Score, part 3

Cost, price, worth, value, equity … The more you look at words like that, the more they smudge and blend into one another, and the more they dissolve into other social concepts of how we treat one another. There are subtle differences in meaning that only come out when you treat them as words in financial expert jargon, where context is everything. But the importance of those words doesn’t really come out until you take a step back and look at those words in the way that ordinary people use them every day.

You run a sandwich shop. A guy comes in the door and asks you for a sandwich. Does he, at this point, deserve a sandwich?

Well. That’s a matter of basic philosophy. You don’t know that he’s done anything wrong for which slow starvation should be a suitable punishment. You don’t recognize him as family or as a member of any other group to which you owe uncompromising support. To hand over a sandwich or not hand over a sandwich? All other things being equal, if you just happen to have a spare sandwich you don’t need, you should just be able to give it to him, right?

Except if you just give away sandwiches instead of sell them, you wouldn’t have a business. Eventually you would have no money and you wouldn’t be able to buy more materials to make sandwiches, or even feed yourself. You’d have maybe a hundred, maybe a thousand, people ethically if not morally owe you a sandwich, but that’s about it. Once you run out of bread.

Oh, but it’s all okay. He’s waving a $5 bill. You build him a sandwich and you take the fiver, a convenient substitute for this whole huge philosophical headache. By virtue of possessing a $5 bill that he will give you, he deserves at least $5 worth of sandwich. The second he hands it over. In the meanwhile, you build him a sandwich on credit, influenced by the potential of future money and hope he will bless the transaction with that $5. And he does. Whew.

For the labor and sacrifice of materials to build that sandwich, you deserve $5.


He earned that $5 doing God-knows-what which may or may not have actually made your world a better place. Maybe he spends his days keeping garbage from piling up on the neighborhood sidewalks. Maybe he found the money blowing around like a leaf. Maybe he spends his days designing sandwich-making machinery which will eventually make your method of earning a living obsolete — not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly disturbing. Maybe he earned that $5 from a contract for killing your mother.

But hey, $5 is $5, and, by extension, a sandwich — in the short-hand language of deserve and equity and price and value and cost.

But not really, as I stated in Part One. A $5 bill is a token that, by its motion, allows $5-worth of goods or services to change hands. It has no intrinsic worth. Tomorrow it will be used to move a sack of flour. The next day a gallon or two of gasoline. Until it evaporates back into government hands via taxes or falls into a hoard, where it will be used to gravitationally attract more money or sit around until it is stolen/confiscated/devalued/donated or put to whatever other non-purchasing use that is available to “rich-people money“. Probably loaned out at interest.

Money has nothing to do with deserve. It just saves us the trouble of having to think about it.


December 7, 2010 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  


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