Let me tell you a tale.
On a fine and sunny day this past week, your humble blogger accompanied his brother on a long journey.
To inspect a used car.
Having been reassured over the telephone by the salesman that this car – a premium brand convertible – was as-advertised in “excellent” condition, we embarked on our journey from the country to the Big City with my brother in high spirits. And myself in low expectations.
What we found in the Big City failed to live up to even my low expectations.
And yet, on the positive side, what we found may now serve the purpose of guiding you, dear reader, towards a better understanding of the negative impact of usury on our everyday lives.
Picture, if you will, a very small allotment of used cars, crammed mirror to mirror, in what must surely have been a low rent area on the outskirts of an outlying suburb. The sight of this site would have been enough to prompt your humble blogger to immediately turn around and drive away, had it not been for the innocent exuberance of his beloved brother, the budding buyer.
Prospects only sank the further on spotting the salesman and likely owner of this establishment, seated in the shade outside the hut which passed for an office. Perched on a stool, rotund beer gut resting on the table, his well-coiffed bouffant appropriately dyed rust red, talking earnestly on his mobile phone.
As my brother – a truly beautiful, innocent-in-the-ways-of-the-world fruit always ripe for the plucking – followed my advice to “Always go straight up to salesmen and state your purpose clearly, briefly, and confidently; don’t roam around aimlessly looking at stuff, waiting for them to size you up and plan their attack”, I walked to the front of the yard, where stood … actually, where slumped … the object of our long journey. Proudly positioned front and centre. The pinnacle, the most potent object of automotive desire that this particular dealership had to offer to the wandering eye of passing motorists.
Not one body panel had escaped the telling sign of dents, scratches, or delaminating clear coat. The plastic rear window boasted an inconsistent, weak-piss shade of yellow discolouration, doubtless attained from many a long hour spent roasting beneath our sunny southern skies. The split seams and frayed stitching on the fabric roof loudly proclaimed their propensity to ingest any H2O that may fall in their immediate vicinity. And things only got worse from there.
Our aforementioned salesman approached, wide-eyed buyer in tow, car keys in hand. Having already questioned and confirmed that my brother “hasn’t had one of these before” – my alertly protective ears had overheard their conversation – he proceeded to inform him of a “unique safety feature”. One that “only these models” boast. Rust red-dyed bouffant then proceeded to demonstrate.
Inserting key in the lock, our beer-gutted new friend placed one pudgy paw upon the door, and gently pressed his not-inconsiderable body mass against it, while turning the key with the other.
Try again. With rather less gentle application of body mass this time.
Win! We were in.
You see, extolled the salesman, most folks don’t know about this “safety feature”. Brilliantly, it renders the model less vulnerable to thieves, because most people don’t know how to open the door.
I did mention that this was a premium brand automobile, did I not?
At this point, having taken but a single stroll around this four-wheeled (and mismatched-tyred) wonder, your humble blogger had seen and heard quite enough. His thoughts turned decisively to “Oh gawwwd!!! How can I get us the flock out of here, quickly, without hurting anyone’s feelings, or denting anyone’s pride?”
You see, my dear brother is, shall we say, a little socially inept. His still-innocent exuberance and enthusiasm for life and people – commonly manifested in an apparent belief in the good intentions of all strangers – typically overwhelms his negligible capacity to pick up on the many and varied non-verbal signals that are part and parcel of human interactions.
Nonetheless, I first tried the subtle, wordless communication medium of body language to convey my message to him.
Standing well aside from said vehicle, leaning against the flaking-painted post of the security fence protecting this yard-full of former automotive glories, spine stiffened, chest thrust out defiantly, arms folded, teeth clenched and jaw muscles twitching, exasperated expression writ large upon my darkened visage, and casting my gaze disinterestedly to yonder hills. The exasperation, it should be said, not wholly feigned, conscious as I was that such subtle signals would inevitably be overlooked by my excited brother with the pocketful of burning cash.
