I just came across a very interesting article in Yes Magazine that describes a way to meet everyone’s needs, achieve financial independence of individuals and communities, and halt (or even reverse) the growing concentration of effective wealth in the hands of the very few – and it does all this without erecting a supersized government or engaging in economic terrorism. This is an economic paradigm that virtually everybody of all ideologies should be able to get behind – and I almost missed it. Why, you ask? Well, it was packaged very poorly.
When I first saw the link to this article, those endorsing it used phrases such as “we need to need each other,” and “community,” and “we crave interdependence and not independence.” Being an independence-craving, lover of liberty, I dismissed it as nothing more than communistic, nanny-statist propaganda and assumed the authors were appealing to the sense of “community” to trick us into supporting some sort of government program that in theory would help the poor, but in reality would only hurt them by damaging the economy. I have seen this exact tactic used before. I almost didn’t read it – but then I realized I was bored and had nothing better to do.
The article speaks of voluntarily providing services for each other, or making voluntary gifts to each other of our old stuff, instead of throwing it away, thus lessening the need for all of us to spend money, thus either allowing us to save more or lessening the need to work, freeing up more time and bringing us closer to financial independence. So, the article wasn’t about becoming more interdependent; it was about a means to become less interdependent and more free. If those linking to this article had emphasized this element instead, I believe they would make more headway.
The idea behind this I believe – though it didn’t say it in the article – is that because there is always a difference in power between the parties involved in a transaction, there is a degree of exploitativeness to the market. This is not to say that capitalism is exploitation – as some have suggested – but simply that exploitation is something that exists along a continuum as long as there are a finite number of competitors in a market. The smaller the number, the more bargaining power each has, and the more they can raise prices. You are more likely to get a raise going to your boss as a group than going as individuals. Sometimes it is a seller’s market, sometimes it is a buyer’s market, sometimes customer is king, sometimes large firms swallow up all the wealth, and sometimes labor unions drag down weaker companies. Over time, wealth flows faster to the more powerful and accumulated wealth grows more and more unequal. The point is: there can be no exploitation if all services are free. If all values are zero, they are all equal.
There is of course the problem of freeloaders, but these problems are best dealt with at the local level within groups of probably no more than sixty families. When it comes down to it, who would you rather be dependent on? Your neighbors, a CEO on Wall Street, or a bureaucrat from DC?
The article also touches upon something I’ve been saying for a while now – that extreme interdependence is a threat to equality. The more we are engaged in trade, the faster wealth can accumulate, and the more small differences in power can grow into large ones. If everyone traded only minimally and only with neighbors, there would be only a tiny customer base for anyone to feed on and no one could amass very much. Of course, this system is less efficient and more costly to the world as a whole. Although the gifting system is superior when it comes to the values of equality and liberty, it sacrifices prosperity. It is up to each individual to decide if this is a fair trade. Liberty and equality are linked in that extreme inequality is a threat to liberty (the rich could just buy an army and replace the government) and extreme interdependence is a threat to equality. This is why big government solutions don’t work; they are a form of interdependence where the few (our representatives) serve the many, and therefore can set their “prices” however they wish. We vote for those who would increase their power over us because there is only little competition. When the other party is terrible, one only needs to be less bad.
We’ll never get rid of the impersonal money system completely. I don’t even believe we should (it’s still very useful for many things), but an increase in gifting for certain types of trades within the community seems to be a step in the right direction. We can’t wait for the government to act.
So what’s the moral of the story? Give things a chance. Things aren’t always what they seem. We are more alike than you think. If able, set aside an hour a week to read/listen/watch something from the other side(s). Be aware of how you present something and try to market things better.
On the larger scale, banks like these could be set up wherein one could accumulate owed favors. It’s another interesting system.
A similar system wherein one accumulates time, is known as time banking.
On an even larger scale, we could use a social-credit-based currency.
Although it is still based on impersonal money, these people have the right attitude: don’t wait for the federal government to solve our recession woes; start working together in your local community to stimulate local business.
A similar event happened to me before. I almost didn’t bother reading something, but then gave it a chance. Read about it here.
Hi, I'm Dan. I like chocolate, hiking, and politics.