“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws.” — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild
I spend a lot of time thinking about the distribution of economic power in this country, and the world. The practice of substituting tickets of fiscal power for real world goods has always fascinated me.
One of the companies I currently work with is defendyourwealth.com. They are, by far, my primary ’employer’, but as I am a contractor (and feel much more comfortable under that arrangement) I choose to say I work with them. Al Schieman is the front man of that band, and an all around splendid guy. He is a reformed financial advisor who gave up his license in order to be free to tell the truth. I can get behind that.
One of the things that Al talks about, and which has long been a fascinating subject to me is the practice of fiat currencies. In a nutshell, what that means is a government producing more of it’s currency at discretion.
Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Did you know that the Federal Reserve is not a federal organization? It’s not a part of the government, nor a branch of governmental authority. The Federal Reserve is a privately owned partnership of banks. And yet, the Fed is the sole producer of United States currency. All money that flows through the US economic system, and by extension the world economic system, is produced by the Fed. Sometimes on printed paper currency, but more and more often simply as notations in the computers of the banking systems.
That’s weird enough, but as a business, the Fed is in this game for profit. How does it profit from producing currency for the United States? Interest.
To get this complicated system into am easy to suss form, we can use the following example:
The United States government decides it needs $1,000 in circulation. This could be to support it’s own operation, or to pay off internal/external debts, to fund it’s army, whatever.
The Fed says, “sure” and produces that $1,000. (Remember that this is often not printed money, it’s simply a notation in an accounting system.) The Fed then loans that money to the US government, at an interest of 10%. (Again, this is horribly simplified and the interest rates fluctuate, but they are always there. Always.)
The US Government then goes about spending said currency, and now owes the Fed $1,100. We, the United States, now owe a private bank more than we have. So, what does the government do? It borrow more currency from the Fed. The Fed produces the $1,100 and now the US government owes the Fed $1,210.
Can anyone say snowball?
“Most Americans have no real understanding of the operation of the international money lenders. The accounts of the Federal Reserve System have never been audited. It operates outside the control of Congress and manipulates the credit of the United States” — Sen. Barry Goldwater (Rep. AR)
As I say, the situation is a lot more complicated than the above example, but when you get down to it; The US Government has turned over it’s right to produce US currency to a private organization who gets to charge interest for producing that currency. This locks us into a system of every increasing debt.
Part of this is due to a system envisioned and constructed during a time in history where goods, services, and wealth were tied to physical “things” and actions. The wealth system was partly de-coupled from a physical “thing” (historically silver and gold) and allowed to bloat in a virtual realm.
This system accounts for some of the current erosion of the middle class, and the deepening bi-frication between the wealthy and the poor.
I am not sure that anything can really be done to alter this situation. But, I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s as illusory (in one way) as US currency is now.
As we move ever deeper into the Information age, the things we trade ‘fiscal tickets’ for become ever more ephemeral.
I see the possibility of the people on the lower end of wealth distribution reaching up to siphon down money from the wealthy using the opportunities the internet provides.
Here are two of my favorite examples:
Anshe Chung, the “Rockefeller of Second Life” is the virtual doppelganger of Ailin Graef in the virtual world Second Life. She began her adventure in 2004, working her way through several experimental careers in SL, eventually ending up being one of the virtual world’s first real estate moguls. Second Life connects it’s in-world currency, the Linden Dollar, to real world US currency by allowing players to buy and sell in-game L$ for US$.
I have yet to see Ms. Graef give an accounting of how much money she makes in SL (and her various other virtual reality efforts), but I have it on estimation from good sources, that in SL alone she was pulling in 6 figures at the height of the real estate boom in SL. CNN referred to her as the world’s first virtual millionaire.
The Great Eve Online Heist
Eve Online is a MMORPG sci-fi themed game with an exceptionally loyal fan base. The game features very deep game play and demands lots of man hours for progression to the higher tiers available. It’s currency is not tied to the US dollar, however players can buy (and sell) in world “things” for real world cash. Eve focuses on group effort, using corporations as the in-game grouping structure. There is no policing of the game internally, except for maintaining the integrity of the game itself. In other words, while you can get assistance if your inventory has an error, or a technical glitch causes your ship to explode, the only redress available for in-game actions is the player base.
This environment allows for some spectacularly creative and aggressive in-fighting and corporate spying shenanigans. One great example is here: http://eve.klaki.net/heist/ As far as I know the prize for biggest virtual swindle still belongs to Eve Online.
On the flip side, we have the booming industry of information products. Last year I worked for simplewealth.com. What we offered were training courses in the production of information products, and the forming, promotion, and growth of small business online. (For my meta-minded friends, simplewealth produced information products concerning the production of information products.)
Information products have been around for a great long while. Any book is, in essence, an information product. As are CDs, LPs, DVDs, public presentations, academic institutions. Any information packaged into a transferable form is an information product.
What the internet, and its attendant virtual realms, allow for is the “packaging” of information products in purely digital form.
With a combination of online hosting, a website, some form of payment collection, a recording method, and time and effort, anyone can produce an information product for sale on any subject they choose to indulge. All of this in a virtual environment where no actual physical “thing” is being exchanged.
It goes a little something like this
- I purchase the domain, “easytaichiathome.com.”
- I set up a basic website on that domain.
- I then record a series of videos on a short tai chi form. Those vids can be hosted on the Amazon S3 service for minimal cost, and I could use a service like ezs3.com to create snazzy players for the videos, which I can then post on my site.
- I put the videos behind password protection, and then sell memberships using PayPal.
- People pay for membership and then watch the vids on my site, where I also make the videos available for download.
And viola, I have an online business with a digital product that people give me real cash for. I have no actual stock. No physical place of business. The entire thing exists only on the internet.
That’s just a possibility from my own skill set. You could do the exact same. Are you an expert at hanging framed art? Awesome, you can trade that know how for cash. Are you ninja at personal car maintenance? Great! Package that know how up and sell it!
Like the explanation of the Fed above, this explanation of the information product industry is horribly simplified. Still, in a nutshell it’s accurate. The only missing ingredient is hustle.
Another shining example is Kickstarter. I have another post specifically about Kickstarter in the offing. For now I will assume you know what an amazing shift in small business it is, and in case you have been living in a cave for the last year I strongly urge you to go check it out!
More and more, in our age, products and services are becoming decoupled from physical reality. Like the decoupling that occurred for money, we live in a time where people will gladly trade cash for “things” which in a great many ways don’t really exist.
Personally I see all of this as an incredibly positive step for the future. Each and every person now can, with very little investment, become their own bosses and put together something to sell on the world wide web. And that’s just one of the many, many opportunities that are coming along in the information age. These opportunities enable us all to have more say in the distribution of wealth. We have a chance to take back some of what has been siphoned off by the big boys. We live ever more in a virtual economy, and anyone with access to the internet can get a piece of that.
On that note, let me leave you with the great George Carlin. (This clip is not safe for work, and uses strong language.)
Did you enjoy this post? I sure hope so! Drop me a comment below and let me know what you think! Cheers!