Reinventing Money, Restoring the Earth, Reweaving the Web of
This is a combination of 2 talks- one given at the International
Association for Feminist Economics Summer Congress June 96, and the other
at The Gender Justice Forum put on by the Fifty Years is Enough Coalition
Against the World Bank, September 96. The Millenium Institute gave this
paper an honourable mention in their contest on best ideas for the next
Reinventing Money, Restoring the Earth, Reweaving the Web of Life
My favorite T-shirt says -WARNING! (And beneath the warning is a
dollar bill)- Use of this product may cause apathy, laziness,
selfishness, ignorance, loss of identity, greed, gluttony, a false
sense of empowerment, absence of individuality, self-centeredness,
manipulative behavior, superficial values, lack of spirituality,
environmental destruction, racial tension, murder, war, and
impoverishment for others. Continuous and excessive use could render a
permanent state of indifference to the welfare of those around you.
Use At Your Own Risk!
Before history was written, a gift economy existed. The gifts
of Nature were abundant; the relationship between people, the Earth,
the animals and plants were sacred.
Western civilization has systematically disrupted and destroyed
sustainable, indigenous cultures. Scientists are rushing to collect
genetic materials, blood, tissues, from the world's endangered
They fail to recognize traditional wisdom, except in areas like
medicine and agriculture where native knowledge has direct lucrative
applications. A double tragedy is occurring now; indigenous people
are losing their lives and land, and the world is losing the carriers
of ancient wisdom, those who have lived in harmony with the Earth.
Money or wampum held a special meaning to people living within a
gift economy. Feathers, stones, shells which were worked to become
objects of beauty held a karmic quality, a promise, a consolation, a
message far beyond their material features- weight, size or utility.
Exchanges promoted relationships and bonds between individuals,
families, communities, and distant cultures.
Dollars function in a very different way. In theory, money is
supposed to activate the production of goods and services; to simplify
exchanges and the settlement of debts, to provide a means of storing
values or savings. Money has one other major function- it is a tool
The film "Ancient Futures, Learning from Ladahk" chronicles in
detail Helena Norberge-Hodge's observations of a nonmonetized culture,
rich in Buddhist spiritual traditions, with an intricate system of
family and social ties, disrupted by modern forces. In a place where
ninety percent of the land was evenly distributed amongst families,
where people lived ecologically and sustainably off the land, where
almost everyone knew how to build a house and meet all of their basic
needs- a road to India, tourism, and the monetized economy has been
disastrous for the culture.. Apparently the weak link in the cultural
fabric are the young men who are seduced by the toys of Western
Civilization and abandon their traditions in search of the quick buck
and the "surface glamour of the modern world." Where money intrudes,
greed is kindled and the gift economy languishes.
In "Debt Virus" Dr. Jaikaran writes: "The most pernicious of all
viruses is the one that confiscates the wealth of the productive
elements of society and transfers it to the hands of a nonproductive
few." The monetary system, based upon debt, functions to transfer
land, money and wealth from the many to the few.
In the past, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome fell when a small
percentage of the population controlled nearly all of the wealth.
Today 358 people are worth the combined income of 45% of the planet's
population- 2.5 billion people. The rich have never been richer nor
the poor poorer. Greed and fear are manifested in our dominant
institutions, bloated military budgets, the growth of the prison and
"security" industries, the glorification of warriors. What cannot be
controlled by force, is controlled by money.
The origins of modern banking can be traced back to the days when
goldsmiths began giving out receipts for gold that they safeguarded.
They soon realized that the receipts were more useful for business
transactions than heavy amounts of gold. Some enterprising goldsmith
figured out that large amounts of gold weren't even necessary to
insure the utility of receipts; the goldsmith began loaning gold and
receipts at interest, hence the birth of the fractional reserve
system and "debt money."
