The Myth of Money

One thought that troubles me in these days of ‘austerity’ coupled with seemingly mindless bureaucratic spending is the way money is treated. One would think from all the fuss that money were a conserved substance governed by natural conservation laws — like matter and energy. I am sure that at some point in the past it may well have worked like this — a common metric of value that at least over a limited geographic area had a shared meaning. As ‘two purple rocks for a sheep’ and so forth.

But the one thing that the financial system (and indeed much of big business since they are more bank than factory) demonstrates is that money can be created and destroyed at will. Oh, to be sure, there are accounting systems (many of them) that with great ceremony treat the manifestations and currents of money as though it were a conserved substance. But I would suggest that at the root they are all social conventions and beliefs as rooted in reality as the pre-Copernican solar system or the views that race or religion ‘X’ is ‘naturally’ superior over ‘Y’.

So I suspect, given that this boom and bust cycle seems to be a fundamental feature of the current financial system, much like the current trends to socialize risk and privatize profit — we pay and ‘they’ get wealthy, that there really is no cure within the bounds of the system. The misery and disparity will continue. Austerity attacks the society it is supposed to heal making things worse. I think this is how the US slid into the Great Depression – and may do yet again.

Somehow I think we need a new system to liberate us from the ‘rock exchange’ … although I am nowhere near bright enough to envision it. Just that I can see the harm our continued belief in the current religion of money is doing. And recognizing money for the artifice it is think that there must be some other way of persisting and exchanging value that will help all human society to escape this trap.

4 thoughts on “The Myth of Money

  1. The mistake that technically oriented people like you (and me) make in these matters is that we think that there is this thing called society, whose members are seeking to improve our collective lives, and so we think that we should be collaborating on this giant project by thinking up better ways to live together. We think like this, because we were trained to do exactly that in our work lives, besides probably being naturally inclined to do so.

    This is a pipe dream, I have come to believe. It’s more like a wolf pack, I think. If after the fact, historical analysis shows overall amelioration because of random collective action, it’s a fluke. Eater Island is as likely.

    • That applied more to Imperial Rome and some more recent kleptocracies. The idea of a wolf pack is very ‘conservative’ in that social position is an issue of heredity and basic nastiness. Society as I see it is a flowing fluid composed of individual, independent and frequently colliding particles. But unlike a real fluid the particles inhabit individual spaces that only partially overlap — our heredity, education and experience polarizes our worldview to the extent that only with great effort can we see common points. Why some people can pull themselves up and out of bad situations and others simply languish. A wolf pack would not have invented the social safety net that to some extent we all enjoy. Even feudal societies were much more interdependent — Dickensian capitalism, on the other hand…

  2. First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which Id like to ask if you dont mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Many thanks!

    • Problem I find with writing is that when the voice is not within us to speak on a topic it is hard to get going. This is different for technical writing than opinion pieces — with technical writing I find it is easier to outline the specifics of what one must communicate and then flesh it out. So my output is driven by my mood. Think of a perfect hand strike that shatters a board… Meditation helps… something I have been doing off and on for a very long time. Made long, boring commutes on a crowded bus from work or school bearable.

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