By Dr. David E. Martin
Economics Advisor – New Earth Institute
We’ve been indoctrinated to eschew this conversation. And the reason is quite simple. If you want to control a society, the single best way to do so is to create an idol so inextricably linked to everything so as not to invite the meddling examination of a conscious mind at liberty. Make the idol seemingly innocuous – maybe out of something entirely impermanent like paper – so its gravity cannot be considered. Let it be the seduction whereby parents first instil incentives for good behavior or household chores with their children. Encourage religions to use it as the agency of laudable values like charity. Separate society between those “with” and those “without” to instil the essential dogma of scarcity and control. And before long, power, greed, dominion and oppression become entirely justifiable based on an alleged uniformity of perverted human ‘nature’. Let’s get a few things straight. The notion that human beings can benefit from representational artifacts which signify the conveyance of value – money – has some practical utility. For the farmer who needs to plant grain months before the wheat is ground into flour and baked into bread, a unit of stored value makes sense. The energy and technology required to till the soil, plant the seed, tend the field, harvest the grain, mill the flour and bake the bread all involve labor and devices that have variable effective durations. As Earth has her seasons so to do the endeavors of its inhabitants. And between these seasons persistent stewardship is a valuable aspiration. Adding scale of community – in contrast to individual subsistence – means that production and consumption are pulsatile.
A farmer produces more wheat than his caloric desire for bread needs to consume. As such, exchanging representational value that can be used for something other than bread makes sense. The concept of money – a unit of temporary stored representational value – is entirely rational in community. But the moment a community decides to “value” the farmer using a monetary metric based on a bumper crop in one year and a drought the next, neither the community nor the utility serve their purpose. An astute observer realizes that over the course of modern human societies, conscription to military service and minting of money are the two most ubiquitous features of power and control fiercely controlled by the imperialist state. By no coincidence, both of these usurpations of human sovereignty frequently appeal to religion for their justification: battle cries, “For God and Country”, and money emblazoned with “In God We Trust” are neither random nor accidental. And in the past 150 years, tolerance for community expressions of peaceful coexistence and currency has greatly diminished.
Why are we vaccinated against challenging the consensus illusion we call money today? What would be so dangerous if people actually remembered the obligations they’ve made and repaid them in appropriate form or scale? It’s appropriate to examine the underpinnings of what we call “money” so that we can tell the difference between community recognized stored value units and imposed agencies of power, seduction, and control.
Money: Imperial State Succour
In the version of history we promote to justify our incumbent systems, we see taxation and tribute as far back as the first records of civilization on the fertile plains of the Tigris and Euphrates and the Nile Delta. As with all systems, the impulse for perpetual growth gives rise to the expediency of subterfuge schemes promoted as efficient or in the public interest. After a certain scale, a conqueror can no longer consume the fruit of the land and the product of labor and, refusing to discern sufficiency or enough, dictates monetary tax and tribute to fund greater expeditionary tyranny. Far from responding to the exigencies of seasonal value storage, money served as a means of anonymizing both production and the producer. And the more imperial the impulse, the more important the control of mintage. After all, it’s not just gold or silver – it’s gold and silver imprinted with the visage of the deity.
Building absolute reliance on state-controlled money serves as the most efficient basis for taxation. Anytime money moves, its movement can trigger a moment to reinforce the hegemony of the state. Whether it is perpetual indenture by citizenship or reification of trade and the restraint thereof, nothing serves incumbent power as pervasively as the control – and the assent of the controlled – of money.
Barely a century after the American colonies revolted against what they saw as the tyrannical British impulse to levy taxes for the explicit purpose of maintaining an occupying military force they turned to taxation regime to pay for the Civil War. The consolidation of the banking and monetary system in 1913 with the formation of the Federal Reserve was accompanied by the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave Congress the authority to levy taxes and paved the way for the financing of a century of World Wars. And to be sure, in their haste to impose income tax, the government came to the painful realization that taxing to excess those who were wealthy was a risky proposition. With general taxation came massive concessions to the extremely wealthy who, if willing to participate in the encumbrance of the general population, would be given the capability to shield their wealth through tax deferral and outright avoidance. It is no surprise that money – not personal character and integrity – define the players on the political landscape in much of the Occidental world.
Emancipation from the monetary addiction is the ultimate act of liberty and, when suggested or practiced, is met with fear from the enslaved and suppression by the threatened state. The mere suggestion that one can act and engage in community and elect to give and receive value that is not denominated is received as treason both by the oppressor and the oppressed.
Money: Network Intelligence
Through the contrivance of monetary unit reductionism, agencies of control can understand the associations of people and their engagements. One of the primary uses of the not for profit corporate designation is to provide governments the capacity to know who is supporting what. On taxation forms, itemized deductions for charitable contributions, certain educational or business expenses and the like provide intrusion in the name of “savings”. Monetary and taxation authorities are relentless in their insistence of representing all human exchanges in their monetary equivalent in part to extract tariffs but equally for the intelligence of association that such exchanges represent.
