Thursday, December 22, 2011

Money Wisdom #22

"Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature - nature is always value-less, but has been given value at some time, as a present - and it was we who gave and bestowed it."
Friedrich Nietzsche The Gay Science (1882:301)

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Bit of Christmas Wisdom

I'd thought I'd share this little bit of wisdom with you. You're unlikely to have come across it unless you're a money freak like me because it comes from Theodore Caplow's 1984 paper Rule enforcement without visible means: Christmas Gift Giving in Middletown which was originally published in American Journal of Sociology 89:1306-23. I came across it in James Carrier's excellent Gifts and Commodities - Exchange & Western Capitalism since 1700. Are you ready for this?

Women are particularly resentful of oversized items that seem to say that the giver perceives them as "fat".
 Theodore Caplow (1984: 1314) 

You can keep your Higgs Boson, this is the sort of thing we need to know.

Anyways, to briefly update you, I'm still working on my Owning & Owing piece. Its turned from and extended blog post into something more like an essay.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Forgive is Divine - Money Burning 23/10/11

I want you to do this.

I want you to take a £10, £20 or £50 note, or more if you can afford it. And burn it.

If you want to perpetuate poverty, if you like the idea of rich and poor, then give it to charity. 

If you want change, burn it.

This is what actually happens when you burn your cash.

By destroying your paper currency you lose your claim to its value. The debt it represents still exists, recorded in the ledgers of the Bank of England (or whoever else issues it). Burning the note says you’re not collecting the debt.

By burning the note you are forgiving your debtors.

If this seems a little counter-intuitive to you, allow me to give you a very brief history of the Bank of England.

Towards the end of the 1600’s, King William III’s war against France was proving very costly. A Scot, William Patterson thought of a way to raise more money. He reckoned that £1.2 million could be obtained from subscribers to the idea of a ‘Bank of England’. This money could be given over as a loan to help fight the war. In return an interest rate of 8% would be paid from taxes. So, having raised £1.2 million in just a few weeks, the Bank of England was duly formed on 27th July 1694. The bank issued notes to its depositors. If you put £100 in, you had a note saying so. That note also said that anyone presenting it to the bank would be redeemed in gold or coinage. So if you owed someone £100, you could sign your £100 deposit note over to your creditor. He'd accept the note in payment because he’d have faith in the bank’s ability to pay. After all, the bank lent most of its money to the King, and the King had to be good for it. Eventually these notes became the money that I want you to burn.

By the way, the King's debt from 1694, has never been repaid. Every burnt, lost and never found, or other-wise destroyed item of live currency has alleviated a little of the debt burden. Destroying currency is literally offering forgiveness. So when someone says that making a charitable donation is the best thing you can do with your money, you know that's not true. You may think charity is a virtue but you know that to forgive is divine.

Nevertheless, despite the historical evidence, and despite the logic, some will see your burning as a selfish act. Their reasoning is simply this; with the cash you've burned you could have put food on the plate of a starving person. This is true. But its true for every penny that you spend, as well as the cash you burn.

The difference is of course that for every penny you spend you get something in return, whether you're donating to charity or splashing out on a luxury. Even when you tuck £20 into your niece or nephew's birthday card, you want something back. It might just be a ‘thank you’, but you still expect a return on your money. You still expect a little interest. You may be reluctant to accept this now. See how you feel after your sacrifice.

There is only one pure gift you can give and that is to burn your money. Those who set themselves against your sacrifice are really only saying one thing, “why don’t you give it to me?”

On the 23rd of October 2011 I released the Bank of England from the promise made in notes EE45 406557 and HD02 163519 to each pay the sum of ten pounds sterling to the bearer. These notes will never be presented for payment. This is my fourth year of offering money burning sacrifice.

The most important thing about it, is that I know what it feels like.

You can too. Change comes through people doing things they've never done before. Burn your money.

Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who
is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.

Luke 11:2-4

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Money Wisdom #21

" seems to be the most frequent and convenient axis on which millenarian movements turn."

Kenelm Burridge New Heaven, New Earth (1969) p.146

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Review of 'The History of Money' by Jack Weatherford

To me the cover of this book makes it look rather dry and serious. But really, its a highly enjoyable romp through money's past. I appreciate that this sounds dismissive, but its not meant to. The book does lack the intellectual depth and rigour of say, fellow anthroplogist Greaber's 'Debt - the first 5000 years', or economic historian Davies' 'A History of Money'. Nevertheless, if what Weatherford set out to do was write an engaging and readable history in 250 odd pages, then he has succeeded.

The book is divided into three parts. The first 'Classic Cash' grips you with gory detail about exchange in the ancient and medieval world. The second 'Paper Money' gives a bird's eye view of money from around the time of the reformation and through the industrial revolution. The third is 'Electronic Cash' where Weatherford brings us up to date and even speculates on the future a little.

I can't see this book being quoted in academic works, or appearing in too many bibliographies. However, bringing the history of money to a wider public is hugely important, and this book is a noble effort. If you're going to do an economics 101, or any finance related course, it'll put things in perspective for you.

