This post is about social change. It attempts to show how the pursuit of artistic goals can be used as a driver to reform society and the economy into something more benign to life and far more equitable. It will also show how creativity is the key to value creation, the improvement of the quality of life and hence a global mechanism for just value exchanges. Because creativity is effectively limitless (being limited only by the population) the post will sketch the outline of a possible revolution of the mind which could result in abundance, instead of artificial scarcity.
“At this time (after thousands of years of invention and discovery) when real scarcity has at last been vanquished, we are maintaining artificial scarcity because of sheer ignorance. Technologically, the people on board Spaceship Earth are all billionaires who are entirely unaware of their good fortune. Unbeknownst to them, their legacy is being held in probate by general ignorance, fear and greed.” – R. Buckminster Fuller.
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling…their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy.
Money, issued, controlled and accumulated in the manner it is today, creates perverse incentives. I’ll say that again. Money creates perverse incentives. Markets haven’t worked. They have caused demonstrably poor outcomes for society, rather than optimal ones. Markets are rigged and broken. We have to give up on the notion that they can be regulated and fixed. They have not delivered. Markets encourage unequal value exchanges, whereby the seller seeks to deliver as little value as possible, while gaining the highest price (hence the greater number of value storage units). This is what we call profit. It encourages swindling.
Beyond that, two people may transact some business in a market, which can have terrible adverse consequences on a third party (who may not even be born yet), but because they are not present at the transaction, their costs are incurred anyway, perhaps at some far future date, due to their underrepresentation at the initial deal transaction. Were it possible for them to be a party to the deal, it might not have ever transacted at all. This is why markets fail. Not everyone affected can be at the deal making moment.
In the current global economy, somebody can represent themselves as successful, because they have a large accumulation of money, when it is patently obvious that the activities which enabled them to amass such wealth have actually degraded the quality of life for the many and often for other species as well. How is this any realistic measure of success? Clearly there’s something wrong with how money flows, because it can reward human behaviours that lay waste to the environment and which utterly degrade and destroy life.
In fact, the accounting is dishonest, because while the person, or more frequently corporation, can represent themselves as successful, they have not counted the costs. They have defrayed the costs to other (presumably) less successful people and to animals and other life forms that maintain no accounts, as if this, in some way, makes the costs invisible. They go away by the simple expedient of nobody counting them. This practice is wholly fraudulent, because life incurs very real costs, whether or not these appear on the balance sheets of the “successful”.
Perhaps the factor that creates the most perverse incentives, however, is that money’s issuance is strictly controlled by issuing all money as debt, meaning a game of musical chairs is started, whenever new money enters the economy and when the music stops, somebody is the bankrupt. That’s how the game goes. To prevent being the one left holding the debt without an ability to pay (or an ability to pay it by creating new debt), people engage in desperate, twisted behaviours. Buck passing, or more correctly, debt unloading, is a way of life. This artificial scarcity, created simply by making more money due in repayment of the debt than actually exists, causes desperate people to do desperate things. They become a danger to themselves, to the environment and especially to others.
What would be needed to effect a social change that accounted for the damage, did not encourage harmful behaviours and which provided incentives for the enhancement of the quality of life?
The thing about revolutions is that they cannot just be about the changes brought about. They have to describe normal life for ordinary people, after the change is made, for them to have any meaning or legitimacy. Too many revolutions concentrate on the moment of overthrow and have little to say about what happens next. That’s no good. You can’t have people just making it up as they go, once the change has been achieved. A revolution that has value will be one where people know how to think and act after the changes take place and that life continues, but in a better way. A revolution cannot be simple window dressing for the fact that a new bunch of thugs have replaced the old bunch of thugs. Structures and institutions have to fundamentally change. Ideas have to change.
What kinds of ideas might actually have longevity? With which particular ideas can a revolution of the mind begin? Of course, there are many new ideas that are revolutionary, which can take humanity forward, so trying to enumerate them is futile. No matter how long and how good the list, it will always leave something of great importance out. With that said, what follows are a few ideas that are favourites of mine.
One of the best revolutionary ideas is to decide to do your very best work, no matter what you do, at all times. This requires a simple decision, but it is very empowering and it gives you dignity. If you are producing your best art, or your finest work, every time you set to the task, then your legacy is one of integrity and quality. That’s a very good basis for change. If everybody does this, then the world becomes the best we can make it, almost by definition. We can’t collectively do any better (provided that our work is not fundamentally destructive of our world). Even if only some of us do this, the world is still improved through our efforts.
Notice that through this one revolutionary idea we destroy cynical occupations, time serving and taking without giving. There is no war, no destruction, and no violent revolution. Factories are not smashed. Weapons are not drawn. The authorities are not confronted. All we do is make better things though our everyday efforts and more importantly, refuse to make anything that is not good, which we cannot stand behind with pride. Imagine what a difference that single idea could make. This is a true revolution of the mind. Simply decide to act as though you wanted every piece of your work to enhance the quality of everybody’s life.
There’s an old adage that money changes everything. What if we changed the money? Wouldn’t that change everything too? In the distant past, human affairs were not constrained by the debt money we use today. In fact, that sort of money is a fairly recent invention, in anthropological time scales. We know that the vast majority of money that circulates and is created today is represented as numbers in computerised bank accounts. It’s stored as electrons in solid state memory devices.
Why does that money need to have the characteristics and rules we have bestowed on it? Are there other forms of organising money and trade that don’t suffer from some of the demonstrable and egregious flaws in our current monetary system? For one thing, our current system causes poverty. Poverty doesn’t just happen. It’s actually brought into being because of the rules we have ascribed to our money system. Change the rules and you have a chance of eliminating poverty entirely.
Some people advocate a resource based economy and it has many arguments in its favour. Historically, though, we’ve tended to use systems of mutual credit. We keep a tab on what value we have delivered to other people, but they keep tabs on us and it all somehow avoids a day of reckoning, because life goes on. It is the habit of people in such systems to over-deliver to each other, so that they always provide more value in return than they are credited with taking. This is where the first thought comes to bear. If you make your best work always, then every value exchange is the most valuable it can be.
There would be nothing to stop us engineering a crypto currency, which existed on a network of home based servers, connected to each other in a giant peer to peer network – a distributed data centre in the suburbs, rather than in the cloud, if you will. If you then issued credit at the point of value creation and exchange, where value creation is defined as those acts that improve the quality of all life, as adjudicated by members of your community and others downstream, then suddenly you have a money system that works quite unlike the acquisitive, greed-based system we all tolerate today. It recognises that the issuance of money is not something somebody does at a whim; it is tied to an act of improvement of the quality of life for all living things. It is regulated by the community as a whole. There is only as much money circulating as is needed to enable everybody to do their very best work. No more and no less.
Your own ability to issue credit is regulated by your own creditworthiness – a judgement by your community about the value of the work you produce, relative to improving the life of all living things. This is the application of direct democracy techniques, as described by David Graeber in his book “The Democracy Project”, to decide how much credit worthiness to award to each community member. With social media being a real, existing technology, your community can be global as well as local. This is just the description of one of the many possible currencies or systems of mutual credit that could exist. However, is shows that we only need be stuck with the design flaws of the current monetary system if we choose to be.
We are all brought up to be in thrall of the superiority and ultimate supremacy of the current global monetary system, which only decided on how global trade would be conducted after the second world war, only decided to be controlled by the Federal Reserve in the early years of the twentieth century and only decided to be divorced from the gold standard in the nineteen seventies. Those ideas are articles of faith and belief, not laws of physics. We are brainwashed into believing in them as God-given, from childhood, but quite deliberately and cynically, by the people that benefit most from the money system being designed this way. Even their benefits from this system are now wearing thin. This is at the root of the crisis in global finance. It doesn’t serve anybody very well, anymore.
