Tag Archives: money

Money and philosophy

There would be a simple way to have all non-essential workers stay home without over-burdening the companies they work for. That same method would enable self employed workers to stay home, too. It would make it reasonable to ask for rent holidays. It would put money into the economy where it would do most good. Small business people would have a chance to re-boot in the future. That solution, is universal basic income. Giving everyone a viable amount to live on is also the least bureaucratic way, and thus the quickest, of rolling out an intervention.

However, giving people money in this way challenges the capitalist philosophy of what money means. We are used to measuring human worth by income. Those who earn most are considered to be worth most. We are encouraged to look up to them respect them, see them as valuable. At the same time we’ve called low paid people unskilled and considered them as having little value. If you pay everyone the same, it’s like we’re all worth the same as human beings. It’s a radical shift in thinking.

As the virus impacts on us, we’ve gone from seeing many low paid jobs as low worth, to recognising that these people are the heart of our infrastructure and the backbone of our societies. Money, it turns out, was not a good measure of the value of people working in supply chains and retail, bin collectors, cleaners, carers… their worth to the rest of us is far higher than their paychecks suggest.

As isolation kicks in, we may be more in need of our entertainers and creators. Especially the ones willing to interact with us, teach us and support people in being creative to stay sane. In their absence, we might notice the things that were valuable to us – venues, gigs, events, festivals… Most of the people working in these industries are not wealthy.

What do we deserve? What resources should we have access to? When the not-so-free market dominates, our scope to access everything is based mostly on our buying power. Our buying power is based on what our work is worth to the market, not what it is worth to other humans. Unpaid domestic work is totally undervalued, but right now, people cleaning things are keeping their families safe and well. Such work has always been valuable, but the value has been invisible.

What if we deserve to have our basic needs met because we exist, not because a specific level of profit can be extracted from our labours? What if the people who make money out of money while doing no one any good are not entitled to more benefits than most other people? What if we deemed making profit by exploiting others to be a disgusting activity, not one that should bring benefits? What if worth was measured in terms of actual worth, not earning potential? Meanwhile, the massively affluent ditch their workers with no pay and demand government bailouts.

Universal basic income gives everyone the same fundamental worth and the same basic entitlement to have needs met. Practically speaking it could be a magic bullet for solving a great many of our problems right now. Philosophically speaking, it would radically change our cultures for the better.

Not economically active

Money has not always been central to how people get things done. It has its uses, it saves having to spend vast amounts of time in complicated barters to get everything moved round. However, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live in a culture where it is possible not to be economically active. Most of our ancestors will have lived this way. Most of human culture in our long history is based on co-operation and gift economy, not money.

When money is just a way of getting stuff done, I don’t think it poses much of a problem. The difficulties arise from what it has become in addition to being a tool. That you can make money out of money, if you have enough of it to begin with. That we use it as a measure of worth in all kinds of distorting ways. The measure of a person’s worth should not be about how much money they have. We measure costs in ways that don’t include environmental costs.  We have a hard time valuing anything we can’t put a price tag on. What is given away is often devalued. We measure wealth in terms of what we can hoard, not in terms of what we can give away.

So many of our relationships are underpinned by an economic exchange. How much of what we need are we buying? How many of our emotional needs are we trying to meet by paying for them? What would it mean to take the price tag off things, to give more, and not to feel obliged to make money out of what we do?

The things that most enrich my life are not economically orientated. Time crashed out with my husband and cat. Time spent making things I do not sell. Time with people I like – and yet even there, the money plays a part. I can’t afford a large home, there isn’t much room for guests, so I often have to meet people elsewhere, in spaces that require economic participation. On a cold day, there are not many spaces in which I can spend time with someone without paying for it. Our social spaces themselves are constructed around shopping areas – we don’t have many social spaces where you don’t have to pay to participate.

I was struck recently when visiting the coast by the implications of a town having a beach. Here is, at least some of the time, a big, free of charge public space where people can meet, play, run around, interact. Most towns don’t have anything like that kind of free and communal space.