When money is created by the banks and loaned to governments or
business at interest, it is mathematically impossible to pay back all
the money with interest. Not all debts can be repaid; foreclosures
occur. Wealth is continually transferred from the poor to the rich.
Bankers, like magicians, do not like to reveal their secrets.
Able to create money out of thin air; they have learned that belief of
belief is the key to their success. When people begin to doubt the
purchasing power of money, banks fail; a currency collapses.
In 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, the ruling elite decided
to establish the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to
smooth the way for their domination of the world economy. Working hand
in hand with elites in other countries throughout the world, the
"Bretton Woods Institutions" have forcibly resettled more than ten
million of the poorest people on the planet, many of them indigenous
minorities. This means taking away their land, destroying their
production systems, weakening their community structures, dispersing
kin, cultural identity, traditional authority and potential mutual
help. Anthropologist Thayer Scudder insists that "resettlement is
about the worst thing you can do to people, next to killing them." The
World Bank's projects, particularly in the Earth's forests, mineral
deposits, and rivers, are the most destructive on the planet. Its
support of repressive regimes has exacerbated human rights violations.
Money has flowed from the poor countries to the rich
industrialized nations. The Structural Adjustment Programs forced upon
nations by the World Bank and the IMF have meant shifting food
production from domestic needs to export crops, devaluing the local
currency to encourage exports, cutting social spending on health and
education, reducing wages, privatizing national industries, selling
off their natural resources, and removing tariff protections for local
industries. Hunger, unemployment, hardship and inequality are the
direct and calculated results of World Bank policies.
The U.S. dollar is the de facto world currency. I.M.F. and World
Bank loans are in dollars and must be repaid with interest in dollars.
For Argentina to trade with Chile, it needs dollars. Like a casino,
dollars are chasing more dollars with 95% of the foreign exchange
transactions consisting of sheer speculation. Less than 5% has to do
with exchanging real goods or production and that amount is dominated
by the largest 500 multinational corporations.
According to Margrit Kennedy, author of "Interest and Inflation
"We are living in World War III already, an economic war. It is a
non-declared war: A war of usurious interest rates, ruinous prices,
and distorted exchange conditions. Remote controlled interest rates
and terms of trade have killed millions of people on a plundered
planet. They are killed by hunger, sickness, unemployment and
criminality... Every day the Third World pays us 300 million dollars
Interest payments used to be called "usury" and were condemned by
many of the world's religions. Only when the Catholic Church suddenly
discovered that it had become the largest landowner in Europe, did it
figure out a way to get around that spiritual taboo.
The Queen of England might notice the two million dollars a day
that she receives in interest and the child who is sold into sexual
slavery to pay off her parents debts might realize the dire straits of
her family's circumstances. Both represent the extremes of the current
monetary system. However, for most of us living in industrialized
nations, the cost of money is hidden, included in the price of goods
and services we buy. On the average it is about fifty percent of the
cost of the necessities of life. If interest rates were abolished with
a more equitable monetary system, most people would be twice as rich
or be able to work half as much as they currently do, to maintain the
same standard of living.
The world has become divided into the "haves" and the "have
nots." While 80% must pay more than they receive in interest, 20%
enjoy an "unearned" income from the wealth that they have inherited or
accumulated. But money never works, people work. Under our competitive
economy, for every winner, there is a loser.
However there would be no marketplace if it weren't for the gifts
of Nature. The invisible economy, the priceless work that goes on
within every human household, voluntary work which creates and
sustains communities, which gives life meaning; the time spent on
building human relationships which weaves the social fabric, this is
of primary importance. From the feminist perspective, the smallest
part of the real economy has to do with money and that part is utterly
dependent upon the world's ecosystems, the unpaid work of over half of
the planet's population, the communities built upon cooperation,
respect and faith in the inherent value and goodness of life.
