Debt is not a good product

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

I just had a great hour-long phone conversation with an old friend, Will Dana (now editor of Rolling Stone), who has strongly encouraged me to come up with one-liners that tell the truth about the economic/banking fiasco – but that do it in almost zen-koan fashion. He thinks this might be the only way to penetrate ongoing confusion and resistance to moving beyond our falsely held assumptions about money and business.

So, I figured I'd start with the generally unrecognized fact that finance is America's biggest industry – our biggest business sector. How does banking make its money? In short – over-simplified, yes, but ultimately true – interest. It sells debt. And, like I'm arguing in my book, this whole scheme was arranged by 14th Century monarchs as a way of making money by having money, rather than providing value. So "Debt is not a good product" helps encourage that line of thinking, sound-byte style.

Another one – I came up with as a way of pitching this same concept to Rolling Stone itself, was to apply the same basic principle to their area of interest: music can make money, but money can't make music. Which is just another way of explaining that money itself cannot fuel an economy (no matter what Obama currently believes). Only activity and value creation can fuel an economy.

Do people have other ideas for easy-to-grasp, almost bumper-sticker-length statements that can help instigate good conversations, or force the unpacking of larger concepts about the fictional economy? Ways of helping people see that money is not a part of nature, but an invention? So far, it's worked a lot better than trying to get people to consider, say, "the biases of centralized currency," or "what metrics such as the GNP leave out." We tend to do better with things like "cancer is good for the GNP."