Jim is a Justmeans staff writer for Energy, Climate Change, and Transportation. "From my years as a debater prior to undergraduate work in Massachusetts, I have written about science and technology, carrying this focus into graduate school, where I examined the history of Birmingham and the early twentieth century South from working class and progressive perspectives. In addition to work as ...
A Crucial Sustainable Business Anniversary
When I picked up William Greider's Secrets of the Temple, his discursive explication of the Federal Reserve System, I had forgotten how the author had structured the volume. To my surprise, practically speaking the entire first chapter concerned the travails of one James Earl Carter, especially in relation to the crushing political economic problems that he confronted in the last couple of years of his Presidency.
This humble correspondent would love to have been able to boast about how seamlessly he integrated seemingly disparate topics--one day a President's ideals about energy versus the realities of things political and economic, the next day an examination of the origins of the Federal Reserve System that can purposively dovetail with the prior presidential investigation. Alas, this, as so often is the case, resulted from randomness.
Can anyone doubt why THC posits the interconnection of everything when dumb luck and pure chance so often toss into his purview such tantalizing connections? As the third installment in this prospective five-part series on the Federal Reserve will propose, the reason that Greider began with Carter--really the proximate cause of the book--was that a systemic crisis of capital was imploding during Carter's time in office, and the masters of the universe--or, to use Greider's metaphor, the high priests at the altar of capital--had to perform their peculiar magic in order to stave off chaos, collapse, or, zounds! revolution.
The overall topic of any attempt to comprehend a banking phenomenon, which the initiation of the Federal Reserve decidedly is, has to revolve around money. Most people who live within the commodity nexus that has taken over the world more or less obsessively consider matters of money hourly at least.
Not for the denizens of the twenty first century do the verses of the Sermon on the Mount beckon. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Since we inhabitants of Babylon, which has extended its tentacles to the far reaches of Gaia's realm, experience quarrels and qualms about money, perhaps we ought ask ourselves, "What in the heck is money anyway?"
Now THC has received, on good authority, that plenty of readers abhor this Socratic approach in these situations. "It's just too darned wordy; just cut to the chase." Alas, were the world so simple as the simple minds of those who think they already know the answers and thereby want either to be able to affirm or dismiss something quickly.
Aware as he is of his frailty, of the vast, nearly infinite realm of what he does not understand in the least, this humble correspondent has to walk through things step by step. After all, could folks respond intelligibly and intelligently to that query?
THC poses the question because he has trouble maintaining a grasp on the real when he considers the notion of cash. "Ben Franklin, Ben Franklin, please come out to play" trips easily enough off the tongue, but what does that Benjamin represent?
While a complete revelation of this question is no more possible than a detailed map of the universe, a few observations will lead to the point that THC feels comfortable returning to the sphere of time and space and event that is the historical dialectic. Ergo, one might consider that, of all the categories of simple actions that humanity indulges--agriculture, food preparation, commodity production, communication with sound, simple counting, trial and error, the list could extend a bit more, no doubt, perhaps the one such activity that is prototypically human is exchange.
THC can certainly think of no analog among animals or plants. In the case of every other sort of action, at least some of our more distant cousins, whether primate or simian or avian, share some of our proclivities. Not so with purposeful exchange--coins for candy, shells for fish, cash for concert tickets, whatever fancy suits the moment and the amount of currency on hand.
Thus, this property--of exchange, as much as, or more so, than any other sets people apart. And clearly, money is about exchange. Thus, in answering the query, 'What is money?' students have to be seeking an understanding of the nature and parameters of exchange.
Just as clearly, before some definite set of junctures in the past, the nature of such effort, even though it set homo sapiens apart so distinctly, was a matter of happenstance, of on-the-spot negotiation. While THC cannot prove the point, he will posit that a shift occurred, with the development of agriculture especially, in which certain productive activities which folks undertook evoked goods---shells, cows, metals, that had utility but which, for one good reason or other, also came to contain a separate power, as an agreed upon method, or medium, of exchange.
