Friday, December 18, 2009

Rage against the xfactor

In a couple of days from now we'll find out if Rage Against the Machine's iconic track 'Killing in the Name' is going to be 2009's Xmas number one. Before the internet campaign began, xfactor's domination of the xmas number one spot looked set to continue. Although its close, RATM is the favourite to win.

I paid to download the track and I really hope it does reach number one.

And I think this campaign marks a significant moment in history of the music industry.

Here's why:

1. Its Old Media Vs New Media.
On the one side we have a saturday night light entertainment show, the sales and marketing focus of one of the largest record companies, and the backing of a man named-dropped by the President of the United States of America. On the other, 850 000 people, a facebook page, and a great song.

2. Its Good Music Vs Bad Music.
Some music is a genuine expression and exploration of what it is to be alive. Some music exists only to exploit us for commercial gain.

3. Its Scheduling Vs Sales.
The persausive power of a television institution, the attention of 20 million viewers, the action of millions of phone voters, set aside by the economic power of a just a few hundred thousand individuals focused on acheiving one goal.

....and most important of all.

4. Its a signpost to a new future.

A future where the fusion of money and art nourishes the human spirit as never before.

Getting there might be tricky though. Cynicism and apathy will deplete our energy.

But for a time at least we'll be following in the tracks of the pioneers. Pioneers like Sellaband and SlicethePie who have explored fan funding; like and who try to marry music with social network; like 8tracks and Muxtape (RIP) who rely on our love of music to exist; like Napster and Pirate Bay who thought that above all music should be shared freely.

The destination is a place where you and I can listen to whatever music we want, whenever we want. For nothing. Surely, we all want that?

And future stars will flourish and prosper.

Because at the heart of the industry built around recorded music there is a not-so-well-kept secret. Promotion is the key that unlocks financial success. The songs that are the most financially successful have always been those that most people have heard for free, first. Only then do they buy a record, t-shirt, or concert ticket.

For a more detailed picture please take a look at my 'A Brief History of the Pre-Internet Music Business'.

The music industry of the C20th needs have faith in music to make the transformation into a music business fit for the C21st century.

If it doesn't we will kill it. In the name of music.

I salute Jon & Tracy Morter who founded

RATM - Killing in the name
Joe McElderry - The Climb
A Rage Against the Machine Christmas
Rage Against The Machine / Zane Lowe vs. Simon Cowell / XFactor

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to create a one click follow list on Twitter

Follow fridays are a great idea. Its good to revitalise your following. However, there is a downside. Friday's twitter stream gets really clogged with #ff, and following each recommendation can be time consuming.

If I do follow a recommendation its usually one that's made personal; e.g. follow @thisperson because they're funny and post nude pics of themselves occassionally. That sort of thing. These personalisations are great, but they do take time to write. Plus, everybody I follow is fabulous in their own unique way. It never seems completely fair to recommend just a few people out of my whole twitter stream.

So here's what I'm trying now. A one click follow list.

And here's how I did it.

1. Trim your following. Cut out those who've fallen by the wayside.
I use to do this.

2. Create a list of everyone you follow on twitter.
Just click 'new list' which is on the right of your twitter stream. I created my list manually - it took 20 minutes or so for 200 people. I'm sure there'll be an automated way of doing this but I've not yet found it.

3. Create a one click follow list.
Go to In the box that says follow a twitter list just enter twitter username/list name or the url of the list (e.g. jonone100/everyoneifollow-11-12-09 or

4. Create a link so people can follow with one click.
The link is just the list page on Tweepml. So the address for my list is You can shorten this to make it easer to tweet. I use tinyurl, but there are loads of url shortners. This is the shortened url:

5. Add the shortened address to the list description (unfortunately, it won't be clickable).

6. Let people know.

So there you have it. I love the randomness of following people you don't know. My twitter stream has one bishop, several writers, musicians, some very naughty people, and lots of wonderful microbloggers. And Stephen Fry, of course.

I hope you get as much out of this way of doing things as I have. If you find quicker and easier ways to do this please let me know!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review - 'Lords of Finance' by Liaquat Ahamed

I've just finished reading 'Lords of Finance' by Liaquat Ahamed. I started it when i was on tour on September and only just finished it. So taking over 2 months, it'd be fair to say it was a leisure read for me. I think my slow pace made it all the more enjoyable.

The book is about the Great Depression seen through the eyes of the four most important central bankers of the time. Montagu Norman from the bank of England, Benjamin Strong of the New York Federal Reserve, Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank and Emile Moreau of the Banque de France. The Great Depression was a time between the first and second world wars when many countries experienced huge economic difficulties. Central to the story are 'reparations' - payments which Germany was forced to make after the first world war - and the Gold Standard. Money was linked to the amount of Gold available. The period saw changes in the relationship between money and gold.

I've studied the Great Depression as an undergraduate at the London School of Economics. A lot of the academic literature is pretty dry. Liaquat does a brilliant job of bringing the story to life. By personalising the events, by seeing them through the character's eyes, you gain a new insight into the story. And a truly amazing story it is. At the same time it is both mundane and fantastic. For a moment, think about all those millions of lives effected by the economic catastrophe. Imagine the hunger, deprivation, and desperation. Now, read this.

