Friday, June 14, 2013

A Money Question?

I awoke in a familiar panic this morning, the piercing contraction in my chest with the sinking stomach feeling, shortness of breath, and a rush of heat in my face that produced sweat.  No, I wasn't having a heart attack, although I suppose someone might mistake a panic attack for one.  This familiar panic hits me whenever I allow myself to face the bottom line reality of my financial situation.  It made me wonder if the rich ever have panic attacks about money or do they even think about it?

Why do prices increase year after year?  Is there a point at which they must fall, as in "what goes up must come down," or will they just continue to spiral upward?  How do we stop this upward momentum in prices?  I've had these questions in the back of my mind since I first learned about prices when I was a young girl.  No, I didn't take an economics class at any time during my schooling.  I didn't because to me, everything related to money seems exceedingly arbitrary to me.

I chuckle in bemusement when I hear on the news that the Stock Market rose on favorable economic news or dropped at high unemployment numbers.  People control the Stock Market, folks, and it's the people who are reacting to the economic news not the Market.  It's all about psychology.  The Market could be manipulated if you could find a surefire way to manipulate the feelings and thoughts of all the people, i.e. traders and banks, who control it.  The finance sector, however, does have a basis in valuation regarding companies, their products, their management, etc.  Why is one company valued more than another?  That depends on performance...of the company's employees, management, and products.

Products.  How are the prices set for the products we buy?  There is a certain formula perhaps that relates cost of materials plus cost of labor plus marketing and distribution equals per unit cost.  But how do we establish the costs of all the parts of the equation?  How do we establish the value of something?  Isn't that arbitrary?

Imagine living on a planet rich in gold deposits.  The sentient creatures inhabiting the planet have no use for the gold.  To them, then, it has no value.  Then humans come along and, delighted to find such rich gold deposits, decide they want the gold.  Ah.  Would the sentient creatures give the gold to the humans?  What if these creatures have no knowledge or experience with the exchange of goods, or barter, or money.  What if they are far more concerned about the human presence on their planet and how it might influence their culture?  I tend to agree with them about the humans.  Chances are, the humans wouldn't ask but just take, and then conquer the planet and colonize it for their own purposes, nearly wiping out the native creatures.

I think what I've been struggling with for most of my life is the psychology of money.  Could we ever attain the Star Trek 23rd century ideal of no longer being interested in the acquisition of wealth or material things?  Money, and everything related to it, is now so embedded in the human psyche, in culture, and in life, that I wonder if it ever could be eliminated.  I believe the Star Trek writers understood one thing, however: if humans were no longer concerned with the acquisition of wealth, something needed to take its place. 

Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" from "Star Trek"

A sad truth: living in America now is far more expensive than it was 35 years ago.  And I keep thinking that it really doesn't have to be so expensive if people re-thought how they valued things.....including how much an employee's knowledge, skills, intelligence and experience are worth.  It's disgusting how little employers want to pay nowadays.....

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