The Currency of Cooperation

Prosperity is relating, not acquiring.— Tom Brown, Jr.

The “irremediable structural flaw” in our civilization that has inspired subtle omnipresent dread and doomsday myths for thousands of years, manifests in every human institution, from science to religion to business. None is independent of the others; none can change in isolation; yet when one changes, all will change. In Chapter Six we considered the gathering sea-change in science that we are on the verge of assimilating. Now we will look at some other social institutions, beginning where the structural flaw is the clearest and its effects most explicit: the institution of money.

Chapter Four described how our present system of money-with-interest generates the necessity for endless growth, how it embodies linear thinking, how it defies the cyclical patterns of nature, and how it drives the relentless conversion of all forms of wealth into money. As well, interest is the wellspring of our economy’s ever-intensifying competition, systemic scarcity, and concentration of wealth. Yet more than an accidental artifact of history, interest is tied in to our self-conception as separate, competing subjects seeking to gather more and more of the world within the boundaries of “mine”. The change in our fundamental ontology expressed in part by the new sciences will also, therefore, ultimately generate a new system of money consistent with a different conception of self and world.

A society’s system of money is inseparable from other aspects of its relationship to the world and the relationships among its members. Money as we know it today both reflects and propels the objectification of the world, the paradigm of competition, and the depersonalization and atomization of society. We should therefore expect that any authentic change in these conditions would necessarily also involve a change in our system of money.

As a matter of fact, there are money systems that encourage sharing not competition, conservation not consumption, and community, not anonymity. Pilot versions of such systems have been around for at least a hundred years now, but because they are inimical to the larger patterns of our culture, they have been marginalized or even actively suppressed. Meanwhile, many creative proposals for new modes of industry such as Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce, and many green design technologies, are uneconomic under the current money system. The alternative money systems I describe below will naturally induce the economies described by visionaries such as Hawken, E.F. Schumacher, Herman Daly, and others. They will also reverse the progressive nationalization and globalization of every economic sector, revitalize communities, and contribute to the elimination of the “externalities” that put economic growth at odds with human happiness and planetary health.

Given the determining role of interest, the first alternative currency system to consider is one that structurally eliminates it. As the history of the Catholic Church demonstrates, laws and admonitions against interest are ineffective if its structural necessity is still present in the nature of the currency. A structural solution is needed, such as the system proposed by Silvio Gesell in The Natural Economic Order. Gesell’s “free-money” (as he called it) bears a form of negative interest called demurrage. Periodically, a stamp costing a tiny fraction of the currency’s denomination must be affixed to it, in effect a “user fee” or a “maintenance cost”; another way to look at it is that the currency “goes bad”—depreciates in value—as it ages.[4]

If this sounds like a radical proposal that could never work, it may surprise you to learn that no less an authority than John Maynard Keynes praised the theoretical soundness of Gesell’s ideas. What’s more, the system has actually been tried out with great success.

Although demurrage was applied as long ago as Ancient Egypt in the form of a storage cost for commodity-backed currency,[5] the best-known example was instituted in the town of Worgl, Austria, in 1932 by its famous mayor Uttenguggenberger. To remain valid, each piece of this locally-issued currency required a monthly stamp costing 1% of its face value. Instead of generating interest and growing, accumulation of wealth became a burden—much like possessions are a burden to the nomadic hunter-gatherer. People therefore spent their income quickly, generating intense economic activity in the town. The unemployment rate plummeted even as the rest of the country slipped into a deepening depression; public works were completed, and prosperity continued until the Worgl currency was outlawed in 1933 at the behest of a threatened central bank.