And why not overlook any negative signalling, indeed. After all, the tan leather interior was plush!
That, by the way, is the best thing that can be said of this particular automobile. The tan leather was plush. And remarkably, at a cursory glance, in reasonably good condition. Though not sufficiently so as to distract the discerning eye from immediately noting other significant interior features. Such as the two large, prominent, non-OEM holes in the driver’s door trim. And the numerous zip ties, struggling in vain to hold the roof lining in the position of the manufacturer’s original intent.
Having failed to catch my brother’s attention, I stepped it up. By stepping out. I spent the next minutes – which of course, seemed like hours – wandering off around the yard, arms still crossed and facial expression now transformed into a disinterested annoyance. But to no avail. Indeed, the fun had only just begun.
I gave up on sending the “disinterested wandering” signal and returned to the scene of the crime. How much of a crime we were only now set to discover. The salesman – given the size of the establishment, a sole trader would be my guess – kindly demonstrated the vehicle brand’s most famous attribute. The engine.
Now, you might reasonably be forgiven for expecting an automobile wearing the badge of this particular marque to respond to a turning of the ignition key in a manner rather like that we expect on flicking a light switch. And then, to convey a smoothness of sound and motion rather like that of a sewing machine.
Not to belabour the point – unlike the battery, which was most certainly belaboured – eventually the engine did burst into life. Most of it, anyway. What was immediately apparent, is that at least one cylinder was no longer responding to the spark of life. As evidenced by the engine note. And by the knocking noises. And by a significant rocking side-to-side of the engine, one that was sufficiently in excess of that which the engine mounts had been designed to absorb, that the entire car adopted a most determined lateral gyration in sympathy. Unlike the door locks, apparently this was not a “unique feature” of this particular model. Unless, that is, our now somewhat less enthusiastic-looking salesman simply forgot to mention it.
I do not know if his decidedly less eager expression can be attributed to his having picked up on my oh so subtle body language, or, to the less than encouraging response from his motor. In any event, he clambered clumsily out of the driver’s seat to come around and peer (un)knowingly into the engine bay.
Through the passenger window, I caught my brother’s eye. And rolled mine. Judging from his downcast glance in return, happily, it appeared that my brother too, had belatedly reached a similar conclusion. If not, then the events of the next few moments certainly did successfully transmit the “This is a sh!tbox, let’s leave NOW!!” signal that my own efforts had heretofore failed to do.
Bravely, my brother – who was now ensconced in the plush tan leather of the driver’s seat – tried gently pressing the accelerator. No doubt in a hopeful attempt to “clear its throat”.
The engine stalled.
He turned the key, and prodded the accelerator. Ever so briefly, the engine again sprang to life. And then…
A very large volume of smoke belched from beneath the engine covers, and mushroomed out into the afternoon sunshine in a manner reminiscent of an atomic explosion. Seated inside the vehicle, my brother was quickly enveloped by a rush of acrid smoke billowing from every orifice in the dashboard.
Quickly escaping the fumes, he informed the salesman that the engine diagnostic warning light was on. Visibly straining to not appear crestfallen, the salesman went through the motions of checking the dashboard light for himself, and then flailing in vain with his rhetorical whip at a now quite dead horse, by quaveringly insisting: “That’s normal, it will go out soon”. After waiting for the interior smoke to clear, he climbed in and engaged the battery and starter motor in a futile struggle to revive the engine of this, the pride of his fleet.
With the salesman earnestly preoccupied and my brother out of the car, I seized the opportunity. Leaning over with a polite-but-firm “Thanks for your time”, I turned to my brother with a steely expression and a flick of the eyes towards our own car, grabbed him by the shoulder … and bolted.
Before my brother had a chance to reengage a pointless conversation.
And before anything else could happen that might cause that poor man’s dignity to melt away entirely, and join company with the other sad stains in the carpet.
I leave you, gentle reader, to imagine the conversation that ensued during the first minutes of our long journey home.
