This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world
It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. – Mary Wollstonecraft
An overriding concern of most people participating in the 2011 revolution has been the financial system. From the September 17 protests against the financial institutions and the symbolism of Occupy Wall Street to the widespread discussion of alternative currencies, money has received more air time than even human rights and war. Indeed, the current human rights atrocities and endless wars did not cause the revolution – it was the unfairness of the economic systems (starting with the fining of a fruitseller in Tunisia) which have been the driving force behind the 2011 protests.
With all of this attention, it would be easy to assume that financial systems are a very important part of any future society. But are 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 system
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.
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 writing open source software and it is belied by cultures in myriad times and places which survived happily without a financial system. Indeed it seems more as if all of the work that benefits society is 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. 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, and poorly distributed. Any attempts to stop this 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.
On an international level, the financial system serves to artificially control which countries are wealthy and which are not, by manipulating prices for a running shoe so that it is worth extremely little at the point of manufacture in China but people are killing each other for it in the US. At a national level it 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, where 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, when anyone who has been poor knows how much work is involved, while wealth is used synonymously with success and achievement. Paid work also artificially values one job above another (and subsequently the person doing that job above the other) regardless of individual preference. While menial work might be considered more enjoyable than executive work by most people, providing 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.
The current financial system is therefore 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 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.
A currency free system
It is possible to operate a society 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. This suggestion is frequently countered with the statement that only primitive societies can operate in such a fashion, our society is too complex, but that statement is never backed by any insurmountable obstacles. Such a system is unlikely to appear soon in its pure form, but could exist to cover at least basic essentials so that a society does not condemn a child to starvation because a parent cannot provide for them. It would then also be possible for people to follow the path that for them provides the greatest satisfaction without being held to corporate slavery.
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 and under the current system they include the people receiving the highest monetary rewards. 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 2010study showed that executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals account for about 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent of income earners in the US 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. In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
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 open to everyone to participate in it, and the type of work produced would be valued by society, not corporations.
A system which does not allow property ownership overlooks the fact that property ownership always exists, it has simply transferred ownership, with all of the rights and responsibilities, to a group instead of an individual.
Property ownership causes problems when control of property is held outside of the user group. When a community owns an individual’s home, an individual owns a community’s public space, or a nation state lays claim to an ocean, problems are inevitable. Ownership implies rights and decision making; as with other systems, the rights and decision making for property must lie with the user group of that property to minimize conflict and provide the most effective stewardship. Property ownership will be discussed further in a later article.
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.
Cooperative Economy in the Great Depression http://jonathanrowe.org/money-cooperative-economy-in-the-great-depression
Image credit MauroB