The future is 5000 years ago

Where did it all go wrong? I’m not an economist or a historian at all knowledgeable about the history of economics, but I think we started like this:

The first societies were tribal, built around a few families and everything was held in common. personal goods were gifted or traded for other goods. Trade was done in Barter. But Barter can be a bit iffy, it requires a lot of negotiation and depends on each person having a good or service that the other needs and values equally, because how do make change for a chicken?

And Lo, Money was invented. the earliest coins were from Mesopotamia, 5000 years ago. Something light, portable, easily transferable. Convenient, if the person who wanted your thing didn’t have anything you wanted at that moment. Pretty metal discs, Gold for preference. Having value because we all agreed they had value.

Interesting thing about gold is that it’s essentially useless. It’s too soft for any practical metalwork, too heavy for wiring and the like. It looks pretty and is malleable, so it’s good for jewellery… and for coin. It has value because we decided it had value.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped valuing money for the things it could buy, and started treating it as an end in itself. It’s a trend that has affected all society. Amassing more money than you can ever spend is the highest goal one can aspire to, and we revere the one’s who achieve it. Reach a certain level of wealth and the system will help you retain and increase the wealth.

A better description is ‘A virus that has infected all society.’

The virus analogy seems particularly apt in light of recent events. Over the course of the pandemic, the rich got exponentially richer. And while governments were forced to dole out money to their citizens in order to keep them alive and keep society from crumbling, they refuse to tap the most obvious source of revenue; ie the people with money.

The pandemic has also taught us the meaning of the word ‘Essential’. If the garbageman, the healthcare worker, the grocery store shelf stacker don’t turn up to work, we all have a problem. If the CEO and entire executive board stay home, no one cares or even notices.

In a Utopia, there are certain things a society needs to function and thrive. Healthcare, Infrastructure, education, defence and social security. These are things that benefit everyone and cannot be run for a profit. They are a Government responsibility, as all citizens need equal access. And yet, government continually tries to run them at a profit, and when they fail, they privatise the essential services.

Healthcare is a good place to start, as the US provides an excellent example of how not to do it. For Profit healthcare doesn’t care about anyone’s health, only about dividends for the shareholders. While US insurance companies and their lobbyists spread horrific fables about government death panels deciding who lives and dies, they ignore their own insurance company death panels, deciding when to cut off the money.

No healthcare system is perfect. The NHS has staff shortages, long wait times for appointments, even longer for procedures. We have a price cap on prescriptions, but thanks to Brexit, many medications are in short supply. There is never enough money for everything, and yes, someone has to decides how it gets spent. It must be an incredibly grim and stressful job. But at least when that person is deciding what to fund, Profit for the shareholders is not factor.

Healthcare is there to benefit as many as possible. It was never meant to turn a profit. But healthy people are generally more productive than sick or dead people. The benefit is not directly tangible. Because it doesn’t have a cash value, society doesn’t value it. Which is reflected in the wages paid to frontline healthcare workers.

Infrastructure: Roads and bridges are still a government responsibility, but I’m sure it’s only because no businessman would touch them. Utilities on the other hand…

Water and electricity are owned by private companies. There is currently a cost of energy crisis in the UK. The maximum the Energy suppliers can charge the consumers will be raised in October. In October, the temperature gets colder and the days get shorter. I suppose you can save on heating by putting on an extra sweater, but what about light? Or do they expect us all to cluster around a candle for light and warmth? In January, the price cap goes up again and you know they will charge the maximum allowed. At that point we’ll be wearing so many sweaters our arms will stich out at the sides. We’ll be lucky if we can still afford candles.

There’s also a water shortage. Over the years, the UK has had to endure Hosepipe bans in spite of rainfall, due to chronic underinvestment in the network. We lose more water to leaking pipes and burst watermains than to people watering their gardens and that was when it was still regularly falling from the sky. Now we are officially in Drought, in a summer of multiple heatwaves. Climate change is overtaking us, so water rates are going up.

As these utilities are all owned by foreign multinational conglomerates and hedge funds, they never need to see the human face of their greed and can do what they like. They have no impetus to improve things. At least a government has to face the public at election time and account for their inaction.

Education cannot be allowed to become something to which only the privileged few have access. A high standard of education is essential for all, because who knows where the next great idea will come from. But, as with healthcare, the benefit of an educated society cannot be tallied in a ledger. Another Irony; Teachers aren’t respected, because they make less money. But people will acknowledge that education is necessary for a sustained successful career. So the people responsible for preparing your kids to make money, possibly the most important people in your kids ongoing development, aren’t valued.

It’s amazing to me society is still functioning, although I think we are teetering on the edge.

One thing governments won’t privatise and will spend vast amounts of money on it Defence. Of course, most of the money they spend goes to buying stuff from private companies. Who then donate to political campaigns. And the winners buy more stuff from the private companies.

It’s all circulating there at the top. None of it is making it’s way downwards. I can see a day, not to far in the future when we return to a barter economy. There are already websites facilitating this; Gumtree Swap Shop, Vinted, Depop. Some trading goods only, some good and services. Given that we are now in a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Make do and mend society, these sites are becoming more popular.

Should I be worried that the wave of the future is a giant leap into the past? Maybe I should go invest in a few chickens, just in case.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s