'Bullion was so heavy - a seventeen inch cube weighs about a ton - that instead of shipping crates of it across hundreds of miles from one country to another and paying high insurance costs, central banks had taken to "earmarking" the metal, that is, keeping it in the same fault but simply re- registering its ownership. Thus the decline in Britain's gold reserves and their accumulation in France and the United States was accomplished by a group of men descending in to the Bank of England, loading some bars onto a low wooden truck with small rubber tires, trundling them thirty feet across the room to the other wall, and offloading them, though not before attaching some white name tags indicating that the gold now belonged to the Banque de France or the Federal Reserve Bank. That the world was now being subject to a progressively tightening squeeze on credit just because there happened to be too much gold on one side of the vault and not enough on the other provoked Lord d'Abernon, Britain's ambassador to Germany after the war and now elder statesman-economist, to exclaim, "This depression is the stupidest and most gratuitous in history".
pp 379

Liaquat provides a wonderful anecdote in the footnotes telling of when the Schacht - the German Central banker - visited the New York Fed. He wanted to see Germany's gold reserves (held by the Fed). But the Fed officials couldn't actually find Germany's pallet of Gold. You couldn't make it up !

Liaquat provides us with a rich history. He paints the characters beautifully. You gain a real sense of the dynamics of the relationship between the four key individuals. Relationships upon which depended our prosperity. And whilst there is inevitably some reference to the well-heeled life of the bankers, you also appreciate them as people. They display stunning arrogance and stupidity, but also a sense of selflessness and duty. Liaquat finishes the book by referencing Keynes (who also, alongside Churchill, is obviously featured heavily). And in doing so perhaps gives us a small insight into why he took on the huge task of writing this book (taking a break form his career as a successful investment banker).

[Keynes] believed that if only we could eliminate 'muddled' thinking... in economic matters, then society could allow the management of its material welfare to take a back seat to what he thought were the central questions of existence, to the "problems of life and of human relations, of creation, behaviour and religion."
pp 504
Keynes described economists as "trustees, not of civilisation, but of the possibility of civilisation".

And despite all my praise for Liaquat's book - it will sit on my bookshelf alongside AJP Taylor's English History 1914-1945, and Glyn Davies A History of Money - it is here I must offer some criticism. And doing so, agree with Keynes. Liaquat at points seems to write from the perspective that we have solved economic problems. That we know what money is now, whereas back then we didn't. Whilst this might be reassuring to the reader, it isn't true. He displays much greater faith in the 'science' of economics than it deserves. Indeed, Keynes would have described the four central bankers as exponents of the art of economics.

I wonder if Liaquat has read Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Talib - a fellow investment professional ? Economics, as a means to an end, is hocus pocus. Montagu Norman (Governor of the Bank of England) said in 1948 two years before his death:

"As I look back, it now seems that, with all the thought and work and good intentions, which we provided, we achieved absolutely nothing... nothing that I did, and very little that old Ben [Benjamin Strong] did internationally produced any good effect - or indeed any effect at all except that we collected money from a lot of poor devils and gave it over to the four winds."
pp 489
It is to Liaquat's credit that he includes the above quote in his book.

For a moment whilst reading the book I did wonder about my own choices in life. I did wonder whether I should have done the sensible thing tried to pursue a career in economics rather than writing weird stuff about the nature of money, and burning some of the stuff once a year. But reading quotes like that one from Norman, reassures me that although I might not be on the right path, for me, economics (with its current dogmas) would be the wrong one.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Money Burning 23-10-09 £50

I did my third money burning ritual on Friday 23rd October. This time I burnt £50, last time it was £20, before that £10.

I recorded the serial number of the £50 - M10 362939. I probably should have done this for the £20 and £10. Perhaps it was added significance of burning the highest value note (in common usage in the UK) that encouraged me to record the note's number. Being a child of the 70's I associate the £50 note with oil sheiks and second-hand car salesmen. I don't think I actually saw one until I was in my twenties.

It certainly felt like a lot of money to burn.

I could have spent £50 in so many different ways. My family didn't fail to remind me of that. Their protestations didn't fall on deaf ears, but I  felt committed to the burning. I don't think my ego would have allowed me to 'fail' for the sake £50. However, the size of the burning definitely meant my resolve was put under greater strain than in previous years. I guess whether my resolve holds into the £100, £200 and £500 years will depend, at least in part, on my financial situation.

I should point out to those who don't know me, I'm not rich. Yet, anyway ;o)

To put things in perspective, in the last three years, my money burning activities have released me from the custodianship of £80 (not cost, remember?). I don't feel guilty, or silly. The burnings have given me pleasure (I guess some might call the pleasure perverse, although I wouldn't) and inspiration. For me its also been a profound way to explore my relationship with money. It does feel like a sacred ritual.

I wouldn't like anyone to think that burning the money was an act of arrogance or some vulgar display of wealth. I don't light a cigar with the note ! In fact, even though the act is the same, they couldn't be more different. That sounds bizarre I know. The best analogy I can draw for you is with sex. It can be a wonderful transformative event, or the greatest violation; physically its the same act.

I was disappointed that the youtube recording of the burning failed. The video didn't process properly, and because I recorded it live via a webcam, its gone forever. I was however very pleased that half a dozen or so, bore witness to the burning via a live webcast. To the best of my knowledge, they were all fellow microbloggers. All were really positive about what I was doing and offered encouragement. I'm very grateful to them for sharing the moment with me.

My son recorded a little video of me changing up the 2 x £20, and 1 x £10 in the village bank. I wasn't trying to offer proof that the £50 was genuine. It is. But attempting to prove that to anyone who doubted it would be extremely difficult. What I wanted to do was give a sense of the events around the ritual (which really form part of the ritual itself). The 23rd of October is starting to feel like a special day to me.

Since the burning, my friend and colleague Mark Sampson (@IronManRecords) has burnt £10.

