Sunday, June 28, 2009
Show Me The Money
Almost a month ago I was given a book by its author. His name is Tom Greco and his book is "The End of Money and the Future of Civilization." I thought I'd read the book casually, skim most of it and then say something nice to the author. The bottom line is that I just finished the book yesterday. I became fascinated by it, read it carefully, savored every page and came away from the experience far more enthusiastic about the book than I am for our modern financial system.
Unlike most books about money it doesn't serve as an alternative to a sleeping potion. Unlike most books about money that identify the problems with our monetary system, "The End of Money..." not only defines the problems but also identifies the solution to the current crisis.
The book is readable, entertaining, enlightening and understandable to anyone, not just monetary students.
Tom Greco strips away the mysteries that blind most of us to the functioning of debt money and fractional reserve banking. He explains how money is created by monetizing debt and the resultant twin imperatives for ever more debt and unsustainable growth to feed the insatiable demands of compound interest.
But then the book gets really interesting when Greco shows that there are various alternatives to the current debt based monetary system that address its defects and offer incredible promise of enabling a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for all. And, these alternative systems aren't something that Greco dreamed up or that have never been tested. Rather he describes and demonstrates several examples from around the world that have survived, in some cases for decades. Greco also provides a candid description of the problems alternative monetary systems must confront, including many that are self inflicted by the organizers and users of the systems.
Read the whole review here.
Newsletter No. 24 - June 2009
(3) Thomas Greco, THE END OF MONEY and the FUTURE OF CIVILIZATION, Chelsea Green, Vermont, 2009, paperback, 268 pp.
Tom Greco has been for many years an acknowledged champion of free, decentralised, community currencies. I enthusiastically recommend the second half of his book to anyone who wants to know more about the case for them and the practicalities of setting them up.
I also applaud the first hundred pages. They offer a devastating criticism of the present "monopolistic control over credit, exercised through a banking cartel armed with government-granted privilege" which "allows wealth to be extracted from producer clients and, despite the trappings of democracy, the control of governments to be maintained in the hands of a few. Credit is allocated on a biased basis to favoured clients, including central governments, which distorts both the system of economic rewards and the exercise of political power".
I agree wholeheartedly with that diagnosis of the problem.
It is when we come to what we should do about it that I question Tom Greco's realism. He dismisses as unrealistic the aim of transferring to public agencies the function of issuing the public money supply debt-free in the public interest under effective democratic control at national and international levels. He assumes that national political power and global financial interests will successfully combine to stop that happening.
But it is surely even more unrealistic to hope that that problem can be by-passed by persuading people to drop out of the unreformed mainstream money system and rely on "private initiative and the creative application of new technologies and methods" instead. Can pioneers of the new local community currencies develop them quickly and widely enough to liberate millions, let alone billions, of us from our present dependence on the unreformed big banks and big governments to provide for our money needs?
If ever a sizeable number of people did look like succeeding in that, the unreformed big banks and governments would surely combine to stamp them out, as they stopped the growth of complementary currencies in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
A careful reading of the book encourages me to hope that Greco may be shifting from his earlier views on this point. In Chapter 19 on The Role of Governments in Establishing Economic and Financial Stability he does, in fact, set aside his selective pessimism about mainstream monetary reform. He advocates legislation to achieve what are many of its aims. He also hopes not to drive a divisive wedge between would-be allies, but to promote a deeper understanding between 'reformers' and 'transformers' in pursuing a common fundamental goal - 'empowerment of people' (p110).
The 'both/and' nature of what we need to do is clear: we need both to support complementary currencies and economic decentralisation; and we need to recognise that that won't happen without either mainstream monetary reconstruction or the almost total collapse of human society in its present form.
Book Review: The End of Money
by Elizabeth Barrette on June 5, 2009
This book takes a look at how “the economy” evolved, what causes its instability, and what could be done to create a healthier exchange system. The early chapters describe the author’s personal background in economics, crisis and metamorphosis, and opposing philosophies of control.
