Patricia J Anderson

THE MONEY CHRONICLES


ďItís all about money and anyone who says itís not is being paid to say so.Ē
Anonymous


How do you feel about money? Love it? Hate it? Desperately need some? Whether youíre set for life or dodging the repo man, you must have noticed we live in a world defined by money. Our language reflects this reality. Sick people are "health care consumers." Children are ďeconomic resources of the future.Ē Art is a ďfinancial investment.Ē What's left of the world's rainforests might be saved if "consumer ecology" can make it profitable. Five thousand years of evolving civilization is "the global marketplace."

Other values are derided as sentimental or naively idealistic. If you stop and think about it, youíll realize weíve come to a rather amazing moment in time. Today, money is the deciding measure of our culture, our community, and often, our own self worth. It determines global events and our most intimate relations, influencing sacred and secular traditions alike, affecting every aspect of our lives without exception.

How do we manage the demands of such a ruthless paradigm? Some of us manage it very well indeed, flourishing in an environment of intense financial competition. Some of us donít handle it well at all, struggling under the monetary requirements of contemporary life. Many of us settle somewhere in the middle, compromising on one end or the other in an effort to insure a modest financial security while still finding the time and attention needed to pursue other priorities and interests. However we deal with it, money is now a defining matter for all of us. It has become our common language and our common measure.

The Money Chronicles talks with rich and poor, young and old, black and white, calm and freaked out. These are our stories as we live in a world made of money.

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The following case histories and comments are taken from interviews with real people. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent, the embarrassed, the shy, the bitter, the guilty, the delusional, and the doomed.


Question: What do you think and how do you feel about money?


Michael
35
Marketing

Money is power, power and freedom, freedom of choice. They say democracy gives you freedom of choice but really, itís money. It's important to realize that and not get fooled about what's really going on. All the rhetoric about other values and stuff, it's a kind of scam, a side show that everyone is focused on but really, it's the money that decides things. And behind that scam is another one, even more far out. There isnít something real sitting somewhere that makes the money valuable, itís just us. Itís this unquestioned agreement we all have that itís worth what we say it is. Maybe thatís what makes it so powerful. We all believe in it, like God or something, but it's just us. Itís almost supernatural.


Bob
23
Online Order Fulfillment

My freshman year in college, I did that thing where you light a joint with a ten dollar bill because youíve learned itís not backed by the gold in Fort Knox, or by anything anymore. Itís just a piece of paper. Last year I graduated with $40,000 in debt. Now I wish I had that sawbuck back.


Marty
25
Online Order Fulfillment

Sometimes I think they make school so expensive because thatís what they want to teach you. They want you to see how important money is so youíll knuckle under and get over any ideas you might have about making things different or following your bliss or anything like that. Itís like that idealistic stuff has got to go so they can get what they need out of you.

Which is?

Which is a scared worker who wonít make trouble cause he has to have that job no matter what else is going on. The whole thing sucks.


Jessica
25
Wife

I went to private school and all my friends were in the same class, the same financial class I mean. We could all do the same things, go to the same places. Itís better that way. Itís more comfortable. You donít have to worry about saying something that gets weird. Everyone has the same assumptions, the same references. Thereís no embarrassing silence if you complain about the help. Thereís a reason people tend to spend their time with others of the same background. Itís just more comfortable for everybody.


Jeff
34
Stock Broker

I was raised to achieve and Iíve done okay. Money is the measure of success in most places, in most professions. I donít mind that. Itís what lets you do everything else. I mean, you canít make a donation to Greenpeace unless you have the dough, right?


Paul
42
Geologist

Look. Itís only money. Itís not what really counts in life. What really counts is love, compassion, learning, being a good person. I read once where this Buddhist monk said, "Take what comes without a price tag and cherish it as a holy text." That says it all.


Karen
32
Single mother

When someone says, "It's only money," it shows how little they know. It's only money until you don't have any, then it actually becomes food, clothing, a place to live, heat, light, and a telephone.