Demurrage produces a number of profound economic, social, and psychological effects. Conceptually, demurrage works by freeing material goods, which are subject to natural cyclic processes of renewal and decay, from their linkage with a money that only grows, exponentially, over time. As established in Chapter Four, this dynamic is what is driving us toward ruin in the utter exhaustion of all social, cultural, natural, and spiritual wealth. Demurrage currency merely subjects money to the same laws as natural commodities, whose continuing value requires maintenance. Gesell writes:

Gold does not harmonise with the character of our goods. Gold and straw, gold and petrol, gold and guano, gold and bricks, gold and iron, gold and hides! Only a wild fancy, a monstrous hallucination, only the doctrine of “value” can bridge the gulf. Commodities in general, straw, petrol, guano and the rest can be safely exchanged only when everyone is indifferent as to whether he possesses money or goods, and that is possible only if money is afflicted with all the defects inherent in our products. That is obvious. Our goods rot, decay, break, rust, so only if money has equally disagreeable, loss-involving properties can it effect exchange rapidly, securely and cheaply. For such money can never, on any account, be preferred by anyone to goods.

Only money that goes out of date like a newspaper, rots like potatoes, rusts like iron, evaporates like ether, is capable of standing the test as an instrument for the exchange of potatoes, newspapers, iron and ether. For such money is not preferred to goods either by the purchaser or the seller. We then part with our goods for money only because we need the money as a means of exchange, not because we expect an advantage from possession of the money.

In other words, money as a medium of exchange is decoupled from money as a store of value. No longer is money an exception to the universal tendency in nature toward rust, mold, rot and decay—that is, toward the recycling of resources. No longer does money perpetuate a human realm separate from nature.

Gesell’s phrase, “… a monstrous hallucination, the doctrine of ‘value’…” hints at an even more subtle and more potent effect of demurrage. What is he talking about? Value is the doctrine that assigns to each object in the world a number. It associates an abstraction, changeless and independent, with that which always changes and that exists in relationship to all else. Demurrage reverses this thinking and thus removes an important boundary between the human realm and the natural realm. When money is no longer preferred to goods, we will lose the habit of thinking in terms of how much something is “worth”.

Whereas interest promotes the discounting of future cash flows, demurrage encourages long-term thinking. In present-day accounting, a rain forest generating one million dollars a year sustainably forever is more valuable if clearcut for an immediate profit of 50 million dollars. (In fact, the net present value of the sustainable forest calculated at a discount rate of a mere 5% is only $20 million.) This discounting of the future results in the infamously short-sighted behavior of corporations that sacrifice (even their own) long-term well-being for the short-term results of the fiscal quarter. Such behavior is perfectly rational in an interest-based economy, but in a demurrage system, pure self-interest would dictate that the forest be preserved. No longer would greed motivate the robbing of the future for the benefit of the present. As the exponential discounting of future cash flows implies the “cashing in” of the entire earth, as illustrated in Chapter Four, this feature of demurrage is highly attractive.

Whereas interest tends to concentrate wealth, demurrage promotes its distribution. In any economy with a specialization of labor beyond the family level, human beings need to perform exchanges in order to survive. Both interest and demurrage represent a fee for the use of money, but the key difference is that in the former system, the fee accrues to those who already have money, while in the latter system it is levied upon those who have money. Wealth comes with a high maintenance cost, thereby recreating the dynamics that governed hunter-gatherer attitudes toward accumulations of possessions.

Whereas security in an interest-based system comes from accumulating money, in a demurrage system it comes from having productive channels through which to direct it—that is, to become a nexus of the flow of wealth and not a point for its accumulation. In other words, it puts the focus on relationships, not on “having”. Metaphorically, then, and perhaps more than metaphorically, the demurrage system accords with a different sense of self, affirmed not by defining more and more of the world within the confines of me and mine, but by developing and deepening relationships with others. In other words, it encourages reciprocation, sharing, and the rapid circulation of wealth. It is conceivable that wealth in a demurrage system would evolve into something akin to the model of the Pacific Northwest or Melanesia, in which a leader “acts as a shunting station for goods flowing reciprocally between his own and other like groups of society.”[6] These “big man” societies were not fully egalitarian and bore some degree of centricity, as perhaps is necessary in any economy with more than a very basic division of labor; the key point is that leadership was not associated with the accumulation of money or possessions, but rather with a huge responsibility for generosity. Can you imagine a society where the greatest prestige, power, and leadership accorded to those with the greatest inclination and capacity for generosity?