In some nascent form, THC and his readers bear witness to the birth of money. But just as clearly, from the mines of Persia and Greece to the imperial sway of Roman coinage to the insurers of the thirteenth and fourteenth century who launched shippers on their shopping sprees in the orient. tremendous development has taken place in the meaning and actuality of money.
In all cases, however, from the most ancient and rudimentary to the most bizarre expressions of bundled future gambles of worth that are currently the rage in commodity and equity markets, the underpinning component of everything that one might nod and say, 'yes, that's something like cash,' has ever been labor. Sand, at least on the beach, cannot be cash. Sunshine, at least in its widely available form, cannot substitute for cash, though one might spend cash for a stay at a sunny condo.
Labor inheres in every coin and folding fun ticket. THC has on more than one occasion help up a $20 in front of students, asking "Do you know what this is?" As eyes glaze and drool dribbles, he has answered his own question when no one could respond appropriately. "Why, this is one hour of your teacher's time and effort."
While, as an erstwhile social-democratic, Marxist, dialectical historical materialist, THC could say a lot more about money, this dual grounding--the distinction of exchange, on the one hand, and the innate constitution of labor in cash, on the other--seems the fundamental starting point, from which a discussion of the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States might proceed.
Having established, outside of the disciplining parameters of chronology and historical development and dialectic, a sense of the underlying material reality about which this series of essays will discourse, the time is ripe to look into the forces and events and relationships that led a handful of wealthy strategists of mammon to visit Jekyll Island, Georgia, 100 years ago today. While one might start with the exploding concussion of the Big Bang in such a venture, THC will, with just the briefest of strokes for all of prior time, begin with the United States Civil War.
To make money intelligible necessitates identifying and grappling with different dialectical processes, each of which is in a dynamic relation to all of the rest. Thus, slave revolts, and ethnic uprisings at the fringes of imperial sway, and resource depletion all affected the integrity and specific utility of Roman money. In feudal society, peasant resistance to taxation, and ruling class family splintering over inheritance, and internecine warfare among lords all impacted the availability and particular worth of money in the centuries following the implosion of imperial Rome.
Detailed assessment of exact localities and regions show nuances, contradictions, circumstances that deviate from any semblance of a strict norm. Nevertheless, such overarching statements are not only defensible, but, arguably, dispositive in term of being able to describe and predict--describe the time and place, predict what future findings will reveal, and more, about money or other aspects of the societies under scrutiny.
In similar fashion, power struggles between owners and workers, and attendant mechanization and routinization of work, and periodic gluts of unsold commodities are among the dialectical components that act on the viability of cash in capitalist society. In particular, crises that affect money have occurred regularly in capitalist societies over the past several hundred years. One formulation of such recurrent upheaval, readers may know as Kondrateiff cycles, tropes about which have become almost popular among brokers and traders and high-level financial gamblers in recent years.
THC claims no expertise, nor does he lean toward any favorite theory, about the periodization of capital's five century reign over the social earth. He does observe things, however. And in watching what has transpired during his decades perambulating the planet, and reading about the centuries prior to his presence, he seems to notice that every forty years more or less, things fly to pieces, especially over the past couple of centuries or so.
In particular, in regard to the beginnings of the United States central bank, the Federal Reserve System(FRS), this humble correspondent takes note that a severe liquidity and exchange crisis wracked the U.S. in the late 1850's. For example, the search "1857 + depression" on Google elicits two and a quarter million hits.
Moreover, though the Civil War had multiple roots, this fiscal brouhaha likely played a central part in the conflict evolving when and how it did. The exacerbation of free-trade versus insular development approaches, bitter skirmishes over tariffs, and other economic bickering amped-up the core issue of slavery, and concomitant disagreements over programs for integrating Western territories into the Union.