The family existed before money did. The village grew out of
interdependent relationships between families. As societies grew more
complex, hierarchies developed and the "public family" or the state
created institutions which took over many of the functions once met
within the household, such as educating children and caring for the
sick. In urban environments, many basic living skills have been lost,
and people are more dependent than ever on the state or a monetized
economy to meet their basic needs.
In Finland and the U.S. there have been significant "back to the
village" and "back to the land" movements to regain an individual
sense of competence, to rebuild community, and to reduce dependency
upon the global economy. The most radical thing we can do is to
exercise our power within the household, where we have the most power,
to live by our values, and not by values condoned by the imperatives
of a competitive destructive system.
We can choose to spend time with our children, to grow our food
or support the local organic farmer, to ride a bicycle instead of
taking the car, to not purchase products from industries that exploit
people and cause environmental destruction. What we do with our time,
our resources, our money, our energy is a reflection of our deepest
values, whether we are conscious of them or not.
The power of non-violent civil disobedience is enormous.
Remember Gandhi, homespun cloth, and salt; and how those simple non-
violent personal acts helped to defeat the British Empire. The
militarized global economy cannot continue, if we simply withdraw our
support for it in millions of quiet acts of rebellion.
The largest growing movement in the U.S. today is voluntary
simplicity (closely followed by involuntary simplicity.) Generosity,
compassion, cooperation and love are the most powerful, invisible
forces which simply cannot be quenched by frightened, power-hungry
institutions fighting to maintain their credibility and some control
over the system. The system is dependent upon massive propaganda, the
censorship of vital information and ideas. In other words, these
monstrous institutions are doomed.
Near Findhorn, Scotland, some people were walking across a newly
plowed field. As they turned to observe the sunrise, the light caught
the dewdrops on the fragile spider webs on the moist dark earth. Only
at that moment did they realize that the entire field was covered by
one enormous vastly intricate network of spider's webs. Our own
efforts, I believe, our invisible, too; only when the light of love
shines clearly can we see how deeply connected we are to all people
throughout the world, every liberation struggle, all people of faith,
all people who strive to ease the world's suffering and to nurture
those around them.
We must remember history, and realize how each of us has a role
to play at this extraordinary moment in time.
In the film, Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and
Global Economics, Marilyn unravels the history and mysteries of our
global system. The IMF and the World Bank were created to maintain
certain power relations and exercise control over the world's
resources. The U.N. System of National Accounts was based upon a
pamphlet entitled "How to Pay for the War." That system imposed upon
every country that joins the U.N. enables the global elite to finance
their militaries, to engage in conflicts with other nations, and to
build internal security forces to control their own populations who
might not agree with the expropriation of their country's resources.
This system believes that the unpaid work of women, who are
bearing children, raising them, feeding them, carrying for the sick
and aged, maintaining a home or garden, is of little or no importance.
Nor does the system recognize the value of forests or the natural
world unless they can be chopped down and sold or monetized in some
way. Monetary transactions are measured, are deemed of the greatest
importance, no matter how devastating their effects are on the
environment. The arms industry is the most lucrative of all
industries. It is in the economic interest of the major powers that
there is always a war going on somewhere. This pathological system
does not recognize the value of life, peace, or the Earth, itself. It
does not see anything of unquantifiable value; it only sees that which
it measures- money.
The measures used in economics are more indicative of the rape of
the Earth, the amount of exploitation occurring within a country, and
how effectively the world's parasites are at expropriating the labor
of others and the natural world. If economic indicators were aligned
with universal values, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; they
would ignore the marketplace and concern themselves with the health
and well-being of the environment, the health and well being of every
person, and how well basic human needs- food, water, shelter,
clothing, education are being met.
It would take three or four Earths to pay off all the world's
debts. It's not really a question of "if the global monetary system is
or is not going to collapse," but "when." We have a rare opportunity
to replace a system which depends upon greed and scarcity to a system
which nurtures generosity and abundance.
