Is Utopian Rubbish More Satisfying than Regular Rubbish?

Economists (and most of the rest of us) have long since dismissed as utopian rubbish the concept that societies could eliminate money, thereby eliminating the “evil” that grows from the roots of the awful stuff. Yet ideas continue to bubble up; why not eliminate money? I’ll admit to occasionally engaging in such delusional fancies. “Why don’t people just become utterly altruistic? If we would simply become morally better, we would not need money.” I used the word rubbish in the first sentence. Let me use it again. Rubbish!

Money is simply an abstract symbol (that can be in the form of paper currency, coins, beads, pieces of bamboo, or what have you) that represents stored value. That value can be used as a means of exchange (I will give you three pieces of bamboo if you will give me a slice of cantaloupe…and you can then exchange that bamboo for two glasses of orange juice). The “money” also can be used to represent a unit of account in exchange relationships (I will give you ninety pieces of bamboo; in return, I will expect to be able to get thirty slices of cantaloupe or sixty glasses of orange juice or forty-five purple onions).  Without money, I think we would have an incredibly hard time agreeing on and reconciling value. Value, not values. Values belong primarily in a different discussion, though they have a place in the discussion of money, as well.

Another argument in favor of money as an agreed abstract symbol representing value involves funding government. How would government function without the ability to levy taxes, in the form of money, to fund its services to the governed? I doubt the tax collector would be able to accept, in payment for services rendered, cows, sheep, bales of hay, boxes of turnips, tubs of milk, or promises that the recipient will paint government offices or keep the plumbing in government offices in working order.

Money is a convenient means by which we collectively agree to assign value to items of exchange. Without it, the barter economy (a perfectly legitimate means of exchange, in my view) would grow into an unworkable, chaotic mess. So, let me be clear: I understand and subscribe to the concept that money is a necessary abstraction. Every human society, to my knowledge, has some form of money; some more sophisticated than others, perhaps, but, still, they use money.

My appreciation for the need for money, though, does not necessarily translate into my endorsement of the way money has morphed into a symbol beyond economic value; I loathe the fact (and it is a fact) that money has been allowed to take on an almost magical aura within which it defines human value, human rights, and the power structures of human relationships. I think we humans need to consider whether we can harness the runaway beast and return it to its comfortable cage, where it can continue to live a long, abstractly satisfying eternity. The question is, how do we do that? I do not have an answer, but I suspect a workable answer could be found if: 1) we acknowledge that we have allowed money to take on far more value than the vast majority of us ever intended; 2) we commit to investing intellectual capital, worldwide, to discovering ways of putting the genie back in the bottle; and 3) we refuse to accept assertions that money has any business being involved in defining or marketing human value, human rights, or the power structures of human relationships.

In my opinion, money should be a simple abstraction, not a maddeningly convoluted multi-dimensional hologram bathed in layer upon layer of logarithmic complexity.  Entire industries have been created to extract monetary value from emptiness and invisible phantoms, thereby corrupting the concepts upon which money is based: derivatives, mortgage schemes (in which interest is presented in different ways, as if the mortgage holder sees the world through a special prism visible only to him), risk (as if risk, as a concept grounded on nothing but fear, has intrinsic value), etc., etc. To get back to the core functions of money (which are not to enrich manipulative bastards whose lifetime goals are to leave destitute as many people as humanly possible), the extremely complex financial schemes which have a history of crashing economies and ruining lives should be permanently dismantled and banned. Any efforts to resurrect them should be deemed criminal (I would go so far as to call such actions attempted capital murder) and the perpetrators, upon findings of guilt, should be swept into dungeons and forgotten. But I’m getting the cart before the horse. First, we must define legitimacy in the monetary sphere. Then, we must establish mechanisms to ensure that only legitimate monetary transactions (and processes) can take place. Only then should we track down and punish the culprits who wreck lives, replace freedoms with economic slavery, and consume, consume, consume!

So, that’s what is on my mind this morning. My mind may change. It often does.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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