During the century since the French and Indian Wars, and especially since Napoleon's spectacular rise and horrific crash, an increasingly international marketplace had come to prevail. This meant that what might appear a localized crack-up of badly-managed U.S. institutions likely echoed other, wider spread disasters. And so the situation seems. The 'financial panic' of 1857 exploded round the world.
Following the bloodletting of the second American Revolution (some would say, 'the first'), and the massive increase in size of both the United States debt and the national economy, several decades of industrial and commercial expansion ensued, albeit brief random blips, such as ones induced by the restiveness of certain Chicago cattle in oil-lit barns, caused dizzying death spirals. This period established the United States as the world's workhorse economy, 'the little engine that could.'
This growth even characterized the devastated, and relatively impoverished, former slave states.
Nevertheless, wage-earners and other non-bourgeois operators suffered mightily during this 'gilded age,' 'Molly McGuires and grangers and other members of the laboring classes experiencing tribulation along with Native Americans and the vast majority of Southerners, White and Black.
The plans of the Farmer's Alliance in this regard, which grew into the most potent 'Third Party' movement in U.S. history from frequently Dixie origins that rejected contemporary racial codes, offer students a telescopic view of the social nature of money. William Greider explores this in the middle of his volume on FRS, well after he's left Jimmy Carter with the taste of ashes in his mouth.
The annalist begins his chapter entitled "Democratic Money" like this. "The founding assumptions of FRS were first championed by... .plain country people--hard-worn mean and women, drearily poor and ill-educated, with barefoot children and bleak futures. ...(They) created an original political agenda for the nation. The wrenching irony of American history was that, while many of the Populist ideas eventually triumphed, the people themselves were utterly defeated."
'Greenbacks,' fiat money as regular policy, "legal tender for all debts public and private," these and other aspects of America's economic miracle that Tea Party buffoons deride at their immediate peril, emanated from a true 'populist' resurgence from the past. The Tea Party idiocy, farcical and tragic simultaneously, counts as a throwback to the ruling class' surface response to Granger cooperative ventures that provided laboratory proof of the underlying ideas about money that these progressive reformers sought to implement.
Even as banks acted against fiduciary obligations and in a way that now would be illegal worldwide, in order to destroy the Farmers Alliance coops, more and more smart-money folks, in a quandary about financial ups and downs, began to ponder if a more upper-crust-friendly version of the Populist idea might not be plausible. The politics of currency being the beast that it is, the response to this pondering eventually had to be affirmative.
A take on what money actually represents emerges from such a study. Money is not some fetishized expression of 'value,' golden or otherwise. Nor is it merely a social agreement, although a group nod to trust innately occurs in any monetized social nexus.
What the grassroots realized about money, and put into practice in a way that those who maneuvered their ruin could utilize, was that the value inherent in money was some unit of labor, socially determined and capable of abstraction, which, furthermore, could legitimately and securely depend on the ongoing circulation and recirculation of the labor embodied in currency. In case anybody wonders, THC just made that up; however, similar formulations are available, both in assessments such as Greider's--often emphasizing the connection between credit and monetization--and in multiple Marxist sources.
Such caches of analysis, which spring in some fashion from the work of Marx himself 150 years ago, are arguably the best place to look for a comprehension of money today, since most other definitions provide little in the way of substance or guidance, an assertion that, except for Keynsian output, this humble correspondent would gleefully debate in open combat. The desperate experimental legerdemain of the Populists, its rejection and uptake by the bourgeois rulers, and the tensions over gold and debt and monetary issues in the decades prior to FRS all imply the increasing predominance of finance in modern capitalism, just as Marx saw and predicted.
Because of this concentration of power among financiers, whose outlets ultimately always include the expansion of empire in some shape, form, or fashion, the tendency for crisis to extend across border, everywhere on earth, becomes more pronounced. Such was certainly the case in the depression of 1893.
