You can bank on it! By Trevor Plumbly
I wonder where the guy got his inspiration when he announced that ‘money was the root of all evil’? Maybe he’d been mugged or something. Lack of the stuff certainly clouded my childhood: having a few bob was the birth-right of the upper and middle classes, along with decent housing, education, clothing and food, whilst lack of it sentenced the rest of us poor sods to struggle. Growing up like that makes it hard not to be cynical about money; like religion and democracy it’s OK if it’s properly dealt out, but when the biblical authors introduced it after temptation, sex, fratricide and other sinful stuff, it morphed into yet another lever to keep the populace at odds with each other.
In the beginning…
When Christ cast the money changers out of the temple, it seemed that he didn’t trust cash and used the occasion to emphasise the point. Later events in his life suggest he underestimated its pulling power, but he was a forgiving soul and it was early days in the business. These days we’re much more liberal about that sort of thing, money changers make squillions and get knighted for ‘services to commerce’ (see also speculators and foreign exchange). The big book’s got lots of warnings about the evils of cash. Take the 30 pieces of silver: that lends support to my argument that even then there was an acceptance that it could grease the wheels; note there was no haggling, Judas didn’t say ‘How about 60?’ and wait for a counter offer before shoving Jesus under the biblical bus.
Like a virus, cash started to feed on itself, and pretty soon folks were swanning around clanking with coins. Money changers, ever wary of losing control, devalued the base metal stuff and promoted silver and gold coinage. This not only lightened the loads of the wealthy, it also helped to keep the peasants in their place. Flushed with that success the usurers rebranded themselves as ‘financiers’ and built their own temples to avoid outside interference (see also Banks). After that, there was no stopping them: they invented letters of credit which saved the toffs the trouble of carting the hard stuff around with them; they could pay Lord A 1% for holding his dough and loan it to Lord B at whatever percentage could be squeezed out of him, ironically calling this early form of extortion ‘interest’.
Banknotes and cheque books signalled the end of personal finance. Once those guys slid into bed with politicians there was no stopping them, they decided what form money should take, how much of it should be ‘out there’ and, most important, its tradeable worth! From that point it lost its role as a value indicator. They introduced inflation to combat depression by printing more banknotes. Germany was among the first to feel the brunt of this piece of fiscal wizardry: in 1921, it reached the point that workers needed to be paid three times a day to keep up with inflation, the loaf of bread that cost 160 marks, 18 months later cost 200 million, the first evidence that the term ‘it’s only money’ had any real meaning.
Now you see it…
Now you don’t! Not since they decided to move the stuff into cyberspace by way of credit cards and internet banking, that way they could charge everyone for not getting their hands on it; some still don’t know how much of it they’ve actually got until the machine tells them. Now they’re selling us the bitcoin: for Christ’s sake, the bloody thing’s not even plastic! What the hell happened to reality? Years ago, Hermann could take his pay home even if it needed a wheelbarrow and you could bite a gold coin to check if it was real. Sadly, there’s no such test for financial folk, they are what they always were, Uriah Heaps, ever humble, all things to all men and, of course, women.