In Sinclair Lewis‘s 1915 Novel “The Trail of the Hawk” our economic myth is set down for all to read:
“You can't be an idealist and make money. You make the money and then you can have all the ideals you want to, and give away some to hospitals and libraries."
A myth is a special two-part kind of story that expresses something true about our lives. It is a combination of science, an assumed regularity in how things happen in the world, with a description of how what we are, our desires, fears, hopes, passions, fits in with this theory about the world.
In our money making myth we have expressed the idea that we are a good-natured people, and the hypothesis that we cannot make money if we allow our good nature to be respected in the money making itself.
Partly the myth is an economic theory, a belief that what is best for us is free markets, unregulated trade, unlimited paid for influence of business on politicians. This is a theory being proved wrong as we watch, at least wrong in the claim that it is good for the majority, right only in that it is good for a minority of those who are most vehement in expressing it.
Though the theory is false as science, its influence will not necessarily end soon. It is only part of the story.
The other part of the myth of money making is what is said about our human, emotional, passionate selves. Out of all the loves, hates, fears, out of which we make for ourselves a good life, the story focuses on the acquisition of money and power to be had from social position. That emphasis is then incorporated with the “scientific”, hypothetical claim about what works in an economy.
In past reports we looked over a couple of philosophic myths, stories of how we must always reason, or always feel our way through life’s movement. We saw how simply by not looking in other directions our loyalty to just one way turns us into fanatics denying other possible ways of life that call out different aspects of our complex human nature.
We make money and like to make money and make a success of ourselves, but when overly loyal to this understanding we allow ourselves to neglect the rest of ourselves.
It is our country's particular fate that this neglect of ourselves has been associated with a false economic theory and solidified into a myth that has been repeated in daily life for more than a century.
Though of the two parts of the myth, the scientific economic hypothesis is firmly disproved, we are far from questioning the human component of the story.
We continue to believe we must make money by any means, then express our good nature by giving money away. We dare not be good-natured in making money.
There is a great inertia of habits and customs, ways of talking and thinking and acting, in all that is expressed in the money making myth.