Saturday, July 03, 2010

Money and liberty

We're used to money - or the love of it - being understood as the root of all evil or people being degraded by the 'cash nexus' and all that but there's another more liberating side to the invention of money.

Under feudalism, payment in kind was a mechanism for control as it limited the peasant farmer's production to certain activities. The growing acceptance of money allowed for a wider range of productive activity: they showed less interest in how the farmer raised the money provided they received their rent.

This is not to suggest that it fundamentally altered the power relationship based on ownership - only that within this structure the use of money, because it is universally accepted in exchange for goods and services, is relatively liberating.

During the industrial revolution this was well understood by mine-owners, which is why it was common for them during the early days of deep-cast mining to pay their workers in tokens that could only be spent in one shop. The shop they happened to own, of course.

This is how the latest suggestion that dole recipients should be given food vouchers should be understood. The obvious solution to poverty, which is simply to give the poor more money, is unacceptable to our new 'progressive' coalition overlords. They understand that money gives people choices and in the case of the poor, this would never do because they would just make the 'wrong' choices. All the talk of the need for economy, that deficits have to be cut, that we have to be 'realistic', should be understood against this background of selective libertarianism. We have today a government already showing the hardest face towards the poor in living memory. It takes a special kind of brassneck to describe this as 'new politics'.

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