Money Is Not Power

"Your money can't save you any more than it could save me!"
First Officer William Murdoch, Titanic (1997)

There's always that one rich Jerkass — the corporate snob, that one with the Lexus, that arrogant prick who's always looking down his nose at everybody else. He can have anything he wants, because ha ha, he's rich.

But then shit hits the fan. Maybe it's a natural disaster, an unstoppable disease, the RMS Titanic, or even The End of the World as We Know It. Or maybe it's merely a Communist revolution or some weird kind of hyperinflation. Suddenly, all that wealth isn't worth so much, because people are more worried about plain ol' survival rather than making money. However, it could be on a much smaller scale — maybe Kids Just Prefer Boxes or money simply isn't important to somebody.

Getting hit with this trope is typically a huge moment for any character used to money solving all their problems. Sometimes it can lead up to a Villainous B.S.O.D. or even a HeelĖFace Turn. Or sometimes he just dies.

Compare Screw the Money, I Have Rules! and Worthless Yellow Rocks. Contrast Bribe Backfire (when money does have power, but the attempt to use it has greater negative consequences than not having done so).

Examples:

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     Anime And Manga  
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, opium kingpin Takeda Kanryuu tries to bribe Kenshin out of attacking his mansion. This works about as well as you'd expect. Discussed by his Dragon-in-Chief Shinomori Aoshi:
    Aoshi: You don't get it. Your money's of no use here. Himura Battousai does not live for gain — I told you.
    • Later on, when Kenshin finally takes him out:
    • One of the Serial Killer Jin-e's victims tried to bribe him into leaving him alone, but Jin-e doesn't care about money, only about the fun from killing people and having interesting fights.
    • Saito Hajime believes in "Aku Soku Zan" (Swift Death to Evil). All the money in the world will not stop him from killing you if he thinks you deserve it. Trying to bribe him would just reinforce the idea that you deserve it.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Shadi is a mysterious being whose main role is to punish those who would desecrate tombs and steal their artifacts. Some of his victims try to bribe their way out, and Maximillion Pegasus once tried to save one of his victims by offering to pay for what he stole, but Shadi says he and his ilk do not care about money at all and such crimes are only punishable by death or Penalty Game.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Steely Dan tries to bribe Jotaro to leave him be after the former abused the latter's his grandfather. It works about as well as you'd expect.
    Jotaro: Good grief...You really are the lowest scum in history. You can't pay back what you owe with money.

     Comics  
  • V for Vendetta: This is the final fate of Rich Bitch Helen: losing all of her money and power. Her husband (who was in charge of the Norsefire party's Sinister Surveillance) is dead, having just killed her lover (an up-and-coming street rat, who she was grooming to become the chief of Norsefire's goons). The total collapse of the Norsefire party leaves her on the streets. She desperately flings herself onto the first guy she recognizes as a former party member, trying to seduce him by claiming that with her, they'll seize power. He no longer cares about any of it, and leaves her screeching.
  • Maus features one of the rare occasions where the person on the receiving end of this trope is sympathetic. The main character's father-in-law, a Jewish millionaire in Nazi-occupied Poland, tries to bribe himself and his wife out of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, smuggling two middle-aged Jews to safety in 1940 is simply too much risk for anyone, no matter how great the reward.
  • In American Vampire, Skinner Sweet's sire Percy has him dug up and asks him to join him. He promises Skinner money and territory to sweeten the deal. Unfortunately, Skinner's a total psychopath who has hated Percy for decades. Skinner drags Percy screaming into the sun.
  • In the first Blacksad comic, the Big Bad is rich enough to kill with impunity, muzzle the chief of police, and send his goons to beat up a detective. Problem is the chief of police, while forced to back down, doesn't like rich assholes using their influence to escape their crimes, and gives carte blanche to the detective, Blacksad, to find the rich murderer and kill him. When Blacksad confronts the murderer, he rejects any bribe on principle and kills him while the chief of police writes it as a suicide. Blacksad even notes that if the Big Bad wasn't so smug, he wouldn't have been able to pull the trigger.
  • Batman: No Man's Land plays with this; in the sealed-off Gotham, all barter is for basic survival necessities, so anyone who flashes around paper money or jewels and expects results is treated as an idiot by most people. However, while money may not be power, the trade that it used to represent is more important than ever, and those who master the new currencies (tinned food, batteries, servitude etc.) become very powerful. The Penguin becomes the most powerful man in Gotham this way, and is famous for being the only major trader who will accept traditional valuables as payment, but only because he has a pipeline to the outside world and enough resources to survive until the No Man's Land is lifted and the economy returns to normal.
  • In Batman RIP, the Black Glove mock Batman that they have more money than even him, making them completely untouchable with no court they cannot bribe. They learn the hard way their money offers no protection from either Talia al Ghul or the Joker who track down and kill them all.

