Money can't buy happiness. You can't be rich enough, thin enough, or young enough. Money can't buy love. Money answereth all things. Money is the root of all evil. Money alone sets all the world in motion. Time is money. Money speaks sense.
Money. It's the single greatest source of national schizophrenia. It's almost a national religion: We do, after all, inscribe "In God we trust" on our currency. It's certainly a national obsession. Pick up the sports page. The stats aren't about numbers of steals but numbers of deals. The entertainment section doesn't review movies; it lists opening-day grosses. New bestseller? How big was the advance? Politics? Who bought which pol and for how much?
At the same time, I don't know a single soul whose head is screwed on straight about money. Try asking someone in a social setting, "Say, what's your salary?" and all you get is a silent stare. People either make too much, which marks them as greedy, shallow bastards. Or they make too little, and they stew in silence, aware that poverty is supposed to confer a certain nobility, hoping desperately that a little nobility will translate into oodles of cash.
I say it's time to get it all out in the open. Take the spy Quiz and find out how you feel about money:
1. Complete the following sentence. Follow your bliss and ?
- the money will follow.
- a nervous breakdown will follow.
- an eviction notice will follow.
- a following of your friends will get all the stock options.
2. At a cocktail party, someone starts talking about the obscene amount of money a mutual friend makes. It's about one-half of what you make. You immediately:
- Change the subject to old taboos like religion, politics, sex, or race.
- Change the subject to new taboos like ? well, there aren't any except money.
- Confess that you make twice as much and vow to join a 12-step program.
- Confess that you make twice as much and light up a big fat stogie.
3. The classical story of King Midas teaches us that ? :
- money is the root of all evil.
- hugging people is not a good idea.
- stocks and bonds are better investments than precious metals.
- Jack Kemp is right! The U.S. should return to the gold standard.
4. Whom do you admire the most?
- Michael Milken
- Mother Theresa
- Micheal Milken's mother, Theresa
Mark each of these statements T for true or F for false.
- Anything worth being well-paid for is worth doing.
- In lieu of a check, my mortgage company happily accepts the fact that I am constantly learning and growing in my job.
- At Career Day at my kids' school I am usually introduced as a Really Rich Dude Who Screws People for Big Bucks.
- Money can't buy happiness, but it does allow for a long-term lease.
- I never balance my checkbook.
- I don't have a checkbook.
- I have someone who balance my checkbook for me.
- It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness — especially if you have the candle monopoly.
For a school project, your 10-year-old daughter asks you what you would want on your tombstone. You answer:
- I did it my way.
- I did it their way.
- Someone else did it.
- Nobody ever put, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on their tombstone.
- I wish I'd spent more time at the office.
Scoring: 1 point for every a, 2 points for every b, 3 points for every c, 4 points for every d, 0 for every e. T or F: 1 point for every T, 2 points for every F.
0-7. Your attitude toward money can be considered ambivalent at best. You long to soar but know you would miss the health insurance (plus dental).
8-15.Your attitude toward money is uncertain. You continue to have nightmares about winding up as a waiter at the place where all your old coworkers have lunch.
15-22. Your feelings about money can best be compared with Hamlet's feelings about human existence. You like money, and you wish you didn't. Worse, you like to think about money, dream about money, and talk about money — and still wish you didn't. You wish Reagan were still president. Like all of us, when it comes to money, what you wish for is impossible.
The Spy is a poor but wealthy novelist living in the Pacific Northwest.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.