Volatility

August 27, 2011

Time Dollars vs. Command Money (2 of 2)

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This continues my description (part one here) of the ills of command money, how relocalization and time dollars (T$) can solve these problems and replace them with a humanly beneficial order, and how T$ can help foster relocalization itself.
 
4. Money is “egalitarian”, and not in a good way (though corporate liberals and conservatives often try to confound money’s freedom and human freedom, when the two are practically antitheses). This false egalitarianism of elites is summed up with the phrase, “one dollar, one vote”, and this is the election which acts so ruthlessly to diminish the quality of our lives every day. Cahn uses the example of how children have to compete with money-making for their parents’ attention, and lose. This negative egalitarianism manifests everywhere in every kind of race to the bottom. The chasing after money undermines family, community, democracy, as we simply lack time for them (at best), and at worst have our characters corroded by it as well, like with any other harmful addiction.
 
Money is also inherently anti-labor, since it necessarily privileges capital over labor. Everywhere it seeks its own aggrandizement. Financialization was not some exotic invention, but is inherent in the logic of money itself.
 
Perhaps nothing is more insulting to human dignity than the forms of freedom without the reality, rendering the forms a mockery. Unless we have equality and freedom in active reality, they don’t exist. C-P and T$ are truly egalitarian in reality. Even in their reformist manifestation they declare capital and labor to be equal. In principle they declare all hours of work to be equal, and reject the measure of the unequal dollars those hours can or cannot extract from the market. 
 
In their full practice, they’ll not only reject the marketplace but supersede it, and “co”-production shall become just plain production on a fully democratic basis.
 
We don’t need command money. T$ would make for a far more productive labor force, as there would no longer be ratholes, rents, parasite extractions. T$ would empower the democratic elitism of decency over the crackpot egalitarianism of money.
 
By stripping money of its power T$ also subvert globalism and assist relocalization.
 
5. The real goal of the “invisible hand” (really the easily visible hand of the corporatist command economy) of price is to generate scarcity out of plenty in order to extract extortionate rents from this scarcity. Price seeks to extend this artificial scarcity to everything it can. Food, water, clean air, shelter, farmland, education, even human values like community involvement and helping others – all have been corporatized or are targets for this corporatization.
 
Cahn repeats the lie, “Price brings supply into line with demand”. What really happens is that coercive power controls supply to manipulate price. (And “demand” is defined as merely being able and willing to pay the extortionate price.)
 
We don’t need or want pricing which emphasizes artificial scarcity. Our emphasis must be on abundance. With T$, value is measured by real benefit. T$ attack and subvert rationing by price (i.e. by money wealth). All hours are equal. Our compensation includes building a community which shall bring the greatest prosperity to all and the enrichment of our humanity.
 
6. Money is often called “efficient”, but it’s really efficient only from the point of view of criminal extraction. The price mechanism systematically omits negative externalities, the cost of a massively bloated support system which does nothing but uphold the system, all the costs of civil destruction and inequality. At the same time money price elides the accounting for these, it also systemically aggravates them.
 
This “efficiency” is inefficient in any true sense. It, like all other normative claims made for money, is “good” only from the criminal class war perspective. But we the people would be better off without money’s version of efficiency.
 
We want and need efficiency according to the true goods of freedom, equality, justice, friendship, family, community, democracy. What’s efficient toward maximizing these is truly efficient in every sense, since the society which values these will be the most productive society in every practical sense as well.
 
T$ are truly efficient in upholding these human values, as well as toward the more strict types of efficiency such as resiliency, robustness, system redundancy, self-sufficiency of nodes and decentralization amid those nodes. Relocalization = real efficiency, and T$ shall help render all things more humanly efficient.
 
7. The fact that money’s main action is to make more money is the driver of the finance tyranny. Thanks to command money, 80-90% of transactions have no actual value, but are purely financial. Every one of these financialized transactions is, however, a theft from human beings who produce real value. Money, and the parasites who manipulate it, is cancer.
 
We don’t need this worthless and destructive thing. Would anyone claim we need cancer? Or want it? We’d be better off without it.
 
We must value only real work. T$ will purge all the “secondary modes of exploitation” (Marx), which are the main ones we face today. They’ll allow no interest, no usury, no commodification rents, and can be used only for constructive purposes. They’re inflation and deflation proof. An hour remains always an hour, and anyone able and willing to work always has time to give. Recessions and depressions would be impossible with T$, since no artificial money barriers would stand between the workers and the work. All anyone would need to do is fill the time with work, and the work would be done.
 
Relocalization will of necessity value real work over parasitism and theft, since the true economy will be based upon this work and depend on it. Since T$ naturally drive toward this effect, T$ and relocalization shall act in mutually enhancing tandem.
 
8. The government, legal system, bureaucratic and professional structures, etc. have a pro-profiteering bias. Therefore the contractual enforceability touted for command money is also biased against the people.
 
Even prior to the full development of kleptocracy, the system generally had a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose functioning wherever corporations and concentrated money went up against individuals, small groups, or the public interest.
 
We don’t need this kind of “law” and “contract” which is applicable only to an anti-human (and Oil Age) system. It’s anachronistic and predatory. We’ll be better off without it.
 
C-P and T$ shall work toward rebuilding a community network of mutual obligation where your word is your bond, and what goes around truly does come around, for good or ill. T$ themselves are no legal contract. They constitute a moral obligation in an environment where morality and one’s word matter. This is an environment radically different from that of the system, where nothing but money matters, and one can violate every precept of morality and break one’s word at risk of nothing more than a nominal money penalty (and often not even that).
 
If you want a human community, which would you rather rely on, top-down law or bottom-up community morality? In a human community, community-enforced obligations are part of the social bonding. “Debt” itself exists as a social bond, not as the class war meat-grinder it’s become.
 
Relocalization must emphasize social obligation and morality over formalized law, as the former are the glue of community, while the latter necessarily tends toward bigger, artificial, synthetic groupings, and seeks to dissolve community mores themselves.
 
We need to dissolve system structures and replace them with new mores.
 
9. Where money is the measure of value, the real economy is enslaved by a fake one of dollars, stocks, financial “products”, useless wealth hoards, parasitic and predatory power.
 
This measure of “value” doesn’t measure value. We don’t need it. We’re better off without it.
 
Only real assets have value. To distill it further, only people have value. The Kantian morality, that people must always be only ends in themselves, never means toward an end, is mutually exclusive with money, under which people can never be anything but means.
 
(And yet, as Cahn says, “money would have no meaning in a world denuded of people”. So what does it mean that people, i.e. their labor, their community, their very humanity, are being liquidated? We see how this subhuman force cannibalizes itself.)
 
Where we organize our economies according to cooperation and social credit, it becomes impossible for nonexistent or worthless and destructive things to be valued. T$ will organize the true economy on a true value basis.
 
Under money, “work” is defined as having a paying job. This work is subject to the most viciously imposed scarcity of all. The result is tremendous suffering, pain, stress, unhappiness, waste, inefficiency, lost productivity, neglect, destruction, nihilism.
 
With T$, all are workers at will, all are employed, all have jobs, all contribute equally and benefit equally. The result shall be the greatest good for all working people and all democratic citizens.
 
