As a voter and citizen in a democracy I should be able to vote my
conscience and beliefs in elections. At its core this involves voting
for candidates which represent my beliefs.
Absent any palatable
candidates, I would like to have some sort of mechanism to register my
blanket disapproval such as a “None of the Above” option. Having such
an option would put political parties and elected officials on notice
that they aren’t up to snuff and the general public expects a lot more
than what they are currently offering. These suggestions promote choice
and competition in politics — that’s the American way right?
To my surprise, I get a lot of resistance from people whenever I
broach such issues. People typically agree with me about how much our
choices in elections in candidates and political parties are
inadequate. But when the discussion veers towards answering the
question of what we can do about it and I broach the third-party and
independent option this is where I encounter resistance.
Voting for third party and independent candidates will only result
in siphoning votes away from the major party candidate you most agree
with, resulting in a win for the major party candidate you most oppose.
Therefore, your vote for an independent or a third party only increases
the likelihood of the major party candidates whom you most disagree
with winning and is wasting your vote.
Politics is a game where you can’t always get what you want. Winning elections always involves some sort of compromise.
Having a None of the Above option is stupid. Voters should just
choose between those who are on the ballot. If they disagree with the
choices, they should be active in the stages of politics before the
candidates are formally chosen such as party primaries, to make sure
candidates of their choice will be represented on the ballot.
I will try to address these issues one by one.
Voting for third party and independent candidates will only
result in siphoning votes away from the major party candidate you most
agree with, resulting in a win for the major party candidate you most
oppose. Therefore, your vote for an independent or a third party only
increases the likelihood of the major party candidates whom you most
disagree with winning and is wasting your vote.
This is the old “spoiler” argument which asserts that the way the
current American political system is structured, that if you deviate
from voting for major party candidates it will result in disaster. The
example of Ralph Nader’s candidacy allegedly contributing to the
Democratic loss in the 2000 elections giving us eight years of the
Bush Administration is always brought up whenever someone wants to
make this point.
The most obvious counter to such an argument is if we continue
voting for major party candidates even though we all agree they are
doing a bad job nothing will change. The major parties have no
incentive to take our wishes, ideas and perspectives into account
because they will get our votes regardless of how much they screw up or
how much they put their partisan and insider interests above the
national interest. Following the advice above we as citizens are
reduced to passive observers in politics whose sole job is to rubber
stamp choice a or choice b and nothing more. I don’t know about you but
that doesn’t sound very palatable or remotely democratic to me.
If a choice c or choice d exists which I feel better represents me
and my perspective why shouldn’t I practice my freedom and right to
choose? Does it result in siphoning votes off either choice a and b —
so what? My vote doesn’t belong to either major party by default just
because I hold certain beliefs. If the major party closest to my
beliefs demonstrate time and time again that they are not willing or
able to adequately represent my beliefs it is insanity to argue that my
vote still belongs to them. That is putting party interest — THEIR
party interest since I am not a member of either major party — over my
Will this result in the short term to electoral victories to major
party candidates whom you most disagree with? Did it result in
disasters like the Bush presidency?
Ralph Nader costing Gore the presidency is a myth that deserves to be challenged whenever it is invoked.
Even if I had voted Democratic in the 2000 elections, Bush still would
have likely won the elections. Because there were a heck of a lot more
Democrats who either did not vote or who voted for Bush than the measly
total of votes Ralph Nader got in the 2000 elections. If those
Democrats only voted or had not crossed party lines to vote for Bush,
Gore would have become President instead of Bush. If Bush won it had
nothing to do with Nader being on the ballot and everything to do with
Democrats’ failure to attract enough voters — Democratic voters — to
vote for their own party’s candidate. To blame independents and Ralph
Nader for their loss is the height of dishonesty and arrogance. If
Democrats can’t even get Democrats to vote Democratic what reason
should independents have to vote their way?
America is supposed to be about choice, competition and the giving
individuals the power to choose. Why can’t we practice those principles
in politics? I favor giving the major parties good, solid competition.
That’s the only way they will listen to the voters. Besides, if minor
parties and independents can do a better job at the helm why shouldn’t
they be given a chance to lead?
Politics is a game where you can’t always get what you want. Winning elections always involves some sort of compromise.
Is all politics reducible to the single goal of “winning elections?” I
don’t disagree that winning elections is important. But more important
in my mind, especially for independents and third party advocates, are
goals such as movement-building, public education, political reform and
establishing a foothold in the electoral arena. Absent viability to win
elections on the short term, independents and third party advocates
should set their sights towards the long term. And yes, that means
participating in, voting in elections and losing. Perhaps repeatedly.
But as political outsiders develop the infrastructure to compete with
the majors victories will come eventually.
As a voter I would much rather throw my support towards these
long-term strategic objectives for potential gains on the long-term
instead of wasting my vote and compromising my beliefs for candidates
and political parties who do not truly represent my interests just for
the sake of winning one election for the short term. To me, voting for
a candidate you don’t agree with or who has zero interest in
representing you is the real wasted vote.
Having a None of the Above option is stupid. Voters should just
choose between those who are on the ballot. If they disagree with the
choices, they should be active in the stages of elections before the
candidates are chosen such as party primaries, to make sure candidates
of their choice will be represented on the ballot.
Following this advice effectively hogties independents and third party
advocates to participating in politics only as members of either the
Republican or Democratic parties. Primaries in most states nationwide
are closed — meaning independents and unaffiliated voters can’t
participate in them. Declaring myself a Republican or a Democrat just
so I can vote in their primaries doesn’t make sense to me — I am
neither a Republican or a Democrat and declaring myself as such is an
act of dishonesty and I believe, a big compromise of my beliefs as an
There are efforts existing to make primaries open to independents
and those I fully support. But I think putting the onus on independents
to change the composition of major party candidates through the primary
system is too cumbersome, roundabout and really isn’t a suggestion at
all but merely a way of telling independents to abandon their beliefs
and principles, play exclusively in the major party sandbox, and don’t
It would be much easier and more democratic to shift the power away
from party insiders and into the hands of actual voters in elections.
