3 – Post-Covid: Choices
“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. But money still offers power to those who are willing to sacrifice more noble objectives, leaving those without it feeling powerless with little say in the matter. As we saw in the previous article, neoliberals systematically dilute people’s’ choices and any idea of human rights to sheer fantasy.
Yet, when some have all choices stripped from them and are forced by atrocity to flee as ‘economic’ migrants, they head for the democratic countries and if possible to the richest. They will abandon everything their lives were based on previously, their belongings, friends, family, home and professions; risk poverty and incarceration, death by drowning or from traffickers, or asphyxiation packed in lorries or containers or undercarriage. If they make it, they will suffer further indignities and adopt an unimaginable way of life, sometimes against their own morals, in exchange for some small liberties that were infringed upon.
Some migrate to countries whose populations have knowingly or unwittingly fuelled those atrocities through the use of their taxes, risking further bigotry and alienation. And quite often they will relish the relief, adopting a gratitude and new loyalty towards that nation. It is a trade off. Well, who wouldn’t, if your children were in danger of being carpet-bombed? Any domestic abuses they observe impacting on homelessness, child-poverty, employment, health and welfare pale into insignificance.
The compromises they make to take on menial work for the lowest wages not only supplements the economy but also forms the mainstay of that economy. It generates greater economic insecurity within the population, reducing working rights, to increase the wealth of the rich corporations who dictate conditions. The corporations are perversely then heralded and given special dispensation for their contribution to the community and national GDP.
One significant parallel financial system is the Sharia based interest-free economy that supports the skills of migrants and their established families. 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 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 with Trump. The political landscape of global commerce faces further radical and ideological conflicts and compromises.
Anything new under the sun?
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 will this force the elite 1% to re-assess its effectiveness and their values? Decimation of natural resources and global warming hasn’t. We expect no Leopards spots will change in the making of this crisis. Rather it may convince them that their ‘securities’ are well founded. What else is anyone offering? This is why the whole world of media, politics and industry indulges every prospective connotation of intrigue and development.
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 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 on going. Even some that are completely independent are 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 bridge the gap between 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, without being subject to it.
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. Whereas some parallel economies act as antidotes, giving recipients not just refreshing relief from the symptoms, but potential for a cure.
A few of the above examples illustrate the practical freedom the design of complementary currencies offers. Think of these as principles.
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 or depreciate. 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 monetary fluctuations. It affords economic power and stability especially during crises when monetary value is weak.
During the Covid-19 outbreak 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 this exchange value means what they are able to achieve is still affected by the value of the CHF.
So we have seen, 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, or 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. 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 profits.
But the erratic state of monetary value can still cause the infrastructure parallel economies depend upon to collapse. How do we free ourselves from that?
Isolating the disease
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 than money, 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. Marx Labour Theory of Value was valid before neoliberalism, in principle, which can become valid again by removing the conflict between the ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletariat’ as a negative counter-influence on profit.
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, it has to make economic sense and be freely accessible to everyone. What could be better 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. This is what every individual of all circumstances has that costs them. It can and should return them some reward. Money prevents this.
Bearing in mind what Marx said about abolishing prices and expanding spheres free of money, (in the previous article, ‘Post-Covid 2 – Dreams’), alludes to a unilateral option any sizable collective can create. They can do this independently of prevailing political and commercial conditions. But even if it aids local economies to function and thus contributes to capitalism, they still risk retaliation by reducing capitalist power. There is much more to be mutually gained from dissolving that conflict of interest. But, 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 for change.
So the only place this offer can come from is a collective of those who 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. The agencies and methods for doing so already exist. Never before has there been such an expanse of common interest and movement 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 value and is only a fraction of the free-sharing economy of NGOs, charities, voluntary organisations and familial care.
So 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 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 that 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 zero.
Because the 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 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 of giving it no equivalent monetary value. In other words even 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 rates have no cost and never deduct from anyone’s earnings. Employers would become willing accommodators of labour as equal partners in the process. The range it offers formal employers will be expansive within a very short period. Making this form of accounting an automatic self-contained individual right would eliminate even the question of costs and conflict and only one of practicability.
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, just as with the WIR, but at far greater scale.
Unlike the WIR, the parallel non-monetary economy (PNME) can decide to be 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 that 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 prevent profit maximising strategies, equalise opportunities and stimulate local infrastructure development.
Some authors have predicted the possibility of zero-cost monetary economies, 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 currency equates to zero monetary value but high tradable value, it “revolutionises the bourgeois economically” appealing to capitalists and effectively rendering commerce cost-free. Monetary balances will become solvent over time and may even become obsolete or too profitable to ever worry about. Overall it will have marginal impact on the functions of commerce and people’s everyday lives. Other forms of exchange may develop from this, but it is hard to imagine the need for any.
The final choice
All 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 commerce 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 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. 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 for.
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? If we don’t grasp it now, we may never have another chance. Now is the time; the question is only do we want to be, to carry on existing and live full, productive and rewarding lives.
Contributed: Kendal Eaton, author ‘A Chance For Everyone: the Parallel Non-Monetary Economy’