jovialbard

Short stories and other written works by jovialbard.

Month: March, 2016

Poison

Corrugated cement rumbled overhead as Charles sat with his back against a cold stone wall. He closed his eyes with a heavy breath and leaned his head back. His brow furrowed as he tried to narrow his thoughts to the quiet babbling of the river flowing past.

“Hey!”

Charles jumped to his feet, steadying himself against the wall, and looked toward the voice. His mouth moved wordlessly.

“Whoa. Hey. No, man, no worries. I didn’t mean to startle you. Just saying hi.” A disheveled man with a thick beard was standing in the sunlight beyond the overpass. “You can sit, it’s okay.”

Charles looked around for a moment, deciding, then settled back to the ground.

The stranger stood staring at him blankly from the sunlight. “Why you here?”

“I’m… uh… just sitting.”

“Yeah, right, pragmatist.” The stranger walked toward Charles and slid to the ground a few feet away. He took a quick swig from a brown bag.“I mean, why are you here? Why aren’t you driving in a car up there, or in a boat out there, or sitting at home with a pretty wife, two kids, and a dog? Why are you here? You know?”

They made eye contact for a moment, then Charles shook his head and shrugged. He thought about ignoring the stranger. He’d ignored people like this all his life. Then the pain in his chest flared and he found himself choking back tears. The stranger sat in silence for a moment, then offered the brown bag to Charles. Charles shook his head.

“It’s okay, you know? Don’t worry about it. I just talk. It’s what I do. You don’t have say anything.”

“No.” Charles took a breath. “I… I’m just… raw?” He smiled meekly at the ground.

“I hear you. I hear you.” The stranger rubbed his neck with one hand and raised his bag to his lips with the other.

Charles closed his eyes as words began to fall from his lips. “I was just scrolling through facebook. Just habit. I don’t even think about it. I just take out my phone and the next thing I know I’m scrolling through political bile, meaningless aphorisms, and… baby pictures.”

“Sure, yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like the internet is the scourge of modern life.”

“No. It isn’t.”

“Oh, okay. Sure, sure.”

Charles sat in silence for a moment, reaping thoughts long sown. “There was this one post. I’ve seen it before. A dozen times. One of those… meaningless aphorisms. It, uh, said something about not holding on to poisonous relationships. You know? Get rid of the people in your life that are holding you back, and don’t look back. Something like that. I don’t know why it stuck in my head. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. But I was sitting with my friends one day, guys I’d known my whole life, and I just got up and left. I walked out the door. I cut them out and I didn’t look back. I’d just had enough you know. It was just so… shallow. I don’t think any of them even really knew me or liked a damn thing about me. After all those years, what kind of friendship is that? How do you feel lonely around friends you’ve known your whole life? So I walked away.”

“Good for you.”

“Yeah.” Charles chuckled absently. “Then, a few weeks later I was having dinner with my parents. I was talking about how I want to get my act together, improve myself, make something of my life. My mom looked at me and said ‘about time’. I stood up right then, I looked at her, I said ‘enough, mother’, and I walked out the door. I’ve been dodging emails and phone calls since.”

“Yeah, you know if that’s what you have to do. I feel you on the parent issues, man.”

“Yeah?”

“My dad beat my mom, my mom took it out on us. You know. Classic story I guess. I thought about running away but I wanted to stick around for my sister. Guess that didn’t come to much though. She died from an overdose.”

“Shit.”

“That’s life.”

Charles paused for a moment, unsure what to say.

“You know, I’ve made peace with it. Don’t worry about it. Tell me your story. I like to listen. Almost as much as I like to talk, right?” He laughed without reservation.

“Not much else to say… I just… I just felt so lonely.”

“Yeah, you don’t feel less lonely by cutting people out of your life. No offense, though, just saying.”

“No. You’re right… I came to the same conclusion. That’s when I realized something. When you start to cut the poison out of your life, and you keep cutting and cutting and cutting, and every relationship you find yourself in feels empty, you start to think that maybe…” Charles swallowed the remnants of his pride. “Well… I set out to cut the poison from my life, and along the way, I realized that the poison was me.” Charles stared at the ripples in the water rolling past. “So, I did it. I cut the poison from my life. I removed myself from every relationship. My friendships. My parents. My… wife and children. They’re all better off without me.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Then the stranger smiled. “Oh, I get it. This is one of those… monologues, right?”

“What?”

“A monologue, like from a play. You’re rehearsing, right? It’s good!”

