FINANCE— NON WEALTH

Ongoing series (image selection 7/xx) Shot on a cold war era Yashica 35mm film camera.

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While wandering as one does in New York, once the newness of the city has worn off, you begin to notice all of it's nuances.  While many curious occurrences in a place that packs this many people in it are nothing out of the ordinary. It is perhaps the more mundane things that catch my attention-- most recently it’s been ATMs. I found that in places like TriBeCa, reliably discovering an ATM was like finding an empty cab at 5pm- extremely rare and unexpected. I noticed that in China Town, and the LES (Lower East Side) there were ATM’s on every corner—sometimes even more frequently dispersed. However, finding an ATM that worked was another thing. In Bushwick finding a working ATM was also difficult, as it was in Washington Heights, and Harlem. Around NYU, and 14th Street every ATM was thoroughly intact, their service lights blinking at me, almost gesturing to something more insightful at play. I began seeking out these faulty ATM’s— documenting them, noting what neighborhoods had the most, and where on the street they were more commonly found. Unsurprisingly ATMs that didn’t work were always located on the outside of a shop or with no clear ownership in sight. They were always in recently gentrified areas, demographically diverse neighborhoods, attached to delis, or between two establishments.

I began to wonder about the lifespan of these machines, I speculated that the account holder had stopped paying the bill, or perhaps had moved, and left the ATM there without someone to take over the maintenance. Maybe rain or snow had short circuited and they had failed to be fixed. Perhaps they only recently broke.. but I wondered, did the owner of these ATMs know that they were out of order? If not what is the protocol for closing out one of these machines? It seemed to me that the state of the ATM was that of abandonment— tombstones of failed capital, which led me to the second part of my question. How much uncirculated money exists in the world because it sits inside of broken ATM’s?

On July 31st, 2018, I got off the bus in China Town at 7 am after a long-haul trip. It was early, but I wanted some bananas to use in a smoothie when I got home, and nothing but bodegas had opened yet. I picked one of the more gourmet, “organic” places and piled up on things that I didn't feel like going back for later on in what would no doubt be a sleepy stupor of a day. While checking out, the card reader had a little sticker on it that said, “$10 minimum”. This is a common finding at stores in urban areas, sometimes because the owner gets charged a fee for smaller payments but more commonly to entice customers to spend more. The owner told me I was fine at $8.90, and we proceeded with the transaction. However, his cash register declined both my cards. I grew concerned that I had been hacked, but quickly found his conveniently located ATM near the store entrance. The ATM was unable to connect to it’s server, so my withdrawal couldn't dispense any money even though it appeared to be working up until the moment of connection— a network timeout. I informed the shop keeper, who looked mildly confused, with no way to pay—I left, instead buying my bananas at a nearby Starbucks… both my cards were intact during this transaction. There was also no sticker insisting on a minimum purchase. In this instance the independent shop owner, who appeared to be of South Asian decent lost out on a sale, and now has an ATM presumably with cash but no reliable wifi to connect to the bank, and a cash register that currently does not work. I can only guess the loss of uncirculated cash in this instance is (x + $8.90). I also, can’t help but think that another small business owner lost a sale to a large conglomerate chain, due to lack of up to date services.

How much of this uncirculated cash contributes to the economic status of the US. If the amount of uncirculated funds was collected could it have an effect on the trillions of dollars worth of debt? Definitely not, but the discrepancy between rich and poor or changing one persons life could be affected by a sum like this. I frantically begun discussing this idea of non-wealth my partner, when somehow data sharing as a means to make websites money came up (websites like Facebook are free because they take your info and sell it to advertisers). Today advertising on Instagram and Facebook is so integrated into the interface it’s barely noticeable (see AI Celebrities). I realized an obvious fact that I already knew, the circulation and exchange of currency was completely imaginary.

While traveling in the Himalayan area of Pakistan known as Hunza Valley wealth was something that kept bubbling to the surface of my thoughts. This region was one of the poorest in the world, like feudal times, land was the only real status of wealth because that is the only source of livelihood. Please, don’t imagine that all the people lived with no internet, and that a Kardashian meant nothing to them. This is not the case. To put it less than eloquently, things are simpler, the food you eat consists of whatever is in season, and during springtime, that means apricots—almost exclusively. Your options for dining are not broad and a grocery store is not a space that exists there. Your food comes from your land, as does your clothes, perhaps the corner stores will have shipments of new products but in limited quantities. I met with the chairman of Ganish, “It is the oldest and first settlement on the ancient Silk Road in the Hunza Valley, and is the site of various ancient watch towers, traditional mosques, religious centers, and a reservoir,” “Popularly known as Ganish Khun, is about one thousand years old, with a small community working towards improving it’s quality of life. With the spread of Islam, the Yarikutz, the Rupikutz, the Kuyokutz and the Mamorokutz - the then leading families of the area - constructed four mosques and watch towers dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. These unique structures, which were decaying owing to the ravages of time and lack of financial and technical resources, have been restored to some of their old glory with the assistance from Norway and Spain, through the Aga Khan Cultural Services Programme (AKCSP).” He spoke with me about Ganish, and Donald Trump, pulling up news sources on his iPhone. He spoke perfect English, as did everyone in the region, as well as their native language, and Urdu. Aga Khan University and Unesco resources have allowed the Hunza/ Balitistan region to send every student to school as a requirement. That means every person in the region is literate. Many of the people had children at schools like Berkley in the US. The Chairman told me his son wished to come back to Ganish after school and marry a woman from his village. I was somewhat shocked. It seemed strange to me that someone would ever give up living in the United States for a life in a desolate, and geographically dangerous region to share a single room with generations of family members instead of living in a place like San Francisco.

Rubble, and rock, and root

I would never define the region as impoverished

yet

in the eyes of global standards

it falls far below

the poverty line

They have everything they need and because of that

capitalism seems like a superfluous system.

The whole of their economy is insular,

merely shifting between patrons and goods.

The act of exchanging these paper notes is only symbolic

They know that fundamentally,

it doesn't really matter.

Wandering around the middle Hunza one afternoon, I found a USSR trekking map. I went to purchase it but didn't have enough money, so the storekeeper said to take it and pay for it another time.

I ran back 30 minutes later with the money and he seemed taken aback by my promptness. I asked my partner why he thought this man would let me walk out without paying in the first place? I could've very easily never paid him back or just left. He responded that it was about trust in his community and that money is not seen as an immediate, quantifiable defining characteristic of the people here. I’m the only 6ft tall, blonde, women for hundreds of miles, so it wouldn't be hard to track down anyway…

Capital can be used as an imaginary tool, and we seem so sure that the world would fall to anarchy and chaos without it. Historically we’ve stopped to think that capital serves politics as a means of oppression, look at Marx. The faulty ATMs force owners to enforce cash only policies or deplete their own accounts through service and maintenance fees, or simply they lose customers to mammoth institutions like Starbucks. Inflation serves what purpose? The imaginary trillions of debt that the US accrues will never be paid off, so what is the economy? What is currency and what flaw in the system does hundreds of stocked, faulty ATM’s reveal?

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