Once upon a time, there was no such thing as money.
Currency was a creation of civilized man, a way to represent the fortunes collected in grain or livestock owned by town leaders, and for those who weren’t in power to have their property taxed by the crown, or the city, or in terms we better understand today: the Internal Revenue Service.
Fast forward thousands of years to today, where the mere mention of anything related to the almighty dollar becomes a conversation requiring multiple doctorates in business and economics.
What happened over the millennia that we went from a simple bartering system to a complicated system requiring credit cards just to keep food on the table?
Civilization fell prey to one of the seven deadly sins: greed.
“Greed is good,” or so said leading character Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” in a famous monologue meant to get the audience angry at such gross moneymaking schemes undertaken by market players.
Then there’s Ernie Ford’s plea in “16 Tons” for “Saint Peter don’t you take me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store,” a prayer for the little man to get some relief from corporate overlords holding their wages hostage on overpriced goods gotten only to make it through another harsh day.
Whether it’s Ford wanting to stick it to the company on behalf of the coal miner, or Stone’s villainous Wall Street player looking to make millions off of schemes without caring how it hurts others, the outcome is always the same: greed is good for you.
What happens to the other guy doesn’t matter, so long as that penny stays firmly in your pocket and continues to grow until those pockets are overflowing with coins spilling out without a care.
It doesn’t matter what country you live in or how charitable you might be in life. In the end, we all inhabit only a single mind and look to take care of it before all others.
It means we turn those with fortunes into great heroes of the day, and make villains out of any who fail in business or at simply holding down a job.
Under this system, the only way for those without PhDs to figure out on their own how the economy is doing is through looking at statistics compiled by the government, and the one statistic everyone universally agrees matters are unemployment numbers.
Thus the cries go out for “More jobs! Higher wages!” and so forth whenever that magic number goes anywhere above 5 percent of the total population of an area. Meanwhile, the other 94 percent are just doing their best to keep their heads above the turbulent financial waters.
Noting that unemployment figures are automatically skewed to make the economy look better doesn’t help much. Since individuals only get unemployment benefits for 18 months, as soon as their checks stop coming they also stop being counted.
Yet, those people still don’t have jobs. They don’t magically disappear into thin air and only return when business takes an upturn and starts hiring again.
The figures are still touted as if they are holy scripture, and when read correctly will bring portents of happy days ahead for the American continent.
The lies backed up by statistics are meant to distract everyone from the unfortunate truth. Technology and the sheer amount of money moving around the markets and industries digitally, ultimately makes the task of trying to keep track of prosperity versus pauperism completely impractical.
Markets try by providing trading numbers on gains and losses of a grouping of stocks – hence how we get the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the NASDAQ numbers up to the minute – but those only cover certain companies and industries. The whole of what’s being traded couldn’t be tracked without whole acres of supercomputers constantly chugging away on the math. Yet in some measure, it’s done, otherwise the books wouldn’t balance at the end of the day.
Thus, there’s no simple measurement for how we’re doing overall except for our own gut feelings on what is happening.
We don’t spend when times are bad because we’re afraid of not having money when we need it in the future, and we empty our pocketbooks in times of plenty because more will be coming in the bank soon.
Individual feelings thus start a feedback loop in consumer economies, making matters better or worse overall because a single idea will match those of neighbors and friends and spread along like rumors, causing positive or negative effects throughout the system. Where our dollars and cents go sends ripples through entire industries, across countries and to places no one can imagine.
Using statistics like unemployment numbers or up-to-the-minute market data is important as far as measuring concepts that are important, but they aren’t the end all of how we live day to day.
What’s been lost over the decades of prosperity is this sense of personal responsibility for our finances. We use easy credit as a crutch for not wanting to put in more of our own hard earned money toward things we don’t really need all that much.
The things that matter to us more than anything else: how much we have saved for rainy days and retirement, how much we owe in credit in order to buy stuff we barely get to use compared to what was spent, or even how much it costs to get gas or milk, does more to determine our quality of life than any quarterly report statement does.
I think the measure of how well we’re doing as far as the wealth we’re creating should start with this: when you come home from work at the end of the day, do you feel good or bad about your own individual financial standing?
If the answer is yes, then you’re doing a great job of what our culture of greed expects of you. Keep up the good work.
But if the answer is no, then the next question you should be asking is not who is responsible, but what can you do to make your situation better?
America has always been a nation about personal freedoms and responsibilities. Maybe instead of blaming corporate, or the government, we should instead look to our own spending and earning habits before casting anger about on others.
That’s not to say corporations or governments aren’t entirely without blame for the way things are, especially here in the South. However, instead of forming mobs with pitchforks and torches searching for financial Frankenstein’s to slay, let’s instead work with government and corporations to make a better system.
This conversation, obviously, is just beginning. There’s much more to cover on the topic of economics than what space is available. As this continues though, keep that question in mind I asked earlier about your own financial fortunes. Without first meeting your own needs, you can’t start to help others along the way.