Consider the !Kung concept of wealth, explored in this exchange between anthropologist Richard Lee and a !Kung man, !Xoma:

I asked !Xoma, “What makes a man a //kaiha [rich man]—if he has many bags of //kai [beads and other valuables] in his hut?”

“Holding //kai does not make you a //kaiha,” replied !Xoma. “It is when someone makes many goods travel around that we might call him //kaiha.”

What !Xoma seemed to be saying was that it wasn’t the number of your goods that constituted your wealth, it was the number of your friends. The wealthy person was measured by the frequency of his or her transactions and not by the inventory of goods on hand.[7]

In the present interest-based money system, security comes from having—that is from accumulation—and its consummation is “financial independence”. Yet the original affluence of the hunter-gatherer sprung from a security associated not with independence but with interdependence. Remember the Piraha: “I store meat in the belly of my brother.” A lone woodsman or woman can survive in the wild, but his or her existence is far more precarious than that of a cooperating group. Similarly, in a demurrage-based money system it is sharing and not personal accumulation that forms the basis of security. Demurrage recreates the hunter-gatherer’s disinclination toward food storage or other material accumulation, inducing perhaps the same mentality of trust in a providential universe that existed in those days. The Age of Reunion, then, is a return to an original psychology of abundance, yet at a higher order of complexity. It is not a technological return to the Stone Age, as some primitivists envision after the collapse, but a spiritual return.

Silvio Gesell, the originator of the demurrage idea, foresaw that it would spark a profound change in attitudes towards money:

With the introduction of Free-Money, money has been reduced to the rank of umbrellas; friends and acquaintances assist each other mutually as a matter of course with loans of money. No one keeps, or can keep, reserves of money, since money is under compulsion to circulate. But just because no one can form reserves of money, no reserves are needed. For the circulation of money is regular and uninterrupted.[8]

No longer would money be a scarce commodity, hoarded and kept away from others; rather it would tend to circulate at the maximum possible “velocity”. The government would ensure stable prices according to the equation of exchange (MV=PQ) by regulating the amount of currency in circulation (M) to correspond to total real economic output (Q). (The same result could be achieved by linking the currency to a basket of commodities whose level corresponds to overall economic activity, as proposed by Bernard Lietaer.) As Gesell concludes:

It follows that demand no longer depends on the whim of the possessors of money; that price-formation through demand and supply is no longer affected by the desire to realise a profit; that demand is now independent of business prospects and expectations of a rise or fall of prices; independent too, of political events, of harvest estimates; of the ability of rulers or the fear of economic disturbance.[9]

Free-money would eliminate much of the source of our society’s endemic economic anxiety. Can you imagine a world in which money were not scarce? How would your own life be different, if you felt no compulsion to accumulate money for security’s sake? In a world where survival depends on money and where money is scarce, then survival too is hard, and security only won by outcompeting everyone else.

In a demurrage-based currency system, even though the total amount of currency would be determined by the issuer, its dynamics would ensure a sufficiency for all. The contradiction in today’s economy in which a surfeit of material goods is coupled with their grossly unequal distribution, so that some remain always in want, would disappear, as would the feedback cycle that leads to economic recession and depression.[10] Perhaps it would address also the deeper contradiction in which, on the one hand, there are hundreds of millions of people who are unemployed or engaged in trivial, meaningless jobs, while on the other hand there is much necessary, meaningful work left undone—a disconnect between human creativity and human needs. “With Free-Money demand is inseparable from money, it is no longer a manifestation of the will of the possessors of money. Free-Money is not the instrument of demand, but demand itself, demand materialised and meeting, on an equal footing, supply, which always was, and remains, something material.”[11]

From Plato onward, Utopian philosophers thought that reason, planning, and method would bring the same progress to the social realm as material technology brought to the physical. Social planning would conquer the wilderness of human nature, just as technology subdued the wilderness of physical nature. The failure of both is seen merely as evidence that we need more of the same. The ambition of nanotechnology, to extend physical control to a new level of microscopic precision, parallels the social technologies of education and law as they strive toward ever-finer regulation of human behavior.

