Lately, I have been thinking a lot about worth.
Last fall I read The Man Who Quit Money, about Daniel Suelo, a guy who hasn’t used money in over 15 years. Right now, I’m reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. He takes a different approach than Suelo, reconceiving of money instead of doing away with it.
When trying to understand what money is, it comes down to where value comes from. What makes money worth anything? Eisenstein posits that money is an agreement, while Suelo believes it to be a bogus illusion. Here’s a quote from Suelo:
“All creatures, all the universe, outside the walls of commercial civilization live moneyless. That's why nature, outside civilization's constricts, is perfectly balanced. Yet no nation on earth, even with its PhD economists, can balance its budget!”
While this quote is hilarious, Suelo also has a good point. Money was created by humans, and thus by its nature it is apart from the natural balances of ecosystems and the planet itself. Eisenstein takes a different line of reasoning by defining economics:
“Economics, it says on page one of textbooks, is the study of human behavior under conditions of scarcity.”
He then expands on this, talking about how that notion (of scarcity) is what backs up value in our economy—
“Economic behavior, particularly the exchange of money for goods, extends today into realms that were never before the subject of money exchanges. Take, for example, one of the great retail growth categories in the last decade: bottled water. If one thing is abundant on earth to the point of near-ubiquity, it is water, yet today it has become scarce, something we pay for.”
Eisenstein states later that worth in a currency exists only if two or more people agree on it. At first this doesn't seem problematic, but the quote above shows the more insidious nature of money: that because its worth is universal, anything can be commodified, even things that humans never used to pay for. Where real worth comes from, in my experience, is effort. And the economy of effort is where the most insidious and unfair nature of money comes out: no longer is all effort worth the same: though one person may work twice as hard, they might be paid a fraction of what people who do less or easier work are paid, simply because there is an agreement that one person’s effort is worth more than another.
I watched a video recently of a monk explaining his perceived problem with Western culture. We have very intelligent, practical brains, and we live our lives in very intelligent, practical ways: a series of boxes, as he put it, all the way from birth to death. Our culture, however, is very damaged in the area of emotional wellbeing: too much emphasis is put on practicality.
Since almost everything in the world today can be bought, and due to our culture’s practical nature, we naturally put a large emphasis on money. Having enough money, we go through life with “everything taken care of,” a secure and practical way to live. Yet such a way of life can leave people emotionally/spiritually unfulfilled.
So why do many live this way when it is unfulfilling? One of the most potent forces behind the drive to make money is the world of advertising. Companies are concerned with making money, so they advertise in a way that keeps us buying things we need to fulfill that emotional/spiritual gap. Every time we spend money on something, we’re content for a while, but it doesn’t last long, or go very deep.
Because of this problem, I have been thinking often about the value of someone’s creativity, their effort. Oftentimes, people sell their work for a fixed price, as a book, a print, or to a company, therefore putting a price on their creativity. The old paradigm has companies setting a price they deem "fair", but the new economy, appearing on sites like Kickstarter, Bandcamp, and Patreon, lets buyers offer what they can, or what they believe the work is worth. This idea of pay what you can changes the concept of how much something or someone is worth. When prices are set by the buyers rather than the sellers, generosity enters the equation, and paying is an act of kindness rather than an act of being indebted.
This simple shift in mentality, of indebtedness to generosity, changes everything.
The Old Paradigm
It seems strange to use the middleman of a giant company in order to be paid for one's vital creativity. Wouldn’t it be more honest if people valued your work to begin with, for who you are and what you produce? In the old paradigm, someone may see your work in an ad, be inspired to buy a product, and thus a tiny trickle of that "value" from their purchase finally makes it's way to you in the form of a small amount of cash from an insanely profitable company. Isn't this backwards?
The New Paradigm
Sites like Patreon, Kickstarter, and Bandcamp are essentially saying: generosity based on real human connections is a valid approach. By using these and other approaches, you are supporting the new paradigm, the New Economy, one based on real human value and generosity.
I support this new paradigm. This is why the DONATE buttons have appeared on my About and Home pages. I believe that what I create, as a person and artist, has some value. How much? Maybe intangible. Maybe 1$. Maybe 20$. I’m leaving that up to you.
Think about what you’re doing with your work, how you want to create value in the world, and what value really means.