I Listen To Money Singing
I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
— from Money by Phillip Larkin
Thinking about the insanity of Capitalism as it stands today is enough to drive you, gibbering and tearing out your hair, into an early grave. The whole set-up verges on the surreal. Verges? What am I saying? ‘Verges’ be damned: the whole shebang has gone, Gadarene swine-like, over the fucking cliff.
In the 1930s, someone (memory fails me but I’m guessing Larry Durrell) asked Henry Miller to write an essay on economics (‘the dismal science’ appellation is half right: it is dismal) for one of those literary magazines that used to spring-up overnight like mushrooms…and vanish just as quickly.
Initially, Miller took the job seriously; but after hacking his way through a few thickets of economic ‘analysis’, ‘history’ and ‘philosophy’, Miller baulked–the stuff was dross on an epic scale.
What he wrote instead was a very funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek essay called Money and How It Gets That Way. I wish I had a copy to hand or even remembered where in his works it appears, but I don’t and can only recall laughing uproariously and being impressed at the astuteness of some of Miller’s insights.
Faced with the same task today, I suspect that even Miller, a happy-go-lucky sort if ever there was one, would have turned to the rope, the razor or the revolver.
Consider, for example, the ‘markets’, whose volatility, petulance and capriciousness have governments shitting themselves in terror; the ‘markets’ to whom governments must turn to ‘borrow’ money to carry-on the business of government.
How is this ‘borrowing’ accomplished? Through the sale of government ‘bonds’, which are essentially I.O.U.s. The markets purchase these bonds and demand a sum of interest be paid on the bonds that the markets (via the medium of the credit-rating agencies) decide is commensurate with the degree of ‘risk’ involved in buying bonds from (i.e. lending money to) this or that sovereign government.
And here’s where things become so warped, so bizarre, so flat-out fucking insane that it makes my brain hurt to think about it.
How do the ‘markets’ (i.e the various banks and bond-dealers) pay for these bonds? As things stand (and have stood for the last 4 years), they use money, issued by governments, that they have ‘borrowed’ (in a process called, for some reason known only to God and Mammon, as ‘Quantitative Easing’) virtually interest-free…from governments.
Think about this.
The Government, who profess themselves to be in dire need of money, print money.
They then lend that money to banks and financial institutions at almost zero-interest.
The Government then announces that it will be holding a sale of government bonds.
The markets, guided by the ratings agencies, declare that the government’s finances are in a parlous state and the markets demand a higher return of interest on the bonds.
The government acquiesces and offers the markets a higher return on the bonds.
The markets then buy the government bonds, while at the same time announcing that the higher rate of interest being paid on the bonds is evidence that the government’s finances are in a precarious state; that lending to the government is increasingly risky and that the markets will require a higher return of interest if they are to buy the next tranche of bonds.
In a swift, swivel-eyed, howling-at-the-moon nutshell, I repeat: the government prints money; the government then lends that money to the markets at zero-interest; the markets then lend that money back to the government at increasingly high rates of interest.
Meanwhile, the markets are demanding that the government institute more ‘austerity measures’ because the government–you know…the government that printed the money and lent it to the markets so that the markets could lend it back to the government: that government–is a bad loan-risk.
Every time I try to process this lunatic scenario a little bit of my brain turns to tapioca and I have to begin again.
It’s official: the whole fucking world has fallen down a rabbit hole and has started having conversations with hookah-smoking giant caterpillars and talking playing-cards.
Time for poems about money or the lack thereof…again; and here’s an old one of mine…again:
A La Carte
Money is tight and it’s going to get tighter;
cinch-up your belt and get set for the storm.
Your pockets are light and they’re going to get lighter;
our passions are cold and our soup is luke-warm.
Bodies are stacked in the street like cut fire-wood;
burn them for fuel when they’ve dried out enough.
The parks are all deserts where trees had once stood:
denuded entire of all burnable stuff.
Eat all the rich and the fat and your pets:
we’d eat humble pie but the pies are long gone;
stone-soup and dream bread are as good as it gets;
we ate all the frogs: now there’s none left to spawn.
I’ve eaten the kids and the wife was a treat;
the postman was quick, but not near quick as me;
I’d eat my own leg if it had any meat:
Oh, for a fat politician or three.