rewarded in status for selfseeking behavior
or for action that benefited the entire community. Where
the individual's status was linked to action advancing the
whole group, there were positive societal outcomes- less
violence, for example.
the reasons we ascribe status to wealth holders--giving
status to those who use their money for the common good,
rather than to those who achieve the highest money score--could
help us take a positive evolutionary step as a human family.
We saw the first glimmering of this next step while writing
Talking with so many people around the
globe, we found that money is taking on richer meaning beyond
simply, "I win." We met those who see that money can become
a tool for creating the world we want and a source of legitimate
status as community-builders. For example, the Grameen Bank
in Bangladesh is often lauded for making credit available
to the poor. Just as important, and maybe more, the Bank
is also a social movement in which all borrowers must commit
to upholding specific principles. Some principles involve
practical actions, such as growing vegetables and sending
one's children to school; others are less tangible, such
as not inflicting injustice. Thus, the newly credit-empowered
entrepreneurs are not only their village's new income generators
but also creators of healthier community norms.
Those Who Contribute to the Common Good
Recently I talked with a friend and businessman who has
been told by doctors that he has only a few months to live.
For a decade, I have watched him make his company into a
nationally recognized model of enlightened practice, really
a great place to work. The town where his company is based
recently held a parade to celebrate his life and contribution.
Hundreds turned out.
my friend is wealthy, for him and his community his wealth
is not a scorecard. It has never been a way to stay ahead
of the next guy. When I spoke with him recently, I could
tell how much joy it gave him to be appreciated not for
what he made, but for what he gave. I could hear the pleasure
in his voice when he told me that the secretary of education
had just called to thank him for his leadership. As more
people like my friend choose to use their wealth for the
good of the community, and more communities give status
to that choice, the power of money as scorecard begins to
fade. As long as the status money brings is increasingly
detached from what enhances community, our societies-- indeed
the Earth itself--will continue its rapid decline (measurable
by such indices as mounting violence and melting ice caps).
Choosing instead to give status to those who use their wealth
for the common good, we can help shift the balance toward
a healthier global society.
of Us Has Roles to Play
In transforming money into social glue, rather than social
divider, each of us has roles to play. We can become conscious
of occasions when we ourselves give power or status to others
based on the amount of wealth they have, and simply choose
not to do it. We can also discover ways that as communities
and as a society we can honor and rew a rd those who use
their wealth for the common good. In so doing, we can begin
to harness the power money truly holds for global transformation.
See chapter fourteen, "Synergy in the Society and in the
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
by A.H. Maslow (New York: Penguin, 1971).
Moore Lappé is the author of numerous books, including
Diet for a Small Planet, first published in 1971. She and
her daughter, Anna Lappé, are co-authors of its thirtieth-anniversary
Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.
The book chronicles breakthroughs on five continents that
are re-embedding economic life in community values. Frances
Moore Lappé is co-founder of two national organizations.
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