Value

‘The concept of “making money,”’ Sedartis postulates gravely—and wonders is it largely, in character, in origin even, American, although it has now so widely, so almost universally, it appears, so comprehensively at any rate, on our little planet, been adopted—‘is not only flawed,’ (all concepts are flawed, he points out: it is inherent in human thinking that it cannot be flawless), ‘but fundamentally, principally wrong.’

I am glad to hear this, though I can’t be certain entirely why.

‘Nobody makes money, even the National Bank or the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, or any bank anywhere in the world does not “make” money, and nor does any business, nor does any person, nor does any entity ever really “make” money, unless you are thinking of the actual physical process of printing notes or minting coins, but that, as we know, is not “making money” either, that is merely manufacturing its representation; in fact, nobody “makes money,” ever.’

I’m inclined to agree, and instinctively it makes sense to me what Sedartis is thinking, though I haven’t thought it through myself, and I wonder if Sedartis really has, or if he’s just doing so now on the hop, because he finds himself once again sitting next to me on a train.

I like the way Sedartis takes his seat next to me, mostly on trains, occasionally on a bench by a lakeside, rarely though, if ever, on planes, and never so far that I am aware of on a bus, or indeed in a cab.

‘Money is not “made,” it is simply invented and agreed upon in a compact between people, and then moved from one place to another, either physically (as notes and coins or cheques or other pieces of paper or some such material as may be deemed in this compact practical and acceptable) or virtually (as data), and no matter which way this happens, it is always symbolic: money is nothing other than an abstraction of “value,” and that in itself makes it inherently problematic because how, pray, do you define “value” and, more to the point, how do you keep sight of your values when the abstraction of value, money, becomes so prominent in your culture that you perceive it as a “value” of and in itself?’

I have no immediate answer to this. Sedartis is not expecting me to:

‘And so, not for moral or political or ethical reasons, though possibly for these also, but first and foremost for logical reasons, any economy that is predicated on the idea of “making money,” and any culture that embraces this idea as of value of and in itself, is not only flawed (as any human economy always will be), but fundamentally, principally wrong.

‘Whereas the moment we stop thinking of “making money,” and start thinking instead of “creating value,” for which, in one form or another, money may (or may not) serve as an instrument, as a lubricant, so to speak, as a convenient communication tool of quantifiable entities, such, as, and where they exist, no less and certainly no more, as soon as we do this, we can begin to aspire to wish to become able to consider ourselves an advanced society.’

I like it when Sedartis uses the first person plural as he thinks to me. It makes me feel we’re in this together, somehow, though somehow I’m almost certain we’re not; or rather, we most likely are, but not at the level, and not in the way, that is obvious, but in a deeper, more meaningful, more universal sense; and in that sense almost certainly we absolutely are in this together. Are we not one?…

‘Creating value,’ Sedartis expounds, ‘is no narrow concept, it applies, of course, but not only, to making things and inventing technology and imagining art, and it equally applies to providing a service, to accomplishing a task, to building a place, or exploring a thought, in such a way that it is of some value to someone somewhere sometime, even if that value cannot necessarily at the point of its inception be recognised or defined or possibly even imagined.’

That makes sense to me and strikes me as almost stating the obvious, just a bit. Is it?

‘Thus, being a good waiter is creating value much in the way that being a good cleaner is creating value, as being a good musician is creating value, as designing a good app is creating value, as singing and recording a good song is creating value.’

Who can decide, I wonder—who can determine—whether something is ‘good’?

‘Nobody can decide or determine, of course, what is “good,” at least not in the simple, undifferentiated terms we lazily espouse. Yes, you can agree on “good practice,” or define standards, but is a waiter who is slow and a little clumsy but extremely attentive and friendly and charming and perhaps a little flirtatious—just enough to send an exquisite tingle down your spine each time he tops up your glass of Prosecco—any less good a waiter than one who is super efficient but essentially dead behind the eyes and just does what he has accepted as his lot or his duty for the time being? Who can say what good writing is? Or good art. Or good music. Or good anything. Nobody can, it’s almost entirely a question of taste and the prevailing consensus: the current culture.

‘But what you can say, because you know when you see it and when you come across it and when you experience it—all of which is the same, I’m only emphasising the point, perhaps unnecessarily—is whether somebody does what they’re doing to the best of their ability, and whether they seek to make that ability in the longer term greater, or whether what they do is perfunctory, or indeed—and that is by some margin the worst “motivation” anyone could think of—they are only doing it to “make money.”’

I think along, and as far as I can, I sense I concur.

‘Ask not, therefore, how you can “make money,” ask how you can create value. Expect not to be valued by money, expect that the value you create is honoured.’

I’m about to interject an inconsequential and certainly not fully formed but broadly approving thought of mine own but Sedartis is not yet done:

‘Honouring value is not a narrow concept either: value can be honoured, also, but not only, in terms of money; it can be honoured in appreciation; in kind, in gratitude, in a return gesture or service, in goods, in opportunity, in experience.’

Certainly it can. That, too, though, I reckon, is hardly new…

‘It is not, of course, new. It only is sometimes—too often—forgotten. Because it means by necessity that if you are doing something that does not create value but diminishes it—for example producing and selling shoddy “goods” that make people angry because they’re not good and not fit for purpose, or taking advantage of somebody’s situation and appropriating, quite apart from their money, more of their time, their mind, their emotion than you deserve, in return for giving them less than they need, or providing any type of “service” that does not live up to its name, let alone its promise—then you have to stop doing so immediately: you’re not “making money,” you’re taking away value under false pretences or, perhaps innocently, feeding your incompetence off their gullibility. Either way, rather than creating value and enriching the world, you deceive yourself into believing that you can enrich yourself as you destroy value and diminish the world. You unbalance the universe. And the universe, in the long term, will not be unbalanced.’

