(My posts have been getting rather long in the tooth of late, so here’s a ditty you won’t have to wade through.)
Premise: Money underpins the entire economy. The current system of central banks creating the “high powered money” that represents the private banks’ reserves is actually a hidden commons.
Watch this deft sleight-of-hand:
Reserves are central-bank-created money which must legally be present in sufficient volume in the ‘vaults’ of private banks, such that citizens’ claims on that money—via the “credit money” they have on deposit—are effective should people withdraw actual cash. The ratio of high powered money to credit money typically stated is 10:1. Let’s run with that.
Hence, you and maybe nine other citizens of your country who have, say, one dollar ‘in’ your bank account, each possess an equal and simultaneous claim on some ‘real’ dollar ‘present’ in the total reserves of the private bank system. The point, of course, is that each of us has sufficient access to the ‘real’ dollar held in reserve. Your ‘private ownership’ of your dollar is in fact no such thing. You share that dollar with roughly nine other people (if you’re lucky), hence we sort of rent money from each other via banks! Money, it turns out, is an abused commons from which private banks profit. (The degree to which society ‘benefits’ from this system I’ll not address here.)
Therefore, at the bottom of the entire modern capitalist system is a depth of sharing that would beggar the belief of those neoliberal economists who insist we humans prefer competition, that the commons is always a tragedy, and sharing is impossible. It turns out we are already experts, it’s just that we don’t know it. Weird, but true.
Proposal: All it takes is setting things up such that we have sufficient access to what we need and enjoy. Who needs ownership! Let’s go!
One more observation on this theme. Consider two supposedly diametrically opposed notions, one the essence of socialism, the other the essence of capitalism (I’ll let you assign them):
1. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
2. The Law of Supply and Demand.
At root, aren’t they the same thing? We ‘supply’ what we can and ‘demand’ what we need.
When it comes to defining ‘needs’ we can of course argue all sorts of things, but I would say the prevailing paradigm tells us what we need; a nice car, a large house, fashionable clothes, etc. Different paradigms at different stages and places of history have generated different conclusions about human needs, and it would be absurd to assert that the current paradigm will hold for all time. Hence “to each according to his needs” is as valid to consumerism (one is often depressed and dejected if one is not a (credit) card-holding Consumer able to demonstrate full participation in the consumption game) as it is to any other social system. And isn’t the goal of neoliberal economics to equip as many as possible with the wealth necessary to fully participate, to leave no one behind, to raise all boats together? Isn’t the Invisible Hand supposed to deliver the best of all possible worlds?
Of course there’s greed to consider, but the admirable sharing we all engage in, merely hinted at above, the endemic absence of total property rights regarding our ‘own’ money, strongly suggests this whole greed shebang is one big delusion. As I’ve argued elsewhere, I know no greedy people. I’ve heard of Jamie Dimon, John Pierpont Morgan, and others, but they are hardly the norm. Don’t we think such people are sick in the head? The famous insatiably greedy normal person only turns up in arguments, as an assertion that ‘everyone’s greedy.’ Are you greedy beyond all hope of satiety, dear reader? Are your wants infinite? Are you an immortal locust of infinite consumptive capacity?
I believe we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we’re insatiably greedy. Silly us, to think we’re all alike in that regard, all hungering after endless numbers of Ferarris, MacMansions, golf club memberships, caviar, lobster thermidor, Barbies, iPads, all-you-can-eat fast-food, etc., and that we cannot be happy unless we are in hot pursuit of such items. And consuming them.
Kind of an embarrassing collective self-deception, but hey, I think we can give ourselves a break. It’s not everyday a species emerges from the complex life-ground of a lush and impossibly beautiful planet of breath-taking diversity, sporting opposable thumbs, high social intelligence, upright walking and abstract language, to wander around for hundreds of thousands of years before inventing farming, homes, and then states. It hasn’t been easy, but history has not stopped. We’re not dead yet and the Challenge of Being is as juicy and full of potential now as it ever was.
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