Social aspects of the crisis were, in a word, "desperate." Douglas Steeples' Democracy in Desperation: the Depression of 1893 attests to this. Coxey's Army, the first of many subsequent 'marches on Washington,' typified the grassroots upsurge, which uniformly included an 'expansion of the money supply' in its demands. Internationally and nationally, widespread labor militancy, up to and including 'general strikes,' became regular recourse of workers in distress.
Thus, capital's difficulties grew over the centuries of its existence from what were generally at first series of local dire conflagrations to overall, cataclysmic, systemic threats. The political element of responses to such overarching threats clearly expressed itself as well: the Socialist Party, the Populist outcry, all manner of radicals and iconoclasts, not completely unlike what was transpiring a world away, in Russia, boiled over in the USA.
Arguably, as capital has matured and consolidated its grip on every aspect of modern life over the course of the past century or so, each new crisis yields leftover disjointedness and contradiction from previous meltdowns, so that no 'solution' to the periodic unhinging ever takes place, only an amelioration, diversion, or replacement of one socioeconomic catastrophe--depression, with another--war. In any case, as the U.S.'s position atop the international bourgeois heap became ever more solid, a lack of control over national finance, as evinced during the Panic of 1907 when Morgan banking interests salvaged the entire national economy by providing liquidity, became, even on the part of the plutocrats themselves, less and less bearable.
The Federal Reserve System came into existence as a sophisticated, some would say conspiratorial, response to this. Literally a third or more of regional members of FRS have materials analyzing this exact intersection in the Fed's formation.
Arthur Schlesinger's little book, The Crisis of the Old Order, although it deals with the period after the founding of the Fed, begins with the political events surrounding that seminal act. Though Schlesinger's 'liberalism' is decidedly anti-Marxist, his greatness as an annalist and storyteller over and over again lets readers view the summary social nature, the inherent political relations, embodied in the form of cash, itself an embodiment of social and political formulations of labor in relation to its masters among the owning class.
In similar fashion as Schlesinger plumbed the period previous to his main scope of work, of course, THC has delved to some depth in the period preceding a more temporally confined investigation, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and its immediate precedent conditions. To that, patient reader, the text now turns, in hopes, always, of discerning lessons about sustainable business, sound energy policy, and so on.
THE INCEPTION OF A BEAST--TO TAME ANOTHER BEAST
This humble correspondent has persistently insisted on beginning at the beginning of anything that he has reported, whether that dealt with the TVA, the experiences of one person, or any other worthy subject. Intuitively, THC would contend that precisely those aspects of existence which seem most mysterious and arcane are the ones that are most critical to comprehend from their inception. Thus, the body of this essay focuses more or less exclusively on the planning and execution of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
As noted above, a kind of centennial exists for this 97 year old phenomenon, inasmuch as November fifth, 1910 was a purported duck-hunting holiday for the following fellows, all with a keen interest in banking issues:
*Senator Nelson Aldrich, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee;
*A. Piat Andrew, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury;
*Benjamin Strong, head of JP Morgan's Bankers Trust and later to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve;
*Henry P. Davison, Sr, partner at JP Morgan;
*Paul M. Warburg, representative for the Rothschilds and Warburgs in Europe, and partner in Kuhn, Loeb & Company;
*Frank A. Vanderlip, President of National City Bank in New York, representative for William Rockefeller;
*Charles D. Norton, President of 1st National Bank in New York.
Strangely enough, or not, if one adopts a conspiratorial disposition, practically speaking all of what these folks discussed has yet to come to definitive light. THC intends to follow this up. However, for now, one can say with certainty that several points are accurate:
*the meeting was about banking, well duh;
*it followed up on the work of the National Monetary Commission, which Senator Aldrich co-chaired, a committee charged with coming up with better banking rules and procedures than those that left life hanging in the balance of J.P. Morgan's checkbook in 1907;
*the participants agreed to work in secrecy and speak little or nothing about it after the fact;
*the participants represented, in aggregate, much of the private wealth of the human species.
