In a world where things we need and use go bad, sharing comes naturally. The hoarder ends up sitting alone at top of a pile of stale bread, rusty tools, spoiled fruit, and no one wants to help him, for he has helped no one. Money today, however, is not like bread, fruit or any other natural object. It is the lone exception to nature’s law of returns, the law of life, death, and rebirth, which says that all things ultimately return to their source. Money does not decay over time, but in its abstraction from physicality, it remains changeless or even grows with time, exponentially, thanks to the power of interest.
We associate money closely with the self. As the word “mine” implies, we see our money almost as an extension of our selves, which is why we feel “ripped off” when it is taken from us. Money then, violates not only the natural law of return, but the spiritual law of impermanence. Associating something that persists and grows over time with a self that changes dies and returns to the soil perpetuates an illusion. We have attached an exponentially growing money to a self and world that are neither exponential nor even linear, but cyclic. The result is competition, scarcity, and the concentration of wealth.
This deep link between money and being is good news because human identity today is undergoing a profound metamorphosis. What kind of money will be consistent with the new self, the connected self, and a world in which we increasingly realize the truth of interconnectedness: that more for you is more for me? Given the determining role of interest, the first alternative currency system to consider is one that structurally eliminates it, or even that bears interest’s opposite. After all, if interest causes competition, scarcity and polarization, then might not its opposite create cooperation, abundance, and community?
One of the first modern-economics champion of demurrage currencies and “free-money” was Silvio Gesell. John Maynard Keynes, one of the fathers of modern economics, called Silvio Gesell, the pioneer of friegeld (“free-money”), an “unduly neglected prophet,” and his work, “profoundly original”.
Demurrage currencies, also known as “stamp scrip currencies”, and “free-money” currencies, are distinguished by negative-interest. Given the centrality of interest-bearing money in the perpetuation of wealth inequality, demurrage currencies such as the Wara and the Wörgl, and the WIR (still in use in Switzerland today) are the clearest solution to the deep structural problems in capitalism that are becoming impossible to ignore.
Currency decay acts as a device for decoupling money as a store-of-value from money as a medium of exchange. Money would no longer be preferred to physical capital. The result, as Silvio Gesell foresaw, would be an end to the artificial scarcity and economic depression that happens when there are plenty of goods to be exchanged but a lack of money by which to exchange them.
His proposal would force money to circulate. No longer with the owners of money I have an incentive to withhold it from the economy, waiting for scarcity to build up to the point where returns on real capital exceed the rate of interest. This is the second reason for calling it “free money”: freed from the control of the wealthy, money with circulate freely instead of coagulating in vast stagnant pools as it does today.
In my research as an impact investor focused on building regenerative (vs. exploitative) systems of capitalism, I’ve arrived at the implementation of demurrage currency as one of the most compelling, simple solutions that has the power to heal, transform and regenerate our planetary communities and economy.
This may sound far out, as we have not learned about such currencies in our business schools and MBA courses (unsurprisingly). But demurrage currencies have been implemented with success, especially during times of crisis, to the extent that they were considered in the United States. In 1933, a proposal to issue one billion dollars of stamp scrip in the US was proposed via the Bankhead-Pettengill amendment to the Costigan-LaFollette unemployment relief bill (S. 5125) of 1933:
The Secretary of the Treasury shall cause to be engraved and printed currency of the United States in the form of stamped money certificates. Said certificates shall be in the denomination of $1 each, and the issue shall be limited to $1,000,000,000. Said certificates shall be of a suitable size to provide space on the back thereof for fixing postage stamps. The face of said certificates shall set forth substantially of the following: “This certificate is legal tender for $1 for payment of all debts and dues, public and private, customs, duties, and taxes: provided, that on the date of its transfer there shall be affixed two-cent postage stamps for all dates prior to such date of transfer, as set forth in the schedule on the back thereof.
Make no mistake: the consequences of a free money system would be profound, encompassing economic, social, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. Money is so fundamental, so defining of our civilization, that it would be naïve to hope for any authentic civilizational shit that did not involve a fundamental shift in money as well.
Can you imagine a society where the greatest prestige, power, and leadership accord to those with the greatest inclination and capacity to give?
Whereas security in an interest-based system comes from accumulating money, in a demurrage system it comes from having productive channels through which to direct it – that is, to become a nexus of the flow of wealth and not a point for its accumulation. In other words, it puts the focus on relationships, not on “having.” It accords with a different sense of self, affirmed not by enclosing more and more of the world within the confines of me and mine, but by developing and deepening relationships with others. It encourages reciprocation, sharing, and the rapid circulation of wealth.
From, The Ascent of Humanity, by Charles Eisenstein
In answer to those who are skeptical of the concept of, “Abundance”, (as I once was myself), who see an attitude of abundance being unrealistic/inappropriate, given the current economic and environmental scarcity we are experiencing), Consider first whether our currency of scarcity has actually limited our consumption of scarce resources. It has not. The scarcity of money has aggravated their conversion into money. It is a attitude of scarcity, not of abundance, that has led to the depletion of our natural commons.
An attitude of abundance, on the other hand, allows us to make decisions that are aligned with our values, rather than solely based on financial self-interest. It goes hand in hand with an attitude of gratitude, for all of the incredible people, nature and creature comforts that surround. One of my favorite ancient proverbs, that, upon giving it a chance, has profoundly changed my own life, is, “An attitude of gratitude brings opportunity.”
It doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges, problems, and serious tests of our own will, but they should be seen as such. The glass is half full; not half empty. The unfolding of the world around us, in many ways, assimilates to our own worldview, expectations, and emotions, which then drive our behaviors and interactions.
I know it can be challenging to even create the space to explore these ideas; yet all I ask is that, you approach it as an empirical trial: pick a day, on which, for the whole day, you will focus upon gratitude for everything around you, with a confident, genuine belief in the possibility of the abundance you desire, despite any current challenges or other discouraging worries you may be dealing with. Try to make every single interaction in your day, with partners, co-workers and random people, positive (or at least neutral). Be spontaneously generous, based on tips from your own intuition or subconscious.
That evening, and/or the following day, ask yourself how that simple thought, or mental priming, changed your day.
To support the genuine exploration of new systems of human interaction and sustainable platforms for worldwide commerce, share and discuss these themes with friends, and send to your local politician.
Source: Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein. 95% of what is written above is from this book, pp 240-260. I put the credit down here, so that the word “Sacred” didn’t scare you away or generate too strong of a subconscious bias 😉