Money: Do we have to have a debt system?

I follow a group from UK called Positive Money. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I do agree with the way they are asking questions about the way money / economy works. Or, I agree with some of the questions. However, I feel that like many others within a hegemony of thought, that it is hard to get outside the status quo to ask the questions more relevant to all those who are not in the positions of power – for example it is notable that within the Positive Money debates, so far I have heard from only three women, including me.

So I spent most of yesterday trying to think out how I could engage, stay within focus and at the same time open up a different angle. And to some it will be obvious that I was writing with Bion’s basic assumption groups in mind. [and of course I have not yet done a post on that – you will have to google.] What I did with them, is down to me. This is what I came up with:

To further Positive Money thinking

I am very much in support of Positive Money ideas, but have problems with aspects of the reasoning in its various videos, blogs and threads of conversation. Although worried in a minor way that we might be considered utopians, I am more concerned that the contributions to the debate can become (or are becoming) encapsulated within a theory of monetary exchange and rational argument concerning it, as though the answer was already known and has only to convince others. This is to the detriment of seeing how lives are really lived and how the best of Positive Money thought can indeed be furthered and taken on board by all, be they individuals, communities, governments.

Read on so that hopefully what I mean becomes clearer.

First – the Market Dimension
By the “money exchange” I include barter and saving, or any ‘token of value’ as this is how people operate. The miserly hoarder is bartering his pile for something he values, security, feeling of triumph, whatever. And so on, there is not a requirement that any exchange is rational, nor any judgment that the irrational is somehow a poor bargain. Did I buy an American doll outfit for my grand-daughter that cost more dollars than my own jacket? Yes I did, and the hours of play she has spent say that on this occasion at least, I used my money well, but not rationally. Thinking also of Arabian souks or Chinese streets, “money exchange” could be seen as operating within a “Market Dimension” one aspect of life.

We all live in such a Money Market of one kind or another. The system is transactional, something of value X is exchanged for something of value Y, and either it is even, or some other value Z is owed by one party to the other. Then, if we stay in this dimension, we notice, indeed know, that X, Y and Z fluctuate, as well as knowing that their supposed value has only sometimes got a relation to intrinsic worth. We also know that quantitative value changes frequently, and might be bargained to change to our advantage. [My grand-daughter might show that she loves me, as well as the American doll, so the worth of that plastic outfit changes for me, but be the same as it always was for others.] The changes of value are multiply determined by factors outside the original transaction.

A phrase (here taken out of its context) pushed me into writing this essay: they’re free to spend LESS on booze, holidays, clothes or whatever. This too popular notion of freedom to choose A or B according to a quantitative balance, is just NOT how people live. Quantity transaction cannot show how people choose between options in multiply constrained contexts, nor can it show present versus future, nor does it show how a past decision is now affected by factors quite randomly beyond the rationality of the original decision. For example, choosing a holiday, is that an inessential? It isn’t if you are carer for a disabled family member, and you are exhausted, and the other members of the family, all in work, club together to send not just you but also one of your sisters on a holiday. If you do not get a rest, they know both mum and dad will be needing care next. Etc. Think of real people, real examples. There are not only multiple determinants of choice, there are also many delimiters of choice. Some choices are simply not available in a transactional balance. Life does not provide free choice except in its most trivial matters.

Second – the Dimension of Dependence and Support
This is affected by money, as nearly everything is, but cannot be adequately addressed by a transactional or quantitative discussion.  As suggested in the purposely chosen carer example above, dependence and support are huge delimiters of choice. This dimension also illustrates how who owes whom what can shift momentarily or over time. Example, parent cares for child, both age, child cares for parent, further aging, grandparent helps care for grandchild, then grandchild becomes carer. Not always, not every way of living a life, but a fluctuating dependent /support /care system. We are ALL, whether we acknowledge it or not, in dependent systems. They are not just about childhood, illness or old age. Whether we live in urban or rural areas, whether we heed it with awareness or not, we live in inter-dependence with each other’s skills, work and behaviour.

Considering parenting a human baby as an example we all know: Parent cares for child, child smiles at parent. Both are enriched by something quite other than money, or any other form of bartered value system. The interaction is transformational, rather than transactional. We are all so used to everyday transformational interactions, that we almost forget how important they are, the good, the not so good, and the bad. In the not so good, a parent might care for a child hoping to feel good, so that she will feel like a good parent. At an extreme, this parent requires that the child makes her feel good. This is exploiting the child, and what might have been a transformational exchange has degenerated to become a transaction. Car eis bargained or is emotional blackmail. We can ask if there such a thing as a ‘pure’ transformational interaction where the care is unconditional, a gift? This is a different debate. It is enough to consider here that most of us will have millions of experiences that lie somewhere in between, in an ordinary life, an intermingling of transaction and transformational exchange.

