There is an old story that when a reporter asked the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, “How much money is enough?” and the answer came back “One more dollar!” There are various versions of this tale, and we don’t know for certain that any of them are true. But the point is still taken.
I’ve always been a fan of country music, and I especially like the song “A Satisfied Mind,” written by Joe Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes, and made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and Porter Wagoner, among others. Hayes said he wrote the song after his father-in-law asked him to name the richest man in the world. His father-in-law said all his answers were wrong: the richest man was the one with a satisfied mind. In fact, money can’t buy what we most value in life, and not one rich person in ten has a satisfied mind, as the song tells us.
One glance at the news today, and it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the pain, poverty, and homelessness affecting people in many cultures and countries around the world. As I write this, only 5 percent of the population in Puerto Rico has electricity almost two weeks after the hurricane. More than half are without drinking water. Yet the president of this nation is comfortably ensconced in his golf club. The question that comes to my mind is: do we have a culture and an economy in which people matter?
When E.F. Schumacher wrote Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered in the 1970s, he prophetically asked readers to consider what would the economy be like if it were designed as if people mattered, rather than based on a philosophy of bigger is better.
Pope Francis offers his critique of the global economy when says we have made money our god. He laments that while people will die of starvation tonight, food is reserved only for those who are able to pay for it. We consider a drop in the stock market to be “a tragedy,” he says, while homeless people dying in the streets is not newsworthy. The economy, he says, “should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home.” I am reminded of Schumacher’s words when I hear Pope Francis tell to “put the economy at the service of peoples.”
Nevertheless, there are ministers on the airways today who preach a so-called prosperity gospel proclaiming that if the economy rewards you in this world, you will be assured of God’s reward in the next. It is ironic that many who follow this gospel are themselves poor. Instead of seeking a satisfied mind, or seeking to become planetary people who care for the needs of the Earth and its peoples, their highest striving is for “one more dollar.”
I suggest that we foster the growth of an economy that can transform objects into subjects, guilt and grief into gratitude, and isolation into love. Only if we start from the premise that the Earth and its people matter, can we begin to discover how much—of what we have, and what we want, and what we need—is enough.