Its time to change the rules of the global money game. Some of
the groundwork has already been laid; we need to build upon it. The
best way to predict the future is to create it. By creating
opportunities for people to shift their energy, resources and time
from a destructive global economy to a healthy, meaningful, nurturing
economy; we could ease the transition dramatically.
In 1890 Silvio Gesell formulated a theory of money as
revolutionary as the notion that it is the Earth that circles the sun,
rather than the other way around- despite appearances. Gesell
suggested securing the money flow by making money a governmental
service subject to a use fee. Instead of paying interest to those who
have more money than they need, people would pay a small fee if they
kept money out of circulation. The fee would serve as an income to the
government and reduce the amount of taxes needed to carry out public
Gesell's ideas were tested by the mayor of Woergl, Austria in
July 1932 when economic conditions were deplorable. The mayor
proposed to substitute a local currency for the national currency.
They were called work certificates and on the first of every month
the holder had to affix a 1 percent stamp of the face value of the
certificate. The "taxes" went into the community chest, to provide a
relief fund for the invalids or elderly who were unable to work.
Because of the stamp tax, taxes were paid quickly; accounts were
settled without the usual delays, even the bank became eager to loan
out the money, as fast as it received it.
The mayor was then able to embark upon his Public Works Program,
"to alleviate want, give work and bread" which exceeded his highest
hopes. The conditions of the streets of Woergl had been a standing
joke of the surrounding country. In less than four months sewers and
improvements were completed. Later, other streets were paved and
streets outside of Woergl repaired.. Prosperity blossomed.
A meeting of 200 Austrian mayors decided unanimously to follow
the Woergl example in their impoverished communities. Then the private
Austrian National Bank protested against the shattering of its money
making monopoly. After a legal fight, the Austrian Supreme Court sided
with the bank.
In 1933 advocates of "Stamp Scrip," abounded. There were
three or four hundred scrips in circulation in the United States,
Canada and Mexico. A top economist urged Roosevelt to encourage local
currencies. However F.D.R opted for "The New Deal" which flooded the
nation with Federal Reserve Notes, put an end to the currency
experiments, and effectively centralized power.
The concentration of wealth and power that exists today is the
world's biggest problem. Aung Sung Suu Kyi wrote: "It is not power
that corrupts, but fear- fear of losing power and fear of the scourge
of those who wield it."
The only cure for fear is faith- faith in oneself, faith in
humanity, and faith in the meaning and purpose of life. Kahil Gibran
"And there are those who have little and give it all. These are
the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is
never empty... see first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and
an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life---
while you who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness."
We need non-violent tools to help redistribute wealth and power,
restoring the Earth in the process.
We need to reinvent money democratically at the grassroots level,
along with a communications network. Then when the local community is
active and aware enough to control local government- local government
could issue its own currency. Ideally monetary reform encourages land
reform, a shift in priorities, recognition of our interdependence with
the natural world, nurturing healthy relationships between people
locally and throughout the world.
The notion of the sacredness of private property was imposed
with the advent of military conquest, dividing the spoils of war amongst
the conquerors. The village "commons" were gradually enclosed or lost
over the centuries with the increasing criminalization of poverty. In
California, 1% of the population owns over 2/3 of the land. A United
Nations Study of 83 countries showed that less than 5% of the rural
landholders control three- fourths of the land. Susan George, in her
book, "How the Other Half Dies", says:
"The most pressing cause of abject poverty... is that a mere 2.5% of
landowners with more than 100 hectares control nearly three-quarters
of all land in the world-with the top .23% controlling over half."
Community land trusts are one solution. Taxes need to be shifted
from encouraging the exploitation and destruction of the world's
natural resources, including its people to encouraging a healthy
stewardship and ecologically sustainable existence. There is much good
work to be done- to restore the land, as well as to transform cities,
towns, and schools to healthy, thriving, places of activity; and there
is a global unemployment crisis. Monetary reform is but one vital step
towards changing the foundation of the system.
