The Tool that Became a God


I wrote this piece in 2004 when a friend, who is a financial planner, asked me what I thought about money. I think it may have disturbed him a little.

I did some editing for clarity, today, and added some links as I think these ideas are relevant to the “sudden” problems in the global economy.

My friend, I am afraid, thought that I was a hopeless case. When I asked him what he thought about the piece he said: “Interesting.” “Interesting” is a term that any writer or designer knows usually means “I don’t want to tell you what I really think about it.” I expect that today he and his many wealthy clients feel they are about half as well off as they would have said four years ago. I do not see it that way. I would say that reality has just cleared the fog a little. I wish them well.

As for me, things are much the same, personally, and MG Taylor is doing somewhat better. It is not clear what impact, if any, the present “situation” will have on us. We are now entering - and getting some recognition for it - the times for which we were invented. Perhaps this will see us continuing to grow despite everything - and perhaps we also, along with many others, will be set back in our Mission and in our personal economy. In the end, these things are not factors in the outcome, merely aspects of the challenge.

From my perspective, all the wailing and moaning going on still totally misses the point. We are at the end of an era and have to reinvent our global society from stem to stern. The sooner we get on with it the better off we will be. It can be a great adventure. Think of all the fun we had over the last several hundred years compressed into a single generation! There is plenty to do and plenty of potential wealth - to be created by doing it - to go around.

It is my passionate hope we take advantage of this present condition - it is not yet progressed to the dignity and utility of a useful problem - and make good use of the hand which we have dealt ourselves.

Matt Taylor
November 21, 2008

Bucky Fuller once said that a tool is the extension of a natural human metabolic function [future link]. Cupped hands become a cup; a fist, a hammer; a nervous system and a personal network of relationships, the Internet; and so on. He said that there were two kinds of tools which he called craft tools and industrial tools. Craft tools are those tools an individual can invent, build and use, personally. Industrial tools are tools that only a large group can invent, build and use. He cited the hammer as a craft tool, the Queen Mary as an industrial tool. In Fuller’s definition money and a global economy are industrial tools - an invention of the Human Enterprise.

In 1975, in my ReCreating the Future lectures, I told the story of the Monkey’s Paw which is the parable of the dangers of using a tool, craft or industrial, when you do not understand its nature and the consequences of its use. It is worth reviewing that story today because it was, sadly, predictive of the situation we now find ourselves in today and will increasingly be placed in the future if we fail to pay attention to the consequences of our actions.

link: The Monkey’s Paw


In 1985, writing in my Notebook, I outlined the algorithm of why the assumption of fundamental scarcity and the upside down use of money, the tool, logically leads to war. At Rutgers University in 1999, I presented an alternative kind of money and alternative uses of it. On the eve of the blow out, I wrote a web-page critic on the misuse of money and its greater expression, an economy; and, followed this with a polemic which outlined the 12 bad habits embedded in our present economic practices and, as far as I can see, rarely changed. These pieces are also worth reviewing as a context for what is written below.

link: UpSideDown Economics • link: Rutgers Presentation • link: Hype vrs. Anti-Hype • Link: UpSideDown Ecomoncs 12 Aspects

