Money is perhaps the most extraordinary technology to have come down to us. But will you know why? Indeed, if you think about money, what can you really be sure of? Welcome to a many millennia old economic problem and a campaign for an historic first: basic monetary literacy and economic rights for all.
Believe it or not, if we can understand the simple, basic facts about money, every person on Earth could enjoy the protection of economic rights. Today, under the hierarchical economics which dominates the Earth, money has been cultivated to work counter to its true nature; today, money circulates as the property of a privileged elite, at the discretion of that privileged elite, as an interest bearing debt to that privileged elite. In other words, money itself is the private dominion of a detached, non-democratic economic elite. The rest of us, it seems, must live, or die, at its mercy.
MONEY and CAPITALISM are arguably the two most dominant forces acting on our world, but what are they? Even our best economists have failed to adequately describe them, so there would be no shame if you happen to be amongst the mystified too. As it turns out, understanding what matters is really very simple; so simple in fact that you're going to wonder how they could both have posed such problems for so long. Sadly, we live in a world where almost all of the world's 7 billion people, almost all of whom rely on a monetized economy for the basic components of life, simply don't understand money or the structures built around it. In other words, we remain living in a dark age.
I think we can really make a difference if you can teach others about money, each on their promise to teach others about money.
Have You Seen?
The Money Masters
Money As Debt
So, What is Money?
In short, money (that's all the currencies of the world) is creditary i.e. promissory i.e. debt. Money is circulating debt, or circulating 'promises to pay'. Don't be alarmed by the debt nature of money; money as debt really is a remarkable thing. Quite simply, debt is a universal, non-exclusive, non-hierarchical money form and it's surely the only one we have. If money is debt, or circulating promises to pay, a more revealing question might be: whose debt is it; whose 'promises to pay' are they?
(If you were schooled in the UK, you will know that money is 'promissory'. If you were schooled in the US, you may know that money is an IOU. Despite the different terminology, these refer to the same thing.)
Have you seen the popular movies Zeitgeist Addendum, Money Masters and Money as Debt (amongst others)? If not, then you should. Although moneytruth.org takes a very different line to each of them, if you've seen these films you will know that banks "create money", as debt, "out of thin air" (through a process called "fractional reserve banking") when they issue "loans".
Given what we normally think about money and banking it's understandable that many people's first reaction is to think this is some kind of fraud or trickery. But the simple fact is that this is a remarkable property to have in money.
If money comes into being when somebody needs it, then it's hard to argue that some people should be excluded from access to money. And it's hard to argue that we should continue to accept the idea that money is being "loaned". Certainly, one is not "borrowing" someone else's money when we (and our governments) go into debt, and, despite what those who would justify interest might say, there is no 'time value' or 'foregone consumption' to compensate for, on money which did not exist prior to it being 'loaned' and will cease to exist when it is returned.
Creditary/debt money exists, really, as nothing more than a record, hence is often called "bank money" or "book money". Hence also why physical monies are not made from any materials which are themselves valuable. Money is not a valuable object. If money is merely a record, if it is truly a universal medium of exchange, then we must ask how it could have become such a cruel master of men. Why are so many people excluded from flows of money and why does the economic system under capitalism produce such seemingly unfair outcomes; outcomes so counter to the nature of money itself?
The answer lies solely in our perceptions of money.
Commodity vs. Creditary/Debt money
As referenced here (Wikipedia), economist Joseph Schumpeter said that there are the two fundamental theories [conceptions] of money: the idea that money is commodity-like, like gold or silver, and the idea that money is creditary i.e. debt. I'm going to expand on that a little and show that a better conceptual framework might be between monies which are exogenous and endogenous to their users, but, as the above films show, money comes into existence when somebody is allowed to go into debt and make a 'promise to pay'. Our money, then, is creditary and "money out of thin air" is the precise operation of credit currencies, history's oldest and most represented form of money.
Credit money, money and trade by bookkeeping, is also the simplest and safest way to facilitate exchange. The basic idea is that people can trade, and instead of having to suffer under the exclusivity, hierarchy and usury of commodity forms of money, a debt accrued here can simply be traded and settled there: A can owe B who can owe C who can owe A; the outstanding debts themselves are 'money'. If we are stuck thinking that money is some kind of commodity, some 'thing', then the absence of such a commodity in the lives of any individuals can only exclude them and/or open the door to the unnecessary, parasitic, third party domineer: the capitalist 'lender'/'creditor'.
The problem with commodity monies, then, is that they are exogenous to their users. People can't simply dig up gold or silver when they need money; people are 'subjects' before commodity monies, they are subject to flows of money outside of them and the only way to facilitate debt is to borrow at interest. It is commodity monies which circulate as the property of the rich, at the (meddlesome) discretion of the rich, as an interest bearing debt to the rich. And that's simply because they leave the rest of us with no other choice.
The good news is that the commodity theory for money is not only completely wrong with respect to money today, it is also likely to be wrong for the largest part of our monetary history. Even if we had a commodity 'standard' (a theoretical anchor or 'peg' for money), it still wouldn't give us a commodity money; money would remain creditary, coming into and out of existence as records of our debts. I'll talk more about how to understand commodity forms of money (to the extent they might exist) inside the wider picture of credit currency systems shortly. For now, it's enough to know that the commodity theory for money is as inadequate as it is misleading; it's really just a bad hangover and the kind of thinking that keeps us locked in dark age ignorance.
Creditary monies, conversely, are endogenous to us, emerging from our own actions in life. As counterintuitive as it may sound, money that is debt is the only money that can solve the problems of debt. Where commodity monies subject us, credit monies provide the basis for the rights and sovereignty of all people. If credit monies were handled properly, every person on Earth could likely have a home and the opportunity to work to pay for it i.e. a functional economy. How would that be as an alternative to never-ending poverty, starvation and "charity" under capitalism?