Given a little more time for emotions to settle and calm to return, as the kilometers rolled by beneath our wheels and the wind whispered quietly about our windows, I began to reflect on our experience.
And the longer I reflected, the more my feelings altered.
Instead of anger, or annoyance, or disgust, or contempt, I began to feel a great empathy with, and sadness for, that poor fellow soul.
An (other) Aussie brother.
Trying desperately to flog that complete heap of sh!t iron horse. Which had now suffered an apparently terminal myocardial infarction.
After all, what is he really doing, but that which we are all doing?
Just trying to get by.
Or is that, to “get buy”.
To pay the bills.
To feed the family.
To get ahead. Whatever that means.
Doing whatever we can, within and often beyond our personal limits – physically, mentally, spiritually, and morally – to take care of those whom we are closest to, and naturally love the most.
“Me and mine”.
I do not know anything of that used car salesman’s circumstances. His education and skills, or the limits thereof. The size and scale of the difficulties and stumbling blocks in his life’s journey. The pressure he feels to deliver. Who am I to judge that poor soul, to feel affronted, or to criticise his means-to-an-end?
I reflected on the fact that there are so many in our world in not dissimilar circumstances. Who find themselves resorting to not dissimilar actions, in order to “get buy”. Indeed, this is in truth hardly a tale of woe at all, when one pauses to consider the plight of many 100’s of thousands of our brothers and sisters right here in our own “advanced” economy. Not to mention the billions of others who are born into even less … “fortunate” … circumstances, and are right now living and dying just across the seas from our “Lucky Country”.
I was reminded of a short story that is recounted in a book that I have only just received and begun to read. It is called “Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity Into Prosperity.”
The story appears in an early chapter titled, “A Fate Worse Than Debt – Interest’s Hidden Consequences”. As it explains a subject that is very close to my heart with a style and a clarity far better than I could ever attain, I would like to share that story with you now (emphasis added):
The small village was bustling with locals proudly displaying their wares, chickens, eggs, cheeses, and bread as they entered into the time-honored ritual of negotiations and trade for what they needed. At harvests, or whenever someone’s barn needed repair after a storm, the village-dwellers simply exercised another age-old tradition of helping one another, knowing that if they themselves had a problem one day, others would come to their aid in turn. No coins ever changed hands.
One market day, a stranger with shiny black shoes and an elegant white hat came by and observed with a knowing smile. When one farmer who wanted a big ham ran around to corral the six chickens needed in exchange, the stranger could not refrain from laughing. “Poor people,” he said, “so primitive.”
Overhearing this, a farmer’s wife challenged him: “Do you think you can do a better job handling chickens?”
The stranger responded: “Chickens, no. But, I do know a way to eliminate the hassles. Bring me one large cowhide and gather the families. There’s a better way.”
As requested, the families gathered, and the stranger took the cowhide, cut perfect leather rounds and put an elaborate stamp on each. He then gave ten rounds to every family, stating that each one represented the value of a chicken. “Now you can trade and bargain with the rounds instead of those unwieldy chickens.”
It seemed to make sense, and everybody was quite impressed.
“One more thing,” the stranger added. “In one year’s time, I’ll return and I want all the families to bring me back an extra round – an eleventh round. That eleventh round is a token of appreciation for the improvements I made possible in your lives.”
“But where will that round come from?” asked another woman.
“You’ll see,” said the stranger with a knowing look.
A year passes and on another market day the stranger with the stylish hat returns, and from his vantage point he observes the village below. While sitting under the broad-limbed oak tree, he reaches into his knapsack and pulls out a silver canteen filled with single-malt whiskey, takes a swig, savoring the peaty warmth at the back of his throat, and waits for the village folk to file past him with each family’s repayment of the eleventh round.
Below on the village outskirts, a family begs for alms, having lost everything in a fire. Focused on their obligations, the villagers pass by without as much as a glance.
