Pieter Aertsen: Market Scene (1550)
"It might be that only those unable to play gain anything."

I considered myself a non-combatant in the great twentieth century dichotomy between capitalism and communism. I chose Neither Of The Above, because I thought the distinction phony. This choice probably complicated my life. I was born into a self-proclaimed capitalist nation and I didn't profess fealty to the national religion. I wasn't so much opposed to others practicing it, within reasonable limits—nobody likes a glutton—, I just couldn't find traction for myself within it. Becoming a capitalist required that I accumulate some capital, or borrow some, in order to participate, and I never figured out how to satisfy this fundamental qualification. Some seemed to find employment that paid them more than they needed to live, but I never did, so capitalism held zero attraction. Capitalism always seemed like something other people did. Oh, I've purchased stock a couple of times in my life, but I always quickly disposed of it, feeling exposed as long as I held it. I'm more of a sock-drawer sort of investor.

I prefer to hold cash and advance myself by not spending it.
Most of my adult life, the game has been one of considering myself successful if I made it to the end of the month still solvent, and wondering from where next month's allotment might come. I've not known passive income, and for about a quarter of my most productive years, I knew no income at all, relying upon patronage and windfall. The Muse protects me from having to deal with money, since its presence disturbs me. When we first got together, she watched me work diligently through a weekend trying to balance my checkbook so that I would know how much money I had left. Witnessing my struggle upset her to the point where she offered to try to balance it for me. A few minutes later, she'd successfully completed the chore and insisted that I not do that anymore. I relented.

I watch The Dow, but mostly to marvel at how it seems to work backward. I know that most of those stocks are not owned by people and that the bulk of the trading amounts to machines splitting hairs together, and that the averages mean quite a little bit less than nothing to most. The whole operation seems exquisitely perverse. I understand that The Market is not the economy. I'm uncertain if the economy's even real. I'm more concerned about the price of milk, which seems to fluctuate rather wildly. The price of steel or oil seem vague abstractions to me, though I'm told by innumerable scolds that these abstractions matter. My long-term plan for ensuring financial security involves improving my tolerance for doing without, a soul-cleansing strategy well suited to me.

I believe that few in this country very actively practice anything approaching capitalism. Few actually invest in anything beyond their home, which might accidentally increase in value without actually being worth much of anything unless sold. Then, of course, that profit or loss will go toward acquiring another home which might or might not hold its value, it's abiding uncertainty all the way down. Some get lucky, some almost break even, and quite a few lose, a necessary mix of outcomes to maintain the casino's viability. If most could win, it wouldn't qualify as capitalism. It might be that only those unable to play gain anything.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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