So on Black Friday people broke out their credit cards to buy things that stores were selling below cost. Now people are deeper in debt. The stores may not have made money. But we are supposed see this as hopeful for the economy.
I have been thinking a lot about value. Existentially I am dealing with issues of retirement income and medical insurance. I made preparations for retirement and medical emergencies so I am not in immediate trouble, but current economic trends like rising inflation and artificially low interest rates worry me some. The long view helps: the God of Israel and Jesus Christ has blessed people with life for thousands of years in all kinds of economies.
This blog’s theme is that you find God out there in the real world, which includes history. If you only find God inwardly, then the early Ludwig Feuerbach was right, and God represents only a projection of our inward needs. This correlates with the way I am thinking about value. Value has to derive from something in the real, outward world.
I’ve been looking at the thought of 19th century English writer, John Ruskin. His insight was that “there is no wealth but life.” So a poor poet and Warren Buffet might be equally wealthy, depending on how you look at it. But even the poet has to live. Ruskin said, “intrinsic value is the absolute power of anything to support life.” Religious people who support a “wealth gospel” should think about this. I fear most people just see wealth in terms of upward mobility and status.
As to the current debt crisis, note that the Federal Reserve can’t create value out of thin air apart from currency’s relation to life.
A thought experiment: the United States owes 15 trillion dollars. We hear that the government can’t go broke because the Fed can always print or create money. So why wouldn’t it be a good idea to print a bill with a new denomination? We could print a $15 trillion bill and pay off all our debt at once. We could put a picture of Ben Bernanke or Paul Krugman on the bill.
Sarcasm aside, this question leads us back to the reality that value cannot arise except in relation to life. Some see gold and silver as a store of value. Historically they have been. But aren’t they really just as much fiat currencies as paper money? They have value because people give them value. Silver has some pragmatic value, but gold is just shiny dirt. How do precious metals relate to the idea that “there is no wealth but life?”
A long time ago I read a novel by Arthur C. Clarke (I am pretty sure) in which he imagined a future society where the currency was tied to a BTU standard. In other words, money was ultimately based on energy. I wonder if that isn’t the reality underlying our 21st century economy. We don’t have an explicit energy standard. But an unwritten one would explain why we can’t print a $15 trillion bill. We don’t have the BTUs to back it up.
Somehow, value has to relate to life. Those of us who see God as the creator of life will try to remember that our only security lies in our bond to the Source of all value.