Tuesday, February 16, 2010

17: It's all about trust.

Apparently man's first experiments with tools took place about 1.5 million years ago. Though little more than shaped rocks with sharpened edges; they had been chosen to fit the hand and most significantly, had been made in advance of need ... I learned this from a specialist[1]. To give context to this: Wise Man (Homo Sapien) didn't appear till 100,000 years ago; and Modern Man (Cro Magnon) just 30,000. Through those long dark ages, our specialisms evolved concurrently with our physiology.

The social contract was simple; you contribute your skill as a tool maker and in return someone else contributes their skill as a hunter. So it also marked the birth of trust! 1,500,000 years later the range and depth of specialisms are much greater, and the society they have enabled infinitely more complex. But whilst the social contract is still the same; trust had a problem with scaling ...

Personal-Trust worked well until societies grew to the point where everybody couldn't know everybody else (> villages), so Money had to be invented as a Unit of Transferable-Trust to allow society to grow! That Money was not literally a measure of work done (Force x Distance), but a measure of the value of a contribution made to society. And it worked as long as the Stability and Value of the currency was maintained ...

Of course over history holders of that trust have repeatedly betrayed it. Gold was a popular currency because its scarcity made it difficult to forge, but it was heavy and difficult to manage. So the gold was put safely in 'the King's' strong room and Promissory Notes issued instead. The British Pound Note is a good example of this; originally emblazoned ... 'I promise to give the bearer on demand a pound of gold' ... it was just as good as having real gold. The Notes traded hand to hand with seldom recourse to actual gold. But kings have hard times too (!), so devaluations happened and eventually the link with pounds of gold totally evaporates. The Note itself becomes the currency: The British note now reads "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of Five Pounds" [2] ... Recursion aside, did anybody see where the actual gold went!?

Of course we have recent experience of the integrity of Banks and Governments ... but before we cast the first stone, how do you and I stand in maintaining our end of that social contract? These days we are almost all specialists in something. We deliver something to society and in return get money with which to buy services from the other specialists that abound ... Providers of Food, Fuel, Clothing, Facilities, etc. So we owe it to our society to give good value for the money we receive; and in return expect (hope) everybody else will do the same [3]. For it to work we all have to behave Professionally and not make use of our own specialist knowledge or experience for unfair gain relative to our contribution! Clearly the importance of Professionalism is not restricted to "The Professions"!

Alas we do see "Professionals" behaving Unprofessionally; but we also see shining examples of Professionalism in others less qualified and lettered. Justifying my long held belief that though I have the paperwork to style myself Engineer; to be one is still an aspiration of my soul ... To be a Professional Engineer is an earned status, not one granted or maintained by paper qualifications and the membership of Professional Institutions alone.

So if we are experiencing a instability in the world's Units of Transferable-Trust, it can only lead to a more wholesome phase of growth based on underlying Societal Contribution and Inter-Personal Trust.

... But in the meantime shares in Kingfisher and Home Depot are bound to rise!

Cheers.ian (CEng, FIET, BSc.Hon.)

1: Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool, British Museum, London.
2: British £5 note (Similar on other UK Notes)
3: This line of reasoning suggests that Society should determine our wages not our employers.