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The Hidden Costs of Money

When people quote Saint Paul’s dictum that “Money is the root of all evil,” they usually have in mind not money, but the love of money. But new research shows that money itself, whether we are greedy for it or not, could be a problem.

PRINCETON – When people say that “Money is the root of all evil,” they usually don’t mean that money itself is the root of evil. Like Saint Paul, from whom the quote comes, they have in mind the love of money. Could money itself, whether we are greedy for it or not, be a problem?

Karl Marx thought so. In The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, a youthful work that remained unpublished and largely unknown until the mid-twentieth century, Marx describes money as “the universal agent of separation,” because it transforms human characteristics into something else. A man may be ugly, Marx wrote, but if he has money, he can buy for himself “the most beautiful of women.” Without money, presumably, some more positive human qualities would be needed. Money alienates us, Marx thought, from our true human nature and from our fellow human beings.

Marx’s reputation sank once it became evident that he was wrong to predict that a workers’ revolution would usher in a new era with a better life for everyone. So if we had only his word for the alienating effects of money, we might feel free to dismiss it as an element of a misguided ideology. But research by Kathleen Vohs, Nicole Mead, and Miranda Goode, reported in Science in 2006, suggests that on this point, at least, Marx was onto something.

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