Cash: Don’t leave home without it

By Simon

Not to sound dire or anything, but credit cards are spelling out doom for our culture. Plastic is burning the bridges between the money we have and the money we think we have.
Here on campus, a part-time, student-type job typically pays $5.75 to $6 an hour. If you sit at a register in the Williamson Hall bookstore or Coffman Memorial Union for an hour you might make around $6 for putting money in a cash register, watching the register add things up and handing back change.
Of course, you are getting paid for more than just those actions.
Your boss knows that if push came to shove, you could do all the adding in your head and come up with correct change. She knows you are not thieving anything from her. Your boss knows you have good public relations skills and are making sure people leave your register sated with their purchases and will come back for more.
That is what $5.75 to $6 is worth.
Or, at least that’s what we say it is worth. Someone in a Korean sweatshop spent five minutes cranking out your $10 Nikes for 15 cents an hour, and you paid $130 for them at the store.
Shaq’s miniaturized outline is not worth $120. The credit industry can be blamed for this discrepancy between perceived worth and actual worth. Visa/MasterCard does this by letting you not pay them back, encouraging you not to pay them back. One would think that a moneylender would want you to pay him back, but this is not the case. Modern credit banks would rather you didn’t bother to return their cash. The idea is to get people to borrow more than they can pay back so they have to borrow more to pay the previous loan back. They make it easy and acceptable to borrow. It is a predatory system where the lenders are at the top of the food chain.
It has always been like this to a degree. People with a lot of capital make more capital off the interest paid by people who need capital and are willing to pay for it. But has a society ever been built on credit?
Or were they ever as aggressive as they are now? Modern credit institutions doggedly hunt you down. You get sent applications in the mail, and television is littered with ads for American Express and Citibank Visa. And it isn’t as if one has to look hard to find a company that will issue you credit.
Why would the credit giants search so determinedly for more people to lend to if they weren’t making wads of money off of them? And what mega-money business is making money in a wholly moral manner these days?
Their transgression is to abstract money beyond the point of recognition — to abstract it to the point that the average Joe doesn’t think in terms of “I worked this much; I can purchase this much,” but instead, “I have this much I could spend and pay back later.” The loser is doomed to spend more than he or she is worth, and the lenders take their share of his or her money that doesn’t exist. It’s a matter of telling ourselves the truth.
When we set up an economy — and our lives — on credit, we are doomed to set it up on work that doesn’t exist.
But is that any worse than living on money that has an arbitrary value? We’ve been getting by with the plastic system since way before Nike started slinging overpriced shoes. It is just another way of getting by — a much more gruesome and deceitful way.
Maybe it’s time for students like us, people not yet mortgaging our lives away, to grab the debt bull by the balls and start living in the now, paying in the now. Ignore those bus stop applications, pull out your cash and hold it proudly — you worked up a heavy sweat over that register.
I’ll pay with cash, Moe.

Simon Fillat’s column originally ran in Friday’s issue of The Daily Utah Chronicle at the University of Utah.