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Covid capitalism or corvée?

Covid-19 raises questions about our economic model and whether we can continue with it when the corona virus crisis is over. Kendal Eaton, author of A Chance for Everyone: The Parallel Non Monetary Economy, proposes a new economic approach with the corvée – unpaid labour – at its heart.

“We are in a war against an invisible enemy” Boris Johnson (20 March 2020). This is in addition to various visible conflicts, as exhibited throughout 21st century economic and political policies against mass populations and even the planet itself.

Whether the Corona Virus is a direct result of austerity measures through neoliberal economic policy would need investigation, but nature, the food chain and water cycle are all long-term heavy casualties. It is obvious now that Corona is forcing upon us the greatest threat the global economy has ever faced.

Covid-19 virus is indiscriminate and brutal, yet political fiscal policy discriminates not only through protectionist national agendas but domestic ones. It has deliberately used prejudice and puerile concepts of nationalism and patriotism to divide people, businesses and the spoils. The marginalisation of vast populations through austerity is the greatest ongoing civil conflict, with the largest scale of casualties ever seen at one time. Brexit the latest clamour for self-determination.

Western democracies are seeing a small taster of the scale of financial hardship fragmenting other communities around the world. But Western culture is brilliant at burying people’s heads in the sand of war analogies, even if a stated “war effort” is not evident. This appeal conveniently didn’t work for the proposed Green New Deal. So addressing this deadly pandemic that crosses all boundaries is still subject to localised fiscal constraints, treated as if there is not sufficient money to obtain what people need.

Where is all the wealth?

If it wasn’t evident before, the conclusion of neoliberal policy has come home to roost in graphic reality. And once again the poorest in our communities are the ones having to pay – with their jobs, businesses and lives – for the wilful exploitation by those controlling monetary markets. It is painfully clear to governments that, this time, they cannot afford to pay in money for corona virus. Not in the short term. And the super rich?

Lack of money never deterred anyone prior to the 2008 crash. And what’s disturbing is that economists once again cannot see beyond quantitative easing and printing of Fiat money, the IMF proposing hundreds of billions, tethering economies to longer economic hardship than the partial recovery it has taken since 2008. What austerity will be implemented then?

Is it not obvious by now that money is our greatest enemy? No wonder many economic organisations are saying this is a fork in the road, requiring a radical re-think to the antiquated monetary system of exchange. Money, banks and banking are profoundly inept ways to facilitate people’s needs, as shown in the fall of the trading markets – threatening this recession.

“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves… to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history”. Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Money is no longer fit for purpose, except for controlling masses of people through wilful discrimination. But for how long?

Fork in the road?

So what could this fork in the road look like? There is talk of this crisis encouraging a new social altruism. Yet a news report revealed that Covid-19 could be simultaneously generating and preventing riots and looting. One food-bank in Essex already robbed.

Most emergency fiscal measures prioritise corporate relief, pandering to the failed trickle-down myth, while banks instructed to rescue small and medium-sized businesses from going under hike interest rates for short-term gain. Corporations bellow at governments for bailouts from the public purse to protect their multi-million/billion dollar profits. Benefits departments are swamped with applications now from the middle and upper class. How poorly managed must these accounts be, if companies have no contingency plans for short periods of crisis? What is clear is that there has been either no contingency strategy, (hard to swallow), or those strategies are not based on responding to the public need but exploitation.

Fiscal measures spoken now of being ‘unbridled’ and definitely a blunt instrument. So why are we so surprised if the public can no longer cough up for Covid-19 yet are still the ones upon whom the burden is imposed? Trickle-down has not worked for people, so is it time people stopped working for the elite?

People’s options and opinions gravitate to polemic stances, ideologists and religious fundamentalists against ardent sceptics and nihilist defeatists. Multiple crises of biblical scale are destabilising the global market. A few scriptural examples illustrate the issue and potential for relief.

Joseph’s vision during his incarceration in Egypt – seven fat cows followed by seven emaciated cows – secured his appointment as chief treasurer. This meant increased taxation to enable stockpiling of grain during the seven years of plenty – as a loan to the administration. It worked, and the government sustained its residents through the famine.