We’ll revitalize our families, friendships, communities, societies, democracies. Productive, fulfilling work and citizenship shall be the true centers of our human being, and all human values and institutions shall fruitfully ramify from them.
 
Co-production and time banking shall be tools of our progress toward this great democratic goal. They’ll negatively help us break free of the pathologies of command money, and affirmatively help us build new networks of mutual obligation and benefit. This is part of the practice, how we’ll actually do all this.
 
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August 26, 2011

Time Dollars vs. Command Money (1 of 2)

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I’ve written before about our imperative and ability to Take Back Our Money. There I only touched on the capacity of time dollars (T$) to replace “normal” command currency, realizing what are only alleged to be its good traits while abolishing its bad ones. The voluntary nature of co-production and time banking represents a great human advance over the intrinsically coercive and tyrannical nature of centralized currency imposed as part of a command economy. That’s a usually neglected part of the definition of the term fiat itself. As with everything else, the first psychological step is to recognize money as something artificial, contingent, a choice society has made or had imposed upon it, not a law of nature the way people tend to view it (and the way system propaganda represents it).
 
Money imprisons our minds, constricting our sense of what’s possible. But as part of our transitional progress from capitalism to economic democracy, we can transcend the rut of implicit faith in money, analyze what it really is, what it does, and how alternatives are better. Most people don’t consciously want to destroy family, friendship, community, civil society, democracy. Yet their surrender to the money imperative, at whatever economic level, turns them into de facto cadres bent on the destruction of all these things, since money as deployed by corporatism is primarily an agent of destruction, just as capitalism itself is by far history’s most destructive force. 
 
The alleged good qualities of money are all instrumental and have all been outfitted for class war duty. The bad effects are actually the intended effects. Meanwhile even as we allow money to help destroy all the things which make us human, we try to use money to buy their semblances. But by their nature such things can’t be bought. They can’t exist on a mercenary basis. We must resume our responsibilities as citizens, rather than remaining the mere consumers of pseudo-community, pseudo-democracy, pseudo-humanity.
 
We’re familiar with the most basic traits of money – unit of account, medium of exchange, store of value. In No More Throw Away People, Edgar Cahn further divides these into nine traits, the better to highlight how destructive command money is, and how T$ is a superior alternative. I’ll go through each of these, adding to Cahn’s transitional analysis how relocalization renders destructive money obsolete, how we don’t need the destructive money measure, and how T$, a tool of relocalization, help further it.
 
The nine traits are: Money’s all-purpose purchasing power, its mobility, how it motivates people, its alleged egalitarianism, the way it imposes price as a yardstick for everything, its alleged efficiency, how money makes money, how it’s enforced as a contract, and money as the measure of value.
 
For each of these I’ll describe how the alleged benevolence of the effect is in practice malign, how T$ are a much better way to achieve good effects, and how T$ are most effective as part of relocalization, which itself helps break the tyranny of money. In some cases, the bad effect of command money regards something necessary which T$ can turn to good. In others, we can say without further ado that we’d be better off without money’s effect, period.
 
1. Money’s all-purpose purchasing power, supposedly good for being so versatile, actually means that literally everything’s for sale, including every kind of vice and crime, while all that’s intrinsically useful or good tends to be perverted to bad uses.
 
By its very nature money empowers the rich and big corporations while disempowering anything else. One good example, relevant especially for reformists who still believe in Better Elections, is the campaign finance issue. Why is it so hard to figure out how to reform campaign finance in practice? Because you want a system which exalts money in principle (as your capitalist representative government does), but in specific ways you want to buck its overwhelming trend toward monetizing everything it possibly can. A reformist, as usual, labors under a schizophrenic disconnect between alleged ends and actual means. Citizens United, so deplored by reformists and true citizen activists alike, is actually inherent in money, and therefore in any philosophy which exalts command money, no matter what that philosophy claims to want in theory.
 
But we don’t need to prostitute every interaction to the dominion of money. Family, friendship, community, democracy can’t really be bought, only preserved, enhanced, or destroyed. Only the true, human economy can deal with these, and only a true economic measure can tally them. The core economy of all the things we do for one another, all the work done in the home, family care, neighbor mutual help – a real economic measure will measure all real work and nothing but real work.
 
We don’t need the money measure, because we can have an economy where all transactions can be constructive and mutually beneficial. We can have an economic measure which tallies all these construcitve transactions. T$ can provide this measure, and in doing so help build this true economy and overcome the false one. Unlike with the false versatility of money, which is really an elitist promiscuity, T$ serve a limited purpose, practically and morally. They’re necessarily limited to what’s practically useful/beneficial and broadly acceptable on the level of civil morality. They can encompass all real services, and perhaps goods as well. (There’s been many experiments with how to adapt T$ to procurement of goods. One idea which is theoretically intriguing is to measure a good according to the time that went into producing it, and pricing it at that number of T$. This is time banking’s version of the labor theory of value.)
 
2. Money’s superior mobility, supposedly a social boon, really means that real wealth is stolen from most communities and regions and concentrated in a small handful of parasitic ones. Globalization’s ravages are inherent in it. (Yet even many nominal anti-globalizers want to continue with centralized money.) It uproots al stability, all community. It’s capitalism and money which most of all give the lie to “conservatism”, since nothing’s more radically destructive of all existing institutions and values, and for such a nihilistic non-purpose.
 
Money empowers corporatism and leads logically to kleptocracy.
 
We don’t need such mobile money. Globalization, including its historical forerunners, was always about luxuries, never about anything we need. Markets, especially those for food and other core necessities, are naturally and sufficiently local/regional.
 
T$ are locally anchored and therefore are truly conservative of community and society, and the infrastructure of trust necessary to maintain them. Money’s mobility encourages mercenary and aloof attitudes among transaction participants. It encourages an extreme atomization, as each transaction is a discrete granule. T$ are necessarily part of locally anchored socioeconomic networks and ongoing relationships requiring trust and building acquaintance, neighborliness, and often friendship.
 
T$ necessarily stay in the community. By definition, they stay in the time bank. Therefore they’re better suited to natural and rational economic and political arrangements, which must be relocalized. They work toward self-sufficiency at the individual, family, community levels. They’re closer to venerable and time-tested arrangements for social credit and barter. (T$ can become interchangeable between regions, but only through the democratic deliberation of the time banks involved. This would constitute the rational form of trade where trade supply meets actual demand, instead of the way “trade” under capitalism debouches in the aggressive forms of dumping and other assaults on competition and community.)
 
3. Money instills and enforces pathological forms of motivation. It rewards at best instrumentality and more often greed, lying, fraud, aggression, sadism, hatred. Everyone expects to be bribed. Gresham’s Law runs, “bad money drives out good”. But really it just describes the way money logically functions. Money also rewards specialization, with all its distortions, perverse effects, and vulnerabilities.
 
