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Newsletter No. 24 - June 2009

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CONTENTS

Introduction

1. Current UK Background

2. Another Book Now on Website

3. Yes! Magazine - Summer 2009

4. Book Reviews

(1) Agenda for a New Economy by David Korten

(2) Ethical Prospects: Economy, Society and Environment
by Laszlo Zsolnai (ed)

(3) The End of Money and the Future of Civilization
by Thomas Greco

(4) Money Matters: Putting the Eco into Economics
by David Boyle

5. The 'Sandbox Syndrome'

6. Some URL's Worth Visiting

 

INTRODUCTION

This newsletter touches on many aspects of money. I would like to emphasise two important points concerning the need for realism about the exercise of power.

The first is that our leaders will only be empowered to put through the necessary changes in the present money system against the opposition of powerful defenders of the status quo, if we compel our leaders to make the changes. See 4(1), paragraph 3, below.

The second is that, as so often, our approach needs to be based on both/and, not either/or.

It is not a question whether to support decentralised monetary innovation against mainstream monetary reform, or vice versa. Both are essential.

Decentralised innovation of money and finance will be an essential part of the world's economic future, everywhere and at every level. Mainstream reform will be an essential prerequisite to decentralised monetary and financial innovation on any significant scale. See 4(3), 4(4) and 5 below.

 

1. CURRENT UK BACKGROUND

'Greedy Members of Parliament' have temporarily pushed 'greedy bankers' out of the headlines. After the elections last week for the European Parliament and local councils, the media are still largely dominated by short-term political questions such as the prospects for the Prime Minister and political parties, the next general election, and whether we need politicians to be more independent of the party line.

The scandal about MPs' expenses has been seen as a possible opportunity to deal with more 'fundamental constitutional questions'. But those tend to be the conventional constitutional issues - voting systems, House of Lords reform, citizen's juries, citizens' rights to 'recall' their MPs etc. See www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/03/political-reform-guardian-observer-survey.

Inward-looking politicians and political commentators don't see that there are wider questions of constitutional significance too, e.g. how to limit the financial influence of big business and finance on public policy, or who creates the public money supply and who decided that commercial banks should create it as profit-making debt.

Heather Brooke's successful use of the Freedom of Information Act to expose the scandal of MPs' expenses sends a message of hope. Could the Act be used to expose some of those other scandals too?

See www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/the-westminster-gravy-train.

 

2. ANOTHER BOOK NOW ON THE WEBSITE

The History of Money: From Its Origins to Our Time is the English text (www.jamesrobertson.com/books.htm#history) of my Une Histoire de L'Argent: Des origines à nos jours, Autrement, Paris 2007 - www.autrement.com/ouvrages.php?ouv=2746710306.

This short 'Junior Histoire' is about how money began, how it has evolved to the present day, what it has enabled humans to achieve, why so many people in the world today suffer from the way it works, how it may develop further, and how young people today might want it to develop. I am grateful to Autrement for permission to make it available here.

 

3. YES! MAGAZINE, SUMMER 2009, ISSUE 50

David Korten writes an introduction to this 64-page issue on The New Economy Starts Here: Why This Crisis May be Our Best Chance. It follows up his book at 4(1) below.

My article in this issue on Money from Nothing: Supplying money should be a public service, not a cash cow for banks is at www.yesmagazine.org/ article.asp?id=3498.

For more about Yes! magazine see www.yesmagazine.org.

 

4. FOUR BOOK REVIEWS

(1) David Korten, AGENDA FOR A NEW ECONOMY: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, Berrett-Kohler, San Francisco, 2009, paperback, 196pp.

A splendid book. Although written for American readers, it is very relevant to other 'developed' countries and the world as a whole. "We will need to change virtually every aspect of how we structure and manage our economies. Instead of maximising the rate at which we turn useful resources into toxic trash, we will need to optimise the health and quantity of our stocks of real wealth" (p116).

At its core is a 12-point agenda for a real-wealth economy, including:

(1) Redirecting the focus of economic policy from growing phantom wealth to growing real wealth - by replacing financial indicators like GDP with indicators of real well-being as measures of economic success and failure. As Korten points out, this is inseparably linked with point (12) below.

(4) Reclaiming the corporate charter, to specify and monitor the public purpose and performance of business corporations.

(6) Rebuilding communities with a goal of achieving self-reliance in meeting local needs.

