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Philosophy Of Money

( Originally Published 1853 )



I HAVE a few more things to say to my young readers about money. It would be a pity if we could find nothing more to say about it, seeing that almost everybody is thinking and talking about it, and trying to get it. But I should be sorry, if what I say on this subject should prove as useless as a great deal that is said about it. I do not believe it will : for the boys and girls who read this book are every week learning in the Sunday school their duty to God and to mankind ;and these important lessons will enable them. to use the things of this world so as not to abuse them.

If then,- my young friends, you -ever feel a desire to possess money, I am sure it will not be that you may spend it in sinful pleasures, or gratify a miserly disposition, but that you may do good with it. Should your hearts be filled with the love of God and man, the more you learn of the nature and uses of money, the better able you will be to employ it for the benefit of your fellowmen.

I have told you that money is a very useful thing ; but in this chapter I must tell you that it is not useful in the same way that other useful articles are, such as food, clothing, and instruments of labor.

A hungry boy would be a great deal more benefited by eating a potato, than he would by eating a gold eagle, although the eagle would buy several bushels of potatoes. Money has no value for the appetite ; neither can we use it as we do clothing. Nobody is kept warm by wearing dollars. You can sleep comfortably in a cold winter night, under a good warm quilt ; but if a dozen hundred-dollar bills were spread over you, they would not keep you from shivering.

Again : money is not useful in the same way that the tools of the mechanic and farmer are. The farmer does not plow his fields with money ; he does not mow his grass or thresh his grain with it. The blacksmith may bave a thousand dollars, but he lays it all aside when he is about to shoe a horse. The money will not hammer the shoe, nor sharpen the corks, nor hold the horse's foot, nor drive the nails.

No : money will not do any of these things, and yet it is sometimes said that "money will do everything," and in a certain sense it will.

I must explain to you the peculiar use of money.

But first let me ask, Could we not do without any such , thing as money ?

Might not all necessary business be done in the way of barter, that is, by exchanging one article for another ? If farmer A. wishes to purchase a horse of his neighbor B., can he not pay for the horse by letting Mr. B. have cows, or sheep, or hay, or something else ? If a shoemaker wants a few bushels of wheat, can he not exchange shoes for it with some farmer in his neighborhood ? If Mr. M. wishes to send his son to the academy for a few terms, can he not pay his tuition in such articles of food, clothing, or fuel as will be useful to the teachers in the school ?

A great deal of business is done in this way, especially in new countries where money is scarce ; but it is attended with many inconveniences. If Mr. A. buys a horse of Mr. B., and agrees to pay him in cows, it may be difficult for them to make an even trade.

The horse may be worth seventy dollars and the cows twenty-five dollars each. Three cows, then, would be worth seventy-five dollars, or five dollars more than the horse. How shall they make it even ? Perhaps Mr. B. has nothing that is worth just five dollars which Mr. A. will want.

Such difficulties often occur. I was once in an academy in a part of the country where money was scarce. A certain young lady attended the school, and at the close of the term she brought several bushels of potatoes to pay for her tuition. The treasurer received her potatoes, but in making out her receipt found that she had overpaid.

" Why, Miss A.," said he, " you have brought a peck of potatoes more than enough ; how shall we make it even ?"

" 0, I guess," said she, " that I shall have to come in next term, and recite two or three lessons in rhetoric."

The young lady was not to blame; you must not laugh at her ; and yet Mr. W. wishes to purchase a few yards of cloth, and wants to pay for it in butter. His neighbor R. has cloth to sell, but he does not want butter. He wants wheat, but Mr. W. has none to spare. They therefore cannot trade.

Perhaps Mr. W. can find some one who has wheat to sell, and who will take his From these few examples you can easily see that a thousand inconveniencies must be experienced in doing business without money.

Now, although money cannot be used directly as food, or clothing, or implements of labor, yet it will pay for all of these things ; indeed it will pay for everything which can be bought and sold. If a man has anything whatever to sell, he will take money for it. Why will not Mr. R. take butter for his cloth just as readily as he will take money ?

Because the butter cannot be so easily exchanged for other useful articles. Mr.It knows that if he has money. he can buy anything he wants ; none of his neighbors will refuse to take money for whatever they have to sell ; but many of them might refuse to take butter.

