Questions of worth

We live in a culture that values people based on their economic power. It is not the value of how that money was earned, or how it is deployed, but the money itself. This is how we are able to entirely respect people whose wealth came to them by chance – via inheritance, by gambling, by using money to make money out of other people’s money. To make a fortune from share dividends is perfectly socially acceptable. Never mind that the pressure to create dividends pushes down wages and quality in order to cream off a layer, and undermines scope for re-investment. Never mind that the desire to make money at all costs is trashing the planet.
If we valued people in terms of the actual contribution they make to society, we might be able to look at whether the massively rich are as useful as they claim to be. We are told that affluence trickles down (I see Smaug on his pile of gold jealously watching the one coin bounce away). We are told that the wealthy create jobs and affluence for others. Only if we stop assuming this to be a truth and start looking at it will we be able to see whether or not its the case, but I have my suspicions. The gap between richest and poorest is growing all the time. If wealthy people were good for us all, surely we should all be gaining materially at about the same pace, not seeing a widening gap?
Money, as economist Molly Scott Cato has been pointing out a lot recently, is a social contract. It is about trust, and the means to move resources around in a community. Money exists to get things done, and can be very useful indeed in this regard. We can use it to measure how much we value something, and it saves having to get the right number of chickens when you fancy a new rug. Money as an expression of exchange can be a great social enabler on many levels.
On those terms, valuing a person in relation to their money makes sense. They are worth what the people around will pay for the things they make or the things they do. Money could therefore be expected to flow towards a person who is really useful and highly valued. However, what we’ve been able to do as a culture, is manufacture scarcity. When things are hard to get, exclusive, or rare, their value goes up. The person who can control the flow of resources can therefore create extra wealth. Not by adding more value to the world, but by artificially pushing up the cost. Keeping land vacant can be a way of pushing up land prices to make more money off it, for example.
We have the resources to feed, clothe, educate and power everyone, modestly. However, that doesn’t allow a minority to stockpile wealth. The desire for wealth has broken the trust-contract that money was created to represent. We don’t move things around fairly, and we push up the prices to make profits, and squeeze down wages, and that is having the effect of starving cash flows in our economies. We need to look very hard at our system that allows people to make money by moving money about, rather than by doing something useful. If we valued what people contribute a bit more, and valued their bank balances a bit less, we might have a cultural revolution on our hands, quietly and with no bloodshed.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Questions of worth

  • caelesti

    Molly Scott Cato sounds like an interesting person to read. There’s also a book called “the gift” about gifts as social contracts. A metaphor that came to mind while reading this is money is like water- it stagnates if it does not move around- it must keep flowing. Though it’s fine to save for a purpose- retirement, a house/car/education/starting a business- hoarding money for its own sake is not. There’s a fellow blogger named Rhyd Wildermuth that is writing a book on a pagan critique of capitalism. You might find him interesting to talk to, even if you don’t 100% agree on solutions to these problems.
    Good news, btw- it looks like both houses of the MN Legislature have agreed to a version of the bill raising the wage to $9.50- now we are just trying to convince the Senate to tie it to inflation. Both houses are controlled by the Dems, as is the Governor.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    If you look at most third world nations you will see it made up of a few very rich and a great any poor and high unemployment. This is what are seeing developing here where even those that can find obs still find themselves to be dirt poor nevr with any hope of getting ahead and little hope of even staying where they are as they slip deeper into debt.

    My town has plenty of pay day and car title loan places that are allowed to charge up to 300% interest. I mam old enough to remember when 12% interest was considered usury.

    Try to find any money that you can borrow at 12% interest today. At the same time see how little your money can earn in a savings account.

    Meanwhile here in the States, banks can borrow oney from the Federal Reserve Bank at .75%. Imagine if a student could get a loan at that percent instead of being left with a life long debt of $300,000 or more.

    If you have money there is all kinds of oppertunity to earn a lot more and hide it from paying any taxes. But if you are poor you are mostly doomed to stay poor and now your children may grow up t be even poorer than you.

    here in the States work at McDonalds and be told to eat less sell your Christmas gifts in E-bay and oh less get on food stamps, a program that our government is cutting back on saying that it is too expensive. work at WallMart and if you are lucky your store may have a food basket where customers can donate food for their underpaid employees. This is what has become of the American dream. Now the Walton Family that inherited all this from their father would not considering giving up a billion or two of their family earnings to raise the salaries of the workers that make them a fortune without the lifting a finger to ever work on their own.

    Their father built the fortune on buying from small America businesses. Now it is all made in China and WallMart has its own fleet of six container ships, each the size of an air craft carrier, that each run by a crew of 17 men, can cross the Pacific in six days and afford to go back to China empty as well as unload each ship by its own cranes 2.5 hours.

  • Alina (literaryvittles)

    Every word! I agree with every word.

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