This essay concerns dependence.
We’ll begin with the dictionary.com definition QUOTE “the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support, or the like.” UNQUOTE. To contrast that definition we will also quote the definition of independence, also from dictionary.com: QUOTE “the state or quality of being independent.” UNQUOTE. Well that didn’t help much. Now for “independent” QUOTE “not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself”: UNQUOTE. That doesn’t seem to correspond to the definition of dependence so let’s go to one of the other meanings. Ah, here we are, number five on the dictionary.com listing QUOTE “not relying on another or others for aid or support.” UNQUOTE.
Now, to criticize these definitions: Something I like to do because I am an independent thinker.
That last one about independence meaning QUOTE “not relying on another or others for aid or support.” UNQUOTE. There’s no human being in the world that is independent in that sense. Everyone needs aid and support from someone else at one time or another. All of us use the aid of others throughout our daily lives. The electricity that powers your computer is produced by the aid of other people even if you set up your own solar power or wind power unit. If you really want to argue this point there’s no reasoning with you.
We’ll modify that definition of independence to make it “not relying on any particular other or others for aid or support.” In this way we can say that a person is independent at some points in that person’s life. To illustrate this point let’s compare a free market with a socialist economy. In the socialist economy each person depends on a particular state agency and a particular set of bureaucrats and workers to make available food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Thus the citizens of a true socialist state are dependent. In a capitalist economy in contrast, there are many persons (and bureaucracies) which each offer food, clothing, housing, and medical care. One can shift at whim from one to another if one is dissatisfied with the products and/or services of that particular seller in the market. Thus, though one is dependent on other human beings for the goods and services necessary to sustain life, a citizen in a capitalist economy is not relying on any particular other or others. We will return to this later.
Comparing the definition of dependence: QUOTE “the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support or the like.” UNQUOTE with our definition of independence, we can gently tweak that dependence definition to use the same terms as the independence definition by dropping the “not” so that our new dependence definition will read “relying on some particular other or others for aid or support.” Now the two terms are properly complementary. Each provides the “yin” to the other’s “yang” so to speak. We have a dimension related to dependence.
Politics has employed the idea of dependence and independence since before the American Revolution in which the Declaration of Independence was a centerpiece. Another war over independence was what is now called the Civil War in which several states (the Confederacy) chose to be independent of the United States. In these wars, the one side was extoling the virtues and benefits of independence. The other side was saying, “You don’t have the right to change the current arrangement.” Does the “Independence” in these political uses have the same meaning as that in our definitions of dependence and independence? Not really. In neither case was the party seeking independence saying “I can do these things for myself” as the definitions in this lecture suggest. It was saying, “Leave me alone.” That’s a whole different idea. So we will ignore the concept of political independence of one governmental unit from another as not being what we are exploring in this lecture.
Electoral politics has also employed the ideas of dependence and independence. When referring to the powers that be of some particular era, the politicians extol the situation as the public being dependent upon the efforts and kindness of those powers. In the time of kings the king was pictured as a kindly father figure who was taking care of his children, the public. The public was portrayed as being dependent upon the king for protection, economic success, and good health. In democracies, the powers that be (both public and private) are described by those politicians as being good folks upon whom the public is dependent. Think back to the 2012 presidential election in the U.S. Remember all those “makers and takers” speeches and ads? The Republicans were talking as if the rich created jobs while the Democrats were talking as if the government created jobs. To the Republicans, the big corporations, if just given more tax breaks and big government contracts, would suddenly hire many more workers. To the Democrats, the government, if just given more money, would rebuild infrastructure, protect the poor, and generate more jobs. You will note that both sides were saying that the rich and powerful were going to take care of the public and the average person. Both ends of the political spectrum as we know it were saying that the average person is dependent on either corporations or politicians. You might have noticed that they never said that the rich corporations and other big money interests or the government were dependent on those average persons.
