Money as a Barrier to Need

Shortly after the eruption of the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala, the impact of tropical storm Agatha, and the appearance of the huge sinkhole that opened in the middle of Guatemala City, one of the web-based news sources quoted President Alvaro Colom Caballero as saying that they needed food, blankets, portable shelters, “and especially money.” I can no longer find this quote anywhere on the ever-mutable web, but it struck me powerfully when I read it.

Especially money.

People do not need money. They need, air, water, food, shelter. No one needs money — they need the things money can buy. More accurately, they need the things that lack of money will deny them access to.

Money may have been at one time a convenience to extend trade beyond barter. Whatever its innocent origins, it is now a barrier to meeting human needs. That is its purpose and function: to regulate access to resources. The rich get — the poor do not.

It says something profoundly ugly about the nature of the human community in our money-driven global marketplace, that people could die by the hundreds, the thousands or the millions for lack of money. It is one thing when they die because of lack of food or water, of exposure or disease, of suffocation under a cloud of volcanic ash. That is a natural disaster.

But if they died because of lack of money, it means that all of their needs could have been met — there was sufficient food, and water, and air, and shelter for them, had they possessed enough money to pay for them. But they didn’t, so those who controlled the things they needed — those who demanded money in exchange for them — sat back with hard eyes and watched them die.
That is not a natural disaster. That is murder. Cold-blooded murder.

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