Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Just pictures of the Queen

A long time ago, in the long and distant past when I had just the one blog, I wrote a post about money. I see, on re-reading it, that it was unnaturally brief of me. (Did I only write that..? I thought there was a lot more!)

But I'm still largely of the same view as I was 4 years ago - money and psychology are intrinsically inseparably intertwined. You are as rich or poor as you think you are, which is usually as rich or poor as you really, deep down subconsciously, believe you deserve to be. So a relatively poor person by UK terms, like myself, can think herself to be quite wealthy. And a relatively affluent person can bemoan and bewail their position, thinking themselves badly done to.

It's all just bits of paper, though, isn't it? Pictures of the Queen.

You can't eat it or wear it. You can burn it, but it wouldn't give you much heat, pound for pound.

As this video [opens Youtube clip] (which I found via Jax and Tim's blog) aptly explains, what used to be lumps of gold became pieces of paper and is now increasingly comprised of minus figures on balance sheets, conjured up out of thin air. That's a brilliant little film actually - it explains better than anything else I've seen or read why the whole world is currently facing serious financial problems. I think.

Because it depends on your point of view, doesn't it? I mean, really seriously, the whole edifice stands or falls exactly according to how much we trust and believe in it. We could, if we chose, just reject the whole concept of believing those bits of paper and negative numbers to mean anything at all, and then they wouldn't. Just like that. Magic. Such power really does lie with 'the people', if only they collectively realised it.

But they don't, which is why we're in this situation of most of the world struggling to make ends meet, while a tiny minority languishes with billions more than it can ever spend and thereby keeping it from being shared out more fairly.

I'm currently (still! nearly finished..) reading Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, written in 1910, which explains very well how very wealthy people deliberately keep poor people poor. The Socialist movement in the UK was supposed to sort all that out, and did it? Well, when it finally came to power the 1945 Labour Government gave us council houses, the NHS and the Welfare State, all of which I and my family has benefited from, but which have had some drawbacks.

Nearly 100 years after The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was published, most of the world's land, resources and money is still in the hands of the very few, but there's so much clamour, noise, complicated legislation and general confusion about everything that we're not supposed to notice. How many people are in charge of their own lives? Their own time? How many have enough of everything, without worrying about it? How many feel comfortable about their position, without having to stressfully compete with other people in order to maintain it? How many fell for the line that it's ok to live on credit? How many felt that they had no choice?

But I still believe that a decent family home and enough land to live on is every person's birthright. And more than that is too much. More than that, and you're keeping someone else in poverty. The world's resources are finite.

Every generation of a family does not need a new house and a brand new car. Every young adult doesn't need a university degree. Every task doesn't need a top-of-the range labour-saving device and a small army of officials to oversee it and another to oversee that one. We've got situations in the UK now where people's parents are living in comparative luxury on final salary pensions and fully paid-up mortgages, while their adult children feel to be drowning under a mountain of debt. The system wins all ways, in terms of profit, interest and tax. Family life loses hands down.

When I was studying economics in the 1980s, we were told that the *big problem* facing UK governments in the future would be: how to fill all the hours of people's leisure time that were being freed up by the advanced technologies that were coming online, even back then in the 80s? We wouldn't be needing people to work full-time in factories, offices or even in shops. There would obviously be more than enough food and fuel to go around, and vast numbers of people would be idle for much of their time.

Well, it seems that problem was solved by creating a lot of unnecessary work for people instead, and forcing them to compete for that instead of the necessary jobs they used to compete for. Ever-complicated legislation, which would need ever-increasing numbers of people to monitor, enforce and understand it. Perhaps the idea of allowing people to enjoy their free time was a frightening one for the powers-that-be - a step too far. Safer to persuade them to increase their consumption and be ensnared by their own debt.

For a family to work well together, I think its members have to spend most of their time together, working. Learning, teaching, facilitating their lives, producing food, shelter and money, if required or necessary. Otherwise, the strength of the family unit will be diminished and children will grow up to be near strangers or mere acquaintances with their parents. But the mentally healthy members of mutually supportive interactive financial family units wouldn't need to spend, or earn, or borrow, or be taxed so much money as do stressed-out, over-worked, unsupported singletons or even the hoards of people struggling along in isolated nuclear family systems.

Money can provide some things, but I don't think it should provide everything. It should be working for us, not us for it.


Anonymous Simon said...

if only they collectively realised it


If all people had no self interest at all and always considered collective well being then true socialism would be a possibility.

Short of that then social democracy with a regulated free market seems like the pragmatic approach.

Doesn't mean that I disagree with the ideas in your post though. The balance of regulation and social justice vs market forces in our current system is something that will always be a compromise and needs constant re-examination.

April 10, 2008 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Simon,

Yes I don't think I'm actually a Socialist - unlike my old dad - though my political stance might be in flux ATM.

" democracy with a regulated free market.."

Doesn't really square with the Libertarianism I think I still subscribe to. LOL, so many labels, having such little effect. Or so it seems.

Pragmatism I am definitely a fan of and people suffering from starvation, debt, misery and other symptoms of poverty I am not, and we have made great progress in some of those respects in the UK, haven't we? But I lament the loss of freedom, the incessant accountability and the intrinsic lack of trust that seems to increasingly drive the country.

Perhaps just a general raising of awareness might be enough to solve a lot of the current problems. Money is just pictures of the Queen, not the be all and end all. We don't have to look to it to provide for all our needs, and if we do then it might be good if more of us wondered why we do. I think, in terms of progress, I'd be happy with that for now.

April 10, 2008 at 1:46 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

LOL, so many labels, having such little effect

The curse of Labels!

I know exactly what you mean - a true libertarian would leave the market alone completely and regard any state intervention (including welfare) as totalitarian intervention. A true socialist realises that not everyone will act in the interest of the collective without some "persuasion" from the state.

Perhaps collectivism without the state is the answer - Anarchy? I don't think any experiment in anarchy has ever suceeded in the long term... I might be wrong though.

Best to avoid labels and dogma altogether!

I'm the Simon who commented on Nic's blog BTW. Layla's husband.

April 10, 2008 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Gill said...

Anarchy is a really tempting concept, isn't it? If it could be carried out by philosophising, peace-loving, placid individuals.. yeah. Great! But in reality it would probably degenerate into a frightening orgy of violence and depravity - or would it? I suppose we'll never know until someone tries, and I've never heard of it being properly tried either.

I know some people who simply could not live without rules. They'd be forced by the nature of their personalities to either find some or make some and try to impose them on everyone around them. And some others for whom the idea of acting in the common good is totally alien to them. Why should they? (they'd reason) when certainly nobody else will be doing?

I used to like to think that as a species our consciousness was rising by the process of evolution. Nowadays I'm not so sure. And some days I think it's going backwards.

But yes, idealistically I'd be an anarchist. We really shouldn't have to make up rules with which to boss each other about all the time, should we?

April 10, 2008 at 7:44 PM  

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