I have been, after being infected by Ann Rand in the 50s, Nathaniel Brandon and Allen Greenspan in the 60s and remain, a supporter of free enterprise. I no longer use the word Capitalism, in a positive sense, because the abuses in its name have gone on too long, for any possible short term social redemption. Our practice of Capitalism has become the very thing its critics long claimed is its essential nature. The term Shock Capitalism is, unfortunately very accurate and - after having practicing it globally for many decades - the U.S. has recently turned it loose on itself, one of the major reasons for the recent meltdown and a great example of eating your own lunch. To try and argue that, in theory, there is a form of Capitalism that does not do these things which now blackens its name, is a futile gesture. Besides, the word has become historically irrelevant; it is knowledge formation not capital formation that is important now and this requires free enterprise even more than did the emergence of historical Capitalism. FREEDOM has always been the core issue and the issue is freedom for all with equal terms for all [future link]. This will be a degree of freedom far greater than any of the liberal democracies have achieved to date. The paradox is that the case can be easily made that we abused the freedoms we had in almost every possible way imaginable. We pride ourselves about our freedoms even as we destroy them. To say that this is not the case today is either a bold face lie or a monumental display of ignorance.
Economists, throughout the ages, have always debated two core issues: what is the most effective way to create wealth? And, what is the most moral way to share and distribute it? Adam Smith held the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University at the peak of the Scotch Enlightenment. The modern liberal Democracies and their semi-free market economies have the best track record in history on both counts. They have, however, three black eyes: the first is they do not regard peoples outside their borders with the same respect and rights as those inside [future link]; the second is, while providing the most level playing field in known history, there are still major biases that protect entrenched wealth which is held by a few by political favoritism; the third is the devastation of the environment and the slaughter of other life forms as the consequence of human economic activity. It should be noted that the record of the freer economies, in this regard, is superior to the more controlled ones. The Soviet Union and China being exemplars in widespread ecological devastation. And, it should also be noted that people within the existing systems could have made better market choices as they are beginning to do so [future link]. Consumers - a horrible designation - are not without blame. I do not believe that a free economy and a balanced ecology are mutually exclusive. This will take, however, far more discriminating players: governments, customers, investors and producers alike, then dominate the Human game today.
A MARKET is one of the most efficient sorting algorithms ever devised. So much so that markets are beginning to be used to forecast the future [future link] and to also used as a design strategy within organizations, as well as, at the level that makes the environment of organizations: in systems and networks [future link]. I know of no means as efficient as a market to sort out differences and arrive at effective judgments among relative values even when they are made up of minute shades of gray. Whenever I am doing work with a large and complex organization and they are struggling to understand and make decisions when dealing with “impossibly” complex situations, I tell them to “make a market of it.” This can be done as simply as doing a simulation in a NavCenter at on the scale of reordering their enterprise away from divisions and levels toward autonomous networks which interact as a market.
Money, from an engineering point of view, performs three critical functions in support of the exchange of goods: it is INFORMATION; it is FEEDBACK; and, it is a COMMODITY - although some argue that money as a commodity is a corruption of its basic social function and value. As information, money is a means of knowing the relative value of goods (which includes services). An interesting word, “goods,” because this concept shows a very old social bias; no one was interested in trading “bads.” In today’s complex economy, however, this is what many of us are doing without knowledge or direct feedback. With money in my pocket, I do not have to carry around five tons of pig iron hoping I can trade it off for the correct number of perishable eggs. The reason that money replaced the barter economy is obvious although two things should be considered. As late as the mid 1980s, the monetary economy still only accounted for 50% of the exchange of goods on a planetary scale and, now, with computers and networks, it is possible to create a much smarter system as I have suggested [link] and patented [link]. As many are beginning to discover, our present monetary system is too simple and too dumb to “describe” the complexity and variety of options which exist within our global economy. Smart people are beginning to make “stupid” economic decisions because of this deficiency. Money as information is failing and the information systems we have piled on top