Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Work and money (boozed up director's cut).


(Drunken Ramble Alert!)

Those 'Occupy Wall Street' folk have started something that's spread all over the world. The Italians, naturally, used it as an excuse to burn a load of other people's stuff in protest at not having enough stuff, or something.

To be honest, I was never sure what they actually wanted. Did they want 'the rich' to hand over their money so the protestors would be rich and could then buy all that stuff from the closed-down businesses they'd just taken all the money out of?

Most of the rich people's money isn't even real. It's figures on an investment manager's screen and it fluctuates up and down like the tide. When they 'lose' money it doesn't go anywhere and when they 'make' money they really do make it. Out of thin air.

So if those stock exchangers lost all their money, that does not make it available for the rest of us. It just vanishes. It was never real. Once it comes out of the computer it's all just smoke in the wind.

The best idea I can find as to what the protestors want was what I saw here and here. What they want is stuff, or rather the money to buy stuff produced by big corporations but at the same time they want to destroy the big corporations that produce the stuff they want to buy with the money they took while destroying the big corporations. That is, I'm afraid, as coherent as it gets.

It's not just about iPhones and Starbucks and Reeboks. Most things now come from big corporations. Even lentils and tofu. They have to. People live at such high concentrations that small local producers simply could not provide for them all. You need a company big enough to source soya from a big producer somewhere else in the world, transport it and store it in line with food hygeine regulations and provide it as safe food to those protestors who want to, quite literally, bite off the hand that feeds them.

Even so, the money those companies get for their efforts is not real. They don't realise it, for the most part. If they're smart and quick, they'll get shot of the unreal money by paying other companies for real stuff, or swapping it for something real like buildings and vehicles and stock.

The banks know it's not real. That's why they crap themselves at the thought of a run on their banks. All that savings, all that capital - it's not actually there, in the building. If everyone goes to a bank and demands their money, the bank will have to admit that there isn't anywhere near enough money in existence to pay them all. It's just numbers on a screen.

If Greece defaults on its debts, what really happens? Nothing. Not one atom of reality will change. Nothing of any value will disappear. Numbers will change on screens all over the place and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the banks but the rest of us will not notice anything at all. The sun will rise and set, the tides will ebb and flow, the birds will fly into windows and the cats will shit on lawns just the same.

Look at the mad scramble for that latest iPhone, the one that apparently lets you talk to prostitutes and the spirit of Steve Jobs or something. Why the attraction? It's an easily dropped or lost pocket gadget that potentially contains enough information to totally wreck your life if you lose it. To me, that's like putting your soul in a clay pot and trusting the local shaman with it, then finding he lost it at a game of keepy-uppy. People laugh at such old superstitions and then they use technology to do it for real.

I don't have a fancy phone. I buy the cheapest one and when it breaks I go and buy another cheap one on the same network and swap the SIM card so my number is the same. Even so, my cheap phone has a camera and internet access, neither of which I use because I have a computer at home with a decent sized screen and a few good cameras. I don't understand the attraction of a tiny-screened device that does more things than I'll ever need. Many people seem desperate to possess these things, at huge cost, then use them to demand that corporations like the one they've just bought the phone from are destroyed.

Who believes that if the rich give up their money, we'd get any? Who believes that if the rich pay more tax, any of us would pay less? Who believes that taxing the rich would bring down food prices or clothing prices or mega-gadget phone prices or petrol prices or heating prices or any prices at all? Who believes in the Tax Fairy?

The rich are irrelevant. Money has become irrelevant. When it was backed by gold or silver, it was a useful tool to transfer the rewards of effort into the means to buy the product of someone else's effort. You can then translate a little of your work into a simple phone, as I do, or you can translate more of your work into a fancy phone if you want one. Now it's just a computer-generated pretend reality and it's no surprise to find people treating it as such.

