An interesting, brief article in H+ magazine titled Hacking the Economy by Douglas Rushkoff speaks to times long gone — centuries ago when barter was the common means to transact locally and centralized currency was scarcely used at all. The author explains that the aristocracy effectively compromised this system by pushing centralized currency, which was “a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center.”
Whether things occurred as simply as Rushkoff describes is up for debate. Governments (via banks or perhaps its vice versa!) have long been incentivized to centralize the management of currency. Currencies throughout history have been based on gold and silver (as they are scarce, divisible, and uniform). However, via centralization’s corrupting influence (i.e. no checks and balances), the central monetary authority has always slowly but steadily debased the currency spurring inflation and leading to all sorts of unfortunate consequences — the most noteworthy of which is robbing the common man of his wealth.
In our modern days, we’ve gone completely to a credit-based society whereby all money is based on the assumed credit of the centralized authority. Dollars don’t represent gold or silver (though they once did). I won’t go into further detail on this here, but you should check out Rothbard’s What has Government Done to our Money? (Buy it off amazon or grab it free in pdf or audio off mises.org).
What I like about Rushkoff’s concise piece is how it makes two fundamental conclusions, both of which I happen to agree with:
- Centralization tends to result in perverse systems — i.e. our productive hours don’t lead to our own wealth. Money is made simply by moving electronic balances around. Finance replaces production in society (I.e. the United States’ FIRE economy).
- Money is easy to make. Money is merely efficient barter. No matter what happens to the general economy, the dollar, the yuan or yen or gold or silver, trade will continue on. You just better hope you have some assets to barter around, and if you don’t, you can always get creative and find things that you can trade.
Here’s a summary snippet of Rushkoff’s article found on page 37 / 38 of the online magazine. The rest of the magazine looks fascinating and I only wish I had the time to skim all its pages!
The economy we live in is a rigged game, established around the time of the Renaissance in order to promote the welfare of earlychartered corporations and the monarchs who gave them license to monopolize world business. Until that time, there were many kinds of money in use simultaneously. People used centralized currency to conduct long-distance transactions, and local currency to transact on a more day-to-day basis. . . .
Like most innovations of the Colonial era, centralized currency is a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center. . . .
A majority of the money earned under our current currency system is earned by people who don’t actually do anything. As such, all this speculation is a drag on the system. Speculators just bet on various companies’ ability to pay back what they have borrowed. . . .
The way out — as I see it — is to begin making our own money again. I’m not talking barter, but local currency. Money is just an agreement. And the more a community trusts one another, the more effi ciently the moneys they develop can function. We can create units of currency based on anything . . .
Thanks to the current economic meltdown, a restaurant in my town called Comfort has been unable to secure a loan from the bank to expand. Instead, John the owner has turned to us. We are buying “Comfort Dollars” at a rate of 1 US dollar for every $1.20 worth of restaurant food. So if I invest $1000, I get $1200 to spend at the restaurant. I get a 20% return on my investment, and — since he’s paying in food — he gets money a lot cheaper than he can borrow it through the bank.
Plus, I have a reason to promote his restaurant, invest in my town, and extend the good will. everybody wins.
Making money is that easy. You don’t get it from a corporation or a bank. You make it yourself, with your friends, as you create value for one another. This is the ultimate hack in a society addicted to the market: pretend it doesn’t even exist, and go about your business.
(H/T boingboing via Ritholtz)