A Note on Currency


The sight of Osborne, Alexander and Balls dictating terms to Scotland from afar provoked sheer contempt this week. Their iron rules will not be willingly obeyed at a time when people feel estranged from work and life, and money is printed for publically owned banks by a government that gives nothing to the poor.

The British nationalists have made the pound the centrepiece of their miserable strategy since day one of the campaign. Their threats have worked for those who can be frightened and kept ignorant of forces that control them. To fuel popular fear, the No campaign has deployed charlatans posing as socialists, who croak about the threat of change – such as Mike Dailly, who wrote, in an article promoted by Work Together (a Better Together front), that:

‘The pensions and weekly income of vulnerable Scots requires hard currency – the pound, sterling, our tried and tested currency for hundreds of years. 

‘No-one in Scotland can pay their rent, mortgage, buy food or pay bills from the soundbites of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon on currency maybes.

It was the pact of Alexander, Balls and Osborne to down-rate welfare payments and plunge thousands into poverty, and the failure to provide employment, that made the people cold and hungry. But the implication of Dailly’s piece, ‘No Pound, No Pension, No Welfare’, is that the ability to keep a home and feed your kids depends on the currency welfare payments are paid in, rather than the decisions and priorities of social organization and support.

Currency is presented as an insurmountable problem. But amidst the Treasury’s threats, we should remember that its priorities are to ease capital mobility, boost the rate of exploitation, and keep control of wages and labour. Their formal arguments in opposition to a currency union are about prioritizing stable capital and keeping the City’s sovereignty above all else. Ed Balls says that “in the real world” a currency union will not work. What kind of Labour is this, and what world do they see? In another world that valued people and their work, democracy wouldn’t have its terms dictated by the interests of currency.

The desire for a government that values people and production is not just left-wing idealism. In his speech the other week Mark Carney referenced David Hume’s essay On the balance of trade which concludes with the claim that ‘a government has great reason to preserve with care its people and its manufactures. Its money, it may safely trust to the course of human affairs…’ Times change, but technocrats will always resolve currency issues. And instead of a government that places the stability of currency as its priority, there is a kind of government with power to reorder the priorities of political economy, to preserve and nourish social production and the people: from City-based extraction to social co-production, from the strange view of a bean-counter to the human stance of socialism.

People know the currency issue will be resolved, because they understand that money represents value, which is plentiful in Scotland. This is why Carney, who praised Scotland’s economy, thinks monetary resolution would follow independence as a matter of technocratic course – whether in a currency union, or with a different currency as favored by a growing number on the left.

The No campaign is obsessed by currency because they cannot admit the potential of our real economy, or suffer the prospect of its control by working people. They take money as their premise, and so commit the gravest offence of placing Mammon above man and woman. In response, we should remember that our capitalist economy takes value from society. Money is the symbolic return of some of this value to those who produce it, in the form of a token. That’s what money means to working people, and more often than not it is the strangest and most alienating necessity of life. As Marx put it, the essence of money is that “the human, social act by which man’s products mutually complement each other, is estranged from man and becomes the attribute of money, a material thing outside man.”

In a world ruled too long by money, recovering from a crash caused by artificial credit, the people have refused to be cowed by currency fears. This will frighten the agents of money. For it represents an early stage of consciousness that an economy consists of people’s work, the wealth of natural resources and accumulated assets, and the strength and mobilisation of collective enterprise and activity. These are the base and real foundation of a social economy where value is in plentiful supply for all, and money serves as nothing but a token. The rich have worked to scare the people, now it’s our turn to make the rich feel scared. That would be the firmest negotiating position we could reach, and we should aim for nothing less.




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