Later, Pharaoh Setnakhte got prolific building production by rewarding and caring for the workforce. But his son Ramses III, during a drought, whiplashed the population into producing bricks without water, which ended in mass revolt.

These spiritual parodies aptly reflect how most of neoliberal capitalism has practically worked politically, through financialization, exploiting cheap or free labour, threatening working rights and relying on technological development to plug the gap during the absent years of plenty (that is, for 99% of the population) reducing employment.

But how can we rely on altruism against those responsible for criminal inhumane exploits (as in Syria and other conflicts), opportunistic profiteering, punitive political strategies and those manipulating foreign policy to destabilise for monetary supremacy? And what of the excluding effects of money itself in the way it operates and dominates people’s attitudes, its manipulation through trading and the global economic climate? The answer is, we do not need to.

Every individual of any circumstance has something far more valuable to offer than money. They continue to employ their valuable assets – to coin a phrase “getting things done” – without money. The work that every person continues to do every day – even a penniless refugee in Idlib or Bangladesh caring for their family – can be TRANSFORMED INTO A VALUED ENTITY, AN UNINHIBITED COLLECTIVE ECONOMIC FORCE the like of which has never been possible prior to the establishment of the global economy.

Corvée catalyst

To illustrate – instead of people losing their jobs, or businesses being bailed out by loans to prop up the liquidity of the failing monetary market, what if governments applied corvée, as has been done during previous wartimes?

Statute labour is a corvée imposed by a state for the purposes of public works. As such it represents a form of levy (taxation). Unlike other forms of levy, such as a tithe, a corvée does not require the population to have land, crops or cash. It was thus favoured in historical economies in which barter was more common than cash transactions or circulating money was in short supply…corvée has existed in modern and ancient Egypt…Sumer…continental Europe…Haiti…Portugal’s African colonies until the 1960s…” and more recently in “Canada…the United States…Myanmar…” and other forms in “Bhutan, Rwanda, Vietnam… and Pitcairn Island. But the idea of placing a tradable value on what is currently free or unvalued labour opens up far greater potential for people in general and for the monetary market.” Thus, corvée would act as a virtual form of concession for workers in government accounts, relieving them of further mass fiscal outlay, making any form of work a contribution in kind.

In this instance it would supplement NHS workers, building an emergency infrastructure and securing mass production of needed resources and PPE. It would facilitate testing and speed up development of a vaccine, and employ beyond optimum personnel to train, manufacture and deliver everything needed. It would reduce the constraints on supporting businesses without amassing colossal personal and national debt.

All change

There is an opportunity for a sea-change in commerce and how it rewards, but rest assured, the chief aim of elite capitalists and the governments in their pockets will be to return us to the status quo. If NHS personnel were as callous as those controlling the economy, they would down tools and let people drop like flies to increase the value of their skills (product). So the idea of forming a non-monetary economy is no concession from government or from capitalists.

Corvée could lead to much more. It illustrates that there are different forms of accounting for human labour in a monetary economy even when it is not money. The parallel non-monetary market (PNME) is not a new thing – it already supplements the monetary market significantly. Governments and other organisations calculate the potential savings to them from unpaid labour.

“‘Every year, charity shops raise over £270m for a range of causes in the UK. The value of formal volunteering was estimated to be £22.6bn in 2015. This is the value generated by the 14.2m who volunteered at least once per month; add to this a recorded 18m informal volunteers working once per month and a further 4.3m once per year and we get an idea of even an unjust monetary valuation to the UK economy.’ (Charities Almanac 2015). This also omits the unrecorded informal everyday work people do for each other (helping, caring) and the constant efforts of supporters who raise sponsorships and collections for charities.”

Source: UK Civil Society Almanac (2019).

Valuing labour in a non-monetary form or virtual value can extend way beyond corvée or monetary values, to represent a new economic force of scale to industry – separate from yet accessible to and by capitalists – returning unimaginable profits for everyone. Since it is not money it boosts the economy without deducting from it.

