Thursday, 6 January 2011

Chasing the illusion.

Ever see something in the corner of your eye, but when you look staight at it, it vanishes? Or watched a close-up magician and wondered where the card went? You were looking straight at him, he deflected your attention just for a moment and bam - it's gone.

I have that feeling about the whole issue of money at the moment. I don't mean the few quid in my bank account, I mean the big economy issues. I'm sure that, years ago, a story about the huge floods in Australia would have concentrated on people, not the cost of clearing up. I recall scenes of flooding in America some years ago that were all about rescuing stranded people and no mention of money at all.

The fact that nearly two million people are off work sick in the UK (and that's just the ones who have jobs, it doesn't include children or the elderly or the unemployed or the homeless) would have been a humanitarian concern. Yet today it's only a problem because it costs the economy £300 million a day. The only ones that article cares about are the ones working and paying tax. The others don't matter. What happened to the people? When did the economy take precedence?

To hell with people, the money is what matters.

Look at the swivel-eyed ban brigades. Obesity is a health issue, sure. yet are we hearing 'We need to get these people some decent food and get them back to merely overweight because then they'll be able to be more active and live longer'? No. We hear 'Being overweight costs the NHS money. Shun the fat people!'

Smokers, as anyone who has been here before knows, 'must be stopped because they cost the NHS money'. Not for the good of our health. Because we 'cost the NHS money'. The ban brigade don't want to help us. Any of us. They want the money and they think we are in the way.

It never occurs to them that if they never drink, smoke, or put on weight, there's no reason why they would want the NHS because in today's world, those are the only things that cause health problems. Those problems are to be solved by increasing taxes - money will save your soul.

The odd thing is, they won't get the money and they know it. If everyone stopped smoking tomorrow, there would be no tax rebates. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are not protecting 'their' money, they are protecting some nebulous thing called 'economy' but it isn't there to do them any good. In fact, it takes money from them whenever they earn or spend. They fiercly defend something that is harming them by attacking people who are harming nobody but (possibly) themselves. And they call us addicts.

Money should be simple. If you make chairs and I make tables, you might ask me to make you a table but if I already have enough chairs, how will you pay me? You pay me with money, which I then take to the shirt-maker, who doesn't need a table, and swap it for a shirt. It should be that simple.

It's actually become a sleight-of-hand trick that seems impossible to unravel. Taxes pop out at every turn. Banks make money appear from the air and then make it disappear again. There is this overall thing called 'the economy' which doesn't seem to have any tangible existence and changes shape from moment to moment. Every country has a debt. This country owes more money than exists in UK Pounds. Every problem is solved by throwing money at it. All politicians talk about is money. Everything that happens is assigned a cost.

There is this child-like belief that moving money around will somehow make crops grow in a drought-stricken country in Africa and stop snow falling on Scotland. Money can stop the ice melting under a polar bear's feet and make the bamboo grow for the pandas. Money can cool the world or warm the world or keep it as it is. Money can stop wars or start them, money can save people or damn them. Pray to money and all will be well.

You know, I think it just became a tad clearer.

I'm not the only one trying to make sense of it. RFB has found one aspect, and thanks to a tip from Chris in the comments, Charles Stross has another. (I really do have to get around to that blogroll).

That simple idea of a universal tradeable commodity, money, has grown into something vast and complex and difficult to fathom. Most of it isn't even real, it's just a number in a database with no real coin or paper counterpart in the real world, and yet it has tangible effects in the real world. It has transcended reality and become supernatural, and in doing so it has gained supernatural powers. The paper and coin we see is just a small protrusion of money into our reality. Most of it lies elsewhere, beyond our ability to know.

This is going to take a lot of thought but at the moment it looks likely that money has become God.

And we have become money.

Text and speech are, of necessity, linear modes of communication and my thinking on this is nonlinear, which makes it hard to put into words. It's likely to come out in bits and pieces until I find a way to make a coherent whole. I have a feeling though, that if anyone uncovers the illusion around money it will be explosive indeed.

So I leave you with the words of Dark Star's Bomb 20:

'I will have to think on this further'.


Anonymous said...

They fiercely defend something that is harming them by attacking people who are harming nobody but (possibly) themselves. And they call us addicts.

Ooh, you’re touching on territory which is a bit of a hobby-horse of mine. I have a theory that money, in and of itself, can be highly addictive and although not everyone is addicted to it (like food, everybody needs it, but not everyone is a compulsive over-eater), many, many people are - particularly those in power (who, like all people with severe addictions) need increasing amounts of it, even when they’ve already got lots, because (again like severe addicts) they get through HUGE amounts of it. And because they’ve, effectively, encouraged countless members of the population to become addicted, too, they know that arguments about the “economy” (which they know the population interprets as “money”) will carry a lot of weight.

I won’t bat on about it for too long here. I did that a while back at Frank’s place (he doesn’t, incidentally, share my opinions on the matter) and got a bit told off for it, and I don’t want to be told off here, too (or bore anyone with the whole theory again). But it’s an intriguing concept when you start to look into it and compare people’s behaviour with money to the behaviour of people who are addicted to other things. The similarities are often somewhat startling.

V4V said...

Thanks for the link Leg-iron, catch you later, it's way past my bed time; again. V

Leg-iron said...

