The Money Tree

"Given how much of the evil and ugliness of the present world can be traced to money, can you imagine what the world will be like when money has been transformed?"
Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition.

The first appearance of money in the world was the Lydian Trite, a coin minted around 600BC in Lydia, modern day Turkey, and made of electrum; an alloy of gold and silver called "white gold" in ancient times. Basically worth about a month´s subsistence, it could buy 11 sheep or 10 goats. The coin was marked with an image of a roaring lion; symbolising strength and authority (source). To the ancient Lydians, the merchants or "People of the Market", those who handled the coins, enjoyed a higher rank in society than ordinary people (source): the elite of their time. The Trite was minted during the reign of King Alyattes; father of the legendary King Croesus, known as the richest man in history. However, it didn´t do him much good, as his reputation for everything he touched turning to gold, including his own daughter and his food, has come down to us now, unsurprisingly, as indicating somewhat of a curse. To the ancient Greeks, the story of Croesus served as a cautionary tale on hubris; excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to a miserable conclusion. It was a warning on not tempting the gods´ wrath by thinking of oneself, like Croesus did, as the happiest person in the world; a happiness derived from great wealth.

Significant that they should mention happiness. For Adam Smith (1723-1790), author of "The Wealth of Nations", a set of ideas governing economic thinking to this day and underpinning the principles of the 18th century industrial revolution, the accumulation of money produces happiness. In an age when we in the affluent west have never had so much, why then are so many people unhappy? According to the World Happiness Report 2019 (source) negative feelings - worry, sadness, and anger - have been rising around the world, up by 27 percent from 2010 to 2018, while young people especially have been experiencing more depression, suicidal thinking, and self-harm since 2010. So where in the world are people actually happiest? The south pacific archipelago of Vanuatu is consistently ranked as one of the happiest places on Earth (source). The people of Vanuatu smile a lot and that´s central to their way of life. They have made smiling a habit that has a benevolent effect on them both physically and emotionally. There is little emphasis on the accumulation of money. Rather they ensure that basic needs are met by working the land and using the available resources that the sea and forest provide. They are very ecologically conscious and have a great respect for the integrity and well-being of the community, making decisions together collectively.

In contrast to the people of Vanuatu who respect, nurture, value and appreciate the abundant gifts of nature, we have a very different attitude. Known as the Father of Liberalism, John Locke (1632-1704), another enlightenment thinker who established the working principles of the modern world, stated his belief, in his Second Treatise, that nature on its own provides little of value to society, rather that the labour expended on the exploitation of nature in the creation of goods gives it it´s value. Its easy to see how this type of thinking has worked out in practice. The abundant riches that the earth provides; water, medicines, food, human ingenuity, living space, even time itself, have all progressively been converted into monetary value and the opportunity for someone to turn a profit. What was once given to us freely, we now have to pay for. What was once amply available to all, is now denied to us... unless we´ve got enough money. Its not inconceivable to imagine that before long fresh air will only be available at a financial cost. In fact, as the masses of humanity choke to death from ever-increasing levels of air pollution while the super-rich decamp to their island hideaways & country estates, that point has arguably been reached already.

Quite simply, the incessant urge to make more and more money, to elevate continuous economic growth above all other values irrespective of the consequences, is creating a global climate and environmental crisis that threatens us all. It´s both global in scope, but also local as we helplessly witness more and more precious green spaces gobbled up by bricks, concrete, tarmac and noise. It´s an inevitable consequence of an interest-based money supply system, where the interest owed on money is always greater than the amount of money in existence. At least it´s creating that panacea for all ills... jobs... so we are told. However, the truth is that in many developed countries, up to 45% of employee absenteeism is because of mental health issues, with financial and job insecurity the leading cause of this; a figure that has increased by 20% in the last decade alone and contributes to 800,000 suicides a year; one every 40 seconds (source). But surely, someone somewhere, the wealthy, are benefitting from this? Alas, no. Rather than deciding that enough is enough and I can take it easy now, the overwhelming impulse is that I have to make EVEN MORE. For every multinational company announcing annual profits exceeding the entire economy of many countries, comes the caveat that next year it must be greater... after all jobs and pensions all depend on it.

At this point, it might be useful to quote the words of Albert Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."...

Where do we go from here? What we know for certain is that our present economic trajectory is leading to catastrophe; climate change, species extinction, widening inequality and growing awareness of social injustice in summation indicate that there is something seriously amiss. There is no shortage of opinion as to what is wrong, who might be to blame and what, from a cacophonous multitude of diverse options, is the solution. No doubt you´ve got your own ideas on this. But still nothing changes. Maybe we need to re-examine what money actually is? A quick Google search on "what is money" throws up 7.4 billion results. I didn´t read them all... but the first few seem to agree on something along the lines of "a medium of exchange used in transactions of goods and services". What we also know for certain is that most monetary transactions these days aren´t conducted using coins, paper or pieces of gold, rather bits of computer information. Every time we buy something on credit... a house, car, washing machine... new money, repayable at interest, is simply introduced into the system by key clicks on a computer somewhere. If we only knew how, we could simply hack into the financial computer system and just add a few noughts to our personal bank balance. Better still, to those who say that we can´t afford all those public services that might help make people´s lives better, or that global green new deal that will re-structure the world´s economy around ecological life-affirming and sustainable principles, just watch.... click, click, click and ENTER. Sorted.

To proponents of Modern Monetary Theory, that´s actually precisely what we can do. The theory, based on an understanding of how the money supply actually works, is that where a government issues its own currency, like in the UK and the US, the amount of money available is limitless. Where we are told that we can´t afford to have a deficit on government spending, the theory states that it doesn´t actually matter. The magic money tree really does exist!! While not all economists agree that the theory does actually work (many do), whether or not it is viable also doesn´t matter. The important point is that it signals a way that, through a deeper understanding of what money actually IS, it´s possible to move from a situation where resources, goods and services are scarce to most people without money, to a situation where they are freely available and abundant to do good; the money system becoming our helpful servant rather than our cruel master. In other words, moving forward full circle, not backwards to where we started before money was invented; a world of infinite riches freely given to us by nature, for all to enjoy. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe... maybe not. But worth trying?

Change Agents

Sacred Economics

Masterful and scholarly book by Charles Eisenstein. Short introductory film plus free PDF download of the entire book.

Modern Monetary Theory

Illustrated film (18.33) that explains simply the basic principles of how the money supply system works in the UK and the US.