Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Money Principle

... and its problems today.

I've stumbled over this topic by watching TV ... again. I was surprised at the many things the people in a discussion had to say about money.

To me money is a means to an end. I live in a world in which not everyone can produce everything necessary alone. Therefore I need to buy products and services. And I sell a service myself as an employee - my work. (Technically speaking a person's work could also be seen as a product, but for me a product is something you can touch ... and I can't 'touch' work, but I can give it to my employer by working for the company.) Money simply is there to control the exchange of services and products.

But I know there's many people in this world who see it differently. They see money as something important in itself. They don't want to make money in order to live off it, but simply so they have it. I can't really see the point in it. What can you do with money you just own? Take a daily bath in it like Scrooge McDuck? Not today, while the super-rich keep their money on their bank accounts. It's not even 'real' money, it's just 'virtual' money, an admittedly large sum on a piece of paper or a screen (depending on your favourite way of checking your account).

I personally would like to make a huge sum of money (for example by selling a book), but I would like to make it so I can live off it for the rest of my life, without having to worry about employment, without having to rise early (as I like sleeping in and working late into the night on my stories or other stuff). I would just like to have enough money to live modestly, in a small flat or apartment of my own, with enough money to take a trip abroad every once in a while. That's my idea of being rich, actually. Having enough money to live my own way without having to worry about the future.

But that's not how a lot of other people see it. Making money is supreme to them. It doesn't matter how many lives might be ruined by closing down a factory or "downsize" a workforce (yes, we have that word - or at least a variety of this - in Germany as well, just as the thing it stands for). If it were not illegal, they'd even sell drugs (and who knows, maybe some of them do it...) or commit other crimes, just as long as it means making more money.

But what's the point in this? Well, I wanted to show the position money has in our lives today. There's a lot of people who don't like this at all (I don't understand the way the money-makers worship their bank account, but I see the point in money) and point out the dark sides of it. (And everything, including religion, has a dark side, believe me. If you can't see it, it's not because it isn't there, it's because it's well hidden.) There's the whole "downsizing"-issue, of course. Then there's the people who are addicted to shopping (one of the first addictions science has agreed on that doesn't feature a substance, unlike addiction to alcohol or tobacco or the drug of your choice).

Some just try to make people choose better what to do with their money, others claim that mankind should shun money on the whole. But while the first suggestion has its merits, the second one won't work. And this is why:

The first societies probably didn't have anything like money, that's right. They traded services and products for services and products. The problem with that is that sooner or later you reach a point when the whole exchange-business doesn't really work any longer. The bigger the group gets, the more products and services are needed. Then, at some point, people realize that trading one for the other gets problematic. That's the point when they find something they can use as an ultimate product to trade - and in a way that's where 'money' starts.

Not all great societies had money the way we understand it (bits of metal and later on pieces of paper). But all of them know some kind of currency, some kind of ultimate product which to trade in for services and other products.

The Aztecs, just as an example, didn't have pieces of metal and paper, but they had cocoa-beans and cotton blankets. The beans were used for smaller stuff and the blankets for houses and suchlike. Of course, those were more practical than coins and banknotes. You could brew a nice cup of hot chocolate from your small change and sleep under the money you'd gotten for your house. But the principle is the same.

You could, actually, use feathers of various birds as currency, provided someone thinks they're valuable. And in a society which doesn't see copper, silver and gold as valuable, our currency would be utterly worthless.

Of course, money hasn't always played the important role it plays today. In medieval times, for example, most people had next to no money and 'paid' in products a lot, just as the first societies had. But money was around, the poor just didn't get much of it. In Christian societies money was considered 'dirty' and 'evil', but it was seen as a necessity (otherwise, how would you explain to the people on your land that the church wants one tenth of their harvest?).

In medieval times, Christians weren't allowed to lend money for a percentage, that was left to the Jews (and one reason for their bad standing in society). The only Christians who were allowed to lend money for percentage were the Templars, actually, the first 'bankers' of Europe. They invented the first 'traveller's cheque' and most royals of Europe were in their debt (which probably was the reason for their fall ... sometimes people consider it easier to kill off all their debtors instead of paying them).

Right up to the industrial revolution, money wasn't all that important. The rich people had it, but didn't think much of it, the poor people didn't have much of it, but didn't mind, because they were waiting for their afterlife anyway. The industrial revolution brought forward what we call "capitalism" and that might be the reason why so many people are desperate to get money and don't think there's such a thing as "too much money" around. "Capitalism" is nothing else than making money for money's sake. So maybe Marx wasn't completely wrong, only his solution obviously (look at China and the former Soviet Union) doesn't work.

But what choices do we have? We can't stop using money, not until we're all going to 'fall back' into the times of our ancestors (and I mean those who hunted mammoths somewhere in the showy plains of Europe...). We can't really stop people from worshipping money either (as they won't listen to religion today the way they did before the industrial revolution). We can stop "downsizing" and other effects of capitalism - or rather we could, provided the governments were ready to work against those giving them money (i.e. the companies) for once. We have declared selling drugs illegal, just as stealing, murdering or injuring. We could declare "downsizing" illegal, too.

But most of the changes can't be forced by a government, they have to come from inside - or rather insight (beware, I'm starting to work with puns - bad things will happen, the Apocalypse can't be far away). I think we'll overcome that one day, once we've 'matured' enough as a species.

When? No idea. But don't bet on living to see it...

No comments: