Last week, I attended the talk about Alternative currencies by the New Economics Foundation organized by Sean Smith from Common Weal East Renfrewshire.
The evening included a very informative and thought provoking presentation about alternative currencies by Duncan McCann. Duncan is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation focused on understanding the monetary system, its impact and consequences on society, the environment and the economy as well as researching alternatives at international, national and the local level. Duncan has been at the NEF for 5 years and worked previously with Positive Money.
It was actually one of the video clips from Positive Money that had recently opened my eyes to alternative ways of creating and using financial resources. I must admit that the subjects of finance and money have always been one of my least favourite. Although I find some aspects of economics quite interesting, I do not have a mathematical oriented mind, and have always found all things financial pretty complicated and frankly boring. But it is one of these Positive Money clips which created a shift in the way I think about money a few months ago, along with an interesting presentation by Margaret Cuthbert, leading Scottish economist, about the current (im)balance in investment and spending between the different parts of the UK, and the possibilities an independent Scotland could bring in terms of investment choices and decisions.
Too often we assume that, as ordinary citizens, we cannot really have an influence in the mind blowing world of finance, nor could we hope to change the way money-raising and spending decisions are made by our governments. Most people think these powers belong forever to a certain elite, mainly to the bankers, entrepreneurs and people in government. On the other hand, we just have to look around us to see that the way our money is invested, allocated and spent only benefit a very small and super wealthy minority in our society.
So it was indeed this new prospect of a chance to change how we could manage money, and the possibilities that such alternatives could bring, that recently piqued my interest for the subject.
And come to think of it, money is something that really should not be ignored. After all, our way of life revolves around it, depends on it, whether we want it or not, and greed, which is the ambition to accumulate as much money and material assets as possible, and speculate on them to keep on accumulating, is at the heart of most, if not all, wrongs in our society.
It is responsible for the inequitable share of our resources, for most of the wars we wage. We owe to it the destruction of our planet (always at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable) and of our health (cancer, Alzheimer, asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease are highly linked to environmental toxicity and excessive consumption factors), the irresponsible use of chemicals and deforestation in agriculture and food production, the inhumane practices on animals in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics manufacturing… the list of human and ecological liabilities that greed brings to the world goes on almost indefinitely. About everything consume in the western world has been produced to make some people, somewhere, wealthier, and that is the primary motive on which everything else in the chain of events happening before (investment choices) and after (distribution, marketing, consumption, disposal) the production process is based. Even our regulations are highly distorted by greed on various levels, and at the mercy of the highest payers who can do what they want in the name and for the sake of money…at our expense, at the expense of our planet and, at the end of the day, at the expense of humanity on all levels. The highest payers can undertake their own distorted “research” into their own products when needed, undermining the credibility of valid public health claims in a highly corrupted system that no mainstream western government ever seem to question… possibly because they would never dream of challenging the wealthiest supporters and custodians of their private and “publicly owned” interests. As a result, too often, only the bare minimum level of legislative and regulatory protection prevails, instead of sensible laws and regulations that prioritise, as they should, common sense and the greater good. And the consequences of this omnipresent, omnipotent and exclusive greed order are immense in terms of worsening public health, sickening widespread inequalities and the unbearable and irreversible destruction of our planet.
But, hopefully, we can change things. And, sooner or later, things will have to change, of course, if we want to survive as a human race living on this planet. Hopefully those of us already understanding the urgency and gravity of the situation can raise awareness of alternatives possible to integrate into our way of living before it’s too late, and before all the choices have been taken away from all of us. Of course we cannot do it alone. But when enough of us are aware and willing to take action and change things, a momentum can be created and rulers will have to take heed. Change may happen at a slower pace than we would hope, but things can change for the better if enough of us make ourselves heard. And the more people become aware of the possibility to change, and of the possibilities change can bring, and the more people become involved in these changes, the faster necessary changes will materialise at higher, more powerful levels too, when willing governments can make them happen on a larger scale. As members of the Green party and political activists, we strive to elect as many people intent on changing things for the better as possible. We should of course keep trying our best to do that. However, we do not have to wait any longer to change things around us, individually. We can make our own spending, investing and living choices, and even if we only change a little at a time, it is always better than nothing… and a little on a large scale becomes big and becomes visible.
We also have to stop considering the prevailing and current money system as immutable and irresistible, no matter how colossal the task may seem just now. We have to spread the word that there are alternatives. Our current system is a highly unfair, inequitable system. It is wrong on many levels and designed to make the wealthy even richer, is fully controlled by banks and is effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy of greed. It works by creating its own ever-growing need for unaccountable money, and fulfilling it for the profit of the wealthy elite.
Duncan McCann’s proposal involves a new electronic currency system similar to some existing local and specific systems such as the Bristol pound, the Swiss VIR, or the SoNantes in France. His idea is the issuing of a “Devolution dividend” of £250 which would become a new Scottish electronic currency, and would be distributed to everyone eligible in Scotland. To watch a full explanation, jump to minute 35 of the video of his presentation available here, although I recommend you also watch the preceding, eye-opening background explanation to the existing system if you feel that, like me, you could do with some better understanding of the way the current financial systems operate (and there is nothing boring about it!).
I do hope his idea resonates with the Scottish government at some point soon, and that, hopefully, alternative currencies become part of our future, in Scotland and in other parts of the world. They can be one of the fastest ways to change the way we create, see and use money, and therefore have a huge potential to transform money-dependent parts of our lives for the better, to promote economic innovation, social participation and new ways of thinking about money. At the end of the day, all we can do is start with small changes, changes that we can undertake individually, collectively spread ideas as far and wide as we can, and hope for a snowball, or a butterfly effect as more and more people become aware that these alternatives are possible, and start to understand the potential they have to make all the difference to our world.