When you look at the economic state of America, the former beacon upon a hill and economic dynamo, one cannot help but to muse about how the country has fallen so hard and so fast. But rather than dive too deeply and get into facts and figures and economic / political theory, I want to get to the point and highlight what I think is the core problem — our creation of money, debt, and financial institutions.
At some point in time, human civilization decided that money, pieces of paper and coins, could represent value and value created. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/history-money.html Here is the first step we took into obscurity. I find it very strange that a piece of paper or coin can accurately represent value. Trade and barter made sense. Give me your basket of fruit in exchange for my hunk of meat and we have a fair deal. Imagine, if we could put a modern man back in time, and he was to offer a hunter a ten-dollar bill in exchange for a hunk of meat. The hunter would look at the piece of paper and say, “what in the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I have a broad question when it comes to assuming money has intrinsic worth. How much money would it take to buy the sun, fresh rivers, a bountiful ocean, clean crisp air, and fertile soil? These elements have immense value for they are the basis for life, yet we can’t put a monetary value on what they are worth — although I am sure there are some economists modeling out the worth of the elements to support the new green economy. Good luck with those calculations.
The next step into obscurity was the idea that the money supply could be increased or in current terms printed. Hey, we are out of money so lets just print more. Brilliant! There is a limited supply of gold, jewels, and goods and therefore one can make a reasonable leap of faith that these limited items could be linked in some shape or form to value. But when you can simply print more money it obviously waters down the relationship between approximate value and true value. At one point money was linked to the gold supply (gold standard), but apparently the powers that be didn’t like that restriction and elected to sever the relationship.
But Man didn’t stop there. He also came up with an even more entrepreneurial and innovative concept — the loan. Why wait until you have earned enough money to buy this or that when you can have it today for a small monthly fee and the promise you will pay back the original amount some time in the future? Finally, man capped it all off with the invention of financial markets. Thus the invention of Wall Street and Investment “Bankstas”. Now you could print more money and take out a loan and then throw it all into the financial market and make more money without actually doing any work. As long as you made a good guess where to invest your money you can hit the jack pot!. And if your are connected and obtain inside information your chances to hit the jack pot increase. And if you are a trader controlling huge funds and can move the market up or down with rumours or a touch of a button, your chances increase exponentially to make lots of money for doing nothing of value.
Currently, vast amounts of money flow so fluidly and rapidly (thanks to electronic flows of money…yet another step into obsurity) through financial, business, and government institutions that nobody understands what is going on. Watching the talking business heads on tv is a true comedy. “Well, the Dow went down 100 points in the morning due to the debt crisis fears in Europe but rebounded in the afternoon because an article mentioned that China might step in to help stabilize Italy”. The most comical aspect is that these talking heads claim to understand what is going on with the economy and interpreting what is causing the stock market to go up and down on any given day probably make over six figures. This leads me to my next point.
Money, which has a watered down assumed intrinsic worth as previously mentioned, flows rapidly to sources that we “perceive” to have value equal to that already inflated assumption of the intrinsic worth of money. If our “perceived” value of the source receiving vast amounts of money is wrong, then we have really dug ourselves in a hole. And I would argue that our perception of what is valuable is off-base in many cases. From a big picture perspective, looking at the earth from space and then zooming in on our society, is a rookie NFL quarterback fresh out of college really worth $20 million? I enjoy watching football especially college, but the amount of money we pay folks for hitting or throwing balls is out of line. Is the latest and greatest reality star that has suddenly emerged from obscurity worth millions of dollars? Those Jersey Shore celebs sure are valuable human beings. I have watched the show a few times so I am guilty of increasing the net worth of these boneheads. Is the hottest rap or pop star worth multi-million green backs? I do think Rhianna is pretty hot. Guilty again.
Was Jeff Skilling (Enron president) or Bernie Madoff ever worth the huge sums of money they earned through compensation and stock grants? Do the top earning 20% of Americans really generate 84% of the value in America? Are 40 million people in the United States (and 1 in 5 children) that are below the poverty line really worth what their measly earnings say they are worth or could be worth? Clearly, something is out of whack. And in my opinion,the distortion is caused by the possibility that our perceived value of what has value is way off base and we have made an erroneous assumption about the intrinsic value of money. Combine the above flaws with loans, debt, and financial speculation and you have a house of cards and misallocated “wealth”. Two movies worth watching on this topic are “The Smartest Guys in the Room” (documentary on Enron implosion) and “Too Big to Fail” (the mortgage-backed security frenzy).
But what would we do without money, loans, credit, debt, banks, Wall Street, and Investment “Bankstas”? How would society function? This may come as a surprise, but every society on this planet, excluding the “Human World”, operates without money and the related baggage. And man himself at one point operated without money. In every other society on Earth, including the Apex species, value is pretty clear and money has no meaning or intrinsic worth. And there certainly aren’t any problems with “perceived” value. The currency in all other societies on earth is energy. Some of the more advanced societies combine their energy via cooperation to obtain one of the ultimate valuable prizes — food. They also work together for protection and ultimately survival. And many of these societies have been around much longer than ourselves.
Imagine the sense of freedom these apex predators enjoy without money and particularly debt! But their societies aren’t free from stress or hardship. If the society or individual doesn’t find food, they die. No one is going to come to their aid. But that doesn’t mean that these apex predators don’t find time for fun or enjoy being alive. The bond between members of these societies is strong for without each other it would be a very lonely and dangerous world. Not all members of these societies are treated completely equal — Only the lucky few earn mating rights through various competitions and the prize certainly has value and a bit of pleasure! Although some inequality exists, they each play a crucial part such that the whole has access to the fruits earned through cooperation. Of course we would be in position to adapt lessons from these societies because we have an opposable thumb, a large brain, and free hands since we walk upright. We have the power to create and manipulate the environment around us. All we need to do is define true value, define our missions, use our brains, thumbs, free hands, and spend our currency (our energy) to make it happen.
Otherwise, the vast majority of us will remain like domesticated pigeons huddling together looking up at the few fortunate hawks.