(7) Adopting policies that favour human-scale businesses owned by local stake-holders.

(9) Using tax and income policies to support equitable distribution of wealth and income.

He notes the two following points as "arguably the most important":

(11) Restructuring financial services to serve the real, not the phantom, economy; and

(12) Transferring to the federal government the responsibility for issuing money. (As Korten says, this is linked with (1) above because, without continuing growth of its money supply and GDP, an economy whose money is based on debt is bound to collapse.)

The book emphasises President Obama's opportunity to preside over this historic revolution. But the inspiring final chapter, When the people lead, the leaders will follow, has a message for us all. It recognises that to enable Obama to succeed, he will have to "be confronted with a popular demand from below too powerful to be ignored".

The fact is that, only if we find ways of compelling our leaders to lead, will they be empowered against defenders of the status quo to tackle the fundamental changes necessary for human survival and breakthrough to a new age in world history.

P.S. The next edition of this short, readable book should, in my view, include proposals on the future of the international money system. If left unreformed, it will frustrate the book's vision of the future.

 

(2) Laszlo Zsolnai (ed), ETHICAL PROSPECTS: Economy, Society, and Environment, Springer Science-Business Media BV, 2009, hardcover, 309pp.

This book is about ideas and initiatives that lead toward responsible business practices, policies for the common good and ecological sustainability. I warmly recommend it, especially to readers with access to academic or other institutions that can afford to buy it.

Contributions by 27 practitioners and scholars from Europe, America and Asia "represent a diversity of fields including business ethics, philosophy, organizational science, systems theory, finance, management, economics, political science, and ecology". Its chapter headings include The Good Company, Value Creation as the Foundation of Economics, Buddhist Economics for Business, and Ethical Banking.

My contribution explains why business ethics cannot avoid the question: "Can we resolve the present mismatch between money values and ethical values by reforming the way the worldwide money system now works?"; and answers "Yes, we can and must". (I will e-mail a copy as a pdf file to anyone who asks me for "Robertson chapter in Ethical Prospects".)

The Debate in Part 4 of the book corrects Bill Clinton's slogan "It's the economy, stupid". The economy is only a means to achieving a society's ends. We need to get our politicians, business leaders, and other 'professionals' to see that "it's NOT the economy, stupid, it's the society".

I hope Laszlo Zsolnai's collection of articles here will help to accelerate our understanding of money not as things, but as a system of interconnected systems; that it generates a practical calculus of value that strongly motivates the behaviour and lives of almost everyone in the world; and that our species survival will depend on our reforming it to reconcile the values it imposes on us with the values most of us hold.

 

(3) Thomas Greco, THE END OF MONEY and the FUTURE OF CIVILIZATION, Chelsea Green, Vermont, 2009, paperback, 268 pp.

Tom Greco has been for many years an acknowledged champion of free, decentralised, community currencies. I enthusiastically recommend the second half of his book to anyone who wants to know more about the case for them and the practicalities of setting them up.

I also applaud the first hundred pages. They offer a devastating criticism of the present "monopolistic control over credit, exercised through a banking cartel armed with government-granted privilege" which "allows wealth to be extracted from producer clients and, despite the trappings of democracy, the control of governments to be maintained in the hands of a few. Credit is allocated on a biased basis to favoured clients, including central governments, which distorts both the system of economic rewards and the exercise of political power".

I agree wholeheartedly with that diagnosis of the problem.

It is when we come to what we should do about it that I question Tom Greco's realism. He dismisses as unrealistic the aim of transferring to public agencies the function of issuing the public money supply debt-free in the public interest under effective democratic control at national and international levels. He assumes that national political power and global financial interests will successfully combine to stop that happening.

But it is surely even more unrealistic to hope that that problem can be by-passed by persuading people to drop out of the unreformed mainstream money system and rely on "private initiative and the creative application of new technologies and methods" instead. Can pioneers of the new local community currencies develop them quickly and widely enough to liberate millions, let alone billions, of us from our present dependence on the unreformed big banks and big governments to provide for our money needs?

If ever a sizeable number of people did look like succeeding in that, the unreformed big banks and governments would surely combine to stamp them out, as they stopped the growth of complementary currencies in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A careful reading of the book encourages me to hope that Greco may be shifting from his earlier views on this point. In Chapter 19 on The Role of Governments in Establishing Economic and Financial Stability he does, in fact, set aside his selective pessimism about mainstream monetary reform. He advocates legislation to achieve what are many of its aims. He also hopes not to drive a divisive wedge between would-be allies, but to promote a deeper understanding between 'reformers' and 'transformers' in pursuing a common fundamental goal - 'empowerment of people' (p110).

