19 November 2023

The Future of Money...

...And the Nature of Work

You may have noticed that I've cut back on blogging to write on my latest novel, a sequel to my pandemic/post-pandemic trilogy FLU SEASON. It follows after what happens in Book 3: Dawn of the Daughters and tells the story of the grown-up last child of our Book 3 heroine. As society returns to its pre-pandemic form and rebuilding brings us to a new era, we find a society much like the one depicted in Orwell's 1984. If you're going to rebuild a society, why not strive to rebuild the ideal society?

One of the big issues to deal with in constructing a futuristic society is how they get things done. That is, who does the work and how they are paid or otherwise compensated for that work. You find that as part of every science fiction world. The authors rethink what money is and how it may be changed in the future. The term 'credit' is often used as a synonym for money, which makes sense even down to when we get less actual physical money and more ghostly adjustments to the numbers we see on a screen which is a measurement of our account holdings.

However, just what does that account holdings represent? The short answer is how much we have worked. That is, I do this work in exchange for this much "credit" which is stored in my account. My account is now less of a physical place than a cloud collection of numbers, as easily wiped out as compounded by powers bigger than us. And different countries use different forms of money. At one time, according to my grandfather, people used nice seashells as money, which left me looking for very nice shells when on the beach and later finding that nobody would give me money for them. 

Most of us have entered agreements whereby we will do something on a regular basis in exchange for an appropriate amount of compensation. I, myself, have entered such contracts whereby I performed tasks (let's call it a job) and found the balance of numbers in my account increased periodically. Funny how that works. Even funnier is how my colleagues who seemed to do less of the same tasks actually got larger increases in their accounts. Granted, we each had our own way of accomplishing those tasks, so that may explain the differences. It wasn't as though I was offering my hands and my back to pick up and carry things for money. No, I had paid money to learn things and I was employed to teach those things to others. There seemed to be a need when I started doing that. Not like there was a fixed number of people who could do that job, not like the National Football League having only so many positions and a cap on how much money they could allocate to pay those limited number of workers (i.e., players).

We've heard many expressions concerning money and work:
  • "We keep you alive to row this ship!" intones the captain aboard Ben-Hur's galley in the movie of the same name.
  • "You don't work, you don't eat!" says the Pilgrim's leader at Plymouth.
  • "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," states Mr. Marx.
  • "Earned Income vs. Unearned Income" - an important distinction made by the Internal Revenue Service.
  • "We no longer use money. We work because we enjoy it." (paraphrased) from a Star Trek episode, Capt. Kirk or Capt. Picard explaining to aliens about the Earth economy.

Different views of this important relationship between effort and reward. I often played games (almost like games) when ordered to do a task by one or the other parent and to get me to do it I was offered an "allowance". I didn't want to do any chores, but I did like getting some money for doing them. It was a cheap thrill to mow a lawn and get a ten for doing it. Once the money was spent it never seemed like enough for the sweat I put into the effort. My first job outside of tasks for family was making French fries in a burger shack in an amusement park, a thankless job that never paid enough for the abuse I endured from surly coworkers, a devious manager, and hot oil. 

Eventually I was employed in a library while otherwise being a college student. I did mostly physical labor: returning materials to the appropriate shelf, which required less strength and more knowledge of the alphabetical order. I felt adequately compensated for my expert application of the alphabet. But in the future, perhaps I would not be compensated. Suppose I only got food for my work? I put in a few hours of work in exchange for a small box of food. Kind of like: if you help me I'll buy us lunch. Or, in more practical terms, call your friends up to help you move and offer them pizza - only some pizza.

I could recount each and every job I had but that would bore you - if you're not by now. But it does raise a recent phenomena I discovered just before I retired from my job. As a professor I often taught a class on doing research. One semester, when assigning a survey project in which students would design and conduct a survey by gathering information from other students, some students complained that they couldn't get anyone to help them. Their fellow students were demanding financial compensation for their time and answers to the survey. I assured them students love to give their opinions about everything - but I was wrong. We had entered the new economy: every effort, down to the most minute detail, was subject to payment. And that wasn't only if you had fans who would willingly pay for what you offered; no, that's commerce, buying and selling a product or service, not labor for compensation. Or is that the same thing?

That brings us to the near-future. After a ten-year pandemic and a couple decades of anarchy and war, there is no more physical money in society (see the FLU SEASON trilogy), nor is there any banking system. By the end of Book 3, society has returned to a basic system, printed new paper money which wipes out the old bills. In the sequel now underway, we move into the cash-less system. Our hero finds that is not a good way of doing things. He works at a menial job in exchange for mostly his weekly food rations. No work, no food. It becomes a dire situation, pushing him to take matters in a dramatic direction. In Orwell's "how-to" manual, the city is a run-down, depressing place but they have food, albeit poor selection at inflated prices. In FLU SEASON 4: THE BOOK OF DAD (coming in 2024), all is gleaming and clean. It is a gilded cage. "Everyone has a place and a place for everyone" goes the Ideal Society's motto. Work or you won't be given food. And there's no place else to get it.

Stop working and you will receive no food. You will die eventually. Annoy your leaders enough and you may be sent for rehabilitation. Or a labor camp where you work for nothing, but they feed you as part of the process to keep the work flowing. Think of your present job and how you are compensated for what you do. Lots of laws put in place to enforce fairness, equity, freedom from unsafe practices and harassment and prejudice. But what if the only job in town is you straining your body every day - and they give you a meal? 

(C) Copyright 2010-2023 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog posts are like a friend offering valuable advice.