Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Money System (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

To one who accepts the economics of the capitalist system, money has quite magical qualities. It is cheque books, representing large money deposits in banks, that build houses; it is pieces of paper with pictures of the Queen on them that dig the coal from the ground; it is silver coins fed into the engine that drives the bus. Money — man-made, inanimate paper currency and coins — is, according to the economists, the means of producing and distributing wealth. Without money we could not survive.

The average weekly take-home wage in Britain is between £60 and £70. Let us suppose that a generous employer was to offer a worker twice or even three times as much money for doing half the work of any other employee, so that for a week’s labour he gets £230. But there’s only one snag: after he has been paid, the worker will be locked in an empty room with his two hundred and thirty paper notes. If they can produce things, then let them obtain food, clothing, heating and entertainment for him. If they have intrinsic value, let him eat the notes, ten at a time —for we all know that ten pounds can provide anyone with a good dinner.

But let us suppose that the employer is foolish. He offers a worker £70 for a week’s work. Like all capitalists he only offers a wage when he is confident that his employee will produce for him commodities which will sell for more than the value represented by the wage. The difference between the two is surplus value and when the employer offers the worker £70 they both enter into the contract on the assumption that more than £70 worth of real wealth will be produced. But what if the worker tells the employer that he is unable to work on a particular week, but will leave seventy pound notes to do the work for him instead? After all, money produces wealth, doesn’t it? The foolish employer accepts the idea, but discovers that the money is able to produce no wealth. As an incentive he offers a £30 bonus and in are brought six true-blue five pound notes which turn out to be just as lazy as the seventy green wealth producers.

But the capitalist economist is not satisfied with such absurd illustrations of the fact that money does not produce wealth. “Of course men cannot eat money”, he informs us, “it is only money in circulation in the market place that enables us to eat”. And of course it is true that money cannot independently produce wealth, but requires the collaboration of human labour and raw materials”.

Money, they say, is necessary for production and consumption. So, if one uses one’s labour to put a pencil to a piece of paper and produce a drawing, one has to have money in order to have access to the pencil and the paper. The same applies to mass production. If a capitalist manufacturer wishes to produce clocks he must first buy his factory, his clock components and the other inanimate things he needs to make clocks. He then buys the mental and physical energies of the clock-makers. If he had no money to buy these things, there would be no production. So is not the case fully proved that things cannot be produced without money? But why must the capitalist pay money for the things needed to make clocks in the first place? He needs to do so because the present economy is based upon private property which means that certain people have legal access to wealth which others are denied. Ten per cent of the population own and control approximately ninety per cent of all wealth. It is the people in the majority class who between them own so little wealth that they have no alternative but to sell the one property they possess: their ability to work by hand or brain, their labour power.

Money has not always existed. Men and women were producing wealth long before it came on the scene. With the advent of private property, money emerged as a means of exchange. It was better than barter because it was a universally accepted equivalent enabling values to be fairly exchanged. With the birth of commodity production wealth was produced not for use, but to sell for money. Capitalism has turned human labour power into a commodity to be bought and sold. The free labourer of capitalism is one who is compelled to sell his economic freedom.

So under the present system money is used to buy and sell commodities. All wealth has a price once it has become a commodity, and people cannot live without wealth. Our access to wealth is determined by our access to money. There are three was of obtaining money under capitalism:
1. Criminal Theft. This embraces illegal acts like robbing banks, mugging, begging on the streets and defrauding the Department of Social Security. The risk involved is that the state is there to ensure that property is defended against suckers like working class criminals and those who defy the defence of capitalist social relations can be locked up, beaten or killed.
2. Legalised Theft. You will run into no trouble with the state here. The theft that is essential to the continuation of capitalism is exploitation (paying the worker less than the value of what he produces) which in polite circles is known as “running a business profitably”. Large fortunes can be made in this way, but before the reader becomes too attracted to this option it should be pointed out that entry to the class of legalised robbers is only available to a small minority of the earth’s inhabitants, usually by inheritance.
3. But if prisons or profits are not for you, there is a third way of getting money. All you have to do is to sell yourself to a capitalist in return for just enough money to keep you coming back the following week in need of more money. This is wage slavery and it is the position of the vast majority of men and women today. 
The money we get in return for producing ail of the wealth in society is enough to buy cheap and shoddy goods. Meanwhile, those who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth —the ones we are producing surplus value to provide for—are able to live in comfort, security and privilege.

The capitalist economists tell us that property and buying and selling are inevitable because of scarcity of resources — because there is not enough wealth to go round, there has to be monetary rationing. This would be a good reason for the existence of money were it true, but as it is evidently false we must dismiss it as yet another example of the confusion of the experts of the economics text-books. We are now surrounded by a capacity to produce an abundance of wealth: the United Nations Food and Health Organisation has stated that it is presently possible to provide food, clothing and shelter for three times the present populations of the world.

It is at this stage in the argument that the economists bow out — and their partners, the theologians and psychologists step in. “Fair enough’’, they admit, “we are prepared to accept that there is no economic reason for money rationing.” The real reason is all to do with that elusive part of the human anatomy, the soul. (The one bit that the worms can’t eat when you die.) Money is needed, they say, because without such rationing we would all naturally take more than we need. (By “all” is meant the working class, not the capitalists who are presently looked up to for taking more than they need.)

“The greedy man”—the last friend of the opponent of a moneyless society—is a product of a system in which private property exists. Imagine if everyone was given unlimited money to spend on what they liked—but for just one day. Of course, the stores would be full of people, the shelves would be emptied, and, like Margaret Thatcher in a food shortage, people would be hoarding provisions in anticipation of the coming day when their wage packets would once again dictate their needs. So poverty, or the expectation of poverty, breeds a desire to not only obtain enough to survive miserably, but to obtain more than your poverty allows you. The will to escape poverty under capitalism is labelled greed.

Now imagine a moneyless society where all goods are freely available according to individuals’ self-determined needs. Will people take more than they need when they know that wealth will be there for the taking whenever they want it? It would be foolish for someone in a society of free access to take twenty loaves of bread when they need only one the others will soon be stale. Who will want to eat all twenty loaves simply because they are free? When did you last see a person filling their lungs with excess air or his mouth with more water than they could drink because these things are free? And if you did encounter such a person, would you resent the greed or laugh at the stupidity? The wretched theologians and psychologists, their minds contaminated by the conditioned behaviour of property society, ignorantly conclude that always men must act as anti-socially as we are forced to now. It is not “human nature” that stands in the way of a moneyless society, but human consent to the continuation of private property.

When the majority class of wage slaves get rid of the institution of property, money will have no more use than tram lines in a tramless city or gas lamps in an age of electricity. Exchange will have no meaning when there are no property rights to pass from one person to another. Just as you cannot sell your coat to yourself, so, when the community commonly owns and democratically controls the means of producing and distributing wealth, there will be no non-owners to buy things from or sell things to, to steal from or to give to. Wages will be replaced by co-operative labour; classes will be replaced by social equality; money will be replaced by free access to all wealth. The richness and beauty of the world is there for the taking; are you ready to claim it?
Steve Coleman

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