I'm really really happy that someone else has taken to burning money. If you've read this far, then you should too. Money is so much part of all our lives that you should 'invest' just a little of it to find out how you really feel about it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How I find music

I'm not a great hoarder of cds. We do have a trunk full of them at home, but they are not ordered or categorised. And I rarely play any of them. At some point, I intend to digitise my favourite tracks in order to create some mixes. I think I'll enjoy putting them together and it'd be nice to share them, too. But for the time being, I enjoying listening to music that I don't own* (like I do the cds), and I don't have to endure djs and advertisements to hear. These days, I listen to all my music on the internet. As a result I've listened to more new music in the past three years than ever before. This hasn't been a task I've set myself. Its a natural result of the changes in the way I choose my music.

When I say new, I mean new to me, as well as new to all of us.

One of the things that works against new music discovery is the traditional way that music carriers (vinyl, cd etc) have been presented and sold to the public. Classifying music by genre is how record shops and record companies have sorted their offer for us. Its a route to music discovery based around 'likeness'. And its an idea that has been carried into the digital age.

I have a few problems with this approach.

The first thing is that I always end up listening to music I've heard before. Familiarity in music is a powerful thing. Presented with a choice between a piece of new music, and a familiar favourite, I'll most often go for the later. The longer and broader one's musical experience, the worse this problem becomes.

Secondly, I hate it when discovering music becomes a task - a job of work. I don't want to have a disciplined approach to music. I don't want to examine a genre, or appreciate an artist's body of work. I'm lazy and I have a short attention span. I don't need no education. I want something I love in the here and now. Life is too short.

And thirdly, I like difference as well as likeness.

Likeness then, isn't necessarily the best criteria to find new music.

Charts help overcome these problems, encouraging the discovery of new music by providing us with information about a song's popularity. Unfortunately charts also provide a target for manipulation. This gives the competitive advantage to those who are best at manipulation, rather than those who are best at releasing music.

But then the places where art and money meet can be a difficult landscape.

For me, Last FM probably best typifies the transference of the traditional music selection and sales models onto the internet. Indeed, their tag line spells it out. " recommends music, videos and concerts based on what you listen to." I think Last FM is a great site. But it is very C20th. And I don't use it.

Other behemoth sites work along similar lines, albeit with more emphasis on the notion that you should pay to have access to a piece of music (seems a bizarre idea to me). And I have a more practical problem with spotify, itunes and the other download-a-piece-of-software sites (including Last FM's scrobbler)'. I simply don't trust them. Silly, maybe. But the music industry is an injured beast at the moment just looking for people to lash out at. I'll let Google penetrate my portals, but not anyone who's sleeping with the music industry. You never know what you might catch.

Plus. I can stream pretty much any piece of music from somewhere. I use Grooveshark a lot, but there are other good ones.

There are two sites where I do perhaps 95% of my music listening. The sixtyone and 8tracks.

The sixtyone is based around gaming. Charts of songs are created according to their popularity with the site's audience. Music on the sixtyone can come from anywhere. A major recording studio, or an artist's bedroom. The beauty of the site is you can just click play and listen to new music. Sometimes I choose a genre, sometimes not. I love the idea of melding together market/gaming dynamics to filter music through a community - this has to be the most innovative solution to music discovery on the internet. However, what the sixtyone gains in technological innovation (both in a narrow and broad sense) it lacks in style. To me it sometimes has a sense of an embattled community. I wish the founders had more confidence in their gaming approach and worried less about the music. Us listeners will do that.

8tracks is a very different beast. It starts from a very simple, yet powerful idea. People put together mixes of music they like, and share them. Its a stylish site. Very Web 2.0. One simple idea, done well. Put simply, its cool. It has similarities to the traditional approach. But rather than appearing in the form of recommendations based on likeness, your musical discovery is assisted by art - by a fully formed mix put together by human beings. If you really enjoy someone's mix, you'll want to hear more from them - that's a better use of 'likeness' in music discovery. The path from music discovery to social network is entirely organic.

I had a short dalliance with Blip FM, which I liked. A bit like twitter with music. But I didn't really discover new music on it. Where as with the sixtyone and 8tracks new music discovery seems unavoidable.

And a last word goes to the old fashioned idea of combining a great knowledge of music with great writing. Headfullofsnow is the creation of Nick James aka @Jeffman1. Its an on-line music magazine with a focus on Psych, Rock, Prog. It's my sort of thing, and I like it. Thanks to HFoS, for the first time I listened to the whole of Sticky Fingers by the Stones. I've repeated that several times, now. I hope there's someone like Nick doing the same thing for punk, jazz, baroque and every other style, genre and variation thereof.

I'm sure you can find the rest. Happy listening.

*own - yes, i know. we just rent the right to hear it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Hope" - musicslideshow

To get the best effect please view this full screen and listen through headphones (or decent speakers).
You need to hit play on both the slideshow AND music track - one after the other, fast as you can !! - you choose which you do first!
(The speed setting on the slideshow should automatically be set at medium). The music and slideshow last for just under 3 minutes. You'll kind of spoil it for yourself if you look through the images first, so please let them just come to you with the music.

@kate_day mentioned audio slideshows on twitter a couple of weeks back. I used to enjoy watching and making them. I've put this one together over the past couple of weeks. Copyright issues tend to put a damper on them being used professionally. But I think I've got round those issues with the way I've prepared this musicslideshow (let's call it an MSS).

If you want to find out who took a particular picture, and then maybe check out the others from that set, just play the slideshow in full screen and click the info link when your chosen picture is displayed. I'm going to contact everyone who has a image in the slideshow and of course, William Fitzsimmons who wrote and performed the song 'Beautiful Morning'. And by the way, William is in the UK next week ! At Bush Hall (shepherds bush) next wednesday 13th May, Brighton on Thursday 14th May, and Bardons Boudoir on the 15th May.

