ATMs running out of cash should not be a calamity

Money is a magical substance, created out of nothing, but we have surrendered its occult powers at great cost

Money is a magical substance, created out of nothing, but we have surrendered its occult powers at great cost

PEARSE DOHERTY touched on something fundamental in his declaration that you cannot “starve your way out of a famine or cut your way out of a recession”.

Our political and media cultures have contrived to make his soundbite appear to touch on the emotional heart of the present crisis. The famine idea evokes the sense that has pervaded public discussion over the past four years or so – of a quasi-natural calamity having suddenly befallen us, bringing poverty and want in its wake.

But there is no famine, in Ireland or Europe – not even in Greece.

There is no potato blight, no grain failure, no foot-and-mouth. There is no scarcity of fundamental means or resources, with the possible exception of money.

Indeed, this commodity is neither fundamental nor scarce but has simply been endowed with excessive significance and corruptly enabled to drift into and accumulate in the wrong corners.

There is poverty in Europe – increasing poverty – but it is man-made poverty, arising from the failure of the money system and the refusal of those in power to deal with this problem as it actually is. The generative capacities of Europe are as great as they ever were, not to mention the European appetite for consumption. The desires of Europeans know no bounds but the system we have accepted, which our leaders now refuse to abandon or change, renders impossible the happy harmony of demand and supply, desire and satisfaction.

To have us speaking of this crisis as though it were something akin to famine is one of the tricks our leaders have contrived to frighten us with. They warn us that the ATMs will become empty and there will be no money for us (and we add this bit) to buy bread for our children’s lunches.

What should alert us here is that the stuff we expect to withdraw from an ATM is an inert, inedible substance, at most an artificial form of energy, which is accorded a totemic function in our culture because it provides the means of exchanging and storing wealth.

It is a token of worth, but has no intrinsic value. A fiver sandwich is an unappetising prospect, even for a hungry child. The real wealth of our society – of any society – is in its natural resources and the strengths, skills and genius of its people. The ATMs running bare, then, should not be a calamity, but merely a technical hitch to be attended to by those in charge. It is nothing like a blight, and certainly nothing to be terrified of.

“Who is going to pay for our children’s lunches if we vote No/default on our debts/exit the euro?” is the great catch-question of the media interviewer whose interventions serve to maintain the public imagination at the most reduced level necessary to benefit his paymasters and other vested interests who have acquired the power to pull the ladder up after themselves.

It is a profoundly stupid question, but this merely adds vim to the vehemence with which it is asked.

Your child’s lunch is “paid for” by the sweat of your brow. It is a matter for the organisers of the State’s affairs as to how that sweat is to be represented in public transactions. Failing to understand anything, the citizen is forced to expend more and more sweat because the tokens used by our society have become stricken by a radical dysfunctionality, which has directed them increasingly into the pockets of people who could just about tell a bead of sweat from a hungry child’s teardrop.

To the extent that poverty has arisen in Ireland or Greece, it is because these countries no longer have the means to enable the sweat of their people to flow in their own interest. We were told that by plugging into the massive circuit board of the euro, we would access the means to increase our wealth. Now that it is clear that something close to the opposite has happened, those who promised us that we would inherit the Earth are determined to obscure the meaning of what is unfolding.

Our culture has “forgotten” that money is an abstraction, a mechanical entity, and that true wealth depends not on “how much” money there is but how we use it and how well it circulates. Money is a magical substance, created out of nothing, to render human life more manageable. Credit and debt therefore involve a form of priestcraft, practised by bankers, who generate money from thin air. Such understandings are no longer available to our public discourse because it suits our political and media classes for us to think of money as an absolute quantity vivified with intrinsic value.

And, unfortunately, when a society waives its right to conduct its own magic and surrenders its occult powers, as we have done, in return for an easy life, survival does indeed become a matter of how much money it can access. Thus, its people become beggars, whose sweat and genius no longer have value, who must wait upon the supposed charity of masters whose instinct is to enslave. The ATMs still work but at a cost no one can count.