For the first time in my life I have a stable job. Which means for the first time in my life I have a stable income. Which also means, that for the very first time in my life, I have the chance to crystalise my thoughts on money.
Since leaving home, money has always been a means to an ends: paying rent, scraping through uni, drinking cask wine, travelling when I could. Now that I can do all of the above and have some left over, conventional wisdom says ‘save’, ‘buy a house’, ‘invest in your future.’ There is also another voice saying, ‘live a little’, ‘buy pretty things.’ I’m not really sure where these voices come from. But I did buy a very nice dress with my second pay check (I sent the first to my mum, better a decade late then never). This dress actually started an interesting chain of thoughts. The symbolic First Purchase.
The idea swirling tumbled out something about our society. Something about desires. Something about positional treadmills. Something about asymmetry of voice.
It reminded me of that quote from british economist Tim Jackson: ‘We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to make impressions that don’t last, on people we don’t care about.‘ He pretty much nails it.
I must’ve thought about it last year when I ambled about Alternative Hedonism (sorry Kate Soper, you got edited out by an over zealous sub). The Christmas consumption spirit gets a fair amourt of air-time in my brain around this time of year.
Sating desires only amplifies them. So what is actually important in life? I have food, home, friends, wine, music, health and work that I adore. And I can buy the things I need in fair-trade, organic, not-screwing-over-anyone-except-my-own-liver options. Anymore and there is the definite danger that I will be sucked into the status treadmill.
I sent the dress back.
But the thoughts keep coming.
Wealth distribution is fucked. This video has been watched 13 million times, and it’s easy to see why. Who the hell is this flaming galah with ten of his own bloody columns?! I’ve watched it three times today, getting steadily more riled up.
But then change ‘America’ to ‘The World’ and that flaming galah is me. I am in the richest 1% of people in the world, according to The Global Rich List. And if you’re reading this on an electronic device you probably are as well.
So what are we meant to do? Does using money mean becoming implicit in the system? Accessory to perpetuating inequality?
I have no idea what ‘economics’ really is. It seems like a sneaky way for powerful people to hide the fact that they are ripping us off. Highly credible academic Jürgen Habermas points out ‘law often provides illegitimate power with the mere semblance of legitimacy’ (1998, p.40). And this remains somehow invisible to us. Another credible academic, Alf Hornborg, said recently ‘any technology that is out of the price range of the average global citizen, probably conceals asymmetry of exchange.’ We get screwed over because we can’t understand the convoluted mechanisms of this abstract money concept. But we also participate in screwing over those with less financial power than us. When we are ignorant. When we buy cheap crap.
Whether or not one ‘decides’ to buy-into money, you have to admit it is kind of arbitrary. Just a vague promise of things or services in the future. But it can disappear in a puff of smoke, like it did for so many families during the Global Financial Crisis. Or for the Germans in the 192os. On a tenuously relevant note – here’s a photo I took of my friend’s million mark notes collection. Inflation.
Money is unreliable, but it is still everywhere. And bloody powerful. Everyone I’ve asked over the last few days has politely answered that ‘living without money isn’t for me.’ There are a few nice stories of people who have opted out of the financial system, but I’m not sure this would be a viable solution for our forecasted 9 billion co-habitants. I’m not even how sustainable it is for the opt-outers in the long run. Eventually they will need aged care or other services made possible by our financial system. Even though our economy is massively flawed, no enticing alternatives have emerged.
So who has the power to let power go?
I don’t know, but I do believe in education. At least if more people know how the system works there is a chance of more equal power distribution. Maybe I will donate my spare cash to schools. Write to me if you have any better ideas.
In the meantime I’m letting M.I.A. have the last word with her new single Exodus.