One of the ways this can be done by giving voters option to
collectively say None of the Above to candidates and political parties
on the ballot — it puts party insiders on notice about who the boss in
a democracy should be — the general public of active voters.
If incumbents are doing a good job or candidates ran a good
campaign, they will have the votes and have nothing to fear from the
None of the Above option. But having this option in play gives voters
the ability to send a powerful political message to the parties. If
they are screwing up imagine the embarrassment if None of the Above
gets more votes than them. Having that as a threat is a mechanism to
keep political parties in line and gives the power in elections back
into the hands of voters.
I hope that I addressed the three main points above adequately. My
perspective is coming from the need to put authority and power back
into the hands of voters and away from major party insiders. These
suggestions are designed to give the ability to voters to put those who
are in power on notice if they are doing a bad job. Ordinary people
should have a strong voice and say in what goes on in politics and
government. These suggestions are examples of ways these can be
accomplished. But they require that the individual voter cease thinking
of him or herself as a captive of either major party who cannot deviate
from either one or else disaster will strike. That puts the power — too
much power — voluntarily in the hands of the major parties and their
insiders and away from voters and ordinary citizens. That doesn’t seem
very democratic to me.
To me, voting and elections are supposed to be about democracy and
putting decision-making power into the hands of The People. Democracy
and democratic participation should be much more than a tired ritual
and exercise of ratifying the pre-packaged decisions of party insiders
— decisions largely out of the control and purveiw of ordinary
citizens. To accept what passes for elections and democracy today as
the only “realistic” and “pragmatic” option for voters and citizens and
that they shouldn’t demand anything more is quite sad in my opinion.
There is a world of solutions out there to reform our political system ranging from campaign finance reform, voter registration, ballot access, voting methods, etc. and there are many activists and organizations
working on these issues mostly under the radar of public consciousness.
These groups are working on solutions designed to put democracy back
into the hands of voters. I am an advocate of making these efforts more
well-known and spreading the word that real, people-powered democracy
is possible and politics need not be solely an exercise of holding our
collective noses and settling for the lesser of two evils. That, to me,
is what American democracy and being an engaged citizen is all about.
So I had a bright idea at the end of September… Instead of rehashing old work for a CafePress calendar design, I thought I’d try something new. I hadn’t done any artwork for myself all year, everything I’d been working on was a commission of some sort. In addition to that, I’d spent a large portion of the year delving deeper into the psychedelic music of the late Sixties, especially the wealth of obscure British bands to be found on the seemingly endless series of compilations which have trickled out over the past two decades. Everyone is familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit but, as I’ve noted before, themes from, and allusions to, the Alice books run through British psychedelia to an even greater degree. The Beatles put Lewis Carroll in their pantheon of influences on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and Wonderland’s atmosphere of Victorian surrealism chimed perfectly with a resurgence of interest in Victorian art and design.
So at the end of September, mulling over ideas, I picked up one of my Lewis Carroll volumes and looked at the chapter list: 12 chapters…12 months…I could do a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland! The only drawback was being weighed down by ongoing work which meant that anything I did would have to be created quickly and easily. I reckoned it was manageable if I put a few rules in place first: try and rough out a chapter a day; make copious use of clip art decoration and scanned engravings; keep things bold and florid without worrying too much about fidelity to minor story points. In theory I could do the whole thing in about two weeks if I kept on schedule. As it turns out the whole thing took me three weeks as I got increasingly involved with illustrating the story. You can see the results below and larger copies of the pictures here. Two years ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t ever illustrate Lewis Carroll. That was true at the time since I couldn’t find an approach to the stories that would sustain my interest and (possibly) bring something new to the books. Seeing Alice’s adventures through the psychotropic prism of the late Sixties showed me the way into Wonderland. What’s needed now is to do the same next year for Looking-Glass Land. Watch this space.
The CafePress calendar page for would-be purchasers is here. Some notes on the pictures follow below.
Down the Rabbit Hole.
A great secondhand find recently was a 1970s reprint of the entire Harrod’s catalogue for 1895, over 1000 pages of engraved pictures which was a big help in quickly establishing mundane details such as bottles, watches, etc. Alice changes size and shape from month to month; since I was working at speed I had to live with that. The figures are from Victorian ads or Punch magazine illustrations. In order to keep them consistent I tinted the girls in each picture the same colour.
The typeface used throughout is a design from 1879 called Kismet. Not only does it appear in the Harrod’s catalogue, I’ve also seen it used on the covers of psychedelic compilations which made it the perfect choice for these pictures.
The Pool of Tears.
Things are still pretty bold at this point. Yes, there should only be one mouse but the symmetry worked better.
A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale.
I kept to the schedule for the first two pictures but this was the point where it started to get difficult. Tracking down all those animals took longer than intended and this became the pattern for many of the subsequent pictures. Roughing them out was easy but I’d then spend ages looking for one precise detail. Sometimes it really is quicker to just draw something…
The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill.
The house is made from parts of a Victorian architect’s catalogue set against a rather splendid paisley background.
Advice from a Caterpillar.
The mushrooms are Fly Agarics, of course, and it’s been pointed out to me that their arrangement is rather phallic; that wasn’t my intention but never underestimate the power of the subconscious. The paisley background I wanted to look like a Persian carpet. The hookah—which I amended with an extra bowl—was another detail from the Harrod’s catalogue.
Pig and Pepper.
The Cheshire Cat is Steinlen’s famous Chat Noir while the Duchess is the painting of La vecchia grotesqua by Quentin Massys upon which Tenniel is supposed to have based his drawing. I gave her a pair of “granny glasses”. Finally, the fractal background is made from one of Louis Wain’s psychedelic cat faces.