The 'both/and' nature of what we need to do is clear: we need both to support complementary currencies and economic decentralisation; and we need to recognise that that won't happen without either mainstream monetary reconstruction or the almost total collapse of human society in its present form.

P.S. Please also see Item 5 below.

 

(4) David Boyle, MONEY MATTERS: Putting the eco into economics - global crisis and local solutions, Alastair Sawday Publishing, Bristol, UK, paperback, 2009.

This handy new book on money by David Boyle provides an excellent guided tour, covering almost every aspect of the money system.

It contains eight Sections - on Metal Money, Information Money, Measuring Money, Debt Money, Mad Money, Local Money, DIY Money and Spiritual Money. Each Section contains between eight and fifteen two-page, bite-sized chunks, eg on 'Gold: The barbarous relic', 'The lunacy of GDP: Why money isn't everything', 'Great Crashes 5: the 2008 crash' and 'Greed therapy: The basis of the problem'.

As Charles Middleton of Triodos Bank says in his Preface, it explains clearly, concisely and entertainingly what Boyle thinks has gone wrong with our banking system and financial institutions.

I warmly recommend the book, but with a serious reservation similar to the one on the book immediately above.

Its fatalistic conclusion - that the faults of today's dysfunctional money system lie much deeper than it is possible for us to change - is very disappointing. For more, see Item 5.

 

5. THE 'SANDBOX SYNDROME'

This is relevant to the books by Tom Greco and David Boyle reviewed at 4(3) and 4(4) above.

The 'Sandbox', as Michael Marien described it in 1983, is "an enclosed area where children safely play, while adults carry on undisturbed in their usual wicked ways. Two complementary forces promote this condition: adults place children in the sandbox to get rid of them, and children volunteer to play there because it is fun". See the sixth paragraph at www.ghandchi.com/iranscope/Anthology/mm/sandbox.htm.

In the context of the two books under review, the adults who carry on undisturbed in their usual wicked ways are the leading people in big banks and big governments. They are delighted to see their children - fellow citizens - peacefully distracted and occupied in the sandbox, not taking an interest in their wicked ways. They may even give the children's leaders some pocket money from time to time to keep the other children busy there, safely out of mischief!

Of course it's true that the money values generated by the way the mainstream money system now works are in conflict with our non-money, ethical, emotional, aesthetic, spiritual and survival values. But that is a mismatch we must try to put right - as noted under book (2) above.

To ignore it, because it's "a fundamental problem" and an "ancient mismatch between money and value", is like accepting Mrs Thatcher's TINA - "there is no alternative". The way the money system now works has not been decreed by God or Nature. It is a purely human construct, open to us to change - given the necessary understanding and will.

Many people are capable and intelligent enough to:

  • understand how the development of money has been biased, as summarised for example at www.jamesrobertson.com/books.htm #history;
  • realise that the calculus of money values we have inherited from it has no foundation in objective reality;
  • understand, when its mechanics are explained to us, how its present workings produce perverse outcomes; and
  • see, therefore, how it needs to be reformed - systemically, as a system of systems, not with single 'catch-all solutions that are supposed to solve everything'.

That will enable more of us to recognise its reforms as the necessary and only way to free ourselves and others from its domination, and allow us to develop decentralised alternatives that it won't be able to stamp out - and then get down to the task of reforming it.

 

6. SOME URL's WORTH VISITING

Monetary Reform

IMPORTANT for US readers

(ii) www.ethicalmarkets.com/2009/04/10/revive-lincoln’s-monetary-policy/

(iii) www.nationaleconomy.net

Land Value Tax and Banking Reform

(ii) www.labourland.org/in_the_news/press_releases.php

Ethical and Sustainable Banking

(ii) www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9337

Local Currencies

Ethical Economics

www.ecopoliticsonline.com/index.cfm?action=journals &articlesID=6B732458-C2EE-11C0-43CA129336445AE3

"There is no positive economics, but only normative economics".

End of Economic Growth and Switch to Degrowth

Download the final declaration

(ii) www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/redefining-prosperity.html

 

James Robertson

8th June 2009