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My 52 book challenge: Week #10 – Aravind S


Week 10. Governments around spoke about the voluntary lockdown in the wake of the Chinese virus. I couldn’t have chosen a better book than ‘Money’ written by Yuval Noah Harari as the global economy was being impacted by the Chinese virus. He had previously written the smash-hit novel ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’. In a sense, this book is an extract from both of these books. The author discusses the origin of Money and its sojourn. It covers it from before the times of Aztec gold coins to our own invisible money on the cloud servers including the birth of stock exchange. He also with utmost clarity uncovers the evolution of the concepts of capitalism and communism with caveats of how one cannot survive without the other. In the finale, he does paint a picture of AI’s impact on the current Job sector and a big question on the existence of individualism.

How did the concept of money evolve? Why the civilizations around need it? How did all eventually agree on a common system? All these questions are answered with historical facts and events in the first few pages of the book. Barter system came into existence. It did eventually fail due to its limitations as it thrived only when there is reciprocity. An economy of favours or obligations doesn’t work in a large group as strangers don’t co-operate.

Money was created many times in many places. Money essentially is anything that people are willing to use to represent systematically the value of other things for exchange of goods or services. Money existed before the coinage as well. The first known currency of the world was ‘Sumerian Barley’ in 3000 B.C. Some 600 years ago, shells were used as money in Africa and Southeast Asia. Those cowry shells were currency till the late 19th century in British Uganda. Then there were Silver Shekels during the Mesopotamia era. Coins were introduced around 640 B.C by King Alyattes of Lydia.

Eventually, the appearance of a single transactional & transcultural monetary zone laid the foundation for the globe into a single economic & political sphere. This gets us to the part where the world is introduced to concepts of Capitalism & Liberalism.

Capitalism began as a theory about how the economy functions. It was both descriptive and prescriptive — it offered an account of how money worked and promoted the idea that reinvesting profits in production leads to fast economic growth. Capitalism breeds Trust in an imaginary future. Before the modern era, this ability to trust on imaginary future was limited. Thus, Economies remained frozen. That is how Credit as a concept was created. People believe that the pie is growing and they invest based on an assumption that future resources will be surely abundant. The discoveries and inventions improved trust in a better future to a greater measure. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good.

The history of capitalism is unintelligible without taking science into account. Capitalism’s belief in perpetual economic growth flies in the face of almost everything we know about the universe. A society of wolves would be extremely foolish to believe that the supply of sheep would keep on growing indefinitely. Everything depends on the people in the labs. Discoveries in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology could create entirely new industries, whose profits could back the trillions of make-believe money that the banks and governments have created since 2008.

Of course, Capitalism did come with its share of problems. He does in a very detailed fashion highlight how capitalism gave way to European imperialism which induced the great wars amongst the Spaniards, Dutch, Portuguese and the British. Slavery was just a byproduct that was commoditized at the stock exchange in the later years. Yuval has highlighted how capitalism is accused of the influence of political bias and how it leaves people in hunger while the economy is still growing. He does answer on the capitalist behalf by being more patient until we find the balance and stating communism is the worst alternative. He does end that chapter stating the capitalist-consumerist ideology system is in line with people’s present desires. No wonder millions of people live with zero savings.

Liberalism is founded on the belief in human liberty. Unlike rats and monkeys, human beings are supposed to have “free will”. This is what makes human feelings and human choices the ultimate moral and political authority in the world. Liberalism tells us that the voter knows best, that the customer is always right, and that we should think for ourselves and follow our hearts. It believes every human is a unique individual and is valuable.

The author believes liberalism as an idea will evolve on the below mentioned 3 practical developments.

  • Humans lose economic & military usefulness (economic & political system will lose value)
  • Finding value in humans collectively (not in unique individual value)
  • Value in Unique individuals will still be found but it would constitute a new elite of upgraded superhumans rather than a mass of the population.

The last chapter largely focuses on the future rather than the past. All the above changes are largely attributed to the advancement of technology and how the world is being built around algorithms. Due to the modernization of warfare and manufacturing, crowds of people will become redundant because they will be replaced by robots and machines. This may undermine the “alliance” of capitalism and liberalism as the economy will rely much less on human resources.

In the 20th century, the ideology of liberalism claimed that we do not have to choose between ethics and economy, as the protection of human rights and the spread of fundamental freedoms constitute such a great motivational force that is vital for economic growth. However, in the 21st century, as consciousness and intelligence separated, the economic power attributed to people is threatened. Up until now, only individuals with a conscious mind were capable of performing more complex tasks, such as driving a car or making a medical diagnosis, etc. This has now changed. Automation and algorithms are here to stay and by 2033 most of the service industry jobs would be at least 97% automated.

He makes a statement that Liberalism will collapse the day system knows me better than myself. The new technologies of this century may reverse human evolution by stripping us of authority and empowering the algorithms that we have developed. Yes, we may be in the Orwellian police state where we are only allowed to make mundane personal choices.

He ascertains that the idea we humans will always have a unique ability beyond reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.

There are theoretical and practical conclusions to be drawn in connection with Harari’s book, with changes seen in economics added: as a consequence of the 2008 crisis, the thorough understanding and reconsideration of the fundamentals of finance became inevitable. For example, the appearance and spread of cryptocurrencies meant a new challenge for financial decision-makers and regulators. At the same time, this technical innovation is insignificant compared to the challenges of the technological revolution forecast by Harari.

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