Experimental crypto currencies like Bitcoin are already demonstrating the viability of alternative designs of money, encoded as a crypto currency. Bitcoin suffers from the fact that it issues money independent of real value creation. Rather, Bitcoins are most cheaply minted if you are able to purloin or otherwise steal the computing resources of unsuspecting dupes. That’s a fairly poor basis for a monetary system. For one thing, bad money drives out good and secondly, it does not have a guard against inflation or deflation, since the volume of money in circulation has nothing whatsoever to do with humanity doing its very best work. The two happen disconnectedly and any truly viable monetary system has to bond currency issuance to value creation to stand a chance.
We know two things that are wrong with our currency today. Firstly, lenders require payments of interest, as if the money borrowed somehow else could have earned a usage fee greater than your value creation application of that money can, so you must be forced to pay a fee for the privilege of having that money to use and be grateful. Another way of looking at this is to recognise the second flaw of the currency we use today. Money at rest produces no value exchanges. Savings are, from the point of view of velocity of money, a bad thing. A pile of money sitting static in a vault (even a virtual one) enables no trading or work to be paid for. It just sits there, doing nothing. Money only has value when it is enabling the exchange of value.
It’s just as valid to charge lenders a demurrage fee for money at rest, because it is failing to do useful work in the economy, as it is to charge borrowers interest. In fact, if you charge only demurrage fees, there is a tendency to limit the amount of currency issued and for the currency that does exist to circulate around the economy at a rapid rate, producing lots of value exchanges per annum, relative to its face value. Under a demurrage system, money at rest loses value, over time, until it becomes truly worthless. It’s the opposite of interest. That’s an interesting alternative property for money, but one that is rarely used, because those that live on interest, the most powerful in our current society, can no longer do so under such a scheme. They have to get up and create real value for a living. They’re forced into doing better work than sitting around waiting for handouts on money that had no alternative use anyway. The opportunity cost myth, used as a justification for charging interest on money loaned, is dispelled and exposed for what it really is – a convenient lie.
Under a monetary system that had characteristics such as the ones described above, wealth would flow to those that increased the quality of all life most and away from those that degraded or destroyed it. Surely that’s what we want, as a society. We’ve had quite a lot of waste, destruction and degradation of the environment and of people’s lives, in the name of profit. Why not organise money so that it was designed to produce creativity, enhancements to life and protection of the environment instead? The design is within our power to devise. To adopt it requires only a collective choice.
In a mutual credit system similar to the one described, your community may decide to issue “discredits” to people that obviously degrade the quality of life, through their activities and work. In other words, their credit worthiness would go down, if they engaged in, say, the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, chemical pollutants or activities that poisoned the water supply. Pretty soon, under a system of discredits, it would be unprofitable to be rapacious, to destroy needlessly, to inflict indiscriminate suffering and to enslave. In fact, it would be damned hard to even live a life dedicated to that, because all your credit would soon be eaten away. Interesting thought, isn’t it? A currency designed to encourage and incentivize positive behaviour, instead of destructive ones.
The vexed question of taxation arises in any currency system. We’re told that only two things are certain in life – death and taxes. Well, maybe taxes are not certain. In a mutual credit system where currency is issued at the point of value creation, regulated by your community, through the application of direct democracy techniques, the necessity for taxation melts away. Why? Because all the things that taxation is supposed to pay for, but in reality are starved of funds as the tax payments are diverted to line the pockets of the corrupt, are already paid for. The care of the mentally ill or the elderly are acts of genuine value creation. Money is issued when they occur. Similarly, anybody that treats the sick, undertakes voluntary acts of urban renewal, teaches, produces wholesome, nutritious food, makes environmentally responsible cars, or picks up litter is creating value that enhances the lives of the living. They are paid because money is created at the point of value creation.
