Covid Capitalism or Corvée?

“We are in a war against an invisible enemy” Boris Johnson (20 March 2020). This is in addition to various visible enemies, as exhibited throughout 21st century economic and political policies against mass populations and even the planet itself.
                The Covid 19 virus is indiscriminate and brutal. Yet political fiscal policy does discriminate. Across the globe it has deliberately used prejudice and puerile concepts of nationalism and patriotism to foster protectionism; Brexit one of the latest exponents of this short-sightedness. The marginalisation of vast populations through austerity can also be described as on-going civil conflicts. Yet addressing a 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. Once again the poorest in our communities are the ones having to pay – with their jobs, businesses and lives – for the incompetence and wilful exploitation by those controlling monetary markets. And it is painfully clear to governments that, this time, they cannot afford to pay in money for Corona virus. Not in the short term.
                   But lack of money never deterred anyone prior to the 2008 crash. Is it not obvious by now that money is our inhibiter, not facilitator? 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, once again, global recession. If you’re inclined to challenge this, just try to complete an international transaction in different currencies, see how long it takes banks and what they charge you. Try to deposit cash from abroad. Check if even your chosen international bank allows access to your account at branches abroad. I suggested to Halifax, (whilst abroad), that the five-business-day delay in confirming an instant electronic international exchange transaction could more effectively be abridged by loading the cash onto a mule and transporting it over land. And they agreed. “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 UNFCCC. Money is no longer fit for purpose, except for controlling masses of people through willful 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. Talk on television news revealed that while some are dancing in front of their screens and in the streets, Covid 19 could be simultaneously generating and preventing riots and looting. One poverty food-bank in Essex the first casualty. No shortages of food and supply manufacturing; yet the store shelves remain bare. Some claim that outlets are suppressing deliveries to prevent panic buying, yet only constantly stocked shelves prevent panic buying and raise sales in the short term. Most fiscal measures prioritised corporate relief, again pandering to the patently failed trickle-down myth, while banks instructed to rescue small and medium sized businesses from going under hike interest rates for short term gain. 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.
                  Western democracies are seeing a small taster of the scale of financial hardship fragmenting other communities around the world. It doesn’t bear thinking about where it will lead. But western culture is brilliant at burying people’s heads in the quicksand of war analogies. This conveniently didn’t work for the proposed Green New Deal. 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 comfortable functioning of the global market.
                  A few scriptural examples are worthy of note in this instance. Jesus of Nazareth was canny; while he advised all his disciples to abandon their businesses, as god would provide and “every worker is worthy of his wages,” at the same time he advised them to use money to make friends for themselves in high places – in other words, to pay “Caesar’s things to Caesar” without conflict and to influence friends to boost chances of favourable considerations during crises. Sound familiar? Back in the days of Joseph’s incarceration in Egypt, his vision of seven fat cows followed by seven emaciated cows secured his appointment as chief treasurer and bearer of Pharaoh’s seal. The effect to the populace was to stockpile by means of increased taxation during the seven years of plenty – as a loan to the administration. It worked, and the government sustained its residents through the famine. Later, Egypt’s pharaoh Setnakhte had got prolific building production by rewarding and caring for the workforce. His son Ramses III, during a drought, whiplashed the population into producing bricks without water, which ended in mass revolt. These were spiritual parodies, but aptly reflect how most of neoliberal capitalism has practically worked through its application; politically through financialization, exploiting cheap or free labour, threatening working rights and the increase in technological production plugging the gap for absent years of plenty, (that is for 99% of the population). So why are we so surprised the public cannot cough up for Covid 19? Corporations bellow at governments for bailouts from the public purse to protect their multi-million/billion dollar profits. How poorly managed must these accounts be, if companies have no contingency plans for short periods of crisis?
                And how can we rely on altruism against those that are criminal inhumane exploits (as in Syria and other conflicts), opportunistic profiteering, punitive political strategies and those manipulating foreign policy to de-stabilise 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 AN ECONOMIC 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 wartime? “‘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 acts 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 of emergency infrastructure and securing mass production of needed resources and PPE, tests 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 national debt.

All change.

It is difficult to predict how the global population is going to come out of this and simply carry on the same way as before – yet rest assured this will be the chief aim of elite capitalists and the governments in their pockets. 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 this idea is no concession from government or from capitalists.
               Yet Corvée could lead to much more. It illustrates there are different forms of accounting for human labour in a monetary economy even when it is not money. The parallel non-monetary market 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 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. This also omits the everyday work people do for each other that is not considered or recorded as such and the constant effort of campaigns organised by groups, or individuals, to raise sponsorships and collections for charities.”

               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. And, as we know, most capitalist transactions are practically non-monetary already. 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. “‘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 in a new and better society—whether they are of socialist or anarchist or libertarian inspiration. Every proposal I have seen for some kind of ‘market socialism’ would retain those constraints. It is way past time to transcend them once and for all…’ (Harry Cleaver – ‘Rupturing the Dialectic: the struggle against work, money and financialization’). Yet to rupture this dialectic, by removing markets as a valid way of facilitating sharing, seems utopian against the extent of violent capitalistic oppression facing us. An unrealistic step too far from immediate realistic 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 consisting of circulating personnel in non-permanent, non-political roles. The PNME of the 99%.
                This is an opportunity to reinvent, for blue-sky thinking and a consensus approach, using existing technology and processes implemented in various applications we are familiar with. Rather than a sea-change in philosophical human interaction, or adopting previous failed political ideologies, or expending time and exhaustive energies in protracted campaigns to force corporate and political leaders to grow moral consciences; the parallel non-monetary economy of the 99% utilises what we already have around us, to form the greatest collective economic force the world has ever seen and will ever see.
                 Corvée is only a convenient conduit. A catalyst to a more permanent established parallel system that never threatens but only aids capitalists who prefer to stick with their old 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 UBIs 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 that beyond-optimum employment and zero-cost production radicalising commerce, making it profitable and turning monetary capitalism solvent? By a process of osmosis, money will eventually become an irrelevance or even obsolete. It simply doesn’t have to be a choice of one or the other. These are just a few of the dozens of gargantuan benefits the PNME of the 99% can offer in mass scale.
                Neoliberal policy has forced this situation over the past three decades. 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 is way overdue. The parallel non-monetary economy offers every person a real economic stake not only in their immediate future in combatting the Corona virus, but in our collective outcome and the state of the planet, crucially side-lined by this more immediate threat.

Contributed – Kendal Eaton – all quotations from: ‘A Chance For Everyone: The Parallel Non-Monetary Economy’ (Sounding Off UK Publications 2019).


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