This is a bit of a patchwork post, but there is a point I’m making and we get there eventually.
Now I know absolutely nothing about economics, and as someone who knows absolutely nothing about economics, I have to say that the major thing that interests me about the notion of a financial crisis has very little to do with the technicalities of it.
It’s the fact that the idea of an economy, the idea of money having value, is a human construct. Money is, essentially, an idea. Realistically, the pieces of paper in our hands, the plastic cards we swipe through machines, the numbers that magically drift about and somehow keep the human race in order, is only as valuable as people allow it to be.
By people, I mean the bulk majority, and those in higher places who get to make such decisions.
I’m sure this is an old idea to have, but it is facinating to think that the world can be figuratively brought to it’s knees by something that exists almost entirely in your mind.
I know I tend to get a bit tense about issues of money. I worry about my impending university life and what impact that’s going to have on me. I worry about what will happen when I quit my jobs and move away, will I be able to get another one? Will I be able to afford to live, will I be able to afford to have luxuries like new clothes and a car, will I ever have a house to call my own?
I remember when I was in primary school, one rather radical teacher asked if we would rather have a wheelbarrow, or all the hundred dollar bills that wheelbarrow could hold. The point he was making, is that even though we are taught that the money has more value then the wheelbarrow, in a practical sense the wheelbarrow is a far more useful and practical tool then the pile of bits of paper.
So how is it that money is so valuable and things like financial crisis have the impact that they do?
I know nothing about economics, but I’ve always had something of a soft spot for mathematics. I’m one of those weird people who sees mathematics in rather a romantic light, who thinks it’s remarkable when sequences appear in nature or when patterns emerge, or when theoretical math turns into practical application to great success.
Yeah, I eat that shit up.
Part of me likes the idea that what is essentially a system of mathematics, constructed by humans and controlled by them, has come to have such a firm grip over the world and the way we function. Money, or rather, the maths and numbers involved in it, plays such a powerful hand in how humans manage to function. It’s our means of living and giving back, of feeling as though we can contribute and feel as though we can gain. It’s an excuse to get up in the morning and play a role in helping society function, by working in jobs and providing services, in exchange for money. It’s how we calculate the achieving of a goal, the moment you can buy a house or pay off a mortgage, when you save up enough to buy something you wanted or do something special.
Money, in a world where practicality very often takes a back seat to the prospect of pleasure or leisure (at least in the western world), gives us a sense of purpose.
That’s where money gets it’s power from. Not from the value we give it, but from the value it gives us. A sense of purpose, a reason, a goal, a function.
Or in not so many words, people are weird, money is fascinating, and mathematics totally rocks, even though I barely understand a word of it.