Root Cause

The Apostle Paul wrote it, and we’ve all heard it. Now a professor of management at MTSU has reached a conclusion about it:

“The love of money is the root of all evil” — at least in the workplace.


by Allison Gorman

In 1999, Dr. Thomas Tang began researching what would become his academic specialty—the love of money as a measurable human quality, with foreseeable effects. His Love of Money Scale (LOMS) has become a standard measure in management research.

Tang has applied LOMS in scores of studies in office and university settings worldwide, finding empirical evidence that love of money makes people behave in predictable ways. And Tang says he’s consistently found that common wisdom about wealth—for better or worse—holds true.

Tang recently led a collaborative research project across six continents to explore how the love of money relates to corrupt intent among business managers in 31 countries. A condensed version of that report, named for Paul’s admonition, was selected for publication in the Best Paper Proceedings of the 2011 Academy of Management Meeting.

Your research begins with the premise that money itself is not inherently good or bad. Correct?

Tang: Yes. The question is, “What do you do with it?” If you earned your money ethically, you feel happy. I have published a paper on it: in a sense, if you have a lot of talent and a lot of money, chances are you will give more and you will receive more. And if you use it wisely, chances are more money will come to you. So, “To those who have, it shall be given in abundance, and for those who don’t have, even what they have will be taken away.”

You published a 2008 study focusing on college business majors. What were your findings?

Tang: I found that the love of money is somewhat related to Machiavellianism, which is related to unethical behavior and that [correlation] will be there for business students but not for psychology students. It’s there for male students but not for female students, and for male business students but not female business students. Male business students are more manipulative, and they’re more likely to engage in unethical behavior.

What conclusion do you draw from that?

Tang: Girls are more ethical; they seek other people’s approval. Boys sometimes venture out and do something really bad. That’s why I have a paper called “The Lost Sheep.”

So this is learned behavior that can be undone?

Tang: To some extent, yes, but it’s a matter of self selection. People who want to make more money may choose a business discipline because of the environment where everyone is competitive and sometimes ethical issues are ignored.

Has your research turned up anything counterintuitive?

Tang: A paper I’m working on now shows that people with a high love of money actually have low corruption for this particular sample in Macedonia—and I have a cross-culture study showing the same thing. That is, in poor countries, those people who want to have a lot of money move to the top, where they have the most opportunities to be corrupt—to take bribes and kickbacks, for example. After they’ve been corrupted for a long time, they have lots of money. And if they have lots of money, their love of money will go down somewhat. In other words, if you have everything you need, having extra money won’t be very helpful to you.

So in poor countries, the mentality is, “Let me get as much as I can get now because I may not be here next year.” It’s the same mentality as some of those executives at Enron and other places. Most executives survive for seven years as a CEO; they want to get as much as they can in those seven years because after that, they’ll be retiring.

Basically, I think it’s very true that the love of money is the root of all evil; however, the level of the love of money may change over time.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Tang.