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Post-Covid: Fears, Dreams and Choices 3

Kendal Eaton, author of A Chance for Everyone: The Parallel Non Monetary Economy, concludes his examination of how the world beyond coronavirus could be made a better place. Part 3: Choices.

Money or your life?

“To be or not to be, that is the question” – facing every individual now living.

Whether it is nobler in the mind is almost irrelevant, but nobler qualities have come to the fore where money has been lacking. In stark contrast, even though monetary exchange has long since become a virtual practice, it seems the more nobler objectives you’re willing to sacrifice, the more power it affords, leaving those without it feeling powerless to resist. In the previous article we examined how neoliberals systematically dilute people’s’ choices and any idea of human rights to sheer fantasy.

With the easing of lockdown in defiance of prevailing evidence people are expected to risk their own lives and be complicit in causing the deaths of others. The economy threatens far greater hardship and many people assert this is the ‘law of survival,’ our only choice.

Those who have had all choices stripped from them and been forced to flee, as ‘economic’ migrants, head for the democratic countries and if possible to the richest. They abandon belongings, friends, family, home and professions; risk poverty and incarceration, death by drowning or from traffickers, or by asphyxiation packed in lorries, containers or undercarriage.

If they make it they may suffer further indignities and adopt an unimaginable way of life, sometimes against their own morals, in exchange for some small liberties that were previously infringed upon. They risk bigotry and alienation in countries whose populations have knowingly or unwittingly fuelled those atrocities through the use of their taxes. Quite often they relish the relief, adopting a gratitude and new loyalty towards that nation. Who wouldn’t, if your children were in danger of being carpet-bombed? Any domestic abuses they then observe impacting on homelessness, child-poverty, employment, health and welfare pale into insignificance.

The compromises they make to do menial work for the lowest wages not only supplements the economy but forms the mainstay of that economy. It generates greater economic insecurity amongst the population, reducing working rights, to increase the wealth of the rich corporations who dictate conditions. These corporations are then heralded and given special dispensation for their contribution to the community and national GDP, necessary for balancing global economic competition.

One significant parallel financial system is the Sharia-based interest-free economy that supports the skills of many migrants and their established families and communities. It influences the flow of wealth and decision-making locally, nationally as an integral part of the national infrastructure and internationally. “The presence of WIEF [World Islamic Economic Forum] in London recognises the UK’s position as a major centre of Islamic finance. Islamic finance is already playing a major role in shaping the economic and physical landscape of our capital city. The newly opened Shard, the extraordinary redevelopment of Battersea Power Station and the Olympic Village were paid for, at least in part, by Sharia-compliant finance.” Boris Johnson, The Muslim Pound, (The Muslim Council of Britain 2013).

Some assert that the Muslim Pound may well save Britain after Brexit, smoothing the pathway to alternative and lucrative foreign markets, affording the PM potential bargaining power, as Trump courts India and Russia sides with China. So, the idea Brexit affords greater economic self-determination is a fallacy. The political landscape of global commerce faces further radical and ideological conflicts and compromises. But this global dependency upon monetary markets is one of the grossest lies the general public in all nations are force-fed by the corporate 1% elite. They insist this is the sole reality. It is the domineering one, but this insistence is hypocritical. It is manufactured, sustained and manipulated, from a range of alternatives, by a minority.

Kill or cure?

Some say Covid-19 is new and then we hear it is a strain of Corona that has existed for decades and some people worked on it in the 70s, so we hope there will be a way to address the disease. It has exposed the mockery of the whole global monetary system and awakened us to its limitations. But for now, Covid-19 seems set to stay. Will this force the elite 1% to re-assess the effectiveness of the global market and its values? Decimation of natural resources and global warming hasn’t. We expect no leopard’s spots to change in the making of this crisis. Rather it may convince them their ‘securities’ are well founded and somebody will have to pay. The world of media, politics and industry tread egg-shells around every potential development. What else is anyone offering?

