Monday, March 30, 2009

Straying into a bit of philosophy: Money and Power

This isn't serious or rigorous philosophy, but I've heard it said a lot lately that power corrupts. I disagree.

To start, let me assert that money is power (just a form of it).

One of the early forms of this idea comes from the Bible, and the quotation is what started me thinking about the issue when I hear the oft quoted, "Money corrupts" or "Power corrupts."
1 Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (KJV)
Notice the important difference. It isn't money (or power) that corrupts, but the love thereof.

Why are so many of our politicians corrupt? To win these days, I think you have to develop a love of power. Are all of them corrupt? No--some people have honestly entered politics to make a positive difference, and they may well keep their convictions until party machines crush them with demands to compromise or lose their next election.

Let's get down to concrete examples of power not corrupting. For the faithful, there's God, who is both omnipotent and incorruptible. Feel free to play the "special case" card on that one, because it is a rather unique example.

Cincinnatus
was thrust into the position of absolute dictator of Rome, but following the end of the crisis that put him in power, he set down the power voluntarily and went back to farming. There's some indication that he may have even done this two separate times, though historians disagree.

George Washington, we can all agree was just a person. An extraordinary person, but still just human. Following the Revolutionary war, he was so popular, some Americans wanted to crown him king. He refused, saying, "Never, we are finished with Kings in this Country." When he served as President, he set down power after 2 terms, setting a precedent respected by all presidents until FDR. FDR's multiple terms in office prompted Congress to amend the Constitution to prevent it from ever happening again.

A more modern example comes from Jon Huntsman, Sr. who is incredibly rich (money is power), yet chooses not to use it to empower himself, but rather to help others. He funds his Cancer Institute with every intention of curing cancer. He has reportedly said, "We can make money or we can cure cancer, but we can't do both." It's more important to him to cure cancer.

I believe a person who does not love money or power can not be corrupted by it. They can come to love it, and thus open the door to corruption, but until that happens, all the power and money in the world can be heaped upon them and they will use it only to do good and give it back when they've accomplished their selfless goals.

I do agree that such individuals are rare, but the above examples are just three very famous people I thought off off the top of my head. How many relatively unknown people are using the little bit of power or extra wealth they've obtained for good purposes? We have to recognize that there's nothing inherently bad about money and power, the bad all comes in learning to love them.

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