Saturday, September 8, 2007

Wrap of the Week

A history of money, the topic of middle class salaries, and money and politics have been our talking points this week.

Lets just say we might have gotten sidetracked in our study of money. Somehow, we ended up looking at paper money's beginnings in China. And that left us without too much to say about money and what has happened to it historically. One thing is clear, money is only as valuable as its rate of exchange. Apparently, the first money was metal, presumably iron or copper, both of which were valuable to the warriors of the times. That would be in Greece. Money has changed form over time from metal to paper backed by metal (gold) to paper backed by its printing government's GNP to today's most popular material - plastic. (Oh he was right Benjamin.) It's a VISA world now with the national American debt at Nine Trillion and growing according to the latest govt. statistics. Meanwhile, the middle class may be in the process of being phased out. Recession is rearing its gorgon head, while the Pres and the Fed seem set to lower the interest rate in hopes on stemming the tide. Unfortunately, that wave has already formed and is on the move.

Meanwhile, labor department statics show a consistent decline in employment figures. Out of a job, foreclosed, and being taxed to support a war on just about everything, terror, healthcare, drugs, immigration and their children's obesity, middle class america seems destined to stay in denial while the candidates roam the land with more and more promises and accusations. For years, the middle class has supported their keeping up with the Jones lifestyle by cashing in their equity. Now their equity is dried up like a subprime lender in California. Moreover, the politicians appear to believe that the best solution to everything is to keep on blaming the other side and to keep on politicizing every issue.

"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money." A Cree proverb that is seeming to be more and more prophetic.

One of my searches into money, brought me to the archives of the Context Institute. In an article first published in 1990 by Alan Atkisson, I found this answer to the question What is Money?

In his search for an answer he first sites

Former astrophysicist Robert Gilman - who for the past dozen years has been pointing his telescope at environmental and cultural systems instead of star systems - noted that money is "a convenient way to lose a lot of information." When you buy a new shirt, you have no way of seeing the cotton fields, oil wells, plastics factories, and impoverished Asian laborers who contributed to its production, because the money effectively hides all that."

This reminds me of the travails of several celebrities who have discovered to their dismay that their famous name was being used to sell sweat shop products. Anyway Atkisson went on to quote another source for a definition.

"Money is just life-energy," says Joe Dominguez, a former Wall Street analyst who writes and teaches about personal economics.. We each have only so much lifetime, and we seem to spend about a third of it converting it into money, usually through jobs. We spend another third of our lives spending the money, and another third tossing and turning in our sleep because we're worried about money."

I began to see that Joe's definition could have a revolutionary impact on one's attitude toward money and work - but I wanted something still deeper. When pressed, Joe told me a story about a remote Mexican village where, periodically, there was no money - not a single peso in the whole town. Under those conditions, Joe reported, people still invent money: "I'll give you three hours of my time for a couple of those fish," they might say.

I was puzzled. Why didn't they just give the fish, and their time, to each other? That's when it hit me: the dangerous truth about money. It's the opposite of a gift. A gift is an expression of love and trust and community. Money, therefore, is an expression of our distrust and fear, and our basic separation from each other. It's not a "measure of value." It's a measure of our lack of love.
They say that money is the root of all evil. But maybe that's backwards: maybe evil is the root of all money.

Atkisson's article was preceded by another even more interesting but I'll let you read it on your own.

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