Now, people expect to get the product of work without doing any work. And why not? The money isn't real anyway. It's nothing to do with work any more. It's just a computer game now. Want some benefits in your bank account? Here. Let me type in some numbers. Oh, I see you're a Level 5 claimant, very good, get a disability and you can be promoted to Level 6. Keep going at this rate and you'll soon be an MP and live entirely on the backs of other peoples' work while telling them how much they have to hand over to keep you in style.

If I want a car, I don't have to buy a Porsche. I could just buy a Ford. It works just the same, uses less petrol, is cheaper to insure and fix, is equally useless in winter and you can't go faster than 70 anywhere, even in perfect driving conditions. So I'd translate some of my  work into a cheap car. Others might choose to translate a larger portion of their work into a posh car, and that's no problem for me. Someone wants to work like a demon to get a Porsche - fine. I'd prefer to work a little less and look around the used cars. It's a choice.

I don't actually need a car at all, I have easy access to lots of buses and trains and I'd much rather drink than drive. Does that make me envious of the guy up the street who has a shiny new BMW? No. I neither need nor want one. He had to earn a lot of money to get that (or maybe he had a loan and is now working to pay it off, I don't know) and I don't want to work for a BMW because to me it's not worth it. To him, it is.

I don't have the money to buy a great big house in the country with a laboratory in the tower (one day...) but I'll work towards that. I might never get there but it's top of the list. Car? An old Escort van would do. Furniture? Functional and comfy. Garden? Plough that lawn and plant potatoes. Clothing? Man at Oxfam. Yacht? In the bath. Helicopter? No. If God had meant man to fly he wouldn't have punished us with Ryanair.

Yes, we all want something. I really want that house with the lab in the tower and the table that rises to the ceiling in thunderstorms and a hunchbacked assistant called Igor and a handy graveyard nearby but I am nowhere near affording it so I don't have it. If I am to get it, I'll do it. It is nobody else's responsibility to get it for me, it's up to me. Likewise it is not my responsibility to ensure that Burberry Boy has an iPod and a Playstation.

Other people (well, of late, most people including a large part of those on benefits) are richer than me. So, should I demand they are taxed more? How will that help me? It will not mean I am taxed less so I'll still be just as skint. Worse, in fact, since the less disposable income richer people have, the fewer books they'll buy and I sell books now.

Should I demand these richer people hand over their money? We used to hang people for demanding that, you know. Why should they give me money? If they want to give me a contract for work or buy my books, great, but there is no reason to expect them to hand over their money just like that. That would be thievery and I am not a thief.

Besides, as I said, the money isn't really worth anything. It's not even real. Why envy someone who has a bigger number on a banker's screen? It's like envying the porn star with a knob so huge that every time it fills with blood he passes out. Or the guy with hair that actually stays in place for more than ten seconds after combing. It's really not that important.

I recently swapped a couple of books for a bag of Belgian home-grown baccy and enough seeds to plant half of Scotland. (Oh, I'll try) The only money involved was in the padded bags and postage. I've given the guy next door books (not Plastic Man, he wouldn't like scary stories) and he, as a trader in tools and fixings, has supplied me with screws and nails. No money changed hands at all that time. Across the road is someone who can successfully grow onions, I might swap a book, or some of my baccy, for a few onions. There is a joiner and a plumber in the street. Trades could be made if the entire monetary system collapsed and indeed are being made with no involvement of money.  If anyone wants to interfere, there is a particularly scary thug living nearby too. I don't know what he does but I've had several carefully-worded whisky evenings in his presence.

Money is supposed to be a thing to facilitate trade. You work, you get money, you use the money to get things you need. Benefits are supposed to be a safety net. You can't find work, you get money to provide for the essentials until you get working again. Money was supposed to be a tool, not an end in itself. Money, now, can be compared to someone who makes hammers but who has never heard of nails. The money/hammer is what they want and never mind what it's for.

That's not a perfect analogy. It's more like someone making paper hammers and everyone else complaining that they don't have paper hammers of their own. They can't be bothered cutting out their own so they want the paper hammers of the PaperHammerRich.

It's at this point I realise I've drunk most of the cider and don't really know where this is going. It doesn't help that I started by talking about a hell of a lot of people who aren't clear on what they want either.

