The New Never Never
Not long after the turmoil of the financial crisis had been tranquilised by massive doses of government-led debt creation and consumption, I was given free rein by Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock to write a text for their work The Lead And The Invalid. The result was The New Never Never:
THE NEW NEVER NEVER
The Beautiful Evidence lies on a pile of wonder stuff. A block the size and weight of a bag of sugar1 atop and among Possible Current Things to do, Poetry, Stories, The Magic Box, The Age of Consent, Caravaggio, Plugs, Boxes, Bags, Dusters, Kill Switches, Cats, mugs, blinds, paper curls, skilled objects, crafted things, art et facts, a mandolin, a stick man striding purposefully away from a toy blue car, a money tree, a line of thought twisting turning telling stories… through the traffic… past the school… down the mine, the symbol of the story an ex a kiss marks the pot, blue Amigo, Sunny Seagull, Pick 5 tmrw, reviws cahrts features news, gherkin records, pioneer, second-hand nude, my body, Carlotta cortex, slanf, French, cables, color al oleo, 10600198781, F26084-V320-A110, We feel fine, Visual Explanations, Pilooski, yowsa yowsa yowsa, jack jack jack your body, mono mono and in the end I want you to cry, L♥VE, IDEAL INDEX, new york’s 100 best restaurants, TO STAR, for Daddy, keep drum, FRAGILE, THIS WAY UP, dusty Star Dust memories faded blue to grey stellar stains East Side memory marks of a bric a brac bargain and a broken heart, et alors DU COQ À L’ÀNE, et les les beaux yeux du giraf à l’intérieur, a new purchase bent in transit into, the wave an echo of its journey, moon heart chorus, and |Mildred’s constant How can I cry if the sun is always shining?
1 “When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.” Christopher Morley, c/o Whitaker’s Almanack 1979 Complete Edition.
Stuff. Wonderful kickable touchy feely watchout weighty wonder stuff. A multitude of scarce matter. My observable universe and its analogue – most of it paid for, some of it free, all of it more or less valuable. Value, the Big V. Like love, life, artworks, meal tickets, all human activity – value is negotiation. Movement, material or otherwise, and exchange, more or less fluid. Motion and emotion. Mediation. A way making and a trade. An asymmetric communication, a winky wonky whirly contra dance communion of entropic entities*. A high for every low, a death for every life, a winner for every loser, a ying and yang, push and pull, buy and sell, bull and bear, put and call, long and short, hedge and hold. Everything evens out in the end, yes, but never neatly. Our zero sum game concludes eventually and ultimately exhausted, but O what jerks thrashings jostles, spasms along the way. We are dust, stellar or otherwise and in the long run yes, hoo ha, we are all dead. But in the meantime…
As in all endeavour it is in the kurtosic eruptions spikes and skews, swells and plunges, the up ups and the down downs, the micros and the macros, the disintermediated outer reaches of the barbell – far from the beer belly bell curve of averages-obsessed standard deviationing Efficient Market Hypothesis wielding psychotic rationalists – that the interest lies. When the seas are calm, all artists are Monet. We crave Beuys’ “enchanter” and Brown’s funk – two JBs playing2 together to liberate us from this false pacific. Whereas when the oceans roil, incentives are uncertain, strange things happen and happily the Chinese curse comes alive. We live in interesting times.
2 Play processes emotions.
Do we dematerialise? Or cling to our kickable assets?
Quite possibly both, dear boy**.
Time for the F word.
Our inalienable human write. Great rallying cry of revolutionaries and repressionaries; best buddy of innovators and idlers, the privileged and the penniless; beloved excuse of capitalist war mongers; mot du jour of populist pundits; the necessary state to inventorise; the word on the pageview, the street, the supermarket sweep; a word fought over and fucked over; the most valuable word in the world and the most devalued. Free. Free Frei Foe Fun. If work makes you free, does free make you work? And should you pay for it?
To Free or not to Free… What is the value of free? Let’s pit Popster against Pauper.
In the red corner, Ms Jessie J: “Seems like everybody’s got their price, I wonder how they sleep at night, when the sale comes first and the truth comes second, we need to take it back in time, when music made us all unite, it’s not about the money, money, money, we don’t need your money, money, money, forget about the price tag, just wanna make the world dance.” Cha-ching, cha-ching. Ba-bling ba-bling.
In the blue corner: “Money means nothing until you don’t have any.”
