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5 Growth, Debt and Money

5 Growth, Debt and Money

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Published by Douglas Knight
Chapter Five of 'Gospel and Economy'
Chapter Five of 'Gospel and Economy'

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Published by: Douglas Knight on May 19, 2010
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5. Money, Debt and Growth
1. Presence2. Givenness and Confidence3. Making Unalterable4. Growth and Money’s Modern Origins5. Debt and Growth6. Recovery and Restraint7. Humanity as speculationIn this chapter we tackle the question of money. Each of us is familiar with it andbelieves that we would be able to achieve more if we had more of it. But what ismoney?Money is a medium that makes flows visible. It signals the flows that, over thelong term, transfer goods from one generation to the next. Life is transferredfrom one to another generation, so all the material means of life by which ourbodies are sustained must move from older people to younger people. Moneyenables us to observe this flow, but it also disguises it. We have discussed whatone generation owes another; in this chapter we relate money to the issue of whoowes whom, and to the idea of growth.
1. Presence
A society depends on its acknowledgement of the debt between parents andchildren and between one generation and another. Without this sense of obligation to a new generation, no new generation would appear and societywould come to an abrupt end. If we feel no gratitude to those who were generouswith us, we will not know how to be generous with one another. Without anunderstanding of what we owe to previous generations, we will begrudge leavinganything to future generations.
Face-to-face, person-to-person
We present things to one another. Perhaps the most fundamental gift that can begiven, is life. Your parents gave you life. Whatever you gave them would be aform of acknowledgement of that prior gift of theirs. Your gift would tell them thattheir offspring recognises the goodness of his life and is glad of the love thatcreated it. The most fundamental gift you can give your parents is a grandchild.When you present your first child to your father and mother you demonstratethat you are aware that you have received your existence from them and regardthat gift as good. By bringing generation one face to face with generation three,you communicate that they have not wasted their effort and so you vindicatethem.Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and friends come to payhomage to mother and baby, bringing clothes for the baby and so starting thetorrent of gifts that appear at all subsequent birthdays, the impracticablecharacter of which indicate the gratuitousness of the original arrival of new life.The sheer bodiness of babies is the obvious thing about them. They cannot helpyou, so you have to help them, entirely. Their neediness encourages us to pickthem up and take them into our care, a gift impossible not to accept. Though allpersons may come as gifts, the gift of the newborn is not obscured by attemptsat reciprocity. Parents and friends must pick them up and lead them into all thecomplex forms of reciprocity by which they will learn to relate to others.
Grandparents must turn up and be present to their grandchildren in order to passon to them knowledge of their origins, give them the familial basis of theiridentity and with it, assurance of their value. They give their grandchildren apast, a context and with it an identity; when those children know their originsthey can begin to bring their own particularity to bear in their encounters withothers. Decades later they can tell their incredulous grandchildren about theirown parents and so communicate a sense of intergenerational continuity. Suchprivate family sentimentality is the means by which any of us becomes a matureand public person. Through years of care and interaction children grow intogreater command of their bodies, and increasing ability to reciprocate and takeup their personhood as a public status. They learn how to inhabit their ownbodies as the instrument of their public personhood.Over the long term all economic action must serve the upbringing of another newgeneration. All commerce is the slow transfer of property from the older, recedinggeneration to the younger, advancing generation. The exchange of commoditieshas to serve those who are directly involved in this work of first providing infantsand then supporting them whole they grow to maturity. The economy is aboutturning children from mere bodies into adults in the course of two decades, inorder that these adults will so affirm one another in the market and public squarethat they will then be ready to repeat the process. The economy has no other endthan to serve this process of the procreation and formation of persons. The morethat this purpose is obscured, the greater is the disincentive to embark onprocreation. Nonetheless the torrent of manufactured goods can only have this asits end, for everything we do, the commodities that we purchase, all derive fromour parent’s gift of life to us, and serves to reflect that gift by this return gift.
The continuing presence of the tradition