I don't need much money. I remember, when I started hobby writing, being told 'Oh, you'll never make as much as Stephen King'. The truth is, I wouldn't know what to do with it all if I did. If I can make £15-20K a year writing I will be delighted. Any extra goes into Evil Laboratory Fund. I don't want a yacht or a Lear jet or a helicopter or a Rolls-Royce. I don't want surround-sound or a plasma TV or even a TV at all. I am not interested in Playstations or Xboxes. I'm typing this on a 2007 Dell with a rattly fan I have to thump once in a while to shut it up. I'd probably go for a newer computer but then I use it for typing and spreadsheeting and basic graphics, and it's already way faster than my typing speed anyway.

A bigger screen would be good. Old eyes have trouble with little letters. That can go on my rather short list.

Other people have different ambitions. Some people do want private planes and designer clothes and I have no objection at all. I'm not advocating that everyone become a grumpy old sod like me. If you want a fast car, work for it and buy it. I don't want one so I won't work for it. If you want to wear one-off clothes, work for it and buy it. To me, clothing is not a statement, it is a means to not freeze. If you want huge TVs and sound coming from everywhere and Xboxes and iPods and all the rest, work for it and buy it. I don't want any of it so I will not work to get it for me.

I sure as hell won't work to get it for you.

22 comments:

JuliaM said...

"To be honest, I was never sure what they actually wanted."

Well, even they don't sound too sure...

talwin said...

Wonderful stuff. Even so, I'm just a tad disappointed that you didn't find room somewhere for 'What use is money if you haven't got your health'.

smokervoter said...

I find it incredibly funny that Apple made that famous commercial in 1984 about Nineteen Eighty-Four and then turned around and produced and sold mini-telescreens by the millions. Except these weren't installed by mandate of The Regime. No. Instead the Proles slavishly queued up in droves to be the first ones on their block to self administer Big Brother's watchful eyes and ears.

The best description of the past decade I can think of is the stare catatonically into the Apple (TM) Mini-Telescreens Era. Hey Big Brother! Watch Me. Please. Watch me. And all on their own dimes this time around.

Tuesday Kid said...

I like your shaman with a soul in a clay pot analogy. It's so true.

mister_choos said...

I work with an electrician called Igor. Let me know when you get your tower laboratory and I'll send him to you.

You just need to provide the hunch. (That's if there is such a thing as a free hunch of course.)

Anonymous said...

You have a way with words LI. Far too many years working in a bank and I had to laugh out loud at the way you handled Debt, Barter, Trade and of course the main driving force in society - aspirations.

The chances are any BMW that's less than 2 years old was leased, so the driver doesn't own it. If it's a very expensive BMW then it's a part of the salary package.

In either case it's owned by the leasing company and they make a great deal of money pandering to the need to be seen to be successful.

The i-phone joins other status goods like Rolex watches and even the humble Levi jeans. Many other products do the same thing, frequently better, but having your Lexus, Harley, Gold Credit card says far more about you as a discerning consumer and, by default, you're a success.

The second hand market is crucial in this. Taking your BMW example, almost all those that are 3 or more years of age are privately owned, generally via a loan that's about the same as 100 days take home pay.

It makes sense to buy a Rolex, but not to tell the time. They're not terribly accurate, cost about £600 to service once every 3 years and they weigh several ounces. They go up in value, the older, the better. They're very good investments or heirlooms that you can pass on to your sproggs so they can remember you.

Not so the i-phone or Nike or Levi's. Here it's a very personal thing and your status is elevated only amongst your peer group. It's like those jeans without an arse, most people simply see a pair of underpants, others see they're Calvin's or whatever.

The 99'rs are a mixed group that have a beef with the government and the crap this is all down to the banks. It's the fact that banks have to hold their reserves in triple A debt that caused the problem in the first place. Rating agencies knew they could satisfy banks need for high yields by rating utter crap as triple A debt. The first crisis was down to a small number of woefully inadequate bank managers who didn't have a clue what they were buying.

