When I consider the world’s problems, I get a feeling that is somewhere between a bad toothache and the ten seconds after you lock your car door with the keys inside. It’s a melancholy thing, made up in equal parts of pain and longing.
Some of the world’s problems are easy to see; some are hidden behind many levels of difficulty and novelty. So much has changed in our world, and so quickly, that our familiar methodologies for problem solving are frequently overmatched. Take money, for instance. Money was like longitude and latitude, an imaginary system that enabled us to order a particular reality. Money ordered the equivalence, the value relationship, between anything and everything within the four corners of the economy. It worked very well for a long time, but the new reality of the 21st Century has placed a huge strain on the belief system that we know as “money.”
If you don’t believe me, I guess that you are not surprised at all when Google buys up an unknown start-up of dubious profitability for billions of dollars.
Our modern problems with money are not limited to vagaries of valuation. A particular bugaboo of mine is “economism,” which is the current tendency to value any idea by the application of cost/benefit analysis. I learned this verbal formulation in an article by the late, much lamented Tony Judt. The real nature of the problem is that for so many of society’s needs there is no marketable advantage to be found, or the advantage is so abstract and prospective as to render it speculative. This is perhaps especially true regarding infrastructure projects, which can be fabulously expensive. Certainly a project like the Hoover Dam was important, and many great benefits have ensued, but how could those benefits have been accurately predicted in advance? And what profit-based corporate entity could have managed the project? The benefits were so widespread, diverse and unpredictable, how could they have made back their money?
Economism has led us to over-value people who have managed to get rich. This over-emphasis is also applied to large corporations. The feeling seems to be that they are the engines of society, they understand money and profits, only they create value, and that if we will only nurture and protect them the rest of society will be fine. If Wall Street and the monied classes are well disposed, Main Street will somehow be okay. Those who propose this logic are, of course, rich people and large corporations, or their agents. The arguments are dubious, and the historical record does not support them, so maybe illogic is a better word.
Economism has also led us to under-value the security and well-being of our more run-of-the-mill citizens (the people who actually run the mills). So now we are subjected everyday to illogic on a grand scale. Social Security and Medicare must be privatized (they are performing okay and providing great societal benefits, so the reason must be that someone wants to transfer the benefits from citizens to business interests). Fire department services, unemployment compensation, libraries, safe work places, public housing, nutrition assistance, clean water . . . you must be joking, haven’t you noticed that we have no money? But somehow we can do anything we want to militarily, and many military things simultaneously is okay too. And a huge and constantly expanding national security apparatus. Plenty of money for all that. How does that work? Oh, the business interests again.
My meandering instinct is coming up again, I can feel it! Yes! The single, overarching problem that blankets all of the others is that we have been abandoned to our fate by our elected officials. We, the country, the world, the known universe, have seen our interests jettisoned by those that we trusted to administer the world for our benefit. And in return for a pittance too, a very small fraction of the money that is now flowing in rivers upward to the few. It makes me feel so cheap to have been sold out for next to nothing, a few pieces of silver. They could at least have held out for real money, maybe 7.5 percent of the total take, you’d think that their slavish devotion to the people that pay them would be worth that.
Here’s an aspect of the new problems with money: the age old perceived reality of money is keeping society from reaching its potential. The prosperous classes, and the politicians and the corporations, are raking off a considerable percentage of a good deal of money, and it is enough to enable them to buy just about anything they want. Lots of them already have more money than they could ever spend. So they’re happy with the size of the overall pie right now, when in fact it could be expanded greatly through the judicious application of new technologies, and new knowledge, and through the more effective exploitation of our vast human potential. For the power-elite though, there’s no incentive, they have too much already, and they like things just the way they are.
Thank God only six people will ever read this, more than that and I might begin to worry for my safety. There’s no need though, I’m not important enough. These days, most people who fail to get the logic of “my country as Wall Street plus an underclass” are seen as demented mumblers, like someone standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Soon, A Cleansing.” Even the so-called Democrats are on the tit, and prefer to keep the money coming in. If the monied interests get worried, somebody might have an accident. But I’m not important enough to worry them.
I know, this was déjà vu all over again for some of you, but I have always maintained that a good joke was worth retelling. And I needed something to do for a while. So sue me!