17 December 2008

The good red gold

Money has the awful property of looking like a more comprehensive solution than it actually is.

Money can give you an answer to "what is for dinner tonight?", "can I afford that?", and "how long do I have to work before I can buy that thing?".

Money can't give you an answer to "what kind of things are there to eat around here?", "why does that cost that much?", or "why do I make this much for an hour or work?"

Those latter questions involve choice. It's a choice about the purposes of social organization, about whether to be concerned about this year, next year, ten years from now, or three generations into the future, and about the relative value of human beings, whether the forms of social organization and politics are there for the people or the people and politics are there for the forms of social organization. (If the people and the forms of the social organization are there for the politics, you get revolutionary France; interesting to read about as history, but not persistent in historical time. The United States is currently showing strong signs of being in such a period.)

None of those choices can be made on the basis of money, or, rather, the decision to make them on the basis of money is a decision that the people and politics are there to serve the forms of social organization.

Of course those choices about social organization and how to value people are in part choices about resource allocation, and other things that have real costs, but money is not an accurate representation of either of those dimensions, because money has all the previous social and political decisions built into it. It's a rubber ruler.

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