I suggest that big money interests and the government are very dependent upon average people. Those average people pay the taxes that provide the power which the government exercises. Those average people buy the goods and services which make those big money interests wealthy. If there is power in a society or an economy it is based on what the so-called average man (and woman) do and are willing to do. The fact that the government pays salaries and that those corporations pay salaries does not make either one independent of those whom they pay.
If Monday morning some big corporation, let’s say Exxon just for the fun of it, discovered that no one except the top executives had come to work, would Exxon be able to generate any income, let alone profits? Would all those thousands of employees be replaceable by the end of the week? Exxon has a lot of very skilled and expert employees. Those don’t just grow on trees. It takes years of experience in addition to much formal education to create that expertise. Even if Exxon could hire petroleum engineers and computer programmers from other energy companies, it would take weeks or months or more for those new employees to “learn the ropes” as they used to say back in the days of the sailing ships carrying cargo around the world. There is a corporate culture which new employees need to learn to do their jobs well. Starting from scratch as Exxon would have to do in that bizarre situation, it would take many weeks to create a new culture. Even Exxon would be devastated.
The same kind of thing is true for government. Perhaps a very small town could replace all its city employees within a week and suffer only some mild inconvenience but no city worthy of the name could do it. A national government would cease to exist if that happened to them. Other nations could take over parts of the old nation simply by providing the services of government to the public of the former nation. That’s what happened when the Romans marched away from their empire as it collapsed. In England the Romans sailed away and it was hundreds of years before there was stable government above the level of a county.
In both cases of public and private power, the general public (there’s only one of those) is the source of all good things, all benefits, and all resources.
Having reviewed the powerful, let’s look at the other side, that of the average person. Yes, corporations and governments are dependent on the mass of average persons. But is the average person dependent upon those large corporations and the governments that claim them as citizens? John and Mary Doe reside in a middle-class neighborhood. They each have jobs. John works for a large corporation and Mary works for the state government. They have a couple of children attending public school. What would happen to them if they lost their jobs? Well, it would be pretty grim as millions of middle class Americans can attest. They would probably lose their health insurance for a time at least though things are better along those lines today than a few years ago. They would have a few months of unemployment compensation but that would run out after a year or so. If they each get new jobs it will probably be at a lower rate of pay or only part time. Within a couple of years they will have had to leave their home since they can’t make the mortgage payments. A serious illness to any one of them can mean financial disaster. The credit card debt they could easily handle when both were working at their previous jobs is now growing rapidly. So it appears that John and Mary were dependent on their jobs. Therefore those jobs were so important to each that they would do whatever it took to keep those jobs even if it meant being unethical, immoral, or criminal. John and Mary are relying on a particular corporation and a particular government agency for their income. Thus they are dependent. This sort of dependence is the rule in the middle class. If you are a doctor or lawyer at the top of your profession then perhaps you are not economically dependent. Perhaps you can sell your services to a very wide variety of people in a free market or sort of free market and get by. But most people don’t have so advantageous a situation.
How about the elderly and those who are otherwise disabled? We normally think of them as dependent. Certainly the elderly and disabled have been taken care of historically by their families. When the family was your only resource, then you were dependent on that family. But then, that future dependence was one of the main reasons that you had so many children: so that the resultant family would have plenty of adult workers to support you in your old age even if some of those children died young. Today in the U.S., the provisions of the Social Security laws give a certain security to the elderly who paid into the program throughout their working lives. This source of income does come from the government but it isn’t welfare and the recipient did earn that “pension” by paying into the program over all those years. No particular bureaucrat can cut off the income. After all, one can change residence to be served by a different administrator, for example. Since the money the elderly person receives does not come from the government administrator, that administrator has no monetary motive to fail to pay on time and in the full amount. Thus, the old-timer on a Social Security pension and Medicare is relatively independent. They don’t have to move in with one of their adult children when they get too old to live alone. Of course few people can live well on Social Security income alone, especially if they develop medical problems. But this independence is only relative and can be lost.