The greed that leads us to ignore good and necessary work in favor of narrow self-interest is not a fundamental pillar of human nature, but an artifact of our money system and of our misconception of self and world that underlies it. Our system’s built-in scarcity has conditioned us to believe that we “cannot afford to” act from love, to do fulfilling work, to create beauty. Gesell’s free-money represents a liberation from these constraints and from the delusions of self underlying them. It lays down a structural incentive for generosity and frees creativity to seek out need. In this regard free-money represents a return to the gift-based societies of yore. Notice its amazing congruity to Lewis Hyde’s description of the dynamics of gift flow:

The gift moves toward the empty place. As it turns in its circle it turns toward him who has been empty-handed the longest, and if someone appears elsewhere whose need is greater it leaves its old channel and moves toward him. Our generosity may leave us empty, but our emptiness then pulls gently at the whole until the thing in motion returns to replenish us. Social nature abhors a vacuum.[12]

Free-money reverses the compulsion to constantly expand and fortify the accumulation of the private; that is, to expand and fortify the separate realm of self, me, and mine. Free-money creates a structural impetus toward the universal brotherhood proclaimed by Jesus and progressively demolished by the church, and banished completely from the material world by Martin Luther. Just as interest shrinks the circle of self until we are left with the alienated ego of modern civilization, demurrage, the negative of interest, widens it to reunite us with community and all humanity, ending the artificial scarcity and competition of the Age of Usury.

We live, after all, in a world of plenty, and we always have. The present money system and underneath it, the enclosure of the wild into the exclusively owned, has created artificial scarcity where none need exist. Half the world goes hungry, while the other half wastes enough to feed the first half.[13] It is not food nor any other necessity that is scarce, it is money, whose built-in scarcity induces the same in everything else.

A negative-interest currency is a step back toward the gift economies of yore, described in Chapter Four, that literally create ties (obligations). Describing Lewis Hyde’s theory of the gift, author Jessica Prentice writes, “Part of the sacred/erotic energy of gifts is that the receiver cannot accumulate them—either a gift needs to be passed on, or another gift needs to be given so that the gift-giving energy keeps moving. Gifts are about flow, and they are meant to circulate.”[14] This is a perfect description of free-money, which like a gift collecting dust in the closet loses its value when kept unused. In a free-money system, monetary transactions become like the exchange of gifts, because money is no different from any other object.

Another type of money that addresses the scarcity problem even more directly is the mutual credit system, often going by the acronym LETS (local exchange trading system). In a mutual credit system, money is not created by banks or by a central issuer, but is generated by the transaction itself. Here’s how it works: suppose Jane needs someone to mow her lawn. Joe agrees to do it for ten LETS-dollars, and the transaction is recorded on a computer or other ledger: Jane’s account is debited by ten dollars, and Joe’s credited by ten dollars. If both started with a balance of zero, now Jane has minus-ten and Joe has ten dollars. Money is created out of nothing. Now Joe can use these ten LETS-dollars to buy some other good or service from Fred; Jane, meanwhile, owes the community ten dollars worth of some other service.

If the above scenario seems unsound, understand that its money-creation mechanism is in essence no different from the present bank-debt system. When a bank lends you $100,000 for a mortgage, it essentially creates the money out of nowhere. As in the LETS system, debt and money are, as Lietaer puts it, “two sides of the same coin.” The important difference lies in the way in which the creation of money is regulated. In our present system, money-creation is constrained by (1) margin reserve requirements and (2) the credit-worthiness of the borrower, which means her ability to outcompete others to pay back the loan principle and interest. As described in Chapter Four, these constraints often lead to a scarcity of money, because they are not directly connected to demand for a medium of exchange. They also can lead to a polarization of wealth when the means of wealth production—capital—is available at higher cost or not at all to precisely those people who already lack the means of wealth production (to pay back interest).

