(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.