Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Cashlessness

 

Over the two decades when I was editing the mini-journal The Social Artist (incorporating The Social Crediter) we published a wealth of highly discussable material on the state of the world. What was lacking was a forum for discussion that would lead to practical reform of the world political economy as a whole. The material, which came from a wide variety of sources, remains available electronically on the Publications page of https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/ and on several other websites across the world. Moreover, it has dated very little with the passage of time.

The Spring 2019 Issue of The Social Artist carries lengthy extracts from German financial journalist Norbert Haering's "Who is behind the campaign to rid the world of cash?" As Haering explains "the seller and the person who manages your money are merging. This is there we are headed, not just in Amazon Go stores. In the future of payments, all convenience will be on our side, all the power will be with the other side." Amazon intends to make this convenience-cum-surveillance way of shopping the norm.

Haering spells out in detail ten advantages of retaining cash, not least of which is the retention of civil liberties.

"In a democracy, this judgement should be made after public discussion by lawmakers in a transparent procedure. Instead, ... , the far reaching removal of privacy in financial affairs has been decided far away from parliaments in a diffuse transnational nowhereland, through the mechanism of standard setting groups expert in evading democratic control."

Meanwhile, the general public and parliaments hardly even notice that this is going on. There are heated discussions about new data preservation rules in telecommunications, but the much more intrusive, very long-term storing and even active surveillance of our financial accounts and transactions go almost unnoticed. Nevertheless, control over a national currency has for a long time been an important factor underpinning the power of any national government. "If this authority should move to the Silicon Valley, a big part of traditional power of governments could move with it."

Haering reaches the following conclusion.

"Instead of hoping in vain for technological fixes, we need to go the way of pushing for political and societal changes. We have to pull parliamentarians out of their deep sleep. We have to tell them and the citizens at large which game is being played. They have to know that the decline in the use of cash is not a development that is unfolding naturally but something that a powerful alliance is pushing ahead by and coercion in the background. Ministers and central bankers have to be put under pressure to justify working in a partnership with companies like MasterCard and Visa against cash, despite all their public assurances that they want to do cash no harm. If this partnership is widely exposed dissolved, we will see that cash is anything but doomed. If allowed to thrive, cash will see a renaissance, because in a world in which more and more aspects of our lives are under surveillance and recorded, cash offers a refuge that will become more valuable for privacy and more valued by the people...."

Much food for thought here.

Article originally published in Real-world Economics Review, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue86/whole86.pdf

Monday, 16 May 2022

Threefold Commonwealth Research

COMMENT: This blog assumes that the reader is familiar with the anthroposophical journal New View. The suggestion is that anybody, as an individual or in a local group, can participate in the emerging Threefold Commonwealth Research Network.


In October 2006 I came across one of a series of pamphlets published by the Threefold Commonwealth Research Group in the 1930s. The pamphlet entitled "Law, Association and the Trade Union Movement", by Owen Barfield, carried the following introduction:

"The threefold commonwealth was first set before the world by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in the year 1919, in books and articles published, and lectures given, in Germany and Central Europe. His main book on this subject, "Die Kernpunkte der Sozialen Frage," was translated into English in 1920, and re-translated in 1923 for publication as The Threefold Commonwealth.

"The Threefold Commonwealth Research Group is a group of people, variously employed, who first came together in 1933 in a spirit of service to the threefold commonwealth of Rudolf Steiner, having been students of his work for some years. They desire to extend the understanding of its principles in the English-speaking world and, so far as may be, to hasten its application in practice. To this end they study to deepen their knowledge of these principles and to understand the actual events and institutions of the society in which they live in the light of the threefold idea. They will welcome the foundation of similar associations, and consider it a principal object to assist such other groups."

The group negotiated with the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain for permission to use Rudolf Steiner House on Park Row, London, as a forwarding address. Their hope was to provide the stimulus necessary for ordinary people to initiate "a different model of a future society" through research and study based on the social threefolding ideas of Rudolf Steiner. The ideas had failed to take root at the end of the First World War, and Steiner predicted "it would have to wait another hundred years for another opportunity until the time was again propitious for it. .. Now, the time for it is not only propitious but critical." So writes Terry Boardman in the Spring 2022 Issue of New View.