This is purely destructive. We can do far better. T$ prizes internal motivations over bribes. It rewards decency, caring, learning, civic participation, and everything else associated with volunteering, and does so as the basis of the economy. Co-production and time-banking, by equating all hours, comprise a generalizing trend. Rather than a loose aggregation of specialized atoms, this economy is a resilient network which sums up to a robust generalism. In this way T$ help build relocalization. (In his discussion, Cahn depicts this as a sort of conflict between maximizing material return vs. inner reward. But in fact, as I’ve often stressed with for example food sovereignty, emphasizing and enhancing the latter will also maximize the former. But not vice versa under capitalism.)
 
(Just to dispose of the dregs of Galtism, if there really do exist people who are such indelible psychopaths that even amid a fair, prosperous democracy they’d still demand greed-based incentives, then we could happily kick them out. A human community would be far better off without the likes of them.)
 
In part two I’ll complete the discussion of the remaining six traits.
 
(BTW, the administrative page informs me this is my 500th post.) 
 

August 19, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 3)

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A capitalist class is in theory (even Marxist theory) creative, constructive, innovative, for a period. Then it reaches its decadent/malevolent stage and becomes purely predatory and parasitic. Colonialism and imperialism always displayed this decadent and malevolent predation and parasitism from the outset. This is part of why almost from day one critics in the home countries feared an eventual boomerang effect on the polities and economies at home. This predicted corrosion of minds and brutalization of practices, the ruling class becoming a mere stupid thug, by turns incompetent, half-assed, and vicious, has indeed come true, although the oil surplus postponed its full advent.
 
A flip side of this, as described by Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, is how the native ruling classes of countries recently liberated from colonization remain fully beholden to the Western capitalist class. Having known nothing but the most stupid and inefficient exploitation, the “national bourgeoisie” is itself nothing but a gang of uncreative, unproductive thugs engaging in conspicuous consumption.
 

The national bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries should not be combated because it threatens to curb the overall, harmonious development of the nation. It must be resolutely opposed because it serves literally no purpose. Mediocre in its winnings, in its achievements and its thinking, this bourgeoisie attempts to mask its mediocrity by ostentatious projects for individual prestige, chromium-plated American cars, vacations on the French Riviera and weekends in neon-lit nightclubs.

 
The comparison with the post-capitalist, purely globalist worthless thug-and-slave decadence of Dubai is clear. And this is where we’re headed everywhere.
 
What would happen when Western exploitation had reached the limits of what it could extract around the world, through direct imperialism, post-colonial exploitation in the form of globalization, and the neocon attempt to revive a more direct imperial extraction regime? And what would happen when the exploiters reach the full colonial level of exploitation within their own Western countries? We’d have the full decadence and malevolence of the colonial extraction regime on every economic, political, and cultural level. The same worthless stupidity and brutality, the same barbarism which is even more profound than what even Fanon still considered a bad interlude on the way toward a progressive future.
 
Today we know the full scale of post-civilizational barbarism, as capitalism reaches its twin final limits of Peak Oil and the physical/socioeconomic limits of the Earth itself. Where can it go from here? Nowhere – it can only temporarily zombify and cannibalize itself, and then collapse. In the meantime its unproductive and vicious character will go from bad to worse, and it will do all it can to corrupt all of humanity with its own absolute cultural disease. Part of our task, we lumpenproles relative to their measure, is to refuse this “honor”, resist this Sodomite corruption, and assert our core humanity.
 
Meanwhile, part of this corruption is the system’s attempt, including and especially by the “better elites” for whom our good liberals so desperately yearn, to prop up the zombies of consumer debt and the “ownership society”. Even after all that’s happened, they have good prospects in their attempt to restore the self-destructive faith in the mortgage system, to even further indenture the pseudo-middle class and hasten its liquidation.
 
To be clear, the mortgage regime was context-specific to the heyday of the oil surplus and then to the exponential debt scam of neoliberalism. Neither applies any longer, so it follows that the mortgage regime is unsustainable. (And after you destroy everyone’s jobs, who’s supposed to be able to afford these mortgages?) If people are going to continue to inhabit the land at all on any basis other than as debt serfs, we’ll need a whole new dispensation. We have to abolish bank control over the land. But this restored serfdom is, of course, the system’s real goal.
 
What would be the economic basis for the continuation of the mortgage regime? What was ever its productive basis? As I said, it was never built on any economic productivity whatsoever, but merely on the oil surplus, debt, and sand.
 
To put it in terms from Russian history, it’s like we’ve gone through the entire process of Stolypin’s reform plan (to build a peasant middle class by giving a portion of them a stake in the land). We’re now being spit out the other side – the system which went to so much trouble to build a middle class bulwark against revolution is now assiduously demolishing that bulwark and liquidating that middle class.
 
(The suburban middle class was a variation on Stolypin. Instead of a peasant middle class, we had an employee middle class. Any nascent farmer middle class was forestalled and ruled out long ago. The middle class of workers and flunkeys would be liquidated all the more easily in the end, as it has no landbase. Suburbia by design never had a chance of establishing a landbase. On the contrary, even as it astroturfs the shallow ideology of “home ownership” and “having land”, it eradicates all sense of the land, all ability to use it constructively, all responsibility and loyalty to it. This is part of how we’re all lumpenproles now. Even the suburban peasantry which still nominally “owns” its own plots is really vagrant and rootless at heart already. This is the atomization capitalism always sought to bring about even in the heart of the “ownership society”. The atoms will feel even more unanchored as that other ownership bastion, pensions public and private, are revoked.)
 
So if the question is, how can we make America productive, to want to zombify the ownership society is non-responsive. Since the inefficient, unproductive, criminal nature of the economic dispensation is obvious, it follows that to be non-responsive to the question is implicitly to support the status quo finance tyranny. So to want to restore faith in mortgages is to answer the question of American productivity and prosperity as such in this way: “I don’t want America to be productive or prosperous, ever.”
 
How about this: Mortgage holders should jubilate the debt, stop paying, stay in the house, keep paying property taxes (for now), become intensely involved in the community, especially working for economic and political relocalization, based upon Food Sovereignty.
 
Food Sovereignty in turn implies the abolition of land propertarianism. Land ownership is obviously illegitimate on the rational and moral levels. We can add that agronomy has proven that smallholder organic agriculture outproduces corporate monoculture, and that this difference will become extreme as Peak Oil and energy descent set in. So if we plan to continue to eat, we’ll need to transform our food production system to smallholder agroecology.
 
But this won’t be possible where the land is hoarded by corporate and wealthy parasites. If we want to prosper we need to restitute the land to those who will work it on autonomous and cooperative stewardship bases. (This is no descent from some fancied “higher” middle class existence. On the contrary, agroecology is highly skilled work.)
 
So land propertarianism is not only morally and rationally invalid, but doesn’t work on a practical level either, for this definition of “work”: The people have food to eat, and from there achieve democratic prosperity.
 
The hardest part of the moral transformation I’ve often touched upon but not yet systematically discussed will be to propagate among the still-clinging middle class the truth that their “ownership” is a mirage, that if they keep clinging to that illusion they’ll end up losing it all, while if they give up the propertarian delusion they’ll get back far more in return, stewardship and productive use of all the land, toward a vastly more prosperous future than that we know today. It’s like a handful of sand. Hold it gently, and it stays in the hand. Try to squeeze, and it all runs through your fingers.
 
