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.

§ 3 Responses to The Value of Money

  • Nicole says:

    My husband and I have been lucky to get through this economic crisis much better than some. We never considered ourselves over spenders but during these tuff times we definitely took a much closer look at our finances. My husband was turned on to Dave Ramsey who I won’t say I love but the man does make a lot of sense. The basic tenants of his philosophy is credit is bad, pay with cash, and don’t spend more than you earn. Not complicated. And you know in this day of credit my husband and I are working hard so that we don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves. It’s this little concept we have forgotten in this country called sacrifice. We sacrifice in the now so we can have later. I am thrilled to be on this new money path and although its not easy, the really meaningful things in life are free!

    Thanks for the great topic! Look forward to reading more about it.

  • Debbie says:

    Have you seen “The Inside Job?” You probably have, given your latest research, but if you haven’t, you should. :)

    I was bewildered to learn about the way the American financial system works. I was also thankful that what happened there, would likely never happen here in Canada because our financial sector is regulated. However, when it comes to food, I think our systems are closer linked than we (Canadians) want to believe.

    We are living a pretty good financial life – have made tons of sacrifices to stay home, unschool our child, grow our own food…and create our life from scratch. It’s beautiful. Like Nicole said, the most meaningful things in life are free. We wouldn’t change a thing.

    I’m looking forward to reading more about this topic. Thanks for sharing.

  • I, too, look forward to reading more about this topic, as it is an area I know almost nothing about. Despite this fact, my husband and I have spent the last 10 years sacrificing in order to pay off all of our debts. We are at present 100% debt-free. Not even a dollar on our credit cards. We, too, have a “cash only” policy. Where we are currently struggling is with our desire to purchase some land (to raise our own food) and have no mortgage. Even where land is reasonable, south-western WI, land of organic farms and Organic Valley, we can either afford bare land (no utilities, no buildings) or a small house in town, no land. We struggle every day with well-meaning people sending us to look at (beautiful!) farms that would require a sizable mortgate to obtain. Nobody understands that we want to be mortgage-free. I feel this cultural peer-pressure to buy a “real farm” as deeply as I felt the desire to fit in with my peer group as a small child (something I was vastly unsuccessful at!). I look forward to your future posts on this subject, hopefully they will strengthen our resolve!

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