I enjoyed it. And I recommend it.

This review is posted on Amazon here. If you found this review helpful please visit the Amazon site and vote for it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In praise of And You and I

Inspired by last week's dream where I gave a corking rendition of Awaken [with variations] after temporarily replacing Jon Anderson in Yes, and with my confidence bolstered by the heart-warming twitter reaction to last friday's #pinkfloyd night on BBC4, I'm going to share some magic with you.

Now, if you're thinking, 'oh God, not a post on Yes' then waste no more of your time reading. Instead spend 23 seconds watching, but more importantly listening to, the video directly below. It starts at 4:27, you can end it when you like, but please give it at least 23 seconds.

So, now I know I have a convert to the word of Yes. Great. Lets get into some train-spotting style detail.

Firstly you'll notice that this is not a post on Yes, but rather a post on one particular Yes song, And You and I; top of my fantasy Desert Island Discs list. The version above comes from my favourite Yes line up (Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, White) performing at the Montreaux Jazz festival in 2003 as part of their 35th anniversary tour. Comments from it's Youtube page say that the concert is regarded as one of their finest ever. I'd have to concur - at least it certainly seems that way from the videos. Unfortunately I wasn't there.

However I did manage to catch the same 35th anniversary line up at Glastonbury where they appeared a couple of weeks before they played Montreaux. My wife and I were at the front, stage right (near Steve Howe) but I haven't managed to see myself in this video. I'm pleased. I kept my sunglasses on to hide my tears. Sad but true. The video doesn't add much our understanding or appreciation of And You and I, but hey, its Yes! at Glastonbury! Things just don't get better than that.

A couple of years before, Yes (this time without Wakeman) performed the track with a orchestra in Amsterdam. I'm not sure that the orchestra comes through particularly well in the mix, nevertheless they do add a sense of gravitas - as symphonic orchestras tend to. I like the golden robots.

The video is subtitled. Anderson's lyrics are often a cause for ridicule for philistines - sorry, I mean those who don't like Yes. His approach is to write words that fit with/come from the music. In other words he doesn't write a poem that is meant to stand without the music. And in fact it can be a little distracting reading the lyrics while you listen to the piece; your mind seems to try get meaning from the written word, rather than the sung lyric.

When I first got hooked into Yes I didn't really get Anderson's approach to lyrics. I preferred the way that Roger Waters seemed to be able to make coherent statements about modern life and society. Waters' lyrics seemed to be more intelligent. But my view has changed as I've got older. Allowing the music to dictate the meaning of the lyrics requires the writer to lose his ego. (Waters' ego, of course, got famously out of control to the point where he believed he was Pink Floyd). What this means, is that although a book of Jon Anderson's lyrics may not be a great read, the point in And You and I, where he sings:

There'll be no mutant enemy, we shall certify;
Political ends, as sad remains, will die.
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you.

is sublime. What could be more optimistic? What brighter version of the future could there be than one where politics are no longer needed? We'll know that there are no bogeymen. Fear won't be used as a weapon against us. By being aware of this vision of the future, we take a step towards it.

There's little or no cynicism in Anderson's lyrics. I think this makes some people a little uncomfortable. I guess they feel that a certain amount of cynicism is needed to connect music and lyrics to reality. After all rock music has its roots the blues. Doesn't singing about fantasy lands where we can all love each other freely, ignore those roots and gloss over our reality. Such naivety surely only appeals to middle class teenagers who don't know how tough life can be?

Here's my answer to that criticism:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man. 
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world.
We need to dream.

As an aside, there's an interesting juxtaposition between Imagine and And You And I. Imagine expresses what is essentially a communist ideal, whereas And You and I expresses a libertarian ideal. I love both songs, and of course there is no actual connection (except Alan White who played drums on Imagine), but both songs seem to share something essential; they have spirituality without regard to religion.

I did find this piece of literary criticism from (what I think) is a second year English major. He seems to love the song as much as me - or at least he did back in 1975. In the past I've also read Bill Martin's fabulous The Music of Yes - Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock. Bill gives a detailed analysis of many of the great Yes songs, including And You and I. If my memory serves me correctly he sees elements of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience in the track, and of Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation; "Coins and Crosses never know their fruitless worth". But I gifted my copy of Bill's book to friend and fellow Yes fan, so I can't check.

My own favourite version of And You and I comes from 1991's reunion tour. I was fortunate to go to one of the Wembley Arena shows. I know they played And You and I but I have absolutely no memory of it. It must have completely phased me out. The Union tour combined all the different Yes line-ups, so Trevor Rabin plays the section that you can see Steve Howe playing in the Montreaux video. Its interesting to note that Howe seems to have adopted Rabin's grander more guitar-god approach to this section in the later performances. And I think it works.

Anyway for your enjoyment here is my all time favourite version of my all time favourite piece of music from the reunion tour that I can't remember (I think its from an American gig). Thank goodness for youtube. Unfortunately the video is split into two parts but below the videos I've put the soundcloud of the same live version of the track as it appeared on the YesTerdays 4CD compilation.