I don't really want to give an explanation the MSS itself. Its theme is Hope. Other than that you can make your own mind up about it.

Technical Stuff
The music is just embedded from a site called So no copyright issues here to worry about.

The slideshow is embedded from flickr. I favourite the images I choose for this and placed a start and end image in these don't seem to be working; so when you see pictures of clouds the show is over ! If you let the slideshow run after the music finishes you see the rest of my favourites. I unfavourited the rest of my favourite images to help this MSS make sense (I've taken a note of them though so will be putting them up on tumblr soon). I did decide on an order in which the images should appear, so I had to favourite them in this order.

Flickr does give you some control over the which images from your favourites you place in a slideshow. I did experiment with this. You use the search feature to select in, or select out, images tagged with a particular label. However, I found that when I set the slideshow to play I encountered problems. It didn't seem to play at all if I selected out particular tags, and even if I unfavourited an image, it still appeared in the slideshow.

So what I ended up with is the simplest method of showing a slideshow of my 'favourited' images. Using a flickr created slideshow does have the benefit of getting around copyright issues. The image producers will have already have given their permission to flickr for the images to be used in this way. (Of course, if anyone does object to me directly I will remove their image.)

I hope you enjoyed it. And I hope it was a little light relief from my money posts - which I think might be quite hard going sometimes ! Please do let me know if you like it - I'll do more then ! And please RT on twitter, too. Thank you.

Oh. And please have a go yourself. Its a really enjoyable process.

PS. I'm happy to expand upon the technical process stuff if people want me to, so you don't have to go through the tedious experimentation I did.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Money - 7. The Budget 2009

A Caveat to the unfamiliar: I think money is a force. For me, price is to money, as weight is to gravity.

The Budget delivered by Alistair Darling, our chancellor of the exchequer, on Wednesday 22rd April 2009 was historic; apparently.

It must be good to be an economic or financial journalist right now. A normal budget would keep journalists busy enough, but an historic one ! That has to be the highlight of a financial journalist's career. Personally, I've always found Budget Day extremely dull. Even the wittiest, most engaging writer would find it difficult to hold my interest. Like the majority of people, I want two pieces of information. One; how much is booze going up? Two; how much are fags going up? And, as I no longer smoke tobacco, I'm not really interested in number two, any more.

Are people genuinely interested in what the Budget says? I reckon that they're faking it. They feel that they need to be seen to care. They'll watch the news, read a paper, and maybe they'll get a letter from their accountants outlining the key measures and their likely impact - enough to allow them to appear to their colleagues that they know their stuff, but that's about it. In truth, they're likely to be more concerned about their current cash crisis, or the one looming, or the one they've just got over (although 'getting over' a cash crisis is becoming rarer). Two percent on this, or three percent on that after such and such a date, probably means no more to them than it does to me.

The Budget isn't really about money at all. Its about politics. Its one battle in an ongoing war. Both sides want us to believe that it is they, not their foe, who can best control the State's money-power.

The rules of engagement for the Budget day battle are as follows. The incumbent power must declare their tactics for the next year's custodianship of money-power; their strategy for dealing with money-power being set in their election manifesto. Once declared, the opposition can then criticise both the tactics and the strategy of the incumbent. The opposition often focus on any inconsistencies between them. Like when the government has achieved political power on the promise of not raising taxes, and then it does. However, such discussions can quickly numb the mind. So, both sides eventually revert to making direct attacks on the capacities and capabilities of the people involved. Like they really matter !

Attacking people for their failings is reassuring. It helps to convince us that it was someone's fault. It's nice to believe that people count. But do you really believe that if a different man or woman had been Prime Minister, or Chancellor, things would be that different? I don't. Most of us have enough trouble being custodian to our own money-power. Can you imagine quite how impossible it would be to look after the money-power of the British State?

The British State's claim on the money-force is determined by an infinite number of possibilities, the vast majority (if not all) of which are not under anyone's direct control. There is little real agreement about what's happened to British money-power in the past because one's view of the past is so dependant upon one's current political and ideological sensibilities. Predicting the future of British money-power is a highly suspect activity. You might as well read tea leaves. Our relationship to the money-force is in trouble because we fail to recognise our own limitations. The Budget serves to reinforce this failure year after year.

A persuasive argument for the value of the political ritual of the Budget is that it replaces the conflicts of earlier times; as to a certain extent all political rituals do. Instead of rich barons squaring up to the King over his demands, or vice versa, be-suited politicians glare and shout at each other across the floor of the house of commons. People keep their heads. But it is our choice of peace over war, of non-violence over bloodshed, of national politics over tribal conflict, that has created our history. The Budget is just an argument about our circumstances today. Its hard to imagine a Budget - even an historic one - changing the course of history. Ideas do that, budgets don't.

That's what I reckon. Here's what a very clever Welshman says about the money battle: 
We shall see as our history of money unfolds that there is an unceasing conflict between the interests of debtors, who seek to enlarge the quantity of money and who seek busily to find acceptable substitutes, and the interests of creditors, who seek to maintain or increase the value of money by limiting its supply, by refusing substitutes or accepting them with great reluctance, and generally trying in all sorts of ways to safeguard the quality of money.
Glyn Davies - A History of Money (p. 29)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Money - 6. Counterfeiting

Recently, an 83 year old man escaped a prison sentence for helping to forge £8 million. In earlier times, this crime would have cost him his life.

If you decide today that you've had enough, and from tomorrow you're going to make money without regard to the law, how would you do it? How would you get rich quick? With the gateway to criminality open, creating counterfeit cash would surely be your best bet. The advances in and availability of, reproduction technologies have made it easier than it used to be. And now, even if you do get caught, which seems unlikely if you act with due diligence and aren't too greedy, your punishment wouldn't be too severe. It would seem rather harsh for the courts to dish out long sentences to punish culprits for the harm they're doing to the economy. Even the largest most determined counterfeiter would find it hard to match what the banks have done.

