Thursday, 5 March 2009
Hard to avoid as a subject at the moment and, driving to and fro, the radio is constantly occupied with one or other aspect of it. In that respect it is a simple enough matter of possessing the means to purchase things. That, apparently, is one of four definitions or functions. Wiki gives a rhyme that lists them:
"Money is a matter of functions four:
a medium, a measure, a standard, a store."
As poetry goes it is not of the best, but as mnemonic, I expect it does what it sets out to do.
The bit we chiefly know about is money as medium of exchange. It means you don't have to give the other person a thing he wants before he will give you what you want. Rhyme for that: It's better than barter / You get what you're after / And not what you're not / Despite what you've got. (Thank you, that will be five pence please.)
The idea of a unit of account depends on having a stable standard, which is no good in times of inflation, but is useful in keeping track of how you're doing compared to last week or last year, providing the standard itself is reliable. Rhyme: It's fair / Providing it's there. (That one is worth only tuppence, but buy now in case there's a run on them.)
Another idea is store of value. That is what your money is worth in terms of, say, real estate, gold, precious stones etc. Rhyme: If you can afford it / Hoard it. / Gold / Can be sold. (I'll want 7p for that or, alternatively, a small corner of your garden).
That's three, but one of them no doubt subdivides. Still, it is not the distinction between these that interests me so much as the kind of mega-manoeuvre we are constantly hearing about now.
It seems to me we have been dealing, in the last twenty odd years or so, with money in terms of energy. So money is defined by the activity it generates. If, on the promise of being paid sometime, people get to run around fast enough, the energy they generate will be worth more money. So money goes round faster and faster, and it doesn't really matter where it finishes up, it's the sheer ergs of it that matter. It is energy that is the medium of exchange. The goods you buy and keep buying are embodiments of the energy that passes through them.
And this theory has a kind of prettiness about it, a tidy Einsteinian conceptualisation of what your work is about. Matter becomes energy. It is about more work. And more work. And isn't that what we are doing? It isn't so much that we are working to spend, we are spending to work, to make everything work at the speed of light. It's almost the labour theory of value as seen through the looking glass. As you'll remember, when life proceeded too pedantically according to the labour theory of value, a bunch of Stalinist Stakhanovites were set to dig a trench, and another lot were sent to fill it up again. Please don't laugh. This is exactly what happened.
But then what happens when you over-expend your energy? You get a heart attack. The great minders of the mills, the lords of the universe, the various vile, vapid and vicious versions of the deus ex machina, get first call on the surgeons and anaesthetic. The rest? Six hours in the corridors of the NHS. Oops. No heartbeat.