09 And You and I Cord of Life Eclipse The Preacher the Teacher Apoca ... by jonone100

Jon Anderson talks at the start of the track about how this song has grown with age. I've seen Rick Wakeman say the same thing about it. For a long time Awaken was my favourite Yes track, but that changed after seeing Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (a Yes offshot - if you can call it ) perform And You an I in 1989 (again, at Wembley Arena).

This video is from that 1989 tour. Even before Rabin turbo-charges the song it has begun to take on a new more magisterial form compared to its original album version; largely due to Wakeman's keys I think.

I could spend a brief moment talking about the musical structure of And You and I. Or, I could just direct you to this wiki page which tells you all you need to know.

The next couple of videos take us back to the first few years of the song's life. A live version from 1973 (with poor sound) which for a long time was the only live version available to Yes fans.

Next you have the original album version from 'Close to the Edge'. There was yet another version released on the 2003 remastered Close to the Edge - I think its an even earlier studio version. Unfortunately I seem to have mislaid my copy of it. I remember it as even more folky and less epic the actual album track. Perhaps someone could confirm this in the comments.

So there you have it. My favourite piece of music. Developed from what is, in Yes's perspective, almost a folk/pop song (albeit a ten minute one in four sections) into a epic piece. But one that still manages to maintain the intimacy of the original. The track Close to the Edge was the biggest on the album. Stomping in at nearly 19 minutes, again in 4 sections, with Wakeman's church organ spectacular in the middle, it gave critics of the band, enough ammunition for years to come. But the little track hiding away in the shadow of the Edge has grown into a piece of such immense power, but with such a soft touch, that it eclipses even that most monumental Yes tune, Awaken.

Of course you may disagree. I know that a lot of serious Yes fans love Siberian Khatru. Hopefully though, whichever Yes song it is that does for you, what And You and I does for me, you'll agree that we need a Yes night on BBC4.

I do get a perverse pleasure from hearing Yes ridiculed. And that's a proper perversion, friends. But really what I want, is just to share a bit of Yes joy. Their music moves me. And I think, as much as music can be, its important. Its says stuff to us that we need to hear.

Chief among Yes detractors was John Peel whose influence over the music scene was immeasurable. Indeed, it was at the Glastonbury gig in 2003 when he said live on air that Yes had been a band he'd 'loved to hate over the years'. I'm glad he recognised his own ambivalence. And he had actually been a help to Yes (as he was to so many bands) in the early years. But I do think his jibes helped alienate people - albeit unintentionally. It'd be nice if the BBC restored the karmic balance and gave Yes an evening. There are other long serving great British bands that deserve similar - Gong for example (who I had the pleasure and honour of taking to Glastonbury in 2009). But as far as Yes are concerned, John Peel incurred a debt on the BBC's behalf. That debt needs repaying.

Once done, Peel can be beatified.  

I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out and inside me.
The preacher trained in all to lose his name,
The teacher travels asking to be shown the same.
In the end we'll agree, we'll accept, we'll immortalise
That the truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.
Anyone know the right person to email at the beeb?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Money Wisdom #20


Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
  'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
  You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
  They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
  Clearly money has something to do with life

- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
  You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
  Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
  From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
  In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Philip Larkin

Reblogged from The Wondering Minstrels via a tweet from @zemblamatic

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is currency, that's value, what's Money?

People seem to use the words money and currency interchangeably.

Have a look at this from David Graeber's recent book:
"Money almost always arises first from objects that are primarily used as adornment of the person. Beads, shells, feathers, dog or whale teeth, gold, silver are all well known cases in point."
David Graeber Debt - the first 5000 years (2011) p.145

I think he really means cash or currency, rather than Money. Particularly because the thrust of his book is that Money is born from debt.

Or this, from Neil Ferguson's
"The Incas could not appreciate that, for Pizarro and his men, silver was more than shiny, decorative metal. It could be made into money: a unit of account, a store of value - portable power.
Neil Ferguson The Ascent of Money (2008) p.21

Again, what he actually means is that silver can be made into currency, rather than money.

You may think that I'm being pedantic. And I'm sure Messrs Graeber and Ferguson are aware that technically speaking currency and money have different meanings. What's more important is that we're all instinctively aware that Money and currency are different. Quite how they're different can be a matter of intense debate.

Those on the left of the political spectrum tend to see Money as 'nothing'. Just a number. Value comes from what we do and how we do it. Currency is useful in so much as it helps us to transfer value efficiently. If you need value to spread itself more widely, then you create more currency.

Those on the right tend to see Money as 'something'. More than just a number. Its value comes from the market. Currency has value if the market says so. If you want Money to keep its value, then you shouldn't create too much currency.

Money, currency and value do seem related though, on whichever side of the fence you sit.

Professor Davies made this point early on in his history of Money.
"...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 (1994) p. 29

In terms of the standard definitions currency is a medium of exchange, and value is the worth of something as determined by the market. Both of which are beautifully circular. To complicate things further money is all of these things and more. Your average economist will tell you that money is a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account.

But smarter, more honest people will tell you that we don't really know what Money is.

