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

millenium.

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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

people.

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

of empire.

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

Free Money":

"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

in interest."

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

tasks.

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

wrote:

"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.

Schumacher wrote:

"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

Brouillet, cbrouillet@igc.apc.org

 

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- efssociety@aol.com

"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-

9093

"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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