I’ll add the four principles and imperatives of co-production: First, we are all worthy human beings, our work our most precious asset. Any economic system not based upon this truth is illegitimate. Second, we must revalue our work, recognize it as our worth and as our core humanity. To block us from our work is to block us from ourselves. This is nothing but a crime and must be dealt with as such.
 
(Part of this revaluation will be organizing the core economy outside and against the market. I’ve written extensively about co-production and time banking. Another phenomenon is the unionization of so-called “informal economy” workers.
 

Ironically, she recalls three decades later, I first glimpsed the vastness of the informal sector while working for the formal sector.
Over the next thirty years, SEWA became a cluster of three types of membership-based organizations of the poor: first, a union—by 2004, the largest primary union in India—of a variety of informal trades—rag pickers, home-based chindi and garment stitchers, bidi rollers, vegetable vendors—bargaining with buyers, contractors and municipal authorities over piece-rates and pavement space; second, a coalition of dozens of producer co-operatives, producing shirt fabrics, recycling waste paper and cleaning offices; and third, several institutions of mutual assistance and protection, including a SEWA bank and health cooperatives, organized around midwives who were themselves part of the informal sector.

A key part of its history has been a struggle over representation. When someone asks me what the most difficult part of SEWA’s journey has been, Bhatt writes,

“I can answer without hesitation: removing conceptual blocks. Some of our biggest battles have been over contesting preset ideas and attitudes of officials, bureaucrats, experts and academics. Definitions are part of that battle. The Registrar of Trade Unions would not consider us ‘workers’; hence we could not register as a ‘trade union’. The hard-working chindi workers, embroiderers, cart pullers, rag pickers, midwives and forest-produce gatherers can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product, but heaven forbid that they be acknowledged as workers! Without an employer, you cannot be classified as a worker, and since you are not a worker, you cannot form a trade union. Our struggle to be recognized as a national trade union continues.”

SEWA rejected the rhetoric of the informal sector that dominated official discourse: dividing the economy into formal and informal sectors is artificial, Bhatt argues, it may make analysis easier, or facilitate administration, but it ultimately perpetuates poverty: to lump such a vast workforce into categories viewed as “marginal”, “informal”, “unorganized”, “peripheral”, “atypical”, or “the black economy” seemed absurd to me. Marginal and peripheral to what, I asked . . . In my eyes, they were simply “self-employed”. Indeed the women street vendors who were among the first to build SEWA called themselves traders.

 
There’s great potential here as well, if such labor organization is done on a democratic rather than capitalist basis.)
 
Third, we owe mutuality, honor, loyalty, reciprocity among ourselves. Our unemployability from the system point of view is itself an element of our honor. Fourth, trust, decency, community, democracy constitute our best and most constructive social assets.
 
Meanwhile our proper attitude toward the enemy can always be encompassed within the concept and practice, Work to Rule. We should have endless gift-giving virtue among our families, friends, and communities, and nothing at all for the system except under duress.
 
These are among the values which can help us rebuild our humanity even as the kleptocracy seeks to disintegrate us. There’s the spirit in which we can move forward. 
 
In the meantime, I’ll complete the answer to the question with which I opened. What happens when kleptocracy, itself a symptom of desperation (a parasite who’s in a good position doesn’t kill its host), reaches the limits of what’s a closed system after all? It collapses, that’s all. Our task is to prepare to carry ourselves through this collapse, preserve and defend all we can of ourselves and our preparations for a democratic future, resist all attempts to drag us down into this collapse, do what we can to hasten it, and seize any opportunities to assert democratic power as the collapse takes place.

August 14, 2011

My Basic Plan

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I’m convinced that co-production as a transitional principle and practice, time banks as a transitional form, have great transformational potential. That’s why I’m working out a philosophy for this transitional front. I’m in it for the long haul. My plan is to work out my ideas on this and put them together with food sovereignty and food relocalization. These can go side by side as well as in synergy. Once the ideas and the mode of expression is complete, I’ll be ready to evangelize for them. (In this so far obscure way, at this blog and some other places online, I’m already trying to do so.)
 
In putting these things into practice, we’ll do so as democratically as possible. (“We” being those who think this is the right way to go.) That means we’ll strive to run everything ourselves on a democratic basis. Where necessary we may look “upward” for consultation, but we’ll never under any circumstances willingly accept decrees or control from above. In our minds we must always be true economic and political democrats, and in our actions we must live up to this as much as possible, bowing only to force and only where necessary.

August 12, 2011

Co-Production and the Core Economy

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You support the money economy? But don’t you have less and less money for what you need? Don’t you have to work harder and harder for less? Isn’t your continued loyalty to a paradigm which is steadily eroding your happiness and quality of life a bad bet?
 
So wouldn’t you be interested in an alternative to centralized money? And if we could do away with such money completely, wouldn’t that improve our position?
 
Co-production (C-P) can reward decency, caring, cooperation, reason, sanity, morality, democracy as efficiently as the market rewards aggression, greed, selfishness, wastefulness, vandalism, sociopathy, cruelty, tyranny. (The market is truly efficient only at producing these vices and pathologies. The only way it’s ever “efficient” at producing anything else is because it doesn’t pay the costs of those pathologies, but shifts them to others, which is another pathology called an “externality”. That’s just a euphemism for another form of robbery.)
 
Time banking has already provided the accounting system which proves the principle on the demonstration level. Edgar Cahn’s book No More Throw-Away People includes in-depth descriptions of a long, varied list of time bank co-production projects which have created real benefits and solved real problems. These include health care plans in NY and Virginia, legal aid, juvenile court, and food bank programs in DC, public school tutoring in Chicago, a public housing rent program in Baltimore, a community services program in St. Louis, and many more.
 
We can see from this that co-production is a proven practical alternative to the market economy. But then, history has already proven this, since what we know as “the market” didn’t exist for the vast majority of humanity’s sojourn on this soil. The very word “economy” is derived from ancient Greek philosophy, where Aristotle’s oikonomia meant literally “management of the household” and referred to the economy of family and community, the core economy, what we today disparagingly call the “informal economy”. Meanwhile the rudiments of “the market” were relegated to a peripheral position, as they would be in any rational economy. Consider again the fact that food markets are naturally local/regional, with only a few luxury items naturally transported significant distances. The same is basically true of all sectors. (The Greek political ideal was similar. It wasn’t actually “democracy” in the standard connotation of that term today, but isonomy, literally “no rule”. Isonomy was the original ideal of the polis, while the term democracy was actually first coined by pro-oligarch elitists to connote “tyranny of the majority”. This was the same scam Madison and Hamilton were still pushing in the Federalist papers.)
 
To this day this core economy is far larger than the market economy, which merely free rides upon it while dominating it by forcing as much of it onto the market rack as possible, devaluing but depending completely upon the rest. It’s the basic phenomenon of “capitalism for me, anarchism for you” that we see everywhere. The core economy is expected to function selflessly, self-sacrificially, to help the market economy maximize its psychopathic selfishness. (Cahn asks, how much is the fact that an employer’s employees were previously toilet-trained worth to that employer? But the employer certainly never pays for all that arduous work. That puts the way employers often restrict employees’ bathroom breaks in a radical perspective, doesn’t it? Alinsky suggested some rather nasty tactics workers and citizens could deduce from this.)
 
The core economy promotes the self-sufficiency, resiliency, and therefore true efficiency of the unit. This unit may be the family, the community, or the democracy, and is most effective combining all three. It is normative and natural at the same time, in demanding and exemplifying fairness, cooperation, mutual moral obligation, justice. These are both human imperatives and have also been scientifically proven to be the real way of nature. (One of these days I’m going to write a post describing how the social Darwinists get everything exactly wrong, both according to basic Darwinism itself as well as the details as established by science. My post on Nietzsche’s will to power concept including common misconceptions of it is a start.)
 
The parasitic market, on the other hand, promotes specialization and maximum quantitative production (stripped of any real-world economic or social context) of an atomized product/service at the lowest cost to the producer only. This is the vaunted “efficiency” which really isn’t efficient at all. Meanwhile, its measure of all things – price – is based on generating artificial scarcity and forcing others to pay the cost of production and transaction. This again is fraudulently called “efficiency”. 99% of the time when you see the word efficiency in an economic or political context, it’s being used in this fraudulent way.
 
We must reject the negative and picayune terms “non-market” economy, “informal” economy, which implicitly enshrine the depraved and stupid market as the normative measure. No, we should use terms like core economy and true economy, and coin new, at first strange terms like “command currency” and “forced market” to accurately describe the tail which currently wags the dog. The basic fact is that the core economy is the most efficient at producing and distributing everything except perhaps some vanities, which by definition we don’t need and shouldn’t want.
 
So we know that the core economy is the much-abused and exploited economy we must liberate from the tyranny of the market and restore to its full health. A key line of attack must be reorganizing it along lines which are alternative to the use of command money. Money creates and drives all the problems it claims to fix. It’s actually money as such which creates the dependencies which are always argued against old-style liberal welfare programs. (Of course the kind of liberals who actually want such programs are very rare these days. But nevertheless we do still face those, in many NGOs and other kinds of service organizations, who want to throw money at problems. It’s just that they’re corporate liberals who want their own ratholes to go alongside the more conventional kind. Their brand of corporate welfare is a pea in the same pod.)
 
This is part of the overall fact that we cannot solve problems with the same practices that create them. More capitalism won’t solve the problems created by capitalism. (Except, of course, for its own internal contradictions and falling rate of profit; corporate welfare and the debt economy have so far been able to prop up the zombie.) More money won’t solve the problems created by money. More big-government liberalism won’t solve the problems created by big government (remembering that government, even the “socialist” variety, is inherently pro-capitalist). The market measure (GDP) is a complete scam, in the vast amounts of waste and destruction it counts and the even more vast amount of real work and value it excludes. So nothing which depends upon any market measure can ever be the mode of solving problems created by the market itself. Trying to rebuild our core economies, our communities, civil society, our polities, from outside what is indigenous to them, with the same alien market means that have so damaged them, will only reinforce every vicious circle.
 
Co-production is a philosophy and transitional mode we can use now to begin the process of organizing the reincarnating core economy (and polity) without the market and its measures (like cash), and against them. It can dissolve or overcome every problem of the market economy and invigorate every benefit of the core economy through its vastly superior practical efficiency and psychological holism.
 
It’s also a practical imperative in the sense that we have no choice. Like I said earlier, we have less and less money, and this deprivation (a systematic corporate-government policy) will only get worse. So long as we remain passive market atoms, the only economic increase we’ll experience shall be debt unto indenture, while all else, all we want and then all we need, dissipates to nothing. Look around and you’ll see I’m right. Where do you think any of this is going to end up, if we keep on running faster and faster but just keep losing ground?
 
We need an alternative. Can everyone agree on that? Good. So then the question is, what’s this alternative to be? What action can we start with which will put us on the right path? I’ve been arguing the case for co-production and time banking.

August 9, 2011

The Political Philosophy of Co-Production

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According to Edgar Cahn, co-production (C-P) has three forms. It’s a philosophy which refers to previously unmeasured and unvalued work, which seeks to raise the measure of this work to parity with the world of money, market, professionals. (I add, parity as a transitional stage toward overcoming and transcending all of these.) In the same way, it seeks to bridge and then transcend the market and non-market economies.
 
It’s the process and practice of achieving and then transcending this parity. This process may be collaborative or dialectical with elements of confrontation and conflict with the system economy and polity.
 
Finally, it’s the set of standards and goals. The four imperatives: Assets, revaluation of real work, mutuality, and the building of a new community, civil society, democracy. Cahn claims, and I agree, that these four values are largely universal. All citizens of a human society agree upon them, all who believe in democracy, fairness, justice, which are beliefs comprising the very essence of being a human citizen.
 
He compares the core economy to the autonomic nervous system or the environment – things most people tend not to notice until something goes wrong with them. C-P wants to emphasize, focus upon, cultivate, and maximize the fruitfulness of the core economy. (The core economy is AKA the “informal” economy, although I’d expand the definition of core to comprise both the informal economy and the real work which is contained in the market economy but underpaid by it. Cahn, like most reformers (cf. the MMTers), seems to carefully avoid directly treading on the market’s turf, so his definition of “core” and undervaluation tends to ignore work which is actually paid but lowballed. No Marxist analysis here.)
 
The four imperatives of C-P combine to define a virtuous circle. The time bank member’s individual capacity is empowered to help others. This contribution is valued equally with other contributions in building a network of mutual benefits and obligations, and all these actions and relationships together help build new cooperative communities and strengthen civil society and democracy. This stronger social world is all the more favorable to the individual seeking to realize his potential, and so on.
 
This not only transforms our economies but helps bring out and strengthen the truly democratic nature of polities as well. The giver enjoys the Aristotelian ideal (in his famous description of man as a political animal) where politics and core values are to be “seen, heard, recognized, recorded, rewarded”. This political manifestation is an added spur to the recipient who already wanted to overcome the feeling of dependency on a personal level by becoming a giver himself. Now he also can attain a public political identity as a cooperative activist. C-P is dedicated to the individual’s need to be needed, to reintegrate the lonely, atomized individual who feels useless, and who is in fact useless from the point of view of the capitalist system, into a network of community and mutual giving. In this way C-P is trying to reinvigorate a largely destroyed tradition which has previously existed in such forms as tribal potlatch, while it’s also an expression of the ancient democratic political philosophy.
 
From there C-P tries to transform all socioeconomic and eventually all social relations by at all points empowering the passive recipient (of anything, nominally good or realistically bad) and turning him into an activist and giver. It would turn all economic relations into public goods. All relationships which have any aspect of hierarchy, like for example that between professional and non-professional recipient, are to be transformed, first to parity/mutuality, and then to full democratic self-management. All of this is to be done within a framework of social justice and according to the imperatives of this justice.
 
As Cahn says, C-P as an ideal has arisen in the same way as such ideals as democracy, free speech, due process, while the fight for it arises out of the same pain and outrage as was the wellspring for the abolitionist, civil rights, suffrage, labor, anti-war, environmental, and other movements.
 