The earliest point I can remember asking 'What is Money?' was in infant school when I was watching a TV programme on the coming decimalisation. The change in English coins and notes that occurred with decimalisation made it clear to me - even at that tender age - that currency and money were not the same thing. The notes and coins were changing, but Money would still be the same.

When I think about Money and currency I have a very clear image in my head. Currency connects us to Money. Imagine Money as a transcendental amorphous field of transformative energy. The coin in your pocket connects you to that energy. And clearly, it connects in a precise mathematical way.

When I went to study Economic History at the LSE, that childish question of 'What is Money?' was still in my head. Just as I finished my studies there, an academic book was published with a great title. The quote below comes from the introduction.

    "From a commonsense point of view, economic activity in the capitalist economy is all about money: making money, earning money, spending money, saving money, and so forth.
    Orthodox economic theory ...has had a persistent tendency to deny the importance of money and monetary factors in determining economic outcomes, despite the evidence of our senses."
John Smithin What is Money? (2000) p.1

A Review of 'Debt - the first 5000 years' by David Graeber

Graeber provides us with a fascinating exploration of debt and its relationship to money, economic systems, and society itself. He wears his heart on his sleeve, from the start of the book where he tells the reader about his contempt for the IMF, to the end of the book where he puts in a good word for the non-industrious poor.

He also tells us some fascinating tales about how other societies have organised exchange. For me this is where he's at his strongest. The book is worth the price alone just to hear about the Gunwinggu tribe who seem to have sorted out a very appealing alternative to capitalist economic relations. In the same vein, the Lele tribe's 'village wife' adds some more spice to the story, as Graeber goes where economists fear to tread; to the idea that we are ambivalent sexual creatures not just self-interested rational automotons. Slavery, sex, death, war and marriage across human history form the backdrop to his examination of debt. What's not to like?

Well, there are a couple of things that knocked one star from this review. For me Graeber fails to distinguish between money and currency. Although this is a common problem in almost everything I've ever read about money. Towards the close of the book he describes money as 'not "really" anything'. This feels like a bit of a cop out. Would he same the same about love?

A more serious criticism is his failure to even mention the Lord of Libertarianism, Hayek. For Hayek, money was a institution born of price that was determined through the magic of markets. Graeber has interesting stuff to say about free markets and the state; he tackles Adam Smith, and finds sympathy with Keynes. But Hayek remains the elephant in the room.

Anthropology has so much to teach us about money, debt, and exchange. It should be a requirement that anyone who refers to themselves as a banker or economist should study it. Graeber's book would be a good place to start.

This review is posted on Amazon here. If you found this review helpful please visit the Amazon site and vote for it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Money Wisdom #19

My favourite ape story is from Betty Walsh, senior chimpanzee keeper at Twycross Zoo in Warwickshire, England. It concerns her bonobos (pygmy chimps):
One bonobo had a long bamboo cane, which she was poking members of the public with, so we wanted it off her. I had a bag of four cakes which we were going to have for our tea, and I thought I would give her a cake if she gave me the stick. But she saw I had four cakes and she broke the bamboo stick into four pieces, one for each cake. It was more than clever. She worked it out in a split second.
Here it is impossible to separate telepathy, subtle clues and sheer intelligence. The ape somehow picked up her keeper's intention to reward her with a cake for giving up the stick, and having seen the four cakes immediately thought of a way of getting all of them.

Rupert Sheldrake 
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home - The Unexplained Powers of Animals 
(1999) p.105 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Money Wisdom #18

Charity... is a way of maintaining hierarchy, not undermining it.

David Graeber  Debt  The First 5000 Years (2011) p286

Money Wisdom #17

The king once summoned Nasruddin to court.

"Tell me," said the king, "you are a mystic, a philosopher, a man of unconventional understandings. I have become interested in the issue of value. It's an interesting philosophical question. How does one establish the true worth of a person or an object. If I were to ask you to estimate my value, what would you say?"

"Oh, " Nasruddin said, "I'd say about two hundred dinars."

The emperor was flabbergasted. "What?! But this belt I'm wearing is worth two hundred dinars!"

"I know," said Nasruddin. "Actually I was taking the value of the belt into consideration."

A Medieval Turkish Story quoted in
David Graeber  Debt  The First 5000 Years (2011) p273

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Money Wisdom #16

Just as lawyers have spent a thousand years trying to make sense of Roman property concepts, so have philosophers spent centuries trying to understand how it could be possible for us to have a relation of domination over ourselves. The most popular solution - to say that each of us has something called a "mind" and that this is completely separate from something else, which we can call "the body," and that the first thing holds natural domination over the second - flies in the face of just about everything we know about cognitive science. It's obviously untrue, but we continue to hold on to it anyway, for the simple reason that none of our everyday assumptions about property, law, and freedom would make any sense without it.

David Graeber  Debt  The First 5000 Years (2011) p207 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Money Wisdom #15

"Up in our country we are human !" said the hunter. "And since we are human we help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs."

