I’ve been pretty poor in my life. Poor enough to have skipped out on three months’ rent in one house, and into another house that should, really, have been condemned as not fit for human habitation. Poor enough to have had bailiffs taking an inventory of all my possessions, poor enough to have a credit history blacker than the IMF’s heart, poor enough that I’m still scared to answer the phone or open any letters because I’m convinced they’ll be demanding money from me I simply don’t have, and can’t get. Things are an awful lot better now–I still have no money, but I’m paying the amount due on my bills instead of the amount over-due plus attendant charges (well… on most of them). And if I ever get misty-eyed about the Romance of being poor, there’s these painfully true Cracked articles to remind me of the realities.
(Honestly, I’m beyond grateful that healthcare–both physical and mental–is free in the UK. I’d be dead if it wasn’t. No joke or hyperbole.)
So, the head gasket has gone in my car and the bill to replace it is £500. That’s about £600 more than the money Allegra and I have left after all the bills have been paid.
However, we can still afford to get it fixed. Although money is the only asset our society places any value in, it’s not the only asset we have access to. (Remember, an asset is something that has intrinsic value, or is something which creates something with intrinsic value.)
Now, obviously, time is an asset and money can buy time–by, for example, taking my car to the garage to get it fixed I’m buying the two or three days it’s going to take my dad and I to fix it, and working for a living is selling your time to a company.
However, when there is a deficit of money or time, we still have other assets we can use to pay off a debt. Things like:
- Friends and family
- Coping Mechanisms
Take my head gasket problem. Instead of paying £500 of assets, I’m able to pay off the balance by:
- Using my dad’s time and knowledge
- Using the support and humanity of friends to bring a little sunshine into my life
- Using the willingness of friends to let me (and Allegra) use their home to make the bus journeys to work psychologically and physically easier
- Using the skills I developed in CBT counselling to rationalize and contextualize my problem, and to come up with this here blog post.
The same way governments and banks can just create money, we can just create non-quantified assets (i.e., those that aren’t time, money or anything else you can take to the bank and turn into cash). When I went to CBT counselling, I transformed time, willpower and perseverance into coping and rationalization mechanisms. It was a transference of one type of assets for another. Only, I got to keep my perseverance and willpower. In fact, I got a lot more back than I put in!
Relationships work the same way. You invest time and emotional vulnerability, and you (hopefully) get back support, empathy, knowledge and (limited, maybe) access to all the non-quantified assets of your new friend or partner.
The way things work at the moment, you can’t monetize your non-quantified assets. You can’t call out the plumber and say, “if you can fix that leaking pipe for me, I can tell you what that nagging feeling at the back of your head is and what do to about it.”
Maybe in the future you will be able to. Maybe we’ll all have profiles on a database somewhere which lists our non-quantified assets and is supported by feedback on those we’ve traded with. The database would also list what problems we have (a desire to quit smoking, a difficult teenager, a profound sense of unimportance). So when I call the plumber out he can look at my profile, I can look at his, and we can come to an agreement whereby I trade my CBT skills for his time and expertise with leaking pipes. (Of course, this type of agreement is perfectly possible between friends and family members right now.)
Like I said at the start, being money-poor sucks donkey balls. And if I could simply give money to the garage to fix my car, I would. But just because I can’t, that doesn’t mean my car won’t get fixed–I have other assets that I can spend to fix it.
Maybe if you can’t afford a childminder, you can transfer some of your invested relationship-assets for child care–in other words, ask a good friend to look after your kids for you. If all you can afford to rent is a crappy room in a shared house, you can cash in some rationalization, knowledge and willpower assets to make the most of it. You can even cash in some relationship-building assets to make friends of your new housemates and wind up in credit. Or if your computer is broken, you can use some knowledge and perseverance assets instead of taking it to a shop. In each case, you’re using non-quantified assets instead of money.
Interestingly, I’m not the first person to realise this. You check the online help files of MS Office, and more than likely you’ll be taken to an external website where customers are helping other customers to use the programs. Microsoft has done away with investing their own assets (time, money, employee knowledge and experience) to create their own help files for their own products, and is instead exploiting the time, knowledge and good-nature of their customers. They’re getting all the benefits of those non-quantified assets, and they did nothing to pay for them! Cheeky bastards.
Framing it like this has made me realise that when disasters happen and I don’t have the money to fix it, it’s not the end of the world. I have other assets I can use to pay the balance.
(A last word about my dad: he’s fucking awesome. Would your dad give up his holiday over Christmas to help you fix your car? And buy all the parts for you [it’s my Christmas present]? And not begrudge a moment of it? ‘Cause mine is. And all I ever did to deserve this relationship-asset was be born. And I don’t remember that being a huge drain on my own personal assets at the time…)