Banks do this with money through ‘quantitative-easing’ or Fiat money, but have to balance the books later. Most capitalist transactions are practically non-monetary already. But it is a mistake to consider a parallel non-monetary system as the same thing. Forming it does not even necessitate our minds stretching beyond concepts of labour, value, accounts, balances, trading and investment. It is purely accounting for something by a different measure. Something every person can earn without dependency upon an employer.

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate.

“‘I think that many utopians have been quite right to imagine worlds without money. I reject all programs that propose to transcend capitalism but retain money and markets as supposedly efficient methods of allocating resources.. It is way past time to transcend them once and for all…’ (H. Cleaver). Yet there is no forthcoming alternative and to remove markets as a valid way of facilitating sharing seems utopian against the extent of evident violent capitalistic oppression. A step too far from immediate reach. And who is going to do this?” There is a much simpler way than replacing or outlawing money, but it necessitates getting our heads laterally away from monetary dependency and value. No ideology or utopianism required.

A small step for a giant leap

It constitutes only a small step, not ‘a giant leap for mankind,’ to formalise the PNME as an industrial scale economic revolution in its own right, but that should not be done by monetising it. Money and the PNME should never mix or exchange value. This is why it should not be commerce or politics that brings this about. It needs to be an inalienable individual right, formed, controlled, legalised and monitored by society, preferably by public bodies constituted of circulating personnel in non-permanent, non-political roles. The PNME of the 99%.

This is an opportunity to reinvent, for a consensus approach, using existing technology and processes implemented in various applications we are familiar with. Rather than a sea-change in philosophical interaction, or adopting previous failed political ideologies, or expending time in protracted campaigns to force corporate and political leaders to grow moral consciences, the PNME of the 99% utilises what we already have, to form the greatest collective economic force the world has ever seen and will ever see.

Corvée is a catalyst to a more permanent established parallel system that never threatens but only aids capitalists that prefer to stick with money. So, for example: 1) How would employers feel about not having to pay workers’ wages? 2) How would politicians feel about not having to tax people? 3) How about Universal Basic Income not coming from the public coffers or corporate taxes, in the bargain reducing the welfare state bill by potentially 90 to 95%? And 4) How about beyond optimum employment and zero-cost production radicalising commerce and turning monetary capitalism solvent? By a process of osmosis, money will eventually become irrelevant or even obsolete. It simply doesn’t have to be a choice of one or the other. These are just a few of the gargantuan benefits the PNME of the 99% can offer on mass scale.

Neoliberal policy has forced this situation, but people have far more to offer the world than money does, given a system to deploy their energies in a way that is flexible and above all valuable. It has never been so practical, so easily within grasp and so overdue. The PNME offers every person a real economic stake not only in their immediate future in combatting the coronavirus, but in our collective outcome and the state of the planet, crucially side-lined by this more immediate threat.

 

All quotations from Kendal Eaton, A Chance For Everyone: The Parallel Non-Monetary Economy (Sounding Off UK Publications 2019). For more information, see here.

 

Posted 19:50 Thursday, Apr 9, 2020 In: Point of View

2 Comments

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  1. Kendal

    Chris, let me bring your attention to this paragraph – “Money and the PNME should never mix or exchange value. This is why it should not be commerce or politics that brings this about. It needs to be an inalienable individual right, formed, controlled, legalised and monitored by society, preferably by public bodies constituted of circulating personnel in non-permanent, non-political roles.”

    this is an empowering of every individual to control their own labour “controlling labour force of forced labour” is what we already have. be assured capitalists will seek to maintain this for the few. the right for every individual to earn for anything society agrees constitutes work, including self care and care of others, not only rewards all currently unpaid labour (absurdly called ‘abstract labour’ for commercial convenience) but allows a re-evaluation of the worth of that labour as an independent economic entity. self-governing and negotiable towards employers in formal employment.

    Comment by Kendal — Thursday, Apr 16, 2020 @ 01:22

  2. Chris Lewcock

    Who controls the labour force (or should that be forced labour)? Lots wrong with the current system but this looks like a prescription for slave labour on tap for whoever happens to currently control the system (be they plutocrats or state bureaucrats).

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Monday, Apr 13, 2020 @ 10:27

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