In the same way, those activities that are antithetical to life, such as the production of war machinery and materials, weapons, the intimidation industry, imprisonment of the non-dangerous, the use of offshore sweat shops and child labour, the foreclosure industry, speculation on financial instruments, human trafficking, drug dealing, protection rackets, fraudulent credit and discredit issuers, advertising, marketing and public relations – those jobs lumped under the category of “bullshit” jobs by some authors (jobs that really don’t need to be done at all, to improve the quality of life, but are done solely to earn a living under the existing monetary system), all create discredits at the point of activity execution.
Ownership of IP swings both ways, depending on whether or not the IP is put to the use of improving the quality of all life or diminishing that quality of life. The insurance industry would transform radically, only able to create value at the point of cleaning up the consequence of some unforeseen misfortune. In fact, the community could have done that too. The insurance industry wouldn’t really be a net contributor to quality of life.
As the currency operates on the basis of direct democracy and drives out crime and behaviours antithetical to life, the need for governance comes into question. Why? What value would it add? It has always been an absurdity to imagine that people are not capable of governing themselves, but that there are special humans that have the wisdom and skills to govern hundreds of millions of the rest of us. This monetary system would usher in anarchy, with a small “a”. Non-violently.
“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker.
David Graeber’s article on Bullshit Jobs (http://www.strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/) is worth reading in full. As an aside, he wrote a remarkable book called “Debt: The First Five Thousand Years” which everybody should read and understand. It gives lie to the myth of where money came from. It also foretells the only thing that can happen when debt gets out of hand, as debt undoubtedly has, at this moment in history. The debt must be cancelled and always has been, historically. He addresses the myths and belief system that prevents us from cancelling debt and explains why the moral imperatives that we all buy into about debt and owing are all without basis. I, for one, rate his analysis of the world of work quite highly (in the article linked to above). Here are some quotations from the article:
“The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.”
In fact, I hope I have shown here that while work is a moral value in itself, nothing whatsoever compels you to give it away to somebody else. It can be the very basis of currency issuance. Another few quotes from the article:
“Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.”
“What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law?”
“In our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.”
“It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)”
My view is that these people don’t simply vanish or die. They learn to earn their worth by doing things that benefit society instead, incentivized by a well designed monetary system. Value is created whenever they benefit life in general. That’s what all these people would have to start to do, or else live in newly found penury. What stops us?
People have always been dismissive of creative people and artists, who earn some money, but love what they do. The cry they utter, in defence of their undervaluation of these activities and these artists, is (again, quoting Graeber):
“You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”
We should all expect to be cared for by the society we live in, not thrown to the wolves for want of currency. If it were a value creating activity that actually resulted in the addition of credit to one’s account to take care of the elderly, feed them, house them and keep them warm, or to heal the sick and injured, there would be no pensions, health insurance, health care profit centres (in the old sense) or people willing to discard the most vulnerable and needy that have no means of payment.
Commenting on the design of our current monetary system, Graeber says:
“If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value.”
Author Edward McClelland wrote an article in Salon, explaining why the wages of the middle classes are so low. It, too, is worth reading in its entirety: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/30/the_middle_class_myth_heres_why_wages_are_really_so_low_today/ Here is an interesting quote from that article:
“Workers are not simply paid according to their skills, they’re paid according to what they can negotiate with their employers. And in an era when only 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and when going on strike is almost certain to result in losing your job, low-skill workers have no negotiating power whatsoever.”
To me, this is a failure of community evaluation of the true worth of a person’s value creation contribution to society. A system that uses direct, community democracy to evaluate the worth of an individual’s contribution avoids this problem, without resort to unions, though I personally think that collective levelling of the value of contributions made by a whole class of workers has some value.
McClelland goes on to say:
“The white-collar worker has kind of a Bob Cratchit attitude,” he explained. “He feels he’s a half-step below the boss. The boss says, ‘Call me Harry.’ He feels he’s made it. You go to a shoe store, they got six managers. They call everybody a manager, but they pay ’em all shit.”
