Contribution to a Roundtable on Money
Mary Mellor’s call for public money and robust, democratic, transparent money issuance can be seen as what Star Trek refers to as “the final frontier” in our efforts to create a resilient, sustainable world. I wholeheartedly agree with her public money solution, yet sadly lack her confidence in centralized, party-driven, representative global governance. I imagine she might be a Star Trek fan, with a secret hope that the Federation can save the day.
I have to confess that I was immediately on guard with her abstract’s first sentence, which relegated “local initiatives” to the sidelines, claiming that they can only lead to modest gains, not large-scale transformation. Why are we so enamored with large scale in the first place? I have begun to see anything larger than human scale as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Particularly when it comes to democracy. (I am writing from the US, where we are suffering from extreme inequality’s impact on large-scale democracy—and the best government our corrupt and debt based money can buy).
Beyond the initial assumption about local initiatives, she actually doesn’t talk at all about why large scale is needed, even in the quest for public money—she seems to conflate “public” with large, central states. Public comes in many flavors, after all, and the Sparkasse public banks in Germany have demonstrated that some level of public money is possible at a small scale. Indeed, there is no town too small in Germany to host one of these independent, networked public banks. Here in bucolic Vermont, we have been working with some success to get a Vermont State Bank, which would wrest a portion of the money issuance authority from the large, private banks.
My experience here, however, has shown me that the large powers—the globalized corporations, their partners in globalized banks, and their hapless cronies in neoliberal academia—have set numerous obstacles on the road to Money for the People, and these obstacles need to either be overcome or rendered obsolete before a large-scale transformation is possible. Overcoming them is nearly impossible: they control the media, the money supply, the armies, navies, courts, and legislatures. The rewards they offer their adherents—unlimited wealth, power, and privilege—are too strong a potion, even if it is only a pipe dream.
Three years ago, twenty cities and towns in Vermont voted to direct the state legislature to establish a Vermont State Bank. Our cities and towns make decisions using the closest thing to direct democracy, where every registered voter has a right to vote on budgets, laws, and other propositions. Did the legislature take this democratic input and act? Not really. We still do not have a state bank, even though they threw us a bone where 10% of the money in the big banks is now loaned directly into the Vermont economy. This year, when we went to the legislature with the successful (and profitable) experience of that program as the wind at our backs, we ran into a stone wall.
This is precisely because in addition to the growth imperative and inequality machine the current monetary system imposes, as Mellor very carefully and accurately documents, the artificial scarcity and hoarding the system requires pit the “haves” against the “have-nots,” and the people in power—the elite—know on which side of the toast their bread is buttered, and do not lift a finger to help us, even when their political party has public banking as a plank in their platform. My faith in parties has died with my faith in large-scale democracy, I’m afraid. They are not public, they are not democratic, and they need to die a rapid and final death.
Lest you imagine that my despair at the progress on the road to Money for the People has left me bereft, take heart. I believe we are on the cusp of the old system being rendered obsolete, much, much easier on some levels than overcoming the powers by fighting them directly through democratic organizing and legislative action. I am not giving up on that; rather, I am just saying that it is necessary but not sufficient.
I have seen the future, and it is block chaining its way into the heart of the human value system, where things with true meaning and value can thrive again. Mellor does not even mention the advent of new value-embedding technologies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Lite Coin, and the new smart contracts. While they are encrypted now in the labyrinthine interwebs, their principles and practices can apply universally, and I would argue even without the complex and sometimes impenetrable technology.
My prediction is that these systems will restore sovereignty to human-scale communities once again, and we will be free from large-scale totalitarian domination and impoverishment. They can be at once both private and public—the new transparency makes it possible to keep watch on their “amplification” and development. The distributed ledger is at once both local and global. Local iterations can spring into existence using highly democratic and time-tested issuance and conflict management practices. Their identity certification and transaction transparency can pave the way for direct, not party, democracy at all scales. The UN has just issued payments in a refugee camp in Ethers, for example, demonstrating that global and local can work together directly and effectively for the common good.
Public, private, global, local, large and small—all of these demand definition and rethinking if we are to transcend the bitter and outdated paradigm that is driving the planet toward rapid human extinction. Neoliberal economics and their elitist partner in representative democracy are well past their shelf life—let’s bring on the new day already. Beam me up, Scotty.