James Derounian questions whether money really is the root of all……
There are so many phrases in English that derive from money: “the root of all evil”; or the song from the musical Cabaret “money makes the world go round”. It is our daily preoccupation across the planet – with 20% of the world’s population owning 75% of the wealth; to 1 in 5 across the globe living on just $1.25 (77p) a day. To top flight footballers like Chelsea’s John Terry earning an estimated annual £6m (for kicking a ball in to a net)! The theme is financial….a central preoccupation of local and central governments too – service provision, survival and thrift in an age of austerity; making tough political decisions. Generating headlines like “The Local Government Association has raised concerns that the Treasury is willing to deprive local areas of around £330m of European Union funding.”
But what is money? Just take a look in your wallet or purse for a moment. What do you see? Bits of stamped metal (coins), pieces of paper (notes and almost obsolete cheques), plastic (credit and debit cards). And if we extend this to electronic transactions, we add in just so many digits on a computer screen. Take the UK national debt: £900 billion and rising; the equivalent of “£16,326 for every man, woman and child” [http://www.debtbombshell.com/]. Or maybe gold is your preferred investment….lots of small ads just now encouraging you to pawn granny’s jewellery, to send gold items in the post in exchange for cash; or local authorities struggling under the cosh of bad investment (e.g. in Icelandic banks); with the Daily Mail screaming on April 11th – “Britain will sue Iceland for £3.5billion after the tiny North Atlantic state voted in a referendum yesterday to reject plans to refund foreign depositors in its crippled banks”. Cotswold District Council’s leader was reported as saying that they are hoping to recover £2 million. Whilst Gloucester County Council hoped to regain £10 million of taxpayers’ money. So money is a real and present danger or opportunity for the individual, the community, governments and multi-nationals.
But again, let’s just pause to review this addiction to what, at root is a useless social construct…let me explain that last bit of academic jargonese. The good news – at least for a minority of us – is that money opens opportunities, acquisition, status, power and influence. Buying health care, legal advice, education, property. Of course the flip side of the coin (as it were) is that if you ain’t got it you are proverbially s*****d. Your life chances, health etc go down the pan. Research from over 20 years ago shows “death rates of B&B residents are 4 to 5 times greater than those of the housed population, hostel residents are 7 times greater, and rough sleepers are 25 times greater. Also, people living in the most salubrious housing can expect to live, on average, more than twice as long as those sleeping rough on the streets.” Surprise………not!
What seems incredible is that the vast majority of us collude in this fiction that determines fact….last week I heard the Deputy PM say to my face that there is no money; and that somehow this meant there are no choices! My argument here is that money is not God-given, nor is it a sacred cow, nor is it universally advantageous, nor is it in our interests to shoot up as a blind addiction. Sure, there have been smallish scale experiments in Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS)… Dorchester & South Dorset, Falmouth, Fremantle LETS (Western Oz!). LETS are local community-based networks, in which people exchange goods and services without using money. And good on them for showing another way. Time banking runs along similar lines: A “means of exchange used to organise people and organisations around a purpose, where time is the principal currency. For every hour participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank, perhaps by giving practical help and support to others, they are able to ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they themselves are in need.”
What I want to see is serious research and consideration given by local authorities, democratic decision makers (councillors and other movers-and-shakers – such as the new economics foundation - to take a proper look at alternatives to the crack-pot, status quo, money-infected present. If we do not question & investigate then how do we know that alternatives are impossible, inferior or impractical? Or for that matter that currency and exchange based on, say, cowrie shells is not superior to money.
In a time of (alleged) localism, it’s high time for governments to stop bleating about money and lead the way in seeking preferred alternatives – for ALL our sakes. Financial crisis – what crisis; it is a manmade disaster that may just prove to be an opportunity to rid ourselves of bankers and the sick-ness of money.
Comments & responses please
James Derounian Principal Lecturer, University of Gloucestershire July 2012