Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Don't Care If the Money's No Good"

"Now I don't mind I'm chopping wood, / And I don't care if the money's no good."—The Band, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

What are we to do in deflationary times, when the banking system is unreliable? Not only the banking system, mind: every major business we depend on has turned toxic—there are few honest deals from cell phone companies or airlines. There is no complete answer, no substitute for a reliable financial system and I see no indication we are going to have one in less than ten years. So what do we do instead? Gift and barter, I think. Be liberal with our friends. It has never been easier to manufacture small runs of a design. So we can trade products and services.

This is far from ideal. The great value of a neutral medium of exchange—money—is that there is no problem trading machine tools for money, and then buying food with the money. This is much harder in a barter-and-gift economy: a series of trades must be arranged, and there are no banks to buffer breaks in the chains of trade and gift, or lend money short-term, to tide a trader over delays in exchange. Computer brokerages perhaps can help, but one then depends on the honesty of the brokers and the design of the system, and there is no law, yet, that acts to protect participants: caveat emptor, caveat vendor, caveat argentarior. But what else is there to do? Anything that can be corrupted by the financial system very likely will be.