Or until it loses its value. A-ha and hello, here comes our third corner to complete the coordination. The depth to our height and width, the 3 to our one 2D. What
colour? Yellow, yes, let’s go with yellow. Colour of the sun, of serenity and confidence. Happy coincidence, let us dip our quill in the oily pot of serendipity. Now where were we… Money money money, must be funny…dark side of the mooney…loadsa money honey…ain’t got no…gotta have…talkin’ about… aah yes, I remember…
The paradigm of splurge, the projectile vomit of credit- fuelled3 consumer culture4, debt and default, drought and drudgery, sploff and incontinence, zombie mall rats sleepwalking to impecuniosity5, accursed continents, I should CoCos, yard sales, trolley crashes, wandering souls and vultures, vultueres everywhere. So called superpowers done and busted, the bingeing and bankruptcy of self-consumptive capitalisms, bulimic behemoths scoffing cheap debt and spewing it back out again as easy money. And on and on they go and the money keeps coming and if not now then soon the money inflates and inflates ever higher spiralling up like a helium pumped party balloon that has slipped from the grasp of a little girl, teary-eyed, arm aloft futile – up up on up into the stratosphere till it pops and becomes just air6. A cosmic spiralling death dance that would be enthralling if it wasn’t so everyday and feels so sleepy walky slow until, too late, we fall back down to earth and are well and truly screwed 6ft under. Too late, we get a message from the Action Man: “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too. I’ve loved
all I’ve needed to love, Sordid details following:
The shrieking of nothing is killing
Just pictures of Jap girls
in synthesis and I
Ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair
But I’m hoping to kick but the planet it’s glowing
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time
3 Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. (The Graduate.)
4 “I’ll have a Grande Skinny Decaff Cappuccino.” (AKA A Big Fat Frothy Nothing)
5 “You’re just 4 numbers away from ownership.” – Currys digital sales guy, on the wonders of buying with a card and PIN.
6 At the height of its hyperinflation the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe printed 100-trillion dollar notes. You can pick one up today as a novelty for US$5.
Dust to dust ashes to ashes. David melodies the essence. When sovereign states teeter on the edge of default. When Greece becomes Spain becomes Italy becomes Ireland becomes France becomes Germany – an unholy European reunion that in turn becomes the USA, toppling along a tectonic finanancial default line flowing from the Acropolis to the arse end of Arkansas by way of Wall Street and Capitol Hill. When gold, the ultimate dumb asset of the fearful increasingly available in handy carry-on kilo bars, finds ever greater favour on its inevitable way to hit once more its real all-time high of $850 set back in January 1980 (about $2,300 in today’s money) – go baby go. When the paradox of toil applies. When Europe arranges deckchairs through the oxymoronic European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). When it is an Italian’s act of patriotism to buy his country’s junk debt. When one in ten Americans depend on food stamps to ensure they have enough to eat. When Uncle Sam has to pay more to insure his debt than Ronald Mcdonald. When the sanctity of the USA’s triple A credit rating is called into question and with it the security of over $14,000,000,000,000 (14 trillion lots of zeroes dollars) of so called risk-free Federal assets, the very foundations of our psychorational world are achey shakey shooken. As the beardy hunched oracle of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke put it, “Clearly, if we went so far as to default on the national debt it would throw shock waves through the entire financial system, because the Treasury security is viewed as the safest most liquid security in the world. It is the foundation for much of our financial system and the notion that it would suddenly become unreliable and illiquid would throw shock waves.” Uh oh. We are heading for a meltdown, maybe.
