MARCH 2013                                                                                                               

The Divine and the Profane

The rules of monopoly point out the illusion of the current banking system in the same way that the Biblical prophets undermined the ancient temples. Money and the trust people place in it has always been a link between the profane and the divine. Will continued global Quantitative Easing impair this relationship.

I have not played monopoly as  much as I should have over the recent years, however, last week I was emailed the rules.

The ‘winner’ of monopoly is the   single player who dominates the market; however, there is an additional agent that silently wins: the Bank. The rules state “besides the Bank’s money, the Bank holds all title deeds, pays all salaries, sells properties, loans money when required, and collects interest. The Bank never goes broke. If the Bank runs out of money, the Banker may issue as much as needed by writing on any ordinary paper.”

Expansion is the key of being master of the Monopoly board game and the Bank grows by administering the money and assets of the participants. The game ends when one player or the Bank is owed all the money and owns all the assets.  It is the players’ trust in the Bank that makes the Bank’s continuation credible and the game work.

An Old Game

There are two key concepts that connect a mere board game to economic life. Money, in this case paper, is the medium of exchange between players: assets, in this case real estate, are the store of value. Throughout millennia many items have played the role of money and assets, but it is always the Bank that plays the critical role, being the fragile link between the medium of exchange and the store of value. 

This relationship has not altered much in four thousand years. In ancient Mesopotamia the Temple was the Bank of its time; the people were urged to deposit their assets within the blessed compound. The ancient gods, along with priestly ritual, sanctified, accounted for and paid interest on all accumulated assets, mainly precious metals and stones. The stored material goods acquired exceptional worth through their proximity to God; the Temple assets were considered limitless since the Temple warehoused a deity trusted by all, thus reinforcing its use as a medium of exchange. The Temple had performed an act of alchemy, converting an impersonal and circulating token (money) into an amassed, cherished and exclusive treasure (store of value). This contradiction between public money and private assets was run by the trusted Temple and this contradiction mattered.

Modern Temples

The Temple lives today in global central banks; all one has to do is glance at their headquarters, which architecturally mirror places of worship. The Temple’s product, money, is still our medium of exchange, our price setter. The money displays sacred symbols of confidence -  e.g. Her Majesty the Queen, long dead American Presidents, and revered national icons. Our sense of the divine is encapsulated on the notes in our wallet. However, its store of value is damaged when it begins to circulate liberally. In the ancient past it was the frequently ignored Biblical prophets who exposed the ‘working fiction’ of the Temple.

Holy Money...

Gods and Idols

I From Jeremiah to Jesus, forlorn holy voices, shattered this illusory Temple-induced union between the profane (money) and the divine (value). Jeremiah admonishes us that “every goldsmith is shamed by his idols, the images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them.”  We are aware of his message but as in Jeremiah’s time, we dare not accept it.  Rather we are gratefully seduced by our present day Temple priests, gazing gleefully at our rising asset values, paying scant attention to the subtle co-mingling of the profane and the divine. We pray that our Monopoly bankers never run out of money, issuing as much as needed, and that no Jeremiah comes along to awaken us from this soothing apathy.

In QE we Trust and God save our Monopoly bankers.



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