Credit monies/records come into being when we go into debt for the very reason that we can all have access to money and trade, without having to borrow. If money comes into being when we (and our governments) go into debt, for the very reason that we can all access money without borrowing, then why are so many people hopelessly excluded from flows of money and why are we all being led to believe that we and our governments are "borrowing" when we go into debt? Why are we allowing trillions of dollars to flow towards the super-rich, every year, in interest payments and foreclosed homes and businesses, when we are not, in any way that is legitimate, 'borrowing' at all?
Of course, we need to revisit all debts. But, on the basis of simple need, moneytruth.org is making the appeal for us Revisit Third World Debt.
How central to the economics of the world today and what we call 'capitalism' is the above discussion? In my view, these are the fundamental relations of capitalism, the relations to money which define capitalism. Today, through our misunderstanding of money, the world is split between the uninformed many, the excludable, tribute-paying subjects before money, and the few, who enjoy the unearned privilege, power, income and opportunity derived from being on the other side of that relationship.
It's worth considering that this simple practice by elites, of passing themselves off as creditors, of passing banking off as a lending operation, rather than a credit accounting operation, is surely the very practice by which empires have been raised to reign over and extort populations for more than 5000 years. Through these actions, these elites (that 'Economic Hitman' John Perkins called a 'corporatocracy') really are stealing the rights and the sovereignty of everyone else on Earth.
I'll temper myself here; as my friends Anthony Migchels of Real Currencies and Wayne Walton of mtn.hours.com remind me, any system [in which these relations to money prevail] would equally be a 'money power' operation; an operation run by elites for elites. And, of course, the last 5000 years of economic history has gone by many more names than just 'capitalism'.
But there's really nothing new about capitalism, save perhaps the institutional settings in which these relations play out. These fundamental relations, these relations to money, surely trace their origins to the first banks and the first efforts to centralize money and debt more than 5000 years ago.
And it would have been just as criminal an enterprise then as it is now. We must think it ironic, but it is banking, as credit accounting, that is required for us to build inclusive economies and realize the full potential of money. Yet it is through banking that the relations of capitalism are largely expressed.
Capitalism, then, is man's cruel dominion over man, it is dominion over the peoples and economies of the world through a dominion over money. It is exclusionary, it is extortionary/usurious and it leaves the many, who have been stripped of their common inheritance and common rights, inherently vulnerable and exploitable. Pope Francis recently said, in his Evangelii Gaudium, that capitalism kills, that, whilst the advocates of 'trickle down' economics assure us that it's the best way to provide for all, the poor are still waiting. I think it's fair to say that we could wait another 5000 years before the exclusionary, usurious dominion of capitalism 'trickles down' deserved prosperity to the world's people.
Capitalism is not individualism, nor self-interest, endeavor, entrepreneurship, or the right to hold private property or to seek profit. It is not market economics or even consumerism. Indeed, all of those things would continue to exist if the relations of capitalism, it's privilege-vassal divide, were torn down and replaced by rights for all.
Post-Capitalism and Economic Rights
We have all inherited the technology, or facility, of money, in common with each other. No capitalist or king ever had the right to enclose that common facility, to deprive you, your parents, your children, of fair access to it. If capitalism is, at its heart, the ancient enclosure of this common facility, then a legitimate economic structure can only be one which returns those powers to all.
All human beings on Earth could have the right to access money free from any claim that money is being loaned and borrowed. The goal, I imagine, would be to allow everyone the chance to have a home and the opportunity to work to pay for it i.e. a functional economy.
The Immortal Declaration, the idea that we are all created equal, is something that we hold to be so true, that it is self-evident. Yet our very prevailing economic relations seem to leave that sentiment tattered and discarded. With our relations to money and our relations around debt having been so unjustly exploited, it's time to revisit those debts. In particular, moneytruth.org is making the appeal for us to Revist Third World Debt.
We'll look more at rights on the next page Economic Rights. If you're already convinced by the cause for post-capitalism, literacy and rights, then please choose any of the ways to get involved and support this campaign.
1. I refer to the official currencies of the world. UK banknotes, for example, still retain the pledge "I Promise To Pay The Bearer On Demand The Sum Of...", whereas it was removed from US banknotes in 1934. We'll explore more about the nature and role of credit currencies, the conceptual opponents of commodity forms of money like gold and silver, throughout this website. ↩
2. It's worth noting that it's fully understood in higher levels of academia that banks create money/credit through 'lending'. Indeed, national Treasury and Central Bank policies will have always operated in the light of this process. However, this understanding appears to be rarely communicated to students of economics, and the general public, I believe, can be considered largely oblivious to it. ↩
3. See: Henry Dunning Macleod's The Theory of Credit' (1889), Henry George's The Science of Political Economy (1898), Alfred Mitchel-Innes' What is Money? (1913) and The Credit Theory of Money (1914), David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011). "Credit is indeed the first of all instrumentalities that facilitate exchange. Its use antedates not merely the use of money, but must have been coeval with the first appearance of man" (Henry George, The Science of Political Economy) ↩
4. See S.Vitali, J.B.Glattfelder and S.Battiston: The Network of Global Corporate Control. Vitali et al. show that banking dominates the economic world to the extent that, within the 'core' of global corporate control is a 'super entity' of just 147 firms, 45 of the top 50 of which are banks and other financial institutions. ↩
5. See David Astle's "The Babylonian Woe", a truly scholarly attempt to trace the history of central banking to its origins more than 5000 years ago. ↩
6. Let me once again recommend David Graeber's 'Debt; the First 5000 Years' for insight into the economic relations of antiquity. ↩