The next several chapters concern economic evolution: central banking and the rise of the money power, usury, inflation, and related issues. Greco proposes the separation of money and state as a solution to many economic problems. He also discusses the evolution of money from commodity money to credit money and how the emergence of credit clearing could help solve the money problem. He takes a detailed look at the alternative exchange movement, how complementary currencies succeed or fail, and the ups and downs of commercial trade exchanges.
Later chapters delve into applying possible solutions: regional economic development, web-based trading platforms, useful forms and structures for organizations, the role of governments, and ways of storing value. Two strong appendices present a model membership agreement for credit clearing and an objective composite standard measure of value. The chapter notes, references, and index are thorough and well done.
The End of Money and the Future of Civilization averages out to three stars because it does some things well and others poorly. On the up side, it clearly explains the evolution of money and economics, providing an excellent overview of relevant history and how we got into this mess. It also introduces some excellent concepts, such as the halalor “equity” mortgage that avoids debt by having the lender and borrower share ownership in real estate; if you want to buy a house, definitely research that option. Another is the credit-clearing organization, which largely avoids the use of money by using open accounts which are periodically balanced. On the down side, this book tries to make a case for largely doing away with hard cash, and it’s not very convincing in that regard. There are too many possible problems which are not adequately addressed, such as how much easier it is for errors to occur with “virtual” money and how much harder those are to correct with no hardcopy tokens or records. The writing is relatively clear and well organized, but it’s definitely on the dry side.
This book will be most useful to students of economics or people interested in exploring alternative exchange systems such as local currencies or credit-clearing. It’s also worth a look if you want to understand what’s wrong with the economy today, particularly if you like to write about current economic events. Recommended.
Rudolf Steiner and Thomas Greco - Two Monetary Minds
A comparative review of Tom Greco’s book The End of Money and The Future of Civilisation
Arthur Edwards March 2009 - mail (at) arthuredwards.net
For anyone who has studied Rudolf Steiner’s economic thinking, Tom Greco’s monetary analysis will strike a chord. On key questions such as the need for separation of money and state and the logic of a differentiated idea of money, their analyses converge. Steiner’s many distinctive observations are seconded in Greco’s account, providing independent corroboration thereby of the logic of his thinking. The fact that the overlap is not complete, that the language used and the emphasis differs, suggests that an objective truth may be described from diverse perspectives.
Greco, like Steiner, emphasises exchange as the archetypal economic act, drawing his argument from this concrete phenomenon rather than the abstraction of institutional analysis. He proposes ‘solutions that are entrepreneurial and innovative, based on bottom-up organization and voluntary association.’ Moreover such solutions should incorporate lessons learned about what works. Change is premised upon proper understanding and how effective design can transform existing arrangements. This article higlights significant areas of overlap in the following area:
a) The Metamorphosis of Society
b) Economics Rather Than Politics
c) The Threefold Nature of Social Life
d) The End of Money?
e) Differentiated Money
f) Global Economy
g) Money as Accounting
h) The Future of Civilisation
a) The Metamorphosis of Society
Greco brings together 3 key ideas that have correspondences with Steiner’s social thinking, namely: 1) The organic nature of the social process 2) The further evolution of human society as a consciously undertaken choice 3) The need to recreate social forms out of core ideas and values. He pays heed to the principle of metamorphosis not as an inevitable concomitant of human evolution but as a conscious aim: ‘the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into the butterfly might offer us an apt analogy for our changing civilization. I believe that the ‘caterpillar’ stage of human evolution is now coming to an end. The disintegrating caterpillar body cannot be sustained or reconstructed, it can only proceed with the metamorphic process, which means a complete disintegration as it becomes a resource ‘soup’ that feeds the emergent butterfly. We are on the verge of a complete redesign and rebuilding of all our political, economic, social, and cultural structures—the things that are hard-wired through our, laws, institutions, and social norms. The structures we need to create must be consistent with the values we espouse and the outcomes we wish to produce. These both determine and are determined by who we are, how we behave, and how we interact. If we are fortunate, we will succeed in emerging as the new creature that I think humanity was always destined to become.’