We may bring a new generation into existence. We have all the permission thatwe need. By producing a new generation we honour our parents, their parentsand all our forebears. We hope that our children will do the same for us when weare gone, and that their children do the same for them. We make this more likelyif we remember our own forebears. If we decline to make this acknowledgementand pay this debt, no one will do for us. We have to assume that inter-generational debt will continue to be acknowledged and paid, or .We have permission to bring a new life into existence. Our society’s past gives usall the licence needed. That the past has resulted in this present is reason enoughfor us to work for a continuation and future. We may take that ‘was’ as our own ‘shall’. Life is part existent (‘is’) and part to be sought (‘ought’), part present andpart future. It is faith that holds together that ‘was’ and this ‘is’ and this ‘should’ and ‘will be’. This connection and unity is not imposed, it but may be discovered,with joy. Our past gives us the licence we need to enter relationship and dobusiness with one another. We may have sufficient confidence and motivation towork and bring new things into existence, and to go into the public square inorder to procure what we need and so we have an economy. An economydepends on such presumptions in order that there be continuity and stability;continuity is more fundamental than change or growth. At the basis of anyeconomy is the gift of life and its later thankful acknowledgement as a secondgeneration presents a first generation with a third, so that generations continueto come face to face with their forebears and successors and recognise and affirmthem in gladness.
Presence and co-presence –
Every transaction is a meeting of persons. We see some transactions asencounters of two persons, others as encounters with many persons with whom itis impossible to come face-to-face. But even when there is no explicit meeting,
but an apparently faceless process, a transaction is an encounter of two persons,and through these two, of many persons. The two parties will of course meet andcome face-to-face when the transaction is important enough to warrant it. Butevery single transaction is fundamentally a meeting of persons, and we mayregard all of them as a meeting face-to-face. We will deal with the transactionboth in terms of two and of many persons, whose encounter takes the complexform which we will describe in the next chapter as ritual.First though we must concede that each one of us is not simply one, but one whois also many. Each of us is both an individual person and the work of many otherpersons. No individual is his own creation. Since each of us present to otherpersons in the world because we have a body. It is our body that makes itpossible for others to find us. But this body is not our own creation. From the firstwe found ourselves in it, and are unable to find ourselves without it. This body,which is the form our presence takes, is their work, and thus evidence of theirpresence too. Our presence in the world is not merely a matter of what we do,but also of what all others do for us and what they do to us. Their action servesto make us the people we are. In large part we receive our life and identity fromothers. We talk each other up and we talk each other down and thus ourindividual stock as a public being goes up and down in the market place of publicopinion. And we give one another the material means of life, for we are bodiesthat need sustenance. We talk one another up and we give one another thematerial means of life: for embodied persons these two elements of materialprovision and public recognition are required. Persons may meet one another onlybecause they have been taught to inhabit their bodies as members of society,and this because many other people, parents and others, invest their effort overmany years in order to make this possible. Our bodies are the means by whichwe can be present to one another, physically, in one place. Bodies are not inertthings; they are the means by which we are present to another, and thus are
Making one another present
Now imagine that we meet face to face. You are one person and I am another,yet we are not simply two individuals. I am the product of many people andthough you do not see them when you meet me, but I could not be presentbefore you without them. I can modify my presence, but I cannot entirely createit. I am made presentable to you by the clothes I chose for our meeting. When Icome into the room to meet you for the first time I am wearing a particular set of clothes. I picked this shirt and jacket in the hope of giving the right impression, of appearing sober and trustworthy, the kind of person you would ready for anongoing relationship with, to do business with, at least not recoil at.I chose this shirt, from the many shirts in the shop, in anticipation of just such ameeting. This shirt makes me presentable to you to the degree that it appears tohave sprung from its cellophane wrapper, free of association with earthy materialor to anyone's effort. It was made by someone on the other side of the world,servicing machinery designed, built, transported, insured, fuelled and driven bypeople from all corners of the world in connections only traceable statistically.You see me better because you see me in this shirt. You don't see the manypeople, unknown to me, who made this shirt. The material means by which wemake ourselves presentable and so present to one another are a token of oursuccess in separating the work from its makers, making the commodity visible,with it to make ourselves visible, and its makers invisible.I am dressed and covered by other people. Perhaps you should see the clothes Iwear or car I drive as evidence that I have been coercing people, on the otherside of the world, to supply me with the material resources by which I intend to

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