Recall the quotation from Christina Figueres asserting that intentionally transforming the economic development model for the first time is the biggest challenge we face, (see previous article, Covid Capitalism or Corvée?). The biggest obstacle preventing us from doing so doesn’t come from neoliberal economics. It can be done without even altering that. It comes from our pathological association of products and services with monetary value. Even in non-monetary economies most economists refuse to assess worth on any other form of value, or insist other quantifiable transactions constitute a form of money. There is no need to get hung up on that, except that it ties down our mentality and choices.

To get away from money’s abuses we can bypass thinking in monetary terms. People usually jump in with bartering, at this point. Ok, as an example, whatever two people barter depends upon the value of each object to them personally, unconnected to any monetary consideration. We only have to think of what happened to German currency in the Great Depression and more recent hyperinflation in some African countries and how it affected what people exchanged.

It’s another form of negotiation, but to be a credible alternative to money, any new exchange system has to make economic sense and be freely accessible to everyone. So, what is required to solidify all global trade as a collective economy, not a fragmented privileged one?

Vaccine or antidote?

Neoliberals think they act as a vaccine via herd immunity. The further they can inject their financial disease the more people become immune to it, but it never resolves the issues and causes. The survivors of this process will get by much better after the vulnerable casualties have fallen. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic recession, even elites are calling upon more support from the formerly expendable masses. They are the new TV evangelist faith-healers praying on trusting desperados, because to everyone else, they appear the blessed ones.

Some parallel economies triggered by severe economic inequality act as antidotes, giving recipients not just refreshing relief from the symptoms, but potential for a cure. The forming of new or parallel economies from hopeless situations is not fiction. Nothing new. Necessity is the mother of re-invention and many have already mastered the process.

Anyone can form an economy, from a local knitting circle to a collective of small and medium size businesses and international collectives. And we do not have to look very far for examples. Bit-coin, Etherium, Litecoin, Freicoin, Zcoin, PPcoin, Ripple, Mobile talktime, M-Pesa, GEM mobile credit operating system, LETS, Hullcoin, Bristol Pound, TimeDollars, Time Banking, Time-credits, Value You, Reward-volunteers, Valor Y Cambio, EQUAL$, Strouds, Olivers, Groats, Tales, Bricks, Sods, Ebbles and Kibbles, Womanshare, Member to member, Gold Card, Ithaca HOURS, Worgl, San Antonio hours, Ka’U hours, Mountain Money, Barter Bucks, Cascadia Hours, Commonweal Service Dollar, AT&T Long Distance Certificates, Deli dollar, Corn Crib, Mondex, Visacash, Meridiencard, IBM dollars, Busbys, Disney dollars, WIR, JAK, Tlaloc, Trueque, Bia Kud Chum, Grains de sel, Phoenix Hours, Carbondale Spud, Beenz, WING, top-up scratch cards, Air Miles and Chiemgauer, to mention just a few. Four thousand of them work perfectly well across the globe, in parallel to monetary commerce.

Some are alternative money; others are non-monetary; some national and international in scale. But none so far have replaced the function of money. Many non-monetary options depend upon the use of money or mix with it, either initially or ongoing. Some that are completely independent are still subject to the ever-vacillating pressures applied by the global monetary market, only marginally reducing the inhibiting effects of neoliberalism. Yet they make noteworthy inroads.

How do you go about creating them? Simple. Find people who want to exchange the same things and use your imagination, print your own currency. In some countries it is illegal to do so, but only very few places, and there are ways around prohibitions. Yet if four thousand of them cannot redress capitalism, what would be the point? The key lies in a way to adapt qualities of all those initiatives, utilising a cross-selection of their benefits, to form a non-discriminating global non-monetary market of mass scale parallel to and bridging the void with monetary capitalism. But to do so without being subject to it.

This economy already exists as a market force. It simply doesn’t yet form a self-sustaining profitable economy. A few of the above examples illustrate the practical freedom the design of complementary currencies offers and how they aid capitalism. With a small adjustment they can transform into a collective Parallel (profit-making) Non-Monetary Economy (PNME).

Paul Glover invented Ithaca HOURS and gave them a value of $10 each, just above the average agricultural worker’s wage. If they were canny Ithaca HOURS may even raise local wages. “But in practice, the link with value of the dollar has been important, because it allows businesses to accept Hours for purchases…” with an added advantage of flexibility; “…if there were ever to be mega-inflation… then HOURS could assume the value of a 1998 dollar and ride out the storm.” In other words, you can decide the value of your currency and it can be flexible in contrast to monetary value.