Jennifer
29
Graphic Artist

I freelance and for several years I was doing quite well but recently work has dropped off and Iím really worried about money. Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít. Iím trying to deal with it by not spending any, but itís really hard, mostly with people I see socially. Before, I didnít quite realize how almost everything we do costs a bunch of money. Someone will call and say, ďMeet us at ---,Ē and Iím thinking, ďOh god, thatís going to be expensive.Ē And if I say, ďI canít go there, Iím on a tight budget,Ē thereís a pause, you know, and itís like Iím a drag on things. So Iíve been saying stuff like, ďOh, I heard it not that great," or something like that, which is ridiculous because Iím making it up and thatís kind of weird but Iím not going to say, ďLook, I canít do any of the things you can do anymore because I donít have the money.Ē Itís too hard, itís too Ö lonely.

You don't feel you can talk to them about it?

It's not that easy. Yeah, sure, you could say, what kind of friends are these? But I donít think itís about loyalty or stuff like that. I think money is different. You become friends with people because you share things, you share experiences and feelings. If your financial status changes you are suddenly having completely different experiences Ö completely different feelings. People can like you a lot but they donít know what to do because being broke is like having cancer or something. No one knows what to do about it, no one knows how to relate. I mean, what are they supposed to do? Give you some? Then what happens? You're one down, you're "in their debt." And I'm using air quotes here because no matter how much you want to think nothing has changed, it's not true. Your relationship has changed. You are, actually, in their debt. I donít think itís about loyalty, I think itís just real hard to deal with each other about money.


Susan
28
Photographer

I do freelance work for a newspaper and I wind up dropping in on all kinds of different social circles and financial circles too; lives and worlds I'd never get to see otherwise - some real rich and some real poor and some in the middle. And the thing I notice is how my sense of my own situation changes depending on which circle I step into. Like last week I was getting pictures for a story on this place that helps homeless people and when I'm packing up my equipment to leave, this guy is standing there and he says, "Is that your car?" And I say, "Yeah." And he says, "Nice." And I say, "Yeah, it's great." Now my car is a beat up six-year-old Honda Civic someone sold to me before he moved to Montana. He didn't leave a forwarding address. Get the picture? But compared to what that guy has - which is nothing - its a nice car.

Two days later, I'm shooting a charity benefit at this really posh club in the Hamptons and I drive up and the valet points me where to park and there's nothing but Mercedes, Rolls Royces, and all these gleaming, expensive foreign cars and my little blue Honda looks like a total junker. So, I'm rich to the guy at the homeless shelter and I'm poor to the guy parking cars at that party. Its a slippery thing and even though I don't like to admit it, it effects the way I feel about myself. When I come back from the homeless place I feel like I've got a pretty good life. When I come back from the Hamptons I feel like a failure. I'm trying to find my own measure of myself, separate from money, but itís not easy. The money thing is always there.


Carol
41
Corporate Executive

I don't think Iím obsessive about money but Iíve always prided myself on being realistic and honest about it. Then one day my six-year old said, "Mommy, how much money am I worth?" It shocked me, it really did, and I realized my husband and I use that expression a lot. "He's worth X," or "That job's worth Y," or ďHeís got his price, youíve just got to find out what it is.Ē I try not to talk like that anymore. At least, not around her.


Harvey
51
Real Estate Developer

I'm not ashamed of making money, not one bit. That's what I'm trying to do. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I work hard and I keep a lot of other people employed. I'm doing my part to keep the economy going. Working hard and making some decent money - that's the basic American thing. That's what all the immigrants came here for. Why not? It's a good thing and we've figured out a good way to do it.

People think there's too much greed now, but they don't stop and think how it's always been that way. Money has always been the ultimate power behind everything. It's the main thing in all the different societies, through history. Now, we're just up front about it, its more out in the open. More people have a chance to be part of the game, the money game. I think it's great. It's democracy. It's progress.