of money are becoming a further burden to understanding. They impose complexity and overhead and the further opportunity for misinformation and corruption - this not an aid, it is dangerous window dressing. For this reason, money as feedback is becoming compromised. The state of money used to contain information in regards understanding the state of the economy. This is no longer nearly as true as it once was. The economy is too complex and the money too simple and too often manipulated for political reasons. This later fact is like shooting the messenger rather than allowing the information to govern people’s choices. A modern jet liner has three independent yet interlocking guidance control systems which add up to the equivalent of six - a prudent piece of engineering given that lives are at stake. We try to run a sophisticated economy with one form of money. Based on this data, we make collective decisions that kill large numbers of people on an annual basis - more than we find acceptable in a modern war. If you find this a wild statement think about the consequences to older people of air pollution the standards of which are decided in terms of what is considered affordable. Or, Medicare legislation. Or, perhaps a car company that decides it is better economics to pay off law suits rather than fix dangerous faults inherent in a high volume platform. This kind of simple economic feedback, without the all the costs factored in, is what Nolan wrote about a generation ago in TANSTASAFL. A book [future link] still ignored. Someday, the exchange of value will be facilitated by a “money” that will be an audit trail, a performance contract, a robust analysis of specific and systemic consequences, as well as, a vehicle for the transaction. It is unlikely that this kind of money will be allowed to be a commodity, in itself, as its integrity will have to be beyond reproach. It is unlikely it will be required because it will provide many more efficient ways to factor wealth and create leverage over time than the present system of credit provides [link]. It is also true that this kind of monetary system will make all kinds of markets efficient which will wipe out the present value of hard-to-find and privileged-based information. Most professionals will lose their present lofty status based on an information monopoly and will have to provide (as is already the trend) ever greater value-add based on judgment and design abilities. For this reason, the switch to ubiquitous smart money will be resisted for as long as possible, however, this short term, self-serving attitude will ultimately fail. In the end, markets do win.
With all of the above as context, I will now get down to what money means to me, how I personally think about wealth, and what I will do and not do to get it, keep it and employ it. In order to do this, two concepts: profit and wealth first have to be explored. In my view, profit is a biological necessity. All living things have to function at a profit - or die. This means, they have to take more in than they spend. When they do die these compounded earnings are then disbursed back into the larger system that makes up their ecological framework. This is true for a plant, an animal or a human in a social-economy. The amount of profit that a creature has to make, in order to prosper, is set by their ecological-economic circumstances. Animals, generally, work on much tighter margins than humans do today, as we are somewhat insulated by the invention of our social-economies. You can know, however, when you hear about the percent of alleged “profits” being pulled out of some companies and markets that it is a matter of time before there will be a collapse. Nature abhors and vacuum and does not allow great margins for long. Bumble bees, for example work on a temperature economy and have to keep their hives, summer and winter - “good” times and “bad” in regards weather, seasons and cycles of draught and wet - within a one degree temperature range. They have several strategies for doing this including rotating themselves inward and outward using their own body temperature to insulate a hive in winter while keeping their own individual temperature within an acceptable range. They demonstrate, in doing this, the principle of common-wealth and individual wealth integration as both are necessary to the proper functioning of any successful society. Generally, on the biological level, the storage capacity (the ability to hold “profit”), of any system or sub-system, has to match the general time-distance between resources. A human’s ability to store fat, hold water or breath, for example, is ‘sized” based on the average distribution of these “goods” in the natural economy of our physical environment called Earth. In our case a few weeks for food, a few days for water, a few minutes for air. When we wish to or have to operate outside of these ranges, we employ technology. A human, who had to store several months food as fat, or weeks of water, or days of air (as some animals do) would look very different than your typical Hollywood star or world class body builder who, to be competitive, have to exist on a much lower fat margin than the average human. Generally, plants and animals match their needs against the factors of their innate capacities and design strategies (which determine their degrees of freedom) and the resources in the environment by means of migration. This