    Fan Works 
  • White Rain: Marnix finds this out the hard way when Sasuke cuts his arm off and burns him to a cinder with Amaterasu.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! fic Yu-Gi-Oh! Soul of Silicon, corrupt businessman turned warlord Gansley learned this, but was able to adjust thanks to Daala.
    Gansley: Ironic, isn't it, that in Xanadu there is no currency. Money doesn't exist where Duel Spirits reign. They have no need for it. In dimensions like this, power is the only thing that counts. I wouldn't have lasted a day in my old human form. Duel Spirits wouldn't have cared about my stocks or financial clout. They would have seen nothing but the crippled old man I was without them. But now, thanks to Daala, the power I once had that only existed on paper in my stock portfolio has been replaced by true power! The power to crush anyone who opposes me!
  • A Man Of Iron: Someone hires a gang of bandits to kill Tony Stark. They later remark that they don't really care about money because they can just take whatever they want from their victims, and do it more because they get off on hurting people. When they kidnap Tony, he attempts to negotiate, but they mock him and say his wealth and titles are meaningless; from now on, he's just their toy that they will torture for fun and eventually kill. It takes a Big Damn Heroes from Jon, Rhodey, and the others to save him.

     Film 
  • 28 Days Later: Mark talks about the early days, when people were trying to escape the country.
    Mark: I remember my dad had all this cash. He thought maybe we could buy our way onto a plane, even though cash was completely useless. Ten thousand other people had the same idea.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Corporate mogul John Daggett gets hit in the face by this trope when Bane stops doing what he's told.
    Bane: [to Stryver] Leave us.
    Daggett: No, you stay here. I'm in charge! [Bane puts his hand on Daggett's shoulder; Daggett craps his pants]
    Bane: Do you feel in charge? [Stryver leaves]
    Daggett: [almost whimpering] I paid you a small fortune!
    Bane: And this gives you power over me?
    Daggett: What is this?
    Bane: Your money and infrastructure have been important...'til now.
    • This is a theme with all the villains in the Dark Knight saga. In the first movie, Falcone says he runs the city with "power you can't buy... the power of fear." (Although this power doesn't save him when scarier people start to show up...) In the second, the Joker burns his cash payment from the mob and then kills the mob boss who paid him. In general, money won't get you anywhere with Batman's enemies, any more than it would with Batman himself.
  • Titanic (1997): Cal tries to bribe his way off the doomed ship. While it appears to work initially, the money is thrown back in his face when it matters most.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953): As Los Angeles is being evacuated, people are rioting in the streets while trying to obtain transportation out of the city.
    Man: Let me up. I'll give you $500 for your place. I'll make it $1,000.
    Man in truck: Money's no good anymore!
  • Played with, somewhat, in 2012. While some of the surviving humans were selected by geneticists, a good portion of the rest were rich snobs whose tickets ran at a billion euros apiece. It was the money from these ticket sales that paid for the ships in the first place. The trope comes into play when the storylines converge in China, where one of the ark ships has been severely damaged and its assembled passengers are nearly left to die (one of them yells "I paid a fortune to be here!"). It's also not pointed out that, in the post-disaster world, their money and power will be gone, as the economy that supported their fortunes no longer exists, meaning they'll have to work just like everyone else.
  • In Quick Change, one of the bank hostages tries to bribe the robber (Bill Murray in a clown costume) by offering his very expensive watch. Being Bill Murray, the mocking reply is priceless.
    • Also played with (and an Ironic Echo of sorts) on the situation that is the film's visual Title Drop: Grimm tries to buy a ride on the bus for him and his companions, but he has no exact change for the fare and the bus driver is such a hard-core stickler to the rules that he will not take a payment with a high-denomination bill (even when Grimm insists that he can keep the rest) and continues to demand exact change, forcing Grimm to run to a nearby store and get it (evading the police as he does so) before the bus takes off.
  • In The Untouchables, this Trope is the entire reason for the film's title. Eliot Ness and his group cannot be bribed, which is Al Capone's usual way of keeping the cops away from him.
  • In Dick Tracy, Big Boy Caprice tries to buy off Tracy. Doesn't work. (In fact, in the novelization, the other mob bosses in his group initially question if it's even possible.)
  • In Predator 2, Jamaican gangsters kidnap the leader of their rival Columbian gang, hang him from the ceiling naked by his ankles, and prepare to execute him. He desperately offers his fortune to them, but they reply, "This is not about money, this is about power. There's a new king in the streets. This is a message he has for your people: 'you are history!' Fucking history. Goddamn puto." Shortly afterwards, they are all killed by the Predator.
  • I Am Legend: Dr. Neville finds himself walking over a fortune in bank notes, abandoned on the floor.
  • The Dogs of War: Shannon is so pissed off about "President" Kananga's horrible regime (and having been worked over by its secret police) that when he finally confronts Kananga at his office, he unhesitatingly shoots him with a machine gun even when Kananga is offering him an absurd amount of money. He also finds his employers so repulsive that he decides not to complete his contract as written and hands over the deposed country to a more honorable man (and blows away the man who was going to be his employer's puppet president, to boot).
  • An interesting example from The Reckless Moment for women during The '40s and The '50s: Although Lucia isnít a jerk, she is part of a wealthy upper-class family. However, she canít use this wealth to get blackmail money because of her position as a powerless Housewife. She needs her husband's signature (read: permission) for everything at her bank, she doesnít have collateral (therefore, she doesnít own anything) to get a loan from a loaning institution, and her valuables arenít worth much.