There are already hundreds of alternative or complementary
currencies. There are over 130 electronic alternative currency systems
in operation in England. In France a local currency was introduced
three years ago, and now there are three hundred in existence.
The most successful local currency in the United States "Ithaca
Hours" was started by Paul Glover, with almost no capital, in Ithaca,
New York. Paul sells a "hometown money making kit" for $25. As the
economic crisis worsens, more and more places are likely to develop
their own systems. The idea needs to be seeded; historical examples
and successful regional debt-free alternative currencies need to be
heralded as the wave of the future. The E.F. Schumacher Society just
held a conference last June on local currencies and building
sustainable communities; they are creating a newsletter to link all
the budding local currency efforts.
My dream is to create a new global currency, an ethical currency
consciously designed to encourage generosity and abundance, build
community, restore the Earth, and meet basic human needs. This
currency would depend upon the networking of a vibrant, local,
national, and international local currency movement and the creation
of a chaordic organization, which has no head, and works by
cooperative, independent agreement.
We could call it Gaia Futures, in recognition of life-giving
nature of the planet and the design of the currency to restore and
nurture life. Gaia Futures would be backed by renewable energy and
products which are environmentally sound and support basic human needs
or restore the environment (as opposed to backing a currency with gold
or silver, which encourage mining, or other major commodities which
harm people and the environment).
Gaia Futures would have a demurrage feature, a negative interest
rate, which would be used to maintain the system and fund renewable
energy projects, ecological projects, and projects designed to meet
the most pressing human and environmental needs, encouraging right
livelihood by making it economically possible for people to live and
work in harmony with their deepest beliefs. Grants or interest-free
revolving loans could provide the seed money for local endeavors, as
well as facilitate the transference of excess wealth to distant areas,
in sister communities, or impoverished areas where the need is great.
Building the infrastructure for an equitable, just, healthy world
would become economically viable. By creating the various components
of the currency, people and places would be creating real wealth-
healthy people, healthy relationships, and a healthy world.
True security lies in the well being of every member of society
and the integrity of the natural world. Eliminating the need for
military force, and prisons, encouraging peace, justice, truth and
beauty would be the goals of Gaia Futures. Generosity, charity, faith,
love, hope, cooperation, solidarity, creativity, self esteem,
community, should be part of our lives and the cornerstones of the
organizations we create. Let us promote appropriate technologies that
benefit our communities and eliminate the need for the cancerous
nuclear and oil industries.
"Production from local resources for local needs is the most
rational way of economic life... In the simple question of how we
treat the land, next to people our most precious resource, our entire
way of life is involved, and before our policies with regard to the
land will really be changed, there will have to be a great deal of
philosophical, not to say, religious change.
Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the
sail; so that when the wind comes we can catch it."
In a perfect world, money would become obsolete, and the gift
economy would flourish. One's time would be honored as the greatest
gift of all- the essence of one's brief precious life.
Permission is granted to print this article in whole or in part. Carol
For more information-
"Helena Norberge-Hodge/ Int'l Society for Ecology and Culture", P.O.
Box 9475, Berkeley, CA 94709
"E.F. Schumacher Society", 140 Jug End Road, Great Barrington, MA
01230 413-528-1737, e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
"Debt Virus, A Compelling Solution to the World's Debt Problems", Dr.
Jacques S. Jaikaran, Glenbridge Publishing Ltd., 6010 W. Jewell Ave.,
Lakewood, CO 80232 303-986-4135
"Interest and Inflation Free Money", Margrit Kennedy, New Society
Publishers, 4527 Springfield Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143, 1-800-333-
"Ithaca Money", Paul Glover, Box 6578, Ithaca, NY 14851
Video- "Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies, and Global
Economics", Bullfrog Films, P.O. Box 149, Oley, PA 19547 800-543-3764
"New Money for Healthy Communities", Tom Greco, P.O. Box 42663,
Tucson, AZ 85733
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