Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fundamentals Part 2: Money

This post is part 1 of a 9-part series on the Fundamentals of the Practical Manifestations' project. It introduces the principles of our project and gives a preview for the material covered in our upcoming book Build A Better You, Build A Better World. Note: The full list of all parts of the 9-part series is provided in the "Table of Contents" section at the end of each post in the series.

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We are all familiar with the phrase "money is evil," and in many instances this assertion appears to be pretty accurate. Of course money in and of itself is not evil. It is just a tool to make the exchange of physical goods and services convenient. To rid oneself of money is to lose tool of convenience. One then needs to either learn to be self-sustaining or establish some other mode of exchange of goods and services. Few things have exactly equal value and the value of any good or service is debatable. As they say, "One mans trash is another man's treasure."

As convenient as money is, there is no denying that people's desire to accumulate wealth leads to the majority of the disputes around the globe. The devastation of conflicting desires to accumulate wealth is largely hidden from the American population, but we are one of the biggest contributors to it. By purchasing the best quality and lowest costing goods and services from corporations, it encourages those corporations to exploit natural resources and people in underdeveloped countries to meet that demand. In turn, Americans are made to feel like we NEED all these goods and services, even though hundreds of generations prior survived just fine without the latest I-Phone or what have you. We buy ourselves into debt and if you subtract from our wages how much money we spend paying back our debts (including taxes, which mostly consist of national, state, and city debt fees), most of us are left with barely enough money to survive. So there we have it--a whole world population fighting for survival. And when people are fighting for survival, they are not thinking about how they can best serve the world.


The End of Money?

Some believe that the monetary systems around the world: capitalism, communism, socialism, etc., will all soon collapse under their own weight. They believe that enough people will be somehow pushed to the brink of extinction by monetary debt that they will just abandon the economic system altogether and want to start over. Given the rapidly growing volume of debt that Americans and the US government owe, it does not seem preposterous that our current economic system may some day soon need to change.

National and personal debt levels, however, are not the only things driving us closer to the edge. We are now at the point that it makes more financial sense to try to buck the system rather than play by the rules. We see people at both the top and the bottom of the wealth scale bucking the system and facing minimal punishment. The benefits of bucking the system, by the way, are massive. From avoiding tax fees by hiding money in overseas bank accounts to collecting various forms of government assistance by claiming to be poorer than you are, people are making the system work for them. Of course not every wealthy person has an overseas bank account or is involved in insider trading...nor is every person that is receiving government assistance working under the table, but there is a fair amount of fraud out there. You may recall the lawsuit against HSBC where bank managers agreed to pay a fine of $1.6 Billion for money laundering charges. According to The New York Times, "State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system."

On the other end of the spectrum things look just as dire. A study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve that was cited by NBC News informs us that unemployment fraud in 2011 alone cost American taxpayers an estimated $3.3 Billion. Fraud, however, is not the only issue. In the same way that the government chose not to seek criminal charges against the managers of HSBC, the present system pays people more to be on welfare than to work at a minimum-wage job according to a Cato Institute study.

Few argue that the current system is working properly, but just as few can agree on what to do about it. The wealthy focus on the fraud and waste of the poor and the poor focus on the fraud and waste of the wealthy...and little changes. What I dislike about the current conditions is that some people are made to feel that they need to put their values aside in order to survive, no matter how wealthy they are. The problem with people putting money before values is that it encourages the same behavior from the very poor and extremely wealthy and results in devastating atrocities committed against our neighbors and against the environment.

The other problem with living in a society that puts money ahead of values is that it creates a question. There is always a question that when someone is selling you something or even just telling you something, you ask yourself "Is this person being honest with me or is he setting up a trap to swindle me out of a dollar?" For instance, a friend offers you a soda. If you knew your friend put values above money, you would be certain that he was just trying to be nice. On the other hand, if you thought your friend was always trying to make a buck, you might think he picked a brand of soda to offer you a drink because he owned stock in that soda corporation and wanted to get you to start buying that type of soda so his stock would go up. This suspicion contaminates all of our relationships and is something that will need to be addressed.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the use of money in the management of natural resources leads to tremendous amounts of waste (for more on this, see  http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-3-resources.html).

Options for Moving Forward

Although numerous people in the US and around the globe are in debt and are struggling, few take time to consider a way out. This could be because they simply do not have time to think about anything except working and surviving.

One option is to abandon money altogether. It is difficult for us to imagine the entire globe abandoning the use of money without everything turning chaotic. Right now, money is basically the only thing that virtually everyone in the world values. Some feel a sense of moral obligation, others value their freedom...but the common currency that keeps everything out of a state of upheaval is money. Thus money has become equated with each individual's standard of living and even survival, and to abandon money without everyone in the world agreeing to a substitute common currency could very well lead to chaos.

