Money and Relationships Workshop 6: Money and Morals

First, let's define the terms, 'moral' & 'morality'.
What do you understand 'moral' to mean?
What is 'morality'?

Do you believe there is a universal right and wrong? Y N Depends
Do you believe a group has to agree on a standard of right and wrong? Y N Depends
Can we define the difference between moral and ethical?
If something is not moral is it immoral? Which is to say, is there a middle ground? Do you believe morality could be on a continuum or sliding scale? Do you believe it's absolute, black & white?


We talked about transactions a few weeks ago, and touched on profit and advantage, but let's quick define some terms:
What is profit?
What is 'having the advantage'? What is it in terms of a transaction?

What is the morality of profit and advantage in a transaction?
What are the human motivations behind doing a transaction?
Is there a correct or incorrect motivation?

Is there any morality in terms of a transaction? Can a transaction be moral?
Is it moral/immoral/neutral to have an advantage in a transaction?
Is 'moral' related to 'fair'?

What is being a good human being in terms of how you handle money?
What is the morally correct way to handle money matters? to give money? to get money?


Is it moral to pay your debts? Is it immoral to not pay them?




Let's look at a logic thread that I've pulled out of the Debt book, and see if this changes our answers to all the above questions. There's four parts to this idea-thread, and it's a complicated argument, so hold your breath, we're diving deep:


1. The Voracious Logic Of Debt
The Spanish conquistadores moved through Central and South America, consuming everything in their path. Modern history takes the view that they were especially greedy, but the Debt book argues that they were actually in debt to the financiers of the expedition, and it was the repayment of the constantly increasing debt that led to the inhumane massacres, and vicious infliction of suffering.
An example from 1910, the Putomayo scandal, mirrors the conquistadors' logic:

A British rubber company operating in the Peruvian rainforest had … exterminated tens of thousands of Huitoto Indians--who the agents insisted on referring to only as 'cannibals'--in scenes of rape, torture, and mutilation that recalled the very worst of the conquest for hundred years earlier.
In the debates [in London when this was discovered] that followed, the first impulse was to blame everything on a system whereby the Indians were said to have been caught in a debt trap, made completely dependent on the company store:

"The root of the whole evil was the so called patron or 'peonage' system--a variety of what used to be called in England the 'truck system'--by which the employee, forced to buy all his supplies at the employer's store, is kept hopelessly in debt, while by law he is unable to leave his employment until his debt is paid … The peon is thus, as often as not, a de facto slave; and since in the remoter regions of the vast continent there is no effective government, he is wholly at the mercy of his master." --Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition (1911): entry for Putomayo

The 'cannibals' who ended up flogged to death, crucified, tied up and used for target practice, or hacked to pieces with machetes for failure to bring in sufficient quantities of rubber, had, the story went, fallen into the ultimate debt trap; seduced by the wares of the company's agents, they'd ended up bartering away their very lives.

A later Parliamentary inquiry discovered that the real story was nothing of the sort. The Huitoto had not been tricked into becoming debt peons at all. It was the agents and overseers sent into the region who were, much like the conquistadores, deeply indebted--in their case, to the Peruvian company who had commissioned them, which was ultimately receiving its own credit from London financiers. These agents had certainly arrived with every intention of extending that web of credit to include the Indians, but discovering the Huitoto to have no interest in the cloth, machetes, and coins they had brought to trade with them, they'd finally given up and just started rounding Indians up and forcing them to accept loans at gunpoint, then tabulating the amount of rubber they owed. Many of the Indians massacred, in turn, had simply been trying to run away.

