Friday, September 23, 2005

Non-Money

So, a couple of days ago the left brake light on the car went out. The bulb broke - no surprise, for all I know it's been there since 1988. I just went to the auto parts store, got a new one and replaced it. I was, however, disproportionately proud. I may know a lot about cars, but I'm not mechanically inclined enough to work on mine, normally.

This was also, by far, the cheapest fix I've ever done to any of my cars. I only paid for the new bulb, which was a decent one, Osram, at a fairly mainstream (and thus expensive) car stuff store. It cost me slightly less than one US dollar.

And that makes it non-money.

An acquaintance of mine, another E-type fan, from Russia, is a worrysome sort of personality. She seems to be mildly paranoid about reality in general, unable - unwilling, rather - to let loose and enjoy life. I have my suspicions as to the nature of this phenomenon, but that's outside of the scope of this post; anyway, she kept telling me how I shouldn't use my phone so much in Sweden because the roaming charges are huge, and it's generally too costly. The truth is, while my cellphone bill this month may be double what it would normally be, in numeric values it is still an amount that I can spend without needing to consider my decision carefully.

There is a theory - I read it a while back on JoS?off, but maybe it's been around for longer - that any sort of programmer's tool or other non-major bit of software should be priced at no more than $99; because that is the edge of the level at which one would not think long and hard about whipping out the credit card and forking over the money to save a measurable amount of effort that would have otherwise gone into inventing a fix by oneself, or finding an open-source alternative.

The definition of non-money is, a sum which you are prepared to spend at any given time, for marginal satisfaction, without the indecisiveness associated with a major purchase.

Non-money is central to the concept of retail therapy, and also the marketing of non-essential goods. I am sure that most people have experienced the pleasure of spending money without guilt. The reason why you try to get a good job and earn a lot of money is not to afford something, but to not worry about affording it.

A successful middle-class person, in my definition, adjusted for the realities observed in Small Country, is a person who, with the exception of major expenditures such as a house or a car (or a baby), will not concern himself with the price of things he buys. He does not need to ask, because he can afford it.

I understand that in America, checks are still used widely; but Small Country is hugely proud of its IT infrastructure achievements, and that includes banking. My salary gets deposited into my bank account, and I access that money using my primary card - it's a real embossed one, accepted by Amazon and PayPal, but it has no overdraft so I can only use it within my debit limits. I also have a secondary, proper credit card that I can use anywhere they accept Mastercard, and the overdraft will be automatically repaid from my bank account in set payments (which I can adjust at will). What this means is that, if I never need to use cash, and never need to worry about the price of my purchases, then for most intents and purposes the concept of money is irrelevant to my everyday life. Like that episode of The Flintstones where they end up in the future, and don't pay for anything - they just sign; the act of me handing the checkout girl my card does not resemble a trade transaction so much as an identification ritual, verifying that I am entitled to receive the goods I have selected.

And now the funny part. There is a name for a form of modern society where money is not used, where everyone contributes to the general good through working, and for this receives a decent living standard, where all the necessities are readily available.

Communism.

1 comment:

tailotg said...

Jeez, I'm really not trying to be as argumentative as I'm coming across. For the record, I thought this was very insightful.

But what you describe isn't communism, because the "decent" standard of living is not based on need... it's based on the perceived social value of the service they provide.

Communism is essentially "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" (Marx, I think). But in your example, the "to each" is according to his abilities, not his needs. The fact that you usually don't have to think about money disregards the fact that you have an inherent sense of what you can afford. Less wealthy people may also not really think about money, but that's because their inherent sense is scaled back to a realistic representation of their income.

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