is why what we are doing to the the planet is so devastating to them. We disrupt their habitat on a evolutionary short time-scale while simultaneously cutting off their ability to migrate by the witless construction of our own infrastructure. There is plenty of space, it is just too chopped up. Migration paths to scattered reserves have been suggested as a solution to this problem [future link]. If you think that technology breaks us out of our natural constraints I offer a word of caution. The margins are not as good as they look. Add up all the time you spend earning money to buy and maintain your car and build that - along with some portion of the U.S. military budget [future link] - into you analysis and see what your average miles per hour gain over walking actually is. You will be surprised. Ivan Illich did a study on this decades ago [future link]. What you do get with the car is useful: on demand, weather protected, increased payload, radically increased speed over distance. In effect, you get to make an investment and have a greater choice in how you expend your energy-time-work accomplished equation. Done right, you can yield a good profit. Just don’t fool yourself about the real costs some of which your grandchildren - because of our present crude technology and social-slight-of hand - will be paying off. Technology is good. It is just not for free. Remember the Monkey’s Paw.
Thinking about the concepts ecology, economy (both come from the same root “housekeeping”), money, markets, commonwealth, individual wealth in this way suggests, by the rules of of Fuller’s tool-making [link] and Wright’s (and my) definition of “organic design” [link] a certain approach to the design of a political economy and the proper conduct of individuals within it. In other words, we should employ BIOMICKRY [rbtfBook] standards and processes as we design and use this “industrial” tool.
It can be pointed out that we do not yet exist in the “ideal” ecology/economy implied by this approach and I acknowledge this. It is often advocated, then, a “every man for himself” attitude should be used. The problem with this is the obvious damage this causes other humans and now plants, animals and Planet Earth, the largest system we are presently engaged with. This is nest fouling at the extreme and not very intelligent behavior; it is behavior that will lead to extinction, first other’s, in time, ours. Also, there is considerable evidence to suggest that this approach is beginning to turn the enormous creative engine of our economic system, itself (which we created over centuries of effort), into the creature of its own destruction [link] I wonder if anyone has noticed that the periodic economic crises - which we we try to fix as if they were isolated events - are come at higher frequencies and greater magnitudes with shorter stable, productive periods in between. Play this out and it is clear we are a few short years away from passing critical thresholds and blowing our semi-global system up. I deal with this situation in two ways, one corporate and one personal. On the corporate level, I have invented ValueWebs [link] which I believe offer a transition path from the existing social economic system to the next level of human social evolution. Individual and social transformation is the business that MG Taylor is in [link]. Even if we show a profit, we are not successful if we fail to fulfill our mission. If we are “successful” in our work and do not produce a profit, we are not successful [link]. Personally, I practice the “precautionary principe” in my own economic practices. I live a basic middle class life with the aim of doing as little harm as possible; I seek to to stay within narrow margins in terms of my personal economics; I base all of my decisions on that which produces the most value for me, my “tribe” and the system-as-a-whole (which includes others, even “competitors”) as the application of intellectual diligence leads me to understand it. I pay for my mistakes. The two (ValueWeb architecture and the personal precautionary principle) together, along with the quest of building an innovative corporation and personal practice around these economic and social convictions, has lead me, at this point in my life, to have performed a bit more poorly than the bumble bees. As a business, MG Taylor (within the skin of the legal entity which we “own”) is running a deficient of 10 percentage points (debt to accumulative revenues). As a systems integrator of a ValueWeb (the aggregate of the businesses and individuals we have served), we have failed, based on the measurable results the last 15 years (by the measure of our corporate debt factored by the new capital created within the web), to pay ourselves adequately by the additional amount of .001 percent. During this now going on 30 year journey, I have lived the mentioned solid middle class American life as have the vast majority of those who have worked with MG Taylor. Many of us have failed so far, however, to adequately fund our retirement which is a form of profit/storage necessary in our society. So, we, as individuals, are also running a deficit. And, despite our stringent efforts, I believe the goods and services of MG Taylor are too expensive and that this is slowing their needed distribution throughout our society. I function as a CEO of a company however I consider my real work to be the facilitator of a ValueWeb of individuals