Recovering from the morning-after hangover from the global money party

Monetary systems have been developed in the context of a primitive survival brain, and the rules that govern monetary processes reflect this.  By its nature, it helps to maintain reliance on these survival instincts in the wider population.  The modern money system is not currently functioning that well, is highly unstable, and is having the effect of becoming a major cause of stress among a lot of people.   This is not to say that money is inherently evil, but it does need a lot of reforming at every level, of that there is no doubt.

Meeting our needs in a balanced way is the fundamental basis of feeling happy.   The true function of money is a useful tool to help us get our needs met, and it should be there to serve us, not control us.  Fortunately, understanding what our needs are and how to get them met does not require much, if any money, and once we have that knowledge we can help free ourselves from the limitations and toxic effects of modern money and use it to best advantage. This is not to say that we need to reject money, or will not have as much as we need.  On the contrary, we are more able to embrace it and get what we need it to help us when we put our mental health and well-being centre stage.

Where were you and what were you doing when the global money party kicked off?  Speaking in 1957, the British post-war prime minister Harold Macmillan famously told the British public benefiting from the post-war economic boom that 'Britons have never had it so good'.   Carried away by the confidence of post-war economic growth, leaders of the Western World in the 70's pushed for, and succeeded, in taking down controls for international finance in a systematic program of liberalisation.  50 years on we are seeing the effects of this unwieldy, enormous and sudden growth in the global money supply to levels that have never been seen before in history.   This monetary expansion has been based on the age old monetary rules of a system based on money as debt and charging interest which is inherently inflationary and mathematically impossible to reconcile.  

The only way people can keep up with the pressure to pay back the daily mountain of debt that the global money supply demands us to pay is to sell more and more stuff as fast as we can, making consumers of us all.  This has amplified the ancient global race among people, friends, families and communities to achieve power and supremacy for their benefit at the expense of others.  This is fundamentally destroying community and love and the connection between people everywhere, which is a fundamental human need.  Money is still dividing men and women.  At every level of income, men have more financial wealth than women and women borrow more than men so women are in effect arguably paying men for the privilege of living on Earth as they pay the interest on their loans en mass to men. (13)

The greed and hubris of modern bankers who are now running the global system work and live in a rarefied world of extreme financial wealth and power and are not really helping us deal with this situation.  It has become almost an act of heresy to question what is apparently the unalienable right of everyone to make money hand over fist. Anyone who does question this is a loser to be ignored!  With eyes firmly planted on the bank balance, people everywhere either look on with glee or glumness and despair feeling a whole cocktail of extreme emotional states from rapture to depression and worse.   There is nothing psychologically balanced about the world of money.  We can look to governments to try and moderate the more extreme effects of this system, but many in the system know it's a forlorn hope.  The private banks now have such an enormous political and economic power it’s hard to see how any government could deal with this unless there is a globally unified approach, which seems unlikely.

This might sound all a bit doom and gloom, but at almost every turn modern money systems and the way they are managed are flying in the face of good mental health practices.  Therapy and mental health services are creaking at the seams with the fallout from the toxicity of this system in what is apparently a fundamental breakdown in the architecture of the global money system.  In a secular society where religious organisations would have previously offered emotional comfort to the masses, modern scientific psychotherapy is taking its place. Record numbers of people are going to therapists.  It may be that there are relationship problems, bereavement, illness and other issues, but financial issues are now a massive cause of mental distress and are often intertwined with these other issues.  Let’s face it, money has become a bit of a distraction, to say the least.

In 2014 in the UK nearly a quarter of the population sought therapeutic help and the numbers are going up year on year.(1)  'Seventeen and a half million working hours are lost as a result of employees taking time off work because they are experiencing financial stress. Even if they make it into work, they can’t get their jobs done to the best of their abilities; 55 per cent say financial pressure distracts them from fulfilling their roles. And their relationships with colleagues and line managers are damaged because of the financial pressures employees are concerned about.' [Neyber - The DNA of Financial Well-being 2016].   Growing numbers of parents everywhere are having to raid their savings to pay for their often adult children who are in financial trouble (2).  This creates further pressure in human relations and individual stress caused by feelings of guilt, shame, loss of status and other negative emotions.  The age of financial independence for many children is not coming until their 40's or beyond, if at all.   Indeed, record numbers of people are defaulting on personal debt as they simply cannot afford to pay it back and have no way to foresee doing so. 'The number of defaulted federal student loans in the USA hit a new high in 2016: about 8 million borrowers have given up paying on more than $137 billion in education debts.' (3). 

