…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
I’ve had this topic on my mind for far too long* and so it has got to the stage where I don’t know where to begin, or how to write it – like, what tone to use, to try and be more helpful or insightful, rather than sound like I’m being (overly) critical of others. Therefore I have decided to just sit down for an hour and type… so please forgive me for however this turns out!
*money is on all our minds from a very early age – likely as soon as we start overhearing our parents speak and then gain a grasp of what it is they are talking about.
It was back in 2010 that I borrowed a library book called The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Since then I’ve watched Youtube videos on banking conspiracy theories regarding such groups as the Rothschilds, and more recently read another book (because I wanted to brush up/gain another perspective on the topic of money) called Paper Money Collapse by Detlev S. Schlichter. Around this time I also had a brief conversation with a random person in Second Life about money, which revealed a perspective I had not really pondered: that “when one works hard physically – they sweat and work their body. Money is their sweat materialized.”
Firstly, Ferguson. The author claims early on (p.13 in the Introduction) “that poverty is not the result of rapacious financiers exploiting the poor. It has much more to do with the lack of financial institutions, with the absence of banks, not their presence.” but at the same time “finance… [enriches] the lucky and the smart [while] impoverishing the unlucky and not-so-smart.” Those with “plenty of money” are often seen as fortunate because they are far removed from a life of poverty, while those at the other (and extreme) end of the monetary scale suffer a life of poverty while having little in the way of money – money, at its very least, is used to buy the necessities in life such as* food and shelter.
*I emphasise “such as” because once the need for food and shelter is met, further necessities are added to our list: here in the UK internet access is classed as a necessity, for example. It seems to me that the closer we get to considering ourselves to have “not enough money” the closer we get to a fear of a life of poverty (of course, sadly there are those that do live a life of poverty in its rawest form). With this fear though comes images of an uncivilised world as we can imagine existed in the past (or shown to still exist today); the world of the hunter-gatherer which as Fergoson pointed out to me: “[t]he life of a hunter-gatherer is indeed, as Thomas Hobbes said of the state of nature, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. It’s not surprising then how easy it is to fear such an existence; it surely sets us back in a past time rather than puts us on the path of progress that other people apparently live on. I think a fair amount of this is about perspective.
Moving on, like Schlichter, Ferguson had also questioned: “Are we on the brink of a ‘great dying’ in the financial world?” And if so, what would this mean? Ferguson seemed to be careful to write in a explanatory tone, so as to not sound like a conspiracy theorist, whilst at the same time adding a good insight into things for those with a conspiracy theorist’s hat on.
I like to don this hat from time-to-time, and when it comes to money I see things in the way I have had them explained to me through certain Youtube videos:
Money is a pyramid scheme.
It’s quite simple really, think about it; where does money come from? We print the stuff, or (increasingly) it’s just numbers held in a computer. It’s used as a measure of the value of a transaction so if you have something I want and I have something you want, we can carry out an exchange in a simple maner. In this way money simply flows around a/the system. But where is it created? Largely it is created out of nothing, but we have to trace it back a little way to its raw form such as the growing of food – food (which we all need to eat) grows, and farmers encourage it (in the past we were all farmers I suppose, and before that time we simply hunted and gathered the food that was around us – easy). Farmers though, in this day, put in the effort and time required. However, “thanks” to mechanisation machines are created and employed to do the bulk of the labour, so that instead of paying a farmer for the work they have done, we are paying him to pay for the machines… see how it’s getting more complicated already? – we’re building a pyramid.
Banks are involved in a number of ways. Perhaps the farmer can’t afford his first machine, because, how would he unless he sold his produce for more than what it was strictly worth and saved up? So, he would turn to a bank to lend him the money. Banks of course charge a fee (for their effort?), or rather, they own the machine, and so when we buy food, we’re paying the bank and the farmer. Messy isn’t it? And who gets the larger cut?
Banks are now further involved though, and this is where concerns about a financial collapse step in. Banks increasingly handle all transactions – they sell the benefits of this to us whilst taking their cut. Take the ‘wonderful’ credit card for example. We’re all encouraged by the bank to use this means of transferring money – we’re sold on the prospect of it being safer, and/or easier, and we can buy things and pay for them later (like the farmer and his machines). One slip though and we quickly (and endlessly) end up paying the bank more in fees than what we borrowed in the first place. Beyond credit cards we’re seeing more and more “technology” involved in our transactions, right down to the micro-transactions – take a look at all the ‘contactless’ wizardry that has crept in.
A way around this and the many problems of the modern financial ages is: “Don’t borrow”. This is probably my main point here, and I’ve just let it slip in – I didn’t see it coming either. When you borrow you automatically owe ‘someone’ something – but a bank isn’t a someone, a bank isn’t a person – it may be fronted by people, people who need food and shelter like you and me, but the bank doesn’t. I don’t know how to teach this in the way of a lesson; I’ve tried explaining it gently to people who get themselves into financial strife (and how many people end up owing money in this day?) but getting into a mindset of only buying what you need is a tough one, and more tough if you’re already borrowing to cover past borrowings – see how it spirals out of control? Who benefits from this? The banks of course.
The thing is, we’re all brainwashed – and we all brainwash. This might sound like I have my conspiracy theorist’s hat firmly stuck on now but bear with me; I will straddle the fence on this one. The conspiracy theorist will say that we are brainwashed by the media, or whatever, and that there is some grand plan to control the minds of all; this may be so, or, (and? perhaps and too,) we brainwash each other; there is no “grand plan” by the so-called leading families of the world, it’s just human nature that leads us to unknowingly encourage others to make the same buying mistakes as we ourselves make (perhaps guided by norms portrayed in the media). Lets take the modern mobile phone as an example and ask ourselves if we need a mobile phone. Do we? Some will say yes, and some will say no (the latter perhaps becoming an increasing minority). Those that say no are perhaps of the mindset that we only need food and shelter, and those that say we do need a mobile phone are perhaps of the mindset that you simply can’t live “in this modern age” without a mobile phone. Those inverted commas probably cast a tone of skepticism just then – the point is, who says we need a mobile phone? Who has made us think this? The voice of progress, perhaps? The voice of progress that shows you how far you are away from a life of poverty, a life that will be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.
It’s all piffle. If you have food and shelter then what else do you think you need? Perhaps ask this question deeply. If you have plenty of money though, don’t ease your mind just yet. Remember the pyramid scheme I mentioned, and the thought of where money comes from? Where did your money come from? You earned it, right? Maybe you have a job and turn up each day and work your 9-5 and then at the end of the week your boss hands you some cash (in this day this is largely done invisibly by shifting some digits from one place to another in a computer system) – but this idea of where your money has come from is very shortsighted. Now, I’m not going to criticise for holding more money in one’s hand than one needs by the harsh standards I outlined above, that would be hypocritical of me, but my point now is that all money comes from somewhere (as well as coming from nowhere and having been made up) – some people have “fancy jobs” and a “flash car” and a “nice house” (or five), but if all the money to buy those things were traced down through the pyramid, where does it all begin after it has flowed round the magical monetary system umpteen times? It probably begins with one simple soul somewhere, somewhen, putting some real sweat and effort into something to earn what he really needs.