A Mad Tea-Party.
This is my favourite of all the pictures. I’d no idea what I was going to do for it until I set to work and it came together very easily. The Hatter is bursting out of a Victorian hat-maker’s contraption.
The Queen’s Croquet-Ground.
This one isn’t psychedelic at all but the playing cards—which are florid enough to begin with—looked best without any additional ornament.
The Mock Turtle’s Story.
Lots of aquatic decoration for the Mock Turtle’s undersea tales.
The Lobster Quadrille.
I decided against dancing lobsters; too time-consuming and even Tenniel only had one looking in a mirror. The peculiar roller-skates (skates…a pun, geddit?) are a genuine Victorian invention; the nautilus-headed woman isn’t.
Who Stole the Tarts?
Rather a chaotic scene, as fits the chapter, but I would have done more with this had there been time. The background is an engraving of the House of Commons but you’d never guess unless I’d mentioned it.
Sharp shadows imply a return from dreamland. I’ve used those Art Nouveau butterfly shapes before and couldn’t resist slipping them in here. In the book the flying cards at the end turn into dead leaves which seems wrong for the month of May when the story is set; butterflies seem more suitable. For those who don’t want a calendar I’ll be putting these pictures together as a poster design at some point. Not just now, I’m feeling all psyched-out.
This series of pictures is dedicated to Michael English, of the great psychedelic design team Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, who died while work was in progress.
StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.
By recording the stories of our lives with the people we care about, we experience our history, hopes, and humanity. Since 2003, tens of thousands of everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share, and is archived for generations to come at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet.
StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, creating a growing portrait of who we really are as Americans.
View our story: our first five years from modest start up to national movement.
Watch Dave Isay as he explains the StoryCorps experience while on the Listening Is an Act of Love book tour, on CNN’s American Morning and when chosen as the Person of the Week on ABC World News.
Listening is an act of love.
The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.
Our goal is to make that experience accessible to all, and find new ways to inspire people to record and preserve the stories of someone important to them. Everybody’s story matters and every life counts.
Just as powerful is the experience of listening. Whenever people listen to these stories, they hear the courage, the humor, the trials and triumphs of an incredible range of voices. By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.
The inner ego does the actual work that brings about the events you have decided upon. In very simple terms, if you want to pick up a book, and then do so, you experience that event consciously, though you are quite unaware of all the inner events that occurred to bring the motion about. The inner ego directs those activities. If you want to change your job, and hold that desire, a new job will come into your experience in precisely the same fashion, in that the inner events will be arranged by the inner ego. A body event involves the working of numerous muscles and joints and so forth. An event involving a job change concerns motion on the part of all of the inner egos involved. Obviously, then, a mass physical event implies an inner system of communications of proportions that would put your technological communications to shame.
The following is a review of Thomas Greco's The End of Money and the Future of Civilization (Chelsea Green Publishing).
Thomas Greco is the most radical writer on money today. The title of the book suggests that the future of civilization depends on abandoning money as we know it. What could be more radical and revolutionary than that? Yet Greco does not come across as some wild revolutionary wanting to turn the world upside down. His style is calm and systematic throughout. He talks us through the historical record and shows how the current financial system has shaped and governs our world. The argument of the book is that if we are to tackle the gigantic issues of our time, we have to understand how money works and adopt a new way of doing money. We do not have to re-invent it entirely, for it has evolved over the centuries and we are now entering a new era where modern technologies allow us to move away from the existing centralized, globalized, monopolized and privatized money system that is a tragic relic of history, and toward a truly modern, democratic money system that belongs to the commons.
Greco is brilliant at exposing the workings of our current money system and explaining how this can evolve into a new system. But all the time there is this feeling that he is holding back, that he is not following his own arguments to their logical conclusion. "Prognostication is a hazardous business -- something that is best avoided," he tells us. He does hint at where new monetary trends might take us but leaves most of it to our imaginations. So if you are hoping to find out what the future of civilization will look like, you will be disappointed. It is only in the epilogue that he touches on the prospects for civilization, and then in only two pages.
This review is neither a critique nor a summary of the book; it is about what it says between the lines and what would result if we were to follow the logic of Greco's arguments. In the same way as he wants to "liberate the exchange process," this is an attempt to liberate some of his ideas to ensure that their full potential is realized.
The first eight chapters set the scene for the main theme of the book, which is that the prevailing money system has brought humanity to the brink of disaster in many different ways. It is the money system that defines how our economies work and has set them on an unsustainable growth-oriented trajectory. Today it is the "money power" that rules the world:
"I have argued that control of money and exchange mechanisms is the key structural element that determines the distribution of power, and that it must be the main focus if any degree of community empowerment and self-determination is to be achieved. A money monopoly, whether in private hands or government controlled, is inimical to freedom and equity."
In order to realize a new monetary paradigm, money-as-we-know-it needs to be "depoliticised." This can only be accomplished by the separation of money and the state. Under the current arrangement the banking cartel creates money as debt and charges interest on it while governments get to spend as much as they want without regard to tax revenues. Legal tender laws and banking regulations endow the banking cartel with the exclusive power to issue money (as debt), which we are forced to use (through legal tender laws). The collusion between political power and financial power is the root cause of the mega-crises facing humanity.
The Evolution of Money
In this chapter we are taken on a journey through history that explains how money evolved as a reaction to the inconveniences of barter. While this is extremely helpful in understanding how the current money system came about and how it can be transcended, Greco could have expressed his proposals more powerfully had he considered the broader concept of the evolution of exchange systems instead of money alone. Money is a sub-set of exchange, a period in the evolution of exchange systems where exchange was mediated by value representations, either in the form of tangible commodities or instruments of various degrees of abstraction. Exchange is not reducible to money and so when the history of money is abstracted from the history of exchange it appears to be linear, starting with commodity money, evolving through symbolic money, credit money and towards some kind of credit clearing system that Greco says is the highest stage of money.
