Most of us, a few saints and one-per-centers aside, work for money, but not with it in the same direct manner of most of the subjects of Delaney’s intriguing study. We don’t manipulate cash to keep score like poker players (literally) or financial traders (figuratively) or work within a rich, mixed-message tradition of seeing money as a gift from God and ripe for human abuse—the root of all evil—like most clergy. Yet money work does have its effects, as Delaney, a sociologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, demonstrates: every workplace spawns its own money culture, its own cautionary tales of greed and fatal errors, its own conception of the universal economic lubricant.
Consider poker players and hedge fund traders. Delaney knows he’s flirting with cliché, but some truisms are undeniable. Both groups are always caught in a tension (irreconcilable in Delaney’s view) between emotion and rational calculation. Regardless of the sums involved, streaks—whether winning or losing—have to be put aside as each individual bet or trade is evaluated. One result of that is a deliberate distancing from the actual financial impact on offer, a cavalier attitude to money that begins as feigned but which can slowly become real. That’s not something of much social import when it comes to poker players, but the financial industry’s money culture has far-reaching implications.
At the other end of the spectrum, Delaney found the clergy he interviewed to be constantly walking a tightrope when they spoke of money. Its excessive pursuit (“worship,” in fact) was an evil, while its use for causes noble (poor relief) and prosaic (new church roof) was good for both beneficiaries and benefactor. Clerics of all the Abrahamic faiths, with the possible exception of prosperity gospel preachers, hold that money belongs to God, not to whoever currently has “stewardship” over it, a position, Delaney notes, that many told him put them increasingly at odds with their congregants in a materialistic and economically fearful era.