In contrast, LETS money-creation is typically governed by the community. In theory there is nothing preventing Jane from going deeper and deeper into debt with no intention of ever paying it back, and nothing to prevent Joe and Fred from recording fictitious transactions to build up Fred’s credits as Joe skips town. But in practice, anyone who does this will eventually be refused service by the community. LETS currency represents a formalization of “I owe you one,” where “you” is not the individual who performed the service but rather the community. It relies on social pressure, both overt and internalized in the form of duty, shame, and so on, to prevent abuse of the system. Someone is only permitted to run up huge debits if they and the community feel circumstances warrant it—in the event of illness, for example.

Because money is created by the transaction, there is never a shortage of currency in a LETS system. The simple willingness to perform a needed service or provide a needed good is enough to make a transaction take place—in contrast to the present contradiction-ridden system that often fails to connect the underemployed and the under-served. With a non-scarce currency, no one ever lacks the money to pay for what they need. Of course, “needs” are still determined by culture and community, which might be unwilling to provide what a person wants. The important thing is that it is indeed the community that makes this judgment, and not the impersonal, anonymous forces of economics. In this way, LETS brings back the ancient customs of reciprocity that once held communities together.

In addition to quantifying individuals’ contributions to the community, LETS and other local-currency schemes draw communities closer together by keeping the economy local. Local currencies ameliorate and can even reverse the ruthless pressures of the global economy, which effectively pits everyone in competition with everyone else. Few of the supermarkets in Pennsylvania sell the apples which grow so abundantly here, importing them instead from the West Coast or even New Zealand. Local dairy farmers go bankrupt while consumers drink milk from Michigan or Wisconsin. Traditional economics says that is because these out-of-state producers are more “efficient”, enjoying a “comparative advantage” arising from land, climate, or culture. The truth is often that this “efficiency” comes from a more effective externalization of costs. Subsidized inputs of water, transportation infrastructure, and environmental capacity to absorb waste artificially reduce the cost of the imports, whose price reflects none of these externalized costs.

While local economies can also suffer from externalities, it is less likely because the payers of the externalized costs are usually within the same community that supports the business. A business that relies solely on an impersonal, remote commodities market for all its raw materials and sales has little investment in its locality, and therefore little incentive to act responsibly.

Besides externalization of costs, another reason for the higher efficiency of large external producers is that they exploit greater economies of scale than are possible on a local level.[15] Unfortunately, the flip side of economy of scale is uniformity and standardization. Increasingly, today’s economy is dominated by national or global corporations providing uniform products and services over vast areas. One sector of the economy after another has succumbed to the business model exemplified by Wal-Mart. Long gone are the independent grocers, bakers, hardware stores, clothing stores, and burger joints of yesteryear, replaced by and large by corporate franchises. The result has been a homogenization of culture, cuisine, and urban landscape throughout North America, and to some extent globally—the “landscape of the exit ramp.” You know what it looks like: mile after mile of fast food restaurants, gas stations, automobile dealerships, big box stores, and shopping centers. No fast food franchise opens a store to contribute to the community, only to extract wealth from the community to be sent, eventually, to far-away headquarters or shareholders. Local currencies counter this dynamic because they can only be used locally. If a grocery store, say, decides to accept partial payment in local currency, it must find a use for that currency locally, by sourcing products from local farmers and perhaps by paying a portion of salaries in local currency as well. A national chain is less likely to attempt this, opening the door to local competition. The result is a self-reinforcing “virtuous circle”, because the local suppliers and employees paid in local currency must themselves use it locally. The more business and consumers who use it, the more useful it becomes and the greater the incentive for businesses to accept it.

The most profound effect of the currency systems described above is probably psychological. Currencies that are not defined by interest and scarcity resurrect the ancient hunter-gatherer mentality of abundance, in which sharing is easy and natural, in which there is no mad scramble to enclose the world in me and mine. As such it is consistent also with a more open conception of self, defined by relationships and not by absolute boundaries of self and other. Consequently, while none of these currencies will ever truly supplant our present system unless our self-definition changes, they are nonetheless an agent of change that can help to induce the reconception of self and world. When the convergence of crises hits that marks the turning point into a new era, the financial crisis (which we can see building today) will clear the way for all the ideas laid out above to crystallize into a radically different system. When this happens, money, ever a force for evil, will come to embody a new set of incentives aligned with the priorities of the connected, interdependent self: sustainability, beauty, and wholeness.