There are already signs that a "great awakening is occurring on many levels today and a search is underway to understand the meaning of life". Lockdown regulations have spurred many people to widen their studies, research more deeply and read many more books. Our consumerist and materialistic approach to life must change. "Not only do our limited planetary resources demand a change but our inner health too. The quest for truth in the face of the falsehoods and half-truths we are all being fed is growing ... There are also many who recognise that we can no longer rely on or demand that the state provides what we need. Whether it is the education of our children, health care or even the wider social security system, the time has come to take back control of our own lives" So writes Bernard Jarman in the current issue of New View.

As is only too apparent in today's world, looking for leaders to provide us with ready-made answers can only lead us into some form of brave new dystopia along the lines of Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-four, and Animal Farm all rolled into one. Predictions of "a future collapse of the entire global banking system followed by the installation of the cashless digital currencies" of The Great Reset must be taken seriously across the entire social spectrum if humanity is to survive. See Gavin Tang's article "Imagining and alternative to the banking system of the Great Reset" in New View, Spring 2022.

Taking back "control of our own lives" necessitates a steep learning curve on the part of individual members of every local community the world over. And that means research into the political, cultural and economic institutions that supply us with a roof over our head, clothes on our backs and our daily bread.

So - where do we start? How do we move beyond individual reading to group study of the existing threefold social order at local level? I would suggest we might take a leaf out of the book of the Quaker followers of the American economist Henry George (1839-97) and create study aids to explore our local economies wherever they happen to be. See my article entitled "Towards a Threefold Commonwealth" in the Winter 20-21 issue of New View. Note especially Footnote 13 which directs the reader to a free copy of the study material.





Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Local Finance

In the late 1990s members of the UK Bromsgrove Group came across a Scottish version of the Landlords Game entitled Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. It appears to have been drawn up as an aid to exploring the political economy of a local municipality in Scotland. Members of the Bromsgrove Group assembled copies of the board and rules, and used it as the basis for wide-ranging discussion. Evidently the Scottish version was designed to pursue issues of local finance of local production and an end to waged slavery. Note, it was the latter point on which Marx took issue with Henry George (see previous blog). The Georgist reforms assume the continued centralisation of finance in the hands of a powerful elite.

The Brer Fox 'n Brer Rabbit game is available to be printed out free on the Douglas Social Credit website, at the very base of the SOCIAL ART page https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/resources/social-art . A tour round the sites of the Brer Fox 'game' offers a view of the local economy and its relationship with the national economy at the point when the board was drawn up (1913). We can assume that there were small farms, fisheries and common land to be seen locally. Equally, each city, town or village might feature a Poorhouse, a jail, newspaper offices and railway station. But Westminster Abbey, the House of Lords, and even a branch of Selfridges, an early supermarket would not be found in a Scottish urban settlement of 1913. What might have been in the minds of the creators of this game provides much food for thought.

The two financial institutions, the BANK and the PUBLIC TREASURY are centre stage, in the middle of the Board. The Game was devised in the second decade of the 20th century. At this time, in the UK, Fabians, Guild Socialists, members of the Cooperative movement, Trade Unionists and a wide variety of socialists and social reformers, including some anthroposophists, were in close collaboration. All puzzled about the role of finance in determining policy in throughout the political economy as a whole. But it was not until after the First World War that Clifford Hugh Douglas was in a position to make his analysis of the financial system available for study. He looked at the financial causes of war.

The First World War broke out a year after the Brer Fox game came onto the market. The trauma of the war led Clifford Hugh Douglas and prominent members of the UK Guild Socialist movement to study the financial causes of the war. Those studies gave rise to a massive literature that was discussed and debated through the worldwide movement for economic democracy known as Douglas Social Credit.

