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Tony Grist

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Money [Oct. 14th, 2009|10:19 am]
Tony Grist
Money isn't real. It's a figment- a shared hallucination- which depends on us pretending that the bits of base metal in our pockets, the blocks of shiny metal in our vaults and the pixellated numbers on our screens have a real ,intrinsic value. Economics, like religion, is a game of lets pretend- and money, like God, a human invention to which worth is ascribed. So long as we keep up the pretence all will be well.  But let our belief waver, the faith be broken, and society shakes from top to bottom.

Maybe you already knew this. I don't think I did before yesterday. Not really. Maybe I knew it deep down, but I hadn't let the ideas come to the surface. I hadn't articulated them.

Money has always frightened me.  I haven't understood how it works and I've never had quite enough of it to feel secure. Ailz is very good with it, though. She performs conjuring tricks, keeping the numbers jigging away, so there's always some to hand  Left to myself, I'd live like a miser out of fear of the stuff.  She doesn't have that fear. She actually enjoys the presdigitation she perfoms to give us a quality of life. It's a game to her. The word she uses about it is "bracing".
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: daisytells
2009-10-14 10:09 am (UTC)
I dont have Ailz's gift for handling money, but I do manage it well at any rate. Like both of you, I am on very low income, but manage to squeeze out enough each month to bolster clothing needs and also to get in a little entertainment.
I dont have any fear of it, except insofar as it is used to bribe people in power to go against the well-being of those less wealthy. It's a shame to think that bits of metal and paper could hold that kind of power.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 12:18 pm (UTC)
I've never wanted more than will keep me in modest style. I'm afraid of what riches do to people. I sometimes think it would be nice to win the lottery- and then immediately think, "O, no it wouldn't!"
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-10-14 10:40 am (UTC)
Money is just the method we use to describe value. One chicken = 4 cabbages, one terraced house in Oldham = one small garage in Kensington. It's a useful concept and provides liquidity (if you have one chicken but you want to buy 2 cabbages and some apples, you can do it via money).

At a big picture level it is gobsmackingly complex with shares and options and derivatives and swaps and whatever. At a household level, it's Mr Micawber's famous quote...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 11:38 am (UTC)
I understand things at the chicken and cabbages level. Anything more sophisticated than that has me scratching my head and starting to panic.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2009-10-14 11:19 am (UTC)
Funnily enough, I have just given a lecture about exactly this. I wanted to explain to our second-year students what happened when the Romans made the shift in the third century BC to paying for everything with chunks of bronze of the same value as the goods they were buying, to paying for things with struck silver coins that weren't inherently worth the same value as what they were being used to buy. I used the example of a modern £10 note, which very obviously isn't actually worth £10 in itself - but is a lot more convenient than carrying around the £10 worth of gold (or labour, or whatever) that it represents. They seemed to get it - I saw nods and some smiles.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 11:36 am (UTC)
I was reading something in one of my archaeology magazines that suggested that the adoption of Roman-style coinage by British tribal kingdoms represented a great step forward in civilisation etc. I guess that's true. The more sophisticated the culture the more fictitious its money becomes.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-10-14 12:48 pm (UTC)
And the more fictitious the money becomes, the more sophisticated (in the old sense) the culture and its economic system are capable of becoming.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 03:42 pm (UTC)
And the more difficult it is to fix the system when it goes wrong....
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-10-14 09:59 pm (UTC)
Well, I think Gordon Brown did a fair bit of fixing this time last year and it has saved most of us from the worst ravages. For most of us, money may be virtual but it isn't fictional. But for certain investment bankers and stockbrokers, I think it takes on the mantle of a computer game and it might be safer if they were given monopoly money to play with.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-15 08:41 am (UTC)
I see that, in spite of having nearly brought the civilised world to its knees- and in spite of the universal contempt in which they are held, the bankers are back to their old game of awarding themselves gigantic bonuses.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-10-15 09:27 am (UTC)
Like professional footballers, it's all about rare skills, or that's the argument they make. If the UK restricts high salaries for excellent bankers, then they will move abroad and leave our institutions without the talent it needs.

This is not a bad argument as it stands but I would apply two caveats:

1. A bonus should be a bonus. It's not just part of your normal salary that is deferred until the end of the year. It should be given for extrmeley good performance on behalf of your investors (you and me) and not excpected as "standard". It should be deferred until the long-term effects of your decisions can be judged. Just like footballers, you are as only as good as your last performance.

2. When you perform badly and your investors and your company suffer from your mad decisions, you should get fuck all other than the sack.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-15 11:56 am (UTC)
I wonder how rare these skills really are- seeing how they can be performed by callow young men.

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[User Picture]From: brttvns
2009-10-14 04:06 pm (UTC)
Try telling that to the Inland Revenue, Capitol One, and the landlord of the George and Dragon!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 09:12 pm (UTC)
And why not? It would be a kindness to rescue them from the sphere of illusion.
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[User Picture]From: brttvns
2009-10-14 10:58 pm (UTC)
Because by law freeing them from illusion would not wipe any debt I owe them. And later on I cannot see any of them coming round to rescue me from the 'illusion' of being homeless!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-15 11:46 am (UTC)
Sadly, although it's only a game, one gets penalised for not playing by the rules.
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From: amritarosa
2009-10-14 05:02 pm (UTC)
May I include that first paragraph you wrote in my current research file for the money & economies (art) project?

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-14 09:10 pm (UTC)
Please do. I'd be flattered. :)
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