Value for human exchanges of physical reality or services and experience are assumed to be reducible to a monetary quantification. This taxation of ephemeral value – an innovation of the Napoleonic accounting schemes in the early 1800s (also to pay for war) – encroaches into numerous social experiences. Illusions of appreciation of monetary value of physical artifacts (like real estate) are used to manipulate national economies and provide socialized subsidies for certain sectors (like banks and insurers). Equally, illusions of depreciation encourage consumerism and extinction of natural resources – another subtle socialized subsidy for industrial producers. We’re not encouraged to discuss either of these illusions nor the masters they serve as doing so could destabilize entrenched interests.
Money: Agency of Separation
We’re bombarded with statistics (counting money) telling us of massive asymmetry in monetary wealth between strata of society and between nation states. “Rich” – measured by hoarded retention of profit vs. “Poor” measured by the absence of hoarded reserves are ubiquitous distinctions that are recklessly reinforced by incumbent and anarchist alike. Ironically, the unconsidered nature of the very notion of profit is the manifestation of this agency of separation.
After all, what is profit? Profit can be an excessive rent charged by one party over the cumulative cost to provide a good or service to another in which case a premium is demanded by the purveyor of said good or service. Alternatively it can serve as an explicit metric of the failure to account for the true cost of the production of a good or service. And in both cases, incentives for perverse separation are inextricably bound. From Adam Smith to Karl Marx, the neglect of the planet and its inhabitants are intrinsic to the odious addiction to profit. If, for example, I am an industrialist seeking a consumer base, my objective is to pay for resources and compensate labor at the marginal rate that allows the earth and laborer to barely make it with just enough excess income to buy what I want them to have. The more I can reinforce the perception of scarcity or the illusiveness of my offering, the more I can appeal to the aspirational identification that inspires indebted consumption. In the best of all worlds, I can price my product just beyond the transactional cost that would be deemed “affordable” so that I can charge additional rent (in the form of financing) to actually extract greater than market value in the form of interest.
We are told of laws of supply and demand only so that we don’t question the dynamic or the promoters of managed scarcity. We are told to be patriotic and fight and die in the “national interest” which is a cover story for the ultimate bloody illusion. By shedding the blood of soldier and innocent alike, we are constantly reminded that we need the State to insure access to the matter and energy we’re told we need. Our enemy is merely the projected illusion on a group or community that fails to acquiesce to our managed scarcity mandate. And so they must die and some of us must die too. Bloody sacrifice to perpetuate our lust for separation is paid for – you guessed it – by our money and our complicit use thereof.
Those who extol the virtues of modern expressions of money as an efficient utility of commerce do so in callous ignorance of the price we pay for the perpetual indenture of humanity.
Let’s cut to the chase. We can make and keep promises of value given and value received. Unfortunately, we’ve hybridized many of the core principles of such an ecosystem out of our common consideration and our language. I’ve frequently encountered apologists for money who are incapable of considering a system in which value is absolutely relative rather than relatively normative. And let’s be real – the next time you swipe your credit card and exchange a digital file for whatever you’re consuming – are you more or less relative than an explicit agreement between willing transacting parties? A consensus does not reality make. In contrast, an explicit agreement binding on mutual interests forms the very basis of reality.
What does it take to have a monetary system that works?
First, we are invited to understand that the “stuff” of life – matter and energy – exist in perpetual phases and states which are ever in transition. Myths of entropic predilections merely evidence a perspectival myopia which fail to see entropy and order as cyclical and pulsatile. We are, in every moment, stewards of the matter and energy in our fields and the contexts we define around its recognition. Hydrogen and oxygen don’t require our assent to flow as water. Sunlight and leaves don’t require our understanding to relentlessly produce glucose. The presumption that human effort is the agency through which value is perceived is a falsehood perpetrated by an industrial catechism which requires state-sanctioned money to persist. Once we see the value in organic and elemental systems, our pursuit of ‘virtual’ reality and experience diminishes.
Second, we can consider that the first order exchange by and between humans is the exchange of knowledge. From food to flourish to cures for disease, transfer of knowledge – how to feed, cloth, shelter, transport, and fellowship – are the fibers upon which the tapestry of civilization can be woven. And from this network of knowledge, temporary units of deferred value may provide the elasticity in interactions that serve a purpose and then, when fully utilized, can simply be set aside. If we were fully informed of all the facts of our life and what it takes to sustain its current expression, we’d probably encounter profound alterations in what we do and how we do it.
Finally we’d recognize that, in those considered instances where we seek to alter the natural order to achieve a desired outcome, the technologies we develop and deploy would ideally be viewed as vehicles for the manifestation of such experiences or effects rather than the artifacts of status or isolating autonomy. In so doing, facility for optimized equivalent access for experiences of value exchange become emblematic of wealth manifest in network resilience and generative capacity. Wealth becomes a measure of the certainty an individual has in his or her ability to both produce and consume expressions of heterogeneous value.
This expression is not an utopian ideal. For over 25 years, we’ve been conducting businesses and human engagements predicated on these principles and have succeeded in seeing them persist in widely varied communities around the world. For those who critique this as an illusive ideal, let me propose the following test. Using money, purchase a ticket to a movie in a 3-D, I-MAX, Dolby Surround Sound theater and fully drink in its violent virtual reality. Then, hold a lover in the grass under the moonlight with as few purchased artifacts as possible and tell me which reality you value more and which you’d exchange for money.