In 1900 the local social order could still be understood by the ordinary householder, whose home belonged in a specific place on the local map. Known individuals owned or rented property in the town, and provided services to the local community. Over the course of the 20th century global finance came to dominate the political, economic and cultural spheres of every local municipality, so that now, as explained in the Spring 2022 edition of New View, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central banker to the world's central banks, has the potential to handle a global currency that would dominate the political economy of the entire world. As Gavin Tang explains:

"[A] number of wealthy banking families control the world's economy indirectly via the BIS control of the world's central banks. They also control the world's corporations via a system of ownership and cross-ownership that has at its apex of power in the non-publicly owned Vanguard investment entity."

The situation we face today is complex and precarious. As Tang further explains, in his lengthy article entitled "Imagining an alternative to the banking system of the Great Resent", the necessity is for development of a "commons banking system that can be put in place when the inevitable total collapse of the capitalist banking system occurs. It may well be that discussion of local threefolding ideas through study of the Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit Game facilitates development of commons banking as suggested by Tang.

NOTE: Understanding Life and Debt Blogs for April and May provide sketchy thoughts possible routes out of the financial quagmire currently facing humanity. See the Sheffield Collection for useful study material. See Frances Hutchinson (2010) Understanding the Financial System for references to relevant literature on the subject.


Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Landlords Games

The history of Western 'Civilisation' can be viewed in two ways. For many it is the story of scientific, technological and economic progress, as humanity progressed from pre-industrial times when life was 'nasty, brutish and short' into the golden era of plenty. For others, it is a story of war, of the brutal oppression of the colonial era, the slave trade and the Highland Clearances that took families off their lands and into dependence upon waged slavery. Whichever way you look at it, the past has shaped the political, economic and cultural framework that currently supplies us with food, shelter, clothing and the everyday necessities of life.

Over the course of history many groups have protested against injustice. These include the Diggers and Levellers, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Luddites and so on. And various historians took it upon themselves to write about the political economy as they saw it. For Adam Smith (1723-90) the economy was all about Rational Economic Man pursuing his own self-interest wholeheartedly, so that the Invisible Hand can ensure that all become better off. For William Cobbett (1762-1835) the Protestant Revolution took power from church and community, and placed the control of political and economic affairs in the hands of a few powerful financiers and landowners. For Karl Marx (1818-83), it was up to the wage slaves to set about studying their history and planning the revolution. Less well known, perhaps is the American economist Henry George (1839-97 ). In the very late 19th century he drew a massive following in the USA and elsewhere. His Poverty and Progress ( 1879) was a popular read, and George attracted massive crowds wherever he went. At some point a group of Quakers set about devising a game to help them understand how George's Land Tax reforms might serve to create a more just and fair political economy. The first 'Landlords Game' was so popular that the idea caught on, and games were devised across the English-speaking world. Some four decades later, one version of the games was as a teaching aid for self-interested, Rational Economic Man and marketed as Monopoly in 1935.

The Landlords Games were played in three stages. The first showed the current state of affairs where landlords owning prime sites could benefit from the general economic progress by charging high rents simply through ownership of prime sites. Real wealth is created by the community as a whole. Individuals can benefit unfairly from the hard work of the community as a whole and the cultural heritage handed on from generation to generation. The second and third stages of the games show how, according to Georgist thinking, the defects of the capitalist system could be put right. Marx, the astute observer of human society, was scathing about George's analysis of the political economy. Nevertheless, the Georgist games provided an excellent opening for discussion of the political economy of any local municipality. The games were not devised as mere academic exercises. During the 20th century, in Denmark and several American states, Georgist reforms were introduced at local government level.

With so many issues crowding in around us, visual representations of the local geography, politics, infrastructure and institutional provisions, including business, health and education, could provide neutral ground for discussion about where we might go in the future. Group or individual study of the board and rules of Monopoly provides plenty of food for thought. How does it relate to the global corporate political economy of the 2020s?


Friday, 29 April 2022

What Are People For?