People, naturally seeking security, desperately cling to jobs in what they feel are safer larger scale corporations and public sector organisations only to find that job security is weak and the financial pressures on these organisations are more intense than ever.  Few organisations pay heed to their employee's mental health (4) Work-life balance goes out of the window for many.  According to a recent report, 25% of the UK working population are unhappy with their work-life balance.  (5).  Fear dominates the media and is the fundamental way news is sold, exciting emotional arousal, keeping people entranced with negativity and confusion, only adding to the depression of people everywhere. (6)   Furthermore, as if these societal pressures were not enough to contend with, money is actually like a drug and is highly addictive, and this toxicity has to be managed very carefully (7).  It triggers dopamine release even by holding it, easily distorting the functioning of our natural reward systems. (8) A recent report details how 'As the online business of gambling approaches the £2bn mark and bookies seek to lure in new punters, the number of Britons at risk of becoming addicted is growing rapidly.' (9)

An explosion of self-help, spirituality and psychotherapy has taken place as people everywhere are undergoing what some feel is a spiritual transition as never experienced before.  Not so much as a breakdown but a breakthrough.  New expressions of old forms of spirituality are growing globally as people seek an internal abundance and happiness in the face of the half full glass of monetary chaos.  25% of the titles in the New York Times best seller list are on the subject of spirituality. (10). A whole new generation of people is teaching others to understand their internal powers to 'attract good fortune' and live in 'abundance'. However, we need to be careful that these forms of teachings are not used by people to prop up their deep monetary conditioned beliefs in exponential growth and expansion and ever increasing bank balances.  Indeed, many of these teachers have themselves become very wealthy teaching others to be 'abundant'.  Like the established churches before them that can compete for financial wealth with some of the world’s richest businesses (11), there has always been a somewhat delicate balance between worldly and other-worldly wealth. 

In the modern world guiding people towards spirituality is big business.  'Guiding people toward that goal can be quite rewarding — and not just in the spiritual sense. One mega-seller, Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is so massively popular that it gave rise to a publicly traded corporation. Last year, Franklin Covey, which is in the business of providing "integrated training and performance enhancement solutions to organisations and individuals," recorded sales of $333 million.' (12).  These teachers often claim that it’s possible to have the dream of both financial and spiritual abundance.   Perhaps in time, we can generate a win-win financial system and we just have to keep acting as though it is already achieved.  But we might do well to remember the words of Idris Shah who points out in his Caravan of Dreams: “You will never reach Mecca, I fear: for you are on the road to Turkestan.” 

In the case of the global ‘money party’, the organisers, as well as the participants, are all feeling the pain of the hangover.  Some of us held back from too much excess but others it seems went to extremes at the height of the party.  Some of you might feel the smug satisfaction that you held back, some the shame of going too far. However, you came out the only way to recover for us all is to help each other, and not cower in shame or condemn in self-righteousness.  Don't forget that the ‘money party’ is a win-lose game and it could easily have been you who lost and winning isn't as much fun as it’s cracked up to be either.  We need a new party.  We don't need to stop drinking entirely but just, well treat it a bit more cautiously and have a lot more internal mechanisms for enjoying ourselves whilst not going crazy.  After all, who doesn't like a good party and why not, but perhaps we can get by on super health drinks rather than 7% beers.

In a world of such unbalance one thing stares is in the face.  Imbalance is not good for us.  Balance is good.  It's not actually that hard to see this really, though the simplest of truths is so easily hidden by a mind clouded by anxiety.  Balance is the key.  We know that if we get carried away by our emotions and too attached to desires they can lead us away from this balance.  If we allow our emotions to get the better of us we can easily become greedy, angry, tyrannical, depressed, selfish and aggressively competitive amongst other things.  That is, all the things we associate with forms of behaviour that, shall we say are not the hallmark of happy and stable civilisations.  On the contrary, soon we find ourselves living in the unhappy declining civilisation.  That's not to say emotions are negative.  They are the very processes that lead us to happiness though they need to be managed (like all resources).   It seems the ancients knew it all along.  Don't get too attached to desire.  Keep grounded in need.  Breath, keep calm and ensure your needs are met and you should maintain the balance that will allow you to work out how to manage your money and other things a bit better.  Money is an incredibly useful tool when used by a person whose needs are well met and is grounded in those and seeks to help others to do the same.  In that situation money will really support the most amazing psycho-economic growth ever seen in history.   The 'secret' is to keep focussed on what we need first and use money to support this, rather than put money first and our needs second.  As policy makers consider their reforms of the financial systems they would do well to remember this and stop trying to create a global casino instead of financial system fit for purpose.

Freyja Theaker

May 2016.