Considering the entire globe abandoning money is complex, but we can think about what it would be like for a single person to do so (moving off the grid) because we have heard of people being successful with it. If an individual is considering abandoning the use of money altogether, the main problem she will face is a lack of convenience, but if not addressed, that lack of convenience could threaten her survival. Money gives us the convenience of exchanging our hours of labor for the things we need to survive as well as the things we want to have to be happy. These begin with food, shelter and clothing and move into the more extravagant stuff. Without money, each individual needs to hunt her own food, build and maintain her own shelter, and gather materials for her own clothing and make it by hand. She has the option of working with a partner or in a group where these tasks are shared so she can spend her time doing other chores that are considered a worthy exchange for the tasks performed by other members in the group, but nonetheless, the tasks she will need to perform are probably more geared toward survival of the group rather than recreation. And without some means of acquiring a new computer every few years, having electricity to run it, and having internet service, just surfing the internet (a common pastime in the US), would be out of reach for her. As stated, some people have elected to move off the grid and have been successful with it,  but it does not seem to be something for the faint of heart. You have to be into it and you have to be comfortable that one day something could happen where just a few dollars would spare you a lot of drama or might even save your life.

Engaging Differently to Realize the Power You Have

The next option is to continue engaging in the global economy but to do it differently than we have been doing in the past. Some predict that the global economy might someday crash, but for now if we choose to stay on the grid, we need to deal with the problems of money. To begin, we recognize that money is power. So the manner in which each person spends a dollar she has in her pocket has a significant impact on the world. For example, if she spends that dollar on an ice cream cone, it has a very different impact than if she invests it in Big Oil. In the first instance, the dollar will probably go toward maintaining the cows on a farm and in the second instance her dollar will probably go toward drilling for more oil. This is not to say that maintaining cows is necessarily any more virtuous than drilling for oil, but rather that the money is simply invested in very different ways. The question of "Which investment is better?" depends on a person's values.

If you are continuing to engage in the global economy, you will want to unleash your power (which has nothing to do with building wealth).  You unleash your power by avoiding spending money on things you do not absolutely need. In this way you avoid having to give up more of your precious time on the planet working just to pay for superfluous things. You also will want to avoid acquiring debt because with debt comes payments toward interest. If paying for superfluous things is a waste, paying the interest on the debt you acquired because of purchases of those things is definitely a waste. Thus we recognize the second source of a person's power: education. With the proper education, an individual is able to avoid falling into traps like monetary debt

The reader will note that the stress on education being critical to ensuring sustainability contradicts  some schools of thought. The Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit, put forth by Rosalyn McKeown for the purpose of advancing sustainable development in the US, for example, suggests that "...more education increases the threat to sustainability." This is based on research that claims better-educated folks, who tend to have higher incomes, often consume more resources than poorly-educated folks, who tend to have lower incomes. Of course that assumes that the people with the higher level of education truly are better-educated when it comes to surviving and being happy. Statistics show, however, that happiness does not increase linearly with wealth. At a certain level of wealth, people are comfortable and any wealth over and above that seems to make little (if any) contribution to overall happiness. If the better-educated folks realized this fact, maybe they would also realize that increasing their level of consumption does not bring happiness and instead would unleash the power of their wealth in ways that do bring happiness (like spending it in ways that help educate others). For more on sustainable development and management of natural resources, see http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-3-resources.html).

There are a multitude of other options we have for moving forward. Now you have heard some of my ideas, what are some of yours?

Next step: Develop a plan of action

Links to the Overview and Parts 1 through 9 of the Series


Overview
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-summary.html

1. Desperation
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-desperation.html

2. Money
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-money.html

3. Resources
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-3-resources.html

4. Business/Politics
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-4-business-politics.html 
5. Spirituality+Philosophy  (Under Construction)
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-spiritualityphilosophy.html

6. Education (Under Construction)
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-education.html

7. Communication (Under Construction)
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-communication.html

8. Action
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-action.html


9. Vision for the Future (Under Construction)
http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-vision-for-future.html

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, its an interesting article! The reality is that money is ‘invented’ on a massive scale in the real world, with banks generating vast sums of new money based on the creation and constant recycling of loans, going far beyond the real basis of the wealth. Banks even trade in the debts that they manage, with unscrupulous banks selling off high risk debt to other banks and investors. At some point someone has to pay for all the ballooning debt. When there is a high risk that the debt can’t be repaid it becomes ‘toxic’, instead of being an asset on a bank’s balance sheet, it becomes a liability. This is what brought down the biggest banks all across the world; when so called assets were at a key stroke classified as liabilities and vast sums of virtual money simply ‘vanished’ from the banking system. Every single country on this planet is spending money it does not have; borrowed from future generations that have not yet been born and that may never be exist. The system only works on the flawed hypothesis that the next generation will be richer than the one before, so is able to pay the debts generated today. The problem is that next generation, the young people of today, even in developed countries, are being dubbed the ‘lost generation’, emerging poorer and more debt ridden than their parents before them.

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    1. Hi UtopianPath, thanks for the comment. You make some excellent points. I think the Zeitgeist films do a good job of explaining just how much of the present day banking system is real and how much is created out of thin air (a ratio of 1 to 9). When you look at how much people need to work today as compared to years ago just to survive, it seems apparent that the current system could one day collapse under its own weight. Maybe that will happen one day or maybe it won't, but the question is what to do in the meantime. In our previous conversations you have expressed your focus on working toward making the current system reflect the values of the people, which I concur is a great idea. I look forward to our future conversations and more from your blog.

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