Money as the 'information-shavings' of the economy

Another follow-on to the theme about the economy as enterprise-architecture and the role of money within an economy. This one picks up from another direction, namely knowledge-management – specifically, a post on KMWorld by Phil Murray, ‘Everything is connected… really… Putting meaning to work‘.

The connecting link is that, in effect, money – or any other form of currency, ‘thing’-based, time-based or whatever – is essentially a form of quantitative information in relation to a belief about economic relationship. The crucial word there is ‘about‘ – the currency denotes something about the relationship, but in itself does not contribute in any way to the relationship.

There’s no doubt that a currency could contribute quite a bit to the overall operation of an economy: such as transaction-governance (‘a token of exchange’) and quantification of overall resources (though for money that’s always been in doubt, and in effect has ceased to function at all since the shift from the ‘Gold Standard’ to ‘imaginary-money’). But perhaps the greatest problem is that it exacerbates the delusion that the currency somehow ‘is‘ ‘the economy’, rather than merely information about the economy. So whilst the whole of Phil Murray’s post is relevant here, the following section seems particularly apposite from this perspective.

What really counts

It’s not that we should – or even can – shift our attention completely away from information (and unstructured information, in particular). It’s that we have failed to address meaning in the context of work. Yet, that is what we need to do in order to transform our economic activities, both as individuals and as groups working toward common goals.

In one of the great ironies of creation of value by humans, we looked at the byproduct of knowledge work – that is, information – and saw in it both the problem and the solution for the central socio-economic problems of our times. We stopped looking at what we do, how we do it and how we create value. Our reaction to knowledge work has been analogous to focusing on the shavings on the machine shop floor instead of on how we create products with those machines.

You cannot – and do not – act on words. You act on meaning. You always have to convert words into meaning before you act. It’s the meaning behind information that counts. And sometimes you don’t need words at all.

Meaning? Yes, “the thing one intends to convey especially by language,” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary. Not the language itself, not the text strings and symbols that fill our books and screens, but the significant stuff that language intends to represent so that we can communicate what we understand. The connections among things. Causes and effects. In the context of work: the relevance or importance of those connections. The subject of logic, argument and epistemology. A pervasive, essential aspect of rational human activities that is accepted as critical to creation of value and economic progress, and yet an idea routinely dismissed as unusable, elusive and unmanageable at the same time. And the missing ingredient in our understanding of work and the creation of value in the age of information.

Perhaps read it again, paraphrasing a bit, and substituting the word ‘money’ or ‘currency’ for ‘information’ throughout, as shown in [..] below:

What really counts

It’s not that [at present] we should – or even can – shift our attention completely away from [money] (and unstructured [‘currency’], in particular). It’s that we have failed to address meaning in the context of work. Yet, that is what we need to do in order to transform our economic activities, both as individuals and as groups working toward common goals.

In one of the great ironies of creation of value by humans, we looked at the byproduct of [exchangeable] work – that is, [money] – and saw in it both the problem and the solution for the central socio-economic problems of our times. We stopped looking at what we do, how we do it and how we create value. Our reaction to [exchangeable] work has been analogous to focusing on the shavings on the machine shop floor instead of on how we create products with those machines.

You cannot – and do not – act on words. You act on meaning. You always have to convert words into meaning before you act. It’s the meaning behind [money] that counts. And sometimes you don’t need [currencies] at all.

Meaning? Yes, “the thing one intends to convey especially by language,” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary. Not the language itself, not the [numeric figures] and symbols that fill our [account-]books and screens, but the significant stuff that language intends to represent so that we can communicate what we understand. The connections among things. Causes and effects. In the context of work: the relevance or importance of those connections. The subject of logic, argument and epistemology. A pervasive, essential aspect of rational human activities that is accepted as critical to creation of value and economic progress, and yet an idea routinely dismissed as unusable, elusive and unmanageable at the same time. And the missing ingredient in our understanding of work and the creation of value in the age of [money].

Ouch…

And remember that all of the above applies only to exchangeable work (services delivering ‘things’, actions and/or information) within the constraints of a possession-economy: it excludes much or most of what really matters – such as feelings and faith, past and future – and, for the most part, the greater part of the population – such as parents, children, the elderly and disabled and their carers, or most ‘creatives’ such as artists, scientists, musicians, futurists and academics. Money is merely information about a subset of a subset of a subset of the overall economy: calling it ‘the economy’ is not merely a bad joke, but an increasingly dangerous one as well.

In short, in the current obsession with money and the like, we’ve allowed ourselves to focus on the dust and detritus of the economy, in the mistaken belief that that is ‘the economy. We might be able to patch something useful together from that detritus of the economy, if we recycle it appropriately, but it still misses the point: the real economy is not about the waste-product that’s left lying on the factory floor, but about what we were creating in the first place – that which is the real value, measured most by how we feel.

Money is ‘information-shavings’, the left-overs from real economic activity, real economic relations. Might help all of us if we put it in its proper perspective – and preferably sweep it up into the waste-bin where it has always belonged.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “Money as the 'information-shavings' of the economy
  1. Leonard Kish says:

    Rudyard Kipling, giving a commencement address at McGill University in Montreal, said there was one striking thing that deserves to be remembered about people. Warning the students against an over-concern for money, power, or popularity, he said, “Some day you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”

    Are you on twitter? (@leonardkish) Saw you on Venessa Miemis’s blog comments. Would like to talk to you about your ideas some time.

    1st question: Isn’t currency just about standardization? How much wasted, non value-adding activity would there be if we constantly had to value items or services in the terms of our trades by some other method? Maybe I’m missing something.

  2. Phil Murray says:

    I had not thought about the connection between valuing “meaning” and “enterprise architecture. Thanks for that. It makes good sense, common sense.

    On a parallel chain of thought, I believe that we need to transform our economics from growth-driven to improvement-driven. Growth-driven economics is not sustainable and it favors large companies.

Leave a Reply to Phil Murray Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*