What do we know of money? We work with it every day, handling it for both clients and ourselves. We have studied its workings and tried to maximize its powers. We know how important money is to individuals and how much folks hurt when they don't have it.
That said, I'll ask again. Do we even know what money is? Do we know where it comes from? Do we understand its requirements? Do we grasp how it has changed over the decades and centuries? Or perceive its psycho-social implications and imperatives for individuals and communities?
Do we see how money has changed its demands on people from the early 20th century to now? Could we conceive of an alternative to the current scheme of international trading currencies, for example? Or do we imagine how much we are now asked to subsidize our extended life spans with something that has no tangible value and that we aren't even earning?
Where are the counterbalances to those impersonal macroeconomics conversations of academics and industry people who forget there are real people on the other end of the statistics?
I suggest we have a deep and collective need for intelligent conversations about money. Not only to get a grip on it as a force, but to get people to understand its social relevance.
We have long known how to ask our clients deep and intimate personal questions. It has been more than 20 years since I first heard Bill Bachrach ask, "What does money mean to you?" The question is brilliant. When I first heard it, I was blown away by how this simple question could peel back psychological layers. I continue to think it is an extraordinary, wicked question.
Today, the psychological aspects of money are receiving even greater attention as psychologists and others finally figure out that money is at the root of many crucial personal issues. As their work matures, they will undoubtedly develop better techniques to ferret out people's behavior.
But even that field misses the point that money is a social construct-that it is quite literally meaningless without the human beings who trade it.
So it is not enough to talk about how money affects "me." We have to talk about how it affects "us." We have to expand the personal questions to relevant social explorations. This is another "wicked question." Unfortunately, it is hardly ever asked-by financial planners or anyone else.
But we cannot avoid it when our social structures are increasingly reliant on money. It is incumbent upon the financial planning profession to begin asking these questions out loud-and then hold our end of the rope with fierce determination.
I know. I know. It is hard enough to take care of clients one at a time much less to take into account millions and billions of total strangers. But the social ramifications must be addressed.