If a history of the evolution of exchange systems had been provided instead, the process would have appeared less linear and more of a Hegelian dialectic, spiralling upwards to higher and higher forms. Certain forms appear to repeat themselves through history. Exchange did not start with barter or with any hard exchange medium that could be identified as money. Exchange is a property of life on earth and not something special or unique to humans. Nature itself provides all sorts of feedback mechanisms to regulate and control exchange but what is unique about human exchange is that humans developed their own systems to regulate and control it. Initially this would have been in the form of mental records of who did or gave what to whom. Various mnemonic devices were introduced to keep a more accurate record. The earliest civilizations learned how to record exchanges on clay tablets; the Incas kept the record by tying knots in pieces of string (quipus); in many places artefacts like notched bones and tally sticks were used. Numeracy and writing arose out of the need to keep records of exchanges (accounting). In a sense "keeping the record" in this way was an earlier form of the mutual credit clearing process that Greco proposes, where today computers replace the primitive mnemonic devices.
After the earlier information-based exchange systems came the era of money-based exchange systems, where exchange was organized by the mediation of "stuff" instead of information. This was inevitable when trading increased both in quantity and in distance. With primitive technologies it was no longer possible to keep the record accurately. Money did that simply by being an abstract and portable representation of the real values that were being exchanged. The problem with "stuff" money is that it can be appropriated. It has to be created, distributed and controlled, and these functions always fell into the hands of the powerful who used it to increase their power over the rest of society. This has come to its apotheosis with the current global money system, which is in the process of morphing into a single world currency. Today the money power is all-powerful, rendering national governments insignificant.
The evolution of exchange systems will not stop with credit clearing, as Greco suggests. It is possible to see another swing back to money-based exchange systems after a brief period of information-based exchange systems. When the energy crisis really begins to bite as we enter the steep downside of peak oil, there may not be enough energy to power the millions of computers that will be needed to run a global credit clearing network. A higher form of tangible money might have to be re-introduced, but hopefully next time we will have learnt that its creation, issuance and control must not fall into private hands and thereby become monopolized.
The Third Evolutionary Stage -- The Emergence of Credit Clearing
In this chapter we are introduced to the concept of credit clearing, comparing the credit clearing process of banks today with mutual credit clearing. In the first instance the economic players use bank-borrowed credit (money) to clear debts between themselves; in the latter mutual credit (self-issued IOUs) is used instead. Where bank credit is used the monetary output has to be greater than the monetary input because interest has to be paid on top of the principal amount borrowed. Since the difference between the output and the input was not created at loan time, the deficit can only come from further borrowing down the line. This means that the system has to continually expand, creating an unstable situation prone to crisis and collapse when output does not meet the requirements. Where mutual credit is used there is no need for interest, for there is no third party providing any service that the traders in the circle can't provide themselves. This keeps the system in equilibrium as the full proceeds of production go to the producers and are not siphoned off by a parasitic class who play no part in the production/distribution process. The removal of interest from the equation not only removes the parasites, it also removes the expansionary imperative.
In removing the need for any third party currency or credit instruments, direct credit clearing makes conventional money and banking obsolete. By freeing themselves from "the limitations by monopolized bank-credit and government money," traders will be creating a "new economy" in which conventional money plays no part. Greco is not talking about a complementary currency here, but an entirely new exchange system that excludes the financial industry as we know it, central banking, fractional-reserve banking, the political money nexus and everything else that flows from removing the concept of interest from the concept of money.
Credit clearing is a truly revolutionary idea which, if it were to be taken up in a big way, would shake the foundations of the prevailing economic, social and political order. Perhaps Greco does not follow through the full implications of his proposals out of fear of turning his book into a manual of revolutionary change!
Ignoring what the monetary elite might do if they felt that "their" money system was under threat, let us take a look at where the widespread implementation of credit clearing circles could take us.
If, as Greco suggests, a network of locally-based "circles" was implemented -- not one giant clearing mechanism to replace the existing one -- these circles would result in an economy consisting of a multitude of discrete, locally-based, mini economies without the huge concentrations of capital that characterize the present global economy. This would reduce the size of production units to a community scale and eliminate the opportunities for globalised mega-corporations. This is precisely what the world needs at this time, but it would also mean the deconstruction of the present globalized economy.
Not only that, by eliminating the political nexus and breaking the economy up into locally administered units, would there be any need for the kind of national governments that now reign the earth? Would it not make more sense for governments to scale down to the size of the economic units? Would these then still be called governments, or should they just be called local administrations responsible for providing public services in the areas where the clearing circles operate?
If 'governments' were to scale down surely politics too would be very different if the focus was local instead of national. There would be no place for nationwide political parties, for the concept of nation would become much more fuzzy. Taking this line of thinking to its ultimate conclusion, would nation states make sense any more? Currently nations map to the areas where their currencies operate, but if money systems were more granular then so too would 'nations'. When reduced to city-sized units or smaller, would these still be nation states, or would we be back to the city states of ancient Greece?
Solving the Money Problem and Credit Clearing
According to Greco the "money problem" can be defined as: Legal tender status for central bank-created currency; the monopolization of credit by the banking cartel; and the lack of an operational measure of value and unit of account that is independent of political currencies. Distilled to its essence it is the concentration of power by the financial elite through its monopolization of money. This has been achieved through a pact with government, which has given the money monopoly such power that today it is not inaccurate to say that governments are the junior partners in this alliance.