     Literature  
  • Making Money plays with this trope: Moist Von Lipwig, Boxed Crook, works for the government as the leader of the National Bank, treating it as a complex con game, which, in a very real sense, it is. He faces the resistance of the Lavish family, who are the Royally Screwed Up shareholders of the bank. And while their money definitely grants them power, this power is mere leverage, and not just Moist, but also their true opponent, the Big Goodnote  Vetinari, know and understand this much better than they do.
  • This is Koreiko's plight in The Little Golden Calf and the reason why he patiently awaits the end of the Soviet rule. Ostap Bender also learns to appreciate this trope when he finally makes it big.
  • In Battle Royale, Oda is a rich asshole that claims he doesn't belong in the Program because his father works for the government. He finds out that they don't care one bit who you are. Everyone goes to the Program at random, even rich people.
  • In When Worlds Collide, a rich tycoon tries to buy his way onto the ark spaceship.
  • This is a major theme in the later sections of World War Z. Because of how the world has been turned upside down by the Zombie Apocalypse, people who had previously held high-paying, "important" positions like stock brokers, celebrities, and professional athletes find themselves having to be retrained so they can actually do something useful. At one point, it's mentioned that a formerly wealthy woman who held a white collar job before the end of the world is now taking a class on useful skills — being taught by her former maid.
    • The tale of the "celebrity party fortress" brings it down home even harder: money will buy you no survival in the Zombie War if you are Too Dumb to Live, like broadcasting that you are gorging yourself on food over the Internet where thousands of people who are starving so badly that they are willing to kill for food can see, alongside your exact location. The fortress falls in minutes to the starving hordes, and the mercenaries hired to protect the rich people decide that their own lives are worth more than their contractors' and run away.
  • OGPU Prison by Sven Hassel. Wounded German soldiers are divided into two categories; those likely to survive who'll be evacuated, and those who are too injured to bother with who'll be left for the advancing Soviet Army. A supplies officer in the latter category tries to buy an evacuation ticket off the former with diamonds he's got on hand and a Big Fancy House he owns in Berlin. They all think he's mad and laugh at him, causing the officer to break down crying, as "he suddenly realised how poor he was."