Freuchen  (1961) p154 quoted in
David Graeber  Debt  The First 5000 Years (2011) p79

Friday, August 12, 2011

Money Wisdom #14

SATAN, turning to the right (towards the males)
You worship two things,
You know nothing finer:
The glitter of gold,
And a woman's vagina.
The one it devours,
The other procures;
How happy you'd be then,
If both could be yours!


SATAN, turning to the left (towards the females)
Two things are delightful
For you to behold:
A glorious phallus
And glittering gold.
Now listen, you women,
For you must be told
To treasure the phallus
Far more than the gold!

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe Faust - The Unpublished Scenarios from the Walpurgis night (@1832)
Translated, with an Introduction and Notes, by John R. Williams (1999) p.376

Monday, August 1, 2011

Proto-Economic Flo

Florence the Jack Russell recently celebrated her 2nd birthday. There's a picture of her below taken when she was bit younger with her first ever proper bone. She didn't quite know what to make of it.

Bones are important to Florence. Every dog I've had loves to chew a bone. But I've noticed that Florence's relationship with her bones isn't simply that she loves them as food. Its more complicated than that.

She does eat some of them, that's for sure. Some lamb bones are relatively easy for her to digest. We don't feed her raw chicken (with bones), although I think she'd like that. Bones are more rare treat than a staple of her diet. She enjoys licking the marrow from a beef bone. And she keeps the licked-clean bone. I would guess that the bone in the picture is hidden somewhere in the house. Her collection of real bones, along with toy bones - a brown plastic bone and a large raw hide bone - have special meaning.

She does have other things that she seems to value, other possessions; some soft toys, her bed and her Frisbee. Its easy to accept the idea that a dog has possessions once you get to know Florence. Our other dogs have been similar but Florence is more expressive in her definition of property rights. She's our first terrier.

That's not that she won't let you touch her stuff. In fact with her soft toys she'll bring them to you so play with her. She'll follow you around banging into the backs of your legs until you pay her attention. Infuriatingly she'll also pretend she's going to give you her toy and then run away at the last second in an effort to get you to chase her. However, I don't think its just about play. There's also been a few occasions when one of her bones has been offered as a gift. Not to play with, but for you to enjoy as a bone (it's return is expected). The gift bone has always been given as a result of some very bad behaviour for which she's had a major telling-off. Although its only ever the plastic bones. I guess the real bones are just too valuable.

Indeed bones generally seem to be different in her mind from her other possessions. Whereas her toys are randomly spread about the living room and sun room, in constant need of tidying up, her bones are neatly secreted away. We sometimes discover them under a piece of furniture, or stuffed down the side of the sofa. She seems to put the most treasured ones under the marital bed. She also does a scraping-I'm going to make a nest here-thing, under the bed. I think its her safe place; a bank vault and maternity ward rolled into one.

She hasn't had a litter of pubs yet. She's come into season twice. Both times she's become a turbo terrier; her possessions even more aggressively defended, and her temper shorter. Winding her up is a fun but dangerous sport. If you equate the idea of possession with the basic notion of money and economic relations, as I do, its unsurprising that a rise in her sexual energies is accompanied by a boost in her possessiveness. Money and sex seem intimately related in human culture, so perhaps its true for the world of dogs too.

We tend to think of money as a purely human thing. But when you think about some of the aspects of our relations to which money seems related - the notions of trust, indebtedness, reward - it seems a little arrogant to presume that these are only human qualities. In the Klingon-esque world of the terrier there are moral imperatives. And there is deep ambivalence - there is fear as well as fight.

It doesn't take too much of a leap of our imagination to believe that a dog's bones, are man's gold. Does it?

If you've read any of my writing before you'll know I have an unconventional view about Money. I imagine it to be something like a force or an aspect of our reality. Certainly something different to any explanation offered by current thinking. I'm not completely on my own. The idea that Money has a deeper relationship with the development of the cognitive process has been around a long while. More recently there's been a study at Yale to suggest that Capuchin monkeys have an understanding of price, wealth and even display the same loss-aversion bias as we do. Personally I wouldn't put a monkey in a cage to find this out. Florence and her bones is enough evidence for me.

My first 'tweet quote' for you this time.

I have a dog shaped hole in my life.
@nightingalefred 15th July 2011

Freddie is a singer songwriter with whom I had the pleasure of working a few years back. He has a way with words. I'd urge you to check out Heart Shaped Stone and St Catherine's Day (you have to sit thru a short ad to listen, but Freddie gets paid if you do).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Money Wisdom #13

LORD CHANCELLOR, entering slowly
That I should live to see this happy day !
See this momentous paper in my hand
That has turned ill to good throughout the land.
[he reads]
'Let it be known to all who would be told:
This note is worth a thousand crowns in gold,
Secured by the buried treasure to be found
In the Imperial lands beneath the ground.
Those riches, once recovered, shall be deemed
As full equivalent to be redeemed.'

But this is folly, criminal deceit!
Who wrote my signature in counterfeit?
Was no one punished for this forgery?