Reformers who believe that there is a political solution to this unhealthy arrangement fail to understand that governments are fully tied into and dependent on this system, and are not the primary decision makers about what happens and how it works. Even if governments did have the will and the power to wrest control of the issuance of credit from the banking cartel, the situation would not be a lot different. The historical record suggests that where governments have come out on top their monopolization of credit has led to militarization, wars, expansion and a weakening of democratic processes.
The money problem will not be solved by shifting the issuing power, even if governments are able to do it debt free. What is required is the ending of the money monopoly. This means the decentralization and democratization of the exchange process. Again this can only be achieved through traders establishing their own mutual credit clearing circles and independent private and community currencies.
By creating their own local currencies traders can liberate the exchange process and disperse the money power amongst themselves. It is in fact a lot more than just the exchange process that is liberated when a usury-free exchange system is adopted. Ruling classes have always used control over the exchange system as the basis of their power. Usury (interest) has always been one of the main instruments they have used. Attempts to undermine that basis would result in class warfare in the form of "currency wars." The ruling class would appeal to its allies in government to quash any attempts to "undermine the economy." Widespread adoption of mutual credit clearing would seriously weaken class rule and usher in a period of democracy where for the first time in history power really would belong to the people.
Mutual credit clearing circles fall under the category of information-based exchange systems and are not part of the money-based camp. Where the organizing principle is information and not exchange media, the terminology needs to be quite different. Because the distinction between these two types of exchange systems is seldom made, they are usually conflated and the terminologies merged. Using concepts from the "old" system to explain how the "new" one works can lead to confusion and conceals the potential of the latter.
Although Greco insists that "every piece of currency is a credit obligation -- an IOU of a particular issuer" and "money is nothing more than credit," in information-based exchange systems (such as the mutual credit clearing circles he proposes) the concepts of credit and issuance are outdated, relics of the dominant, money-based exchange system that we are so used to.
Credit, as commonly understood, is an agreement between trading parties and an obligation on the part of the recipient of the credit: I give you something now and you give me something else later (or you borrow from a bank and settle with me now and transfer that obligation to the bank). It is a normal exchange but with a time delay between delivery and settlement, and that time delay is usually represented by some kind of a credit instrument with an interest component. The interest is always explained as the "compensation" or the "penalty" imposed by the giver of the credit for having to wait for settlement.
In an information-based exchange system when there is a transfer of value from a seller to a buyer there is no agreement between the two and no direct obligation on the part of the buyer to the seller. Both the agreement and the obligation are social, and they apply to both sides. Buyers must agree to sell in order to "pay" for their purchases, and sellers must agree to purchase so that buyers can sell. Another way of putting it is that traders must agree to sell in order to buy and buy in order to sell. Everyone has an obligation to the community to keep their mean balance as close to zero as possible. Clearing is the process of ensuring that balances remain at or near to zero.
This could be called community credit but that is stretching the meaning of credit to something else. The community does not "issue" credit; all that happens is that the system records (as a balance debit) the quantity of value received by the buyer. The value received needs to be offset by the provision of goods and services of an equivalent value so that the debit can be cleared. There is no place for interest in this scheme because the community does not require compensation for the delay in settlement. Everyone delays settlement and so if everyone is penalised for doing so, then everyone should benefit from the penalties, but penalties and benefits would cancel each other out and so be pointless.
As there is no credit in an information-based exchange system and certainly no physical currency, the term "issue" has no meaning as well. When money is issued into circulation it implies that it has substance -- it has been "created" -- and that it circulates between trading parties (i.e. it passes from hand to hand). Information can neither be issued nor can it circulate. It is always retrospective -- a record of what has already happened. While the use of the terms "issue" and "circulate" can help us visualize what is happening because we are so used to them, they are best avoided as they add unnecessary complexity and prevent us seeing that information is a better organiser and regulator than "stuff."
Following on from removing the conventional concepts of credit and issuance, the concept of paying (pay, payments etc.) can also be removed from the list of concepts associated with information-based exchange systems, such as clearing circles. To "pay" is normally understood as giving something in return for something received. Most usually to "pay" for something means to give money in exchange for whatever was received.
When the exchange system does not have any tangible or symbolic representations of value (i.e. money) but only keeps records of the transfers of value, the concept of "payment" is rendered meaningless. Nothing "goes" from the buyer to the seller and so there is no "payment." The buyer needs to "pay" for what was received by delivering like value back to the community, but this is a different meaning for the word "pay" than it is commonly understood. The "payment" here is the settlement of a social obligation, not a direct transfer of value to the seller in recompense.
As buyers do not "pay" sellers in information-based exchange systems, the next question that arises is: who enters the transactions into the system (records them on the computer)? This might at first seem like a trivial matter and the intuitive answer is that the buyer should do it, as buyers have always "paid" sellers and by entering the transaction they are in effect "paying" or "settling" with their sellers.
It is the counter-intuitive, however, that is the most meaningful. Vendors would never tolerate a system where the buyers walk off with the goods, trusting that they will go home and enter the transactions into their PCs. It is not in the interest of buyers to enter transactions as that debits their accounts. Sellers would quickly get very frustrated if they had to chase their buyers after every sale.
Sellers entering transactions is about as revolutionary as mutual credit clearing itself, for it turns upside down the normal buyer/seller relationship, in particular the employer/employee relationship. It also streamlines business processes by removing the need for accountants and for the whole rigmarole of sending statements, waiting for cheques, chasing customers to pay, bad debts, cash flow problems, waiting in bank queues to deposit cheques etc.
The great power of the employing class of capitalism (and socialism) derives from the way that money-based exchange systems work. Businesses are in business to make money and the revenue from production accrues to the owners of the business. As buyers of labour, employers are greatly empowered by the fact that they control the supply of money in their businesses. This keeps their workers in thrall as they are in a weak position vis a vis their employers. Their wages and salaries are paid to them by their employers who are in a position to determine, withhold or terminate payments at any time.