When I was growing up, if you decided that you'd had enough, you'd say 'I'm going to rob a bank'. This was an expression of feelings and a statement of intent (albeit one very rarely acted upon) that was socially acceptable. People would react rather differently if you'd said 'I'm going to rob a granny'. In essence the crime is the same, you're taking something that clearly doesn't belong to you. But grannies fit our notion of victim hood, banks do not.

These days, I reckon we should say 'I'm going to print some cash', when we want to express those feelings. Why have any victims at all?

Counterfeit cash has no victims. At least, there are no victims while we maintain the believe that the cash is real. When someone creates a fake £10 note a [false] debt is raised against the Bank of England. But, as long as the bank remains sound, and as long as the note itself is believed to be real, the £10 note functions as well as any other. Assuming the Bank of England can detect the counterfeit it can refuse to honour the £10 debt because it did not create it. So, essentially the counterfeiter has loaned national economy some temporary liquidity at his own risk and at no direct cost to the central bank. In payment of his [illegal] liquidity loan he gets whatever his counterfeit cash can buy him.

This might seem an odd way to look at things. But in the past it might have made more sense. In the days before paper money, Kings and Queens found it expensive to provide coinage for their subjects to use in economic exchange. There was huge demand for coins. To provide them, a King would strike a deal with his minters to share the profit made by 'cheating' the coin out of it's full value of precious metal, by making it lighter than previous issues, or using alloys. Debased coins and counterfeit cash are essentially the same thing. Both provide real liquidity. Its estimated that '1 in 20 £1 coins [in circulation in 2009] are fake'. But a counterfeit £1 is still a real coin; a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag, is a fake Louis Vuitton, but its still a real handbag.

Counterfeiters do not create fake money; what they do is make a false claim on the custodianship of money-power. All of us are at least guilty of overstating our money-power at some point in our lives. Banks especially. It comes with the capitalist territory.

The primary claim to the custodianship of money-power comes from the state. The claim the British state makes bears the £ symbol, of course. We know and respect this symbol as a mark of British custodianship of money-power. All claims made with this symbol are, ultimately, subordinate to the British state. The British state's claim is itself subordinate to the world's most powerful symbol. Currently this is $ symbol. All around the world people in their day-to-day lives believe that the paper, duly authorised to bear this symbol, is money (they're wrong of course - its just cash). The custodianship of money-power cannot be maintained without our belief in these symbols. Should that belief waver, the custodians of money-power fight to keep the faith. To this point in history, military strength and money-power have gone hand-in-hand.

This is the power structure that counterfeiters are subverting.

However, the paradox of counterfeiting is that so long as it remains hidden, it actually helps the economy. To damage the reputation of the symbol it mimics, counterfeit cash needs to be recognised as counterfeit. This sets up an interesting dynamic for the State. Its in the State's best interest to keep quiet about the levels of counterfeit currency. And it might actually be better for the economy to have an unnoticed level of counterfeit currency circulating. Liquidity is increased, but central bank debt levels are not.

I'm not suggesting that for you, or me, counterfeiting cash would be a good thing to do. It's fundamentally dishonest; it makes liers of us. But we should try understand it.

Hayek - [you don't know who Hayek was? if Keynes were Jesus, then Hayek is God, and Marx is the Devil, or vice versa, depending on your p.o.v.] - argued that citizens should be free to use and refuse any currencies they wish. He thought that if the state monopoly on money creation was ended we'd be free from cycles of inflation and deflation, so that the unemployment and depression often blamed on capitalism would be cured. He published a paper on it in that special year 1976 (1 + 9 + 7 + 6 = 23). He was quite old by then, so most people just thought he'd gone a bit mad. I think he was on the right track. In fact, I'd go quite a lot further than that.

No quotation for you this time. Instead a link to Lawrence Malkin's site about operation Bernhard. This was a Nazi plan to destroy the British economy by issuing, Malkin estimates, $650 million worth of counterfeit British notes (that's about six or seven billion in today's money). Obviously, it didn't work out too well for the Nazis.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Money - 5. Charity

On the 23rd October 2009, I'm going to set light to a £50 note and witness it burn. Some will say, as they did when I burnt £20 last year, and £10 the year before, that I should give the cash to charity. And that burning money is wasteful and selfish.

But burning cash is never wasteful.
Well, its never any more wasteful than burning any other piece of printed paper. The money still exists after burning. The only thing lost is my 'ownership' of the money; ownership, or more accurately 'custodianship', that is signalled by my holding of the cash. In terms of my own emotions, feelings and thoughts about the money burning ritual, its important to me that what's left is just ashes. I don't want a sticker, badge, pen or a red nose. I don't want a warm glow of moral superiority. I want nothing.
For purity, and to subvert the transactional sphere as completely as possible, the money burning ritual must destroy my custodianship of the £50.

