This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.
An overriding concern of many people participating in protests since 2010 has been the financial system. From the September 17, 2011 protests against financial institutions and the symbolism of Occupy Wall Street to the widespread discussion of alternative currencies, money received more air time than even human rights and war. The current human rights atrocities and endless wars did not even cause the Arab Spring; it was the unfairness of the economic systems (starting with the fining of a fruit seller in Tunisia) which were the initial driving force behind the 2011 protests. The current speculation regarding the possible collapse of the financial system focuses on possible replacements.
With all of this attention, it would be easy to assume that financial systems must be a very important part of any future economy. But must they? Before we discuss alternative systems or how to repair our current system, we need to look at why we need a financial system at all. If we define the function of our financial systems, form should follow easily, be it community currency, barter, p2p digital, resource based or other.
The current financial system functions as a means to tie the work that is done for corporations to basic essentials such as food and housing in an entirely artificial relationship. Despite an abundance of basic essentials, individuals or entire countries can be deprived of them based on the labour or rights they are providing to corporations. A system where banks, governments, and many other valueless institutions also stand between individuals and basic needs and demand payment completes the creation of true wage slavery where no worker can survive outside the system. By providing a complete disconnect between work required to produce basic essentials and ownership or access to them, this system also assures gross overabundance of resources for people who do no work of value at all. The financial system enables very inequitable distribution of resources.
Wages are commonly described as a motivator to work. We are told that no one would work if they were not paid. This is belied by the amount of people raising their children, cleaning their homes, tending their gardens, volunteering for fire departments and and writing open source software and it is belied by cultures in myriad times and places which survived happily without a financial system. Women in all cultures are expected to do very difficult, time consuming, laborious and high risk unpaid work to give birth and raise children, and in many cultures they remain as an almost entirely unpaid foundation of slave labour that the rest of the economy is built upon. What is referred to as women’s right to work is really the right to do paid corporate work. All of the work that benefits society is, has been or could easily be unpaid, while pay is only required for work that is harmful to society. Valuation of work rests with corporations and governments which ensure that workers will engage in pointlessly dangerous and immoral work that they would never do otherwise. People are paid to kill people. People are not paid to give birth. Is it now more socially acceptable to kill people than to give birth to people? Or is it just more immediately valuable to corporations? Wages were created not to motivate us to work, but to control our work.
The jobs that corporations and governments have chosen to value are almost entirely busywork, pointless jobs that would not exist in another system, jobs including but not limited to everything in sales, finance, management, politics, and more. The end result of corporate work is far too much product and products and services that are detrimental to society and the environment. Any attempts to stop corporate work are met with the cry that to do so would cause job loss, which is promoted as a great evil as under this system jobs equal basic essentials. Jobs are always touted as being in short supply, valuable, and difficult to obtain, especially the ‘good’ jobs that pay the most money. Jobs are, of course, not remotely scarce, any child can find hundreds of valuable things to do at any time, but these valuable jobs have not had an artificial monetary value associated with them.
Any for profit system is not going to have social or environmental goals as its mandate (even if it says it does) and a wage paying system is a for profit system. If profit were removed, all decisions would be made for social goals, prison systems would be trying to rehabilitate prisoners or study to find why they were in violation of the law instead of just warehousing as many as possible, medical research would be trying to improve health instead of selling pharmaceuticals, and agriculture would be devoted to producing the most nutritious food in the most environmentally responsible way. Removing profit would also remove a great deal of the reason for competitiveness, secrecy and spying within organizations, along with a great deal of the redundancy of competing companies providing identical goods and services. Removing wages attached to a specific system would give every individual the freedom to leave any system they did not agree with or that began to malfunction due to core team problems, a better alternative system or other. Removing profit eradicates the need for ownership of knowledge and many other assets.
On an international level, the financial system serves to artificially control which countries are wealthy and which are not. Many of the most resource rich countries in the world have destitute populations and the multinational corporations that own the ‘rights’ to their resources remove the wealth to other countries. At a national level, the financial system allows banks, who have no need of housing, to hoard millions of houses while the children that used to live in them sleep in the streets. At an individual level, the equating of life’s essentials with the financial system can control life or death, fulfillment or wasted potential, contentment or misery.
All of society’s problems which could be solved by money, were caused by money.
Paid work creates poverty. Anyone not enabling the corporations and doing their work lives in fear of the legal and societal persecution that comes with poverty. Poverty is the hardest work of any available today. It is a very expensive lifestyle, entailing endless fines, charges and fees levied by the corporate and government world. It leaves no time to achieve any fulfillment, is a life threatening health risk, and is extremely damaging to all personal relationships. It is naturally almost universally dreaded.
Poverty is also regarded as a moral failure, as society needs to blame the victim to avoid blaming themselves for the situation the poor find themselves in. In this way, courage, duty, industry, thrift, kindness, loyalty – all of the traditional virtues may be replaced simply by wealth, the ultimate virtue respected in society today. The very word ‘unemployed’ states idleness, although anyone who has been poor knows how much work is involved. Wealth is used synonymously with success and achievement. Paid work artificially values one job above another (and subsequently the person doing that job above the other) regardless of individual preference. While manual work might be considered more enjoyable than executive work by most people, since it provides exercise, social interaction and purpose, the assigned values teach us to value pointless executive work instead.
