On Money Versus Greed by George Drake

Every time I write these journal entries now, it seems it’s been longer since I last wrote. Garrison says “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” But he never seems to say what to do if it feels like you’ve already fallen down on even one of those. Keeping in touch ought to be the easiest to rectify, but if it includes admitting to a shortage of the others, even that can be difficult.

These occasional public journal entries hit a wall when I realized that, though I felt quite good about my analysis of the problem posed earlier, that capitalism is a ponzi scheme very like the booze letter I used to see at elementary school teacher’s rooms, I couldn’t suggest any way out of it.

By way of review, the booze letter I refer to was an exponential pyramid scheme that gave you 32 bottles of hard liquor for the investment of one, I think it was. The capitalistic ponzi scheme is one on the environment (see my journal entries of 1/18 and 1/29). Both scams insist on growth to drive them, and the growth that capitalism insists on eats up resources. I’ve encountered a lot of resistance to this observation, either in the fact of it, or the exclusivity of capitalism as carrying the trait. But what’s really stopped me from moving forward in these journals is the fact that I’ve failed utterly to come up with a suggestion as to how we might get out of the spiral. It seems like “not doing good work.”

The criticisms, however have worked to refine my thinking, and I can, at least, elaborate a bit more on the problem itself. I invite participation from the audience here, both via more critique of my points and, even more importantly, in suggesting ways we might get off this juggernaut with as little pain as possible.

Point one: The suggestion that other economic systems have the same flaw as capitalism set me to thinking. That may, in fact, be accurate. At least of all modern ones. Mother used to say “The desire for money is the root of all evil,” in some sort of individualized biblical quote that, since the original text apparently goes straight to money itself, conveyed the interesting aspect of her faith that said the interpretation of scripture was the bailiwick of each believer.

But I’m beginning to think it really is the money itself. Think about it. What good was money to the stone age man? By today’s calculation, every indigenous people is so deeply entrenched in poverty that there’s simply no way they have enough money to survive. Yet they do. And did, for millennia before Europeans, or the modern Chinese, or whoever the culture with the money was, came into their world. What’s wrong with this picture?

They had, of course, resources at their disposal that required no cash to keep them alive. Noteworthy is that these resources were, for the most part, available to individuals. Kept them quite nicely alive, in fact. They weren’t overpopulated, of course, for that wasn’t part of the system. Too many people couldn’t exist prior to the invention of money, for the system wouldn’t tolerate them, they’d just starve.

Which was, most likely, one of the driving motivators for the ascent of money. Money made overpopulation possible. It was a way of tracking the trade of items one culture needed from another to survive and thrive. But what I hadn’t noticed until this go around at rumination is that the converse is also true. For money to be needed, a lack of essential stuff is required. If everyone had everything they needed to survive perfectly happily without it, money would be as useless as a piece of paper in your pocket. It’s only when there’s not enough of the real stuff that you need the paper stuff to keep track of who owes who what for the provision of whatever.

Without money there’s no such thing as poverty. Starvation, perhaps, but not poverty as we’ve come to know it. And we’ve come to know it as we do largely because we’ve shifted our view from possession of the essentials to possession of the paper.

It’s a natural consequence of the society relying on money that there will be too many people to be supported without it.

Example of one of the ways this works: How many of us have wondered at the incomprehensible behavior of the buffalo hunters in the conquest of the west? They slaughtered as many bison as their ammunition would allow, leaving the carcasses to rot in the sun, taking only a small body part to show their railway pay master so they’d collect the bounty. Now, in honesty, I’m not sure that’s how it worked, for I’m no historian. But, logically, I can see no other way it might have worked. Ammunition is too valuable to just waste that way, and these guys weren’t out there for the sport of it. This had to be a policy. Whose I don’t know. But a policy for sure.

So, if it was a policy, to what end? Answer: to subjugate the plains Indians. Take away their means of surviving, and they become dependent on money, for they are suddenly impoverished. That way, you can control them, otherwise they’re outside the system and dangerous as hell. That’s the essence of making a culture with a demonstrably sustainable economic system “tame”; impoverish them.

Thing is, we’ve all been impoverished by this system. We’re all totally dependent on money and have never known the world as it was before, where you could live off the land virtually without effort, save for those relatively rare times when you couldn’t-when you just froze to death, or died of thirst, hunger, or illness, or, more likely perhaps, were taken for food by another predator.

“Christ, what is he going on about? We’re not impoverished. We’re not starving. The guy is simply bonkers!”

Ahh, the pressures to think only within the box.

First of all, it’s not true we aren’t starving. Just that we “first worlders” aren’t starving in our immediate neighborhoods. Remember, the major function of money is to keep a good tab on who owes what to whom without having to keep a ledger. That means that the poverty, in terms of real resources, can be shifted around. Drought in my neck of the woods can be offset by buying water from the valley on the other side of the mountain where there was plenty of rain. Assuming, of course, that I have the money to buy it. Or, if the savage on the other side refuses to sell, the money to make it possible to just take it.