We are nearly at our destination, I forget what it is. Sedartis seems much better now, his thoughts thus afloat, thus released, thus engendered. He inwardly smiles.


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Practice

Sedartis looks at me sadly. ‘How is it,’ he demands to know, ‘that this man is asking for money?’ I shrug, a little impatient:

‘He doesn’t have any and needs some to buy food or alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or whatever it happens to be that he wants.’

‘Yes I can see that.’

I fear this conversation is going to go some obvious place about social injustice and the unfair distribution of wealth and the absence of life chances for someone like this man, who isn’t young, and who isn’t old, and who isn’t distinct in any particular way, other than perhaps that at this moment he has just asked me for money—for change, more precisely, which is materially less, yet symbolically so much more—and that I have given him some (money only, not meaningful change), partly because I for once happened to have some on me, partly because I felt unease at walking past a human being in need of some charity without offering it in the presence of Sedartis, and partly because I forever and always look at people about me who are skidding on the edge of existence and think the ‘there, but for the grace of god, go I’ thought, not because I have a faith or a belief or a god I can readily defer to, but because ‘god’ to me seems as good a shorthand for ‘chance,’ or ‘luck,’ or ‘circumstance,’ or ‘the way the universe has momentarily aligned itself,’ or any combination of these, as any.

‘What I need to understand,’ I get from Sedartis, ‘is how do you make it so in your world that there are those who have money and keep it and then have to—reluctantly, more often than willingly—give it away, or bestow it, and there are those who do not have it, or at any rate not enough, and they have to beg for it, or steal it, or at the very least work for it; and how do you make it so in your world that purely having money makes that money increase, whereas purely not having money makes obtaining any much harder: surely, but surely it would be much better the other way round: what is money other than a “promise to pay,” but how do you pay, if not in deed?

‘You cannot pay a person in money: that is just another promise, but the longer that promise is held out and not kept, the weaker it surely becomes, not through ill will, necessarily, but through the depreciation of any hold that a thing or a person can have over anything or anyone else over time.

‘So if today I promise to marry you tomorrow, and I marry you not tomorrow, and I marry you not for another day and another, and then not for a week and a month and a year and another year and another; and then five, maybe ten years pass: my promise to marry you becomes weaker and weaker, surely, not because by necessity my intention has diminished—my intention may still be lasting and good—but think of the potential lovers I meet, think of the glances I exchange; think of the buses in front of which I cross the street, think of the tall trees I walk under: the chances, the probability, of my being able to marry you ever decreases, not through wrongdoing, but because the bond between me and the words I have spoken and the thing or the person that they pertain to gets intermingled with bonds that pertain to other persons or objects, through other words that I speak or things that I do.’

Sedartis is approaching the nub of his question, I sense:

‘So how is it that in your world you decree that money should increase over time: how most extraordinarily ludicrous an idea, which makes people do with money the opposite of what money is supposed to be for: money is there to circulate as an ever-weaving pattern of promises that are quickly exchanged and kept and renewed and newly directed. You give me a loaf of bread, I give you this promise that I or someone else will soon give you something in exchange for your bread that is worth as much as your bread, no less and no more, for example some honey. This can only be good and proper if the promise is called in soon. If you then stash away this promise because you know that in doing so it will become greater, then you withdraw from circulation all incentive for somebody else to garner the honey that goes with your bread. See you not this is so? Money surely, but surely should only ever decline in value over time, so that nobody has any reason to hold on to any of it, but everybody has every reason to constantly keep it in circulation, because that is all it is good for, nothing more, nothing less.’

I have no answer to this—except a tentative ‘inflation?’ which is easily deflected—but I try to reason, as best I can: ‘Well, people, they like to save up for a rainy day, or for their retirement, say: if you didn’t pay interest on savings, or if you had no return on investments, then people, when they are old, would have no pensions and no savings and would end up on the street, like our friendly young beggar just then.’

‘He was not friendly, or young.’

I was trying to adopt a whimsical disposition. With Sedartis, this fails.

‘Why would old people not have a pension, and why would they need savings: are you not, as a community, capable of looking after your old and your sick and your needy? Have you not developed the means to gather from each to their ability a contribution to the welfare of all?’

‘We have; we have a complex system of benefits and pensions and tax credits, and then we have private pensions and health insurance and life insurance and obviously also investments and savings.’

‘Do away with investments and savings,’ implores Sedartis: ‘they are what distorts your presence today, they are the root of your immense poverty.’

‘We are not that poor, as a country, for example, or as a society, we do rather well; although there are of course inequalities…’

‘You are destitute. You are deprived because you lose, by and by, all sense of worth and all sense of purpose and all sense of care and all sense of freedom and all sense of joy and all sense of being.’

‘But we are highly evolved, and connected; we have ever increasing levels of literacy and make rapid progress in science and medicine, and although our population is growing, we still cater for larger proportions of it better each year: we do not fare badly, though granted, perfect we’re not.’

‘Oh yes,’ Sedartis concedes at last: ‘you have the potential to be magnificent.’ I am glad to hear him now thus, but: ‘but you waste way too much of it way too much of the time. You do not realise your potential.’


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World

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Value

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Practice

This post has moved. You can now find it here.

 

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