Money is everywhere
It’s found its way into virtually all aspects of our society and our lives.
It’s polluting our democracy, our oceans, our education system, and our police forces.
It’s taken over our bodies — our brains, our thoughts, and our hearts.
Money is consuming our lives.
It’s consuming our society and our democracy.
Based on our current relationship with money and our current trajectory, we’re headed for tough times.
But I’m an optimist. I do not believe that blazing infernos, civil wars, mass extinction, and killer pandemics are our future.
I believe we can dramatically improve our collective relationship with money, and in doing so reshape our trajectory.
My thinking has been shaped, in part, by an excellent book from Yancey Strickler, co-founder and former CEO of Kickstarter. In his 2019 book, This Could Be Our Future, Mr. Strickler describes our era of financial maximization and explains how we got here.
And, most controversially, he suggests we’re actually nearing the end of this troubled era.
First, you may be asking…what is financial maximization?
Financial maximization is the belief that in a decision, the right choice is whichever option makes the most money.
For the past several decades our country has been run by a set of elites who believe in the power of capitalism and efficient pricing to improve society. Adherents believe this will bring progress and prosperity. In their view, anything and everything that can be financially maximized should be.
According to Mr. Strickler, there are 3 key assumptions built into the gospel of financial maximization.
- Maximizing wealth is the primary goal of life
- We’re all competing with each other for our share of the pie
- #1 and #2 are inevitable and eternal
According to Mr. Strickler, none of these assumptions are true. While financial maximization can be a powerful force for good, he argues, its ubiquity has crowded out many other things we care about.
It is tearing the world apart. I couldn’t agree more.
There is a better way
The path forward involves embracing a broader definition of value that relegates money to play a far smaller role.
“The goal is a world where values like community, knowledge, fairness, security, tradition, and the needs of the future also have a rational say in the big and daily decisions we face. Not just whichever choice makes the most money.” Yancey Strickler, This Could Be Our Future
Once we are ready to discard the notion that financial maximization should apply to everything in our lives, we then seek a broader definition of value that incorporates the needs of our future selves, what’s good for the community, and how we can make the world better for our children.
Mr. Strickler came up with a 2x2 for this he calls the Bento:
In the aforementioned era of financial maximization, we’ve lived almost entirely in the “Now Me”. We’ve made decisions based on what makes us feel secure, what brings us pleasure, what gives us autonomy.
The problem is that making decisions based entirely on what is good for ourselves in the short term eventually leads to some pretty terrible outcomes. We’re talking about individual problems like greed, unhappiness, loneliness. And societal problems like climate change, mass extinction.
It turns out that optimizing for our short-term selves just doesn’t work in the long run. This is not, and should not be, surprising.
On the contrary, when we use the Bento as a decision-making framework, we force ourselves to consider not only Now Me, but also Future Me, Now Us, and Future Us.
This leads to outcomes that maximize shared and long-term interests, which align more closely with deeper values like awareness, sustainability, and knowledge.
Companies are a powerful force for change
While this specific decision-making model may be new, Mr. Strickler cites many examples of people and companies that are taking into account longer term, more collective outcomes.
These entities are not simply shifting their approach — they’ve been operating this way for years.
Companies like Patagonia, Tesla, Chick-fil-A, Ben & Jerry’s have a “Future Us” mindset built into their charters. Several of these companies were also early to abandon Facebook for allowing political hate speech.
These companies are leading the way on important issues because they’re operating against different goals. Incentives matter. And they have codified a commitment to serve a more diverse set of stakeholders over the longer term, in addition to maximizing shareholder value.
It’s easy, in times like these, to begin to lose hope in society and believe we’re all doomed. But companies like these give me hope.
When I’m feeling pessimistic, I try to remind myself that today’s businesses, our laws, everything really, were built by people to serve specific needs.
Therefore, we can change them.
As our needs change, as our wisdom increases, we can make different choices. And many already are. The future is already here, as they say, it’s just not evenly distributed. We just need to know where to look.
We each play a role in changing the world
Our current society, like all societies in history before it, is a product of a set of facts, values, beliefs, and decisions.
As the facts change, we must also work change our beliefs.
A key belief in American society is this theory of financial maximization. It underpins our entire economic system at this point, which in turn drives our business ecosystem, our politics, our education system, virtually everything.
It’s showing significant cracks. And many are concluding that while financial maximization has resulted in incredible prosperity and economic growth, gains have not been remotely evenly distributed. For most people, the system simply doesn’t work very well.
We all want to live happier, healthier lives. Whether or not we realize it, this is a more important, higher priority goal than getting rich.
And yet, today, money often gets in the way of realizing these higher level goals.
The theory of financial maximization tells us that money will fix everything, that creating markets in every area of our lives is the key to improving them.
Yet we can clearly see that this is not the case.
There are many “goods” that cannot be priced and are therefore not subject to efficient pricing. Take public health — it makes me better off if my neighbors are not sick in the streets.
Or the environment — it’s very difficult to put a price on clean air or clean water. While money can and should be invested in better, cleaner technology and in fixing the environment, more money is not likely to fix our collective problems entirely.
And we should be skeptical when others suggest more money is the best remedy to a set of problems that were caused by money in the first place.
Many people are beginning to change their beliefs about money and financial maximization. Some are even starting to change their actions.
If you’re open to changing your views about money, there are 5 key ways you can make changes in your life:
- Question your beliefs. Read, write, and talk about money and the role it plays in your life. Do you use money as a tool to achieve higher level needs? Or is money more likely using you? One way to know is to ask yourself, does my desire for more money bring me closer to, or further from, my goals?
- Vote for change at the ballot box. Vote for people who support policies that create a more equal, generous, prosperous future. Millennials and Gen Z voters can play a much larger role in this election than ever before — if we show up.
- Open your wallet to organizations and companies you believe in. Buy from companies with inclusive, longer-term missions and good business practices. Donate to organizations that improve humanity.
- Use the Bento to make better decisions. Consider a broader set of stakeholders and a longer time horizon than you would through your traditional decision-making process.
- Change your career to reflect your values. Consider doing work that pays the bills but also brings the best outcomes to the greatest number of people.
Millennials, Gen Z: The future is in our hands
I believe it’s likely that Millennials and Gen Z will rebuild our entire economic and political systems better reflect our beliefs. In fact, this has happened numerous times throughout history.
Clearly, it’s not impossible. And yet, this will only happen if we embrace change and take action. We can feel the weight of this moment. Big changes are happening in our country.
Feel this weight and grapple with what it means to you, what changes this might require to your belief system, and how you might change your environment to reflect this.
Think about how you can change your beliefs, and how this should trickle down to affect your day-to-day decisions.
Keep grappling with your relationship to money and decide proactively what role it should play in your life.
Make decisions that include more stakeholders and give proper weight to the future.
How can you be a part of building an abundant future worth believing in? What can you do today to take that first step? I’m right there with you.
I’m on a mission to find the wiser way to live my life. The wiser version of me. And to help you to do the same.
Are you on a similar journey? Please subscribe, connect on LinkedIn, and reach out. I’d love to hear from you.