The current mess is because Greece, Portugal et al were rated triple A. All of a sudden they're not, so - by law - banks have to get shot of these bonds. Guess which bunch dreamed up the bleeding laws?

Governments thought it was real clever to legislate banks only hold reserves in first class debt. Banks never wanted that restriction, they (rightly) wanted to have some form of diversification.

Anyone with a lick of sense has known for decades that some governments were lousy investments - and they still are, hence the "creation" of triple A by the rating agencies.

At some point our 99's will suss out the underlying issue. Government dictats.

Nevertheless LI this all leads to the same thing, for us no amount of money can ever buy us a coffee and a sausage sandwich with a fag inside a public place. In that sense, we're very much a part of the 99's. We've been well shagged.

winston said...

"A bigger screen would be good. Old eyes have trouble with little letters."
Ctrl + is your friend ;)
ctrl - to reduce font size.

They're going to let cars go at 80mph soon although most cars go at 90 on motorways anyway.

westcoast2 said...

You may need a store of value to enable you to aquire the hammer house of horror abode.

The problem with currency is it only stores value for a short time. Is the clue in the name?

Perhaps a cellar full of single malts may suffice? Then again maybe something else?

Oldrightie said...

For this Oldrightie, these protests are a refreshing change from the compliant and controlled acceptance observed over my 66 years. Well, concious ones!
When we bring two people together we will have differences. Some will become friends, others bitter rivals. Its human nature. So if we bring millions together we will have enormous variations. Surely the point is to bring them together. To unite in mass protest and scare the bastards in power as they scare us? I suspect the knocking of the occupy movement gets lots of traction for its different stance. For me, I hope it does bring about change for the better. Anti-EU fervour might bring that crap institution down if we're lucky. It is a focus whatever, for stopping that madness. As for The USA, the self-righteous pontification over Obama because he's a half caste was sickening. So if this "OWL" movement does for him, so much the better!

smokervoter said...

I find it incredibly laughable that Apple made that famous commercial in 1984 about Nineteen Eighty-Four and then turned around and produced and sold mini-telescreens by the millions. Except these weren't installed by mandate of the Inner Party. No. Instead the Outer Partiers slavishly queue up in droves to be the first ones on their block to self administer Big Brother's watchful eyes and ears.

The best description of the past decade I can think of is the stare catatonically into the Apple (TM) Mini-Telescreens Era. Hey Big Brother! Watch Me. Please. Watch me. And all on their own dimes this time around.

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX If Greece defaults on its debts, what really happens? Nothing. Not one atom of reality will change. Nothing of any value will disappear. Numbers will change on screens all over the place and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the banks but the rest of us will not notice anything at all. XX

Except for the fact that Granny will have to eat lard again for christmas, as for ANOTHER year, her pension has not been increased, because all the money went to those queer bastard Greek types. (WHO, it was recently reported, have just given two and a half billion for new main battle tanks, bought from the U.S.), and all your hospitals and librarys will close, because all the money has gone to.... yes you guesssed it, those queer bastard Greeks, so that THEIR hospitals and librarys can stay open.

"Money" may be an illusion, but it is YOUR virtual pocket they steal it from.

SBC said...

"Money" may be an illusion, but it is YOUR virtual pocket they steal it from.- TEUT

Ganz genau.

Leggy, I found the piece strangely inspirational and I too loved the Shaman analogy.

I fear, however, you'd never get the 'MAD GERMAN PROFESSOR DOKTOR VON FRANKFURTER PATENTED WORLD DOMINATION LAB' passed Health and Safety no matter how many jobs for racial minorities (Igors) it might create, or how it might boost the local economy with orders at the Flaming Torch factory.

No doubt the local NIMBYS would also object to planning permission for the renewable energy source to power it ie lightening.

Amusing Bunni said...

The OWS Morons just want an excuse to steal stuff! http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/criminal_occupation_oh3CnKANUqYHrGPCaZaLRK

SEEMS THEY DON'T LIKE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH SO MUCH WHEN IT'S THEIR OWN STUFF! BWAHAAAAA

James Higham said...

