Here we are, at the end of another year. A time for many of us to reflect on the twelve months which have just passed us by, and to look ahead to the next twelve to come. To think about where our money went, perhaps, and how we might spend it – or get it to work for us – differently in the new year. But this year, I want to talk not about new years’ resolutions, but revolution.
Upon arriving back in Australia, the first book I purchased (after a long period of not being able to buy books thanks to our handluggage only travel) was Russell Brand’s Revolution. Among numerous other social, political, and spiritual themes, Brand focuses on money, and its relationship to language.
The Language of Money
Language can be used to empower, but it can also be used to manipulate (such as the advertisers who speak to us in our vernacular without having our best interests at heart), or to oppress.
One of the reasons economic policies are never expressed in clear language, Brand contends, is because
‘they know that if we find out the extraordinary lengths that they’re going to to fuck us over, we will overthrow the current system and replace it with something fair. That’s why all this stuff is made to seem inaccessible, boring and abstract.’
Think about the jargon and acronyms associated with the world of finance – those ‘NASDAQ, FTSE, Dow Jones things’ as Brand puts it: ‘Sometimes I accidentally press a button on my phone and the screen is filled with the numerical babblings of these unknowable entities… They speak in numerical tongues as they worship their invisible God.’
I’ll admit to having a few heart palpitations myself when I accidentally glimpse financial news. And it’s no wonder. All that flashing and scrolling text (more seizure-inducing than calming), all those capital letters (an orthographic representation of shouting, as well as the convention for acronyms), and the use of red (a colour which not only symbolises bad news but, according to Elliot et al 2007, Rittner-Hier 2002, and Kwallek and Lewis 1990, makes us more critical, think more negatively, and can lead to distraction) is far from reassuring, even if you can decode most of what’s going on. (NASDAQ, FTSE and Dow Jones are just the names of major stock market indexes, and the letters and numbers that follow, merely company codes and stock prices).
In the end, I simply removed the app from my computer, and stopped watching TV altogether.
Why do we need a Revolution?
We are so used to our metaphors, says Brand, that we forget to see them as imaginary or symbolic. The economy – like language – is made by humans, and should serve us. Not the other way around. One way to start, says Brand, would be through debt cancellation.
As Brand points out, Merril Lynch, J.P. Morgan, and Lehman Brothers were all lent over a trillion dollars to get through the financial crisis.
How much is a trillion dollars? A trillion is 1,000 billion. Ending world hunger, Dave DeGraw estimates, would cost only $30 billion – a mere 3% of this sum.
A trillion dollars is also enough money, says another Dave, Dave Graeber, to give every unemployed person in America a $50k/year job.
Meanwhile, as a result of the same crisis, 13.1 million Americans had their homes foreclosed upon. ‘Because their debt, it turns out, was real; it was only the debt within the financial sector that was imaginary.’ Brand writes. ‘It was only the people who generated the crisis who got three magical wishes from an economic genie.’
Brand concludes ‘we are not discussing whether or not debt cancellation is a possibility; we know it is, we’ve seen it, they’ve done it. All we are discussing is who it is possible for.’
Who can do this?
Matt Stoller says:
‘One economist argued in 2005 that roughly one in four Americans are employed to guard in various forms the wealth of the rich.’
He continues: ‘These systems can be very expensive. America employs more private security guards than high school teachers.’
In other words, most of the wealth and power is guarded – whether by force or electronically – by ordinary people. Security guards. IT staff. Police. Average, ordinary, normal people.
What do we replace the current system with?
Brand introduces the concept of Liquid Democracy, ‘a form of direct, electronic, participatory democracy’. As Adam Curtis points out, social media like Facebook and Twitter may enable ‘clicktivism’ and loose social ties, but not the stronger bonds necessary for true revolution.
In a system of Liquid Democracy, people could vote directly on issues that impact them and on which they feel qualified to make decisions, and could pass on their votes to suitably qualified experts they trust when they do not feel in a position to make an informed decision.
Further, Brand recommends we draw our critical attention away from those often have the least in society – those on welfare, recently arrived immigrants – and towards the real villains – the enormous corporations who pay little or no tax (36% of major companies paid NO tax at all last year in Australia), use slave labour, planned obsolescence, and put profits ahead of people – even when it results in deaths from faulty brakes or batteries.
As you write your resolutions for the coming year (and here’s a handy guide to setting smarter money goals!), I’d encourage you to consider revolution as well. What can you do over the coming year to make the world a better place? Brand suggests beginning by simply doing one thing per day for someone else.
In 2018, I hope to continue learning more about the language of money – and sharing what I discover with you. Starting with a series on the language of money and debt (inspired by a very exciting new book) in the new year. For as much as language can be used to manipulate or oppress, it is a tool, among others, that we should be using to help ourselves and each other, to make the world a better, fairer place.
What will you do to make 2018 a happy year?