b) Economics Rather Than Politics
While acknowledging the existence of countervailing established interests, Greco disassociates himself from ‘coercion or the forced redistribution of wealth’ and warns against a politically enacted monetary reform agenda, preferring instead to follow the example of Dee Hock in attempting ‘to reconceive, in the most fundamental sense, the very ideas of bank, money, and credit card’ and Buckminster Fuller in shifting ‘efforts from the political arena to participate in the design revolution.’
c) The Threefold Nature of Social Life
Steiner and Greco belong to the small group of monetary thinkers who see a separation of money and state as an aspect of humanity’s evolution toward true democracy. Steiner describes the threefold nature of social life, meaning the need for economic life to subsist in its own arrangements as an independent element within the social order, rather than one that is fused together with cultural norms or the political process. Greco follows Riegel and other thinkers with libertarian leanings in wanting to liberate ‘the exchange process from the dominance of political and banking interests’, for it is this unholy alliance that holds together the status quo. On this question Greco comes close to identifying some of the distinctions that Steiner holds as fundamental. Namely, he argues for the introduction of a principle analogous to the now widely accepted separation of church and state: the separation of money and state.
Three Realms of Society
Church - Religious Freedom Spiritual / Cultural Life - Individual Liberty
State - Civil Government Rights Life - Equality in Community
Money - Voluntary Exchange Economic Life - Fraternity among Humanity
Greco’s interest in and analysis of the American Constitution, founded upon the principles of freedom of thought and equality of rights lead one to ask whether one might add an independently managed economic life based on the principle of initiative and voluntary cooperation to constitute an apt trinity.
d) The End of Money?
For both thinkers too, there is an urgent need to understand that money is not a kind of thing (whether tangible or intangible). Hence Greco’s title ‘The End of Money…’ and his complaint that ‘banks perpetuate the myth that money is a ‘thing’ to be lent’; Steiner is no less clear when he says ‘money as such does not exist.’ But what then, in place of money, do we have? Again there is a correspondence in Steiner and Greco’s views, each makes a basic differentiation; Greco between the exchange and finance function, Steiner between purchase money and loan money. So for example Greco says: ‘there are two basic questions that need to be addressed, one relating to the exchange function, the other relating to the finance function. Both of these involve the use of credit. The exchange function has need of short-term credit that bridges the gap between the delivery of goods to market and the sale of those goods. It is this credit, and only this credit, that should be embodied in modern money. Money, then, becomes a virtual representation of real value in the form of goods and services that is ready to be bought and consumed… The solution for the finance function would seem to lie mainly in making a shift from debt financing to temporary equity financing. Whereas debt makes borrowers and lenders antagonistic toward one another, equity (being shared ownership) tends to harmonize the interests of the user of capital with those of the provider of capital in that both the rewards and the risks are shared.’ Many other examples could be found.
e) Differentiated Money
There is another aspect of monetary differentiation which Greco discusses in a chapter entitled ‘separating the functions of money’, when he highlights the fact that the three functions of money are contradictory. The elementary contradiction he characterises as follows: ‘If money is a medium of exchange, it needs to be spent, but if it is a store of value, it should be held,’ before going on to explore the nature of measure of value (or unit of account) and its problematic identification with currency. Greco contends that ‘we need is to segregate these three functions in order to optimize and restore honest dealing to the reciprocal exchange process,’ much as Steiner says ‘the three kinds of money must be treated in different ways.’ While it would be tempting to lead this analogy with Rudolf Steiner’s three kinds of money, into a correspondence of ‘gift money’ with Greco’s understanding of how value is to be measured, too close an identification would not be warranted. Greco is careful not to be too definitive in this area but does nevertheless point an unequivocal finger at legal tender laws in falsifying economic values.
f) Global Economy
Greco’s conception of the economic realm as a public arena becomes clear when he uses phrases such as ‘the credit commons.’ Nor is his vision only a local one, like Steiner he sees economic life in humanity-wide terms and thinks that ‘a global network of independent trade exchanges that could result from such agreements is an attractive one that the industry should work toward establishing.’ He envisions ‘democratically structured global payment system operated in the interests of the general welfare with membership open to all, in which the exchange medium is abundant and readily available to mediate as much trading as people need to do, and which provides each member with an interest-free line of credit.’