What about children? It’s obvious that children, especially young children, cannot care for themselves. I sometimes wonder whether some teenagers are responsible enough to take care of themselves but I’m an old curmudgeon telling those kids to get off my lawn. Children must depend on others but are they forced to depend on some particular others? In the early days of agriculture when almost everyone lived in a small village, children were sort of brought up by the whole village. Everyone knew all the children and unless the village lacked enough food, a child didn’t have to worry about where his or her next meal was coming from. When the towns and cities got larger, that social safety net ceased to exist for many children. If you have read your Dickens (Oliver Twist, for example), you know that children were left pretty much on their own devices if their parents died or were incompetent due to drug addiction, illness, or incarceration. Children were exploited and died at early ages in many cases. So with the coming of large cities and especially industrialization, children did become far more dependent on particular people, their parents in most cases. It is for this reason that the richest economy in the world, that of the United States, has millions of children going to bed hungry every night – assuming they even have a bed. Similarly, the U.S. has many thousands of children homeless even in winter. And the U.S. has millions of children poorly educated. The U.S. has incredible wealth yet a sizable proportion of its children are dependent on their parent’s success in battling an economy which is rigged against them.
Some of us have extended families which would step in to provide for our children if something should happen to us. That little seven-year-old girl who survived the plane crash which killed her father and two siblings, for example, has been taken in by other relatives. Even though she has terrible memories and will need lots of extra love and comforting, it’s quite likely she will get that care and will not lack for food, shelter, or medical care. She will probably also be afforded the opportunity to get a good education. But that’s because she is so lucky as to have that extended family. Therefore, she is dependent on those specific people.
If we look at the situation of children of divorce or children who have an abusive parent or children whose parent or parents are addicted to drugs we find that the children are dependent because they are quite vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and trauma. The social arrangements in our culture and economy in the U.S. are such that there is no “village” of concerned adults to protect and care for those children who have bad or inadequate parents. We have only the government and Social Services. Though many of the social workers try hard, they simply do not have the resources, authority, and time to really help the millions of children who need rescue from their situations. To my mind, the way we treat our children is a continuing tragedy. I know, those aren’t your children. You treat your children well. But that’s my point. They aren’t your children. Therefore, they can get what they need only from their own parents or, if they are lucky, from some other close relative. It is likely that only their own parents or other close family members care enough about them to see that they are well treated. We know this is the case because many poor children are neglected and not cared for, and they do suffer and some die.
Now it’s time to relate all this dependence and independence stuff to the nature of our money: That is the purpose of these essays, after all… to help everyone understand why our lives are not far better than they are. What does the nature of our money have to do with dependence? Let’s look at those consequences of the physical object nature of our money to see.
Remember that physical object money or POM as we’ll call it can be taken from you against your will in a variety of ways. That means that even if you have lots of money now, you may lose it later or you may spend it all and need more. And you have to have money. Without money you can’t get food, a place to live, or medical treatment. So you depend on whatever your source of POM happens to be. Now if that’s your skill or your knowledge or something else that you cannot lose then you can be somewhat independent. But if that source is a job with a particular company, a family, or a government, then you are dependent on that source.
Next let’s consider that consequence of POM that makes people treat each other as rivals or competitors as if they were playing a zero-sum game. That consequence makes others seek to get your money since getting POM from others is the only way to get POM. POM doesn’t grow on trees, you know. This means that other people don’t want to give you any of their POM unless they care about you. You have to get it from them against their will. Your employer would rather be able to hire you for less money. Your grocer would like to charge you more for the food you buy from him. POM makes it seem that unless a person loves you or cares about you they must be your opponents.