And burning cash is not selfish.
I can be selfish. I expect we all can. Some people say that our genes are selfish. And depending on how you look at things, any behaviour can be seen as selfish; it depends upon your perspective. But burning cash can never be selfish. I give up something I own, of known value, in return for nothing; that's the definition of a selfless act. I could still be selfish, but the ritual of burning cash is inherently selfless.
Burning cash releases money from me, and me from money. It helps me understand my relationship with money more clearly.
None of what I've said though, would I expect, convince anyone that I shouldn't give the money to charity. It would be easier and possibly wiser for me to lie to you here, to protect myself. I could say that even though I burn money once a year, I give a far greater amount to worthy causes. But I don't. In fact, I don't give to charity at all.
I've put a lot about myself in the public sphere since the internet came along. But this is the first time I've confessed to this in public. In fact other than immediate family (who respectfully disagree with my position), I have only had one conversation about not giving to charity. This was at a seminar at the Institute of Economic Affairs in 2000 (the IEA is a libertarian think-tank). A small group of us huddled together and extending a conversation from the seminar, we admitted to each other in hushed tones, that we didn't give - on principle. I'll try to give some form of explanation as to what those principles are (for me).
Charity is seen as something good. There is no need for me to write here about the fact that charities can be inefficient or corrupt. Any organisation of human beings can display these qualities. I'm sure everyone understands that. It is the act of charity itself which I cannot allow myself to support.
Words used to describe economic exchange are laden with morality; give, sell, buy, take. It is better to give, we are told, than to receive. Quite why this folk wisdom is so ingrained in our thinking is a mystery to me; after all, every giver needs a taker. Nevertheless, giving is seen as the morally superior act. By giving we cast ourselves in the role of God. We judge who should receive our gifts. We want to give only to those who are worthy. We must do so, the thinking goes, because Money is a limited resource. And we don't want to waste it.
But of course, money is not a limited resource. Its not like coal or oil, wheat or cotton, guns or diamonds; its a force.
Charity is a way to transfer that force to others about whom we feel guilty. Sometimes we feel guilty because we feel responsible for their plight, and sometimes we feel guilty just because we have stuff and they don't. But by transferring ownership of the 'money-force' through charity, we make it harder for them to understand their own relationship with money. We cannot bear to see their suffering, their otherness, so we give away our power to make them more like us - except not quite as good. Charity is always more about the giver than the receiver.
Charitable exchange sustains social imbalance in a way that commercial exchange does not.
According to current wisdom our economic world is built on self-interested, profit maximising, rational behaviour. The rational economic man underpins our understanding of capitalism. The reason you have running water, sewers, cars, buses, schools and everything else that we associate with our modern world is because we look after number one in our economic exchanges. Personally I don't believe this story - I think that in most economic exchanges, by most people, most of the time, what we seek is a 'fair' exchange. Nevertheless, economic rationality is seen by politicians, academics, economists and businessmen as the right way to be. And yet, every now and then, we completely invert this form of behaviour and decide to give money away. I seem to be on my own as finding this very strange.
If you're not familiar with economics, or if you're too young to remember Maggie Thatcher, let me push the point. The modern world believes that the wealth of nations is built upon the self-interested behaviour of its citizens. Adam Smith, a canny scot, wrote a book about it called 'The Wealth of Nations' in 1776. It was Maggie's favourite.
And yet, when we are faced with situations in which resources are desperately needed, we abandon what the majority regard as self-evident, and instead revert to charity. I say revert, because charity itself, of course, has a long ignoble history. The church used to like to conduct it's economic affairs (and those of its members) by the use of taxes (they called them tithes) and the handing out of charity to the deserving. You'd grow your food, tend your livestock, and then give some to your lord for military protection, and some to the Church for spiritual protection. What was left, you'd feed your family with and maybe, if there was a surplus, you could sell or exchange it. Giving charity and playing God have been bedfellows for a very long time.
The growth of commerce subverted the power relationships in society. Money is seen by some as something negative because it corrodes social bonds. In Britain the wealth created by mercantalism enabled the rich to hire servants. The demand for servants, and the desire for money, drove (mainly) young women from the bosom of their family, into the service of another. The positive view of Money is that it liberates us. Those young women stopped giving away their labour for free to their families, and chose to sell it to the rich, sowing the seeds of liberation for future generations.
Destruction and liberation can be the two sides of the same coin. A coin that is created for commercial exchange.
Charitable gifts are bestowed by those who have too much, to those who have too little. Commercial exchange helps those who have too much, to trade their surpluses for things they need or want. To believe in the righteousness of commercial exchange, over charitable gifts, you only have to believe that everyone -no matter how poor, how ill-educated, or how disadvantaged - has something to offer you. To reach a fair exchange is better for both parties.
Charity is a quicksand that pulls the poor further into poverty with each donation.
The deification of the charitable act impacts upon our social, as well as our economic, lives. The positive feelings bestowed upon the giver by our warped view of the sanctity of charity serve to stratify society, creating a class system of 'goodness'. In other words, and rather like in Catholicism, sins can be absolved by charitable donation.

Corporations can behave appallingly, and then purchase public goodwill with a charitable donation. A thousand bad things done to a thousand people will result in a thousand individual voices of disquiet. One good thing done for red nose day will result in the good will of millions. If you are an amoral corporate body this seems like a good deal. If we want corporations to behave more like people and less like monsters, we need to change those incentives.
People are generally wise to the way corporations use the charitable act for their own ends. But for the individual, charity offers the opportunity for not just absolution, but redemption. Giving is in grained into the western judaeo-christian mentality. Christ gave his life for us; the ultimate act of charity that we seek to safely replicate each time we give up custodianship of our money-force. But each time we do so, we strike a secret bargain. A bargain that we may only barely be concious of, but one that is there for us, as it was for Christ.
We give, in order that we may be saved.
If you disagree with me - and in my experience of this issue, that will be the vast majority of you - please consider just one thing. You have custodianship of your money. You decide. As well as giving to charity, think deeply about to whom you lend your custodianship. It may be that the very poverty and distress you seek to cure with your gift, is caused by the actions of those you trust to act in loco parentis for your money-power.
To give blindly is as much a sin as to take knowingly.

That, my friends, is what I think. Be assurred though, should we ever be stuck on a desert island together I would share my food with you. I expect you'd do the same.

