Money: A ladder for self-fulfillment or tool for discrimination?
“Beep, beep!”, my uncle’s grey scooter roared in synchrony with every other vehicle in the bustling streets of Hyderabad as I sat at the back seat of the bike, trying to spot the summit of the city’s blue-windowed skyscrapers or attempting to look beyond the walls of the luxurious, shop-filled malls. After I observed the many wonders of this cosmopolitan city in India, my uncle parked his motorcycle near a street food joint, and we both stepped down from the 2-wheeler to eat some luscious, potato samosas and spicy, savory chilli-enfolded mirchi bajjis. However, not all of the aspects of these India vacations tasted like the street food delicacies above. Sometimes, I had to venture to the bitter outskirts of Hyderabad to meet many of our relatives, where I was presented with rickety or under constructed roads (if there were any roads at all); tons of trash piled up behind many apartment complexes, emitting a smell that could only attract icky roaches or flies; and houses that barely protect people with roofs and walls made of wooden sticks or hay. Even though these poor conditions did not impact me directly, I couldn’t stop myself from pondering upon these barely-habitable huts and asking myself or my parents, “How do the impoverished survive in these shelters?” and “Why is there such a stark difference in standard of living between the center and outskirts of Hyderabad?”. Soon enough, I realized that money is one of the major catalysts for discrimination in today’s world, that these branded bills authorized by the government separate us from one another and hinder many from fulfilling their dreams.
While our financial status guides much of our opportunities for choice in life today, this wasn’t always the case, for money wasn’t always present in this world. About 10,000 years ago, when most of the human population was nomadic people only possessed “what they could carry”, including “water inside gourds”, vegetables, and even “spears or bows and arrows” for hunting meat. Sometimes, this “life of a traveller” meant that in hotter areas, people “almost traveled naked” (The Independent). All of the above evidence supports that the nomadic life was very barren, that it was a fight for survival or necessities rather than reputation or luxury. The people at this time didn’t need to have wardrobes of clothes, collections of electronics, or homes the size of continents; they just needed a few grains of food in their stomach to survive. However, this situation changed with the rise of “modern” civilization, social structures, and economies that allow some people to reach their full potential while chaining others to the ground floor of the pyramid of life.
As we approach modern times, the issue of poverty seems to have worsened. For instance, even slaves in Sumer at 2300 BCE still “managed large estates”, “served as accountants” or made jewelry; they were “employed in whatever capacity their master saw they had a talent in” and could at least feed themselves and their families, fulfilling their basic biological necessities (World History Encyclopedia). By contrast, the poor people during the Victorian era were unable to even acquire enough food to survive, and “starved to death” during “the 1840s”, according to an article published in the JSTOR Daily. These people, as per the Times Literary Supplement, were regarded as “an exception to the rule of Victorian progress”. So, as you can see, our society has made the conditions of poverty worse than before. Furthermore, the fact that these numerous poor were regarded as outliers indicates that the government and even history itself has forgotten those who could not muster enough to nourish the bodies of themselves and their families. Perhaps the most troubling part of penury, though, is the fact that individuals living in this state cannot see themselves as contributing to society. In the book Hunger: The Oldest Problem, the author, John Caparrós interviews a poor woman in Niger who “eats a single ball of millet each day” and asks her “what she would wish for if a wizard could give her anything”. The interviewee replies that she would like “a cow”. Because of her malnutrition and desire to survive, the woman does not ask for a better education, more money, or other tools that can aid her in creating a ripple across the world. Instead, she requests for a farm animal because a cow can “get [her] milk”. This scene depicts that the uncountable impoverished in today’s world, especially in remote regions, may not even be able to dream of acquiring materials beyond what is needed to fulfill their physiological necessities, that the visions of these persons could be minimized by their lack of money. One potential remedy to these extreme conditions of destitution would be barter, for this practice, according to the Corporate Financial Institute, “allows individuals to get what they need with what they already own”. The nomads used barter to obtain many commodities; if this practice gained more prevalence in today’s world, extreme poverty would be abolished and more people could contribute to the never-ending goal of human progress.
While we humans invented money to allow everyone to reach their full potential, these pieces of paper are doing the opposite. At this point, you might be thinking, “why should I care, considering that I have a house with A/C, internet, and am happy enough scrolling through social media posts?”. Well, in the end, we are all humans, and when even one person cannot climb or is afraid to hike up the mountain of their life, our progress is hindered. If we want to fulfill goals such as abolishing cancer, purifying our atmosphere, or even flying to Mars and beyond, we must ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to contribute to these common ambitions, regardless of their financial status. While the issue of economic inequality is not one that can be solved overnight, with a collective effort from us all, we can make some large strides towards a better system of money, and ultimately, a better world.
- Mark, Joshua J. “Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 15 Apr. 2014, www.ancient.eu/article/680/daily-life-in-ancient-mesopotamia/.
- “State of Nature: How Modern Humans Lived as Nomads for 99 per Cent of Our History.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 11 Feb. 2009, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/world-history/state-nature-how-modern-humans-lived-nomads-99-cent-our-history-1604967.html.
- Jeffries, Stuart. “’Sober but Very Immoral’: What Victorian-Era ‘Poverty Maps’ Tell Us about London Today.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/oct/30/what-victorian-era-poverty-maps-tell-us-about-london-today.
- Wilson, Bee. “The World of Cheap Food and Its Consequences.” TLS, The Times Literary Supplement, 26 June 2020, www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/cheap-food-consequences-bee-wilson-book-review/.