All that glitters


“Asteroid that could make everyone on Earth a billionaire confirmed to be exploded this year.” Sometimes, reading something stupid online makes one want to simply mentally extinguish it and move on. Other times, the stupidity is so intense that it warrants picking apart. 

The post above was one I came across on a social media page of very little consequence. “Clickbait”, as they call it – something eye-catching and outrageous enough to encourage clicking on a worthless article that seems like hard-hitting journalism, so that online advertising revenue can be sucked out of the world’s most daft beings. 

While I stand by the assertion that the post I saw was intended as “clickbait”, the real problem is that reputable news sources have picked it up. What exactly is the story here? An asteroid called “16 Psyche” has been identified in the area between Mars and Jupiter. It is believed to be the “metallic heart of a dead planet” containing so much iron, nickel, and gold that in Earth value today, it would be worth somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000,000,000,000,000,000. (No, that is not a made up exaggeration, it is the actual calculated number). 

As it turns out, this would theoretically be enough money to make everyone on Earth a billionaire. The keyword is “theoretically”, as in – solely as a math problem. My concern is that reputable news sources seem to be missing the “theoretically” part. NASA is reportedly going to be exploring the asteroid, and news sources are suggesting that we are all going to be rich. The Economic Times, a division of the India Times, has a headline reading “NASA mission ‘Psyche’ can make everyone a billionaire”. A headline from NDTV reads “This rare asteroid may make everyone a billionaire on this Earth”. The first line of an article on – a popular radio and news website – reads “NASA has announced a mission that could make every single person on Earth a billionaire.”

Have we seriously lost any trace of common sense? I understand the interest created by the “theory” of how much Earth money this asteroid would be worth, but are the people writing these articles honestly believing that this totally worthless asteroid is the solution to all of the world’s problems? The belief that money is some magic outside force that can make goods and services appear out of thin air has to be one of the most brainless things I have ever read. And last week, I was reading about it on the websites of news agencies that really ought to know better. 

Money is nothing more than a standardized barter system. If you were stranded alone on an island with no hope of rescue anytime soon, would you rather have a box of food or a box of $100 bills? Anyone with common sense would choose the food. The money has no value beyond what someone else is willing to give you for it. When there is no one around to barter with, the money may as well be firewood, and it won’t burn for long. Take the food!

Capitalism is great. Why? Because it encourages hard work and contribution to society through the promise of reward. But we can’t lose sight of what money is supposed to represent. In its purest form, money represents what a person has done for society and for others. If I work 8 hours in a meat processing plant (as I used to every day, many years ago), then I receive a certain amount of money that puts a value on that contribution to others’ nutrition. I can then put my money toward shelter, a variety of food for myself, other necessities, and more. The money I pay to others acknowledges the work they’ve done for me, and they can get necessities as well. And so on. 

What would someone do for you in exchange for $1 billion of iron, nickel and gold, if they also had $1 billion worth of iron, nickel and gold? Absolutely nothing, except perhaps an act of kindness. The monetary value that we place on goods and services depends on the usefulness those goods and services bring for those who receive them. Starving people don’t care whether or not all that glitters is gold. They care about where their next meal is going to come from. 

Instead of worrying about get rich quick schemes – and the embarrassing articles from clickbait news agencies that promote these ridiculous ideas – worry about what you can do for society, both today and in general with your gift of life. A fortune not earned is nothing to be proud of. 


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