Real and Virtual Resources
[Trigger Warning: Graphic Content]
Before I wrote the post Money is Points, I abandoned another post titled “Is Money a Fetish?”
The idea is, money is just an object, but it gains cultural significance by pretending it has mystical properties or magical powers. The same way a headhunting society believes human skulls are special, we collect living human lives in the form of financial contracts and debt.
Oh wait, it looks like we sometimes collect actual skulls as well.
So much about this picture is a mystery. We don't know what the young women in it was thinking. We don't know what…time.com
While we often fetishize money, it doesn’t have to be that way.
It doesn’t have to lead us to dehumanize the people on the other end of a product, service, financial contract, or political relationship.
Phillip Zombardo is famous for running the “Stanford Prison Experiment”. Even in a contrived laboratory environment, it was surprisingly easy to get “normal” people to treat other “normal” people inhumanly. They had to cancel the experiment when it became clear to Phillip that even he and the other faculty admistrating the experiment had become desensitized to unethical activities occurring.
You can learn more about this in a lecture he gave titled “The Psychology of Evil”
This lecture gives insight as to our behaviors when we go to war with another culture or people and instigate horrible violence that can only be described as evil. It shows us the how the tactics used by politicians such as Donald Trump — fear mongering and a casual relationship with facts — can easily become something more insidious and harmful, and lead to horrible wrong doing.
When people like Trump are concerned about violence perpetrated by Muslims who have a distorted worldview, and then turn around and promote a distorted, dehumanizing worldview themselves, it is unacceptable and hypocritical.
Institional evil, the atrocities we regard from a safe distance through stories of fictional Star Wars stormtroopers or historical Nazi ones, is a real part of our own history as well. Us Americans talk about slavery differently than wrongs perpetrated by others like the holocaust. We talk about British imperialism different from our own modern hegemony. It is unsettling when you start to see the dehumanizing aspects of stories with evil villans. Zombardo’s lecture made me question who the villans really are. Villans rarely regard themselves as such.
Elite and Out of Touch
Ironically, the perfect description of Donald Trump: “Elite and Out-of-touch”, is a fitting description of many who oppose him as well.
Sometimes we label this group as “Neoliberals”, and characterize them as inappropriately prioritizing “Free Trade”. “Neoliberal” does not do this ideology justice, and “Free Trade” does not describe the economic policies they promote.
Their ideology is elitist blindness, and their policies do nothing to create universal freedom, they only give themselves more “freedom” (power really) to colonize.
You see, this elitist conservative paradigm we casually call “Neoliberalism”, is characterized by a commitment to traditional political and financial relationships: finance interests, commercial lobbying interests, strict property rights over regulatory responsibility and healthy public relationships.
Traditional sounds good right? Nope. Only if you were fortunate enough have the system work for you and not against you.
It goes back to the original assumption of Supply and Demand: ownership.
Property rights are great if you own the things you need, and have influence where and when you need it. But if other people own the capital and resources you depend on, and you don’t have adequate channels of political influence, then property rights are working against you, not for you.
This isn’t just about one class. It applies to homeless people, black communities, and less priviledged white communities as well. It applies to poor people in inner cities, and poor people in economic ghost towns where manufacturing and mining have moved elsewhere.
It applies less so to entitled millenials working menial jobs without adequate career opportunities. But this last group has only got a small taste of what these other groups have put up with for a long time.
Moving Beyond Fetish and Ignorance
How can we solve this Neoliberal Nightmare? How do we stop Fetishizing Finance, and Headhunting Human Debts?
It comes down to recognizing what money is. We must understand the difference between real and virtual resources.
A financial asset is not the thing itself, it is merely a claim to the thing, or a representation of it.
Some virtual assets clearly correspond to the physical asset being claimed. A car title or a deed to land, grant ownership over a specific object.
Ownership never means you can do whatever you want whenever you want. Driving a car you must still conform the rules of the road. Property use is subject to zoning and regulation. Even when the real resource referenced by a virtual asset is obvious, the virtual asset imposes additional context and constraints.
Virtual assets exist in a virtual environment. This is why we use the word “virtual” for things on computer systems or the internet.
Virtual things are actually real themselves. Your imagination is a real thing! It’s not imaginary! What makes something virtual is that it references or imitates something else that it is not.
Chartalism, Chartalism, Chartalism
I can’t emphasize this enough. It is the political and legal context of money which makes money meaningful even as a virtual asset.
Real Costs, Virtual Costs
I want to finish by saying that prices are not a real cost, but a virtual cost. The price imitates the complex political, legal, and cultural process of using the resource.
When we set prices, we impose real costs on others, in terms of the real actions they must perform to secure virtual assets, so that they can cover the virtual cost we attach to the real thing they need. If the virtual relationships don’t represent real relationships very well, or the real relationships aren’t healthy, they break.
I don’t have a theory of value, people have values. I don’t have a model for prices, people use prices to represent human relationships, the political, legal, and cultural rules for real resource use. I don’t have a theory of money, it’s just a virtual tool people use for managing real world political and legal influence.