“No… I’m telling you my story… I…”

“Really? Are you sure? I only know two types of people in this world who talk to themselves for two minutes straight all self-indulgent like that, and you don’t seem like a crazy person.”

Charles laughed with the stranger. Then they sat in silence for a moment as the stranger took another drink. “I’m sorry for being ‘self-indulgent’, I just, don’t have anyone to talk to.” Charles said.

“Eh, don’t worry about it man. I was just messing with you. I have a twisted sense of humor or something.” The stranger looked at Charles for a moment. “Here.” He offered the brown bag to Charles.

“No, I don’t drink.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should start. It’ll clear your head.”

“Alcohol doesn’t clear your head, it dulls your thoughts.”

“Yeah, exactly. Thoughts are what you have to clear. Thoughts are crazy. It was a thought that made you think you were poison. Fuck that thought.” He offered Charles the bag for the third time.

Charles hesitated. He looked down at his hands. He reached for the bag and paused. Then he nodded and said. “No. Thank you. It’s just… not who I am.”

“Ever thought maybe you should be someone else?”

Charles laughed. “I can’t.” He gave a helpless shrug. “Try as I might, for better or worse, I am who I am. Everything I left behind, that was all me trying to be someone other than myself. Even if I’m the worst person I know, I don’t have any other choice but to be that person.”

“Ah, fatalist. I get that. I wouldn’t be here either if I could be someone other than me. This is me.” The stranger held up the brown bag in salute and took a heavy swallow. They sat in silence for a heavy moment, then the stranger stood. “Anyway, thanks for your story, I should get going, you know. Things to do… I guess.” He laughed.

“Yeah. Things to do.” Charles said, nodding and looking down.

The stranger smiled briefly, then turned and walked back toward the light.

Charles closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold stone wall.

After a time he opened his eyes and looked down at his phone. After confirming a transfer of funds he stood, brushed off his pants, and walked toward the bus to work.

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On the Role and Effect of Investment on Economies

Economies exist to solve one simple problem. Sometimes an individual has a surplus of one thing and a need for another. That’s the essence of it.

The simplest solution to this problem is through direct trade. However, direct trade isn’t the best way to resolve complex issues of supply and demand. The introduction of currency allows for more complex exchange interactions.

There is a different type of surplus and need that mere exchange, whether through barter or currency, cannot help to resolve. That is when the surplus is potential. The only way to trade someone a surplus of potential is to wait until that potential is actualized. This is where investment is introduced into an economy. An investor trades a surplus of resources now for some portion of the resources that exist when the potential is actualized. This facilitates a more vibrant economy by making it easier for new ideas to flourish.

When a particular sector of the economy flourishes it tends to profit above the normal living expenses of those in that economy. Essentially there is money coming out of the rest of the economy and accumulating in the profitable part of the economy. Part of those profits undoubtedly go toward improving quality of life. Such quality of life improvements are expenses that are thus recirculated through the rest of the economy. Another portion go toward investments. Investments that increase productivity are, again, expenses that circulate through the rest of the economy. Other investments may be made toward other sectors of the economy. So the majority of the money supply that pools in a profitable sector of the economy will, one way or another, eventually recirculate to the rest of the economy.

As an aside, I won’t attempt to moralize about whether these profits and localized gains in quality of life are ‘good’ or ‘evil’. That’s not what this essay is about. This essay is about mechanics, so I’ll save any discussion of morality for another day.

However, the picture is very different when looking at the investment sector of the economy. It doesn’t quite behave the same way, or rather, it does but with different results. When investors are successful it means they are profiting from their investments. These profits mean that some portion of the available money supply is flowing into the investment sector and accumulating there. Certainly a portion of these investments improve the quality of life of those employed by the investment sector. So there’s nothing different about that, but what happens to the rest of the profits? And surely there will be additional profits, what portion of investors is satisfied just earning enough to live on? Can it be invested in productivity? Not really. The investment sector doesn’t produce anything. Rather, the means of production for an investor is money. They can hire employees, but that’s essentially just an investment in another investor, it doesn’t employ anyone or require purchasing anything outside the sector of investment. So what do they do with the profits? Just like a profitable trader in goods and services they can invest the surplus. That is, the surplus goes into the investment sector… where it already was…

So essentially… as long as the investment sector is profitable on balance money will be flowing into the investment sector of the economy, but how does it flow out? How does it recirculate? You could say the loans that the investment sector provides to other sectors of the economy allows it to recirculate, but that isn’t really true. That money still belongs to the investment sector, it’s just temporarily being utilized by other sectors of the economy, they have to give it back at some point. The portion of the money supply owned by the investment sector hasn’t decreased at all. In fact, it has likely increased in the form of interest or shared profit.