Is it too much to imagine an economy in which the best business decision is identical to the best ecological decision? In which there is a built-in economic incentive—as opposed to a regulatory compulsion—to protect the environment? In which the creative entrepreneurial energy of business is constitutionally aligned with the wholeness of nature and the health of society? As Gesell puts it, “Money, anathema throughout the ages, will not be abolished by Free-Money, but it will be brought into harmony with the real needs of economic life. Free-Money leaves untouched the fundamental economic law which we showed to be usury, but it will cause usury to act like the force that seeks evil but achieves good.”[16]

As it stands, money is almost universally recognized as a force for evil or even “the root of all evil.” The locution “cannot afford to” reveals just how often money is an impediment to our innate tendencies toward kindness, generosity, leisure, and creativity. As I have described, interest-money generates the greed that we mistake as human nature and perpetuates the illusion that security and wealth come from gathering more and more of the world unto the self, carving out a larger and larger exclusive province of “me” at the expense of every other living person, animal, plant, and ecosystem. As well it seems to directly contradict the teaching of karma, which says that what we do to the world, we do to ourselves. In our current money system, giving out to the world means less for me, not more! Money thereby contributes to the illusion of separateness that is considered in Buddhism (and arguably in other religions too) to be the root of all suffering. Free-money and LETS systems reverse this role and bring money into line with karma, reinforcing rather than denying its fundamental principle that by enriching the world we enrich ourselves. In so doing, they also subvert the dogma of the discrete and separate self that underlies the development of the present money system.

A harbinger of the convergence of crises (and in this case especially the financial crisis) occurred in the 1930’s and began to generate precisely the types of money systems I’ve been describing. However, at that time not all the elements of the convergence were in place; the modern conception of self and world had not reached full maturity. In the 1930’s, in the wake of the generalized currency collapse throughout much of the world, thousands of local currencies appeared throughout North America and Europe. Named “emergency currencies” in the United States, they incorporated various of the features described above and rejuvenated local economies wherever they were instituted. They worked so well that one of the leading economists of the time, Irving Fisher, advocated the stamp-scrip (demurrage) system as the way out of the Great Depression: “The correct application of stamp scrip would solve the depression crisis in the US in three weeks!”[17] Other economists agreed, but pointed out to Treasury Undersecretary Dean Acheson possible decentralizing political effects. President Roosevelt responded by banning all emergency currencies, choosing instead the centralized solution of the New Deal. A similar story transpired in Austria with the Worgl currency and its numerous imitators described above, as well as in Germany a few years before. Today, though most countries now tolerate complementary currencies, they still suppress them through a variety of means; for example, local-currency income for professional services is still subject to income taxes, which must be paid in the national currency, thus forcing people to operate substantially in the non-local economy.[18]

Apparently, the world was not yet ready for a shift of power to local communities. The centralized solutions represented by the New Deal, and by fascism in Europe, represent more than just maneuvers for political power but are part and parcel of the mentality of control, top-down engineering, and reductionistic thinking. The zeitgeist of the time dictated such solutions. In Newtonian science one does not simply allow a solution to grow, but engineers one from above. From Keynesian pump-priming to fascism’s “We will make the trains run on time,” the economic solutions chosen during the Great Depression all involved central authority—the social counterpart of the discrete and separate subject on one level, and of humanity vis-a-vis nature on another—taking control and imposing order upon a broken machine.

No matter that the centralized solutions were not, in fact, effective. While the New Deal did manage to rescue people from utter destitution, the depression only ended with the military buildup and conflagration of World War Two. That wartime economy has been with us ever since.