You can’t even trust the people who seem to love you since they may be faking it to get your money. After all, POM is amoral so it can be acquired by any means whether moral or immoral. POM doesn’t care. That’s another consequence of POM. Even though the moral thing to do would be to use one’s money to take care of those who need care, there is nothing at all about POM that will make that happen. In fact, POM tends to prevent people from taking care of those who are in need. Remember the Bible story about the Good Samaritan? He took care of a man he did not know. He provided aid and actually spent money to provide the motivation others needed to give the man food, shelter, and clothing. Why did the Samaritan need to give money to the innkeeper? The innkeeper had plenty of food and rooms. There were other people in the village that might have had extra clothing. What was the need to give POM? He had to give them POM because most people are dependent on having POM and fear to lose it. Helping other people as did the Good Samaritan, costs POM. Helping others makes one poorer if one is in a POM economy. The others would help the wounded man only if they got POM for doing so. In this way, POM prevents people from giving aid to others. POM doesn’t prevent all aid, but it does reduce the aid given to such a degree that even in rich nations, people die for lack of necessities. Even when some action is immoral as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, there’s nothing about POM which gives people incentive to do the moral thing instead.
As if the above weren’t bad enough, there are more consequences of POM related to dependence. One of those consequences is that POM economies are unstable. The two-party nature of POM transactions results in a few parties gaining most of the wealth. This means that more people are poor, and poverty creates dependence. In a declining economy, far more people fear losing their jobs. They become more dependent on their current employer and that employer can cut wages, require longer hours, or require dangerous actions. Because there are no other jobs available to most employees, they are dependent on this particular job. The overall instability of the economy also makes big money interests feel more dependent on whatever means they have of using their wealth to gain still further advantages. If they are using fraud, corrupting officials, or using force, they depend on that technique even more as things begin to collapse. “The floggings will continue until morale improves” is the general approach. Or like the man who sees his friend in a bar and quite drunk: “Why are you drunk?” he asks, “because my wife left me.” “Why did she leave you?” “She says I drink too much.”
Finally, we have the consequence that POM is uncontrollable. You can’t force people to do the sensible thing with their POM. It is stupid to drink to solve one’s problems like the man in the bar. But there’s no way to prevent his buying the booze in a POM economy. That was tried and it was an epic failure the evil consequences of which we are still suffering. You can’t prevent people spending their money foolishly. Spending foolishly makes them more likely to become dependent if they were not already dependent and for those already dependent it makes them less likely to become independent.
But what difference would a switch to non-POM make? How would using a different sort of money, a non-physical object money make things any better? Children will still be dependent on their parents and the elderly will still need care and some people are just foolish or unlucky no matter what we do. Worse, some people are just flat out lazy. How can non-POM cure these ills which seem to be just a part of the human condition?
Well let’s start with that taken from its owner consequence of POM. With non-POM your money cannot be taken from you by anyone for any reason by any means. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about falling into dependency due to a lack of money caused by someone taking it or by loss or destruction. Your non-POM is completely safe.
Next, whereas POM makes people feel like they are in a zero-sum game relationship with others, non-POM emphasizes and provides the context of a win/win or lose/lose situation. Non-POM makes it obvious that human beings are strongly mutually interdependent. We simply can’t get along without other people for any length of time, not even hermits. Therefore, the non-POM context is one of cooperation, friendship, and being on the same team. You can trust others because they have a vested money interest in being trustworthy, honest, up front, and dependable. That’s how they can earn the most money.
Non-POM is also a moral sort of money: It cannot be used to motivate evil actions. It motivates good actions, instead – so non-POM cannot be used as a means of getting people to harm you. Likewise, you cannot use non-POM to motivate people to harm others. You cannot hire henchmen. In a situation like that faced by the Good Samaritan, there would have been no robbers since they could not have taken the man’s money… and possession of his goods would have been evidence of their having committed a crime. But we’ll ignore that. Anyone who noticed the injured man would have been able to gain non-POM by helping him in some way, even if only summoning aid from others. So no one would have passed by on the other side of the road. There would have been several people to help carry the man to the inn. Once at the inn, there would have been no need to give the innkeeper money since he could earn money by providing shelter, food, and clothing to the victim even though the victim was penniless. In other words, everyone would have had selfish reasons to help the victim. The actions of the Samaritan and the others would have been the same no matter what was in their hearts. Helping others can gain money if that money is non-POM.
