So it’s now week 4, at least for me. And yes, it’s getting ugly – but I still think the ugly has more to do with the mandatory lock up than with anything else. I mean, the last time I looked my state has 1/6 of the estimated workforce having applied for unemployment, and that money has to come from somewhere.
Unlike some folks seem to believe, money always has to come from somewhere. When governments are involved, the somewhere is invariably taking it from someone else because governments do not produce.
Short-short bit of “economics for writers” which is horribly inaccurate when it comes to real-life economics, but works just well enough to be plausible when used in fictional background: money has no inherent value. It is a way of keeping score and a convenient means of measurement that allows trade to happen with reasonable efficiency. That’s it. Even if the money is in the form of large gold coins, it’s still not worth anything in and of itself. The reason gold is valuable is that it’s rare, not easy to fake (the softness alone is a bit of a giveaway), even harder to destroy (it takes a damn strong solvent to affect gold), doesn’t tarnish, and it looks pretty. All of which are part of why gold ended up being a default currency for a long time.
The fact is, even when the money isn’t physically there, people use it as a notional measure of value. And value isn’t intrinsic to anything, it’s a combination of factors not least of which is how much someone is willing to exchange to have a thing. If some crazy idiot want to spend millions to buy a turd coated with gold, that turd and its gold coating is worth millions. If nobody wants to buy it, it’s not worth the paper spent wiping after dropping it.
This is something a lot of people forget, I suspect because by the time you get to paper money, you’re several layers of abstraction down, and we humans have this tendency to reify our abstractions. It makes life much more convenient and allows us to do a lot of things you can’t do when you’re operating at the level of trading goods and favors, things that wind up increasing the total amount of value a lot more than just producing more can do – or even more than producing more thingies, transporting them, and selling them.
Abstractions let you make whole careers out of being an intermediary between transactions, and do it without increasing costs much for anyone else. That’s how the oh-so-convenient card readers in just about every modern store work, after all. Each transaction costs a small amount, but when there are millions of them happening every day, boy does it add up. You can’t do that with goods, or with gold coins, or paper money. But when you move the abstraction to something that’s mostly numbers in computers, boy can you make out like bandits.
The truly fun thing with playing with ideas like this is that no matter what happens, and despite the squawks about people not knowing how to handle an economy based on abundance, or about the next Great Depression being just around the corner, you start to see that there will always be something that’s in huge demand but has limited supply. That something, whatever it is, will be what gets used as the convenient marker of wealth.
In societies that are mostly subsistence farming, conspicuous consumption (in the form of throwing huge parties where massive amounts and variety of food can be found) is a common one. Later it’s gold and luxury goods. These days it’s often being fit, tanned, and having clothes that fit perfectly (I wonder if this is the reason a certain person is so loathed. The fake tan color practically screams “does not have money or time to get a real tan” even if that isn’t true) because people working normal jobs just don’t have the time to get the first two, and they don’t have the funds for the third. In the future, who knows? Could be that going somewhere the food is cooked and served by actual people will be a luxury signal. Or maybe in space traveling societies the luxury will be water. Or breathable air.