A natural hedge. A quieter direction, more estuarial, silty slow, less babbling brook or ooo-err doomy gloomy ridey rapids. Let us drift here awhile in this alternate outcome, among Japan’s lost decade globalised and extended ad infinitum, with states not so much zombified as zonked out, chilled, taking it eezzee. The sovereign debt chitter chatter will fritter fratter away, deadlines will come and go as they are wont to do, negotiations, conversations, stories and other essential currencies will take their course. Yes, the world will continue to tilt on its axis ever Eastwards and Southwards. Yes, America is increasingly China’s bitch, and who knows at some point maybe Africa’s, too. Payback Time. But essentially the confidence trick will continue. The Great Global Moderation will grind on, a delusion of some reality and
merit. The debt in all its forms – sovereign sub-prime and all – will be teased, Twisted and rolled over in ever longer cycles: 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, effectively a lifetime, essentially transforming all that is owned into everything borrowed. We might pay our debt down but we won’t pay it off. We will be in the land of The New Never Never. A rentier world7, where no one owns anything in any real sense. A world of pop up payments for temporary use rather than permanent possession – from rent-a-garden to cloud compute. A world akin to Jean Luc Godard’s “new republic of images” Filme Socialisme, with the obtuse miserosity edited out. We will be HP with our HP. Debt will no longer be the disease, growth no longer the cure. Debt will be the state8, a new state of interdependence. A United States of Debt where we drift away from the manic obsession with growth upon growth, the yardstick with which, bereft of enchantment, the neurotic normals that stalk the corridors of financial institutions dumbly beat themselves. At around ninety per cent debt to gross domestic product and some 2 per cent annual growth – the vital statistics of the so called developed world – the great stall kicks in and “connotes an inability to behave like the historic capitalist model should”, according to Pimco founder and co-chief investment officer Bill Gross, the Baron of Bond Street. Small will be beautiful again, or at least passably pretty, and debt will be neither good nor bad, just there – a monthly charge to be met along with all the other utilities. We may possess things, custode them, hold, use, share and pass them on. We will pay for them, sometimes with money, sometimes not. But we won’t own them9. It will be OK, honest. For the real work and the real value is to be done here in people’s hands, in good exchanges betwixt and between individuals solitary and clustered. Like free-living nematodes busying themselves in between grains of sand, we get on with life increasingly around and in spite of machinations organozoid, governmental. Few people know or care that Belgium went without a government for well over a year; the Belgians seemed to do fine without one. Meanwhile in Yorkshire, the good citizens of Todmorden till and toil to become the first community in Britain to feed itself.
7 “I love you – you pay my rent.” Pet Shop Boys
8 Worldwide debts, public and private, currently stand at around $195,000,000,000,000.
9 “The idea of having to own something is a really primitive way of thinking.” Ivan Retzignac
Increasingly, we can sidestep money, too, if we like. Sovereign backed “legal tender for all debts, public and private” – we need it less and less. So much so that we can shred fivers in the name of art with little consequence. The state-marked paper stuff flutters and fluctuates unhelpfully. The bitey hard coinage is often worth more these days as raw commodity than as currency – you can get greater value from smelting down and selling on your nickels than from handing them over at a counter. Moreover, we have other options. We can pay for things with a wave of our hand(held smart-thing), with our own versions of Aztecan cacao beans, with Facebook credits and the like. Money becomes ether and object**. Collaborative consumption, the swapping and sharing of stuff10 rather than buying of it, stirs anew. Through these and other initiatives, we are rediscovering age old pre-money practices11, where cash is no longer part of the equation but value, as ever, is. We barter. We borrow. We beg and steal. We exchange value in other ways, more personal and local, free from outside constraints, at least in our own minds.
We may even emerge into a world of inheritage and good husbandry, of the super-local, familiar, friendy, neighbourhood roasty toasty folky long long view beloved of well-heeled Brooklynites12. A world of “It’s not mine – I’m just looking after it for future generations” writ large. A Rolex rollover world.
10 “People are drawn to the experiences of creating and collecting these physical objects.” Karen Gisonny, New York Public Library librarian.
11 “For the Munduruku, the whole idea of counting children is ludicrous. Why would a Munduruku adult want to count his children? They are looked after by all the adults in the community, and no one is counting who belongs to whom.” Alex Bellos.
12 “He’s so abstracted from his money, he thinks it’s cute to sign the receipt rather than use a PIN.” Wine seller, Sip, Brooklyn.
Still, so called free stuff comes with a patina of questionable disposability. Is it worth anything, we still find ourselves wondering? If I give it away do I value it? Is free for all a free for all? Because the exchange is fundamentally asymmetric* we still want and need to put a price on things. Even if that price is zero. Why do we bargain so much? Because we’re human, and because ultimately, as Chairman of La Caixa Isidro Fainé’s mum says, “The buyer names the price.” And as we all know, mum knows best.
In the New Never Never, it could be that no money will change hands. Just value. In this world, the free thing will become a matter of substantial thought. A concrete abstract. A choice. A pose, a position, an invitation, an opening gambit, hook line and sinker. Like stories, a currency of communication. More or less material and always in all ways essentially human.
Just what is it that you want to do?
We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded
And we wanna have a good time
That’s what we’re gonna do
No way baby lets go
We’re gonna have a good time
We’re gonna have a party13
Therein lies the value, my friend. Hoo ha.
13 Loaded, Primal Scream c/o Dialogue: The Wild Angels, Peter Fonda’s Character.