While POM economies are unstable with a few people gaining most of the money and resultant power, non-POM economies are stable since one gains power and money only through helping, aiding, and benefiting others and minimizing the harm others suffer. Such interaction tends to be preserved. Relationships in which each party does good things for the other are strong and durable. Also, non-POM money transactions are three-party interaction which is inherently stable. Therefore, one does not have to fear loss of support from others.
Finally, non-POM is controllable. Each person can spend their money to purchase anything that is for sale, but things are not sold irresponsibly: If I sell something which harms you (or someone else) that would cost me potential future income in a non-POM system. It really matters to me as a seller exactly what use you make of the goods and services you buy from me. I will be held to be partially responsible if you misuse something I sell to you. For more on this point please read the essay on responsibility.
We can see how the consequences of POM make things worse when it comes to making people dependent on particular other persons and organizations. We have also pointed out that these POM consequences do not exist with non-POM. But let’s get down to the most fundamental level regarding dependence and independence.
It’s obvious that human beings are mutually interdependent. Without the languages we learned from others we could hardly think. Without support as children we would die. Without the knowledge we gained from others we would know very little. Every day throughout our lives we depend on the actions of others to make life possible and comfortable. That will not change with non-POM. That is an aspect of the human condition. But remember that we have defined dependence and independence in relation to some particular other or others. Let’s see what non-POM does to that aspect of our topic.
Who will be rewarded if they do something that helps you, something that nourishes your body, something that protects your body such as clothing or housing, something that educates you or provides for your health? Who will earn money by providing to you access to any of the necessities of life? Who will be rewarded for preventing harm to your person or your psyche, your mind? Who will be rewarded regardless of whether you have any money or not? The answer is that anyone who does something that benefits you will be rewarded, will earn money, money which cannot be taken from them against their will. So given that basic and essential fact about non-POM, who do you need? Which particular persons or organization of persons (not just category of persons) are essential to your well-being? If you are an infant, are you dependent on your mother? No. Anyone, including your mother, who takes care of you will earn non-POM by doing so: Anyone who makes it easier for people to care for you as an infant such as by teaching your mother how to breastfeed you, will earn money by doing so. So even as an infant, the whole community, no matter how large, will attempt to see that you receive all of the care that you need.
What about when you get old and are forced by physical or mental infirmity to cease working? Are you then to be dependent in a non-POM economy? Not even then. You may have saved non-POM since you never need to spend it and no one can take if from you so you may have money to spend. Also, the consequences of your lifetime of actions may still be generating income for you. I would expect that to be the case for most people. So the chances of someone having a penniless old age would be very slight. But let’s assume we have an elderly slacker, someone who throughout a long life never went out of his way to do anything for anyone else and managed to do more harm than good so that this slacker has literally no money at all. This guy will have needs which can be met by others. If they meet those needs they will earn non-POM for themselves. Even for helping such a “worthless” human being will get them paid, so even that slacker is not dependent on any specific person or persons.
How do you feel about that slacker? Do you feel anger at him doing nothing worthwhile for his whole life? Are you angry that he’s been getting a “free ride” all these years? You don’t have any reason to feel that way with non-POM. With non-POM it doesn’t cost you anything for him to get the basic necessities all these years. Remember that there are no taxes of any kind. Government almost doesn’t exist and it can’t have or spend non-POM anyway. So what do you care if other people choose to give this no-good, lazy, S.O.B. some of their property and provide him their personal services? That’s their business and their affair and none of your business. The economy produces a surplus of the basic necessities anyway. It’s not as if the food the slacker eats is food you would otherwise have eaten.
So at the most fundamental level in a non-POM economy no one is dependent on particular others, just on other people in general which means that everyone is independent in a non-POM economy. Not just a few of the wealthy. Not just a few people living in the woods. Everybody is independent. Odd, but true: They are independent because non-POM recognizes and proclaims that everyone is mutually dependent.