The concept of money is crucial to much of Marx’s work, which comes as no surprise given money’s importance within our society. It is as Marx describes it in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1884, the ”bond binding me to human life, binding society to me…is not money the bond of all bonds?” In addition to uniting us, money is the great equalizer, and is the “visible divinity” that can mitigate any flaws that we may have. This capability of change is alluring, even more so in today’s image driven culture, but money also has dangerous potential within it. Money and its power, is a social phenomenon; but its centrality to our lives at this point is so entrenched in society that the power that we have bestowed upon it in our attempts to ease commerce, is now the power that it possesses over us. While Marx is undoubtedly aware of the detrimental aspects of money, his language in the “Manuscripts” seems to be a far cry from the biblical “money is the root of all evil,” a sentiment that is prominent in the chorus of N.A.S.A’s song “Money.” While listening to this song, I was reminded of the famous song “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” by the late Notorious B.I.G. The choruses of these songs seem to be in agreement about the negative side of money, but while N.A.S.A hits on ideas of the greed and violence that result from the rat race of life, “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” discusses the difficulties that can even arise for the person in possession of large sums of money.
In looking at the lyrics to Biggy’s song as a comparison to Marx’s theories, the first two verses from Mase and Diddy seem more in line with notions of money as “the great equalizer.” These verses don’t relate to the title’s theme, and mainly serve to flaunt the rappers’ affluence, and their resulting successes in both the rap game and with ladies. Biggy’s verse echoes these ideas, but also talks about how despite his current wealth, he must be ready to fight those who are now breathing down his neck. He’s got “gats in holsters, girls on shoulders,” which interestingly puts his vigilance for a potential battle ahead of his partying antics. He may have money, but he’s far from stress free. Most salient to this point, the chorus states, “I don’t know what they want from me, it’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Having money paints a target on a person’s back, and this fact, coupled with the actions usually taken in order to amass immense wealth, can lead to a host of predicaments and the creation of many enemies.
This idea is made abundantly clear in the imminently ending, and critically acclaimed drama, “Breaking Bad” (apologies for any spoiler alerts, I’ll keep it as vague as possible). After finding out that he has cancer, high school chemistry teacher Walter White begins to cook meth to amass enough money for his family to get by in his absence (this problem is not of the “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” variety, but stems from the serious amount of funds needed to keep a family afloat). While Walter is able to make larger sums of money than he ever could have imagined, his problems increase exponentially, and the constant threats of arrest and murder plague him. In dealing with these problems his actions not only toe the lines of legality and ethics, but often cross them. A similar dilemma is presented in the now no longer airing program “Weeds,” which some would argue is a watered down version of “Breaking Bad,” despite airing before it. These shows highlight the tremendously complicated nature of money’s power.
I embedded a video with the lyrics of “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” and included a graph that humorously depicts this relationship on a graph (disclaimer: money as the independent variable should be on the X-axis, and problems should be on the Y-axis).