The Value of Money
July 11, 2011 § 3 Comments
Currently, I’m working on a book about money, austerity, faith, and expectations. It’s probably about more than that, but I’ve only just begun. The older I get, the longer these things take to reveal themselves.
I’ve become fascinated by how our money system works. Or, as the case may be (and probably is, at least for the vast majority of us), how it doesn’t work. Much of this fascination has stemmed from a realization I had a year or so ago, when I was thinking about why there are so many challenges faced by advocates and activists of food system and economic relocalization.
My assumption had always been that the primary impediment to healthy, regional ag and food systems is the dominant industrial food system; after all, it’s what sets our cost expectations at a false bottom (I say “false,” because of course the price tag attached to commodity ingredients and the processed food-like substances made from them don’t account for the externalized costs that are so myriad and large, they’re almost impossible to calculate). And it’s what serves up more than 1,000,000 diet-related deaths annually.
But if it were merely the dominant food system we were up against, it wouldn’t be so darn difficult to regionalize food production and distribution. It wouldn’t necessarily be a piece of local, organic, free-range cake, but it neither would it sometimes feel like pushing round bales uphill (for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, round bales typically weigh better than 1,000-lbs).
Why, then, does something that makes so much sense from so many vantage points – health, economic, environmental, to name but a few – require such a Herculean effort? Because we’re not simply up against an industrial food system; we’re up against an industrial money system.
It is striking to me how large of a role money plays in all of our lives and how, like the vast majority of the food produced in this country, its creation is entirely hidden from view. Most of us think of money as bills and coins, but the truth is, the overwhelming majority of our “money” exists in the form of loans against the future. In other words, in the 21st century economy, money and credit are interchangeable. If you’ve ever wondered why our government goes to such lengths to prop up our nation’s banks, this is your answer. If they fail, credit fails. If credit fails, it all comes down.
Like our dominant food system, our dominant money system is complex, convoluted, and offers only an illusion of substance. It is also fraught with vulnerabilities. As I immerse myself more thoroughly in my reporting, I’ll continue posting on issues of money and austerity. Unless you ask me really nicely not to.