Here's what someone else thinks:
Charity must be recognized for what it is: another aspect of the institutionalized humiliation inherent in our economized existence which must be destroyed so we can fully live.
Against Charity - Feral Faun on the Insurgent Desire web site
Here is a link to the entire article

Read or download all of my Money essays here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Money - 4. An Introduction to the Power of Money

No-one really knows what money is. That may seem odd. We know about some very strange things like quarks and quasars. But not money.

It's wise to bear our lack of understanding about money in mind. Many people claim to have a better idea about it than you.
Economists and Bankers, Entrepreneurs, Businessmen, Politicians and Academics; each claim wisdom. Money is 'nothing but numbers', a 'true measure', a 'means', a 'liberator', 'money is, what money does'.
In fact, money can be anything we believe it to be. This can make it difficult to know what money is.
Theories about money are plentiful and can fit any circumstance. They are comforting to us, but fundamentally unreliable. Experience suggests that having confidence and trust in our understanding of money is important for our well being. But our current 'wisdom' engenders faith at the expense of the truth. That misplaced faith leads to events that appear anomalous and worrisome. It also mitigates against a deeper understanding of Money.
Say to people, "money is power" and few will disagree. It's our everyday experience of it. It transforms our needs and wants into comfort and satisfaction. That's akin to magic.
At least, you could forgive a child for thinking so. As a child, I was entranced by money. I treasured my collection of coins. I'd hold one in my palm, feel it's weight, and imagine it's journey from mint, through pockets, via tills, in and out of banks, until it's final rest with me.
Coins provide our children with their first introduction to the power of money. Their innocence grants them an insight denied to us.
Parents unconsciously hint at the greater distance of our economic relationships as they accompany the first purchase of sweets or toys with the customary 'Give the man the money'. Later, we teach children to count their change; a lesson in the different trust levels in economic exchange. Children know that money is something extra-ordinary.
There is a sense of the sacred about money. It has 'other-worldly' qualities.
Money is metaphysical. Cash and bank balances are our tokens and our measures. Money is metapsychical. It exists outside of our consciousness. Like time. Or, if you believe in such things, a God-concept.
Science just doesn't have the grasp for it. Money is so involved with what we are as beings, and who we are as people, that it remains a 'fuzzy' idea.
Money exerts an influence on all human life. It appears to us, through the lens of a market, as Price. A unique, momentary conglomeration of information.
Money determines the price of everything because it knows the value of nothing.
Our experience of Money is that it's a force against which we sometimes cannot stand. The cost of things always has to be reckoned with. Sometimes the things that are dearest to us die because of a lack of money. We struggle to live with the Power of Money and yet we neither love it not hate it. We just accept it as the way of things, and build our lives around it.
Price is to Money as weight is to gravity. They are both mundane measures of profound powers.
Money influences social systems and produces changes in behaviour. Price is the measure through which know money. Gravitation acts upon things with mass, causing them to attract one another. Weight is the measure through which we know gravity.
Its difficult to comprehend that our weight is not ours. We have mass, gravity gives us weight. Its even more difficult to comprehend that money is not ours. Money is the name we give to a force that we don't understand.

That's my take on it.

Here's someone else's:
By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded as omnipotent. . . . Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person.
Karl Marx - The Power of Money, 1844
Here's a like to the entire article.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Manifesto of Independence


A spectre is haunting Music -- the spectre of Digital. All the powers of old Music have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: RIAA and Universal, BPI and EMI, MCPS-PRS alliance and MediaDefender.

Where is the Artist in opposition who has not been decried as encouraging thievery by its opponents in power? Where is the musician that has not hurled back the branding reproach of pirate, against the more advanced streaming media sites, as well as against P2P networks?

Two things result from this fact:
I. Digital is already acknowledged by all Music powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Free Thinkers should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of Digital with a Declaration for the Artists themselves.

To this end, Free Thinkers of various nationalities have assembled in CyperSpace and sketched the following Declaration, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

The Declaration of Independence of Music

When in the Course of human creativity, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the economic bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of Music, the separate and equal rights to which Justice and Moral Authority entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Music is created equal, that it is endowed by its Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Reproduction, Distribution and the right to Perform. --That to secure these rights, Copyright is instituted among People, deriving its just powers from the consent of the Creator, --That whenever any Form of Commerce becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Copyright, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Prosperity and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Copyright long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that people are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Laws, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Artists and their audience; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Copyright. The history of the present King of Music [RIAA] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over Music. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have persecuted through the courts people guilty of no other crime than the enjoyment of music.

They have treated the Internet with contempt.

They have misused and abused the power of authority by representing their own interests as if they were those of the Creators.

They have attempted to impose their will by nefarious means across national borders so as to bring into submission all people of the Internet.

They have made people afraid to listen to music on the greatest medium of modern times by denying their right to privacy.

They have prevented the free association of music, technology and people by the use of DRM.

They have misrepresented their interests by claiming that they invest in the development of new music whereas in truth their interests are best served by protecting and exploiting those rights which they already own.

They have colluded with broadcasters to feed the audience bland and unhealthy fare whilst themselves getting fat and lazy on the proceeds of their misdeeds.

They have knowingly confused and conflated in the minds of both Artists and the public the seperate and distinct notions of price and value, such that as music's money price grows its true value declines.

They have, and continue to, put stars in the eyes of our young, fostered their belief in a perverted cause which fetishises money and fame, and then cast them aside empty and desolate whilst continuing to profit from their demise even after death.

They have taken Music, which should be freely shared amongst people to grant them understanding, beauty and truth, and chained it to their own financial destinies constraining the evolution of Music and denying to the people what was freely given.

