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The oil of social mobility

Many, including many political parties, are focussed upon money as the solution to their problems, but is that the right way to view it?

This article is about how relying upon money for our value creates a lot of problems. It does not deal with the monetary system itself which seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors that leave too few people with significant power over world economies. However, significantly diverging from the over-emphasis on money may allow us to see a more transparent way of managing the complexities of money in a more humane way.

The tool of trade

From early times, some form of medium was needed to enable trade.

Such earlier groupings had a pool of people to do most of the work, being either family members, or slaves obtained through force. These are basically 'captured' workers supported by their communal food gathering and construction skills. However, bartering didn't scale up as people formed into bigger social gatherings and started travelling between groups. They needed a convenient, portable form of value, so that they could barter it for what they needed as they travelled.

Early hunter-gatherers did not have many possessions as they had to carry them everywhere. Their needs were fulfilled on an ad-hoc basis. Settling down to grow crops and herd animals enabled having more possessions, but these were mostly shared among the community. Larger settlements consisted of multiple families, but while open-ended quid pro quo arrangements could work, some means of tokenising such arrangements was needed for ongoing management of them.

Of course, there were a limited number of items that were small and universally valued enough to be used. Grains were used at first, but eventually precious metals became the norm, with special paper notes introduced later to enable larger values to be conveniently carried around. With such universal tokenisation, people were less tied to their particular circumstances, as they could sell their labour and if they had accumulated enough token value, shift to another location that had more opportunities for them. That enabled social mobility on a much larger scale.

The use of money allowed whole societies to change, so when the industrial revolution occurred, the 80% of people on the land could rapidly adapt to being the 80% who worked in factories.

Reaching the limits

The problem with the whole scheme is that some wanted much more token value than they needed for a comfortable life for themselves and their families.

Some were, and still are, so attached to accumulating worth, that they became dependent upon having lots of workers who were so desperate for their own survival that they would sacrifice their own health. When a few can accumulate massive amounts of wealth at the expense of the health and social mobility of so many, that is a sign that the system is not working for society as a whole. It is like a cancer that feeds on the body so much that it kills it.

The real problem is that so many people accept this situation. Of course, many are lured with the promise that they too can have the benefits of this system, so willingly submit themselves into the entrapment of a mass belief system that survives through systemic disenfranchisement of most in favour of a very few. Now we are faced with the fact that rampant accumulation of wealth has resulted in not only a huge amount of poverty, but consumption of resources that threatens the earth itself.

Changing our thinking

Unfortunately for us, the earth has a recourse that doesn't require us to exist, but we need it to remain as is, so something has to change, and that must be us.

We have to examine why we value people receiving such excess wealth at the expense of so many. Why do top business leaders receive such monumental remuneration when they obviously are not really worth that?

Money, like countries, is basically a pyramid belief system that requires all of us to believe it for it to exist. If too many stop believing in it, the stage is set for revolution. Now, revolutions are a rather simplistic solution, and due to typically relying upon a hero figurehead, tend to result in a new government centred around them, rather than the people that most of their supporters thought would benefit. That opens the door to rampant corruption, and one just has to look at Robert Mugabe as an example of going from a hero to bleeding the country.

Typically, most economic models have been been relying upon there being no limits on growth, and thus no limits on money making. But when we start approaching, or even exceeding, the resource limits of the earth, or its capacity to accommodate our excesses, there needs to be another model. One such model may well be donut economics, which basically requires that all economic activity ensure that it is within the capacity of both the earth and people. That sets the ring-pass-not – well two of them – beyond which we cannot afford to stray.

It is this type of thinking that needs to permeate into the consciousness of everyone on this planet, and that will reset our expectations and aspirations to be more realistic, and thus be a lot less strain on us and the planet.

Repairing the system

Trying to change the negative effects of systemic problems requires identifying what leads to them; namely the fundamental problems with how our current economic systems work.

All companies have executives that exercise day-to-day power, and a board that overseas the enterprise's strategy direction and regulatory compliance. That all sounds quite reasonable, but in a democracy, it is obvious that it concentrates power in the hands of very few, but also a few that are not elected by those they have most power over, namely their employees. Karl Marx noted this over a century and a half ago.

