Monday, 12 July 2010


A question that most of you have never known or cared about, but which has vexed biologists for a long time, is this - can a virus be considered to be alive?

Living things should be able to grow, metabolise (eat and crap) and reproduce. That's how we know we have bacteria and not dust grains. The thing with viruses is, they don't grow, and when they are an intact virus, they neither reproduce nor metabolise. They don't do a thing.

Viruses reproduce within a host cell. They still don't metabolise. The host does all the energy production for them, and the virus just takes a cut without contributing. A bit like an admin department. When they invade a cell, only the DNA/RNA goes in, the protein coat of the virus stays outside. So when they are reproducing they are not an intact virus. They force the cell to assemble copies of themselves which are then released, usually by bursting the host cell, and they are all the same size as the original. There is no growth in Virus land. So are they alive or not? Biologists will probably argue about this until the end of time.

Lately I have been tempted to apply the same reasoning to money.

We keep hearing how we must 'help the economy' by spending all our money and how banks must be 'forced to lend' to save the economy. What is this 'economy?' As far as I can tell, it's entirely constructed of money. Like the slug form of a slime mould, it's a collective entity composed of many individual coins and notes.

Is it alive? What happens if we leave our money in the bank or don't bother earning more than we need? Does it wither and die if it's not allowed to move around?

Money doesn't reproduce or grow and it certainly doesn't metabolise but like the virus, it can give the impression of growth and reproduction. When you leave money in an ISA paying a whopping one percent interest, it looks like it's growing a little. But when it's doing that, it's not money. It has entered a computer system and only the nominal value (the DNA) of the money goes in. The paper part stays outside. You can't spend the nominal value of the money unless you take it out of the account as intact paper, or the equivalent on a piece of plastic.

The apparent growth of money in a savings account is an illusion. It's a bribe. The banks bribe us to leave our money with them by promising to give us a bit extra. They then lend the money to someone else and charge them interest. They charge those they lend more interest than they pay to savers, and keep the difference. It's how banks get rich.

Of course, it all falls down when they lend to people who can't pay it back.

So money isn't alive. It's not even a virus. Most of it doesn't even exist other than as numbers on a computer somewhere. It does not grow or reproduce in a bank account. These days it doesn't even artificially grow by very much.

Why, then, are we exhorted to 'save the economy'? Are we people or are we some kind of commensal organism with this Gaia-like 'economy' creature? What happens if the economy falls apart? What, really, happens?

Well, we won't be able to get plasma TVs and computers. Those things are only affordable because of mass production. If a cottage artisan had to refine the metals, lay the printed circuits, build the components and pour an LCD screen, there is no way he could do it at a price anyone could pay. If it wasn't for capitalism, all those Terry Kellies would never be able to go online to demand an end to capitalism.

The basics though, we could get. There are rabbits aplenty in the fields hereabouts and the farmers are unlikely to object to anyone wanting to reduce their numbers. Fruit grows alongside roads and paths and is, now, unrecognised as edible by people who don't believe it's food unless it's in a plastic box covered with cling-film. So meat and fruit can be had for free. That can be bartered with, say, people who can make clothes but who don't know the difference between an edible mushroom and, well, a Volvo, in most cases.

Dandelion leaves are edible as salad leaves or as cooked. The roots are edible but best cooked. The flowers can be used to make wine. They were once cultivated for food, you know. Possibly the easiest food crop ever because you just can't kill the things. These days it's called 'rocket'.

Water? I'm in Scotland. It drops out of the sky for free most days. All you need is something to catch it in. I don't drink it now, but I have in the past and if you get it fresh it's fine. Water that's been standing a while can be risky but fresh rain or melted snow is perfectly okay. A puddle in the road after rain is drinkable. Water in a tank that's been sitting for ages and has dead insects and bird crap in it is not. You don't actually need chloramines and fluoride in your water, you know. What you need is to know which is safe and which is not. A forgotten thing, like so many of the things that used to make us independent individuals.

Shelter does not have to be a house. It's somewhere warm and protected from the excesses of the elements. Without all the possessions we are intrigued into collecting by The Economy, it doesn't even have to be permanent. I keep a tent handy in case of the collapse of civilisation. Paranoid? Maybe, but then it doesn't cost very much to have a tent, a decent rucksack and the absolute basics handy. They can also be used for spontaneous holidays.

You don't even need a toothbrush. A small stick will do the job. You don't use it like a toothbrush, you move it with your lips to pick the spaces between your teeth.

The whole 'economy' is a construct of government and it doesn't matter which. They are all obsessed with making you work and spend and give them some of what you earn, and some of what you spend. You pay tax both ways. If there was no government, if the economy collapsed, what would happen?

Nobody would be maintaining the roads and there'd be no petrol in the pumps. If the economy has collapsed, you don't need to go to work and there's no point going to the shops. We'd all be back to trading skills locally. That system worked for a long time with no central government.

There would be no police. That works both ways. Anyone can invade your property but there's no longer any reason to be nice to them. There would still be those with police training and they could trade those skills within their local community. Those who harass people without cause won't get paid so we might actually end up with a better police system.