Ithaca HOURS started making interest-free loans to charities and non-profit organisations. “Economics is 85% psychology. Everyone knows when governments start to print too much money… or people start to mistrust it… value starts drifting down. People end up accumulating it or refusing it.” Through good publicity on its achievements, Ithaca HOURS gradually came to be perceived as reliable until people preferred to be paid in it. The disadvantage to government not officially endorsing it as a secondary currency is its missing contribution to GDP. “Two of the four shops I asked said they took HOURS. ‘I’m thinking of it,’ said one, ‘maybe I will when they can pay for city taxes.’”

“One of the most successful time dollar banks in the country, MORE in Grace Hill St Louis…provides a vast yellow pages of services… The St Louis bank, Boatmans… decided to bank time dollars by issuing a duel-track time dollars/cash debit card”: David Boyle, Funny Money; in search for alternative cash (Flamingo 2000 and above).

“WIR started in 1934, and now has over 60,000 users: [17% of total Swiss businesses together responsible for an annual turnover of 1.5 billion Euro. Trade in WIR has a share of 1-2% of Swiss GDP]; 45,000 SMEs and 15,000 employers or owners. Together they generate a 10-figure annual turnover. The WIR offers a clearance mechanism in which business can buy from one another without using Swiss Francs. However, WIR is often used in combination with Swiss Franc in dual-currency transactions. WIR-credit is purely electronic. Since 1995, it is possible to make payments using a single plastic charge card. In 2008 Internet banking became available” (Wikipedia).

“WIR suffers from some significant limitations. In the first place it is not convertible to other units. Until recently, the technology was not available…many people…do not even consider it a problem. They will claim that non-convertibility is actually its strength, as it forces participants to shop within the network. However… non-convertibility damages liquidity…As a result, many businesses accept only a certain percentage in WIR. Another problem is that consumers are not serviced… businesses cannot pay their employers in WIR, for instance. Just think of what is possible leaving these limitations behind” (Anthony Migchels, The Swiss WIR: or How to Defeat the Money Power, 19 April 2012).

One of the other significant aspects of WIR is that it does not accrue interest and only exists to achieve its practical purpose. Just as bankers do with money, initial loans are created from thin air by the WIR bank. When those loans are repaid, that currency ceases to exist. It does not circulate endlessly, so this preserves and protects trading amongst the participating network. Some would say this misses a financial advantage, but its greater advantage is it keeps WIR accounts separate to and unaffected by fluctuations in monetary liquidity. It affords economic power, stability and flexibility especially during crises.

When the Covid-19 outbreak hit, companies could apply for zero-interest loans of up to 500,000 immediately, guaranteed by the WIR Bank. “WIR Bank also participates in the ‘COVID 19 credit’ aid program. After two and a half working days, 150 applications were approved by WIR Bank and loans of over CHF 21 million were made available (as of March 30, 2020, 12 noon). For loans that exceed the amount of CHF 500,000, 85 percent of this is secured by the Confederation, and WIR Bank participates in the remaining 15 percent. In addition to the ‘COVID-19 loan’, customers of WIR Bank also benefit from the free instant loan of 10,000 WIR, which is already included in the SME package” (Bruno Steigeler, WIR website blog, March 2020).

So, WIR users significantly supplement the burden on the Swiss economy. Yet its exchange value means what they are able to achieve is still affected by the value of the CHF (Swiss franc).

So, we have learned:

1) Anyone can create an economy.
2) You can decide within your own economy what the value and flexibility of any ‘currency’ is.
3) Nothing prevents it working in parallel to and in combination with monetary capitalism.
4) It can remain separate and protected from monetary fluctuations and its peripheral influences.
5) It can exist as a separate “purely electronic” currency.
6) It can empower businesses and individuals from scratch, only affecting the monetary market positively.
7) With a little tweaking, to make it appealing for governments and commerce (as the process of Corvée illustrates), it can eliminate the need for taxation and still generate vast profit.

