Shares!

I’ve been reading and enjoying Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend”, described on the jacket as “a satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money”. I would certainly agree. This passage in particular struck me as being quite relevant to the roots of our current economic woes, and the disconnect between financial elites and the rest of the population:

As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Share. Have Shares enough to be on Boards of Directors in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament? Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never originated anything, never produced anything! Sufficient answer to all; Shares. O might Shares! To set those blaring images so high, and to cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to cry out night and day, “Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers of the earth, and fatten on us!”

I don’t take this as a literal rant against all investment. Indeed, many Americans are involved in investments in their more basic and useful forms, whether through retirement accounts, inheritances such as life insurance, or more. The passage above is an indictment of a culture in which money and influence are created from thin air, without the achievement of anything tangibly useful or productive. That, to me, is at the root of many of our current troubles. When work, value, and reward are no longer linked, we end up with a culture in which the most useful and valuable work has little return, while the most frothy and speculative endeavors carry rewards far beyond their actual value. We’re all trapped in this system, and few have the courage or ability to completely check out (hands up all those who don’t want a retirement account), but who knows how to keep the system rational and relevant to those who are irrevocably tied to it?

Off-topic for this blog, perhaps, but we can’t help notice that of all the things we could choose to do with our lives, gifts, and intelligence, farming is one of the least rewarding in terms of financial and legal stability. I suspect we’d be far better off, from a coldly rational point of view, spending our days studying business magazines and market reports, and making a killing on eTrade. And that fact reveals much about the nature of our system today.

Oh, and this cartoon from the Washington Post’s fantastic Tom Toles nails it, too:

2 thoughts on “Shares!

  1. I think it's sad how many people do not or refuse to see what is going on in the United States. My husband was the first to tell me about the Elites. It was a lot ot swallow at first but I see it now as well. And I listen to Man Cow and read Ron Paul's blog. And even the director where I work told the entire department 2011, 2012 and even 2013 are going to be bad. (I'm a state worker) But 2011 he says will be the worst by far!I have a deferred Comp. account. I let my husband move it from fund to fund. I don't trust anyone else to touch it. Sorry to go on and on but what I see going on scares me! and terribly!