Should this trend continue, with the money supply naturally flowing into the investment sector without ever flowing out, what happens to the sectors of the economy that produce goods and provide services? How can their share of the money supply do anything but shrink? How can they do anything but become increasingly dependent on loans from the investment sector? And as they become more and more dependent on loans, as their balance books look worse and worse, wouldn’t the investment sector itself start looking like the most tempting place to invest? Over time the idea of investing in investment would become more and more appealing. That’s where the winners are. As this happens less and less available money exists in the various sectors of real goods and services. The localized inflation of the money supply in the investment sector and deflation of the money supply in the rest of the economy would only accumulate. How could the cycle possibly end?

There is one way for the accumulation to end, for the money to flow back out of the investment sector: Failed investments. When an investor gives money to some venture without getting any back, that money has left the investment sector. The person engaging in the venture has spent it, more than likely on other goods and services. That money is now flowing through the economy of goods and services. The investor has no way to reach that money except to demand it from the venture they invested in. If that venture has failed to profit then it cannot get the money back. The investor walks away with less than he started but the economy of real goods and services now has money that it didn’t have before. Does that sound like a good thing? It shouldn’t. Why? Because that’s an investor whose ability to serve their vital role in the economy has been diminished. They are less able to actualize potential. When this happens dramatically we call it a bust. The investment sector, during a bust, is essentially suffering massive deflation. The whole economy suffers an inability to actualize potential and productivity temporarily grinds to a halt. In time the investment sector stabilizes. As it does it begins to serve it’s incredibly vital purpose in actualizing potential. As it does so more and more successfully it begins to slowly consume the available money supply. Boom, bust, boom, bust. There is no guarantee when the bust will happen, because, strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to happen. If the investment sector of the economy contented itself with owning the entire money supply it could continue to bankroll the rest of the economy with loans that can never really be paid off. Eventually, however, someone’s going to ask for their money back, and that’s when all the dominoes fall.

So is the cycle of boom and bust an inevitability, aside from the collapse of market principles altogether? I don’t see how it could be anything but inevitable without another way for money to flow out of the investment sector. Unless someone can enlighten me as to an alternative, it seems like an inescapable aspect of our current implementation of capitalism. Except… there is another way for money to leave the investment sector. Taxes. Taxes are often despised by capitalists because they have a deflationary effect on a market. Having money flow out of a market is generally not a good thing. However, that is precisely the nature of the problem with the investment market that my analysis here reveals. Unless my analysis is wrong then the only thing that can stop the inevitable inflation of the investment market ultimately resulting in massive busts is a complimentary deflationary effect. Taxes. Taxes are the salvation of capitalism.

I’m not suggesting the government ‘redistribute wealth’ out of some sense of egalitarianism. Nor have I mentioned anything about ‘means of production’. This isn’t a Marxist or Humanitarian argument. This is an economic argument. This whole analysis started with a discussion of how important investment is to the effective functioning of an economy. I have made no attempt to demonize capitalists. I have not suggested that this boom and bust cycle is the result of greed or ill intentions. Even if I were to take a Marxist perspective I would argue that investment is it’s own form of labor and should be respected as such. It is simply the case that an investor’s tools are money, his skills are business sense, and his product is actualized potential. A valuable commodity to be sure. However, it seems to be an inescapable truth of our contemporary system of capitalism that it’s very nature is to implode. That statement does not undermine the power of capitalism to match supply with demand. That statement does not suggest that there is another existing system that is better. It is possible that there is a better alternative than our contemporary understanding and implementation of capitalism, that we are missing something, or making a wrong assumption somewhere, but that is a discussion for another day. What remains from this analysis is that the only means of contemporary capitalism to not destroy itself is taxes. The only way to ensure stability is taxes. Taxes, given our contemporary understanding and utilization of capitalism are an essential good necessary for the smooth functioning of our society and our economy. Without taxes the markets for real goods and services will invariable suffocate in debt and the market for investment will invariable inflate and inflate until it implodes. This is not a condemnation of capitalism, it is a statement of fact. Unless I’m missing something vital, taxes are the salvation of capitalism for its own sake, not a necessary evil for ours.