The negative definition of justice is the fight to prevent or rectify injustice. Similarly, C-P’s negative fight is to prevent and rectify what violates social justice: The devaluation of the core economy, this monumental robbery of the people.
 
Affirmatively, we must fight to ensure that all real work is fully honored, legitimated, and compensated. This compensation will be the ongoing experience of living as a true citizen in the human community we now set out to build, where all who work are guaranteed their fair share. Basic, decent food, shelter, health care, leisure, amenities, and respect, to go along with the opportunity for political and economic participation to the extent of one’s desire, shall be the compensation afforded by this community. As for the interim, we’ll strive to build this world among ourselves and expand its spirit and practice to all who want to be part of it. Toward the system, on the other hand, there too we must reciprocate. We must deal with it as it deals with us. We must attain a permanent Work to Rule attitude and, as much as possible, practice. Toward the capitalists and mercenaries we must have nothing but a purely mercenary attitude.
 
But among ourselves, our friends and allies of good will, we shall cultivate and express the gift-giving spirit and the democratic revival. These can be helped along their way with the concept of C-P and the form and practice of time banking.

August 7, 2011

Values and Imperatives of Co-Production

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As Edgar Cahn worked to interest foundations, NGOs, and governments in time dollars (T$), in every context he found that what people thought was lacking in the existing social service paradigm was a parallel self-help effort on the part of those ostensibly being helped. In the broadest sense, individuals seemed unwilling to rouse themselves to even call for appointments or come to critical meetings, while community support was hard to muster. Specifically, everyone from service NGOs to police to teachers to doctors had the same observation – “We can’t succeed because we can’t get the participation we need from the very people we’re trying to help”.
 
From this Cahn derived what he calls a universal constant – that nothing works without “labor from the consumer”. Anything that works does so because the people involved work for themselves. This truth is of course as old as history, and nothing new to economic democrats and many others going back centuries. Cahn’s epiphany was also, as we can see from this description, elite-centric to a bizarre extreme. But that’s the world he knew, what he was used to, and in his way he was trying to break out of that mindset. Heading in the direction of a more democratic idea, he now developed the concept and term co-production to describe a new paradigm wherein the consumer of social services, whether that be the citizen served by public employees in a regular way or an imperiled client served by some helping organization, becomes a participant in the action, and in that way helps render the service effective, in the process building up his own sense of taking constructive responsibility for himself and his community.
 
This labor from the consumer is a factor of production. That’s why they named this new distribution of participatory work co-production. C-P seeks to alter the relationship between producer and consumer, elite and peasant. In Cahn’s own vision, it’s a shift between professional and consumer/client. The consumer would now be involved in the creation of value. To him C-P isn’t necessarily seeking equality (the professional is still to remain in overall charge; hierarchies are still to exist; it’s all to still exist within the capitalist and representative framework), but a “rough parity” on the operational level at least. (Though he does say that in theory he wants the helped to be real participants at all levels of the system, including real decision-making.)
 
We can see from this why C-P can be a transitional phase only. What we really need and desire is to abolish both consumer/client and professional completely, and replace them both with citizen workers. We want to subsume consumption in participation and labor, the worker and citizen consuming his rightful share as essential to her being a worker and citizen. (Dialectically, C-P wants to give added emphasis to the participation antithesis but maintain both it and the elitist thesis, with the thesis still predominant, while true economic democracy wants the full synthesis, which is simply the form of the antithesis (participation by the people) stripping away all artificial social distinctions still maintained by the elite-citizen dichotomy.)
 
Having induced this general truth, Cahn and his fellow time bank activists realized that C-P in turn implied basic principles and values. They articulated four:
 
1. Assets. We all have them, at least as potential. Real wealth is people and the work they do, nothing else.
 
2. Redefining work. What’s considered “work” has to be removed from the perverse definitions of the economists and practices of the market, and redefined to encompass the entire core economy, all activity which is constructive, meaningful, and which tends toward democracy and social justice.
 
3. Reciprocity. The distribution of work needs to emphasize mutual assistance and cooperative giving.
 
4. Social capital. We require a social infrastructure just as much as a physical one. Social networks need constant investments of trust, mutuality, civic engagement.
 
(I loathe the term “social capital” myself, but I included it here because that’s the way the co-productionists talk, and since for now I’m primarily describing the concept, I’ll sometimes use their terminology. But it’s really just a capitalist-centric term for democracy, civil society, community, and the work to create, build, and enhance these.)
 
Through the deployment of these values in the form of C-P, people working for themselves will attain civic self-respect, political self-confidence, and better outcomes. (I add that one of these better outcomes will be to use this newfound self-confidence toward a more intrepid and assertive pro-democracy politics.)
 
To his credit, Cahn was aware from the start of the danger of co-optation. He identified several specific dangers. Citizen action often subordinates itself to professional advice, letting itself be manipulated or diverted to ineffectuality. Volunteers and civic groups often crave recognition and approbation from the system and end up corrupted by the hankering after it. (This is Kent Whealy’s explanation for the sordid power plays among the leadership of the Seed Savers Exchange, culminating in its disturbing and destructive collaboration with Svalbard.) Bottom-up participants often let their participation be organized and structured by professionals. They often crave merely “a seat at the table” of power. They end up relegated to trivia, misdirected into nonsense. An obvious example is much of what passes for “student government”. Much of these phenomena also goes into the Warren cult, and the fetish of “better elites” in general. Needless to say, many among the professional class and NGO Leadership consciously and malevolently seek to bring about and exploit these phenomena.
 
This danger is grave enough that some of Cahn’s associates thought C-P was inherently co-optation waiting to happen. He realized that the only possible way to prevent this was to overtly dedicate C-P to the cause of seeking social justice and instilling a sense of vigilance in all participants, to beware of anything which sought alleged expediency to the detriment of what’s morally and democratically right. Such amorality will never lead to morality, and it’s never even expedient, except for those who want to hijack our best impulses. Such criminals need to be identified and shunned.
 
C-P can’t be just about a bureaucratic inventory of assets (this bureaucraticism is the most common form of co-optation and incipient exploitation). It has to aggressively emphasize the practice of exchanges between people, and the principles of social justice. Always action and principle, never principle without action.
 
From here the four C-P values are transformed into imperatives. (Cahn phrases them as negative imperatives. I’ll add the affirmatives.)
 
1. Assets. “No more throw-away people.” No more tragic waste of human potential while so many needs go unmet. We must always strive to maximize participation, action, self-management; to do these on a democratic basis; to focus them on our civic and socioeconomic needs.
 
2. Redefine work. No more stealing labor from anyone. No more free rides on the core economy for “the market”. Those who work must hold and distribute 100% of the produce among themselves. He who does not work shall not eat.
 
3. Reciprocity. Stop creating dependencies and devaluing those you pretend to help while profiteering off them. (This applies to capitalism in general and to service professionals in particular.) Work and society must be based on constructive cooperation and ordered accordingly.
 
4. Democracy, civil society, community (“social capital”). No more economic and social strip-mining. Work and society must function for humanity, and for no other purpose. (I include things like being good stewards of the environment under humanism even though some might object, because in the end people will do what’s right only because it’s also right for people.)
 
