Lewis Henry Lapham (; born January 8, 1935) is an American writer. He was the editor of the American monthly Harper's Magazine from 1976 until 1981, and from 1983 until 2006. He is the founder of Lapham's Quarterly, a quarterly publication about history and literature, and has written numerous books on politics and current affairs.
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Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralizing as earth, air, and water. Men can employ it as a tool, or they can dance around it as if it were the incarnation of a god. Money votes socialist or monarchist, finds a profit in pornography or translations from the Bible, commissions Rembrandt and underwrites the technology of Auschwitz. It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.
What greater folly can be imagined than to call gems, silver, and gold “noble” and earth and dirt “base”? For do not these persons consider that, if there were as great a scarcity of earth as there is of jewels and precious metals, there would be no king who would not gladly give a heap of diamonds and rubies and many ingots of gold to purchase only so much earth as would suffice to plant a jessamine in a little pot or to set a tangerine in it, that he might see it sprout, grow up, and bring forth such goodly leaves, fragrant flowers, and delicate fruit?
During the contest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, John F. Kennedy visited a mine in West Virginia. “Is it true you’re the son of one of our wealthiest men?” asked one of the miners there. Kennedy admitted that this was true. “Is it true that you’ve never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?” “I guess so,” Kennedy replied. “Is it true you’ve never done a day’s work with your hands all your life?” Kennedy nodded. “Well, let me tell you this,” said the miner. “You haven’t missed a thing.”