Today, economic growth rides roughshod over the earth, devastating the natural environment and sustainable rural economies in the third world and Eastern Europe. Local power over local resources is increasingly swept aside by money power exercised from a distance. Farmers lured into accepting loans, for machinery, fertilisers and ‘improved’ seeds, face falling financial returns from the sale of cash crops grown for export. Centralisation of financial control is not, however, inevitable. As Wendell Berry indicated three decades ago, for practical change to occur it is necessary for ordinary people in their individual localities to take stock of their resources, both in terms of materials and skills, so that we, each and every one of us, cease to participate in the war against nature and society.

"The economics of our communities and households are wrong. We have failed to produce new examples of good home and community economies, and we have nearly completed the destruction of the examples we once had. ...

"My small community in Kentucky has lived and dwindled for at least a century under the influence of four kinds of organisations: governments, corporations, schools, and churches, all of which are controlled from a distance, centralised, and consequently abstract in their concerns. Governments and corporations (except for employees) have no presence in our community at all, which is perhaps fortunate for us, but we nevertheless feel the indifference or the contempt of governments or corporations for communities such as ours. [Here Berry fails to take account of the crucial fact that the global financial system is a constant presence in every community without exception.]

"We have had no school of our own for nearly thirty years. The school system takes our young people, prepares them for 'the world of tomorrow' — which it does not expect to take place in any rural area — and gives back 'expert' (that is, extremely generalised) ideas. We have two churches. But both have been used by their denominations, for almost a century, to provide training and income for student ministers, who do not stay long enough to become disillusioned.

"For a long time, then, the minds that have most influenced our town have not been of the town so have not tried even to perceive, much less to honour, the good possibilities that there are. They have not wondered on what terms a good and conserving life might be lived there. in this my community is not unique but is like almost every other neighbourhood in our country and in the 'developed' world.

"The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet's millions of human and natural neighbourhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one which is in some precious way different from all others. Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence — that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighbourhoods.

"We must have the sense and the courage, for example, to see that the ability to transport food for hundreds or thousands of miles does not necessarily mean that we are well off. It means that the food supply is more vulnerable and more costly than a local food supply would be. It means that consumers do not control or influence the healthfulness of their food supply and that they are at the mercy of people who have control and influence. It means that, in eating, people are using large quantities of petroleum that other people in another time are almost certain to need.

"We have an economy that depends not on the quality and quantity of necessary goods and services, but on the moods of a few stockbrokers. We believe that democratic freedom can be preserved by people ignorant of the history of democracy and indifferent to the responsibilities of freedom."

So wrote Wendell Berry, legendary farmer poet, in his 1990 book entitled "What Are People For". Very little has changed since he made those observations about the central importance of locality and community wherever we live on the planet. Nevertheless, questions are being raised about the relationship between the Real and the Financial economies. See Blog for 28th April in this series.


Thursday, 28 April 2022

The Real and Financial Economies

A century ago saw the aftermath of the WAR-TO-END-ALL-WARS which did nothing of the sort. The First World War merely paved the way for a century of senseless manufacture of armaments for profitable export to potential and actual war zones. Equally, it led to the growth of Big Pharm, agribusiness, ecological devastation and general malaise across the spectrum of politics, economics and education. The question now is - if this is 'progress' - scientific, economic or technical - do we really want it? And if not, what are we going to do about it?

Fortunately, in the quest for sanity, we already have a great deal of expertise to draw upon. At a series of international conferences in the first decade of the 21st century women economists drew up pictures of the practical realities of the human economy. They drew attention to the fact that human survival is not dependent upon the financial system. On the contrary, it depends on the Household and the Cultivation economies. Yet these lie outside the accounting systems of neoclassical economics. When academics, politicians and journalists debate the state of the economy, they merely add up what is being produced for profitable sale by the arms manufacturers, Big Pharm and the infrastructures that supply the labour, raw materials and expertise necessary to operate global corporate capitalism.

In our daily lives we work for, invest in, and are utterly dependent upon, the industrial/financial economy. We may be employed by the arms and Big Pharm companies directly, or as employees of suppliers. We may be educating the workers, or supplying them with health care. Or we may be working within the vast infrastructures that supply foods, fuels, clothing, transport, packaging and the other necessities of life. Now that the system is, by all accounts, on the brink of collapse, a fundamental re-think is essential if humanity is to survive.