Again we see the implicit (and sometimes explicit) radicalism of co-production and time banking. Cahn himself says time banks, if they are to succeed, must be dedicated to the fight for these radical outcomes. In the end all must pick a side, or else be drafted by the wrong side.
 
I’ll close by once again citing the great truth, to will the end you must will the means. Just as I wrote in my posts on the Federalist papers that Madison and Hamilton would have to agree with us today on the second American Revolution if they were sincere in what they wrote about the first, so anyone who truly believes in participatory democracy, self-management, cooperative action, and social justice, would have to agree that co-production (and related constructs/practices) is only transitional toward full economic democracy. We know that the hopes for reform are vain. This is terminal kleptocracy with the end goal of totalitarian feudalism. So anyone who wants to achieve the great goals we’ve been talking about must respond in kind and seek the complete transformation. This is the only way to deploy C-P’s imperatives in a productive way, and its the only way to make C-P’s values reality. All transitions must be aggressive vectors toward positive democracy.

August 6, 2011

Time Banking and the Concept of Debt

Filed under: Nietzsche, Relocalization, Time Banking and Co-Production — Tags: — Russ @ 1:36 am

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Time banking’s concept of debt emphasizes mutual exchange within a network. (Although I haven’t seen it written explicitly this way, an implication is that a time bank member, given finite time to give to others, should make fellow network members the top priority, especially if one’s account is “in the red”.)
 
It also emphasizes “indebtedness” (within the network, and within community relations in general) not as something to be viewed as a chore or drain, but as an opportunity and spur to one’s own giving.
 
Some people who are naturally prone to volunteerism and see themselves as givers are uneasy or even hostile to the formalized mutuality of a time bank. But the way they should look at it is that within a time bank network, their giving could help provide others with the opportunity to give. If you help to build up that network by being a member and regularly transacting within it, you help provide those opportunities for people whose normal experience may be more passive, who may want to give more but don’t see how to do so given the resources they have available, who may even be reluctant to accept help they need on account of this sense of being unable to reciprocate.
 
A time bank and the “debt” system it creates isn’t the final form of a cooperative society, but it can be a transitional form, for purposes of education, providing a temporary structural framework, and perhaps even as a politico-economic nucleus like I described in this post.
 
I used the term debt in this comment, but that term’s not frequently used in time bank literature, because the emphasis is always on actions of giving. A debt is just an opportunity to give. Obviously that’s not the nature of system debts, class war debts, the ones we’re most familiar with in a criminal system. Since co-production implies a kind of social contract, it follows that according to co-production principles the government and corporations of this system are illegitimate, and no one can actually owe debts to them. (That’s another implication the literature doesn’t make explicit so far as I’ve read. Well, it does now.)
 
Since history’s record proves that this illegitimacy is the normal state of power structures, we can induce a general debt principle: Debt can be meaningful and valid only among peers. All other contracts are by definition unconscionable contracts of adhesion. (That’s another anarchist idea which is implicit in Nietzsche, given his frequent contrast of peer relationships with relationships that involve some power differential. But he didn’t phrase it that way either.) 
 

August 4, 2011

Taking Stock

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If anything, the stock market is even more fictive as an issue than the federal debt. And a stock market crash ought to have no more significance for real people and their real work than deficits and debt ceilings.
 
To be clear, gambling with stocks (everything that happens on “the market”) has nothing to do with investment even in principle. The capital was already raised with the initial offering. From then on the stock is just batted about unproductively by a bunch of scammers trying to get something for nothing. A lot of foolish ones lost a lot of paper money yesterday. (I’m sure the banksters will do just fine.)
 
If, as capitalist propaganda would have it, stocks are supposed to be productive investments in the real economy, then the stock market shouldn’t exist at all. So there’s my remedy. The big bucket law I’ve proposed so many times, to outlaw (in the sense of declaring the “contracts” unenforceable) all sorts of gambling, would encompass the stock market itself.
 
(Even better would be to simply get the government out of contract enforcement period. Which would mean getting rid of centralized government as such.)
 
Unfortunately, the finance sector has used the government to impose a parasitic tyranny on the core economy. That means that bizarre reifications like stocks and deficit ceilings become real forces wreaking havoc on real people and real work. As we continue our descent into a Depression far worse than that of the 1930s, we’re passing the same milestones of mass unemployment and wastage of labor goodwill, which is really the wasting of lives, alongside bountiful production which is promptly thrown worthlessly down ratholes, and even more production potential which simply goes to waste.
 
This waste, which is the result of nothing but intentional policy on the part of criminal elites, is just as profoundly destructive as the murder of physical bodies. This is the murder of souls.
 
Is there any way out of the trap? It’ll have to include breaking free of the command cash economy of the financializers. Those who will be capable of taking in hand the stagnant potential and rendering it kinetic, in order to meet the needs of those in material peril, at the same time they uplift these needy masses and turn them into kinetic producers for themselves, and who will do all this without resort to cash, taking it for granted that there’s no need for it – who will they be? Is it possible that the time banks which are sprouting up everywhere can function as training programs for such cash-transcending cadres? And could the time banks themselves function as such revolutionary nuclei?
 
That’s a lot to ask of something starting out so modestly. But then, vision must see as far as the circumstances of the day compel it. Today we must look to everything with only one question – what role can this play toward our liberation and transformation? 

August 3, 2011

Time Dollars vs. Command Dollars

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The idea for time dollars (T$) first came to Edgar Cahn while he was in the hospital recovering from a massive heart attack. He saw himself as an activist who had devoted his life to helping others, and it was deeply disturbing to him to lie passive and helpless, unable to do much for himself, with few decisions in his hands – “Once out of the Intensive Care Unit, the most important thing you have to do is fill out the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. The most important decisions you have to make involve cream of wheat, toast, and juice. They let you read the newspapers.”
 
This was the early 80s, and those newspapers were full of bad economic news, in particular high unemployment and massive job destruction. Everywhere Cahn looked he saw people being forcibly rendered useless by this economic system. There was an overwhelming sense of passivity and helplessness. Cahn had an epiphany, that his own demoralization was a microcosm of the mass demoralization of unemployment, wherever people saw this as some law of nature to which they had to submit passively. And it was the same phenomenon of passivity he knew all too well from spending many years fighting the War on Poverty. Where it came to poverty, he knew from the inside all the pitfalls of dependency cycles and top-down dispensation to passive “clients”.
 
It hit him that we needed an alternative to the dollar economy whose main focus was turning the passive poor and unemployed, society’s designated “throw-away people”, into activists on their own behalf. People first needed to take action for themselves, their friends and families, their communities, their democracy. In the process they could also directly tackle their own problems of poverty and unemployment.
 
The basic problem with the capitalist economy is always the same – the dollar (or any command currency, but I’ll use the dollar as my example) fails to measure more than a fraction of the core economy (relegating to the picayune category of the “informal economy” most essential work, all the work done by friends, families, communities, upon which the “free market” so shamelessly free rides). In a malign example of the tail wagging the dog, the dollar forces the entire economy into its commodification strait jacket even though only a small portion is ever suited to be commodified. In the process it always generates market failures big and small, strewing their destruction all over the place (and as a rule leaving it to the core economy to clean up most of the mess, except where the clean-up itself can be corporatized).
 
