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What does money even mean? The Panama Papers

You might be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss even is about the Panama Papers. Over the last decade we have lived through increasing evidence that money isn’t even a real thing. Tyler Durden’s ideas from Fight Club, where he preaches that money is just a number on a computer screen, are easy to believe.

But money does matter. And it is real. Kind of.

Because money, although in itself just an idea that we’re all forced to live with, does represent something very real. Work. Money is the way that we keep track of work.

We know this because we never exchange money for money, not really, we only ever exchange money for work.

For hours spent in a field, in an office, at a factory, in a mine, behind a till, on the road. The cash we use to pay for things only exists because, at some point, somewhere in the world, for some purpose, one human being did something that another human being wanted.

Before we had money, we bartered. We would do a straight swap. This much grain for these many sheep. And broadly speaking, the thing that was equal there was the number of hours work each group of stuff needed before that swap.

This is why we pay lots for books, but little for stacks of plain paper – the book represents more hours, because it had to be written and checked and edited and so on. Both the book and the stack of plain paper also represent hours of work in tree logging, wood processing and paper making. But, per page, the book is (or should be) more expensive.

Each pound or euro or dollar or yen represents an amount of work that has been done.

And this is why money offshore and in tax havens matters.

James Henry of the Tax Justice Network said yesterday that there is “At least 21 to 32 trillion [US] dollars of individual private wealth offshore.”

Let’s take the low figure – $21tn.

If we write it out long form, that’s $21,000,000,000,000.00.

Which is a staggering amount of money. If you divide it up, that’s $3,000.00 for every person on Earth.

Looking at that, it can be easy to just stop there, and think of the $3k figure as something that can just help us understand what a huge number 21 trillion is. But it’s not just a huge number. Because every one of those 21 trillion US dollars represents an amount of work that has been done.

Now. Let’s think back to the barter example. The farmer and the shepherd exchanged their grain for sheep. They didn’t need to keep track of it for later, because it was a straight swap. They only need money if the farmer wants the sheep, but the shepherd doesn’t want anything from the farmer. The shepherd then needs an OIU from the farmer that he can give to someone whose stuff he actually wants. This third person can then go to the farmer and say that they want the grain the farmer would have given to the shepherd. Money is just easier.

You might notice something though. In the above example, the IOU doesn’t exist for very long. Everyone gets what they want quite quickly, and the IOU doesn’t hang around for ages, with the farmer wondering how long he has to keep a few sheep worth of grain around in case someone walks up to his front door tomorrow with the IOU.

We have $21tn worth of IOUs sitting in savings accounts. Savings accounts that don’t just not belong to governments, but are all but out of the reach of governments. That money is locked away. (Although hopefully not forever.)

This means that for every person on the Earth, there are $3,000 worth in hours of work that should be waiting to walk up to their front door.

In the UK, $3,000 is about £2,000. For my husband, that’s two months work after tax.

If we scale that up for the number of people on Earth, that’s 1.167 billion years. That’s a quarter of the way to the death of the Sun. That’s a lot of work.

It gets worse though, because the UK, relative to most of the world, has high pay per hour.

The UN says that about 20% of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day. Three thousand days is eight years and two months. Without weekends. I don’t even want to think about how many lifetimes of the Sun are owed to the people of Africa.

Money that is moving is being useful. While it’s moving, things can get done. People do work, and have work done for them in return. But when you put money to one side, it stops being useful. It sits like water in a bog. It goes bad.

If we look around us, pretty much anywhere in the world, it is possible to see work that needs doing that is not being done. Usually because somewhere along the way, there isn’t the money to do it.

What the Panama Papers are very clearly showing us is that there is the money to do it. That money exists. But with the help of politicians and tax codes around the world, that money has been allowed to go stale in private offshore accounts.

We need that money. We are owed that money. Not because we want to keep it ourselves and become the new dragons, but because of the work it represents.

There is so much around us that needs to be done. So many people who need help. So many ecosystems at risk, both evolved and engineered.

As a planet, we just can’t afford to have that much potential work, potential good, sat around on computer screens in tax havens, going stale.

Zika virus help for those who are pregnant or at risk of pregnancy

Over the last week or so, I’ve noticed a lot of news about the Zika virus. And as a person with a womb who has worked in neonatal care, the effects and the risks are terrifying.

The prospect of having a child who is largely or entirely dependant on care for the whole of their possibly short lives is daunting. Sometimes disability is unavoidable, and those affected (like myself) should obviously be loved, cared for, and encouraged to live as fully as they can.

But to know that disability is preventable, and to know how to prevent it gives us, I believe, an imperative to do all we can to give parents and children the best start in life.

So. Here are a list of charities, organisations, and campaigns that are helping to prevent microcephaly and at risk pregnancies across the affected regions.

