Most people would likely accept the proposition that there is a clear connection between one’s wealth and one’s autonomy. In a society where the achievement of so many goals (acquiring resources, using services, traveling, etc.) are dependent upon one’s finances, it is easy to assume that wealth is a fundamental prerequisite for autonomy. Indeed, this idea has been a motive force in propelling countless egalitarian movements – “If only everyone had the same, decent levels of wealth, they would all have the autonomy to achieve their goals, and would work together in harmony and without jealousy” is the usual dictum. To varying degrees, this is then applied through the tax system in many countries across the globe, as expressed through ‘progressive’ taxation. Of course, what is judged as a ‘decent’ amount of wealth for all is an extremely subjective evaluation, and the people who make the decisions on how everyone ought to be taxed hold a great deal of power over the ‘tax cattle’ that use their currency.
Wealth today is normally expressed and exchanged through currencies regulated through the means of a central bank. Currency competition is absolutely outlawed within the boundaries of a particular state: no person in the regular economy may print their own currency, or copies of the incumbent state currency, or make purchases with the currencies of foreign states (unless they are purchasing the state currency with them). Whilst options such as barter still exist, the use of such means in the incumbent paradigm is accepted by so few traders that it has become almost useless beyond limited and basic trading with immediate, unincorporated individuals. The reasons for this are clear: a monopoly on currency makes the act of taxation (mass theft) of wealth more easily calculable and thus more easily controllable in both the extraction/extortion and the allocation (redistribution) after their ‘cut’ has been taken. Thus, even if the individual in question manages to amass a great deal of wealth in fiat currency, he has little autonomy over the value of the medium he is using to store his wealth, and therefore suffers from third-party control over every interaction with it.
This has led to one of the great misunderstandings amongst many ‘libertarians’ when they talk about taxes and work towards ‘lowering them’ or ‘getting them back’. The common rhetorical statement used is that it is ‘their money’ that is being used to fund ‘the state’ and they therefore have ‘the right’ to demand certain things of ‘the state’ because of it. The fact of the matter is that it’s not their money, but the property of the central bank and – by extension – the elites who control the ‘state’ in question. The sooner more ‘libertarians’ realise this, the better as this delusion of ‘wealth ownership’ only encourages near worthless work in ‘reform’ and ‘tax policy’ organisations, which only help to ‘justify’ statist discourse. The only sure-fire way of breaking this control is the absolute end of the monopoly of money.
The pursuit of wealth has become something of a religion in ‘Western’ capitalist countries, the East Asian ‘tiger’ economies and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. So many people have bought into fantasies of acquiring glamorous products that large amounts of fiat currency can bring to a person in industrial societies. These dreams involve the kind of ‘goods’ that such economies efficiently produce: cars, grand houses, breast enlargements, et cetera. This ‘Barbie-and-Ken’ dream world utopia sold through mass marketing is not however the dream of the individual, but yet again a third-party heteronomous construction which, rather than supporting an autonomous individual, usurps him into deluded slavery. ‘Individualism’ in this context is actually nothing of the sort, but rather a misleading template for those who wish to feel that they are in control when in actuality they are not.
Because of this, it’s not just the poor that suffer for lack of autonomy. Think of the CEO of a top company: almost every waking moment of his life is likely to be filled anguishing over the business practices and competitive qualities of the business he is chained to. Most likely he is married, with children who have lived an empty existence adhering to their slightly-modified version of the third-party dream described previously. The man has a great deal of ‘wealth’, yet his autonomy, whether he realises it or not is very low.
If a free-living and free-loving poor ‘super-tramp’ like William Henry Davies can live a highly autonomous and happier existence than a person with great amounts of wealth and ‘power’, what does it say for wealth as an emancipator?
The relationship between wealth and autonomy is entirely dependent firstly upon the power relationships behind its representation (currency), and secondly on the values of the user. If the user in question endorses heteronomous values then his autonomy is lost, whether he has the wealth of a prince or that of a pauper.