The Death of Money by Joel Kurtzman

We are experiencing the most severe financial crisis since the 1929 stock market crash in the United States. How did we get here? What are the causes of the current global economic crisis?

In the Death of Money Joel Kurtzman, an economist and business editor at The New York Times vividly explains how money which in the traditional sense died three decades ago, has been replaced by what he calls “megabyte economy”.

According to Kurtzman, this new megabyte economy which set the end of decades of market stability began on 15th August 1971. Then President Nixon, abolished the Bretton Woods system and the gold standard. What followed was a period of a new economic disorder that began with soaring oil, gold, and real estate prices and continued with an unprecedented consumption binge by government agencies and the citizenry alike. A stable economic system was replaced with an unbelievable nanosecond volatility. The banking system become weaker, the savings and loan industry collapsed, the prices of the most commodities soared, pulling other prices with them, while the remnants of the U.S.A financial system seems to collapse and crumble under a mountain of debt.

In this megabyte economy, where world’s markets are linked, the electronic money is nothing more than the “1’s” and “0’s” of the computer’s code. Nobel-Prize winning equations are programmed into computers at mutual fund companies, while mathematicians and physicists are replacing the stock pickers of the past. The death of money has created a strange new world which most people have little knowledge of. It is a world that is far more chaotic and beyond the ability of the most forecasters to predict. The speculative markets now dwarf the “real” markets. Any speculation means abrupt change which is heavily influenced not just by the events but by the way people view them.

Kurtzman also explain why the stock market crash on October 1987 – “The Black Monday” – was not an anomaly and why we should expect more such crashes. In contrast to Adam’s Smith argument that rational self-interest in a free-market economy leads to economic well-being, Kurtzman says that “complex, sophisticated and evolving financial structures of the capitalist system lead to the development of conditions conducive to incoherence – to runaway inflation or deep depression”.

He also warns that the electronic economy will intensify the trend toward localism, provincialism, nationalism and racism among people whose lives and identities are disrupted by the end of the Nation State. Fundamentalism will increase as people’s lives are made to seem insignificant by the creation of a single massive global economy where enterprises are loyal to no one, bigger that everyone and under no nation’s control.

Kurtzman argues that efficient new mechanisms must be put into place to bring the economy under control and regain the balance between the “money economy” and the “real economy”. The Death if Money is a very good analysis of the speed and the dangers of the electronic global economy. “The countries that will be in the best position to prosper are those that allow local populations to flourish and to express their ethnic diversity without losing control over common good.”

Kurtzman argues that the old remedies no longer work in this new global economy. The most successful countries would be these, which will recognise that the invisible hand of the market should always have a measure of help from the very visible hands of government”.