Ming the Mechanic:
Is Money Free?

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Is Money Free?2003-01-14 17:24
13 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

Britt Blaser says some very interesting things about money and capitalism, which I'm trying to wrap my mind around. He says we're watching the death throes of what he calls "Managerial Capitalism", which I agree with. And he also seems to feel that a more grassroots kind of self-organizing, reputation based kind of economy ought to replace it, which I also agree with. And then he says:
"Money is Free. Get Used To It."
You know, Managerial Capitalism is based on a shortage of capital. I.e. capital is necessary, but there's never quite enough of it, so those who control it have the upper hand. But nowadays, at least in a place like the U.S., excess credit seems to be thrown at you. You can buy cars with 0% financing, and furniture or washing machines you don't have to start paying before a year or more later. So, capital is going towards being free. And governments that try to stimulate the economy will often, like Bush, do it by giving tax breaks to the rich, in the hope that they'll put the money into enterprises that do stuff. Except for that those enterprises don't really do the right stuff. And, ironically, if capital moves towards being free (freely available), then capitalism is on its way out, because there is no longer a scarcity to control. Hm, I sort of like that, but I'm not sure that's happening. I'd like it to happen. I don't exactly experience an abundance of capital personally, but I can see that it sort of works like that for a fairly large segment of the population. And it certainly seems to be working in the big corporate world. It matters very little what things cost, or how much effort is wasted needlessly, because there is plenty of capital. But what is the bigger reason for the demise of traditional capitalism would be as he says:
"Equity markets systematically move money from the less informed to the better informed.

The problem with Managerial Capitalism is not that it's too pervasive and powerful (though it is), but that it is so poor at doing what it claims to do best — allocate people and resources skillfully and compellingly."
Capitalistically funded and traditionally managed big companies are terribly inefficient and deliver things many people don't really want, and they're bad at leading people to fulfill their potentials and use their skills really well. So, why are they still the main thing? I'd say, because of the first point, that the people who create them are more well-informed about some important things than you and I. Not well-informed about what we really want, or the best ways of producing that, but well-informed about capital - how to get it, keep it and increase it. And how to keep the general public in the dark concerning your game. They make it look like we all can be co-owners of the capital, owning stocks, investing, having good credit, having a nice credit line, etc. But that is just a distraction, I think. The real thing that would make a difference would be the information about how to organize people and resources efficiently and effectively, without needing investment capital and without needing managers. I.e. the knowledge of how to bring the elements into synergy, without requiring the one guy with all the money to be in charge.


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13 comments

14 Dec 2009 @ 16:45 by Seb @216.99.42.161 : Money is freer by the day
That was a visionary post. 7 years later, I finally get what you meant and agree with all of it. Do you see us (Western world) moving towards a lot more barter? A gift economy?  


15 Dec 2009 @ 16:01 by ming : Freer money
Well, I was seeing it that way at the time. Do I see us getting closer now? Hmm.... (thinking)...

Money is not any freer for regular people. Most people still need to slave away their lives to get it. It is equally easy to get at as before for those who play the corporate capitalism game.

There's not particularly more barter and more of an awareness of a gift economy.

BUT quite a few things have moved further towards being free in the last few years. I can get more for free online than I could in 2003. A lot more. That moves the bar, and our collective agreement about what should be free has changed.

I find it bizarre when I hear somebody being concerned about the cost of a phone call. Phone calls have been free for me for several years because of my internet provider "Free", so I expect them to always be free, or, rather, included in your Internet access.

Loads of online services are free. I can upload any amount of video for free in the cloud, I can use office applications for free in Google Docs, etc, etc.

New virtual economies have developed online. But has it made money more free? Not really. I'd like it to.

The strata in society for whom money really is free got a blow not too long ago. Strange that even when you have the license to create money out of thin air, you can still get so greedy that your banks end up going under. But the same guys went back to doing more or less the same thing, so nothing much changed.

A key point that was made above, and which I still think is key in transforming the whole thing, is information. The best information is still hidden. There are still things you can know when you're an investment banker which the general public aren't allowed to know.

What would change the whole game would be better information, available to anyone. Precise information, connected information, with context. If we, most of us, actually could see what was going on, we'd make different choices. You wouldn't buy Nestle's products if you knew what they did and how they were financed and organized. Not just generally, but precisely, in a tangible way you could understand.

So, the really interesting revolution would not be to have more free money, but to have more free information. Or maybe I should say free knowledge. We already have way too much free information, but it is mostly fragmented and often without consequence. If we had free and easy access to a coherent picture of what's going on in the world, the map would be redrawn rather quickly.

We're moving towards more transparency. Smart people keep inventing new tools that show you connections where before you could see none. Sooner or later enough clever tools have been developed so that regular people have access to as good information as billionaire bankers do. And there are more of us than of them, so with the right tools our collective intelligence will change things.

I'm being optimistic here, but that's what I'm betting on.  



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