    Live Action TV 
  • Early in LOST, Sawyer is quick to point out that money is completely worthless on the Island, which makes the formerly wealthy Shannon powerless. This is why he's able to quickly assert himself as an economic leader, by salvaging anything that might be of value from the wreckage.
  • In the miniseries of Battlestar Galactica (2003), Helo and Boomer land on Caprica as it's getting nuked to make repairs to their ship. Not long after they land, they are swarmed by a large group of civilians. One of them tries to buy his way on board with 50,000 cubits, even though the bank they're backed by is more than likely dust now.
  • In House of Cards (US), Frank Underwood prefers to surround himself with people who seek power over money, as their loyalty can't be bought.
    Frank: Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn't see the difference.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The show really shows that gold alone does not guarantee power. The Lannisters are able to stay in power not just because they are the richest house in Westeros, but due to Tywin's cunning, ruthlessness and strong leadership, with him calling gold "just another rock". This becomes a plot point in Season 4, when it's revealed that the Westerland mines have been dry for years, and the Lannisters themselves are actually bankrupt, though Tywin was able to maintain the illusion that all was well with their finances for some time.
    • When Baelish doubts Ned Stark for antagonizing the Lannisters because gold, not soldiers, is what wins wars, Ned retorts that by that logic, it makes no sense that Robert is king and not Tywin Lannister. (The "joke" being that Robert Baratheon, not Tywin Lannister, is king.) Ned is proven wrong in that the Lannisters and the Tyrells are major powers thanks to their gold and resources, and the support and loans from the Iron Bank can bring a nearly defeated contender (Stannis) Back from the Brink. Ned, however, is also right in that neither the Lannisters or Tyrells can openly rule even after defeating their opponents, because they still need the appearance of legitimacy (i.e. a King named Baratheon who is descended from the Rebel King who won the Iron Throne). The Lannisters (who are wealthy and have a reputation for "paying debts") also suffer the consequences of Bad PR and poor heirs since the Iron Bank has faith in Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, but have none whatsoever in any of his descendants, while Stannis can count on relative youth and dependability.
    • Peter Baelish, who is an embodiment of a nascent Corrupt Corporate Executive, is also seen as a "money grubber" by the High Lords of Westeros, and ultimately the word of a teenage daughter of a High Lord counts for more than that of a longtime successful finance minister.
    • Jaime gets a lesson in this from Locke, who is enraged by Jaime's arrogant attempts to buy him off with promises of gold. To prove the point, Locke cuts his hand off.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • In the second half of Season 3, Hive, an ancient Inhuman who HYDRA was originally founded to worship, and who was banished from Earth centuries ago, asks Gideon Malick why he is helping Hive. Malick says that his family was promised that Hive would help them take over the world. Hive muses that Malick already owns an appreciable portion of the world; between his money and his connections, he can have very nearly anything he wants at any time. Hive says that what Malick actually wants is power, personal superhuman power like what the Inhumans have. Hive, being Affably Evil, helps him find this power.
    • A few episodes later, after Malick's death, Hive is informed that there is a lot of money up for grabs. Hive is dismissive, and says that they have neither the time nor the inclination to sort through a bunch of diversified investments. Giyera says that while Hive is right, they can't get all of it within a reasonable timeframe, but they can get nine hundred and sixty million dollars immediately. That manages to give even Hive pause, and Hive admits that will be useful.

     Music 
  • The whole theme of The Beatles hit, "Can't Buy Me Love".

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Apostle Judah Mathew insists all his opponents be paid as much as he is, he will even give them his pay day, for he has that which monetary gain can never attain: Power From Above.
  • There's a reason MVP's wanted TNA's World Heavyweight Championship belt. He had money already, being the "Highest Paid Free Agent" in the sport and respect for his runs in Florida, Puerto Rico, WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Then he became director of wrestling operations of Impact and all was good until he saw the owner of the LA Clippers lose the team in a scandal and decided he wanted something that couldn't be so easily taken away.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick: When the Crystal Golem decides to rebel against Bozzok for all the abuse he's put her through, including being reanimated as a golem in constant agony, Bozzok tries to get Grubwiggler (the wizard who reanimated Crystal) to help him deal with her. Grubwiggler decides that helping Bozzok is against his best interests, and leaves. Bozzok tries to offer Grubwiggler triple what he was paying, but Grubwiggler, tired of Bozzok's constant infringing on his magical research, tells him he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, and teleports home.
  • 8-Bit Theater: This trope coming into play motivates Thief into wanting to save the world, since if the world ends, "money won't be worth the act of picking it up".
  • Unicorn Jelly: The Arks off the dying world would probably be tailored for the rich and powerful... IF there were enough damn space for a bunch of useless snobs. As the Arks are barely functioning on unknown precursor technology that has not been improved for over 500 cycles, there simply isn't enough weight support for more than a skeleton crew of the fittest soldiers and the thinnest assassins, a handful of the thinnest and not smartest scientists, and a few dozen children for colonization because their weight is by far the lightest. In fact, the heroes only get to board because one of them accidentally slaughtered a dozen kids. No amount of money, or even political power, will make up for the ability to float the ark off a planet that's up next for asteroid target practice.
    Did you think you'd see the rich and powerful, triumphing up the galleyways in hopes of buying their future? These arks are already over the limit from the bare minimum of crew members, and every human onboard has to serve a purpose or they're dead weight!

