You can say a lot about making a lot of money. And a lot is said about making a lot of money. In recent years, making a lot of money is associated with immoral behavior. Lately I often get the question whether making money with sustainability is moral or immoral. The answer is not so simple.
First, it’s more important reflect on the (often unspoken) moral myths about making money, because these myths blur the discussion. Immoral behavior and making money are too often linked together without proper reflection.
Tim Wise, an American speaker and activist in the field of racism, has written on this subject and I am grateful for his clear answers and insights on the myths on making money in the sector of ‘good causes’.*
1. If you make lots of money with sustainability, then you can not be genuine
To say that someone who works for social justice can’t be genuine about that commitment to the extent they get paid, is no more logical than saying that a doctor who gets paid must not really care about providing health services to sick people, or that a teacher who receives a salary is, because of that salary, not really committed to the education of those they teach.
2. You’re a better activist if you don’t earn much money
[…] the notion that my chronically low-to-moderate income in those years (several below the poverty line) meant that I was a better activist, or a more valid educator, or that my efforts were more genuine or carried some inherently greater degree of integrity than they do today, seems contentious to say the least. […] Not to mention, such an argument would require that we cast off all activists and educators once they begin to gain some attention and begin to reach more people (which logically tends to bring more compensation as a result).
3. It is noble to struggle in poverty for charity
[…] the idea that there is something noble, political or radical about choosing to struggle, economically, is the kind of thing that could only be said or believed by someone who had never, themselves, lived in poverty (at least not involuntarily so). Poor people do not think their condition is cool, noble, political or revolutionary in the least. Poor people would like not to be poor.
4. If you make lots of money with your work for a sustainable world, you sell your soul
“If you actually gain any influence or reach you must be a sell-out because the system is so corrupt and evil that they (whomever they may be) would never let you reach an audience if you were really about anything!” This is a mentality that is illogical, rooted in mindless conspiracism, and consigns social justice efforts to guaranteed defeat, since the minute anyone on the left becomes successful or even noticed to any real extent, it means they are no longer really “down” for the cause, whatever the cause may be. This is a recipe for perpetual obscurity.
The discussion about making money with sustainability is not ended yet. It has just begun. Moral or immoral behavior is about the choices people make. If making a lot of money is immoral depends on how the money is made, in what context and the weighing/assessment was. That’s what the discussion should be about.
* These quotes have been shortened for the article. Tim Wise’s whole article on money can be read here (the part about money is in question/answer 12).
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