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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Is Society Organised for Business or for People?

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins
International Money Pile in Cash and Coins (Photo credit: epSos.de)

An odd question, or one you think should be considered? I suspect your view will be influenced by your basic attitude to the place of money in society.

Why would I even ask the question? I look at the world around me and view the priorities cited by government, commerce and those with a real interest in environment. What I see is a society slewed toward the making of money as a primary purpose. But isn’t money supposed to be the tool, the helpmate of humanity? Isn’t trade, and all those services involved with manufacturing, production and delivery, intended to serve mankind?

When I look at the world, I see that the production of wealth is actually the prime purpose of most commerce. Now, I fully understand that we can’t live in a society where barter takes the place of currency, but I do question the value we place on the process involved in increasing wealth. Businesses appear to exist primarily for the benefit of their shareholders, so that their customers are, in fact, at best a secondary consideration rather than the primary cause of activity.

Banks are probably the best illustration of what I mean: Banks were set up to provide a service that would allow the lending, borrowing and security of the funds of their customers to operate to the benefit of those customers. But the current system benefits primarily the bankers and those institutions and individuals who hold equity in the business itself. The customer who wishes to take advantage of the lending system is now seen more as a threat than a natural client. Customers are viewed as a source of extra income, often by the employment of questionable schemes to extract more money from them to be placed into the banks’ coffers. (There are many examples of this, the recent scandal of mis-sold PPI is simply the most obvious).

Sport is another area where money has become the prime purpose of participation. Football, in particular, has fallen victim of the money men. What used to be local clubs, with locally trained and selected teams, and whose object was the raising of local pride in association with the clubs’ successes, have now become simple businesses. They no longer have any real connection with the locality in which they reside. The teams are made up of international ‘stars’ of questionable value who are paid obscene amounts of money in order to progress their teams to gain more money for the club owners. In the rush to make more and more money from sport, all ideas of sportsmanship have receded to be overtaken by cynical gamesmanship. And this change is so pervasive that many of the fans and players aren’t even aware that cheating, play-acting and tricks are damaging both the sport and society in general. And all this because huge sums of money are on offer from the various media companies who distribute the product to the masses.

Religion has joined the rush for money, in spite of the injunction to the faithful that they should eschew material riches in favour of spiritual rewards. The Roman Catholic church is an obscenely rich organisation that begs for more income from its impoverished congregations whilst keeping its leaders in ostentatious luxury. The Church of England cries out for public funds to repair and support its many crumbling buildings, whilst remaining one of the richest landowners in the country.  I don’t know much about the Jewish and Islamic institutions, but I’m willing to bet they are similarly wealthy whilst many of their adherents remain in poverty.

I could go on with examples, but that would be pointless. My concern is with the way in which we have allowed money to become our master and, in the process, allowed those who own the most money to have power over the vast majority who have little or none. What was intended as a tool to aid interaction and prevent chaos in a growing population has become a weapon in the hands of a very few powerful institutions and individuals. A weapon of control, which promises to become eternally self-perpetuating unless we do something radical to overturn the supremacy of money in the use and abuse of power and return governance to the mass of people.

It is demonstrably unjust that there are individuals who have personal incomes and wealth greater than the GDP of some small nations. It is demonstrably absurd that some individuals have colossal wealth when there are many who have none. We have been sold the idea that those with wealth have somehow deserved it, that they are solely responsible for the good fortune that has happened their way. Please don’t spout the old chestnuts about ‘getting what you deserve’ and ‘work hard and you’ll succeed’ at me. I touched on those two lies a while back and the links (one below) will take you to my arguments.

The simple fact is that no individual ever has been or ever will be deserving of wealth disproportionate to their efforts. The tycoon who claims to be a ‘self-made man’ conveniently forgets that he could not even have risen from his bed in the morning without the help and input of a multitude of other people. For those who find this concept difficult to grasp I feel I must give an example. We all need food to survive. Let’s take the basic loaf of bread, without which our tycoon could not perform, due to hunger. Someone has first to plough and till the ground so that it can be seeded with grain. The crop has to be gathered and transported along roads, made by many more individuals using the tools and machines made by other individuals. At the bakery, more people are involved in turning the raw material into a food product, using machinery and electricity that depends on other individuals for manufacture. Once baked, using power derived from sources mined or generated by yet more people, the product is transported, using fuel and materials produced by other individuals. Eventually, the loaf arrives in the shop to be sold and is there dispensed by even more people. Along the way, we have also to consider the road sweeper who keeps the highway clear to permit the transport to move, the rubbish collector who disposes of the waste that would otherwise clog up the works, the teacher who educates all the people involved in the various process, the nurse who cares for those who fall sick along the way, the unpaid parents who ensure the children get to school…do I need to go on? The reality is obvious. But we seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that certain individuals somehow contribute a great deal more than the rest of us. It simply isn’t true.

The only real difference between the wealthy and the poor is often due to luck, preferential birth circumstances, the possession of a peculiar talent or the wicked selfishness and greed that allows some to ignore the needs of those over whom they wield their power.

Of course we need to reward those who initiate those ideas that are of benefit to the mass of humanity. Of course we must recognise those who possess rare and valuable talent. Of course we should ensure justice for those who accept high levels of responsibility. But none of these people is worth the huge difference in value that is ascribed to them.

In the UK, and I suspect, elsewhere in the world, there is a minimum wage, set so that unscrupulous businessmen cannot exploit too heavily those who produce their wealth for them. If a minimum wage is a sensible barrier to excessive poverty, then a maximum wage can easily be made a similar barrier to excessive wealth. It requires only political will. But, as long as we have a system of government that depends only on the value falsely accorded to money, we will have a control system that prefers the wealthy over the vast majority of hard-working people. Is that what you want?

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