Thursday, 18 August 2011

Debate: The End of Money?

Our popular debate series looks at familiar things that we take for granted but which are threatened by change. Our reporter Charlotte sat in on Monday's debate which explored the theme of money

Globally, countries are experiencing troubling financial times; worryingly this includes the USA, UK, Greece and Italy. On Monday evening the Book Festival took the time to question the future of money in its current form, and if we may in fact be nearing the end of money. Esteemed Scotsman Executive Editor Bill Jamieson chaired the debate with participating authors Ian Morris, Stephen Armstrong and Julie Hill.

Money will be redundant
Ian Morris proposed that presently money has three main uses: the medium of exchange, a unit of account and a score of value. Morris, who wrote Why the West Rules-For Now, went on to argue that we won’t need money in the future because the human body is fusing with machinery. Soon we will all pay for things, communicate and even surf the web by a silicon chip implanted in our arm or head. According to Morris the Six Million Dollar Man has become a reality but will cost a lot more than six million dollars. The roles that money currently has will be redundant in the future.

Price is the problem
While Stephen Armstrong wasn’t particularly impressed with Morris’ argument he agreed it was a true vision in science fiction. According to Armstrong, who wrote The Super-Rich Shall Inherit the Earth, price is the issue, not money, and in particular the price of debt is a huge problem for America and the UK. Stephen urged us to move towards a dawn of thoughts exchange and said that in order to to reach this place without money we need to remove the current price differential. Armstrong commented: ‘The feral rich won’t pay taxes and the feral poor can’t pay taxes’.

An issue of resources
Julie Hill, famed for her book The Secret Life of Stuff, didn’t agree with either gentleman. Hill believes that so far we have failed to price resources, particularly the natural ones that underpin our economy. Looking towards the future Hill is concerned that there won’t be sufficient natural resources for basic sanitation and food for our ever-growing population by 2050, and questioned what money will mean to us if we don’t have the natural resources to provide the solution.

Questions from the floor
Encouraged by floor questions the panel went on to discuss many of the issues relating to the influence of money today, and how we could perhaps move towards an equal society. Armstrong advocated that there is often less trouble in countries with higher wages and suggested that to help us become more equal we could raise the present UK wage bill. Hill commented that, although the health and science of a country was often linked to income disparity, the fear of crime often strengthened relationships with many poor societies rating themselves very happy and content because of their solid family and social interactions. 

The audience questioned the role of corporations in the end of money. Ian Morris believed that corporations as we know them presently will disappear in the future because the huge engines of economic growth will not be needed when we have implanted silicon chips inside our bodies. Armstrong highlighted that we should be more concerned with private equity funds than corporations because they are wealthy investors that buy businesses cheap and sell them on for high profits. Additionally they help to finance political parties and don’t have to bow to public demands. Most importantly the private equity funds pay little or no tax which will not help debt reduction. 

So What does the end of money mean?
To end the debate a brave audience member asked the panel: ’What does the end of money mean?’ Ian Morris stated: ‘if technology continues to advance why would we need money if we are living on a super technology highway?’ and claimed that, in many ways, we are already there. When we buy things on our mobiles or the web money is moving from buyer to seller conceptually, not physically. Julie Hill believes that the implications of creating a cashless economy would be enormous.