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Blog : Posts tagged with 'money'

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Monetising Friendship

In which FP wants to sell all his friends something they don’t really need


I’m inviting a few friends round one night. We’ll have a few drinks, a bit of a laugh, and I’ll show them a pile of stuff that I’m trying to sell. Hopefully, they’ll buy some, and I’ll make a tidy profit.

NB: the above paragraph is not actually true. I am not going to do this, and I don’t have anything to sell.* As a scenario, though, it’s a pretty common one. People all over the place are handing out Avon catalogues, Christmas hamper brochures, and organising parties for Foreverware storage; or cheap-looking expensively-priced nylon lingerie and sex toys. It makes me wonder: do some people really value money that much over friendship, that they see their friends as a source of income?

On the face of it, evidently so. I hope that maybe I’m just being pessimistic in my analysis. Maybe the people organising these events really do mostly believe that they’re doing their friends a favour, giving them the opportunity to buy Impressive Things at almost-bargain prices; and the money they make back for themselves doesn’t really make any difference to them. Certainly, in the true “multi-level marketing” organisations that are scarcely different to pyramid schemes, most of the bottom-rung salesforce are unlikely to come out of it in profit. On the other hand: I have known people, setting up these events, to excitedly say: “and it means that I can buy them for myself, cheap!” It makes me slightly uncomfortable, seeing people trying to use their friends in this way: it’s more than a little manipulative.

In one way, this is the root of the current fashionable trends in marketing: using the social network to save the marketeers the hard work. Viral marketing, for example, where you, J. Random Netuser, sends the latest cool advert you’ve seen on to all your friends: you receive a frisson of group-bonding pleasure in return for doing an ad agency’s work for free, just as if you’d invited them all round to your house to sell them the product. Facebook games are also similar: little money-churning devices that you, game player, spread awareness of among your social network. Maybe it’s going to become a long-term trend: I suspect the reason it’s so popular is that, after all, it’s cheap; or, at least, the costs are passed on to other people and other companies. It’s slightly different, too, to selling things directly to your friends through a catalogue or at a party: if you’re playing Farmville, your Facebook friends might have to put up with being told how your farm’s doing every few hours, but that’s as far as it goes. You’re not expected to buy things, yourself, until after you’ve been sucked in. You’re not expected to make your friends money, directly.

Maybe that’s the reason I feel so uncomfortable about this technique of monetising friendship: it is about directly turning your social relationships into monetary ones. It probably works best in social networks with a clear or semi-open hierarchy, because it’s potential very much about reinforcing that social hierarchy with money. I know such hierarchical social networks exist – I see them everywhere – but I do tend to feel that the world would be a nicer place if they didn’t.

* Although, if I was going to do that, I suppose we could always knock up some “I visited Symbolic Towers and all I could buy was this beautiful high-quality clothing product” t-shirts.

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Coalition

In which we consider the people who take to the streets


Last week the news was full of reports of demonstrations in London, over the G20 summit conference out in the Docklands. And I, for one, was a bit puzzled. The protesters seemed to be something of a strange coalition.

Generally the demonstrators were summed up as “anti-capitalists”, as always happens at these events; probably because the Socialist Workers are always on hand to provide lots of placards in the hope of furthering the Trotskyite Revolution that they’re expecting, in true millennialist fashion, any day now. And there were plenty of such placards visible in the news reports. But that wasn’t the picture I gathered from the protesters who were actually interviewed on TV. They all seemed to be died-in-the-wool capitalists, people who truly believed in capitalism, people who were upset that their bankers had disappointed them.

These people were saying: “all our money has gone”. Because these were all people who had money, and had invested it. They had been living off their savings income,* and were protesting that the drop in interest rates has wiped that income out. Whether their capital is gone too, of course, depends where they’d invested it and how risky they were prepared to be. But risk is an inherent part of the system.

These people were well off, by any measure; at one time, at least. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t have had money to invest to begin with. The vast majority of people, around the world, don’t have that complaint to make, because they’ve never been rich enough to save. You don’t have to worry about the return on your investment, or about the risk to your capital, if you’re in the great majority who don’t have any capital to invest.** And if you’re an anti-capitalist, I’d have thought you’d be celebrating the failings of the capitalist system, trying to tell the world all about them. These people I’d class maybe as Voodoo Capitalists, people who assume that if they make an investment, they are guaranteed an income, because That’s Just How It Works. The value of their investments may go down as well as up, but that was buried in the small print, so they feel it’s their natural right that their money should keep on coming in. Not anti-capitalists, not Trotskyists, just overly-trusting people.

* A “private income”, to use the old-fashioned term

** My own capital investments are limited to a few tens of pounds worth of shares in (nowadays) Lloyds Group, due to my one-time membership of the Halifax Building Society.

