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  • Writer's pictureJohan Söderström

What is money?

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

It can be argued that money is a measure of work. Especially if you with work, mean all the activities that generate money for the persons who do them. Of course, some receive cash benefits instead of working. As a substitute for work, they are not able to perform. Still - money can be seen as the fruit of labour. But it is not just a measure of the work done. It is a measure of the quality of the job done. Some types of work make more money, and the way it is done can affect how much money it is worth.

It could be argued that the price of goods and services should be a measure of how much work we are willing to put in to obtain them. But because different kinds of work have different value, the price of the goods is shifting depending on who buys them. Someone who gets paid more for their work does not have to spend as much time working to buy a product, as someone who gets less paid for their work. The price of the same product is thus substantially different for people. It is cheaper for people who earn more. Therefore, the price of a product does not correspond to how much a product is worth to the buyer. Meaning, how much work the buyer is willing to put down to obtain the product. Two buyers can both think a product is worth a day's work. But if they have different salaries, then one must work more than the other to buy it. They give it the same personal value, but the real price is higher for the person who earns less.

Of course, a product always has a manufacturing price. But that price must always be lower than the sales price. Anyone who sells a product must earn at least to make a living for the business to be sustainable. Equally, those who produce goods usually buy labour for this. Also, this transaction must have a minimum of profitability for the buyer. Buyers of products and sellers of labour are often the same. They must, therefore, to some extent, loose in both transactions for the system to work. They pay for this loss with their work. It is this work that generates the resources that make the system function.

Work is thus the foundation of the organisation of society, and money is the measure of the quality of work. But this quality is always subjective and fluid, which makes the price of labour vary. We value our and others' time differently, and the value changes over time. It has two consequences.

1. The system becomes unstable. The pricing of goods becomes excessively diversified since low-income earners are forced to value a low price higher than other positive qualities in products. Products that focus on these other qualities become exclusive and overpriced to what they are subjectively worth to the majority. The differences become self-reinforcing over time, with cyclical fluctuations in the market, inflation and price bubbles as a consequence.

2. As the employee/consumer loses at both ends, the resources accumulate over time with the employer/producer. The system has a built-in imbalance that inevitably gets worse over time. Accumulated funds create a competitive advantage which in turn creates an unavoidable need for growth by the actors in the market. Businesses are forced to expand to survive.

Commensalism equivalent suggests two measures to counter these harmful effects of a market-oriented social structure.

The first targets the individualistic notion that everyone should be compensated for their work after merit. Because we are all different, it suggests that our work also has a different value. It has not. Only from the perspective of the buyer of work is the value varying. But on the part of the employee, the value of the work is constant. We cannot put one's subjective appraisal of their own time against the others. Our own time is always worth at least as much as our neighbour's from an individual perspective. Consequently, everyone's time has equal value. Based on this, it is reasonable to propose a universal wage setting. A fixed remuneration for working hours, regardless of the work performed.

The second targets the capitalist idea of resource accumulation for the same reasoning. Organisation, decision-making and management are also work. It is this work that the producers/labour buyers do. Or if we call them the owners of the means of production. If the owners' (working) time are to be valued just like others, and this value is measured in money, then they cannot be allowed to seize a more significant part of the profits from the business than the employees. If commensalism is commenced on a societal level, that will imply the amount equal to a full salary. Regardless of who owns the business, it is the labour that is done within its framework that generates its profit. Thus, it is fair that it should be distributed equally among those who performed the work. Commensalism, therefore, wishes to replace all taxation with an equal distribution of all profits, and thus a fundamental elimination of economic differences altogether. Everyone, owners and employees, in a commensal society will have the same financial conditions and are then free to make their priorities from that.

These two approaches should provide for more stable pricing and a market logic that seeks sustainability instead of growth. It should create an economic ecosystem where resources flow evenly throughout the whole body of society and do not lump in just a few places.

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