Thursday, April 18, 2019 -
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It’s the economy, smarty

MAYBE it’s time to invoke a modern Jubilee on the global economy. Jubilee is the Leviticus concept that every 50 years, with a sounding of the shofar on Yom Kippur, debts are forgiven, slaves freed, and title to lands let go. Basically, every half century, we start over.

As the Gulf of Mexico fills with oil, personal and national debts hit fabulous levels, incomes and ownership have so polarized that fewer than 20% of the world’s people control most of its resources, and nearly five billion people live in poverty — something’s got to give.

But first, let’s credit our amazing economic systems. They have so helped smooth out the inequitable distribution of world resources and opportunities, that food, water, shelter, health care and mobility have never been as widely accessible as they are today.

But we’ve hit a wall: we’ve supposedly run out of money to fund the systems — just as we’ve done in every recession and depression in history. Whether it’s buying equipment to prevent an undersea oil blowout, reforming health care or building “green,” we use the same old excuse: “We can’t afford this.”

This excuse reduces opportunities and stifles innovation. What would happen instead, if we jubilantly let go, and operated without money?

We know money contains no intrinsic value: we can’t eat, drink or plant it, use it for clothing, shelter or procreation.

Money can’t express non-monetary values, such as health, family, community, education, leisure or faith. And money’s buying power is unstable: it changes with supply, demand and levels of enterprise. Money’s not the root of all evil. It’s an addictive drug, and we’re unwilling to kick our habit. But kick it we must. Perhaps if we go back to the beginning, we can return with new perspectives.

THE basic no-money lifestyle is subsistence — like hunter-gatherer Israelites in the wilderness, but without the manna. It’s a self-sufficient and independent life, but it requires huge investments of time and labor to secure food, make clothing and shelter, raise young, tend domestic animals and migrate.

As tribes first made contact with one another and established societies, their members discovered new marvels they wanted or needed — tools, skills, adornments, even brides and grooms. To get these items, they had to find ways to trade for them, which meant setting values and prices.

As trading evolved into regional and transcontinental commerce, between kingdoms, city states and empires, means of pricing and trading evolved, too — from livestock and artifacts, to precious stones and metals, and finally, to a representation of them all, called “money.”

It’s human to seek the most return for the least investment. Thus, we’ve created everything from labor-saving devices to hybrid crops. Around money, we learned:

1) Where a product or service can’t be offered for trade, money can (which explains why we’re perennially unwilling to part with it, even as our sages’ exhort us to give it away for the common good).

2) It’s possible to make money on money, through “debt instruments” (e.g., mortgages, stocks, bonds), creating new mediums of exchange (e.g., platinum, taxes, carbon credits), and serving as transfer agents for money, goods and services. This ability has enabled money manipulators to repeatedly torpedo our economy.

3) Amassing exchange mediums can make us comfortable and even powerful. This time-honored form of hoarding is driven by fear of scarcity. It has spawned monumental deceits and mayhem, and prodigious catastrophes for societies and ecosystems. It has also spawned endless legal and taxation efforts to reign in hoarders and manipulators, and re-distribute their wealth.

4) Money-making focuses us on the future or past, not on present living.

So, how can we do things differently? Those who promote “stable” precious metals ignore its panic pricing, and the environmental damage its mining does. Those who advocate trading chickens for doctors’ care disregard the real costs of medical systems.

Those who create local currencies can’t move them beyond their localities. But taken together, these three views offer an interesting vision for a new economic model: base it on intrinsic value. Ours is already a largely cashless society. Now, let’s go money-less.

At its simplest, (see (1) above), the system would work on a national barter and exchange system, rather like carbon credit trading, using current financial and accounting frameworks. It would be managed through national syndicates or utilities, and resources, goods and services would be consumed, offered and traded first locally, then regionally, nationally, and internationally.

The system would boost local self-reliance, and free us to innovate and create opportunities, without agonizing over what we could afford.

It would change the natures of “fortunes”, “wealth” and “riches,” but we’d all stay well-fed and healthy. And we’d judge each based on our contributions, not our money. It may be crazy and idealistic, but it would make for a jubilant change.

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