ArtCraftTech 2009: Problem Statement on Money

The Mortality Economy: A Problem Statement about Money and a Potential Solution

Abraham Burickson

Money. It is a problem, this we know. Everybody you’ve ever met uses it as the primary means for transacting goods and services. It is a brilliant system, building on the earlier barter system by adding the capacity for trades to be made for value instead of specific goods. Because of Money, a bus driver need not give rides to rice farmers in order to get the rice he needs. Brilliant. But, at the same time, an enormous amount of the world’s suffering is a result of the strange behavior of Money. People who have a great deal of Money tend to get more. People who have very little have a hard time gaining more. Consumerism runs rampant. Poetry is forgotten and poets give up and become lawyers. Healthcare becomes unavailable to a great number of people, even though the people who provide that care wish it to be available. A woman walks into a building filled with the drugs and the equipment necessary to save her life, and staffed by people whose only goal is to save lives, and, because of the Money problem, she cannot access any of it. Why are you behaving so oddly, Money? My friends, consider the following:

  1. The monetary system is remarkably efficient. Goods are able to travel thousands of miles to satisfy distant needs. The faster they travel and the cheaper they are, the happier Money is.
  2. This efficiency applies most immediately to basic needs: food, drink, clothing, shelter, transportation, entertainment
  3. and, primarily, Money itself.
  4. This efficiency is limited primarily and most consistently to these basic needs, though it has been known to stray.
  5. As systems of transportation and accounting become more efficient, and governments become less interested in interfering with Money’s evolution, Money becomes better at what it does best, and concurrently worse and what it does worst.
  6. Which is to attend to long-term needs and finer, more unquantifiable needs. This includes, for instance: Health; what is the value of health? How much does a life cost? Also, for instance: Poetry. Also, for instance: The Love of Family. Money tries to figure these out, admirably applying its supply-and-demand reasoning to these things, but, mostly, Money is non-plussed by these, and pecks away at the goods and services related to these, then returns to what it understands best.
  7. Given its indisposition to meet these finer, unquantifiable needs, once Money has transcended its capacity to satisfy the basic needs, it returns to those same needs again and again in more and more dangerous ways.
  8. Having already fulfilled the need for bread and water, Money turns its efficiency eye upon them again and produces Big Macs and Pepsi Cola; having fulfilled the need for clothing, Money turns to it again and produces Air Jordans and Gucci handbags; having fulfilled the need for shelter, Money returns to it again and makes it bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, manically expending the majority of its energy on the goods and services it knows how to move most efficiently.
  9. In its mania it tries to satisfy the most immediate elements of the unquantifiables – the sense that they have been fulfilled in the short run. To this end, Money begets Advertising to associate these unquantifiable needs with their coarser cousins. A loving family is associated with the Family Pack and the Family Calling Plan. Commercials refer to cars as poetry. Yogurt and sugar cereals are the key to healthy living. As this happens, Money encourages the neglect of Poetry and Family and Health because Money cannot efficiently deal with these. Citizens become consumers. Hurricanes are measured in economic impact. The unquantifiables become loci of shame and are forced into the flickering fluorescent light of government patronage.

There is a counterbalance, of course, to the Money problem. It is evidenced by the fact that we do still, indeed, have some poetry, some family, some healthcare for the poor. It is evidenced by the fact that when Money enters into these realms, its functioning is distorted. Lovers share their funds and cease to quantify the transactions. Individuals pay everything they have and more for healthcare, go bankrupt, then keep paying. Poetry takes a few lawyers and bankers away from their more profitable paths to pursue its occult possibility, to create with little chance of remuneration, to squander incalculable amounts of time-Money on the manipulation of line-breaks and the generation of intertextual references that no one will catch. How does this happen?

There is another economy at work that counterbalances the Money economy. Call it the Mortality Economy. The Mortality Economy handles what Money neglects. It is inefficient and lugubrious, but it is determined. It has maintained the finer side of life for years, but its methods are inflexible and constantly undercut by Money. Politicians invoke its principles and attempt to divert the flows of Money into the precincts of the Mortaliteconomy, and the people celebrate like peasants to bread crusts. Certain things survive passably well without the patronage of the Mortaliteconomy. Lovers and families are the core of these, a general bulwark of care against the tide of efficiency. Poetry does less well. Health, with its myriad requirements from the world of goods and services, does worst of all. Health should be the central facet of the Mortaliteconomy, but when it leaves the realm of a father kissing his child’s bruised finger to a realm of greater need, it enters into the heart of the Money economy, a system that could not be more perfectly allied against it.

We ask why we allow insurance companies to deny care to the sick. We ask why we allow the poor to be without access to healthcare. We ask why preventive medicine is permitted to flounder while erectile dysfunction drug research is feverishly pursued at all the major drug companies. The answer is that healthcare has been coerced from its home in the Mortality Economy to the harsh basement of the Money economy. Government says it can fix this, push more Money into the right parts of the system, even out the imbalances, fight to make Money behave.

But perhaps there is another solution, one which reverts the parasitic relationship between Money and Health back to a more stable one. Perhaps we should no longer allow Money to pull humans out of the Mortaliteconomy for healthcare services just long enough to suck them dry of their efficiency, then spew them back into the Mortaliteconomy. What if the relationship were reversed and Money were subservient to the Mortaliteconomy? What if the economy of love and beauty and life were allowed to control the provision of healthcare, calling upon Money for help only as necessary, just as Money calls upon poetry to sell cars, so could the Mortality Economy call upon Money to provide drugs and CT Scans to help it maintain health and beauty. This is a challenge of creative thinking. It is, moreover, essentially a practical challenge, and must be met as such.