The OWSers simply didn't carry the nation with them because many in the nation recognized the greed in the OWSers.

orkneylad said...

Man, that was a great read.

still smiling here.....cheers!

Speaker to Animals said...

"Money" may be an illusion, but it is YOUR virtual pocket they steal it from"

It ain't the Greeks doing the stealing!

The smugly moronic Amusing Bunni (sic) may sneer at the OWS protestors but they have at least put the finger on the real culprits.

Tip for the Bunni and other hard-of-thinking self-promoting blowhards - educate yourself: understand the true extent of the corporate fraud that is sucking the wealth out of our financial system.

Then perhaps you will not come over as such a pillock.

SBC said...

"Tip for the Bunni and other hard-of-thinking self-promoting blowhards - educate yourself: understand the true extent of the corporate fraud that is sucking the wealth out of our financial system."

Sent from your Blackberry or I-phone perchance?

Anonymous said...

As for comms, - I have a lovingly cherished 2nd hand Nokia slidey given for gratis from a mate who had upgraded, and had trouble with my landline service as it didn't like dial phones (pulse disconnect), I had only one tone phone in the fucking house...

Folk show me their "gadget" phones at work and I say I can text and send/receive calls so what's the fucking problem, I can even take some pictures on it, it's that advanced!

No, no, no.

I have perfectly good dial phones in here from the 30's onwards, they work for phone calls, don't need fucking chargers as they run off line current, don't need Facebook or Twitter fucking bolt ons, just pick em up and dial a number, simples!

Analogue for me.

When your internet phone goes down, these will still work.

Leg-iron said...

Speaker to animals - take a look at those protestors.

They aren't campaigning for a better system. The placards aren't about change. They are about 'MEMEMEMEME'.

They want someone else to take responsibility for their lives.

Maybe you can respect that. I can't.

Junican said...

There is so much utter twaddle talked (especially by politicians). We constantly have politicians saying that they will 'help' the unemployed to get work. And how, precisely? By helping them to get qualifications! Now.....what is the logical fault in that statement? Here is the logical fault:
If there are only 50 jobs and there are 100 applicants for those jobs, then only 50 of those applicants can get one of those jobs. Better qualifications merely change who gets the jobs, not the overall numbers.
A friend of mine, who lived and worked in the USA for many years, said to me once, "If you work in the States, you are very well paid. If you do not work, you get a pittance - just enough to live on" I do not know if the same is true today since I am talking about 20 years ago.
Do you see the point that I am making? If unemployment benefit is the equivalent of £4.50 per hour and the best you can get for working is £5 per hour, why bother? But immigrants think that £5 per hour is wonderful! Well, it is if your home country has no benefit system at all and the only way that you can survive is by rummaging in dustbins. Living four to a room with all found and some spending money is heaven compared with that.
The last Government (I do not like to use party names since the parties do not Govern - the New Aristocracy do)did this country a MASSIVE disservice by importing cheap labour (to their political/voter advantage). If they had not done so, then the wage rates of personnel in demand (eg. cleaners) would have risen and jobs been available at a decent rate of pay for the unemployed.
It is almost always an error to import labour for its own sake - it delays innovation since 'necessity is the mother of invention'. I remember reading somewhere recently that 7 out of 10 jobs are taken by immigrants. So what chance have the unemployed of getting a job (and being paid a reasonable wage) when immigrants are prepared to work for a pittance (the minimum wage)?

It is odd that no one ever seems to talk about the significance of the demand for labour outstripping the supply. I wonder why?

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Speaker to Animals said...

"Money" may be an illusion, but it is YOUR virtual pocket they steal it from"

It ain't the Greeks doing the stealing! XX

I don't see them refusing it, or offering to give it back (PLUS interest).

"Handling stolen goods" is also an offence, but the Fence has not stollen the goods himself.

Anonymous said...

after that, you are my new hero

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