And again : money is coined in pieces of very different values ; some are of large value, and others small. It is therefore always easy to make an even trade. If a large piece overpays for what you buy, you can give a smaller piece. You never get into the difficulty that Mr. A. did, when he paid cows for a horse, or that the young lady did who paid potatoes for rhetoric.

You can now see something of the peculiar use of money. We use it, not directly to gratify our desires, but to procure such things as will gratify them.

Money is called - a " medium of exchange," or a " circulating medium," because it is the means of effecting exchanges readily between men of business. Thus, if you cannot exchange your labor for a hat, you can easily exchange labor for money, and money for a hat.

Money is also the standard of prices.We do not say that a horse is worth so many sheep, or so many pairs of shoes, but so many dollars. When I was quite a small boy a peddler came to my father's house with wash-boards to sell. My mother wanted a wash-board : so she selected one, and inquired, " What is the price ?" " A hen," was the peddler's reply. We all laughed at the odd price of the peddler's wash-board ; and indeed it was so singular that I have not forgotten it after many years.

Who could know the value of anything, if there were no common standard of prices ? The young lady might go to the merchant, and inquire the price of his calicoes. He would answer that they were worth one pound of butter per yard, or that four yards were worth a bushel of corn, or that twelve yards were worth a cord of wood. But if she had no butter nor corn nor wood to pay, she would not yet know the price of her dress.

If you were told that Mr. F. is worth fifty acres of land, and Mr. G. is worth thirty head of cattle, you would get no definite idea of the wealth of those men: for you would not know whether the land was of a good quality or poor, whether it was worth much or little ; nor would you know whether the cattle were fat and valuable, or lean and good for nothing. You would not know which of the men was the most wealthy. But when you are told that one of them is worth a thousand dollars, and the other fifteen hundred dollars, you know exactly what their wealth is.

Thus you see the convenience arising from money as a standard of prices.

Money is therefore very valuable ; but it derives all its value from something else. If there were no other useful articles in the world, money would be of no use. But it is not so with other things they do not depend on money for their value. Wheat and corn and beef would be just as well adapted for food to nourish our bodies, as they are now, even if there were no such thing as money. Wool and cotton and silk would be just as comfortable and elegant for clothing, without money as with it. Land, houses, barns, carriages, and many other things, have a real value of their own, because they promote our comfort, and preserve our health and minister to our wants.

Good books are really valuable, and so is the knowledge we gain from them.

Indeed I think young people never use their money more profitably to themselves than when they lay it out for useful books. I once knew a young man, a merchant's clerk, who was very fond of dancing. He went to a dancing school. One morning, after he had danced most of the night, I went into the store, and found him so sleepy, that he had to rub his eyes open several times while he was putting up a few small articles for me. I spoke to him about the folly of dancing, and asked him if he did not think he could spend his time better. " 0, I love to dance," said he. No doubt he did, or he would not have practiced it so eagerly. But after I had talked with him awhile, he became candid, and admitted that it would be a much better preparation for the duties of this life, and the solemn scenes of the world to come, to spend his evenings in useful reading than in useless dancing. I inquired of him how much it cost him for each evening that he attended the dancing-school. He was ashamed to tell me ; so I concluded that he was himself convinced that both his time and money were very foolishly and sinfully wasted.

If he had used that money in buying good books, and used those evenings in reading the books, he would have gained a great deal of knowledge, such as would make him a wiser and better man, and such as would gain for him the esteem of his fellow-men.

Young people should make use of their time and money in preparing themselves to be useful in the world when they become older. Does hopping up and down in a ball-room qualify one for usefulness ? Does it enlarge and strengthen the mind ? Does it improve the heart ?

How must a young man feel when he stands before the tribunal of the great Judge of the world, to remember that he thought more of hopping up and down in a ballroom, than he did of serving God, or benefiting mankind, or preparing for heaven ? And what must be the feelings of a young lady in the dreadful day of judgment, to think that she had spent all that precious time which God gave her to fit her soul for the glories of heaven, in gay and thoughtless pleasures ? Alas, in that day many will see their folly, but it will then be too late to turn to the paths of wisdom.

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