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Regionalism

In which we discuss employment in Grimsby, as it’s in the news


Nice to see the Grimsby area in the news for once, even if it isn’t very good news. I bet the Grimsby Telegraph‘s news staff have been so excited over the last week, to get some national-quality news to report on, they’ve probably been wetting themselves.*

I was rather wistful myself, what with formerly being local – so much so that in my teens I did work experience in the very refinery that’s been on the news. It’s bad luck, really, for the contractors who sparked the protests off: they would have to bring foreign workers in to one of the most reactionary and xenophobic parts of England. Grimsby’s the only place where I’ve heard someone say the immortal line: “I’m not a racist, but I do think all those coloureds should go back to their own country”. Without irony. And mean it.***

I’m also well aware that the area’s an employment blackspot; on the other hand, though, I also know that it’s not as bad as you might think. There are great estates full of people who have been on benefits ever since they were old enough.**** There aren’t many jobs other than in a few limited sectors. But, when I lived there, I had contacts at a local employment agency. Within a few sectors – mostly factory line work – there were once plenty of jobs. They go to immigrants; Poles and Lithuanians. That’s because Poles and Lithuanians were the ones who turned up to apply for these jobs, and were the most employable when they turned up. It’s easier, I guess, to sit in the pub and rant about how all these foreigners are taking the jobs of honest British workers, than it is to go out and get one yourself.

I said “there were once jobs” because I’ve not been around there for a while, and all I’ve heard since I left has been about factories closing. I don’t know what things are like there at the moment, but from what I’ve heard things aren’t going well. I’m not saying, either, that the work in question at the refinery shouldn’t have gone to a local company. The refinery and its suppliers, though, already in total make up a big chunk of the local workforce, and the small number of foreign contractors that have caused the protests make up a tiny proportion of the number of workers on the site.***** They haven’t put that big crowd outside the refinery gates out of work, either. Grimsby has bigger problems than foreign workers, much bigger problems. The issue shouldn’t be whether the Prime Minster should live up to some sound-bite his speech writers came up with a while back; it should be one of getting more investment into the area. More foreigners, in fact – both Lindsey refinery and the neighbouring Humber refinery are foreign-owned plants. It’s also a problem of education; and a problem of ending the area’s isolationism. You can’t exactly pick Grimsby up and move it closer to civilisation, but maybe things would be better if that could be done with some of the locals’ minds.

* Although their managers won’t like it – it might be a bit of a budget-stretcher for the Grimsby Telegraph, sending reporters all the way from Grimsby to Immingham. God knows what might happen – one of them might even try to put a burger-van lunch** on expenses!

** there aren’t many other refreshment options in the area, unless you can get in the refinery canteen.

*** And it was a nurse, too.

**** I would have said “ever since they left school”, but a lot of them didn’t go to school.

***** The site is, after all, the size of a small town.

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Milk (redux)

In which FP gets a reluctant refund


A couple of people have, for reasons best known to themselves, asked how I’m getting on with the office milk lady since we fell out. Well, I don’t think I’m any more popular with her than I was. Fed up of there being no milk, and fed up of the woman in question – Administrator Of The Tea Fund – refusing to accept that tea supplies were anything to do with her, I told her that in that case she could give me back the balance of what I’d put into the fund, and I’d make my own arrangements from now on. Which might have been a bit petty, the balance being only 20p, but there you go.

She said “I’ll give you it later.” A few hours later, she phoned me up.

“Have you stopped chucking your little tantrum yet?” she said. “We’ve got some milk in – are you back in the fund or do you still want your money back?”

“I’ll have my money back, please.”

“You’ll be very thirsty this afternoon then.”

“Er, no I won’t be.”

“Well it’s very silly of you, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

There was a pause. I wasn’t entirely sure what she expected me to say, other than possibly start begging for her forgiveness.

“So are you back in the tea fund now?” she continued, persistently.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Well, I gave you one last chance. I’ll get some change and bring it down for you in a few minutes. You said you don’t want your 20p back?” A nasty little switch at the end there.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.”

So, a few minutes later she came downstairs, slammed 20p on my desk, and went away again. And since then, all has been peace and quiet. I can see why some colleagues, those who have to work with her more, don’t like her very much, though, after that conversation. This is someone whose job is to talk to customers over the phone, take orders, and so on – it makes me wonder if she tries doubling back on herself and making quickly misleading switches when she’s on the phone to customers as well as to colleagues.

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Money, money, money

In which we wonder how to pay for politics


The political news story of the week is all about money. Specifically, how should politicians be allowed to get theirs? Sir Hayden Phillips, who has been looking carefully, thinks political parties should receive more state funding. Which, really, means all of us paying for them.