Under a credit clearing scenario employees would not be "paid" by their employers. As the sellers of labour they would be in a position to credit themselves against their employers. This turns the normal employer/employee relationship on its head. Employees would be greatly strengthened in relation to their employers as the latter would no longer be in a position to unilaterally withhold or terminate their wages/salaries. The very concepts of wages and salaries, which are associated with the concepts of paying and remuneration, would also become meaningless.
How this would actually work in practice is difficult to say because it would depend on the agreements between employees and their employers. Perhaps it would lead to a situation where the concepts of employer and employee would change their meaning, as well as the concepts of employment and jobs. When "employees" are enabled to credit themselves and debit their "employers" they are no longer part of a "workforce" but independent service providers with livelihoods.
We can go on with this train of thought, but it becomes increasingly fuzzy as we are entering the realm of the imaginary here. There are no mutual credit clearing circles out there that we can monitor for trends, apart from numerous LETS groups and other similar exchange systems that are too small and insignificant to provide any meaningful clues.
The Next Big Thing in Business: A Complete Web-Based Trading Platform
"As we've shown, money today is not what it used to be, and tomorrow ... well, tomorrow we won't use money at all."
Although it has a long history, the money system of today was developed and adapted for the industrial age. It has always been able to generate practically unlimited amounts of credit, especially after it was delinked from limited precious metals. It has also been able to produce more credit than is necessary for normal trading in order to cover the interest requirement. This has forced economies based on this money system to be locked onto an endless growth path. Growth has been possible while there has been the energy to power the growth, but as we enter the downward slope of the peak oil bell-shape and growth becomes more difficult, so it will become increasingly difficult to service the interest requirement. Because interest is contingent on growth, you could say that the "production" of credit also has a bell shape and maps on top of the energy production bell shape. We have thus reached "peak credit'"and "peak interest." This is a dangerous contradiction for a money system that can only work on the upward slope of the energy production curve.
We are now supposed to be moving into the post-industrial world, the information age, but with a money system designed for the industrial age. Until the computer revolution and the advent of the Internet it simply was not possible to have a purely information-based exchange system. The complexity of keeping track of each and every trade on a global scale could only be achieved by using a money system where each trading entity kept track of its own supply of money and used banks to clear and settle accounts with other trading entities. While this worked, it was hugely inefficient and labour intensive. It needed interest to finance itself. A new money system based entirely on information can keep track of each and every transaction so efficiently that its running costs are negligible. All that would be required from users is a small service fee to keep the system running. A service fee does not require an underlying economy that is geared to keeping its money system working.
While much of what was done manually by banks is now performed by computers, money today still works in pretty much the same way as it has always done. It is issued into circulation as debt by third parties outside of the trading circuit and even where there is innovation in payment systems, such as PayPal, "it only allows the transfer of the same old bank-created debt-money".
Greco suggests that we can do better than all the existing forms of "electronic" money that are already out there. To become true alternative payment systems they would have to offer interest-free lines of credit to some or all of their account holders. Until this happens there is nothing stopping anyone from setting up a non-political trading platform that is essentially a credit clearing circle. To be successful it requires four basic components:
A social network
A means of payment
A measure of value or pricing unit
Many of these are already available on the Internet but what is required is that they are integrated to form a new "trading space" free of the negative aspects of conventional money and that will "enable the evolution of civilization toward greater peace, prosperity and sustainability."
We are not provided with any clues about how this can be achieved, but it is unlikely to be provided by any of the "big players" today or a new startup until one of them is prepared to provide the service without expecting any reward in conventional money. This will require a huge leap of faith because the provider will have to believe that its rewards will come from providing the service alone and not from extraneous sources.
The End of Money and the Future of Civilization is a powerful book that should be read not only by everyone in the complementary currency movement, but by all those concerned about what is happening on the economic, social, political and environmental fronts. It is almost impossible to understand what is happening in the world today without understanding how our lives are governed by the "politicized global debt-money regime." Greco reminds us that the slide to a despotic materialistic feudalism can only be averted if the processes of exchange and finance are recreated.
For more information on Thomas Greco and his work, click here. Visit Tim Jenkin's blog at Community Exchange Network.
Thumbnail image by Neubie, courtesy of Creative Commons license.
Let me quickly call your attention to an interview with Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling historian, who most recently published American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic. In this casual, wide-ranging conversation (listen below or here) with Russ Roberts, the host of EconTalk, Ellis talks through the founding years of the United States — the break with England, the Revolutionary War, the drafting of the constitution and the forging of the nation. A good conversation for history buffs, and an informative talk for those less familiar with America’s beginnings. You can generally find EconTalk (which typically focuses on economics) here: iTunes – RSS Feed – Web Site.
This is the golden age of muckraking books and documentaries but some of them may have escaped your attention because reviews and promotions cannot keep up with the sheer volume of material.
Here are my recommendations for your Holiday and later reading time:
1. Achieving the Impossible by Lois Marie Gibbs; Published by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (www.chej.org) is an inspiring collection of short stories about how ordinary people have risen to meet the challenges of toxic pollution confronting their families and communities. The author herself rose from the Love Canal controversy in Niagara Falls, New York to lead a grand national grass roots organization.
2. Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope In An Insecure Age by Stephen Hill (University of California Press, 2010.) His thesis is that Western Europe treats its people better in many ways than the United States does its people, and not just in social insurance and services. Read, wonder and galvanize!
3. Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in A Two-Party Tyranny by Theresa Amato (New Press, 2009.) My former campaign manager weighs in with an indictment of the two-party barriers to a competitive electoral system, candidate ballot access and voter choice. Partly personal memoir of her battles in 2000 and 2004, part history about the decades long ago when third parties could get on the ballot easier and make a difference and part a series of reforms that only an outraged public can make happen.
