So, What Is Money?

    By James Gibb Stuart

    I once employed an indigent printer who, in his penurious state, had decided that there were only about £200 circulating in the city of Glasgow, and it was a case of grabbing a handful whenever it was being passed around.

    This concept — of money as finite in quantity — is still very widely held, even today, when there is so much more of it in being.

    Those of us on fixed incomes look to the weekly or monthly pay cheque, and set our monetary horizons accordingly. Windfalls such as overtime, bonuses or even lottery prizes are presumed to have been gained from someone else, and basically belong to the same pile of money. Banknotes get withdrawn and changed for new ones when they get tattered and dirty, and coins go on for ever.

    Thus, the myth is perpetuated, and fostered by the Powers-that-be. “Money is scarce.” “We have to use it carefully. There’s never enough to go round.” There’s certainly never enough to do all the things that need to be done, so if it’s used extravagantly, as some may claim, for example, with the Millennium Dome, then it’s wasted and gone for ever, and we’re all so much the poorer.

    Right? No, wrong, wrong, wrong! Let’s think of money as a means of marshalling human and material resources, and, at that, we’re into a whole new ball game immediately.

    And if you don’t like the Dome, then all that time and energy expended on it should be thought of as wasted effort rather than wasted money.

    Sure, money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does appear on demand — just ask a central banker — and if there’s marketable fruit on the trees, he will assuredly feel able to create money against that potential, probably in the form of an interest-bearing loan to the owner of the orchard.

    Have it another way — from my character in the video Survival Island, and in the book available from Ossian Publishers — in which he declares that “money is only a token of wealth — never the wealth itself.” The value is in the loaf of bread, not in the 50p coin it took to buy it.

    One of the principal dangers to our society from widespread misconceptions about money is the way in which money creation can be exploitatively abused, and yet escape public criticism.

    Market analysts tell us that 50 years ago almost all the money circulating throughout the financial system was concerned with the visible trade in goods and services — with a small proportion, say 5% — bent on speculative investment.

    Today that position has been totally reversed, with 97% of the vastly increased capital flows swilling round the world in search of speculative outcomes, and only 3% devoted to the trade that feeds and clothes us and provides the necessities of modern living.

    It is a grave human evil that so much of the world’s financial capacity and expertise is absorbed in an incestuous exercise of money trading in money — to the enrichment of a favoured few — while millions lack the means for a better life.

    It’s a state of affairs which is only sustainable for as long as the money myth is allowed to reign unchallenged.

    We inherit two basic sources of wealth as denizens of this planet: We have our brains, our energies and our acquired skills, and we have the resources at our disposal. Some of the latter are indeed finite and should be recycled wherever feasible, but human life itself, with all its precious diversity, is infinitely renewable, and barring plague, nuclear war or cosmic catastrophe, need never be in short supply. Let us remember this when next they tell us that money is scarce to fund the essential things in social and community life.

    You need a bridge or a hospital or a school. Is there a shortage of steel, of bricks and mortar, or the means of their manufacture? Are the construction trades already engaged, up to and beyond their capacity? And have all the doctors and nursing staff migrated to richer pastures?

    These are the practical questions to be answered before the mythmakers of “scarce and finite” money are seen to prevail. It is the availability of resources — and the public need — that matters, not the number of digits on a cheque.

    A nation which understands these things can expand and prosper to the limit of its physical potential, provided it also has the will and the means to issue its own money, debt free, for all community endeavour.

    However, under the present system, money becomes a medium of power and social control.

    So let’s get this concept of money itself truly in perspective, so that the bankers don’t have us for ever on a leash, ready to rein us in just as we’re preparing to develop our full potential.

    As a wag of a roads engineer once said in that connection, “Imagine not being able to complete a motorway because you’ve run out of miles.”

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