A similar choice faces us today, and will intensify in clarity as the financial crisis grows more severe. Again we will have to decide between, on the one hand, more centralized top-down control leading as it did in the 1930’s to fascism and war, and on the other hand a release of control to a more organic solution. From the central government perspective, it is not a “solution” at all, not in the sense of a design or plan. Local currencies have sprung up spontaneously, and with similar characteristics, again and again—those of the Great Depression were preceded by currencies of similar design during the panics of 1873, 1893, and 1907.[19] We are deeply habituated to thinking that a solution means more control, more detailed measurement of all the variables, a more comprehensive design—this is the Technological Program, applied in this case to currency. But just as in other areas of technology, the illusion of monetary control, so compelling in the last sixty years due to the absence of major financial panic (at least in the West), is wearing thin. Soon its failure will be undeniable, and we will have to decide whether to deny it anyway at a higher and higher price, or to let go and trust the Wild—the spontaneous creativity of human communities.

The longer we hang on, the harder we scramble to apply one technical fix after another to our tottering money system, the more severe the crisis and its subsequent dislocation will be. The eventual result is assured, though, that a new system of money will emerge that is “aligned with the priorities of the connected, interdependent self: sustainability, beauty, and wholeness.”

Money in the Age of Reunion will be an agent for the development of social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital, and not their consumption. It will be a mechanism for the sharing of wealth and not its accumulation. It will be a means for the creation of beauty, not its diminishment. It will be a barrier to greed and not an incentive. It will encourage joyful creative work, and not necessitate “jobs”. It will reinforce the cyclical processes of nature, and not violate them.

Quoting again Patrick Farley’s visionary future, “Could you or I believe how fantastically wealthy they all became?” we can now see what this might mean. When wealth is separate from accumulation but refers to a richness of relationships, each person’s wealth makes everyone wealthier. Art, the creation of beauty, will no longer be limited by what we can afford, for money will be art’s ally not its enemy. Business will be the seeking of ways to bestow wealth upon others rather than the stripping of wealth from others. No longer, then, will our lives be full of cheap stuff and every transaction a ripoff. Work will no longer be bound to the search for money, but will seek out ways to best serve each other and the world, each according to our unique gifts and temperament. That will be, self-evidently, the way toward riches—both spiritual and financial, for no longer will the two be in conflict.


[4] Today this could all be done electronically of course.


[5] Bernard Leitaer gives a nice discussion of the history of demurrage in The Future of Money.


[6] Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, p. 209


[7] Lee, Richard. The Dobe !Kung. P. 101


[8] Silvio Gesell, The Natural Economic Order, 1906. Trans. Philip Pye. Ch. 5E. Gesell also advocated the abolition of land ownership.


[9] Gesell, ch. 4.4


[10] For example, in a deflationary depression the scarcity of money leads everyone to hoard it, exacerbating the scarcity.


[11] Gesell, ch. 4.4


[12] Lewis Hyde, The Gift, p. 23


[13] The waste of food is at all stages of production and consumption, from the barn to the dinner plate. At the production stage, economic efficiency trumps solar efficiency in the conversion of sunlight into food, with the result that labor-intensive farming that can achieve higher nutritional yields cannot compete with machine agriculture (especially with its hidden subsidies). There is further waste at the processing stage, for example in the failure to use organ meats and imperfect fruits and vegetables. At the distribution stage there is enormous waste at supermarkets, which must throw away everything that spoils or expires. As for the consumption stage, simply go to a university cafeteria and observe the window where students bus their trays.


[14] Prentice, Jessica. Stirring the Cauldron – New Egg Moon, April 13, 2005.


[15] Most of the “efficiency” is actually due to their bargaining power, not their productive efficiency. A large purchaser can demand lower prices from producers without necessarily being more efficient in any other way.


[16] Gesell, ch. 4.4


[17] The quote and general outline of this historical incident are from Bernard Lietaer, The Future of Money, p. 156-7


[18] Income tax reinforces the regime of control in another way too, by requiring that one keep records of all income and allowable deductions. As life becomes increasingly economic, these means that more and more of life goes on record and thereby becomes data.


[19] Leitaer, p. 156