Remember, Sire! You signed the note for me
Last night, when you appeared as the mighty Pan.
The Chancellor and I explained the plan:
'To crown the pleasure of this celebration,
A few strokes of the pen will save the nation.'
You signed your name and by mysterious skills
It was reprinted on a thousand bills.
We issued the whole series right away,
So all could share this benefit today;
Tens, thirties, fifties, hundreds are to hand,
And happiness has spread through all the land.
Your city once so ravaged with decay -
It teems with joy and life again today.
Although your name has long inspired devotion,
I never heard it praised with such emotion.
We need no further alphabet than this -
That sign alone fills every heart with bliss.

And they accept these notes, as gold, you say?
The court, the army take them as full pay?
So be it, then - but it still puzzles me.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe Faust - The Second Part of the Tragedy (1832)
Translated, with an Introduction and Notes, by John R. Williams (1999) p.193-194

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Money Wisdom #012

"In the twentieth century, we saw money turn rapidly from paper into plastic and then into mere electronic blips generated in computers, transferred over telephone lines and through computer terminals, and without any corporal existence outside of the electronic domain. Throughout its history, money has become steadily more abstract. By moving at the speed of light, electronic money has become the most powerful financial, political and social force in the world. Money has become even more like God: totally abstract and without corporeal body."

Jack Weatherford The History of Money (1997) p.249

Monday, June 27, 2011

Money Wisdom #011

"With today's computer technology, there is no limit to the number of decimals of π that can be obtained except that set by time and money."

Jan Gullberg Mathematics: from the birth of numbers (1997) p.94

Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Money Movement & Moral Currencies

In my post about Bitcoin, I told you how excited I was about it. The new Money movement seems to be gathering such pace with Bitcoin's digital currency at the forefront. But there is another important strand which centres around 'moral currencies'. It provides a major impetus to the movement.

The idea of creating a moral currency is something I got really excited about in the 1990's with the Ecolabel movement. Its an appealingly simple philosophy. Spend your money with the good guys and the world will be a better place.

And although things have changed since the 1990's, its not yet all farmer's markets, line caught fish and fairtrade coffee. In fact the bad guys quickly took advantage of our desire for green and ethical goods and exploited it. So things got confusing. Should I buy imported certified organic carrots from a supermarket, or local non certified organic carrots from a farmer's market? Who knows?

But the idea of changing the world by spending ethically and creating sustainably is still with us. Perhaps because at some level, we all believe in it. But also because the idea has developed. Today the internet helps us to get and give much more data about the stuff we trade and with whom we are trading. And from this data, future-minded digital adventurers hope to create currencies by measuring trust, respect, reciprocity and every other aspect of our productive relationships.

I'm not sure how you get from measuring these qualities to creating a currency, but I'm glad some brave souls are trying to do it. My worry is that this part of the new Money movement conflates currency with Money. Currencies connect us to Money, by representing our claim on Money's power. But if the dollar, the euro and the renimbi (the Chinese currency) failed tomorrow, Money would still exist. The wealth and assets that back up our belief in the existence of Money - the underlying economy as we like to refer to it in times of crisis -wouldn't just turn to dust.

Money is more than measurement. Just like gravity is more than weight.

One idea about Money is that its a basis for abstract thought, playing a role in our cognitive development as human beings. Most people would accept this about maths or language but not Money. I think there's something to the idea, which is why I get so very excited about changes to our 'monetary conciousness'.

Another idea about Money is that it subverts moral polarities, blurring the lines between good and bad, right and wrong. Most people would accept this because it tallies with their everyday experience of Money. And it also serves to make the idea of a moral currency very appealing.

However, Money's nature is one of pure amorality. It is an immaculate conception. There really is no such thing as 'dirty money', just good and bad ways of using it. So I don't think that morality can ever be thrust upon it directly. And I think its amorality is fundamental to whatever part Money plays in the development of our minds and indeed, our reality. This is why I'm dubious about morality 'sticking' to the currencies of the new money movement. Money has always resisted our attempts to shackle it with an ideology of any kind and will shrug off those currencies that try to do so.

Perhaps the stongest argument against the success of moral currencies is that we already have information about the stuff on which we spend our money and we often ignore it when the stuff is cheap. I know its something I do on a daily basis. A moral currency will become a way of contracting out the moral choices that we should be making. A bit like having a religion.

Understanding Money - knowing what it is - seems to me to be one of our greatest challenges, more so than going to Mars. So I'm excited about all aspects of the new Money movement. For me Bitcoin, or rather the multiplicity of digital currencies to which I hope it gives rise, have the greatest chance of pulling us into a new monetary conciousness; where Money more effectively mediates a supply for our demands and a demand for our supplies. And in so doing creates a reality in which we can fulfil our potential.

Then I might get paid for writing this, rather than driving a van.

No quote this time, but here's a few links for you to check out on The New Money Movement

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Money, Currency and Bitcoin

There's a lot of excitement on the internet about something called Bitcoin - a new digital currency. I'm very excited about it. But then I get excited by money generally.

Bitcoin is digital. Its made up of 0's & 1's rather than yellow metal or paper promises. And its very quickly become a new currency. There have been quite a few attempts to launch digital currencies but none have captured the imagination quite like Bitcoin.

