Finance in Disgrace
Just one reason why accumulating money is intrinsically silly


Phil Tagg

The burning Bush

Madoff made off with billions

As if ENRON and The Allied Irish Bank weren't enough, Madoff, we learn, made off with enough money to feed a small developing nation for several years. It was money that could have given hundreds of thousands a decent education. Madoff could have built hospitals too, and thrown a year or two's salary for thousands of doctors and nurses into the bargain. He didn't. Why not? It might have made him feel better and he wouldn't have had to say sorry...

The ENRON melt-down

No, the whole point was to make money because that's how the system was supposed to work. Freedom of enterprise was the freedom trumping all others, greed was considered good and riches were bound to trickle down even if all evidence pointed in the opposite direction. Meanwhile the Holy Market Forces were proclaimed self-regulatory. ‘You can't buck the market’, we were told. Not even Adam Smith believed that.

We were all expected to embrace these articles of faith. Inquisitors of managerial mumbo-jumbo stalked hospital and university corridors forcing public servants to take part in sadistic games of quality assurance competition and league tables. Altruism and public service were seen as enemies of the state because they directly threatened the money magic of the Market.

The story of another
supposedly clever dick

It was those who told us we couldn't buck the market that bucked it good and proper this time, dragging us all into the mayhem they themselves made. Now they expect us, with the tax money we pay and they avoid, to clean up the mess they've made.

With the collapse of the US-led financial system it has become obvious that making money is about as constructive as practising alchemy. Exponents of both modes of magic believe that something can be made from nothing. Both practices are a waste of time and effort.

Money is first and foremost an abstraction. Even though you may have a banknote or two in your pocket, money has no real value in itself. Unless your banknotes can be used like vouchers to exchange for something else, they're literally not worth the paper they're printed on —there's not much room left to write or draw on them and they're too hard and unabsorbant to wipe your nose or bottom with.

The only practical purpose of money is to avoid the encumbrance and confusion of bartering. For example, this house is worth how many sheep? This sheep is worth how much of this type of cloth? How much advice of this sort do I need to give you before you give me a pitcher of clean water?

Incidentally, I'm a musicology professor. I bet you don't give a fig for what I know, do you?

Money-making: an alchemist tradition

Use value none.
Too hard and unabsorbant

‘I'll give you four mini metal discs for the sheep and a musicology PhD for that cow.’

The goods and services just mentioned have value to the seller in relation to what he or she can get in exchange, while their value to the buyer is more in terms of their usefulness. This distinction is similar to the difference between Marx's notions of exchange value and use value. The social and mental problem with money is that while, like the banknotes in your pocket, they have a physical existence, they have virtually no use value in themselves: they only represent potential exchange value. This paradox is even more obvious with online transactions where figures representing money, the abstraction of exchange value, flash by on finance corporation monitors.

The abstraction of exchange value flashes by on finance corporation monitors.

You start to wonder (at least I do) where the use value is and what, if any, is the relation between money as exchange value and the use value of services and commodities to which that exchange value (as money) is supposed to be equivalent. This dissociation, it seems to me, is one of capitalism's most stupid absurdities. The acquisition and accumulation of capital (money) becomes an end in itself without consideration of value in any other terms than those of exchange. Use value, in the sense of social, cultural and environmental benefit or improvement is, under capitalism, always subservient to motives of profit. That is of course both ridiculous and destructive.

Lousey use value for humans and other life on the planet.
Fantastic exchange value for fossile fuel corporation shareholders.

Those who propagate for the financial system now in utter disgrace want us to believe that humans are intrinsically individualistic and greedy, that we are all hoarders, that we all love to own stuff and that we hate sharing it with others. Well, if that were so, why are people who give a lot, people who are considered generous, much happier than those who don't and aren't? And how can humans be natural hoarders when we've been nomadic for the vast majority of our time as a species here on this earth? I mean, hoarding and owning loads of stuff is just silly if you're a nomad because you have to make a lot of long journeys on foot. The human species developed for hundreds of thousands of years (homo erectus etc.) before becoming homo sapiens sapiens (c. 200,000 B.P.) in the African savana. After that we lived exclusively as nomads until around 10,000, since when (<5% of those 220,000 years) we've gradually come to live mainly in rural or urban settlements. That's far too little evolutionary time for anything to become hardwired as part of human nature. In other words, those who say we’re all intrinsically greedy hoarders are either totally ignorant or else they’re lying. Why would they want to lie?

You don’t have to be a professor of social psychology to work out why rich and privileged people want the rest of us to believe we‘re all greedy —and always will be. So, if someone starts telling you that hoarding and owning stuff is biologically hardwired in humans, or that we are all in any other way intrinsically greedy as a species, you'll know they're talking bullshit. Like a lot of bullshit, it's bullshit with an agenda. We‘re all supposed to be just as bad as those who make obscene amounts of money at the detriment of others in the long or short term. We‘re all supposed to want to behave like them and to believe that’s how we all are by nature. We‘re supposed to be ‘smart’ (=devious), to have as little respect for others and for the planet as they do, and to want to uselessly amass wealth. They tell us that’s reality! Well, they certainly got it abominably wrong [again] this time.

Humans would have not have lasted this long as a species without communal collaboration and cooperation. It is only since capitalism became the uncontested dominant mode of structuring human societies that we have had real problems with our natural environment and guess which sort of people were the last to admit we needed collective efforts to save the planet.

Personally, I'd like to know why Obama‘s surrounded himself with economic advisors who were part of the mad financial system all of us are suffering from. I've heard of setting thieves to catch thieves —and of hackers to catch hackers— but stars of finance manipulation have done sweet nothing to inspire any confidence or respect in me.

In economics, the majority are always wrong. [Less protectively, contemporary "economists" lie because the whole, purposed lie of usury and unearned taking is unsustainable in any practical implementation, and because therefore, no intelligent public would ever assent to the dispossession and usurpation which the lies are designed to impose upon them. Thus...] The study of "money," above all other fields, is one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it.
(John Kenneth Galbraith)

‘Allah has allowed trade and forbidden usury.’
(Qur'an, Sura 3: 130-131)

Smith favored government regulation whenever the "invisible hand" of free enterprise abused the rights of individuals and small business to enjoy the benefits of liberty, which sadly is the case today’ writes Judah Freed in [2009-01-26]. He continues: ‘From what I can tell, the people being nominated by Obama to the top financial governance positions mistakenly believe in the false god of unregulated free markets that Adam Smith never condoned. Obama promised a change, but these nominees look like more of the same.´ Yes. We have to monitor all of this very carefully. Personally, I don’t see how a system based on speculating about the probability of numerical abstractions about the risks of abstractions of abstractions of probability about abstractions of real use values can ever be viable, let alone how any public body can be expected to follow and check the validity (what validity in such a world of derivative magic?) of every major transfer of monetary value inside that crazy system.