Worth its weight in what?

by Guy Brandon

Occupy London, 16 October 2011 (Credit: Crispin Semmens, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The approach we take to money has enormous implications and underpins systemic injustice. Amongst just about everything else, it’s a major contributing factor to where we find ourselves as a country now.

‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.’ – Leviticus 19:35-36

This article started out as a piece about the way we get hung up on various injustices around money – unequal pay, exploitative labour practices, stealth taxes, tax evasion, you name it – but completely miss the real point that our monetary system is utterly corrupt and rotten. It’s like Os Guinness’s story of a Soviet labourer, Petrov, who pushes a wheelbarrow of sawdust out of the factory gates every day. The KGB agent stationed there searches it in frustration each time for stolen goods but finds nothing, overlooking the fact that Petrov has been stealing wheelbarrows all along.

Unequal weights and their modern-day analogies are such a blatant sin – albeit a common one; the Bible repeatedly warns against this popular form of exploitation – that they’re like a magnet for our attention. But they let the really heinous injustice slip by under the radar while we’re looking the other way. Entrenched poverty, growing inequality, an economy that is, essentially, not just predisposed but designed to boom-and-bust, enriching the wealthy who can afford to think long-term and putting hundreds of thousands out of work in the process. Property that is out of reach of new buyers. Storing up a financial Armageddon for some point in the future, hopefully beyond the next parliamentary cycle and maybe even beyond the working lifetime of those who benefit most from the status quo. (Should you want to, you can read the full argument in our booklet Crumbling Foundations: a biblical critique of modern money.)

The B word

Then I thought a little more about what I’ve been reading in the news (and actually almost everywhere over the last two-and-a-half years), and on what Theresa May might call the ‘robust’ discussions I’ve had with my wife on the topic, and thought it was worth drawing some lines between A and B. And yes, B does stand for Brexit.

People say it all started going wrong in 2013, when David Cameron promised to deliver an in/out referendum if the Conservatives won the next election. It didn’t, but they did, so he did. Cameron was put into a corner by the rise of UKIP, who were suddenly polling in the double digits and becoming the somewhat respectable face of a Britain First campaign – a home for anyone who felt disenfranchised by a global system that wasn’t working for them.

But, of course, that didn’t come out of nowhere either. If you want a recent precedent to that popular movement, look no further than the London riots of 2011. Catalysed by the police shooting of Mark Duggan, the riots were driven by a bewilderingly diverse range of factors that had been seething below the surface and were suddenly given an outlet. Social exclusion, austerity, unemployment and family breakdown were on the list, as well as gang culture and opportunism.

Taking a further step back, when did the wheels really start to come off? Was it the end of our decade-plus of ostensible prosperity: the Global Financial Crisis, one of the first signs of which was the run on Northern Rock and its ultimate nationalisation? And bringing it back to the point, that the crisis – and our entire financial house of cards – comes down to our approach to money.

Institutional injustice

‘If the American people allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.’ – Thomas Jefferson

The distribution of money in society has always been a source of resentment that occasionally bubbles over into revolution. The Bible warns against using dishonest weights, but we have raised that to an art form. Jefferson understood the problem two centuries ago, but he couldn’t have grasped how it would ultimately look. We don’t debase our metal currency, clip coins or use dishonest weights. That stuff is for amateurs.

Central banks can create money for nothing. Commercial banks actually charge us for creating money. The very existence of money sucks value out of the real economy into the financial sector. Debt-fuelled growth enriches the wealthy and ensures the poor will never pay off their loans, being kept in a perpetual state of borderline-unmanageable debt.

Curiously, a lot of people are under the impression their social-political-economic system doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Experts tell them they are wrong, but somehow they’re just not smart enough to grasp their arguments.

There’s a lot going on with Brexit. There are many different sources of resentment in the world today. But a lot of them come down to money. At the very least, when people can get on in life, prosper and look after their families, and have hope for the future, the resentments are less. During those much-vaunted 63 consecutive quarters of economic growth, when the economy and public spending were inflated by additional borrowing, how bad was the unrest?

And while human ingenuity never fails in finding new forms of abuse and fraud, you cannot have a healthy economy when the money it’s built on is rotten. To suggest an analogy, forget fixing the squeaky wheel on the trolley when the whole supermarket floor slopes to the side.

In other words, it’s not really about Brexit. It’s never really been about Brexit. To maintain it is, is to keep searching through sawdust while the stolen wheelbarrow trundles by under your nose. 

At the time of writing, we’re still not sure what will happen on 12 April, but in some respects it doesn’t matter. Brexit is a symptom, not a cause. All the underlying factors will still be there the morning after. In the EU or out of it, Canada or Norway, WTO or customs union: when 50% of the population feel that the status quo doesn’t work for them anymore, you’re already long past the point when you should have started paying attention.

This article was first published in the April 2019 edition of our Engage News Magazine.

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Category: Reports and Articles

April, 2019

Comments (4)

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  1. Stephen de Garis says:

    Guy Brandon criticises money amongst other things, but what is his answer? Is he using the wheelbarrow analogy actually himself? It will be good to hear his answer. Of course he makes an obvious point – the bad system of creating growth based on credit / debt. Why is anyone e.g. Government minister allowed to do that and get away with it? It points to a poor political system without adequate controls. Surely that is the problem, not money per se. Barter is very inconvenient for a modern society if we abandon cash.
    “The poor will never pay off their loans” he says – maybe that is true, but does anyone one or political system force such people to take out unpayable loans? It is generally easy in life to criticise, but so much harder to provide solutions. I await his solutions!

    • Guy Brandon says:

      Just saw this. My preferred solution is a bottom-up increase in monetary choice a la Hayek. Interestingly, that’s pretty much what’s happening now anyway.
      No one is forced at gunpoint to take out a loan, but ‘People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving’ (Prov 6:30) so I’m hardly surprised people experiencing real poverty take out loans at punitive rates.

  2. Anton Garrett says:

    I agree about money, but Brexit IS NOT ABOUT ECONOMICS. It’s about sovereignty.

    • Guy Brandon says:

      I can think of 350 million economic reasons. Sovereignty includes control of the budget. Plus people only really start to question the status quo when it’s not working for them.

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