g) Money as Accounting
A further significant area of agreement between Greco and Steiner comes with the former’s characterisation of money as an ‘accounting system, a way of ‘keeping score’ in the economic ‘game’ of give and take’. A consequence of this, described by Greco as the ‘‘gunpowder’ that makes the ‘castle’ defenses of conventional money and banking obsolete and useless’ is the possibility of direct credit clearing which ‘while … most commonly associated with banks, … is an ancient process said to date from at least the middle ages. It is said to have been used among participants in the periodic commercial trading fairs that were common during medieval times. As we will show, clearing is a process that can be used to offset claims among not only groups of banks, but among any entities that have financial claims against one another.’
h) The Future of Civilisation
If the conclusions that Greco arrives at appear obvious, that is only because when, in retrospect, one considers how an idea came to be adopted, its self-evidence becomes clear. As Arthur Schopenhauer wryly observed: ‘all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’ Before such a time, however, much working out is needed. We should be grateful to the select group of monetary thinkers (many of whom Greco cites) for having undertaken this task on our behalf. Only the future can tell to what extent their contribution will bear fruit in more effective monetary arrangements. Whether the logic of the argument will be enough in itself to effect change is a moot point. What makes Greco’s work outstanding is the combination of breadth of analysis, clarity of expression, historical narrative and practical example that he brings to bare. There should be no excuse for anyone who claims an expertise in this arena not to have familiarised themselves with the world Greco describes. The question is far from academic. Indeed the apocalyptic nature of Greco’s title signals the seriousness of what he intends to convey. The book ends with an exhortation to reverse ‘destructive and despotic trends, and prevent our sliding into a modern form of materialistic feudalism.’ In similar vein, Steiner ends his economics course underlining that because society had slid from truth ‘into the empty phrase; from the sense of right into mere convention; and from a practical hold on life into dead routine,’ it was vitally important for those ‘would be economists’ who attended ‘to contribute to the healing and reconstruction of our civilisation’ which they could do only by developing ‘the will to go down into the facts.’
The End of Money and the Looting of America
Posted by rushkoff, May 13, 2009 5:45 AM
Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.
No, not an essay from me about the end of money, but a great new book from Thomas Greco called The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, out last month from Chelsea Green. It's a comprehensive look at the bias of centralized currency, as well as the history of other approaches to money and why some of these other models should be resurrected.
Of the many books approaching this subject matter (I read a ton of them; this one wasn't available yet) this is the most straightforward explanation I've yet seen of everything from usury to inflation, credit clearing to web-based trading, local self-determination to complementary exchanges.
Very few people realize that the nature of money has changed profoundly over the past three centuries, or--as has been clear with the latest global financial crisis--the extent to which it has become a political instrument used to centralize power, concentrate wealth, and subvert popular government. On top of that, the economic growth imperative inherent in the present global monetary system is a main driver of global warming and other environmental crises.
To me - as you can tell from my posts here - most of this should be common knowledge. Unfortunately, it is still considered as questionable by many as, say, the theory of evolution. But instead of "balancing" a description of economic reality with faith-based "facts" from the other side, our job as writers is to tell it like it is, and refuse to pretend that it's all a matter of interpretation. Greco rises to that challenge.
If you're more interested in the recent credit crisis, what really happened, and how we might best respond to the fraud and cynicism that characterized the last few years of banking and policy, check out another Chelsea Green title, Les Leopold's new book, The Looting of America; How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It. Here's Leopold in his introduction, explaining the growth of the finance industry:
The financial sector, up until the 2008 crash, was one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, generating approximately 20 percent of our gross domestic product. It also accounted for 27.4 percent of all corporate profits. Finance grew as manufacturing declined, thereby dominating the real economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1940 there were 7.1 manufacturing jobs for every job in the financial service industries. The ratio increased to 7.7 in 1950. Then the slide started, as you can see in chart 1 . By November 2008, there were only 1.6 manufacturing jobs per financial services job. Until the current meltdown, the financial industry produced almost 10 percent of all the wages and salaries in the country, up from 5 percent in 1975. In a few years, provided that the system doesn't collapse entirely, the finance sector is going to be larger than the manufacturing economy.