In reality then, the Indians had been reduced to slavery; it's just that, by 1907, no one could openly admit this. A legitimate enterprise had to have some moral basis, and the only morality the company knew was debt. When it became clear that the Huitoto rejected the premise, everything went haywire, and the company ended up … caught in a spiral of indignant terror that ultimately threatened to wipe out its very economic basis. Debt p 349-350

"For the debtor, the world is reduced to a collection of potential dangers, potential tools, and potential merchandise. Even human relations become a matter of cost-benefit calculation." Debt p.319

"[This is] the psychology of debt, or more precisely of the debtor, who feels he has done nothing to deserve being placed in his position: the frantic urgency of having to convert everything around oneself into money, and rage and indignation at having been reduced to the sort of person who would do so." Debt p.325


2. The Instrumentality Of Transactional Relationships
Seeing other people in terms of opportunities for transaction leads to the notion of getting what you can out of people, which leads to people becoming like tools to us, which we operate to get what we need out of them.
"We are all to think of ourselves as tiny corporations, organized around that same relationship of investor and executive: between the cold calculating math of the banker and the warrior, who, endebted, has abandoned any sense of personal honor and turned himself into a kind of disgraced machine [for producing money, turning everything into a resource]." Debt p.376

"Financial imperatives constantly … reduce us to the equivalent of pillagers, eyeing the world simply for what can be turned into money, and then tell us that it's only those who are willing to see the world as pillagers who deserve access to resources required to pursue anything in life other than money." Debt p.389


3. The Instrumentality Of Resources
Debt as a logic turns everything around the debtor into either opportunities or failures to generate the money to get out of debt. Entering into the logic of debt turns the rest of the world, people, objects, land, resources into instruments for our use and disposal.

"Those who argue that we are the natural owners of our rights and liberties have been mainly interested in asserting that we should be free to give them away, or even to sell them.

Similar ideas have become the basis of that most basic, dominant situation of our present economic life: wage labor, which is, effectively, the renting of our freedom in the same way that slavery can be conceived as its sale." Debt p. 206

Our labor has become a 'resource' that can be bought and sold, e.g. 'human resources'. Oil, gas, timber and minerals are seen as resources to which governments can grant licenses to dig up and sell. We even have 'air rights', which is the leftover legal zoned height of a building, which you can sell to your neighbor for use in building a taller building than their location's zoning would allow. This is very common in New York. Now, governments are arguing that resources like air and water are 'rights' that should be bought and sold, as in the case in Oregon.


4. Seeing People And Things In Terms of Instrumentality Leads To Centralized Control
Once you have the dominion over something or someone, that dominion can be aggregated until you control all the other things or people.

"Arguments came to be employed to justify the absolute power of the state. Thomas Hobbes was the first to really develop this arguments in the seventeenth century, but it soon became commonplace. Government was essentially a contract, a kind of business arrangement, whereby citizens had voluntarily given up some of their natural liberties to the sovereign." Debt p. 206



Is it moral to think of people as human resources?

Is it moral to think of land/minerals/trees as natural resources?
Is it moral for the state to own/license/distribute natural resources?

Is it moral to give up some rights to the state in order to be guaranteed peace and stability?
Do you agree that only a centralised power can save us from ourselves, i.e. control people well enough to enforce agreements, prevent abuses, fairly allocate resources...?


And a bit of extra:
5. But Is The State Able To Actually Play This Role In The Age Of Multinationals?
Hobbes argued that "Even if we are all rational enough to understand that it's in our long-term interest to live in peace and security, our short term interests are often such that killing and plundering are the most obviously profitable courses to take, and all it takes is a few to cast aside their scruples to create utter insecurity and chaos." So we need the absolutist state to hold things in check. But once the state enters the game, all bets are off, because:
"[Can one] really speak of a state monopoly on force when one is operating in an international market where the primary currency is bonds that the state depends on for its very ability to marshal military force?' Debt p.344



Questions to help frame your Concluding Statement:
What is the morality of money?
Can money inherently be moral or immoral?

Can there be a moral attitude toward money/credit and its use??
Is financial debt moral? Immoral? Neutral?
Is there a kind of financial debt which can be moral?

Is there a morality of transactions? Is there a way to conduct transactions morally?
Is there a morally superior form of exchange?

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