“The anti-labour movement’s greatest victory has been in preventing the unionization of the jobs that have replaced well-paying industrial work.”
“Because they’re educated and sit safely at desks, they don’t think of themselves as blue-collar mopes who need to strike for higher pay and better working conditions. The fact that many of today’s college graduates have the same standard of living as the lowest-skilled workers of the 1960s proves that attitude is wrong, wrong, wrong.”
It’s tragic that most artists are valued even more lowly that the desk sitters described above.
Debt is a fiction, based on intimidation, opprobrium and a twisted morality that says to borrow money, generated out of thin air, requires obligation and servitude to the lender. Poverty is a consequence of this belief system, not a physical law. We suffer scarcity only because we don’t choose abundance.
Value creation and credit are disconnected. They don’t have to be and the economy works better when they aren’t.
Some people, under the current method of valuing people and their work, get their “credit” in weekly lumps, called a salary, but only after they have proven their worth to their employer. Others inherit their credit at birth. From their first breath, their ability to produce value is assumed, without them having to produce a single thing of value. It’s thought to be in their blood. Has there ever been a more preposterous way of accrediting value to somebody’s life and their output? Still others are credited as if they were a value creator, when they are in fact value destroyers. We don’t distinguish. Then there are those that produce massive value, but never get the credit due (e.g. Van Gogh). The moment in your life when you get your credit seems to be the great differentiator and there is no valid reason why it should be this way, dictated as it is by strange and arbitrary rules. A system that credits you at the moment of value creation ensures that this particular playing field, the moment in your life when credit is given, is levelled.
Think what you could have done in your twenties, if somebody could have accurately predicted the value you would eventually go on to create, and just handed you the funds to get on with it (effectively bringing your credit forward from the moment of value creation). This, too, is a possibility under a redesigned monetary system. Under our current system, most people are assumed to be wastrels, unless this is proven otherwise, but in consigning creative individuals to the ranks of the assumed worthless, it is hard to prove what you can do. You are constrained by that prejudice. Even credit is a fiction and a belief system, in reality.
In a recently published statistic, it was asserted that eighty five of the richest people in the world own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. What does “own” mean in this context? It means they lay claim to it and that they convince armies of paid underlings and lackeys to defend their ownership of it, on their behalf, by the simple expedient of paying them crumbs to do so. These eighty five people, even if united, couldn’t possibly fight off the 3.5 billion, if they had a mind to seize the wealth they claim to own. It’s only the corruption of the paid underlings that uphold this monstrous inequity. If these underlings had the option of earning credit, due to their participation in acts that enhance the quality of life and were, in fact, discredited for maintaining the inequity, how soon would that ownership of wealth, claimed by the lucky eighty five, crumble? The ownership claimed is simply indefensible, in every sense of the word.
We have the power to replace the existing money system and its system of distorted incentives, overnight. We just have to decide to use the new and refuse to accept the old. A revolution of the mind is a real possibility. The adoption of a new monetary system would, of course, have consequences for corporate structure and ownership, the ownership of shares, stocks and bonds, living off unearned wealth, and military conquest in the interests of imposing imperial trade measures. Positive consequences, in fact. Positive, because they will all suddenly be valued against the yardstick of enhancing the quality of all life. If they do the opposite and reduce the quality of life, then they will simply be priced out of the economy.
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it” – Frederic Bastiat.
“This must be said: There are too many ‘great’ men in the world–legislators, organizers, do-gooders, leaders of the people, fathers of nations, and so on, and so on. Too many persons place themselves above mankind; they make a career of organizing it, patronizing it, and ruling it” — Frederic Bastiat
We can change the world, through the ideas that we hold up as truth. Creativity and the contribution of work that enhances life on earth can be the basis for all trade and transactions. The technology is within our grasp. The ideas are available. Only the choice is left to be made.
An economy designed for the betterment of all should respond to human needs with alacrity, not scarcity.
(By the way, this is my 500th post! Thanks for reading!)