and companies - finding the balance between the economy of this nascent web and that of MG Taylor, the corporation, has been a challenge. So far, my errors in judgment have been to the detriment of the corporation. However, I firmly believe that the actual harm of this has been minimal compared to the benefit and the potential of the Enterprise. Never-the-less, there is work to do; the etymology of the work “sin” is to miss the mark. We have missed the mark and it is my duty to repair the systemic organizational reasons why this is so. We have a small pricing problem which we have to fix and we have a longer term capital formation problem which we have to overcome to create the efficiencies necessary to take our work, economically, to the next scale of use. Our Business Model [link], in theory, deals with both of these issues. The next 24 months (mid 2004 to mid 2006) will demonstrate if this is so. It should be pointed out, however, that on the level of recursion of the end users - including clients and those who practice our Method - millions and billions of profit have been made. Our economic problem is not one of value creation. It is a small imbalance in distribution between the greater ValueWeb membership and those of us who invented, promoted and shared our System and Method.
Considering all these things, the conduct of MG Taylor’s business and my personal life imposes an additional burden and higher standard then usual in regards the task of “earning a living” which, by my way of thinking, is a bizarre notion anyway [link: wage slavery]. There is no question that in the short term this “burdon” makes the task more difficult. It holds out the promise, however, of finding a more sustainable approach and the satisfaction of having done more good than harm - which is not easy in today’s world. Paying attention to all these aspects of the system is a necessary integrity of anyone who would aspire to the role (at any scale) of systems integrator. Building an organization that can do this, and not becoming corrupted in the process - at the scale suggested in my writings and demanded by the work that I advocate [link] - is an extremely ambitious and daunting task. I did not start out to do this - I evolved to it. The things I wanted to do, and that which I perceived as failures of the existing order, drove me to it [link]. Personally, I have never desired great amounts of wealth nor fame. I am perfectly happy to live more or less as I always have (which, by the way is in the very top few percentage points of the entire human population - making me a very successful social predator or creator depending on the net results of my actions) with the caveat that I would like a few more degrees of freedom, tooling level and social access. I like money. I consider it a brilliant social hack. A great tool. But I do not worship it anymore than I would a drafting board or a hammer [link]. I will not knowingly kill or compromise values for it and I see no reason not to take calculated risks in regards it. Money is important, and it is a social fabrication that has great utility, but this does not qualify it for the level of religious worship it receives today. Money does have its own rules - as does any technology - which should be prudently obeyed and these rules should be followed as long as one realizes these rules are both intrinsic to the nature of the tool and a social contract that can and should be renegotiated when necessary.
My interest and requirement for money is not personal. At my present billing rate, I can live far better than I now do by working one month a year. At the moment, I would be far better off without MG Taylor which costs me (and the other core staff members), directly and indirectly, enormous amounts of money. However, it is unlikely that you will ever see a Xanadu [link], or a Wilderness Mega City [link], or a Crystal Cave [link], the Master Planning Process [link] , a global network of NavCenters [link], nor the wide spread deployment of the postUsonian house [link] based on any level of personal wealth that can be honestly earned in today’s economy in a single life-time. You will not see these without the successful development of MG Taylor and what will evolve out of this ENTERPRISE. MG Taylor, itself, will never bring into being these projects and make them a reality beyond the proof-of-concept stage. It can, however, facilitate the creation of organizations and networks that can. What can I tell you? You can see why I am relatively indifferent to personal wealth beyond a basic level of personal comfort and tooling necessary to do my work, and promote adequate social access. Remember, I grew up on Air Force bases with B-29s as my personal playthings [link: 1947]. I learned then what a society of mission dedicated individuals and a global network architecture can accomplish. I am a commonwealth and big-systems kind of guy who wants to make good change on a global scale and have some pleasure in the doing of it. The pursuit of making lots of personal wealth, while intriguing and fun, is like playing sports to me. A good thing to do when you are young and practicing to become a human but ultimately boring [link]. What to do with wealth, both individual and common, is a far more interesting question - particularity in a world where there is some much of it and so few good places where it can be put to really useful work. I have no problem at all with those few people who think about money making as I do about architecture and make it their creative life’s work. These are true wealth-makers. Myself, I make a means of wealth-making and I create a means for spending it, for individual and social benefit, specifically in the realm of habitats that facilitate life, learning and human creativity. To each his/her own passion.
