Our task: Envisioning and creating a new relationship with money
The following comes from a truly wonderful Jan. 25 essay by Charles Leadbeater at New Statesman titled “The best things in life are free.” No comment necessary, other than to express gratitude for such a lucid and moving exposition of a truth so crucial it hurts (and one that’s just as true for the U.S. as it is for Britain, whose situation is Leadbeater’s primary focus; when he talks about Thatcher’s promotion of a “money unbound” economic philosophy beginning in the 1980s, which led to apocalypse-level consumerism and a culture of ultra-debt-based recklessness, he may as well be talking about “Reaganomics”).
If 2009 was spent rescuing the financial system, the year ahead should be spent remaking it, and to do that we need to fashion a fundamentally different relationship with money.
The main lesson of the crisis this past year is that money has become a capricious and overbearing ruler of our lives — by turns threatening to discipline us, only to offer us liberation, on its own terms. Instead of hoping for a return to easy credit and rising property prices, we should put money in its proper place by reducing its footprint in society, limiting its reach, promoting alternative ways to account for what we value and finding less socially destructive ways to save and invest, lend and borrow. We need to see money less as a mystical religion or a drug and more as a tool.
….Thatcherism started life as monetarism, a critique of how Keynesianism had allowed government to become financially incontinent. Thatcher’s original crusade was to restore respect for the value of money through strict control of the money supply. This discipline did not last for long, however. From the mid-1980s, with monetarism cast aside, Thatcherism’s mission was to let money loose. Money was no longer a source of discipline, but an elixir, a source of liberation, freeing people to make their choices in the commercial democracy of the open market. Easier credit allowed a culture of debt and desire to overtake deferred gratification and modest self-sufficiency.
….As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor puts it in A Secular Age, his history of how religious belief adapts to the society around it, “The individual pursuit of happiness as defined by consumer culture still absorbs much of our time and energy, or else the threat of being shut out of this pursuit through poverty, unemployment, incapacity galvanises our efforts . . . and yet the sense that there is something more presses in. Great numbers of people feel it: in moments of reflection about their life; in moments of relaxation in nature; in moments of bereavement and loss; and quite wildly and unpredictably.”
….When money serves a “something more”, then consumption has a point. When the link is broken, modern, money-driven society loses its anchor. The challenge for politics ought to be to turn that insight into policy and politics by putting money in a more subordinate position in society.