Bertie Forbes, the founder of the magazine, wrote in his 1916 tell-all about behind the scenes American elites, "Picture a party of the nation's greatest bankers stealing out of New York on a private railroad car under cover of darkness, stealthily hiking hundred of miles South, embarking on a mysterious launch, sneaking onto an island deserted by all but a few servants, living there a full week under such rigid secrecy that the names of not one of them was once mentioned, lest the servants learn the identity and disclose to the world this strangest, most secret expedition in the history of American finance. I am not romancing; I am giving to the world, for the first time, the real story of how the famous Aldrich currency report, the foundation of our new currency system, was written... The utmost secrecy was enjoined upon all."
A well known web radical journalist, highly ideological but obsessive about facts, speaks of checking one conspiracy theorist's writing about the trek to Georgia by going out and digging up the 1935 issue of Saturday Evening Post that contained a letter by one of the partakers in the original festivities, Rockefeller's henchman, Frank Vanderlip. Not only did the fact-finding muckraker come up with the letter, which took credit for the Federal Reserve Act, as advertised, but he said that he found photos of the plutocrats with their legislative ace, Aldrich, together on the island that Morgan and Vanderbilt and a few others owned together.
The primary story of a bill like the Federal Reserve Act takes place before it becomes law. And Carter Glass, compatriot of President Woodrow Wilson, who was an enthusiastic backer of the law, played a primary role in shepherding the bill through the legislative process. According to what the NMC archives suggest, and what various rants and occasional 'respectable' sources argue as fact, the bill that became law had little to do with legislative process and everything to do with industry input.
This is not in and of itself strange, inasmuch as such 'lobbyist bills' are as common as corn in legislatures around the country and around the globe today. But why, a century after the fact, continue to keep it all hush hush? The source above, for the Atlanta Constitution article at which I am staring while I type, noted--as I discovered to be true--that AJC had 'scrubbed' the article from the web. The intrepid conspiratorial gumshoe above, however, managed to snag it before that happened, in case JustMeans readers would like to take a gander.
Having stumbled upon blockades where THC expected none, a shift in course is necessary. Hopefully, readers will see that a good deal of data is present here. However, unraveling the rest of the story--of the act itself, its legislative history, the meaning of its content, will await a sixth article in the series, which will come next, when--hopefully, 'Lord willing and the creek don't rise,' this humble correspondent will also be able to tease out a clearer and more complete story about duck-hunting on Jekyll Island.
Clearly, as a couple of researchers from Wharton make clear in a recent extensive research report, "Banking Panics (are) the Origins of Central Banking." And, as a latter-day such fright has just passed by, and its watchers are still manning the helm looking out for the next nasty surprise, perhaps readers and THC should try to figure out just what the complete story is. JustMeans aficionados should stay tuned.
In this telling of the tale, the key elements concern such aspects of the story as the lack of transparency, the locus of control, missing any avenue for citizen review or majority input. The history books, whether critical or accepting, do not generally join the likes of this humble correspondent or William Greider, however.
The standard response to FRS, if an investigator manages to engage with its creation substantively, generally consists of one of three sorts of analyses. The first is dully accepting, as if nothing could possibly alter the given relations and forms of monetary rules and processes.
The second kind of orientation is sharply critical, which is all well and good. But the nature of the critique is to see a conspiracy. The problem with such a view is that the hidden assumption is that something criminal is going on, not that this is the natural evolution, or devolution, of capital in its most day-to-day routines.
Often, such admonitions as this fantasize that 'once we return to the free market'--which never existed, but hey, who's counting?--or 'once we fire the bums who did this to us'--clueless that the next set of administrators can only turn out to be 'bums' as well--then all will be hunky-dory. Alas, this might make a good Hollywood treatment or child's tale, but politically, it has less value than belching.
