If you really think about it, the vast majority of harm that is done in the world is done for the sake of money. Money is wealth is influence is status is agency is freedom is power.
Given the fact that money is fiction, imaginary, made up, make believe, abstract and illusionary – we have to see that (all things considered) it is actually rather stupid to ‘run’ things this way. It is completely unnecessary.
I know that this is a hard concept to really grasp however. If – (like me) you live in a western liberal capitalist democracy and are probably therefore in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest – then it can be possible to consider that nothing is really all that wrong with it. We work, we get by, we try to improve things and on the whole things could be a lot worse but they are certainly better than they were in the past on the whole.. we have technology, more comforts etc etc and so on the argument runs.
If we could just help others in the world to live more like we do, then everything would be fine. Money has always been around so all this talk of getting rid of it is crazy talk.
It’s easy to kind of say, “we have all these smart economists running things and though it goes up and down it’s the best system that we got”.
The problem with the above lines of reasoning is that they are entirely false and that you only have to scratch the surface of them to reveal some rather worrying flaws.
The global economy is not a good system with a few kinks to work out, it is an entirely flawed system that on a one way course to meltdown – it’s not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
It cannot present a credible way to address the ludicrous gap posed by a system based on continual (and thus infinite) growth on a finite planet with limited resources, nor can it come up with any convincing idea of how to address the increasingly severe levels of wealth inequality across the world or the titanic mass of debt that it creates with no way to pay back – only pass on.
So (to my mind) any attempt to shrug off the issue as “not important right now”, “not my problem” or “overblown and not requiring any drastic measures” shows a deep ignorance of a) how it works, b) what the effects of it are on a global scale d) what the actual root causes of the problems are, and c) what value the alternatives bring.
If the world’s population was represented by 1,000 people – here’s a look at what it looks like right now:
Click on the image for a larger view..
If you are not an economist and want to understand in more depth how our global economies work, I can recommend reading Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth” for a relatively easy to read, frank and intelligent analysis of economies, capitalism and the nature of our financial systems. It’s a good read and not dry at all – which was a pleasant surprise. He shows how we must urgently reconcile this issue of prosperity within the limits of the planet we inhabit – though personally I would have liked to see him go further but I can see that he might have been dismissed as a lunatic if he went as far as I do in this blog, and the baby would have been thrown out with the bath water.
For now, the essence of capitalist economies can be summed up like this however:
Economies (thus the Governments who administer to them) need growth.
Growth is largely based on the increasing/improving levels of ‘busy-ness’ (GDP) in an economy (productivity, efficiency, employment, spending etc).
Economies are also a bit like a car with the accelerator stuck down, if they are pointed in the right direction they keep accelerating forwards in a positive direction but if they point the wrong way then the engine pushes it faster and faster towards catastrophe.
The real catch is that;
a) As soon as the market thinks that things are going bad, then they – by definition – are. Like money, your economy is fictional and really only worth what others believe it to be and
b) continual infinite growth on a finite world is a logical and logistical impossibility.
But you know what? We can discuss the effects of trade relationships on the third world, the ridiculous levels of profit that people expect and the warping of the social fabric as a result of money becoming an end in itself, but there’s a danger is debating too far down that path because it distracts from the main point.
Those that want to defend the status quo can invent all manner of temporary delays and band-aid measures to address the issues presented by capitalist economies and money more widely – thus countering (on the surface at least) the main objections to it – however it all merely treats the symptoms and ignores treating the cause; money itself.
Even if it were possible to patch up all the current obvious shortcomings of the global economy, bring stability, reliable growth and reduce wealth inequality etc.. you are still left with the underlying problem. The system is flawed, fundamentally flawed. It is unsustainable and – by it’s very nature – doomed to collapse. It simply cannot go any other way.
So the real argument to be had is not ‘can we improve the global economy to make it more fair’ and so on.. but to ask what is a better way to approach our individual and collective human lives, making them more likely to be filled with happiness and meaningful prosperity – rather than misery, constant competition, pointless struggle and suffering.
Let’s overcome the fear of change and ask ourselves: if we don’t actually need it, then why have it?