Lisa
32
Data Management

I lost my job six weeks ago. It wasnít because Iím not good at what I do. It was because my job got cut. One day it was there and the next day it didnít exist anymore. Me and about 20 other people. They just gutted the whole department. It was crazy. Our department had just had the best year in the companyís history, the biggest profits. But there was a merger and some big stock deal and they cut us out even though we were doing a great job. It was like being the victim of something hidden, something that didnít care how good you were or how well it was going. Someone used that word down-sized and one of the guys said, ďThatís just a fancy way of saying axed.Ē The words are there and theyíre bad words Ė fired, cut, axed. They sound painful. They also sound like youíre a tree or something. Whatever words you use to describe it, it doesnít even give a hint of what it really means, what it means to the person.


Bobby
61 years old
Music Teacher

People say the sixties happened because a bunch of affluent kids didn't have anything better to do than take drugs and criticize the government, but that's not how I remember it. I didn't come from a rich family and none of my friends did either. We weren't just being contrary. We were really serious about the Vietnam War being wrong and the civil rights movement being right and we cared about those things. We really did. The main thing I remember from then was that we - I mean the so-called "hippies" - we were saying: "Life is about something other than money, man." And the straight establishment was saying: "I have just one word for you - plastics." And you know what? They won and we lost. Now the world is ruled by the plastic guys with plastic money and plastic food and plastic principles. Turns out it is all about money, after all. Pretty wild, huh?


Gary
45
Musician

Anxiety about money has been a consistent theme in my life, ever since I was a kid. For me, all of the usual anxieties of childhood extended into money. I tried selling lemonade. I took a box, put a cloth over it, made a sign, had this nice pitcher of lemonade, little paper cups, the whole thing. Nobody bought any. This reinforced my fear that I couldn't do this. To me money was something very mysterious. Still is.


Jerry
42
Computer Software Consultant

I was at a dinner party the other night, in a friend's apartment with five other people sitting around a table, talking about lots of things, including who was sleeping with who. My mind was wandering because I've been having money problems lately and that's what I'm thinking about most of the time. I found myself wondering just exactly how much money everybody there was making. More than me? Less than me? How do I compare? I became filled with curiosity.

Apropos of the conversation someone made the crack that there were no virgins in our generation and we wound up actually going around the table with each person revealing the age and nature of their first sexual experience, which is certainly a private matter, but we all did it. We all showed different degrees of candor but we joked and teased one another with ease. Nobody got uptight or anything. Now if I had said, `Let's go around the table and everyone tell how much money they have,' it would have brought the evening to a dead standstill and I would never have been invited anywhere ever again. Thatís how weird it is.


David
32
Dentist

Remember when the whole Bernie Madoff thing happened and how everyone was shocked that he could convince people he was legit when it was so obvious he wasnít? It wasnít shocking to me. The first thing is, if youíre making money from something you donít look under the cowís tail, as they say. The second thing is, Americans admire outlaws. In the Madoff case, yeah, he was a criminal but thereís some kind of respect hidden in there somewhere. Itís like everyone wants to be rich and it doesnít matter how you do it. If you get away with it, Americans admire you. Thatís why it wonít change. These last couple of years, when everyone saw that the whole financial industry is full of corruption, it didnít matter. Thereíll never be a real outcry that really changes anything because, on some deep level, itís accepted. Lying and cheating donít matter if youíre making money doing it.


Joseph
46
Trucking Office Manager

I commute every day in my car and I listen to the radio and Iím asking you, when did the Dow Jones Average become the weather report? All the news stations have this traffic and weather thing every ten minutes, which is helpful if you commute. You need to know where the pile-ups are and if itís going to snow or not. But the stock market? The Dow Jones, the S&P 500? I need this all day? Why? The guys who work on Wall Street have all that information right in front of them. They got computers and monitors showing them what's happening every minute, all day long. Why is it broadcast to everyone else? Constantly? I think itís because they want us to think that what Wall Street is doing is the most important thing there is. So when they crashed everything, everyone sort of felt like, yeah, they have to get bailed out because itís "the economy.Ē But itís not. Itís just these slimy guys gambling huge amounts of money on schemes that fail and then they get my tax money to save their ass. Money that could have gone to my kid's school or social security or whatever. And they get it. Because theyíve managed to make everyone think itís the fucking weather.