Where can you go, without money? What can you do, without paying for it? Who can you spend time with? And what would it mean to live in a way where paying for things is not the primary mechanism for getting stuff done? What if participation became more important than paying? What if we had non-commercial public spaces where people could spend time together at no cost? What if we weren’t under pressure to make what we do pay? I don’t think these are unrealistic ideas. We’ve constructed a way of doing things based on a set of assumptions, but those assumptions don’t serve most of us very well.

Creative accountancy

For some time, a normal job has meant monthly payments of a predictable sum. Or perhaps weekly payments. When you know what’s coming in, you can make reasonable decisions about your expenditure, so that there is some balance. This is key for a viable household economy. Increasing numbers of people have been pushed into self employment in recent years, while zero hours contracts take away all pay predictability. Ever more people will be dealing with unpredictable incomes.

Of course in practice, expenses are unpredictable. If you manage your core, predictable expenses well (food, shelter, heat, light, communications, transport) you can have something to spare for clothing, repairs, broken things and sudden unexpected bills. You can hope it’s enough, but for a lot of people, a car bill and a really cold snap means either suffering or getting into debt, and there’s only so much safety net you can create when there’s not much coming in.

Unpredictable pay makes life really interesting. I earn something every month from various small jobs I do, but how much varies in ways I don’t have much control over. Tom earns money in sudden and sporadic lumps from art sales, advances and commissions. Royalties are paid every six months. That means it’s not unusual to find that we have money, but absolutely no idea how far that money will need to stretch until the next money comes in. A month? Six months? A year? Working out what we can afford from day to day is really hard when there’s no guessing the relationship between days and income. Keeping our outgoings down, and keeping a reserve, are the only ways for this to be feasible, and that takes discipline, and sometimes it feels horrible and stingy, but when your money comes in erratic bursts, feeling rich enough to be massively generous or indulgent can be a huge mistake.

A little bit of predictability makes a lot of odds. This is why Patreon is becoming popular with creative people. If you like what someone does, supporting them with a small monthly donation can really help. It gives them a fighting chance of figuring out the month to money ratios in a way that is sustainable and survivable. It’s also worth noting that when people kickstart projects in part with an eye to being able to eat and pay the rent while they work, this is often met with outrage. “Why should I pay for your lifestyle?” It’s not about keeping a creator in luxury, it’s about not exhausting their energies on trying to make ends meet because that really does get in the way of doing the work. If a creator needs to pay their rent to be able to do a project, then supporting them is no more a rip off than is paying more than an item ‘really’ cost in a shop so that the retailer can pay their rent.

I am a fan of self employment, but not of zero hour contracts. I’m a fan of having some self control and some scope for self determination. However, the truth of self employment for most of us is that workflows and pay are wildly unpredictable, while certain outgoings are consistent, and big, sudden expenses happen. It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of people with regular but low incomes who get caught out by big bills and thrown into difficulty because there is no slack in the budget. And there are people not as poor who just don’t have the ability to manage what money they get as effectively as would be perfect – because this is really hard to do, especially in the face of constant advertising pressure.

As a culture we can be quick to judge each other around issues of apparent economic success and failure. Often what we’re judging is material possessions. It doesn’t help. If we could care more about the necessities and care less about the surfaces, we might be able to help each other survive a little better.

What is it worth?

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.

Affirmation Economics

Money is the primary means by which our current culture expresses value. This means that we tend to think about value in terms of transaction, and ownership. In turn this also means that we ascribe less value to less tangible things, to commons, and to situations where there is no exchange. We don’t tend to pay for the experience of a view and do not get to put it in a bag and take it home. The value of a view is consequently not always considered that important around planning future building.

We are shockingly poor when it comes to valuing air quality. You can’t buy your own little pocket of clean, sweet air. Perhaps if you could we’d think differently. The cost to health and happiness of poor air is hard to measure, so we don’t measure it, but it exists nonetheless. In truth, happiness is something that often doesn’t exist through financial transaction, but we are encouraged to believe that it does. If payment is the only affirmation you get, that can have serious consequences for your sense of self.

Advertising and marketing steals the language of affirmation and tacks it onto products that in truth, we do not love, are not excited about or inspired by. There’s a language inflation around the ludicrous hyperbole attached to products. If you’re professing love for a snack food, and need for a shampoo, what do you have left in terms of words, for the people in your life? Affirmation language should flow from the one who appreciates towards that which is appreciated, but marketing is the shoddy art of telling us how we ought to feel about the thing held up in front of us.

In this transaction culture, there are so many things we don’t want to pay for. Any situation where the seller has less power than the buyer, or the buyer is in a position to steal the seller’s goods, the seller is devalued. Whether its supermarkets refusing to pay what it costs to produce a pint of milk, or taking pirated books online rather than paying the author, the same thing happens, and it is theft. It is the refusal to recognise the true value of something you want, and to put the transaction ahead of what is exchanged.

If we were truly using money as an expression of value, these situations would be unthinkable, but we go after things we want (and therefore value) while telling creators and producers that they should accept not getting paid. Economic power trumps value. If we took affirmation seriously, we just wouldn’t find this acceptable. Once again, affirmation is demonstrably the enemy of power for the sake of power.

If we want things available that have been made for love, or exist for their own sake, like a landscape, we have to move away from an economy that is all about financial transaction. Feed, house and clothe your bard and promise to take care of them when they are old and ill, and it becomes a lot more reasonable to ask them to sing ‘for free’. Value the view for its own sake, value the air, and money ceases to be the primary motive. An economy based on money only values that which it can buy and sell. A culture interested in profit cares far too much about how it can exploit either the buyer or the seller to create the profit margin. A community that sees affirmation as being more than money, but also what money is for, a culture that is interested in value, will not find exploitation, waste or destruction to be tolerable.

Where Druidry begins

I’d like to point you at a small film on youtube it’s the first ‘Calm’ film in this list, which for reasons I cannot fathom, I can’t get a url for.

It’s a beautiful video. If you can’t watch, the audio is still well worth your time, and apologies to anyone whose internet does not allow. The urge towards peace and stillness is a big part of what brings many of us to Druidry. Awareness of the enormity of nature can help us not be overwhelmed by the frantic elements of our own lives.

What this film misses, is the way in which our collective anxiety and panic is not essential. It need not be like this. We’re forced to run ever faster, haunted by economic pressures in a system that demands we do more for less, and pay more for less, as though this could continue forever. But why? Because fear makes us willing to seek comfort in consumption. Panicked running means we have no time to stop and think. That in turn means we don’t question, and we don’t resist. Like the eternal child, I keep asking, but why? Why is this happening?

Because greed is a sickness. Greed to own more than can possibly be used. It’s sane and reasonable to want sufficiency. It’s fine to want a bit more, a bit of a safety net, a rainy day fund, but a small percentage of humans accumulate as an obsession. It gives them the power to influence the rest of us, and they do so in ways designed to keep us building their piles of gold. It is madness. It is unsustainable, illogical, destructive madness and we are all paying for the money-sick in our culture.

It is very hard to step away from this, to unpick the many sticky threads trapping you in this system. Odds are, you won’t. But the call to calm, to quiet, to wide open places and perspective helps. Druidry is the call to reason, sanity, hope and healing. With calm, we can see through the lies of growth and progress every time we get caught up in them again.

I firmly believe that we still have time to change things, that we are not inevitably doomed as a species by the madness we have created. The more of us are able to find some calm space, wake from the nightmare and get modern life into a healthy perspective, the better a chance we have.

Doing it for money

When you work a normal job, unless you’re in a shop or the sales department, there’s no direct relationship between how you spend your time and getting paid. Most people in regular employment do not have to show up in person to get their money at the end of the month, nor do they even have to ask for it – it just turns up. The odds are if you work in a regular way, the only times in your life you’ll ask about money are when applying for a new position, and, just occasionally, asking for a rise. Mostly, the money happens.

Now, for those of us who are self employed, it’s a whole other game. We only get money by asking. We have to put a price tag on what we do, and deal with people who think it’s too much, or not fair, or who think we should work for free. We have to ask, every single time we’re hoping to get paid. Having done both… it’s a very different experience. It makes you acutely aware of the relationship between what you do and what you earn. It alerts you to all the things you do that do not pay, and it means you spend a lot of your time asking for money.

There can be something of a clash between the self employed culture and the paid employee culture. I suspect it comes because if you’re paid, you are a little bit disconnected from the process of money. A good book sells itself, right? So the person banging on about their book all the time is either an egomaniac or a shit writer…. Except in reality nothing sells itself and businesses have marketing departments, but if you’re not one of the minority working in that field, it’s largely invisible. It’s supposed to be invisible. You are supposed to believe you’re buying things because they are good, not because you’ve been seduced by the marketing hype of a pro.

If you never have to ask for money, then asking for money can seem like begging. It can seem like the poor option, the response of the not-good-enough. You never have to ask for money, so you have a cultural pre-disposition to finding the request a bit odd. You will pay if there’s a cashier, a door, a counter, something that looks like mainstream conventional checkouts and box offices, because you have also been cultured to consider this normal. The more separation there is between the person you give the money to and what you are paying for in fact, the easier you are likely to feel about the whole process. If the person creating the product or service is stood before you with their hand out, the odds are you’ll feel less comfortable.

For all the same reasons and because we are part of the same wider culture, self employed people often find it hard to ask for money or charge for services. It doesn’t help that we’re competing with the prices of the mass produced low quality mainstream and have to make a case for why our three times the price lovingly handcrafted alternative is worth your while. Even then, we don’t make a fortune. It doesn’t help that we can’t compete with the ability of big business to mass buy raw materials at a huge discount, as well. And of course, we don’t have marketing departments.

My suspicion is that if your own flow of money happens somewhere out of sight, as if by magic, you are more likely to find cash transactions distasteful. You are more likely to be uncomfortable about other people asking to be paid, and about dealing with people where there’s a more direct relationship between work done and money moving. The regularly employed are quite literally removed from all of that, and do not have to go through the humiliation of asking to be paid what they are worth – little wonder if that confers a sense of superiority over those who do have to ask.

A facebook guide to working

It has struck me in recent weeks that facebook is an interesting study in how money works. While the platform was created by a small number of people, and its hosting is sorted out, this is not what gives is an economic value. What makes facebook attractive to advertisers, and therefore lucrative, is the sheer number of people using it. No matter how much effort the original makers put in, it is the presence of the multitude that creates the cash flow.

Similar things happen in all industries. Someone puts up the money and the starting ideas, but without the flow of the multitudes – as workers and as product consumers, there is no economic success. The financial benefits flow to those who start the process and there is little recognition – financial or social, of those on whom the business depends. Workers and consumers are pretty much the same people.

It’s also worth pausing to note at this point that profit is the difference between what you pay to get a thing done and what you can sell it for. The more you can cut wages and increase hours, the greater profit you can extract from workers. The higher a price you can put on your goods, the more profit you extract from consumers. So having had your work undervalued you then get overcharged, because we are all workers and consumers (well, we 99%). We get shafted both ways.

We don’t work for Facebook, but our contribution (what we want to share) gets squeezed so we are pressured to pay for hits, The other price we pay is in the adverts forced onto us and shoehorned into our feeds. Of the profits… we see nothing at all. It’s a lot like the rest of life.

Now, you can argue that without the initial idea and the capital, there would be no business so it is only fair that those who put up the money and the initial plan should take the lion’s share of the benefits. Hands up everyone who has never had a good idea. We know full well that great ideas are not in short supply. What is in short supply is the funding to turn great ideas into viable businesses for people to access, and one of the problems here is that often the things that it would be most useful to fund (for about 99% of us) are not things that can readily be exploited to make a profit for some of us (say about 1%). Nonetheless, we’re trying to run health, education and the environment on those very principles of exploitation, and no doubt there are some people who’d love to privatise the police and armies… there is no money to feed and shelter the hungry, protect species, keep the air clean or safeguard the water.

What we have, is a system. Not an unassailable reality, but a set of assumptions glued together with money. We could have something different. Just as facebook is not forever, so business models that screw the majority for the sake of the few do not have to be our eternal destiny. I’m tired of being exploited for the benefit of others.

Nothing Changes in Stroud

Last night I went to a Spaniel in the Works production – Nothing Changes, part of the Stroud Theatre Festival. It’s an updated take on Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, re-written by John Bassett and much to my surprise, there were songs in it. I’ve not read the original book, but it’s on the kindle awaiting a day or ten when I have time to do it justice. However, after poking around online for a plot synopsis, it’s evident this hundred year old tale of poverty and inequality didn’t need much re-jjgging to fit in a modern context. As the title says, Nothing Changes.

