Obs VS Money

Over at the Wannabe Rambo Society of Anarchists  they linked to this satirical story by Erik Frank Russell and being a humorless sort, I took umbrage. In the story, a spaceship from a totalitarian planet lands on an anarchists planet, Gand, and a lot of the crew decides to desert because they love freedom so much. As far as I can tell, its based on libertarian ideas that can be found in Markets Not Capitalism, a collection of essays from the original libertarian/anarchists up through today. Libertarianism grew from the same retarded root that communism sprang from, both are egalitarian philosophies whose purpose is to prevent any one group from gaining power over another. Communism fails because it expressly puts one group over another in the form of a central government. Libertarianism is a non-starter because it’s premise, that everybody is equal in every way and actually wants to live in  anarchy, is flawed. The closest thing I know of (barring places like Somalia and Afghanistan) is the US in it’s first couple of years, but even then the individual States had centralised government, but I digress.

The economy of Gand runs on “obs”, short for obligations, which people “plant” on each other by providing some good or service. For example, a restaurant feeds whoever comes in planting an ob on them that they repay later with some good or service. Obs are transferable and all obs expire at the end of the year. It sounds all free and equal and it is. That’s what’s wrong with it.

The first and most fundamental problem is that it assumes all goods and services are of equal value. Assume I’m a doctor and you run a diner. I value my service, a service that is the result of years of training and specialised equipment purchased with many obs, much higher than I value your ability to make me a sandwhich. I might give you an annual physical for a year’s worth of lunch, but I doubt you have anything to offer worth the training and equipment to perform open heart surgery. An engineer might, though, leading to a two tiered society, which we see all through history all over the world, ie “elites”.

What you end up with is currency who’s value is relative to both buyer and seller and varies with each transaction. How do you, the diner owner, pay for an expensive service from me, the doc? You accumulate whatever obs are owed you and negotiate with me. I can demand as much as I want from a person with low value obs, because their patronage is literally worth less, because their money is literally worth less. I’m only interested in doing business with people who’s obs I want or need, so I find one or two farmers to provide me with food, a cook, a housekeeper, etc and I don’t need to do business with the rest of society. Until the prols decide to use their numerical strength to force me to do business with them and we go from libertarianism to communism.

I also can’t figure out how large endeavors such as sewage treatment, roads or an electrical grid could be financed in this economy. You have varying levels of skills required from engineering to laborers. If obs are divided between everybody involved equally then there’s no incentive to rack up the obs studying engineering because your standard of living won’t improve over unskilled labor. The alternative is everybody involved owes each other obs depending on their involvement, but you still can’t get around the inequality of value, what are the high skilled going to give the unskilled for cleaning the toilets? The project could be deemed public service and everybody works on it for the good of society without planting obs, but that’s communism, again.

The only difference between obs and a pure barter economy is the imposition of obs between the producers, obs being a formalised debt. Large public works don’t exist in barter economies, leaving me to suspect Gand is a planet of dirt roads, candles and outhouses,  living in the early, rural 19th century at best.  So, my example using doctors  is probably moot, anybody can stick leeches on a person!

The beauty of a general currency with a value separate from the economic value of the holder is that it is in demand equally to everybody in every transaction, a homeless bum’s dollar is worth just as much as a doctor’s.  Having a generally in demand currency allows for saving for expensive goods and services and also allows for investment in things such as sewer systems and electrical grids as well as large manufacturing and research. Being essentially numbers, money is easily divided into percentages and so can be shared according to a prearranged agreement, where as a doctor’s physical or a chicken can’t. Ongoing payments for a recurring service aren’t subject to the immediate needs of the service provider as they would be in a barter economy, he just sells his product to whoever wants it and buys what he needs. money is much more conducive to economic activity due to its genericness.

Surprisingly, money equalises people much better than a barter economy does. Maybe that’s why its universal?


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