Paid work occupies all of our time, and when we are outside the financial system poverty is a full time job. This acts to cripple all volunteer work such as community gardens and open source projects that would otherwise be done for free and may undermine the system of wage control over individuals. For those that volunteer anyway, the financial system ensures that their work, such as child rearing or innovative thought, is kept from ever resulting in any kind of independence and encourages those volunteers to collaborate with the corporate system to obtain security. Volunteer work is also subject to the same moral scrutiny as poverty, especially in recent years when a requirement of being poor is frequently the oxymoronic compulsory volunteer work associated with receiving basic essentials. Previously the domain of the rich and idle, therefore commendable, volunteer work has now become tainted with the stench of poverty, further limiting willing participants.
Paid work feeds a consumer economy, both by providing the means to purchase and creating the demand and need for products. If people had time to play, exercise and eat healthy food, they would need less medical care. If they had time to care for each other, they would not need institutions and NGO’s for care. If they had time to help themselves and each other they would not require a vast array of sold products and services. They could also participate in a far wider variety of activities if they were not funnelled into filling one role only.
The current financial system is necessary to control our work, to control our time, to create poverty, to create division and to force people to do work which is harmful to society.
A modified system
It is possible, and frequently proposed, that the current financial system be modified to make it accessible for all to earn the basic essentials of life more easily. This could be done by having far more types of work valued, by providing various forms of charity, by forcing corporations to follow certain workplace standards and many other tweaks and regulations. All are in the end just modifications to the master slave relationship and none recognize the underlying flaws in the system. Who would be the authority valuing the work, administering the charity and enforcing the standards? Who has control of the wages? Whoever maintains authority over the work of others maintains the hierarchical system and prevents workers from having autonomy, mastery and control over their own work. This infantilization of workers, even in a system with worker’s rights, limits innovation, decreases satisfaction, and prevents workers from reaching their full potential.
If there is any financial system, there will be coercion outside the benefit of society. If there is demand for a house and someone is paid to build a house, that person will be elevated above someone helping the mentally ill or gardening. Building houses will then be seen as a more attractive choice of work regardless of personal affinity or the needs of society. Where people are paid to build houses, houses will be destroyed instead of preserved, people will be convinced they need newer, bigger houses, and all of the trappings of capitalism will continue.
A currency free system
It is possible for a society to function well with no financial system at all. Where surplus exists, it can be given, traded or pooled communally to ensure there is no want of basic essentials. The argument that only primitive societies can operate in such a fashion, our society is too complex, is not backed by any insurmountable obstacles. A moneyless system is unlikely to appear soon in its pure form, but it could exist to cover at least basic essentials or an expiring currency could be distributed as a guaranteed periodic income which would cover basic essentials. These options would a least ensure a society does not condemn a child to starvation because a parent cannot provide for them and it would relieve the pressing need to obey corporate authority. It would allow people to follow the path that for them provides the greatest satisfaction without being held to corporate slavery while we create an alternative system.
A great fear associated with abolishing wages or providing anything ‘for free’ is that some people may not work. This fear completely disregards the fact that there have always been people who will not work under the current system and they include the people receiving the highest monetary rewards. Nobody worries about those who are rich not working, just the poor; this seems to indicate a fear of shifting social status, not a fear of people not working. Because of the artificial monetary value assigned to some jobs, people who elect to do demanding and valuable work with no associated corporate wage are sneered at as ‘welfare mothers’, etc. and made to believe they are acting as parasites on society while corporate executives who provide no societal value are hailed as great successes. A 2010 study showed that executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals account for about 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent of income earners in the U.S. in recent years. In a system where all work was directly tied to the product or service produced, there would be far more societal pressure for people to do something of direct value, and the people contributing nothing would be exposed. With a more open system it would also be far easier for people with current difficulties getting work in the corporate environment to produce something of value.
The internet has always had a strong anti-currency bias. The earliest email spam promotions only served to increase the divide between the corporate world which took over the surface and the underground which remained as before, populated by people derisively referred to as parent’s basement dwellers due to the very real truth that their work seldom brought income. The difference between worlds is nowhere more apparent than between Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire Facebook creator and prodigy of the corporate world, and moot, founder of the most wildly influential, popular and completely unprofitable financially, website 4chan. With no financial incentives the internet has managed to create collaborative efforts which have pushed the potential of society far beyond what could have been possible before the internet.
While it is doubtful that freeing people to obtain basic essentials outside of corporate bondage would result in more people than usual not working, it is very likely that the increase in art and innovation would be dramatic. It would also change the perception in society of the value of volunteer work if it were necessary and open to everyone to participate in it, and the type of work produced would be valued by society, not corporations. Financial independence is really our term for being able to survive without society; what follows is the idea that if we are independent, our contributions to society are charitable and voluntary. This ‘independence’ is part of the system of dissociation that stands in our way of creating a real society.
It was once considered inconceivable that the world could run without slavery for the exact same reasons people are now putting forward for retaining wages, our modern slavery.
Writings on post financial system economy coming soon …