In 2002 a paper entitled Basic Elements of Human Economy was presented to the International Household and Family Research Conference in Helsinki, Finland, by Hilkka Pietila. It contained the following passage:

"The major blind spots in the prevailing economic thinking seem to be:

- the household economy, which is used here for the non-market, unpaid work and production by a family or a group of people having a household together for the management of their daily life, irrespective of whether they are kindred or not; or even a group of small households living close enough to create a joint economic unit, and

- the cultivation economy, i.e. the production based on the living potential of nature, which is the interface between economy and ecology, human culture facing the ecological laws.

"These constituents of human economy are either misconceived or ignored. The doctrines of economics seem to be derived from physics and mathematics, the sciences dealing with non-living objects and material in the universe (refs). Thus, economics does not take account of biology, the science of living creatures and processes in nature; and that explains why economists seem to be blind to the logic of living nature.

"Both of these economies are very basic from the point of view of a sustainable way of living, and thus for human survival and people's ability to control their own lives. A particular feature of the households is the extent and significance of non-market labour of people without pay for direct production of welfare, and thus as an essential contribution for human livelihood. A particularity of the cultivation economy is its profoundly unique nature by being based on living potential of nature.

"Human beings are not considered in this paper merely as part of living nature - as many ecologists do - but as the only rational and responsible species in the universe, which is accountable for its behaviour and its management of the only planet suitable for its existence and welfare. Neither does this paper take a human being as mere "Homo Economicus", whose only motivation is the pursuit of self-interest and maximized satisfaction of needs on lowest possible costs and efforts."

That is, we have two economies: the real economy of Households and Cultivation on the one hand, and the Industrial/Financial Economy on the other. Since the latter is operating like a wild, untrained horse, the task ahead is to bring it under the control of humanity.


Tuesday, 26 April 2022

From Monopoly to Triopoly

The zero -sum game of Monopoly represents the world economy as-we-know-it today. Players participate in the game for what they can get out of it, regardless of the costs to others and the planet. The game has an interesting history.

In the late 19th century Quaker followers of the American alternative economist Henry George devised a series of board games to facilitate discussion of practical ways to bring about system-wide reform of the entire political economy. The boards represented key institutions and landmarks of their local municipalities, and the debate sought to engineer practical alternatives to the centralisation of control of the political economy by elite players.

The games were drawn up in a wide variety of locations throughout the English-speaking world, over a period of several decades. They were played in three stages. Phase One showed the zero-sum game as it was emerging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Phases Two and Three demonstrated how the rules could be adapted to create a win-win political economy, a just and fair society for all. In 1935 Phase One of the Landlords Game was adapted and marketed as Monopoly.

In the late 1990s, members of the Bromsgrove Group came across Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit, a Scottish version of the Landlords Games. Several versions of the game were drawn up, played and discussed around the UK in the early years of this century. One version has been available for some years at the very bottom of the SOCIAL ART page of https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/ .

Wherever in the world we happen to be living at the moment, it would seem to be a good plan to explore the local land and institutions through which we are supplied with the everyday necessities of life. Three phases of group discussion suggested are:

Compare and contrast Monopoly and Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Note especially that the banker is not present on the Monopoly board. Yet he holds all the money and the property cards - quite literally. He hands out the money, and creates more when it runs short. Note on the Brer Fox board squares representing Mother Earth, the Bank, the Poorhouse and the moors, common land and farmland. Nothing lives on the Monopoly board.

How did your local political economy look in 1913? Using local histories and maps, draw up a board reflecting the politics, economics and culture of the local town or municipality where you currently live.

How does your local political economy relate to the corporate world of monopoly capitalism?

The plan is not to provide a ready-made blueprint for the future, but to stimulate discussion leading to consolidation of practical action towards 'triopoly', a Threefold Social Order as envisaged by Rudolf Steiner.

NOTE: See previous Understanding Life and Debt Blogs, and the Douglas Social Credit website https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/ .