On the Economy

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on October 10, 2014.

Two days ago, in terms of pop­u­la­tion, the world’s second-largest econ­omy was four times the size of the largest. Even now, though China has over­taken the USA, there hasn’t really been any change in per capita income. It’s just two hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars dif­fer­ence, after all.

Just two hun­dred million.


The first idea of valu­able paper came up in China, inci­den­tally. They were just IOUs with sig­na­tures, what we now call bankers’ drafts. They indi­cated that this man with the little paper actu­ally had 100 pounds of copper coins in his safe, but could­n’t bring it for fear of hernia. It made sense, there­fore, to give the man your goods, then get your wheel­bar­row and go home with him. The paper promised copper, and copper was a valu­able com­mod­ity. Some cen­turies later, Roman sol­diers decided salt was some­thing worth fight­ing for.

Our cur­rent money system is a bit more com­pli­cated. Modern money is sup­posed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive, mean­ing that it is still worth some­thing con­crete and valu­able, like gold. The paper money is sup­posed to allow you – should you ever want to do so – to walk into the bank and ask for some real money. But it does­n’t actu­ally mean that any more. Now we have ‘fiat’ money. Which means it is only money because the gov­ern­ment says it is, and they can beat up any­body who dis­agrees. But the gov­ern­ments still keep some gold, anyway. It’s good for their street credibility.

Money is weird.

I am cur­rently resist­ing a very strong urge to whip out my spe­cial ‘Zimbabwean Dollars’ image right now. I have repented, and shall abuse it no more. Even if it makes the point so very well. But no, I will be strong. There are other ways to illus­trate the silli­ness that we are proud to call ‘modern econ­omy’. For exam­ple, coun­ter­feit­ing mea­sures have gotten incred­i­bly sophis­ti­cated, but it still cost just 5 or 6 cents to print one dollar. That’s really cheap. That’s about the same cost as busi­ness cards. Sure, the print­ing machines and engrav­ing plates cost some­thing- but it’ll pay off in the long run, you under­stand. We could, really- let’s all just start print­ing money today!

But then you know what would happen? In our new lives as filthy rich coun­ter­feit bil­lion­aires, we would still want to buy common things like beef and bat­ter­ies and tooth­brushes, which we would still need the common worker to make. After a while, it will strike the work­er’s common mind that maybe he should save up and buy one of these second-hand money print­ing machines. Soon supply and demand would kick in. It’s a law, and it’s at work in Takoradi right now. This law states that if there’s a town of mil­lion­aires and an iden­ti­cal town of thou­sandaires, the mil­lion­aires will pay 10 times more for milk. If life obeyed math­e­mat­ics, it would be 1000. But it can’t be both­ered, of course.

You know what? I can’t do this.

Look at that type­face. It oozes confidence. 

Okay. Where was I? Yes. The secret laws and sys­tems that con­trol the world’s economies. We build all these com­pli­cated civ­i­lized net­works, but the truth is we just want to eat. We just want to buy shiny things that catch the eye- of poten­tial sex part­ners, hope­fully. And we want to pay strong people to keep other strong people away from us. After you get all of these things, you get to a point where the money is only useful if it’s in cir­cu­la­tion. We call it ‘expand or die’. Technically speak­ing, it is actu­ally radioac­tive decay. Because there’s another law of our uni­verse- a greater, more con­crete law- that says when you get too big, you fail.

You see good exam­ples of this in adver­tis­ing. Companies pay mil­lions for prime­time TV ads for such small returns. It makes good sense when you have a new thing to tell people about- but when was the last time a Superbowl com­mer­cial was about some­thing new? The video goes viral, then nat­u­rally it gets erad­i­cated. Circulation; like salmon, the ban­knotes have to keep swim­ming around.

This phe­nom­e­non offends the ideal of human achieve­ment, I know. The rat race is bad, of course- but the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness is good. They keep telling us this when we are young: Never Settle. Perhaps we might go far­ther: don’t let any­body tell you what set­tling means.