4. Priceless Money: Banking Time for Changing Times by Edgar S. Cahn is a revolutionary elevation of traditional assets in how time can become a currency—a means of exchange that is beyond price—that does not allow market price to define value. It is a limited edition booklet you’ll never forget, free. Send two first class stamps to TimeBanksUSA, 5500 39th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.
5. Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (Nation Books, 2009) The Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent turned prolific author and lecturer, Mr. Hedges goes to the core of a culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. He “exposes the mechanisms used to divert us from confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us.” In gripping, memorable concrete prose that resonates the moment we let ourselves think.
6. The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis by Josh Kosman (Portfolio Hardcover, 2009.) Think it is all about the brand names of a corrupt, reckless Wall Street? Try the entirely unregulated private equity firms that acquire and strip mine them under the guise of saving them, then leave behind debt time bombs and mass layoffs as the value of these leveraged buyouts is sucked out by the corporate bunccaneers. Kosman predicts a coming private equity-caused big bubble crisis.
7. Ordinary People Doing the Extraordinary: The Story of Ed and Joyce Koupal and the Initiative Process by Dwayne Hunn and Doris Ober. This husband-wife team “just ordinary people,” in their words, started out powerless and in over a decade, largely in the seventies, built Initiative power to qualify reforms on the California ballot for the popular vote. A story for the ages that strips away excuses steeped in a sense of powerlessness. This small but invigorating paperback can be obtained from The People’s Lobby (peopleslobby.hypermart.net) for $15, including shipping. California St., Unit 201, San Francisco, CA 94109.
8. Getting Away With Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law by Christopher H. Pyle (Potomac Books, 2009) A former captain in army intelligence and Congressional staffer, now teaching constitutional law at Mount Holyoke College, Mr. Pyle shatters our belief in the rule of law before the unconstitutional government of Bush and Cheney in waging war crimes and torture, while seeking Congressional amnesty to those responsible for implementing their rogue, secret regime. Veteran constitutional law specialist, Louis Fisher asserts these practices have “left American weaker politically, economically, morally, and legally.”
9. It Takes A Pillage by Nomi Prins (Wiley, 2009.) A former managing director of Goldman Sachs, who quit Wall Street, and now is dedicated to educating and mobilizing the American people so that they press for reforms to prevent myopic greed from bringing down our economy again and to hold the speculators and crooks accountable. She “gets inside how the banks looted the Treasury, stole the bailout, and continued with business as usual,” in the words of one reviewer.
10. Censored 2010: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-09 edited by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press, 2009.) This book contains investigative pieces on important topics too often neglected by the mainstream news organizations. Read this book, it will make you angry and then it will energize you to take on a significant societal problem in the New Year.
What you thought
When you first began it
What you want
Now you can hardly stand it though,
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
‘Til you wise up
Aimee Mann, “Wise Up,” from the soundtrack to Magnolia
The nascent movement for single-payer in the United States has to learn the correct lessons from the health care debacle that has unfolded for the last year and is about to conclude. The number one lesson: DON’T TRUST THE DEMOCRATS – NOT A ONE. Especially the progressive Democrats.
Millions believed Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to create a humane, affordable and inclusive health care system and rein in the copious abuses of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. On the campaign trail, Obama proclaimed these corporations were greedy and more concerned about profits and patents than the needs of patients. Some thought because Obama was a former supporter of a single-payer system, he might just enact it when he won the Whitehouse. How wrong they were.
No one could have predicted how much influence and control over health care reform President Obama would give to the very corporate interests killing and bankrupting the American people, and who just a few months earlier, had fiercely attacked and called out by name. No one could have predicted the scale and scope of the sell out. It is truly astounding given the soaring rhetoric of before and the cruel and sleazy reality of now.
From day one there they were, warmly welcomed to the table for the public to see Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Billy Tauzin, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA.) After the sham for the cameras was over, it was off to the much more important “let’s make a deal” meetings (secret, back door, closed, so not transparent) with the Capital Gang: Ted Kennedy, Max Baucus, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama.
Their army of lobbyists set up base camp in Congress. A new report by Medill News Service, Tribune Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics found a “revolving door between Capitol Hill staffers and lobbying jobs for companies with a stake in health care legislation.” According to the analysis, “At least 166 former aids from nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health care overhaul legislation – along with at least 13 former lawmakers – registered to represent at least 338 health care clients since the beginning of last year. Their health care clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the last two years.”
The fish rots from the head down (fish have no spines, either.) Obama set the tone for capitulation and compromise and the rest of the Democrats, the tempo. With breathtaking speed they dismissed, deneutered, and dealt away anything and everything the killer corporations objected to.
It’s important to remember the insurance industry offered to end the outrageous practice of pre-existing condition and rescission in order to shape the legislation in their favor and to make up for a potential loss of profits. They were not concessions won even though the Democrats and the media always portray them that way.
This is the political environment the so-called progressive Democrats were operating in. It was patently and painfully obvious their party was working hand in glove with the point people responsible for the health care crisis and allowing them to ghost write the House and Senate bills. They never mounted a serious challenge to this profoundly undemocratic, behind-the-scenes maneuvering. It would have meant challenging President Obama.
The right wing, Blue Dog Democrats had no such qualms and exacted a number of concessions: severe restrictions on abortion, no public option or Medicare buy-in. It was both incredible and infuriating to watch the scum of the House and Senate rise to the top - Stupak, Lieberman and Nelson - and win their demands. To be sure, the public option and Medicare buy-in were weak, non-reforms that would have done nothing to make health care more affordable. They were only symbolic sops, but even that was too much for the free market misogynists.
And what of the amendments supported by members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus, the supporters of single-payer (SP): John Conyers, Anthony Weiner, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders and Jan Schakowsky?
