“The barbarous gold barons – they did not find the gold, they did not mine the gold, they did not mill the gold, but by some weird alchemy all the gold belonged to them.”
THE quote is from 1929, Big Bill Haywood, founder of the USA’s first trade union. The question has hardly changed. Money itself is the new gold. For gold barons read financial institutions, read the credit offered to buy your car, read the drugs you might need to fight cancer, read the Internet barons.
Mazzucato is a professor of her subject at University College London and in the same vein as Yanis Varoufakis, the big question is value. What do we value and how do we put a price on it?
Essentially this is two books rolled into one. First we have a history of economics but as she explains economists rarely agree with each other and so we are grappling with hindsights. Was Marx right or Adam Smith wrong? You get the feeling that maybe we should have all gone to the racetrack.
But laced through this scholarly arrangement is a compelling polemic: namely that the financial institutions are running off with our money. And if you are not part of the club, watch out. Money has become a product and it is a closed shop as to who gets to play with it.
The only people making money these days are a financial cartel who have sold us on the idea that this is real economics where in practical terms it can only benefit them. They keep turning the same money around and picking up fees and bonuses in the process. It is not banking in the old sense of supporting business and community. It does not make anything, except them, richer. There is no investment. There is no end manufactured product.
And, interestingly, she points out that many of today’s great innovations, especially the internet, were not the result of entrepreneurial genius, but funded initially by government sponsored research grants to universities and laboratories. Although whether any of us have seen a return on that is pretty much the point.
And then what happens to things that you cannot put a price on, things that we invest in that are not pecuniary – motherhood for example, generosity perhaps, or in a more practical sense journalism – or even things we want to value like teaching, nursing, caring but discover we cannot because Big Pharma ran off with the piggy bank. Heavy duty psycho-intellectual with a political mauling to boot.