The third group of approaches also finds fault with the FRS. Its perspective also emanates from a particularly fantastical evaluation of markets and property. In this view, the centrality of the bank is the issue. Often, such thinking mentions Andrew Jackson's ignoring the Supreme Court for the second or third time in refusing to renew the charter for the Second Bank of the United States.
Such ideation is, if anything, even more naive than the conspiracy theorists. Centralization is a sine qua non; opposing something financial on the basis that it involves central mechanisms of control and distribution is tantamount to hating imperial conflict because it involves killing. In relation to both empire and finance, one need only think about the life and times of J.P. Morgan--his rescuing the US. banking system depended on central control's already being present, just as his financing of WWI was inconceivable outside of a context of mass mechanisms for dispensing death.
This is decidedly not to say that decentralized fiscal forms are unobtainable are otherwise inherently deficient; not is it to aver that people have no choice but to go on slaughtering each other. It decidedly is, however, a challenge to examine what might make such decentralization or such peaceable relations possible: nothing short of democracy--which requires community capacity, engagement, and potency, will ever yield these things, if they are the goals that we seek.
Carping about bureaucracy won't cut the mustard, as the saying goes. Blaming predators for their predations, calling them conspiracy, will accomplish nothing except a certain warmth when one of the cretins ends up in a prison cell.
When his replacement follows the same course about which we made our original complaint, however, what then? More bitter cavil sounds like a poor selection for a steady diet. Maybe some citizens want to jump on board the people power bandwagon with THC. It's the only plausible source of real satisfaction, in any event.
While a sage citizen would reject out of hand the notion that only money has value, the astute observer will nevertheless acknowledge that money exerts profound influences over every aspect of social existence. Sustainable business, outside of some framework for conceptualizing money usefully, would likely prove impossible. Similarly, without some basis for predicting currency flows and other aspects of the operation of cash, negotiating renewable energy policy and standards that are workable is likely to be at best a crapshoot.
Therefore, the rationale for delving into the realm of mammon should be clear, though today--and in the remainder of this series--THC does not so much seek to deconstruct money as an abstraction as he attempts to illustrate a specific historical manifestation of the control and delineation of money. The FRS represents a response to two types of difficulties that the rulers of capital encounter.
On the one hand, it provides a straightforward, and with the Depression era addition of the 'Federal Open Market Committee,' relatively safe yet flexible means for managing monetary policy, money's multiple relations with society, in a way that avoids as much mayhem as human ingenuity allows. Buying treasury notes to inject cash, selling the same notes to extracct cash, and the other mechanisms of fiddling with money supply, but for the fiasco in the 1920's, has kept the ship of capital afloat, despite plenty of shoals and tricky countercurrents.
On the other hand, FRS guarantees that the political nature of its work is both hidden away from view, in a 'temple,' as Greider puts it, and without doubt operating first and foremost--often only--for the benefit of financiers and other large stakeholders who own a piece of the action, systemically. Thus, the bailout did not touch THC or most JustMeans readers, except in extracting our taxes to provide for the true beneficiaries of FRS. If the banksters have their way, we can add, "as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. amen."
This article merely starts a process of considering the many ways that political economy, itself the bedrock of understanding and achieving such matters as 'business better' or sound energy policy, depends on a clear and operational comprehension of money. Where 'cash is king' and credit the emperor's new clothes, and dozens of dizzying reformatting schemes about these basics are always in the works, the subjects of the realm had better know to what deity to bow if they hope to have any influence on the day-to-day manifestations of money that constantly impact our lives.
At a more democratic and progressive level, citizens have little choice other than to ask for more of the same, 'please and thank you, sir!' unless they 'skill-up' in this fundamentally critical area of sociopolitical life. This humble correspondent has no illusions that his works will save the world, or even adequately salve the wounds that capital's ministrations make endemic. Nonetheless, the intention is to contribute to the development of a dialog, engender gumption, or even enthusiasm, to engage, and ultimately assume command of the process.