At every critical moment these politicians with vertebrae composed of Jello compromised, backed down and conceded. Their allegiance to the Democratic Party and to President Obama trumped everything. There was nothing they were not willing to compromise away, no constituency that couldn’t be thrown under the bus for the sake of passing a bill; most appallingly women and abortion rights. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa, they all voted for the house bill that contained the Stupak Amendment. At a small protest in front of Jan Schakowsky’s home after the vote, she came out and told protesters she voted in favor of the Stupak Amendment because she knew it would be taken out of the Senate bill. She promised us it would be. As Schak strolled back into her opulent residence she protested, “I didn’t throw women under the bus.”
The progressive Democrats sold out on single-payer early on when they backed the public option. This created enormous confusion: How could they advocate for both single-payer and the public option when the two are diametrically opposed? It didn’t take long before they all shilled almost exclusively for the public option. Schakowsky spoke at numerous HCAN meetings and rallies, never at single-payer events. Weiner was regularly interviewed by the press and focused the discussion on the public option, not single-payer.
John Conyers, the lead sponsor of the single-payer bill H.R. 676, immediately endorsed the principles of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), an organization opposed to single-payer. When confronted by single-payer supporters at a Health Care Now! national conference, Conyers couldn’t explain the contradiction. Joel Segal, one of his staffers, became enraged and attempted to shut down the discussion. Soon after, Mr. Conyers became irrelevant to the movement for single-payer and a colossal embarrassment to it. It’s tragic, really. Conyers completely abandoned his magnificent legislation, H.R. 676: the only legislation that could transform health care from a commodity to an entitlement for all and solve the crisis. Instead of fighting for that legislation, he was holding briefings with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to discuss “Why the public option must be included to have true health reform.”
It was easy to champion single-payer when the Republicans were in power and health care reform wasn’t on the national agenda, but the minute it was, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the Whitehouse, Conyers collapsed like a house of cards. Every now and again he howled about something. In one article he declared, “I’m tired of saving Obama’s can” but it never occurred to the doddering old fool to stop.
The Weiner Amendment was sheer duplicity. Single-payer supporters worked overtime and got arrested holding Nancy Pelosi to her promise of a vote on the amendment. The vote was scheduled but the day before, Conyers and Kucinich called off support for the vote and Weiner withdrew the amendment. But that was okay with the always-waffling Weiner. He explained: “I have decided not to offer a single payer alternative to the health reform bill at this time. Given how fluid the negotiations are on the final push to get comprehensive health care reform that covers millions of Americans and contains costs through a public option, I became concerned that my amendment might undermine that important goal.” Now we know: The most important goal for Weiner was securing a political future in the Democratic Party.
Conyers and Kucinich tried to spin their skullduggery this way: “Many progressives in Congress, ourselves included, feel that calling for a vote tomorrow for single-payer would be tantamount to driving the movement over a cliff… We are now asking you to join us in suggesting to congressional leaders that this is not the right time to call the roll on a stand-alone single payer bill. That time will come.” Their assertions were preposterous and false - our movement wouldn’t go “over a cliff” if there was a vote, just the opposite. They claimed there wasn’t enough national support for SP, but that wasn’t true, either. Poll after poll show a majority support a government-run health care system, doctors do, too! Moreover, there would have been more grassroots activism and protest if Conyers and Kucinich had clearly, consistently and unapologetically led a political fight to get SP “on the table.” They did nothing to make H.R. 676 a central part of the health care debate and instead, spent their political capital working for the doomed public option. The time was never better to have a vote on single-payer - we had nothing to lose but the vote. For progressive Democrats there will never be a “right time” to have a vote on single-payer in the United States.
The Kucinich Amendment for state single-payer never even made it into the final House bill.
Single-payer amendments batting zero.
Next up to the plate was the Bernie Sanders single-payer amendment in the Senate. The Republicans forced the reading of the 700-page bill (no single-payer bill should be that long, H.R. 676 is only 27 pages!) and after 3 hours Sanders caved. He didn’t “have to,” so why did he? Because the doomsday clock was ticking for the vote on the atrocious Senate bill, reading his amendment was wasting their precious time and Sanders fellow Democrats were positively apoplectic. But it was a Stupak, Lieberman, Nelson moment and Bernie blew it. If he had any balls or principles, he would have forced those senators, those members of the “Millionaire’s Club” who have “Cadillac” health care, to listen to every single word in that amendment, for as long as it took.
Fuck the Senate bill!
If Sanders was a real socialist he would have committed political suicide and voted against the bill. But instead, a few days later in yet another unbelievable, eye-popping betrayal, he voted in favor of it! He was bought off with the promise of 10 billion for primary care and community clinics. In voting for the bill, Sanders rendered null and void his thirty-minute fiery, single-payer soliloquy in the Senate because it’s not what you say it’s what you do that counts.
Sanders admitted in a New York Times article he “doesn’t sleep well,” and knows, “The insurance companies and the drug companies will be laughing all the way to the bank the day after this is passed.” I hope he never gets another good night’s sleep and the truly progressive people of Vermont punish him by throwing his sorry ass out of office and into the dustbin of history.
Back to correct lessons learned. Number one: DON’T TRUST THE DEMOCRATS – NOT A ONE. Especially the progressive Democrats. When push comes to shove they will not stand and deliver, they will back the status quo. The stunning series of sellouts of single-payer must not be forgotten. Number two: We have to build an independent movement for health care that is so large, so powerful, so full of fury and so uncompromising that whatever party happens to be in power is forced to abolish the private for-profit insurance industry and enact single-payer. That is the only way it will happen - by the force of hundreds-of-thousands of people in the streets, sitting in at insurance companies and in the corridors of Congress. When we do that history will truly be made and health care will finally become a human right in the United States.
Until that day, we remain a nation of hostages to the health insurance corporations.
Helen Redmond is a medical social worker in Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org She blogs at http://helenredmond.wordpress.com