I titled this discourse MONEY - The Tool That Became a God because that is certainly what it has become in our society. I am afraid this will turn out to be a vengeful god. A 600 pound person has amassed too much profit and will certainly live poorer and most likely die sooner for the accomplishment. How one thinks about money and decides to act or not in its name is one of the most important decisions anyone makes in their lifetime. How one sorts through the often posed but false conflict between individual wealth and commonwealth is a critical discrimination, the sum of which, in a greatly amplified economy, will effect nations, billions of people and, ultimately, the survival of our own species. What one determines is “enough” in terms of their personal wealth (and I think there is a wide range here that can be considered legitimate under all circumstances) is of great personal importance because this is, in really, a decision about what you will pay attention to - or not. What one buys in the marketplace of ideas and goods (or bads) is the ultimate expression of freedom and provides a critical values-based feedback to producers - this “vote” is never neutral nor trivial. The awareness - and balance - one brings to the use of personal and industrial tooling, including modern organization, is extremely important. These amplify human action. They do so for good and for bad - usually, a little of both. How we individually and collectively sort out these trade-offs will be the design of our future world [link].
Un-manipulated money in a free marketplace, with a government that cannot be bought, is the essential tool of the ultimate democracy. Thoughtful use of this augmented freedom is the exercise of civic dignity. Matching one’s economic choices to one’s values and lifestyle is an exercise in personal franchise. These are the conditions of creativity free of unreasonable coercion, stress, risk and distorted consequences. A society of this kind of creativity, exercised by billions according to their own muse, will produce all the sustainable wealth ever needed. It will produce a society that can create without destroying. It will make a planet that is a work of ART [link].
What is new to the HUMAN CONDITION, is that for the first time in our evolution we have the power to destroy completely. We can do this in one big bang or by the slow death of a billion poor decisions. What is new is that, in this regard, we are not constrained in any kind of a practical way. We can destroy before the feedback [link] loops regulate us to act otherwise. What is new is that how we act, individually, in the conduct of our personal economy, actually counts on a global scale. For the first time in history what we do not do is as important as what we do. We have reached the power of gods with the wisdom of children. The global industrial economy has become the most brilliant and dangerous artifact ever created in the known history of the human race. I cannot tell people how to live. That would be worse than presumptuous. I can offer alternatives and I can seek to live those alternatives at the highest fiduciary standard possible. This is what I have chosen to do and this choice sets the framework of my economics.
This is what money, the tool, means to me.
In closing, I address directly the title of the piece MONEY: the Tool that became a God. In the documented 10,000 years of civilization there is no period which even begins to approach the dominance, we see today, of money over human thought and actions. To our ancestors, I think, this fanaticism would be considered bizarre - made more so given that we have so successfully accomplished nearly everything we need to live a decent, honorable and creative life. I believe future generations, if they exist, will look back on our time and proclaim that humanity suffered a mass hysteria which was profoundly clinical in nature. A Hysteria which makes the periods in the Dark and Middle Ages looks health by comparison.
The strongest clinical terms almost fail to describe the level of collective insanity involved. The term “worship” in Hebrew means “to work for.” To work for money is to worship it. To worship money is to give it god-like status. Money is a tool. It actually is a very good tool. It promotes autonomy and freedom in how one exercises economic choices. If the monetary system is honest, stable and robust it insulates individuals from the arbitrary actions of others. It is remarkably better at facilitating the many ways humanity has organized work, and the creation and distribution of wealth, than many other methods which have been tried.
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The Nature of Experience
Matt Taylor
May 1, 2004


SolutionBox voice of this document:


click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted May 1, 2004

revised Novvenber 21, 2008
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(note: this document is about 95% finished)

Copyright© 2004, 2008 Matt Taylor

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