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benjamin melançon

For what it's worth... please stop using the word worth to describe how much money and property someone has

3 min read

Because Anthea Butler told me to i'll be reading Sarah Posner on Joel Osteen.

But i had to stop for a bit after the first paragraph and the use of the very common phrasing "he is worth" $40M.

I don't think he could trade in his life for that (although Trump might be able to command his claimed net assets as donations from people in return for his voluntary death). People might not even put up that much in ransom for Joel. And i'm pretty sure his organs aren't worth that much more on illegal markets than any other persons. Point is that "worth" in dollar terms is a ridiculous way to think about a human being.

Using the word "worth" implies a positive value judgement which just doesn't fit the facts. It's more obvious how awful a way of thinking this is if we say someone with $500, a 2012 Honda Civic, and a $10,000 medical debt is worth negative four thousand five hundred dollars. Which is why the same reporters who will write about a rich person being "worth" millions will not write about regular and poor people in terms of monetary "worth". But people aren't stupid. Constant use of describing a person as worth the value of their property sinks in, and tells the majority that they are worth literally nothing.

We're talking about how much money and other property easily denominated in currency which a person possesses. Use of a term which only makes sense in this usage when applied to property, and which has implicit positive values when applied to humans and ideas, is a lazy and harmful shorthand.

A more accurate phrasing, especially when we are talking about millions of dollars of wealth, would be:

"has hoarded"

Or if we want to eschew value connotations positive or negative:

"has amassed"

As an aside, the more general veneration of people based on their wealth is really messed up, even by capitalistic or at least market economy standards. Even buying into all the discredited claptrap about how our economy perfectly aligns private interest with public through the power of the market, and so the theory that those who have received the most money have done the most for society, we would want to celebrate people who have earned the most money, so wealth people have plus money they've given away minus wealth inherited.


And a thread on what we really need to be paying attention to right now, the success of fascists gaining support from large segments of society: