OH, SAY, CAN YOU C?
When I began this post, I had three “C’s” in mind: Capital, Credit, and Crime. But the list grew and expanded until I’ve a riot of C’s, at least one of which only sounds like a C. This is an eco-motivated exercise in logic based on survival, which is food-based and now endangered.
Here’s my list, so far:
In the beginning people in the Mediterranean, esp. Egypt — responding to the floods of major rivers that maintained fertility — had invented the idea of owning a particular piece of land. This territoriality is a basic motive of many living beings, even insects. But the floods wiped out the markers, making it necessary to invent geometry to “survey” the land and reestablish the claims.
Then the need was for some way to keep track of production from that land, sometimes by using pebbles to mark the number of sheep or bushels of wheat, and then making marks on soft clay tablets. \/////|||\\\ like that. (See the cuneiform sample at the top.) This was especially vital if the original producer was going to convey the profit to another place where it was worth more, but needed a record, maybe putting a pebble per sheep into a bag.
Throwing away the marked tablets didn’t seem like a good idea, even after they had hardened, so they piled up and we still have some of them. This was the early version of bookkeeping: stacks of clay tablets. Very solid, very real.
Then came the idea of abstraction and the capacity of the culture to understand that one could simply symbolize units of wealth with numbers, so that a person could accrue the amounts of one’s production or works. As often happens with abstractions, the numbers came to seem real — even realer than the actual entities they represented.
Next was the invention of credit, the idea that one could loan amounts with numbers only — no need to trundle over a wheelbarrow of carrots — and then the idea that one who loaned “money” should be rewarded with “interest”, a percentage of the amount of symbolism that was loaned. Pretty soon those who had a lot of theoretical “money” discovered that they could live on the interest alone — IF they had access to the profits of resources, “owned” the profits. Resources — like productive land or special work — were still the basis of the symbols of money. If those resources were destroyed or disappeared because of something like a change in the climate, then the “money” was worthless. There was no profit.
Gambling is at the heart of much human behavior, as far back as hunting itself. It seems capable of profit, but in fact it’s more often like walking all day and not spotting any thing to eat. The other deceptive trick of pretending to have money is the practice of keeping chattel, whether slaves or family members. Whole classes are defined by chattel-keepers as fair to profit from and treat like carrots. This is now considered immoral, so it is often disguised somehow.
But slaves are human and have aspirations of their own. This makes the chattel-keepers violently angry and capable of destroying their own theoretical source of profit. The labor of African or Chinese or indigenous people, the profit of bearing children, and the value of the children themselves have been valid at some points of history, but now we rebel.
Lately we have discovered how to make consumers a better source of profit by organizing them into “silos” for purposes of advertising and convincing them that in order to belong, they must dress a certain way, smell a certain way, drive a certain car, and so on. Advertisers work to stigmatize those who don’t fit the silo they are supposed to inhabit. This can apply to citizens who vote.
Conformity is a great source of profit from sales. But inventing conformity reveals NONconformity. It’s possible to make a profit from that as well. In fact, it’s a good source of renewal for the culture. Nonconforming women who wanted jobs instead of babies, gave a new surge of profit to the economy and so did defining the category of “gays” in order to sell to them.
Computers — capable of handling incredible amounts of data, far beyond any cuneiform tablet — open the way to creating many more clever ways to use the symbolism of money to support nations and the relationships between them. We could pretend the value of things like writing or art and give nations the right to extend the rights to “own” such things. Nations control the right to patent inventions, though such things as intellectual property are hard to enforce.
Somehow the law makers were convinced to pretend that businesses were the same as individuals, maybe because once they were. Today’s massive international corporations exceed nations. By allowing multiple ownership through shares, the moral restraints on individuals were replaced by the craving for profit, theoretical or not.
At this point the Rule of Law was invented, hundreds of years earlier than one might think. Even after new nations (like the United Colonies of America) left Britain to escape oppressive Rules of Law, they established new Rules of Law and observed them because chaos (I didn’t put it on the list) decreases profit, becomes loss. But the people who had lots of profit controlled the devising of the laws so that they favored the rich people. When everyone else realized, there was major chaos. Like now.
Then the truly greedy figured out “double-bookkeeping” — that is, the practice of keeping real profits a secret in order to manipulate the purported business in the eyes of government. Now there was corruption of the Rules of Law by exempting some people or devising a parallel secret system. And soon Crime ruled.
Now that you’ve followed all this, you’re ready to hear about “The Deficit Myth” by Stephanie Kelton which goes back to the original national fantasy of “money,” which is still marks on paper that might as well be on clay.
“Cities (Detroit) and states (Kansas) can run into big trouble when they’re not bringing in enough money to cover their expenses. Every family sitting around the kitchen table understands these realities. What they don’t understand is why the federal government (Uncle Sam) is different.
“To understand why, we go right to the heart of MMT. MMT takes as its starting point a simple and incontrovertible fact: our national currency, the US dollar, comes from the US government, and it can’t come from anywhere else — at least not legally. Both the US Treasury and its fiscal agent, the Federal Reserve, have the authority to issue the US dollar. This might involve minting the coins in your pocket, printing up the bills in your wallet, or creating digital dollars known as reserves that exist only as electronic entries on bank balance sheets. The Treasury manufactures the coins, and the Federal Reserve creates the rest.
Got it? Money is only what the national government says it is. Consider who we have been electing to that government. There were moral qualms all along, but not until the “Rule of Law” turned out to be so easy it is to slant to the rich once you’re rich, did we realize that if you don’t pay any attention to the Rule of Law, you’re into Crime. Nor are you much better off if your Rules of Law are slanted, unfair and not really representing much of anything except control of the process. This is “the price of democracy is eternal vigilance” part.
Now what? C what I mean?
Another good essay for thinking about this stuff: