Sunday, October 14, 2007

Money as Stock

It's interesting to play with the idea of money. An idea, after all, is primarily what it is: no matter what it's form, whether it's gold or paper or ones and zeroes, money primarily represents a bargain between buyer and seller that it can be exchanged later, with another human being, for something of value. It used to be that this was accomplished by using things that were naturally rare - precious metals, for instance - not because they were of much intrinsic use, but because they were, well, pretty to look at, hard to get lots of, and thus valued as a status symbol. Kings wore what their subjects spent.

Now, we've moved off the gold standard, for the first time in, well, not in history - as some claim - but at least, in the last few thousand years. Instead we use paper tokens. A lot of people call this a fiat currency, though it isn't quite: ultimately, the value of the dollar is linked to oil (the US having made a deal with the Saudis to that effect shortly after Nixon abandoned Bretton-Woods.) Every other currency around the world, equally unsupported by any hard resource, balances off the dollar in an elaborate currency trading system.

It might not be exactly the same thing as a pure fiat system, but it still shares some of the same vulnerabilities, the main one being that the value is subject to fluctuation. Central banks can still print so much money that the value is completely undermined, essentially destroying the currency and, in the process, wrecking the country that used it.

Well, that's money as it currently stands. I've talked before about different kinds of money - having money represent a share of the established public infrastructure, rather than debt - and I'd like to give another one: why not combine money, wages, and shares into the same thing?

Essentially, every time someone receives a dollar (or some number of dollars) from a corporation in wages, they are simultaneously issued one share, which can be used for voting and collecting dividends. The longer someone worked for a company, the more voting power they would accumulate, and the greater their independent financial clout. Of course, if the company were to go bankrupt the stock is worth nothing, so it would behoove said employee to do what he could to ensure the company prospered.

The same principle could also be applied in reverse: every time a company is paid a dollar (or some number of dollars) by a customer, the customer is granted a voting, dividend-paying share. Regular customers would thus gain a say in how businesses are run, and be rewarded for loyal business by reduced prices (their equivalent of dividends.)

I'm not sure how I feel about this idea, to be honest. On the one hand, it would go a long way towards making corporations more democratic, in effect making stakeholder capitalism the economy's default mode of operation. On the other, it could easily lead to a culture where power and wealth accrues to those who with the fiercest loyalty to their corporations, lifetime employees who respend as much of their money as they can in the corporations that employ them, thus doubling their stock.

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