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Arthur, Elwood City is struck by a massive blizzard. Mr. Crosswire manages to beat Mr. Read to the last of the food at the supermarket, but that's where his influence ends. Upon returning home, Muffy complains that none of her electrical devices are working and begs him to fix it by paying someone. He replies "This is something money can't fix."
  • Batman: The Animated Series has a case of this in the episode "The Terrible Trio" where Warren, the group's leader, truly thinks that he can get away with murder because he has money. When he finds he can't bribe Batman, he still thinks that his family's lawyers will get him off. This is followed by a Gilligan Cut to him being thrown in jail.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Furniture and Meat", Finn and Jake go to the Wildberry kingdom to spend all of their excess treasure. Jake quickly goes nuts when he realizes he can get away with just about anything by tossing around money. He finally bites off more than he can chew when he offers Wildberry Princess money if she lets him sit on her head. She gets so angry and embarassed that she orders Finn and Jake's arrests and confiscates their loot.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?", Filthy Rich tries to bribe the Tantabus, a dream monster created from Princess Luna's guilt, into letting him go. It doesn't work. Played With, as he later uses the dream reality to give himself money-themed superpowers, which he uses to ride a cloud of bits and fire them at high speeds at the monster, to much greater effect.

     Real Life  
  • The Punic Wars fit this to a T. Carthage was a Merchant Oligarchy richer than God, going up against an Italic regional power called The Roman Republic. The Carthaginians could out-buy and out-sell the Romans, and yet they got crushed. No amount of money and bribes could attract Roman allies with strong traditions and commitment to loyalty. Nor is money sufficient by itself towards nurturing civic virtue since the Barcid family cared far more about defending the city-state and countering the Romans than the Carthaginian Senate did. They did far better in the second round simply by virtue of raising their own armies instead of relying on mercenaries.
  • A textbook example of hyperinflation making money worthless: before World War I, the German Reichstag was divided over how to fund the state budget. The Socialist SPD wanted progressive taxes, like income or estate or capital gains or inheritance tax, which would tax the rich more than the poor. The Aristocrats/Conservatives wanted regressive taxes, like goods & services ('GST' or 'VAT') or flat income taxes. The German state coasted by on GST until World War I, when state expenditures exploded... and the Reichstag couldn't agree on what taxes to implement to fund them. So what de facto happened was Deficit Spending instead, as the German state created vast sums of new money by refusing to tax (and therefore destroy) even a fraction of the amount it was spending. State spending was massively reduced after the war's end (Reparation payments were much cheaper than sustaining the pre-war German military had been, and the new military cost basically nothing). However, Parliament continued to be deadlocked on how to reduce the deficit. The result was a ludicrously quick economic recovery from the war as fewer and fewer people saved money and everyone spent virtually all their income, raising the inflation rate still further due to goods shortages. By 1923 the economic boom and deficit spending raised monthly, then weekly, and finally daily inflation to levels which it was difficult to track. Ultimately, all faith in the currency evaporated and the economy briefly collapsed once it got to the point where it took literal wheelbarrows of money to Reichmarks buy a week's worth (a loaf) of bread. note 
  • Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was known to have hoarded wealth in both his country and abroad. In the last months of his rule, there was much speculation as to whether or not he would be able to escape by either bribing remnants of his army or calling on foreign connections. In the end, neither helped him and he was killed in the uprising.

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