No central NHS. There would still be those with doctor's training and skills and they could trade those skills in their local community. They wouldn't be scaring away potential patients with demands to know all about their private lives so we might actually end up with better doctors.

No fire service, until some bright spark comes up with the idea of setting up a Trumpton-style fire brigade who, in return for regular small payments, will turn up when your house is burning and put it out. Hopefully a bit faster than the Trumpton lot.

All these things are feasible locally because one or two doctors, a few police, one small fire brigade, could service a lot of people so their charges per household would be low. In this scenario, nobody is trying to get excessive wealth because there's no point. There are no plasma TVs or Porsches to buy. Why work harder than you need to?

There is, of course, always the danger of invasion. We can discount illegal immigrants because there's no welfare system for outsiders any more. There would be local help groups for those who can't work because people, once you leave them alone, are generally not such bad things. Nobody is going to pay for someone else's layabouts.

What are the invaders invading? A country? No, they would invade a town. The next town would hear of this and be ready. Invasions would be like the Roman or Norman invasions. Not a matter of taking control of Westminster and that's it. More like Afghanistan, where the invaders control the government but nobody cares. Invasion would be slow and costly.

This is not to say I favour no government at all. I am not an anarchist. I would like to see centralised police control but with few laws, and those few laws rigorously enforced. We have a law against 'driving without due care and attention'. We do not need a specific law against 'driving while using a phone' because the existing law already covers it. In fact, we could replace most of the driving laws with one that says 'driving like a dick' and that would be fine. It would make court cases much more fun too.

One central army is a good idea, because we could send the army to the point of invasion and stamp on it quick.

Minimal government might get the idea that 'government' should not equate to 'in charge of'. When we elect people to government we do so because we expect them to take care of things we don't have time to deal with. I can't be bothered building a castle in case the French invade again. So I pay the government to run an army. I'm fine with that. I want to be able to call the police if I'm faced with a maniac in my house and I'm prepared to pay for that.

I am not happy to pay for people who tell me I must not smoke or drink eat fat or salt or who demand I fit an Aryan body shape or travel in a particular way or sleep and wake up when required. I am not prepared to pay for people who tell me I must spend or save on demand to save a mythical beast called 'the Economy'.

I always have, still do, and always will, do as I bloody well please as long as it harms nobody else.

It is the function of government to allow me to continue to do so. Antismokers take note: it applies to your self-righteous attitudes too. I don't like you so I avoid places where you gather. I only ask that you extend me the same courtesy. Government has no other function than to facilitate the continued integrity of a country and should assume no other function.

The economy is a pile of cash. That's all it is. For the run-of-the-mill punter it has no meaning at all. We plebs can't access it, we just pay into it as if we are saving money in someone else's account. The economy is now the same as 'giving money to people who will use it to punish you'.

We are told we must support it. I think that if we are to regain any freedom at all, we should do the opposite.

Money is like smoking, but a hundred times more addictive. You don't need it to live, but it makes life a bit nicer.


Anonymous said...

and your point is?

Leg-iron said...

Does there need to be one?

almighty said...

i was sent this by a friend of mine.

It is a slow day in the small Minnesota town of Marshall, and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody is living on credit.

A rich tourist visiting the area drives through town, stops at the motel, lays a $100 bill on the desk and says he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs before selecting one for the night.

1. As soon as he walks upstairs, the motel owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.
2. The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer.
3. The pig farmer takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill to his supplier, the Farmer's Co-op.
4. The guy at the Farmer's Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her "services" on credit.
5. The hooker rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner.
6. The hotel proprietor then places the $100 back on the counter so the rich traveler will not suspect anything.
At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, picks up the $100 bill and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looks to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Stimulus works.

Siiri said...

I would agree with you that the government should get out of everything, except police, courts and army, but it's not clear to me how you can have a 'libertarian state' without devolving power down to the local level.

For example, you could decentralize all the coercive elements of the state (tax, restrictions on voluntary behaviour, etc.) down to a regional level, so the state becomes a federal umbrella that derives its legitimacy only from the voluntary agreements of the member regions. The size of the umbrella would be limited by voluntary contributions from the said regions.

Then you decentralize all the coercive elements of regional government (tax, prohibitions, etc.) down to the local council level, so the regions derive their resources only from local councils who are directly answerable to us, the people. (Local councils are currently pretty inefficient but would improve, given more responsibility and control.)

Decentralizing the coercive powers of the government is the only way a libertarian state could function. Power would be dispersed and the rights of the individual protected against the regrowth of an overpowerful government.

It puzzles me why I see so little discussion of federal, decentralized structures in libertarian circles, when most of us would agree that the idea that government should be based on strong centralized institutions is old-fashioned and out of date.

Sam Duncan said...

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Stimulus works.”

Except “stimulus” never gets to step 6. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have inflation.

Freewoman of England / HNL said...

Where can I download your books from? Im hooked on your short stories!

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