The epitome of the dollar effect is that this economic measure, which dictates the structure of the economy, inevitably (and by intentional design) leaves vast amounts of ability and good will to work shipwrecked, unable to exert itself productively. Mass unemployment is the most obvious example of this. But underemployment, jobs whose quality and satisfaction fall far below what they could be, and all aspects of the command economy which intimidate people into falling short of their real potential, are further examples.
 
At the same time that the dollar shipwrecks vast amounts of unrealized work potential, it leaves vast amounts of human needs unmet. The effect is simple enough – as far as command economists are concerned, if you don’t have the money to buy food, then you don’t really want to eat. You have no “demand” for food. They and their dollar economy impose this state upon all non-rich people, with regard to all levels of need. If the market can’t efficiently provide a service in exchange for dollars, that service isn’t provided, no matter how necessary to human beings. Here too, the market fails everywhere you look.
 
So we have tremendous unused work resources milling about while so many unmet needs cry out to be met, and all because the workers can’t justify being paid dollars for their work (according to the capitalist measure), and those in need lack the dollars to pay. The problem is nothing more or less than the dictatorship of the command currency, and capitalism, itself. Abolish the market, and we can abolish its failures, which are its main trait. Remove this artificial, arbitrary constraint, and we can fix the problems.
 
Remove it – or avoid it. Cahn’s idea for an alternative within capitalism was time dollars. Setting up an economic measure which would be based not on payment in dollars, which people in need lacked, but on reciprocity of time, which those able to provide possessed. An unused resource would meet a previously unmet need, and the recipient would then use his own unused resources to meet someone else’s needs. The two key elements are:
 
1. Each hour of work, no matter what its nature, is equal. One = one. 
 
2. Everyone in the network is first of all an active provider, and is to see herself primarily in this way. We are only recipients where necessary. It’s true that we all have needs and can use help, but we receive this help as part of our share in the social wealth our acts of giving create. So our taking is merely the obverse of our giving, and is also a form of giving in that it helps empower those who give to us.
 
People develop self-respect and self-confidence out of taking responsibility for themselves, becoming active in helping themselves and others, giving to others, and helping others become such activists of gift-giving themselves. The whole network is based on cooperation and giving.
 
This helped answer the question which constantly bombarded Cahn when he first hit the road with his time dollar idea – “How are time dollars better than real money?” Cahn at first considered this to be a frivolous, bad faith question on its face. By its nature time banking was going to apply to parts of the core economy “real money” (command dollars) had forsaken. The fact that time dollars could exist at all proves they’re better than command dollars for at least some things. They’re to help fix market failures. (I’ll add that by now the manifest failure of the market vastly exceeds its successes. The magnitude of the failure goes far beyond what Cahn himself probably realizes.) 
 
In spite of the essential phoniness of the question, Cahn still wanted to answer it. He did extensive research and discovered a two part answer. One part is quantitative, while the other was a philosophical realization which sounds obvious to us, but apparently was still novel back in the 80s.
 
The quantitative finding was that given the overarching capitalist paradigm, time dollars have “a competitive advantage over volunteering”. Volunteering uses a resource and meets a need, and in the process bestows a psychological benefit on the giver. But it’s a one-way, and often one-off, transaction. T$, on the other hand, does what volunteering does but also empowers the recipient to be a giver himself, generating the same psychological benefit. The nimbus of the gift-giving spirit envelops everyone in the network and becomes the general mindset. Receiving becomes the derivative of giving. Receiving becomes just taking a rest from giving, which is one’s characteristic act. Action becomes the everyday human quality. Passivity ceases to exist at all. These are all the potential implications of the network based on mutual exchange of the gifts of work, with T$ as the mechanism of accounting for them.
 
(Why is such accounting is needed at all? It’s to help integrate people into networks where they may not personally know all the other members at first, and also for the sake of anyone still psychologically clinging to the dollar measure, who may need to be weaned from it with an alternative. But these probably aren’t major issues. The main reason such accounting was needed is more down-to-earth: It’s capitalism, within which the time bank needs to exist, and by whose strictures it must abide to the extent the bank and its members still need cash for various purposes, which demands quantitative measures of some sort. Cahn would soon discover how essential this accounting was to get politicians and prospective funders to take him seriously.)
 
The time bank network also creates a sense of community and ongoing engagement among the givers. A transaction isn’t one-off, but a community act. Even if two people don’t conduct further transactions specifically between themselves, their transaction was still a piece of an ongoing evolution, the continuation of a history and a vector toward a future.
 
So that’s the stuff which Cahn (with some help from the London School of Economics) was able to number-crunch. On the philosophical level, Cahn simply challenged what I call the Status Quo Lie. The question about “better than real money” was circular and question-begging, since it was assuming “better” according to criteria imposed and enforced by the command currency itself. But time dollars challenge these criteria as such. The answer was simple: Any type of money has certain characteristics and measures things according to those characteristics. Change the characteristics, and you change the measure.
 
Cahn, according to his own testimony, only wanted to use time dollars where the regular dollar (what he himself seemed willing to call “real money”) had failed. “I wasn’t trying to get rid of money or replace it.” So his subjective view was similar to that of the neoclassical synthesis which relegated Keynesianism to specialized circumstances (“bastard Keynes”), or MMTers who propose jobs programs but only where the job creation wouldn’t compete with the private sector. This is a particularly craven and picayune mode of reformism, which goes to such lengths to come up with theoretically good ideas and then immediately wants to cripple them in practice, because in the end it flinches from taking on capitalism as such. It’s part of the reason reformism can’t work.
 
But as I said in my previous post, we can reverse this special-case dynamic. Where possible, we can take reformism and render it transitional toward positive democracy. This can be our transitional synthesis.
 
In the case of T$, the potential is obvious. It’s already dedicated to maximizing participation. Since the main quality of true economic and political democracy shall be the full opportunity for direct worker and citizen participation in self-management and self-rule, it follows that anything which strives for bottom-up participation is in principle headed in the right direction. (In practice we need to guard against abusive hijackings. It’s possible for a time bank to become exploitative as well, although I haven’t heard of real life examples.)
 
So the true answer is that time dollars are better than “real money”, objectively and completely.
 
1. “Real money” isn’t real at all except through its forcible imposition by the capitalist system. This is coercion, not nature. This is true of all system impositions. It’s true of everything except economic democracy. In reality there’s no such thing as real money.
 
2. T$ can value all work and can do so efficiently and fairly. The economy of regular dollars values only a small fraction of work (along with an obscene amount of parasitism and vandalism which aren’t work at all), and does so in an extremely unfair and inefficient way.
 
Idle, bottlenecked work resources, the frustrated will to work; and unmet needs. Surely there are ways to match these up other than the dollar? Obviously, there have to be such ways. How did humanity exist without money for over 99% of the span of our natural history? And just as obviously, the dollar has failed disastrously and must be overthrown. Economic democracy shall be the end result of this overthrow. Time banking can be a transitional tool toward this.
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