This means that most people in a democratic society are at the economic mercy of a very few. Of course, we could vote for government policies that require a far more democratic form of company structure, like cooperatives, but those few have huge resources to lobby governments to avoid changing the company power structures, as well as promote such ideas to the general populace via their ownership of mass media. That means that people are constantly fed information that favours the current societal power structures, but also sabotages any political will to try and change the power balance.

This propaganda is not a low key operation, but has been bank-rolled by billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, for over 40 years, basically by promoting the idea that governments are not competent to manage society's needs but that entrepreneurs and free markets are.

They have popularised this idea by appealing to our greed, promising that policies like low taxation remove impediments to our being able to improve our financial situations. In reality, such policies, while providing very modest financial improvements to middle classes, overwhelmingly favour the rich and severely disadvantage the poor, contributing directly to wealth inequality. While technology has brought a new breed of billionaires, they have also readily taken on the same processes to ensure their continued privilege at the expense of large swathes of society.

Of course, billionaires have been seen to be great philanthropists, but as Anand Giridharadas points out, while their contributions seem significant, the disparity in wealth is getting larger, and that is mostly because their efforts are not shifting the power imbalance that keeps those they are helping from significantly changing their economic status. The same exploitative billionaires or their subordinates, supposedly through their business prowess, have been placed in charge of many government programs, further cementing their power monopolies and disenfranchising their nations' citizens.

This is a concerted ideological takeover of democracy to embed power into the hands of the few, using all instruments of commerce and government to prevent people from deciding their own futures. This concentration of power and money into the hands of the few has severly limited the access most people have to enough money to be able to have the society that allows the social mobility that money promises.

The solution is pretty simple: truly democratise business. That then moves the power from the few to those immediately affected. They will not tend to sacrifice their workforce and outsource jobs to another country. They will tend to provide livable wages. They will not pay their executives exhorbitant salaries and bonuses.

In a democracy, we still have the ability to change the fundamental power relationships that create wealth disparity, but that requires us to elect those few who are not beholden to the vested rich. We have to resist their misdirecting temptations to be selfish, and choose what benefits us all.

Beyond money

The real problem with money is that rather than being a tool for people to change their lives, it has become a goal in itself.

This token fetishism has become the real problem because resources that could be beneficial for all are being used to amass more of the tokens. People, because they have been tokenised, are now less important than the tokens. Subjugation of people is not new, having thrived under feudalism and monarchies, but firmly centering upon money has given a certain empirical justification to being exploitative assholes, especially when the exploited have been persuaded that greed is good while allowing themselves to be severely impeded in fulfilling their own greed.

By focusing upon the accumulation of money, we have learned to suppress or discount the importance of our health and happiness. We have been willing to work in unsafe conditions or stress ourselves out to reach unreasonable output targets for not much more than an empty promise of a life of leisure at the end of our working lives. We have accepted that pollution, poisoned foods and long stressful hours of work to mainly benefit a few are worthwhile, even though they are killing us.

It is clear then that what needs to change is to downgrade our collective emphasis on money to that of favouring our general well-being. This will enable us to let go of generally unobtainable goals while easing the stress on the planet. It is much easier to see when we are over-stressing ourselves than seeing the many insidious ways the planet and whole swathes of people have reached their tether.

That is, the limits close to home are easier to see than those further away, but not if we continue to devalue them as reasons to slow down and focus on what really helps us live better lives in meaningful ways, just to continue the cargo cult thinking we have been trained to accept. Dreams can be good to drive us, but not if they are someone else's purely designed for their own benefit.

If we only focus on what we need to feel happier and healthier for ourselves, we will alleviate a lot of the stress on ourselves, but also upon what we demand of society to collectively provide for us, and so reduce the strain on society and ultimately the planet. These are not selfish desires, but what it is reasonable to expect in a world where there is really plenty to go around if we don't expect palatial homes and gratuitous indulgence for ourselves at the expense of others.

Collective change is a combination of changes in personal expectations and actions, and making collective decisions and taking collective actions that reinforce and protect those more reasonable expectations. The choice is ours to make. We don't have to be individually perfect before we can take effective collective action, because we will learn along the way as we see how we individually and collectively benefit from a more humane view of living on earth.

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