We’re not starving in noticeable numbers in America for the simple reason that we’re wealthy. But more people are starving in the world today than ever before in history. I say that without hesitation because one of the implications of our stupendous growth as a species is that you can say that of virtually every conceivable human activity. More people live in cities than ever before. More people are dying violent deaths at the hands of other people than ever before (Certainly as a trend, who knows about the concentrated killing of the world wars versus those of the genocides going down today?). More women are conceiving every hour of every day than ever before. The list is endless, and it surely includes “starving.”

My point about impoverishment is that money hasn’t eliminated it, it’s only redefined what we mean by it. The caveman wasn’t poor for the lack of money, because he had no need of money in the first place. If nature was doing well in his neighborhood, he was wealthy, for all he needed to do to live luxuriously in a national park-like setting was pick food off the abundant vegetation and smack one of the pesky little rabbits up ‘side the head. If nature wasn’t doing well, though, I guess he was poor. Luckily-no, “naturally”-nature usually did very well.

Needing money is, in and of itself, a form of impoverishment, whether you actually have the money or not. Who can ever smack a rabbit up ‘side the head today?

The point that all economic systems seem to share the need for growth is well taken, and, therefore, the accusation can’t truly be aimed only at capitalists. It does seem to be a flaw of all our economic systems. End of point one.

Point two: But, make no mistake about it; a ponzi scheme on money is absolutely a ponzi scheme on resources. One of the most difficult misunderstandings I’ve encountered in my attempts to describe capitalism as a ponzi scheme has been the difficulty so many seem to have recognizing that humanity’s current focus on money as the “end-all” goal of our economic systems doesn’t tell us anything about the true nature of that goal. To disconnect money from resources is to totally misunderstand the essence of money. That’s just obvious to me, and I don’t know how to convince anyone to whom it is not.

What I’m having most difficulty with, though, is trying to see a way out of this mess. A way other than the one posed in my book, of course. A way that will keep our society going long enough to effect the changes I propose there. To keep going, it seems we’ll have to minimize the pain.

Well, thank god, it’s not all my job. We definitely all have to contribute our little parts to accomplishing anything so big as defeating the negatives associated with money, which, Mother notwithstanding, is right there at the heart of the root of all evil. For my part, I’m convinced it’s more than just the greed that money makes so easy to compute. It’s more worthy of McLuhan than that.

So let’s hear your thoughts on how we can get off this roller coaster. Make a comment.

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3 Responses to On Money Versus Greed by George Drake

  1. Sam Flakus says:

    I believe that the preservation of the human and terestrial existence is dependant upon the cyclical effect of the natural renewal. The problem is not so much money as it is the imbalance of that cyclical renewal, for money is no more than a unit of divided value. It is therefore within the principal of consuming more than the Earth can produce, that lies the need for advanced recycling processes, to allow us as humans to perform the work that nature would otherwise have to do.

  2. Hank Raymond says:

    Just a couple of comments….

    It’s not just money that has made overpopulation possible, it’s fossil fuels. We turn fossil fuels into food. It takes something like 10 calories of fossil fuels (fertilizer, pesticides, gasoline, diesel etc.) to produce one calorie of food. We need to stabilize the population and stop converting fossil fuels into food.

    Money is not just for keeping tabs on who owes what to whom. It’s “POWER!” Getting a seat at the table of power requires one to be rich beyond our wildest dreams. We peasants here have difficulty even imagining that kind of wealth.

    One thing I’ve never seen that I’ve been interested in is an economist’s treatise on how an economy would work with a stable population and no growth. The push is always to “grow the economy”. How would an economy work where the economy is just “steady state”? Can it work? what would everyone do for jobs? Would we all just work fewer hours? Has any economist of note ever published anything on this subject?

  3. Larry says:

    No system is perfect. However, it should be noted that we humans at this point in time live longer and for the most part better then in the past. It should be noted that Capitalism has been around for about as long as fire.

    Like any system, pure Capitalism is not so great (sort of like pure oxygen will kill you). If we look at the other regions of the world we find that only North America and Europe are really good examples of capitalism. India is mirred in the “Caste” system and China is a Dicatorship. South America has pockets of captialism. Africa is in trouble constantly. Most of Asia is under some sort of Dictatorship too. Russia? Not sure. My point is that we are not perfect, but better then most countries out there.

    Greed is not really that good. Forget what John Stossel says. In most markets greed is checked by risk. However, these modern bankers found a way to avoid risk by placing risk of bad loans on the entire population of the USA. So, that is not capitalism. It is criminal at worst and socialist at best. When Republicans say that Obama is socialist it cracks me up because these “masters of universe” pulled this stinker out of the box on their own; not Obama.

    Will we get past this? Sure, just look back at WWII or the Civil War for a comparison. This is a rough patch but it is not so bad considering the past.

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