That's what 'democracy' means ultimately. Power to the people. All power to the people. Money's intersection with power is ineluctable; therefore, folks need to have more input, sayso, and dispositive potency in regard to its creation and use. At the very least, "that's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
Karl Marx writes about commodities, "A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties" He goes on to note that the bizarre attributes of commodities do not stem from their use, which is grounded in their being wood, or food, or whatever.
Nor do they result from the fact that labor must be the source of a commodity; this addition of the "expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, etc." is also explicably straightforward. Human labor's social form merely makes the quantitative aspect of labor more intricate, without exhibiting anything yet spooky or otherwise mystical.
He goes on to say, "A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour." THC struggles with these ideas, but they seem of central utility in comprehending money, so he recommends continuing to do battle with them.
Perhaps the following meandering thought process might help. If this humble correspondent were to produce a ring, as a gift, then as either treasure or trinket it would reach its intended destination and adorn a particular finger. This is without any quality that is not comfortable and clear.
Were THC to grow tomatoes, even a large quantity of tomatoes, for a salad, perhaps for a huge gathering of the tribes at Don Harris' Santa Cruz County confabulation, again their existence as products of his labor contain no mystery. Every bite would convey the point of the relations involved.
But were THC to receive an order for 100 rings, exactly like the one that he presented for a festive occasion; or were he to receive a request for a shipment of a 100 pounds of tomatoes, precisely the same as those with which he prepared the salad, even coming from the same vines, then something magical, discomfiting, disorienting occurs. The work is the same; the product of the work is without any difference from its non-commodified form.
Yet that labor and those products now have nothing to do with adornment, from the perspective of THC who produced them absolutely no connection now exists with the satisfaction of hunger, and instead these products now stand in relation either to other products or to money, depending on the form of the bargained-for-exchange. When one mixes into this now decidedly no-longer-sociable stew the fact that almost all such commodity production under capitalism occurs among owners--who borrow money to achieve their ends, laborers of multiple stripes, and copious 'middle-men' and consumers down the line, and that none of these people matter, not in the least, as who they are as individuals, in the commodity process as such, the weird wonder of commodity production begins to make some degree of tangible sense.
"It's all about the money" may sound innocuous, but the elevation of that statement to the level that it must command under advanced capitalism means that soulless, heartless, and strange items indeed end up in bed together, utterly outside of the capacity of human agency to interfere or intervene. Hydrogen bombs are an unstoppable necessity; Depleted Uranium must form the basis for our bullets and bombs; renewable energy only fits if it follows the pattern of centralization and dehumanization.
Nor do more mundane purchases escape the same out-of-control vortex: hormone-laden ice-cream, sweatshop produced shoes, cell-phones that inevitably induce a brain-cancer epidemic, pens that reward fossil fuel toxicity, and on and on and on and on, hiding behind a trip to the mall, a spin through the hyper-market, or the proffering of one's credit card, may not sound like 'business better,' but they are inescapable so long as the commodity form remains under the political control of capital. One need merely asks the kids who got gassed in Seattle.
That this is so seems irrefutable. Must it be so? Must, more pertinent to today's essay, the nature and parameters of money and monetary relations be only under the control of those who are the highest stakeholders in the game? 'There's the rub,' in Shakespearean parlance. Perhaps humanity and the rule of capital can add up, somehow, to sustainable business. But if it's a choice, then perhaps some citizens might join with this humble correspondent to say, 'well, we're going to begin by deconstructing these processes, in order to find ways to choose differently.'
And here is the ultimate point of looking at money, and the Federal Reserve, in this way. If indeed JustMeans readers and THC and our cousins inhabit a world in which democracy means anything akin to its dictionary definition, then all of these relationships and determinations about money and goods and more are in fact choices. All we have to do is learn enough to insist that majorities have a voice and can participate.