Money Heist: State Counterfeiting on TV
By Duncan Whitmore
At first, Money Heist seems little different from any run-of-the-mill “cops vs. bad guys” series. A well-prepared group of eight, small time criminals, previously unknown to each other and using city names as pseudonyms, hijacks the Spanish Royal Mint in Madrid. Directed from the outside by their leader, the mysterious “Professor”, they capture tens of Mint staff and visitors to hold as hostages, including (deliberately) the teenage daughter of a prominent politician. Scores of armed police soon surround the building at the beginning of what turns into an epic, eleven-day siege.
One initial question concerns the objective of the hijackers. Is it robbery? Ransom? Terrorism? It soon becomes clear that the group, in spite of being armed to the hilt and having sequestered a major government institution, is imbued with an interesting set of morals. For they intend to neither a) kill anyone (although circumstance forces this scruple to be breached) nor b) steal as much as a penny from anyone’s bank account. They do, as it happens, intend to leave the Mint with more than one billion euros in cash. This, however, they plan to achieve by spending their eleven days holed up in the Mint printing the money they want (with the aid of the captured staff, whom they bribe with some of the loot) instead of raiding the vaults for cash that already exists. Their clever plan, therefore, is to escape with untold riches without having harmed a soul while, in the process, embarrassing the authorities and winning the sympathy of the public as “loveable rogues”. Read more
Economic Myths #13 – Wealth Inequality and “The 1%”
By Duncan Whitmore
The inequality of wealth and income is a frequent bone of contention in the mainstream media. According to The Guardian, 1% of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by the year 2030. A typical response to this kind of revelation is the following utterance from the Executive Director of Oxfam in 2015:
An explosion of inequality [is] holding back the fight against poverty. Do we really want to live in a world where 1% own more than the rest of us combined?
The mainstream debate over this issue fails to understand the true nature of the problem (although, interestingly, The Guardian article referred to above is unusually far sighted in recognising some of the causes of inequality).
The pro-free market side is wont to point out that such inequality “doesn’t matter” and that governments should not do anything to interfere with the progress of business. The likely call from the opposite side, however, is for increased taxation and redistribution and, indeed, Oxfam itself stressed the need for a greater crackdown on tax avoidance by large, multinational corporations. However, the reality is much more nuanced than the false dichotomy between “pro-business” and “pro-government/anti-poverty”. Read more
One of the mandates that our economic lords and masters have arrogated for themselves is that of maintaining so-called price stability, a constant purchasing power of the monetary unit in our wallets.
At first blush, price stability sounds rather appealing – not only does it “bless” us with the apparition of certainty but are we not also “protected” by the potential of higher prices in the future? If so we can assure ourselves that our cost of living will be sustained and manageable, relieved of the horror that the essential consumables may some day be out of our reach.
Unfortunately this ambition is not only disastrous for a complex economy but is also antithetical to the nature of human action in the first place. The whole purpose of economising action is to attempt to achieve more for less – to direct the scarce resources available to their most highly valued ends and to gain the highest possible outputs with the lowest possible inputs. In short, economic progress means that we are gradually able to attain more and more for the same amount of labour; or, to put it another way, we could attain the same quantity of goods for a lower amount of labour. Any consistent attempt to stabilise the prices in the economy would not only target the goods that we buy with our money but also the goods that we sell – and that, for most of us, means our labour! But if we cannot sell our labour for any more and if we cannot buy our wares for any less then it means that we will simply be locked into a repetitive cycle of working, buying, consuming and working again for the same prices for the whole of our lives with no improvement in the standard of living whatsoever. Instead of economic progress bringing goods at cheaper prices to the lowest earners, the only way to improve one’s wellbeing in such a world would be to become a higher earner – i.e. by working harder or longer. Read more
By both mainstream economists and the general public the cycle of “boom and bust” is believed to be a tendency inherent in any capitalist economy. The fact that the latest of such cycles, beginning in 2008 (and arguably not having ended), originated in the banking sector and that large banks and bankers ratcheted up huge earnings and bonuses only to cause disaster has implicated banking as representative of the very worst aspects of capitalism – the epitome of uncontrollable greed that ends in catastrophe.
Unfortunately this popular view of the mainstream could not be further from the truth. In fact, with its intimate ties to the state and its special, legal privileges it is hard to imagine a less capitalistic industry than banking. Part of the deception – wilfully inflamed by politicians and their lackeys – is one that engulfs other industries subject to state meddling such as utilities markets. This is the belief that, simply because the participants in the industry in question are private individuals or entities that are not officially part of the state, the enterprise must be classified as part of the free market and saddled with all of the supposed flaws of that system. Very often, however, private companies and brands are simply the public facade of what is essentially a state owned operation or state controlled cartel. Read more