But the erratic state of monetary value can still cause the collapse of the infrastructure parallel economies depend upon. How do we free ourselves from that?

Isolating the disease

Whilst alternative economies aid monetary economies to function and thus contribute to capitalism, they still risk backlash by reducing capitalist power. There is much more for both parties to gain from dissolving that conflict of interest. Global monetary capitalism isn’t a dead loss yet. It can still choose to facilitate the broad dissemination of its antidote. Why would it do that? Because capitalists are already doing it. The agencies and methods to facilitate a parallel non-monetary economy already exist. Never before has there been such an expanse of common interest and development for liberation from the monetary disease.

“Industry watchers acknowledge the creeping reality of a zero-marginal-cost economy… The answer lies in the civil society, which consists of non-profit organizations that attend to the things in life we make and share as a community. In dollar terms, the world of non-profits is a powerful force. In 2012, the non-profit sector in the United States accounted for 5.5 percent of GDP. In the United States, Canada and Britain, employment in the non-profit sector currently exceeds 10 percent of the [official] workforce.” Jeremy Rifkin, The rise of Anti-Capitalism (The Times, Sunday Review, March 15, 2014).

This is still subject to monetary valuation and is only a fraction of the free-sharing economy of NGOs, charities, voluntary organisations and unpaid familial care.

Since Karl Marx analysed what could free us from the money trap, without endorsing it or being politically biased it’s worth assessing what he said; that the only way to address capitalism is by abolishing “the material grounds of the concept of abstract labour”, steps that “restrict the sphere of money and exchange—while expanding spheres free of it.”

In practice and principle, Marx’s Labour Theory of Value was valid before neoliberalism and can become valid again, not by counter-balancing the weight of economic power by fighting it, but by removing the conflict of the ‘proletariat’ against the ‘bourgeoisie’ as a negative counter-influence on profit. Simply bypassing them as a majority market and letting them follow later.

Liberation from the monetary disease – just as Covid only disappears where there are no longer any hosts – will come only when work can be related to a form of exchange by alternative means unconnected to money. What could better replace money than something naturally self-contained? When all ‘social capital’ or ‘abstract labour’ can be valued economically (not monetarily), as Marx stated, the term ‘work’ takes on its generic sense, not merely formal employment but how a person’s choices and energy are productively utilised, day by day, hour by hour. This is what every individual of all circumstances has that costs them. It can and should return them some reward. Use of money prevents this.

Add to this what Marx said about abolishing prices and expanding spheres free of money (see previous article, Post-Covid: Fears, Dreams and Choices 2), alludes to a unilateral option any sizable collective can create. They can do this independently of prevailing political and commercial conditions. Crucially, commercial and political forces must be kept out of the process, initially, not to contaminate it and assume control on their terms. Thankfully money can never offer this relief and those comfortably off see no need to change.

So the only place this offer can come from is a collective of those who already function with little or none of it – the 99% – inclusive of all formal and informal labour. Labour thus becomes the currency generating its own profit. Imagine the impracticalities, prejudices and abuses that would dissolve. And the size of the market it offers capitalism.

So, in offering this gargantuan market, why not choose the value of that economy? “Working out the value of an hour’s labour is the hard part,” Paul Mason asserts in Post-Capitalism: a guide to our future. He dismisses this as unrealistic, based on previous labour models. But he, like all others, is addressing the historic inhibitive capacity of finite monetary finance. If governed by that or those that control it, a labour currency could be abused to maintain market value and inaccessibility, exclusivity, even dispossession. Nothing changes. The way to avoid this is if society sets the rates and not State, commerce, or money. Society can enrich commerce, becoming the major contributors to its solvency. But this is unlikely if the value of that ‘currency’ equates to, or is exchangeable with, monetary currency. This is what we need to learn from the WIR and Ithaca Hours.

The value of 0 = + not –

Because the parallel non-monetary economy currency becomes immaterial, (though labour is not immaterial, it is only treated that way in the neoliberal economy), we can choose what constitutes rewarded labour and what economic value different forms of labour are really worth to us, differentiated from unpaid leisure. But with all forms of abstract labour included, the lines become very blurred. There is an added advantage though to giving it no equivalent monetary value. In other words a zero-monetary value. This protects it from all kinds of variables, including social and criminal dynamics, but it achieves much more, practically and psychologically, in separating it from the monetary disease.