Michael
29
Currency Trader

Itís disappearing you know.

How do you mean?

What we think of as ďmoney.Ē Itís disappearing. Itís already gone on some levels. Computerized currency trading has changed the whole game. There are massive amounts of money funneled around the globe every day Ö just blips on a screen. The currency market has no borders, it operates 24-hours a day, and it moves immense quantities of this pure entity back and forth across the planet with the speed of light. And it is pure. By that I mean, it doesn't represent anything else, just itself. Markets used to be where you invested your money based on the value of something else. Now it's just the money. It's really beautiful in a way. And thatís just the beginning. As soon as they develop a broad-based, workable and secure mass digital money system, all financial transactions will be done that way. Itíll all be blips on a screen.


Estelle
36
High School Teacher

I just wonder, if the whole financial system disappeared, if money didn't exist anymore and everyone was in an equal position financially, what would we look like to each other? Who would we see as important? What would be valuable and not valuable? What if the most valuable thing turned out to be music, or the ability to make people laugh? If power and worth weren't based on money, everything would be completely different. Don't you wonder what we'd do with that?



MORE TO COME


AN ANNOTATED HISTORY


One dusty day in ancient Anatolia, someone took a slug of metal and stamped a lion on it. 2,500 years later, money dominates our lives, our politics, our communities, and our personal sense of self. Itís everywhere and it determines everything. What the heck happened?



Sometime around 640 B.C.E., the Lydian kings mint coins, creating a small, convenient, uniform way to exchange and account. Before this, precursors of money, (numerous objects of varied kinds,) have been developed in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia and other parts of the world, but none have the advantage of standardized size, weight and a stable assurance of value.



Spreading to Greece and eventually to Rome, coinage allows commercial exchange to become exponentially more efficient, expanding rapidly into what will become an engine of empire, the retail marketplace.



As money becomes the standard of exchange it slowly morphs into a metaphor for more abstract values such as religious tribute, sexual favors and political fealty. No longer requiring an actual "eye for an eye," justice can be achieved by imposing a financial penalty.



Human labor is now a commodity that can be assessed in monetary terms. As money becomes the standard measure for work, it is also becoming a measure for time itself.



Early in the common era, China develops the first known paper banknotes. Cycles of hyperinflation result in the collapse of economies, creating periodic instability. By the 15th century, China has abandoned paper money and does not reinstate it for hundreds of years.



Empires rise and fall and their money rises and falls with them. When Rome is conquered by the Visigoths their established monetary system is abandoned. Throughout the Dark Ages and into the Middle Ages, money plays only a fragmentary and intermittent role in the more feudal societies no longer centered in the great city-states of Greece and Rome.



In the 14th century, as the Renaissance begins to flower, Italian merchants develop a document called a "bill of exchange," effectively creating what would become the banking system in Western Europe. Over the next centuries, European nations establish state banks which help to finance wars, exploration, and colonization.



In the British colonies of North America, a profusion of diverse settlers creates a confusion of coinage, including sovereigns, pistoles, ducats, French louis d'or and Dutch johanneses.



After independence, in 1785, the U.S. Congress declares that "the money unit of the United States of America shall be one dollar." The first public building constructed in the new country, before either the Capital building or the White House, is the U.S. mint.



Paper expands the role of money in all walks of life but the profusion of units of value still remains complicated and confusing. The decimal system, originating in Russia and adopted in the late 18th century in the U.S., establishes a simple, clear method of delineating value, dividing the dollar into one hundred equal parts.