Anon - all input is welcome. I'm trying to find some kind of coherent overall explanation for the obsession with money and there are so many avenues, I have to explore them all.

I might or might not agree with your theory but at this stage, I discount nothing.

Leg-iron said...

RFB - Time is an illusion. Bedtime doubly so.

Anonymous said...

have a look on youtube - David Icke's "what is money?"

Kynon said...

I reckon money has gone from being a useful tool for conducting commerce (as per your example), to a means of keeping "score"...with people gradually being brought around to the idea that one has to get the highest score possible, and to not do so is in some way wrong.
The obsession maybe comes from the fact that money effectively substitutes for being able to do anything useful - if you can persuade someone to pay you lots of money for doing something they perceive as valuable, then you can trade that money for other goods & services which you wouldn't otherwise be able to trade for...and the more money you have, the more "spending power" you have - in fact, maybe that's it: "Power corrupts, and absolute power is actually pretty neat." People therefore have conflated "money" with "power" (not wholly unsurprising, given how society seems to be structured these days), and thus to have more cash is to have more power.

I suppose that's one way of looking at market forces - some things score higher than others, and not necessarily for any particularly obvious reason...

I too may need to think on this further, there might even be a blogpost starting to rattle around my skull.

Anonymous said...

What's going on is actually fairly simple: at heart, in our souls we are all little more than monkeys, driven by the hardwired need to gain status and to show this status off to others in our troop. One thing that humans have done differently is to swap social grooming for social talking; talking instead of grooming lets us "groom" a much bigger peer group. Money takes this sort of thing a stage further; it lets us swap our hard work or good fortune for items which make us look like we've got lots of money; cheap credit engendered by the fractional reserve banking system lets us cheat on this status display system by effectively renting money for a time and so looking like we're much higher status than we really are. This is why expensive cars on lease-hire are such common items in a certain group; they could never buy said cars but lease-hire lets them pretend.

The likes of me and you, Leggy, who are on the Aspergers scale somewhere, don't quite "get" social status displays and don't actually care about it very much. The likes of me at least simply don't do the "keeping up with the Joneses" thing at all; we also don't much like other social primate addictions like modern soap operas which have an artificially high level of social conflict in a group, because we're hardwired to pay attention to social conflict in a group we identify with. Quite a lot of what is wrong with our world now comes from people mimicking the completely artificial world of soap operas and the cheat-showoff world of rich status indicators. The real world doesn't have that level of conflict, and very few people are that rich in reality.

winston said...

I was watching the news the other night and most channels were hailing the rush to buy stuff at the shops as proof that we were out of the recession.
I'm no expert but how can people buying imorts from China with their credit cards be a sign of recovery ? Our debt will never be repaid and is rising by £150Bn a year.

Anonymous said...

A bit of a tangent I know but I heard this on the radio this morning on the way to work and it really baked my noodle...

Ed Milipede is currently saying that raising VAT is taking money out of the economy.

Prior to the election last year the Labour party were saying that the Tories who were planning NOT to raise a tax labour planned to raise were 'taking money out of the economy'.

Just what in the name of all that's holy do the Labour party think the economy is?


Anonymous said...

I'll let you scholars "...think on this further" and profit from your writings of your thoughts. For me, the most simple answer is:

1Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Leg-iron said...

Z - Politicians of all types think 'the economy' is whatever they need it to be on the day.

That's why ordinary proles like me can't quite work out what it really is.

Anonymous said...

Some 40 years ago, I studied economics. I have forgotten almost all of it now, but I remember this about money.

Imagine a closed system in which all the people are trading with each other and using coins. Along comes Mr Bank. He says, “Look chaps, carrying all this money about isn’t very safe is it? Why don’t you let me look after it for you and I’ll give you a bankbook and a cheque book so that pay by cheque and have a record of your savings”. So Mr Bank gets £100 000 (we’ll keep the figures nice and round for simplicity).
Now here is the clever economic trick. People are drawing out and paying in all the time, but the base £100 000 stays much the same. Mr Bank than thus lend this £100000 out (to buy houses and such); but not only that, he can legitimately multiple that by ten! The reason is that all this ‘money’ that he is lending out simply moves from one bank account to another – no one ever asks for cash. Of course, there is an underlying value to support his lending, which the value of the houses or whatever being traded.
So now, our Mr Bank is paying small amounts of interest on bank deposits while taking large amounts of interest on loans.
But wait! He only started out with £100 000 in cash. If he wants to take his interest earnings in cash, where is it to come from? Simple! He is Mr Bank. He simply creates more cash and spends it himself. Thus, more actual cash comes into circulation and the price of goods goes up. Thus, Mr Bank creates inflation.
All very simplistic, but essentially true. I attended a lecture at Manchester University many years ago given by Enoch Powell. His theory was that the Government creates inflation. What I studied was much more complex, but I cannot remember it. Bank collapses occur when ‘confidence’ is lost. When people start to demand their money IN CASH, including those people whose money is not really cash but is bank deposits, supported by the bricks and mortar security, Mr Bank starts to run out of cash, bearing in mind he only started with £100 000. He can print loads of paper cash, but it very soon becomes worthless – as happened in the Wheimar Republic, if you recall.
The people who come out best at the end of the day in these situations are the people who can afford to buy up all the undervalued properties, provided that they can sit and wait.

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