You’d think after a hundred years, we might have made some headway, but the horrendous social setbacks this country has endured under Tory leadership are in many ways enabled by the same issues that were apparently at play a century ago. Considering the ways in which we do it to ourselves, is not a comfortable business. Without the co-operation of its workers and consumers, big business would not be able to pillage so successfully. We are still far too willing to accept that the affluent somehow earn or deserve their massive bonuses, government handouts, and disproportionate share of the profits. Those of us nearer the bottom than the top will all too readily buy into the idea of a natural order of things that put us here. We know our place…

One of the things the play explores is the way in which creating a profit margin contributes to screwing the masses. Profit is the difference between what a thing costs and what you can sell it for. To achieve profit, you push down the costs as far as you can – that invariably means paying your workers as little as possible and giving them as few benefits as you can get away with. Then on the other side of the equation, you have to get your buyers to pay as far above the actual worth of the product as you can. Meanwhile the difference between cost and price delivers cash to shareholders, who did not contribute a great deal of effort to the process. The money that is invested is given a far higher value than the work, by such a system.

If you reward people for having money, you will inevitably keep the money flowing towards the people who have it. That’s what we do. As the saying goes, if it was hard work that led to wealth, African women would be the most affluent people on the planet.

Is there anything natural, inevitable or unchangeable about what we’ve got? I don’t think so. Neither, evidently, did playwright John Bassett. Change is possible. However, to make changes we have to stop buying into the existing system, and stop assuming that there are no other options. We have to imagine that money itself might not be the thing to prize most highly. The profit orientated exploitation system inherent in capitalism is not the only way. Co-operatives, crowd sourcing, small companies, local projects… there are better, fairer and happier ways of underpinning an economy.

More about Stroud Theatre Festival here – http://www.stroudtheatrefestival.co.uk/performances.html

Just a hobby

Three small words with which we can crush people. Calling something “just a hobby” is often a way of degrading things which don’t make a lot of money. As though money is the only measure of worth. ‘Hobby jobs’ are simply those someone else considers not lucrative enough. If you make enough money (sum unspecified) you can be taken seriously no matter how pointless and worthless your actual contribution to the world is. Volunteers can be told they have ‘hobby jobs’ – it is a refusal to give respect, often tied to an unwillingness to treat them well. You don’t need help or support, this is just a hobby for you.

I’ve seen brilliant, talented, acclaimed people hit with the ‘just a hobby’ line. It isn’t just about belittling people who are starting out, it can be used to undermine anyone who does something they love and attempts to make a living by it.

The word ‘hobby’ tends to imply the trivial. It’s what you do in your spare time, to relax – to call something a hobby is to suggest it isn’t useful, and that it is instead an indulgence. Cooking, gardening and crafting are all described as ‘hobbies’ by people who do not consider this to be a good use of your time. Forms of exercise –  essential to wellbeing – are also called hobbies, and again their value is degraded by this. Being healthy should not be considered an optional leisure pursuit available only to those with too much time on their hands. Reading is described as a ‘hobby’ not a process of education, self development, inspiration and joy.

And then, if you get depressed you may get some CBT paperwork encouraging you to ‘get a hobby’. Distract yourself from the miseries of your real life with some pleasant trivia!

We need to reclaim crafts, skills, exercise and community activities as being essential to life, not some kind of distraction or bonus extra. We need to resist anything that measures worth in terms of scope to earn money from it, too. There are other ways of making life better for ourselves and each other. Don’t talk about hobbies. Talk about passion and dedication, life skills, community, resilience, creativity, inspiration, health, relaxation. Talk about quality of life.

Also, pause to imagine what would happen if we started to treat collecting money just for the sake of it (rather than to use), with the same wry, indulgent humour that we currently tend to treat the collecting of stamps. Money, we can argue, has a discernible use in the world where a stamp collection does not… but stamps were useful once, and money that has simply been collected with the aim of having a big collection of money, serves no purpose at all. It just sits there, helping no one. Perhaps money collecting is the one thing that truly deserves to be denigrated as a mere hobby.