What the dependence/support system has to do with economics, is that it says clearly
•    the quantity in the exchange may be necessary but it is not sufficient, the QUALITY has also to be considered
•    the quality of the dependence support system is a strong delimiter of choice in economic decision-making
•    poor quality leads to exploitation. For example, slavery and serfdom have high co-dependence between master and servant, but very low quality. It would seem that many loans to poorer countries, grossly mis-identified as ‘aid’ have the same low quality and are in fact forms of exploitation.

Any discussion of economics has to ask reflective questions of itself that take in from the beginning its effects on the qualitative dependence /support interactions, asking: How does this money production, control of supply etc support better quality of interaction? Will the quality of interaction be enabled or disabled (for example, how would aid to other countries be given?). Very few national or international discussions start from the plight of those who are disempowered, the disadvantaged groups, the women, the disabled. Ask the question: Who is this for? Is it for the person in control (the exploitative parent) or the person with whom we interact and on whom we depend for qualitative satisfaction?

[To me, the ‘Who is it for?’ question stops most debate about details like QE from further development.
if it is not for the people with whom we interact, we have become encapsulated in an already failed system.]

Third – The Dimension of Future, or Leadership
Transaction and transformation are both part of economic systems of thought, so also is transition. [Note also that economics is a system of thought, it is not food or shelter or other need.] Evidence, both historic and current, abounds to demonstrate that the current loan/debt/money system is failing abysmally, whether considered from the perspective of corporate world, nations, individuals or planet. It is ironic that the one that was not thought about until relatively recently, the planet, is the one that will take all the rest to extinction if we do not change the way we live on it. This third dimension has one obvious difficulty, we do not know what the future will bring. Therefore, what we can know is that we certainly do not need hero leadership, the narcissistic, I know and you follow, way of leading. We have had more than enough of that already. I do applaud the way Positive Money has worked to engage UK elected representatives, and has set up local groups.

We need unlikely leaders (see an Open University course on this). Positive Money could lessen its tendency to encapsulated thought (aka isolated economic dimension) by seeking the views of unlikely people, those who are poor, those who are disadvantaged, possibly ill-educated in standard qualifications, those who know a lot more than we tend to think. Why, for example, do so many voters in UK from typical lower income backgrounds, support conservative fiscal austerity or UKIP isolationist policy? They are not ‘just stupid’, turkeys voting for Christmas, or selfish racists. This seems to me to be a labeling assumption. Could they instead have responded to some aspirational hope that has been tapped by the appeals to austerity or nationhood? Is it because their lives are already austere? I do not think that we know, but could we not find out? These are the same kinds of places where Credit Unions once flourished, and probably Christmas clubs still do.

There is nothing wrong with detailed discussion of the market system of transaction and commerce, such as Positive Money is engaged in, provided that we know we are operating in a system that is not closed, and that concentration on this theory as transaction only will put people off engaging with it.

“I know it is not about me.” Dependency on others, and qualitative transformation, affects transactional market choices whether made rationally or irrationally. None of us are informed enough to grasp all our need for what the planet provide, and can continue to provide, as well as our needs in relationships with each other, but we know that this dimension is as real as the transactional. Then, we also know that the dynamics of time affect both, economic reality is three dimensional, contains transaction, transformation and transition no matter which is in the foreground.

The effects of dynamic transition, change to a different system, is where leadership lies. Given the way governments of the present are embroiled in holding on to the debt money system, we do need to continue to contact our representatives, but we also need to spread different kinds of knowledge. Bill Still’s documentary [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qIhDdST27g] shows us past as well as a possible future. It does not show us how to act with regard to our own money now.

With regard to the future, and leadership, I have to move to the personal, asking questions that show what I need to know, and hoping others will respond similarly.

Conclusion – up for debate
Positive Money and the Still documentary have already shown me the difference between a commercial bank and a national government owned bank. Could someone start exploring and informing us of the differences between mutual societies (if there are any left) building societies, co-operatives etc. Could a bank like that of Dakota State (see still documentary) start up where I live and would it cope with my money needs (which happen to be multiple online management and foreign exchange, all on a teacher’s pension.) Can you help individuals show by their use of institutions, that hey care where they put their money, that they care how their money is handled? Also, has anyone analyzed the current interaction between Greece and the Eurozone with regard to closeness to Positive Money suggestions or indeed irrelevance? What is the role of micro-finance institutions? How would the ethics of Islamic banking support or not the perspective of Positive Money?

We should of course be interacting with the Green Party and other green organizations, particularly the transitional groups.

I personally want to see an approach that acknowledges these three dimensions of everyday life that I have very briefly addressed, and that reflects on how each of these is enabled, or not, by the details of the discussion. I write because I have felt too much discussion within the ivory tower of theory has taken place and I have felt confused rather than informed by it.

Am I wrong to ask this? No, I need to feel that I am enabled, helped to make personal decisions, however constrained they may be, and helped to become part of a movement towards something better. For Positive Money ideas to develop well and make a good change in the UK and hopefully in the world, it needs to feel less that it is providing an answer if only people would listen, and more like a community that seeks wider perspectives. Acknowledge how interdependent we all are, and how leadership might be found in unlikely places. Wonder what questions have not yet been asked.

Thanks for reading.

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