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Money as Virtuous

Money: The Root of all Evil or The Root of Human Flourishing?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)

Male: "The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks. The parasite copies. The creator produces. The parasite loots. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of man."

Dr. Kenner: And how true that is. That is from the movie The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, a great movie if you haven’t seen it. And what is the difference between the creator and the parasite? With me to discuss this topic and the topic of creating wealth is Dr. Tara Smith. She’s a Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Smith is the author of several books on ethics and a pamphlet, “Money Can Buy Happiness.” That’s a wonderful pamphlet. A real eye-opener. It doesn’t ensure happiness. But it’s a wonderful eye opener and that’s available at or at my website, I want to welcome you to the show Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith: Great to be here, thanks.

Dr. Kenner: You know, I think dimes, quarters, 10 dollar bills, 50 dollar bills – I remember as a kid, earning some of my first money. What is money?

Dr. Smith: That’s a good question, that more people should ask or think about. We are so ready to condemn money and condemn the person who goes after money that we view it with all this baggage. Stripped naked, what is money? Money is a medium that allows exchange. We have to get a little bit more basic here. Look, human beings need to make all sorts of things in order to fulfill our needs, in order to feed ourselves, put a roof over our heads, put shoes on our feet, make our lives eventually a little bit nicer, a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more enjoyable. We make things. We make goods. We bake bread. We make shoes. We perform services. We cut hair, cut the lawn, and so on. We teach first grade. Money is this wonderful medium that we use. It’s an intermediary that facilitates the trading the good stuff, the vales that human beings make. If I’m a first grade teacher and you’re a baker, than for me to trade with you, you’ve got to have a kid who needs first grade education and there’s only so much bread I need. A barter economy, in which I’ve got to find the person who is selling what I want at the same time that he needs what I can do really well, that’s an incredibly impractical, inefficient way of trying to meet anybody’s needs. When we have money, we’ve got this medium of exchange that we use to facilitate essentially people getting what they want, getting what they think can enhance their lives. Because I spend my money on those things that I decide, “I’m going to be better off for having that.”

Dr. Kenner: So we’re assuming that people are working and creating goods and created services and they’re able to trade, not by barter which would drive us crazy because if I don’t have any first grade kids, which I currently don’t, then how am I going to trade in the example that you used? So my kids can’t go to school. That doesn’t matter, the example falls apart for me. Most of us want to earn more money. We want promotions. We think of getting better jobs. We think of creating new gadgets. Where does money come from?

Dr. Smith: This actually gets back, I think, from the clip you played from the film The Fountainhead. Money comes from creating goods. We use this expression “to make money.” Really what you’re making, if a person is truly making money, it means he’s making something valuable. He’s making something of value to people such that they will spend what they make in order to get what he makes. They will spend money when we’ve got an economy with money in it. That allows them to have it, if they want it. But the point is, what money itself depends upon is the creation of goods and services that nourish human live and human happiness. That’s why making money is really making value. 

Dr. Kenner: I love that.

Dr. Smith: It’s really making life. To make money is a wonderful thing.

Dr. Kenner: So you and I both created books. You’ve written several. One of them is Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics, which I loved. The Virtual Egoist, fabulous book. You put in a lot of effort for that and you created a product and people can now go out and trade their effort for your book, or for my book on romance. And they can get more knowledge to have a better romantic life or repair some damage done.

Dr. Smith: There are so many values that people can create and that people do create, of all sorts. Again, we can start at the most basic level, talking about the shoes and the bread and the making of clothing and all of that sort of thing. But eventually, it’s really nice, isn’t it, to not have to worry so much simply about how I’m going to put bread on the table tonight or how I’m going to have a place to shelter myself from the storm tomorrow, but by people being able to specialize on what they do well, what they produce well and what they enjoy producing, they can do so much more. We can have an economy in which we have today, for instance, services and goods utterly undreamt of one hundred years ago.

Dr. Kenner: I know, I just flew across the country and I’m just amazed at all the amenities on an airplane, let alone the airplane itself.

Dr. Smith: I think a problem in our society is, because we have grown up accustomed to this, we take it for granted. You started out asking, what is money, or where does money come from? We don’t ask those basic questions. Your mother was right. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Money comes from somebody or bodies, some people, creating things. Having ideas. I can build a better mousetrap. I can build a better music-serving device. I can build an iPod or whatever it might be. I can come up with a technique that’ll do laser surgery, or what have you, and we are all so much the better for this. But because so many of us now, for a long time, have grown up accustomed to this wealth – in the U.S. particularly – we take it for granted. We don’t ask where is it coming from.

Dr. Kenner: Right. And I’ve always felt that it’s a wonderful exercise, just to sit wherever you are, if you’re in your bedroom or kitchen or in your car, or even outside, looking at a pretty garden. Look at everything that is a product of people’s minds, whether it’s a new type of plant that they were growing or the wood that surrounds your vegetable garden if you have a wood fence, or in your home. The air conditioning or the heating system or the paint on the walls or beautiful picture frames – everything has come from someone’s thought process. The creators. And there are the parasites – that’s something we can talk about another time – people who steal the money or feel entitled to it without ever having earned it. This has been wonderful. It really illuminates how we don’t want to take that for granted. We want to value the producers and if we ourselves are producers, to value ourselves. I want to thank you so much for joining me today. This is Dr. Tara Smith, and if you want any information on Dr. Tara Smith, you can get it. She’s written several books and a wonderful pamphlet, Money Can Buy Happiness. You can go to and of course you can go to my website, And Dr. Tara Smith, I want to thank you for being with us today.

Dr. Smith: Thank you.

Dr. Kenner: So think in your own life, how you can use those ideas. Have you felt guilty if you’ve earned a lot of money? Maybe you don’t need to feel guilty anymore. Maybe you can instead start to feel a sense of pride. I definitely highly recommend Dr. Tara Smith’s pamphlet, Money Can Buy Happiness.