Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Money System (1966)

From the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money dominates our lives. It is universal under Capitalism. It speaks all languages and opens all doors. Virtually everything all over the world has a price. Practically every kind of activity we engage in, and every sphere of human endeavour, is measured against what it costs. There are money barriers erected between people and their attitudes towards each other. Respect and kudos are accorded to the money —not the man.

In a thousand similar ways money falsifies human values. It perverts the judgment of people by raising phoney standards. And as the have-nots slavishly seek to imitate the possessions of the haves, trashy substitutes become a commonplace and the general culture pattern sinks to the level of the unreal. For those in poverty, social recognition is sought through the showy accumulation of inferior junk. Whilst money expresses the values of property society, it has in itself nothing useful to contribute to human lives. It is a social growth and its existence is secondary to the basic property division in society.

The rich are rich because they own the means of production and thereby accumulate money in the form of rent, interest or profit. It is the real wealth created by workers which constitutes their fortunes. The workers are relatively poor because they own no means of production, not because their wages are low but because they have to work for wages at all. The wages system represent the social dispossession of the working class and assures their continuing appearance in the factories, mines and offices to turn out wealth for the owning class. Bingo halls, horse-racing, overtime and hire-purchase become a substitute for living against a background of ceaseless struggle and conflict.

It is hard to think of a relationship into which human beings enter that is not either derived from the money system or tainted by it. These relationships are so much part of our lives that they are widely accepted without question, it is thereby considered more honorable to starve than to steal food, more proper to walk than ride without the fare and to take the kids out for the week-end with the rent money just isn’t done.

Every facet of existence is affected by money. How we live, where we live, the kind of food, clothing and shelter consumed, all hinges upon how much can be afforded. It is the outstanding contradiction of our time that with his talents, man has mastered many natural forces and even bent them to his will; through his store-house of scientific knowledge, he has transformed the face of the earth; he has produced wonders of communication and transportation and covered the world with technical achievements undreamed of in bygone ages; with mechanisation applied to agriculture, man’s capacity to produce food is abundant, yet none of this is readily available to him. The social strait- jacket of the money system stifles his every move.

None of the things that society has produced are freely at the disposal of the producers. The telephone, the motor car, the aeroplane, the radio, the cinema—none may be used except through the intervention of money. The menu at the Hilton or the common loaf of bread are only available if you have the money. Capitalism has created the potential for abundance but its property division (its class structure) denies its attainment.

There is obviously nothing that can be done to resolve these contradictions within the framework of a money based society. Money is so revered and sought after that a world without it is extremely difficult for most people to conceive. Yet there is nothing natural about it. All that man needs to survive and flourish are his physical and mental energies and the resources of nature. Money developed out of the exchange of goods.

Where things are held in common and freely available, money is irrelevant and superfluous. Many things have been used as money in the history of its existence, including human slaves. The substance behind world currencies today is gold. Gold is ideal for the purpose because it does not perish and it concentrates a large amount of value into a convenient form. When buying and selling takes place, it is therefore values exchanging one with another and this only happens because there are exclusive property rights—owners and non-owners. It is the attitudes of men that sanction the powers of money. It serves as a standard of price, as a measure of value and a means of exchange. That is to say its operation is confined to the buying and selling of commodities. This commercial process is part of the profit making system which exploits and devours the life-force of productive labour.

All the frenzied activity of Chancellors of the Exchequer and world bankers, the voluminous writings of the so-called economics experts, and financial columnists, the contortive juggling of the Prices and Incomes Board are so many dreary acts in an over long farce. They are like the motions of a ritual to appease the wrath of some supernatural power, where men make obeisance to gods of their own creation.

Today we are confronted with hundreds of millions of people in chronic need of food, but unless they constitute a profitable market, they will remain hungry. In the same way, a money barrier exists between the millions living in slums all over the world and the provision of adequate housing. These are simple aspects of poverty, and poverty is incurable as long as the means of wealth production are monopolised by a class.

The Socialist analysis of Capitalism and its money set up points the way to a new society where men would use the earth’s resources for their common good—without money.
Harry Baldwin

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