The eleventh round is a very simplified illustration of an important principle regarding money. The point of the anecdote is that, with all other things being equal, the competition to obtain the money necessary to pay the interest is structurally embedded in the current money system. Somebody will have to be without the eleventh round for payment for somebody else to have it and make the interest payment.
So how does a loan, whose interest is not created, get repaid?
Essentially, to pay back interest on a loan requires using someone else’s principal [Note: that principal is also debt, owing interest in turn]. In other words, not creating the money to pay interest is the device used to generate the scarcity necessary for a bank-debt monetary system to function. It forces people to compete with each other for money that was never created, and it penalizes them with bankruptcy should they not succeed. When a bank checks a customer’s creditworthiness, it is really verifying his or her ability to compete successfully against the other players – that is to say, assessing the customer’s ability to extract from others the money that is required to reimburse the interest payment. One is obliged in the current monetary system to incur debt and compete with others in order to perform exchanges and pay the resulting interest to the banks and lenders.
In a manner of speaking, it’s like a game of musical chairs in that there are never enough seats for everyone. Someone will end up getting squeezed out. There isn’t enough money to pay the interest on all the loans, just like the missing chair. Both are highly competitive games. In the money game, however, the stakes are elevated, as it means grappling with certain poverty or, worse still, having to declare bankruptcy.
Those billions of our brothers and sisters living in poverty and hardship around the world?
These are the families who have been forced to beg for alms on the outskirts of our global village. While the rest of us – focused as we are on our obligations, on the ceaseless struggle of competing for money – we daily pass them by, with neither a thought nor a glance, as we make our way to pay the usurers.
If, like me, you have ever pondered the reasons why people nowadays seem to be even more materialistic than in times past; why the business of doing business seems more cut-throat and profit-driven than ever; why advertising and marketing are seemingly all-pervasive and more aggressive than ever; why there are seemingly so many more, varied, and greater ills in the world than, say, 50 or 100 years ago – poverty, wealth and income inequality, “-ism’s”, dishonesty, disrespect, dishonour, amorality, fraud, corruption, drug and alcohol abuse, pharmaceutical dependency, and increasing physical, mental, and spiritual violence – then I hope you may now begin to see that here is a – and quite possibly the – major culprit.
It is a prime cause of slowly but surely, devolving mankind. Of causing us to increasingly behave like … indeed, often much worse than … mere animals.
Just to “get buy”.
Here is a final thought for you to ponder.
It hails from a section of the above chapter, and is sub-titled “Compulsory Growth Pressure”. It concerns the direct relationship between our 300 year-old, central-banking driven, usury-based debt-money system, and the global obsession with economic “growth” that is often (and rightly) blamed for all manner of social and environmental ills. For those readers who may hold concerns about climate change, natural resource depletion, environmental degradation and pollution, or similar ecological anxieties, please pay close attention (italics in original):
Interest… has hidden dynamics that result in detrimental costs not only to personal relationships, commerce, and society at large, but also to the sustainability of our fragile planetary home, Earth. The effects are so well-concealed, in addition to being so deeply embedded in the money system, that they go, for the most part, unnoticed.
Debt-based money requires endless growth because borrowers must find additional money to pay back the interest on their debt. For the better-rated debtors (e.g., in normal times, government debt), the interest is simply covered through additional debt, resulting in compound interest: paying interest on interest. Compound interest implies exponential growth in the long run, something mathematically impossible in a finite world.
…the exponential growth of money through interest rates has shattering real-life consequences in which entire nations of people are marginalized and stuck in debt forever. For instance, after a G8 summit former President Obasanjo of Nigeria stated: “All that we had borrowed up to 1985 or 1986 was around $5 billion and we have paid back so far about $16 billion. Yet, we are being told that we still owe about $28 billion. That $28 billion came about because of the foreign creditor’s interest rates. If you ask me, ‘What is the worst thing in the world,’ I will say, ‘It is compound interest.'”
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