up with the Pratts
had been a week beyond satire. The private lives of the fabulously rich
were in court and the papers were full of it. The Pratt affair knocked
the long-running Moran case off Sydney's front pages and it was a delight
for the headline writers. It had all the ingredients: a billionaire
Melbourne businessman, a pampered mistress, a Greek bagman, a beautiful
nanny, a loyal socialite wife, allegations of assault, assignations
in a luxury flat at Circular Quay and a mansion on Martin Road. That
bullshit artist Cliff Hardy couldn't have conjured a case like this
out of his fevered imagination.
was Australia's third richest man. He had so much money even the Morans
looked like paupers by comparison. I have always been interested in
money, but lately I have had a nagging feeling that something has changed
about it ... that I don't know what it is anymore.
I did what I always do when big philosophical questions infest my mind:
I strolled down to see Old Possum. He lives in a roomy old toolshed
at the back of one of the big Federation houses across the road from
the park. I entered through the laneway gate and found him sitting in
the door soaking up the sunshine.
went inside and came back with a couple of ciders. His Mac SE was piled
around with weighty tomes on economics and history and thick wads of
the manuscript he has been working on for so long I have forgotten.
don't understand money", I said. "Some marsupial instinct
tells me it's changed somehow while I wasn't looking".
took a swig from his bottle and pulled a couple of coins from his pocket.
"I'm in a state of doubt myself", he said, "But I'll
tell you how I see it", and he prodded the coins around his paw.
the coins of the realm were little bits of real value, bits of universally
desirable metal like gold and silver. To save them, you buried them
in the backyard; if you travelled, you found they were acceptable anywhere.
Inflation happened when the ruler started issuing coins of the old nominal
value, but with a lower weight, or adulterated them with base metals.
there came paper money. It had words on it that said if you took it
to the central bank they'd give you gold in exchange. Inflation happened
if the government printed more paper money without increasing the gold
they held in reserve.
can't exchange your banknotes for gold any more, and the bulk of transactions
take place through electronic signals. It's easy to see a day when coins
and banknotes will disappear, and all there'll be is electronic signals.
When that day comes, the last trace of an independent store of value
-- which is what gold and silver were -- will have disappeared. All
that will be left is accounting: an invisible electronic ledger.
question is: what will we be adding up and subtracting from in the great
ledger? For my money, the only possible answer can be work, labour.
It would be valued by some rationale, at more or less units of exchange
per hour, but that's what it would be."
saying that money has gone from being a commodity itself, a physical
thing that stores value and is taken in exchange for anything, to being
... " I searched for the words, "... a sort of universal electronic
rationing system: you work this many hours, you're entitled to this
put the coins back in his pocket. "Yeah, it's like that already
for people who live on wages, but it's still something different if
you control a huge lump of it. It's called capital then, and I'm still
grappling with what the changed nature of money means for capital. Some
people, like Mr Pratt, have money that breeds like rabbits in the dark
and others get the stuff in a thin and sickly trickle, however much
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 2000