They make profane, what is sacred.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. An Institution whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of Music.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to the music business. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legal teams to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement in cyberland. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united independent music artists, in General Cyberspace, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of Music, solemnly publish and declare, That we are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent Artists; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the RIAA, and that all political connection between them and the Old Music Industry, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent Artists, they have full Power to write Songs, play Music, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent Artists may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Please express your support for the Declaration by releasing your music so it can be freely shared.

The Manifesto of the Communist Party was written by Karl Marx and Frederik Engels in 1848.

The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Digital Evolution: Microblogging (Part One)

Some things can be difficult to understand without having experience of them. Microblogging is very much like that.

This sounds like a convient argument for evangelists of microblogging, which it is. But it's also true. If you believe me, you can go here to set up your Twitter account, now.

Postcard, telegram, teleprinter, sms, tweet; short-form messaging combines meaning and rhythm. It can project a powerful pulse of data.

For me, running a microblog is like sending a series of text messages on my phone; just responding to a text from a friend saying 'what you doing?'. To give microblogging a proper go, my feeling was that I should tweet at least once a day. Initially, I thought it would be a chore. But it hasn't turned out like that.

The evolution of short-form message technology means I can send as many messages, as I like; and each message could be read by millions of people.

Every time I look at my Twitter home page I can see 20 messages. I tweet several times a day to my hundred or so followers. Many of them I acquired by spending a day or two choosing people to follow; after I followed them, they followed me back. People say the maximum number of social relations one person can maintain is 150 - the 'Dunbar' number. President Barack Obama is the number one twitterer. He has 165 414 followers, and he follows 168 067. Kevin Rose, the number two twitterer, has 88 202 followers but he only follows 140.

Technology increases the volume of information available to us. This creates problems. But it also creates solutions.

It's a little early in the day for me to say how many social relations I can maintain through microblogging. I reckon 150 is low, though. Some people, internet marketers in particular, follow thousands. To help them exceed the Dunbar number (so named after anthropologist Robin Dunbar who proposed the limit), many software tools are offered to assist in managing a large following. But even so, a thousand twitterers could very easily produce in excess of 5K tweets on an average day; that's a lot of messages.

Time is a limited resource for all. Some messages are read, some are not. But every message we see is assimilated by our 'ambient awareness'.

I don't read my Twitter home page, I scan it. I read only those tweets of interest to me at that moment. But I do feel like I get a sense of those people I follow. By choosing tweets to read, I'm still noticing the ones I've chosen not to read. Plus, its not just the content that tells me about you, the rhythm of delivery is important too. Most of us do similar things regularly through the day. If you don't, then we notice. Of course my *ambient awareness* isn't infallible. But if I miss something important about you, or about something that's happening, I rely on other's awarness. Important news gets re-tweeted and commented upon.

Its difficult to imagine what it would be like to *know* a thousand people. *Know*, so that what happens to them, and how they feel, affects us.

Have you had the debate about whether an 'online' friend is a 'real' friend? It seems to bug people. Of course, on Twitter you follow people, rather than 'friend' them. Generally, you don't know them, before you follow them. Say you liked flying kites. You could search Twitter for all the people who mention 'kites' in their tweets, and then work your way through the list, following anyone you like. You get to *know* them from there, through their microblog and online presence. You can easily, and without much social awkwardness, send them a public @username message. Its more akin to a smile, nod, or 'Good Morning' in normal social discourse, than it is to one to one conversation.

The biggest barrier to the uptake of microblogging is our own fear of public self-disclosure.

People worry about privacy. They worry about giving away too much of themselves, and making themselves vulnerable. I worried. Not about online scammers or any other of the internet bogeymen, though. But about the uncomfortable feeling of putting myself out there; where I could be judged. It felt odd. Anyone can read my tweets, anyone can send me a tweet @jonone100. Anyone, from anywhere, could tweet any words, to me. But most frightening of all. Taking the first steps to running a public microblog I was making myself vulnerable to the thing guaranteed to upset me most - silence.

Mutual self-disclosure is the way we get to know people. It has never been seen on this scale, before. It might change things.

We take the risk of rejection each time we connect with one another. But if neither of 'us' takes the risk, there will be no 'us'. Following rather than friending, and the public nature of the @messages, help to minimise the fear of rejection. That enables people to take more risks, and combined with the technology's huge capacity, to make more connections with more people. Microblogging increases the potential for empathy and understanding between us.

As the microblogging ritual embeds into our daily lives, it's mundane nature belies its power for self revelation.

Framing my thoughts, feelings and emotions into 140 characters, isn't just about dumping my angst into the public sphere. Although, giving a voice to frustration can sometimes be a good thing. The act of microblogging forces me to express myself. This is a revelation to my followers - and to me. A Muslim work colleague once explained to me how giving thanks to Allah five times a day, gave meaning to his life. I liked him and I was a little envious of the meaning that this ritual act gave to him, each day. I'm not saying Twitter is like religion (Tweligion) - I wouldn't be here if it was. But it does take you outside yourself. Each day, in small steps, microblogging creates my own history. It gives me context.

Perhaps I get a little carried away with possibilities. I haven't actually got out and met any of my Twitter people, yet. That, I guess, will be the next step. But I've been around long enough (on the internet) to know that behind every message, behind each and every word, there is a person. I always try to remember that.

This technology takes power from the distances that divide us, and uses it to amplify the resonance between us.

It offers us emancipation from isolation.

That's what I think about it right now. Here's what someone else says:

Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person” because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.

The Brave new World of Digital Intimacy - Clive Thompson
(New York Times - 7th September 2008)
You can follow Clive on Twitter @pomeranian99
Here's a link to the entire article.