Money Has Been Making People Crazy Since King Midas

Author and Music Producer

Is money mostly a mechanism for the powerful to control the weak? How do major world religions treat money -- in particular, the pursuit of it -- in their sacred texts?

New York Times best-selling author, investment banker, and Grammy-award winning jazz producer Kabir Sehgal returns to Big Think to chat about lessons in his book COINED: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us.

In researching his book, Sehgal traveled to 25 countries, researching the historical roots of money; our behaviors around money (just saying the word "money" stimulates different regions of our brain); and many other surprising facts about the art of money, gifts as a currency, the psychology of money, the future of money, and the rituals/customs around the world money.

The two main topics of this video are money as a tool for social control and money in religion. He explains how, ever since the days of ancient Mesopotamia, the rich and powerful were able to use money to protect their social standing. Sehgal then draws from Hindu examples to detail a common doctrine of money ethics: It's okay to pursue it, but you must liberate yourself from it.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kabir Sehgal: Historically, money has been used as a way to control other people. For example, in ancient times, ancient Mesopotamian times, it was illegal to sell your family, your wife, your son into slavery unless you were settling a debt. So what does that show us? It shows us that money can make us act very irrationally, but also very dangerously. What is slavery? Slavery is but a type of debt of controlling other people. And so what's happened over the years, over the generations, over the civilizations — the people who issue the money, they like to control the money because they realize if they can water down the value of it or they can increase the value of it, they can change people's behaviors. So as a business person it's important to realize that money is not the only thing coming to relationships, meaning that you shouldn't just value all your business leads or business contacts in terms of money because money makes us do irrational things and often selfish things in the business context.

So, in part of researching this book, I wanted to look at the idea of religions; what do different spiritual masters same about money? I mean 80 percent of what Jesus says in terms of his parables in the book of Matthew are about money. There are over 80 verses in the Koran having to do with money or wealth in some way. In Hinduism, there's four aims of life, but two of them really matter to this topic of money and one of them is called artha. Artha; what does artha mean? It means that you have to go out and make material wealth. It's okay to make wealth. It's your duty to make wealth because you have to take care of your family; you have to make a living. But the pursuit of artha, the pursuit of money will leave you yearning for more. It will leave you empty. And that will mean you'll need to go for the fourth aim of life, which is moksha, liberation from it, detachment from it. So it's the pursuit of artha that leads you to the liberation of it, which is a very nuanced and sophisticated way of looking at money. This corresponds to periods of your life. For example, when you're young and early in your life you should be trying to make money; you should be trying to take care of yourself. If you're working on Wall Street, if you're a stockbroker, it's okay to make the money. But as you leave this world, you should start to renounce from it and detach it because you certainly don't take it with you.

This could also correspond to periods of your day. In the morning you go to work; you make a living; you make some money. But when you come home, you should unplug from it. You should detach from moneymaking pursuit and try to balance your life in that way. So there's a reason across all the faiths that talk about less is more. So many of us are driven by more is better, but it's important to realize that sometimes less is more.