A currency is anything that can used to faciliate exchange. So dollars work as currency, so do Sterling & the Euro. Bonds & shares work too. But so do camels, cows, drugs and just about anything else. Obviously its much easier to buy a newspaper with a dollar than a camel. But then again who knows what the future holds? In the long term camels, cows and drugs may be a more secure currency than the dollar.

The point is that currency is a manifestation of money. And Money is magic. I mean this literally. It has a transformational power which we know but cannot understand. This makes me sound pretty flakey doesn't it? But tell me, how would you define magic? For me the phenomenon of money fits the bill pretty well.

Plus I like calling money magic. It serves to remind me of the true state of our understanding of money. In fact, its arrogant - and completely in denial of the evidence before us - to assume that science has a grip on money at all. When it comes to money we're medieval.

So if you find yourself asking if Bitcoin is really money, you might as well ask if the notes and coins in your wallet are really money too. The simple but amazing truth is - that we don't know. We don't know what money is. But if Bitcoin works as well as any other currency, then its fair to assume that it's at least as real as anything else we call money.

That gives you some idea why I get so excited about money. Now let me tell you why I'm very excited about Bitcoin.

To me the idea of a one world currency is really scary. Imagine what would be done in the name of its defence. I'm in love with the utopian notion we should all create our own currencies. I'd issue a thousand Jonny Units and via the market a price is established - we'd all know the value of 1 Jon so I could go shopping. If I ran out and needed more, I'd issue more and the value of 1 Jon would rise or fall accordingly. This utopian economic world would consist of billions of competing currencies. To my mind this, not charity, would make poverty history.

Of course, that's not what Bitcoin does now.

But it at least points towards that possibility. Its easy to imagine there could be more digital currencies competing 10 years from now than there are politico-state currencies competing today. The benefit is that Digital currencies work according to the rules laid down in their code. Code - that with Bitcoin - is available for anyone to read. Politico-state currencies work differently to that.

It may be a big leap from multiple digital currencies to individual currencies, but Bitcoin, and the exchanges and intermediary functions that it has spawned show the technological barriers are being broken. A deeper broader freedom is possible when we can create our own money rather than leave it to the men in suits. That's a tantilising prospect for the future inhabitants of planet Earth.

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.

Peter Sinfield (an extract from) Epitaph ~ In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Money Wisdom #010

"It was striking how little control we had of events, particularly in view of how assiduously we cultivated the appearance of being in charge by smoking big cigars and saying fuck all the time."

Michael Lewis Liar's Poker (1989) p.286

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Money Wisdom #009

"The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it. The process by which banks create money is so simple the mind is repelled. With something so important, a deeper mystery seems only decent."

John Kenneth Galbraith  Money: Whence it came, where it went (1975)

Money Wisdom #008

Michael has just done his first trade which has caused his customer to lose $65K.

"And you want to know how I felt? I should have felt guilty, of course but guilt was not the first identifiable sensation to emerge from my exploding brain. Relief was. I had told him the news. He was shouting and moaning. And that was it. That was all he could do. Shout and moan. That was the beauty of being a middleman, which I did not appreciate until that moment. The customer suffered. I didn't."

Michael Lewis Liar's Poker (1989) p.199

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Money Wisdom #007

"If you are a self-possessed man with a healthy sense of detachment from your bank account and someone writes you a cheque for tens of millions of dollars you probably behave as if you have won a sweepstake, kicking your feet in the air and laughing yourself to sleep at night at the miracle of your good fortune. But if your sense of self-worth is morbidly wrapped up in your financial success you probably believe you deserve everything you get. You take it as a reflection of something grand inside you. You acquire gravitas, and project it like a cologne..."

Michael Lewis Liar's Poker (1989) p.69

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Money Wisdom #006

"I remain more than ever convinced that, until we fully understand the origin of financial species, we shall never understand the fundamental truth about money: that, far from being 'a monster that must be put back in its place', as the German president recently complained, financial markets are like the mirror of mankind, revealing every hour of every working day the way we value ourselves and the resources of the world around us.

It is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty."

Niall Ferguson The Ascent of Money (2008) p.358

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Money Wisdom #005

"... as John Maynard Keynes once observed, in a crisis 'markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent'."

Niall Ferguson The Ascent of Money (2008) p.328

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Money Wisdom #004

"...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 (1994) (p. 29)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Money Wisdom #003

"... it is not present expectations that correspond to future events but future events that are shaped by present expectations."
George Soros The Alchemy of Finance (1987)
Quoted in Naill Ferguson The Ascent of Money (1994) (p.316)

Not the catchiest of phrases to be sure, but when Soros speaks you'd be wise to listen. Money, time and belief; you could spend a lot of time trying to explain how and why you feel like you do about them :o)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Money Wisdom #002

"Loving and fighting are the oldest, most exciting of man's activities, so that it is perfectly natural to find that payments associated with both are amongst the earliest form of money."
Glyn Davies A History of Money (1994) p.25