It alters what we can incentivise. It can include a universal basic income for every person for self-care, or for dependents who cannot work or care for themselves. These people will make up a tiny minority as most ill people still do things that constitute ‘work,’ but UBI rates have no cost, never deduct from anyone’s earnings and only positively affect the market. Employers would become willing accommodators of formal labour as equal partners in the process. The range it offers will be expansive from immediate application. Making the PNME accounting an automatic self-contained individual right would eliminate even the question of costs and conflict with employers and only a consideration of practical application.

Because it is not money deducting from finite budgets, but figures attached to personal labour, it can be profitable even at a higher numerical rate than monetary labour rates. So non-monetary figures, with only exchange ‘value’ as a transactional process, would amass in parallel accounts without the variables that affect the monetary economy. Monetary debt and overheads are then offset by this parallel economy as it interacts with monetary commerce, just as with the WIR, but at far greater scale.

Unlike the WIR, the PNME can be devised as either a set numerical global unit, or set by locale without any exchange rate necessary. The PNME ‘currency’ purchases whatever society in that locale states it can and this needn’t change, wherever anyone finds her/himself. But for ease of access and stability it may be better that it is decided upon internationally, to eliminate profit maximising strategies, equalise opportunities and stimulate international investment of time and labour in local infrastructure development.

Some authors have predicted the possibility of a zero-cost monetary economy, but once we establish the concept of non-money, without abolishing prices, the effect is the same; especially if that parallel economy has zero intrinsic monetary value. It focuses away from money to what everybody already possesses as a tradable asset and what can be achieved. So if the non-monetary currency equates to zero monetary value but high tradable value, it “revolutionises the bourgeoisie economically,” re-incentivising capitalists by effectively rendering commerce cost-free as a superior, more rewarding exchange mechanism. Monetary balances will become solvent and may even become obsolete or too profitable to ever worry about. Overall, money will have marginal impact on the functions of commerce and people’s everyday lives.

The final choice

The solutions we need, to address capitalism and our survival, exist. All the 99% have to do is come together through existing agencies, examine the methods, form a collective and decide to implement it. There is nothing commercial magnates or politicians can do to prevent it, especially when they have so much to gain.

Biometrics, GPS, block-chain technology and other developments within many apps that we take for granted, on mobiles and smart watches, can accommodate a purely electronic system of monitoring and accounting, without necessitating any material form of currency exchange. A year before Amazon opened their Amazon Go stores, I predicted people would be able to enter stores and leave with their bags full without paying at any checkout. They will not even need to scan in and out. The focus for producers and employers, who can then employ people at all stages of development beyond optimum required levels, will be rapid increased productivity, quality and service with lower unpressured working hours.

The 99% offering this market can dictate it, making it conditional on rapid green industrial development – the Fifth (Eco) Industrial Revolution, if you like – and criminalising any business that detracts from anyone’s accessibility to the market or damages the environment.

Imagine how any pandemic might be managed and be affected by the economy then, even if the same practical constraints occur. How far are we from implementing it? That is our choice. If the millions of members of NGOs, charities, care, conservation and voluntary organisations convene over it, then open it to their members and the general public, how does two years sound?

The life that money and neoliberalism currently holds to ransom and abuses gives way to free mobilisation of scientific development, social care and expanded commerce. It allows us crucial choices and power, now, that extend way beyond the fears and dreams we relegate human rights and our environment to. If we don’t grasp the PNME now, we may never have another chance. The question ‘to be or not to be,’ has never been more pressing. We can choose further extended abuse, austerity, conflict and deaths (the corporate choice), or to empower our nobler humane qualities with uninhibited economic power, to address any crisis and sustain full, productive. rewarding lives for everyone now and into the future.

 

Kendal Eaton is the author of A Chance For Everyone: the Parallel Non-Monetary Economy.

 

Posted 15:25 Friday, Jul 3, 2020 In: Point of View

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