I have focussed on pregnancy and abortion because the search for a vaccine will, I believe, be the more high profile issue. I don’t want those at risk of pregnancy, miscarriage, or whose foetuses are at risk of microcephaly, to become collateral damage. They are not a way of keeping score or tracking the scale of this disease.

1. Women on Waves (CN: website uses gendered language)

Women on Waves are a charity who provide medical abortions within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy. They are providing free medical abortions to those who can prove they have been infected with Zika. You can donate here.

2. Umm, well there isn’t a number 2.

Really. One organisation is all I could find offering abortion services to those at risk of a Zika affected pregnancy. And no one offering contraception.

If you know of any other organisations that should be added to the list, put them in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. Please.

There is, of course, plenty of noise from people wanting to persuade governments to change their policies around contraception and abortion. But that’s long term stuff, and doesn’t help those at risk, who need it now.

So please. Share this post around. Women on Waves (also known as Women on Web) have been getting quite a bit of press, but I’m sure they won’t mind more donations.

And if you are in a position to start an organisation or campaign to provide contraception and abortion services now to those at risk of a Zika affected pregnancy, please do so! I will publicise the shit out of you, and I won’t be alone.

Shapes, boxes and abandoned art

We are beings of potential.

We are beings of growth.

We are who we are. Who we have been. Who we may become.

We are the leftover shapes of the guides and containers that have been placed within beside and around us.

We start. And we move. And we grow.

We become ourselves. Start to show our shapes. To acquire the contours of those around us.

They stretch us. Nourish us. Contain us.

They can take us to heights of talent and skill that leave us breathless with delight.

They can point us to understandings of the Earth and its inhabitants that grow our ideas of who we are and how we live in this beautiful damaged world. 

They can squash. Stunt. Prune.

Take passions from a shout to a whisper. Push us on paths so narrow we fall.

In boxes so small and tight that dynamite becomes the only way to fight.

I will never be the person I could have been.

I will never fit the box that was made for me.

I will, always and forever, be incomplete.

A collection of influences and potentials to delight and confound.

A work of art forever being refined, and in the end abandoned, not completed.

And so will you.

Protected: Rattling (poem)

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Poly Means Many: polyamory and feminism

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “ polyamory and feminism”.

While thinking about what to write for this, I came across this fabulous comic on the Everyday Feminism project that I wanted to give a 1-up to.

It doesn’t make mention of the issue of polyamory and race, and of how people of colour can be relatively invisible within the non monogamous community. I’m sure there are other axes of oppression that are also missed out, however that is the one that jumped out at me.

That aside, this is a really good introduction to how one can experience oppression in one axis (like being in a non monogamous relationship) and still be relatively privileged compared to others.

That’s all I’ve got for this month, but in my defence, that comic is really good!

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What’s in a song

To believe in a monarchy is to believe that some, by birth, deserve more. More power. More wealth. More adulation. More respect. Not for their actions, but for their genetics.

To believe that about one family, it is a small step to believe that about a whole class of people. To believe that there are people who, by virtue of their birth, not their deeds, deserve more from society, and are better suited to shape it.

To believe that about a class of people, and about one family based on their genetics, it is almost inevitable to believe that about people who look and sound the same.

If you believe that some inherent characteristics entitle one to more, you may not realise it, but you must also believe that some people, by virtue of characteristics decided before their birth, deserve less. Less power. Less wealth. Less respect. Not for what they do, but for who they are.

To believe in a monarchy is to believe that some people are just not worth as much. That they don’t matter. That the comfort of this group of people is worth more than the suffering and deprivation of those people.

To pay lip service to a monarch is to glorify and perpetuate this system. This societal agreement that if your parents had the wrong job, if your written and spoken language don’t match, if you love the wrong people, if your skin and your faith don’t match the colour and practice of the realm, then not only do you probably get less than the right people, but the fact you get less is a consequence of society working properly, not a sign that it is broken.

I love my country. I love its people, ancient and new. I love its voices, in their glorious melodic variety. Its kaleidescope of faces.

But my country has a cancer at its heart. The monarchy is a modern hangover. Colonialism is not dead.

In the age of empire, the class that ruled Britain ruled the world. Those people committed horrors upon horrors on those below them, both in these isles and across the world.

We have not exorcised these ghosts. Their structures remain. The same blood sits on the same seats.

With those seats, the message is given, over and over, that we are not the same. That some people are just worth more than others. That some deserve gold headwear. Others, a photo of their child, cold on a Turkish beach.

So no. I will not sing your anthem.

I am not more than you because of my parents education. I am not less than you because of who I love. And I will not say that I am, not in any way, and certainly not with a song.

With eternal thanks to all those who have helped me see the consequences of my attitudes, and helped me be a kinder human being.

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