Saturday, 23 June 2012

You Can Bank On It

Whatever the real cause of the NatWest computing system debacle, the vulnerability of us all to the weakness of money has been exposed. The fluidity crisis - for that is what it is - is now affecting many who are not customers of the affected banks in the RBS group.

The most common problem is probably that of employees of firms which run current accounts at NatWest out of which wages are paid. And what if you are a supplier waiting on a payment from such a firm? A little thought will bring to mind many other everyday types of transaction dependent on a properly operating current account clearing system.  It's easy to imagine the knock-on effects and how terrifyingly quickly they could spread through all our lives. We, like capitalism itself, depend on money, not just the possession of it but the movement of it.

At the heart of capitalism is the movement of money, not the possession of it.

In both co-operative and non co-operative societies, essential things have non-derivative true value. There are not many of these. Food, potable water, adequate clothing and shelter. Then there are what might be called the first derivatives such as land for farming or hunting. In co-operative societies, these first derivatives are held in common ownership for the benefit of all.

Most of us live in non co-operative societies. We have to pursue our lives and seek our wellbeing amid a turmoil of derivatives. And derivatives of derivatives. The concept of value has become individualised, not societal. We "value" things for the comfort or power or status they bring us, rather than for any intrinsic true worth.

When things go wrong, however, most people rapidly encounter their relationship with the essentials, not the derivatives. How to buy enough food, how to pay the rent, how to stay warm and dry. And these were the concerns reflected in the vox-pops on the NatWest news reports.

It would be interesting if people now began to ask the fundamental question, "what is money?"

Perhaps the most radical question of all.

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