I think I'd say 'Fucking and Killing', but then I can be quite coarse at times. If you read one book on Money - and lets face it, Money is going to be important in your life whether or not you want it to be - make it this one from Professor Davies. Its a work of wisdom.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Money Wisdom #001

"Remember: it's not owning property that gives you security; it just gives your creditors security. Real security comes from having a steady income"

Niall Ferguson The Ascent of Money (2008) p.278

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Musical Interlude

I was lucky enough to work with the young man in this video. We did a headline UK tour, a tour with Scouting for Girls, and numerous one-offs & festivals including V-Fest. He's a good looking boy, no mistake. But he's also talented performer and writer who is influenced by music that even old dogs like me rate. His former record company tried to fit him in a Pop Star box. Fortunately, he was having none of it and is now exploring new ways to get his music out there via the Sam Beeton Record Club . He's a really nice lad. Do him a favour for me, please. Have a listen and if you like what you hear, click 'like'. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Poker Blogging

I just registered for the pokerstars event for bloggers. Big prizes :o)

Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker! The WBCOOP is a free online Poker tournament open to all Bloggers, so register on WBCOOP to play.

Registration code: XXXXXX 951447

Monday, January 17, 2011

Poker Pleasure and Pain

I won £120 playing poker online on Friday evening. The fact that I bought in for £0, having won my entry in a little sky poker promotion, only served to increase the pleasure I took from the win. I didn't play particularly well but the cards were kind to me and many of the players were making very hopeful bets. I was in a very good mood for the weekend.

I returned to the tables on Sky on Saturday night playing in a £5.75 tourney with a top price of about £100. I was ripping them up. Once the field had been reduced to about 10, I was in first place. I was dealt AJ on the button. Flop came xJx. I had it all in against one opponent by the turn. He turns over J6. He has 3 outs. In other words I'm the 94% favourite to win. But his 6 comes on the river making a sizeable dent in my stack.

A few hands later I'm up against the same guy. This time I have KQs, He has J5. After seeing a flop of KQ5, he moves all in. I, of course, call - and this time I'm all-in. The turn doesn't help him. So on the river he needs one of two 5's remaining -  just two outs this time, about a 4% chance against my hand. He's hits his 5, giving him trips against my two pair. I'm out.

I seem to do better at Poker when I approach it as a sport and get really absorbed into the game. But I can't have the pleasure of winning without risking the pain of losing. And it does hurt to lose.

The win on Friday night really helped me shrug off my bad beat, though.

So here's my pearl of wisdom for this weekend's poker: winning immunises against the negative psychological impacts of losing. A stunning insight, I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday, January 10, 2011

miscellaneous too

My blogging efforts were somewhat lacking in 2010. I'm perhaps understating that. Anyway, at the very least to remove a post which mentions 'summer' in the title, I'm typing away again.

So, what news? Well, I'm really up for a change of job. I think earning a wage by hanging around with musicians around has run its course for me. The music industry is very backward as regards the internet, and my blog has a tiny audience, so I feel pretty secure that my retirement will go unnoticed; thereby, giving me the chance to accept a job with a smile should one come along. But I'm not going looking. The last 8 years or so has been spent with some wonderful people for whom I'd willingly chop off small appendages. However, I've also spent time with some less-than-wonderful people for whom I would be disinclined to offer a micturational solution in the event of them suffering an immolation situation. Less said the better.

So that leaves poker and money.

My fascination with poker has not been welcomed by all who know me. I understand from other players that this is not uncommon. Nevertheless, my journey into poker continues. I've recently discovered some great blogs about poker. Its reassuring that others see the same potential I do - not only in playing the game - but in the game as a proxy for economic relationships. Sorry to tease - and I don't want to overplay my hand (as poker players say) - but maybe, if I can tear myself away from the tables this year, I might explore some of my thoughts on this and let you know what others are saying. Here's a prediction you can judge me on - the number of academic papers written on poker (particularly online poker) will rise dramatically in the next 5 years.

Now, lest ye forget, for me, poker is a subset of money. I did my burning this year on the 23rd October. But I had to burn a promise, rather than notes (£100) - not that there's too much difference technically. I wrote the following on a piece of paper and burnt it at 23:23 on 23/10/10:

I, JONATHAN HARRIS, do solemnly declare that I will destroy the state's claim to £100 (English Pounds Sterling) by burning two £50 notes. If I die before I do so, I ask that my surviving family carry out my wishes on my behalf '

There's a lot waiting on my elusive big poker win.

What I'd love to do in 2011 is write a few more short - easy to read - pieces on the nature of money. I've become less concerned with justifying what I say about money. I enjoy writing the more academic pieces and they do force me (to try) to make a coherent argument, but for the reader the shorter pieces are so much better. And for me they are the most satisfying thing to create. Its just they tend to come along at with their own timing. 'Price is to Money, as Weight is to Gravity' had been swimming around my head as an idea for years before I managed form it into a phrase.

Anyway, so that's what I'm about for now. I should imagine the difficulties Life throws up, which include the not inconsiderable problem of earning a living, may hinder my ambitions. But I shall try none the less. That big poker win would really help. Positive vibes if you please.