Robert Morris, the U.S. Superintendent of Finance in 1782, urges Congress to adopt the decimal system: ďÖbecause by that means, all calculations of interest, exchange, insurance, and the like are rendered much more simple and accurate and more within the power of the great mass of people. Whenever such things require much labor, time, and reflection, the greater number who do not know, are made the dupes of the lesser number who do.Ē



For much of history, paper money, while convenient in many ways, has been notoriously unreliable. Different countries use different commodities to back their currency and value waxes and wanes as access to that commodity grows or diminishes. Gold becomes the reserve most widely relied upon and, by the end of the 1870s, most of the world, in effect, begins operating on the gold standard, creating a more reliable measure for currency, commerce, and exchange.



At this point, the international currency system becomes the first global-wide paradigm uniting the world. The cultural anthropologist, Jack Weatherford, describes this phenomenon as follows: ďGold had done what no conqueror or religion had managed to do: it had brought virtually all people on earth into one social system.Ē



While the gold standard has the advantage of stabilizing currency, it has the disadvantage of requiring the amassing of greater and greater gold reserves to increase and enrich the money supply. The nineteenth century sees European nation states fighting wars, building empires, and plundering the world in search of gold.



With the First World War, the need to finance armies grows at the same time as the worldís untapped supplies of gold diminish and governments turn to simply printing money regardless of their ability to back the paper with commodity reserves. The end of that war marks the beginning of the decline of the gold standard as governments find themselves reluctant to give up the war-time power to print money and manipulate the money supply.



Rampant speculation and its attendant cycles of boom and bust leads to international bank failures. Financial crises are no longer confined to single countries but become world-wide as international monetary activity becomes more and more interconnected. In 1929, the U.S. stock market crashes, creating a world-wide economic depression.



In the aftermath of that economic disaster, the U.S. government begins a series of moves that will culminate in 1971 when the United States goes off the gold standard. No longer backed by precious metal, the American dollar becomes fiat money, its worth declared by order of the government and nothing more. The inscription on paper bills promising ďPayable to the Bearer on DemandĒ is replaced by the phrase ďIn God We Trust.Ē



By the end of the 20th century, the financial industry has replaced agriculture and manufacturing as the engine of western economies, promoting consumerism on a grand scale. The currency of the ďfreeĒ market-place is the personal credit card, a sliver of plastic representing incurred debt. Electronic banking, credit and debit cards move society a step further toward the elimination of coins and paper money altogether.



The financial industry creates complex investment instruments and products through such devices as mortgage-backed securities, which helps to fuel a real estate bubble at the beginning of the 21st century. Literally trillions of dollars in phantom money is created by such speculation but it all disappears overnight as the bubble bursts.



Money becomes a symbol on a silicon chip measuring the perceived value of one thing against the perceived value of another. Digital technology reinforces this phenomenon, sending those symbols through the ether as fast as the speed of light.



Today, the largest market in the world is the market for money itself. Computerized currency trading moves trillions of dollars worth of currencies from one side of the globe to the other every single day. No physical exchange ever takes place. All activity exists only as computer entries.



Operating continuously day and night, unregulated and purely speculative, this market has no closing bell, no clearing house, no central governing body. Driven by thousands of traders acting on millions of virtually simultaneous choices made by individuals, banks, financial institutions, companies and governments, all influenced by the cumulative opinions, guesses, hunches, hopes and fears of nameless other thousands making even more subjective choices, this "market" creates a vast supply of electronic money that doesnít really exist.



This ghostly money, now nothing more than a shared concept, pulses through that vaporous place known as cyberspace, seemingly separate from our everyday lives. But it is not. In the global economy, what happens to the currency of any single nation affects not only its own populace but, ultimately, everyone in all the nations of the world.



Our well-being is now dependent on the well-being of money in all its forms. It moves like great atmospheric currents streaming across the planet, as beyond our control as the weather and, like the weather, it affects us all in the most direct and personal way, dictating nothing less than physical security and basic survival.



The story would appear to have escaped us. Our invention has become our master. What will happen next in the history of money?