That might seem like a bad idea. I, for one, don’t like politicians very much, and political parties even less – although I’m not sure how you can ever stop them forming, or if that would truly be a Good Thing. So you can understand why I wouldn’t want my money to be given to them, regardless of whether I believe in their dogmas or not.

On the other hand, though, what’s the alternative? If political parties are funded solely by their supporters, the richest party is the party of the rich. A huge, overbalanced proportion of this country’s wealth is in the hands of a tiny fraction of the people,* and that gives those people an enormous advantage when it comes to seeking political power. Restricting how much money they can raise is vital to prevent this. You can argue endlessly about how state funding should be distributed, what way is fairest, but you’re unlikely to come up with any system less representative than “give it to the people already with the most”.

* and it’s only getting worse

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Credit where it’s due

In which things go back to money


Thanks for all the comments on financial equality within relationships. Using the term “sexual equality” was a bit of a red herring, really,* because it wasn’t really anything to do with gender at all, other than that I wanted to find out who would automatically assume that it was all about a man who didn’t want his female partner to have any control over their finances.

And the answer is: it is all good, and there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. P is (so far as I can tell, because I’ve never met R) the more sensible and level-headed of the two. R accepts (I’m told) that he is incapable of looking after money, so lets P get on with it. Moreover, R is unable to get any sort of credit card. Why is a mystery, because he has a mortgage and a clean credit record so far as he can tell; but the fact is, I’m told, that he’s always been turned down. So P is in charge of everything.

It’s all good. What’s more interesting, though, is why we** thought it might not have been. A bare statement of facts never tells the whole story.

* or “mistake”, you could say.

** or, “you, the readers,” rather

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Equality

In which someone takes charge


I was idly thinking, this morning, about sexual equality. And all because what a work colleague, P, was telling us the other day.

P’s partner doesn’t have a bank account, credit cards, anything. All of their income, his and hers, gets paid into one of P’s bank accounts. P’s partner – who is called R – doesn’t have any money in their own name, apart from £50 a week in pocket money. If R wants to buy anything online, on a credit card, then that amount of pocket money has to be returned before P will lend the card out.

The question is: in the modern world, do you think this sort of thing is acceptable?

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I Was A Farepak Customer

In which the news is relevant


Well, no, that’s not quite true. I was never a Farepak customer. My mother, on the other hand, was at one time, so I’ve been keeping an interested eye on the slow-burning news that has followed Farepak’s collapse.

It’s more than ten years now since my mother stopped buying a hamper from the Farepak catalogue, and she did it at my persuasion. Farepak’s method of business: hard-pushed home-makers send them a small sum every week, through the year. Just before Christmas they receive several boxes of food; what seems like an impressively large amount. Its value, though, was usually rather less than the total you’d contributed through the year. I pointed out that if she opened another savings account, and paid into it a similar amount every week, then by Christmas she’d have rather more money than she’d put in, instead of rather less.* At the expense of going out and buying it herself, she could end up with a rather larger hamper.

That system relies on self-discipline, of course; my mother has rather more of it than I do, and rather more than most people. If you can afford to save at Farepak’s negative interest rate, though, you can afford to save with a bank. Much of the media commentary on Farepak’s bankruptcy seems to suggest that the company should have behaved more charitably to its customers because of their relative poverty; or that its bankers should have been more accommodating as the company was doing Good Deeds. This forgets, though, that the point of a company is usually to make money, and Farepak was no exception to that. It’s possibly unfair to say they were exploiting the poor – after all, a prepayment scheme like Farepak’s is far better for the customers than buying on credit. They were, though, making money out of the poor, by showing them how to afford something rather nicer than they thought. Moreover, they do seem to have been making money – all the news stories suggest that the collapse was due to losses elsewhere in the parent company.

Farepak, and its competitors, gave and give their customers one great benefit: they forced self-discipline onto them. If credit unions offered similar accounts – pay in an agreed amount all year, then get your balance paid out at Christmas – then it would be a great help. Never forget, though, that both Farepak and its bankers were out to make money. That’s how our system works.

* Admittedly only pence more – but this was in the early 90s, the days of chunky interest rates.

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Question

In which we find rules that are a little silly


This is something that Big Dave pointed out to me today:

If you go to the post office, and buy foreign currency, with cash, they’ll happily give you it.

If you go to the post office, and buy foreign currency, with a debit card, they expect to see photo ID first.

But if you go to the post office, and give them your Link card, you can withdraw money over the counter, without ID. Even if you just hand that money straight back over the counter, in exchange for foreign currency. Even if you’re using the same card that you can’t use to buy foreign currency with, unless you’ve got ID on you.

What’s the point of that, then?

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