If you work a normal job, then the worth of your time and skills is decided by someone else and you don’t get much say. If you buy from normal shops, and utilities providers then the cost is equally beyond your control. In both those situations you could well be dealing with someone who needs to make a profit – so you are undervalued to create a profit margin while the things you buy will be overvalued, also to create a profit margin. Profit is the difference between production cost and sales price. On one side of that equation workers’ wages have to be kept down and on the other, prices have to be kept up or there is no profit.
For those of us who are self employed, the game has at least the potential to be very different. I don’t need to make a profit on my time and skills, I need those to be valued at a reasonable worth. I can often set my cost, and when I’m dealing with other independent people, the cost of products is also negotiable. I might make a sale or return arrangement with another trader. I might work for a profit share if I believe in the product but its creator has no money up front. Equally if I value something I might pay over the odds to support the creator if I know they could do with it.
I don’t charge for celebrant services. If I’m asked to do a handfasting or some other rite of passage, I’ll ask either that my transport costs be covered (if there are any) or that transport is arranged for me. Beyond that, I leave the issue of payment in the hands of the person/people booking me. Pay what I am worth to you. Pay what you can afford. I’ve had no cause for complaint over how this has worked out so far. No one has taken unfair advantage of me.
What happens when the economic value of an object or service becomes tied to ability to pay, and the needs of the one who will be paid? Money ceases to be an expression of power and control, where those who direct the flow are able to determine the options the less powerful person has. Low wages and high living costs create a terrible power imbalance. If ability to pay becomes a moral obligation to pay, things change. If factors such as liking the work enter the equation it is very different from a money exchange based on desperation and power to exploit.
The basis of capitalism is scarcity, and control of resources. So if there isn’t much water and you can control access to it, people will pay anything you like. Those who can’t, die. This is an ideal capitalist scenario. Greater earning from water means money for the means to protect your control of the asset. If another well opens, the good capitalist will buy it and close it again to make sure people stay desperate, thirsty and willing to pay. Money in a capitalist system is not about exchange, but power.
What happens when you deploy money in a way that is not about the power relationship between you and someone else, but some other factor? How we feel about money starts to shift – it just becomes a way to get things done, not an item of fetishistic reverence. Our identities become less tied to how much money we can earn and deploy. Our sense of human worth ceases to be about what we can be made to pay them.
It might sound farfetched, but it is happening already, on places like Patreon.com and bandcamp, where supporters can give, and pay and offer more than is asked for, more than is ‘normal’ for the products in question. It happens at events where there is no door charge but a hat is passed. It happens around crowdfunding.
We don’t have to have an economic culture based on scarcity, exploitation and money as a tool of power. We can use money to get things done, to support each other, to make real change. This is not just an option for the arty and self employed either, opportunities exist for all of us to change the money game.