Having already initiated the process that led to the Leveson enquiry, The Guardian continues to cling nobly to some notion of the British public interest by shining a torch on many of the worst corporate fantasies, back-room deals and brand-led corruptions of the 2012 Olympics. This latest story about how Visa will have a monopoly on the supply of money at the Olympics site represents a new level of crassly autarchic mega-managerialism. The promise of a 'cashless Olympics' is eery and sinister, given the £11bn that the project is costing, and the desperate attempts to claw some of this back through forcing ticket-holders into shopping malls and accepting sponsorship from any corporation willing to pay.
When even money itself becomes an object of branding and privatisation, you get the feeling that an entire model of political economy is in the process of devouring itself. Money has always been a central problem for neoliberalism, which neoliberals have sought to deal with through limiting its supply (monetarism), returning it to the gold standard or (for those at the more wacky libertarian end) privatising through the abolition of central banks. Money has a relational and public quality that presents a paradox for those seeking to make everything for sale. Should money itself be for sale? The dismantling of Bretton Woods in 1971, and the rise of credit securitisation show how this might be done. The problem is that, as a result, we have lost any stable, 'priceless' barometer through which to asses value. As I argued in this New Statesman piece, "The current crisis is not simply a "market failure", in which prices are not functioning properly, but a profound loss of faith in money's capacity to tell the truth." What I haven't heard of before is the notion that the money supply be simultaneously privatised and monopolised, as will occur in a small god-forsaken corner of East London for 2 weeks this August. It's like a gross, corporate version of the Brixton Pound.
We need to rediscover the emancipatory and subversive potential of dirty, anonymous, paper cash. The cash that transfixed Georg Simmel. The fungibility that attracted Hayek. The bank notes kept in large bundles in the back of dodgy-looking BMWs. The dollar bills that pile up on New York bars as tips. Cash has a liquidity that defies corporate management, and irritates the marketing industry, to the point where they try to ban cash-payers from certain entertainment venues or services. I've written more about this 'liberal defence of money' here.