Thursday, December 22, 2011

Occupy! and Radical Politics — Beyond Money

Take a look at our post at the Pluto Press Blog, which starts:

In the second of our series of guest posts on the impact of the Occupy! movement on radical politics, Anitra Nelson, co-editor of Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies, argues that the movement has created the potential for new money-free egalitarian and environmental values and relationships:

Time magazine has just announced ‘The Protester’ as 2011 Person of the Year. Is it really the start of radical international change? One hundred years ago 1911 was such a momentous year: cities fell like dominoes across China so that on New Year’s Day in 1912 Sun Yat-sen became the provisional president of a liberal republic; Mexico was entering years of internal war after Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorial reign from 1877 broke down in 1910; and, in Russia, a brief restoration of conservative order was crumbling with Bolshevik and anarchistic activities and Lenin proclaiming the end of ‘world bourgeois parliamentarianism’...

If you're reading this after 22 December 2011, then you can access the post by finding this title with a December 21 2011 date:

Occupy! and radical politics part 2 – Beyond money

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free Art Day?

Mary Dinnen (see Post 14 December, immediately below) has followed up with an idea reminiscent of the Free Money Day held mid-September this year and initiated by the Post Growth Institute:

I have a project that has been gestating for a while. As you probably know, Santa Fe is the 2nd or 3rd largest art "market" in this country. So it is exceptional in that way. I envision this project happening here, but could also take place anywhere.

Free Art Day - for one day artists will take to the streets, offering a small piece of art to whoever they want to. In preparation for this 'demonstration of giving', media will be used to open discussion as to how artists ARE in community, how art IS in community, and challenge the old paradigms of galleries, state and federal arts funding, just begin breaking down the walls of ART BUSINESS that separate art from community. The idea of Free Art is more a verb than noun. To free art from it's monetary tether, from the glamour that surrounds the art(business)world, and from the notion that generally, artists are outsiders from community. In essence, bring the real love back into the relationships of artist and community.

Frankly, artists give work away all the time, to good causes, non-profit orgs for benefits, etc...
The short of it is to take out the middle man — let artists do their one-on-one in community en masse.

Although I have not kept up with it, Santa Fe Time Bank is our local barter project of trading. A bit different, it values only services, not products... all hours of equal value. While none of these different projects are comprehensive by themselves, it is the intent and energy behind the projects/ideas that has great power. In essence, by looking at and participating in these alternative ways of living, we are helping to break down the old paradigms, which really is the task at hand. Once this takes place, us humans will truly have a different perspective from which we will have much more room to see where and how to move forward. I see all the variety of human activist movements at this time as something to keep our hands busy while the really big changes take place, while our human consciousness is rapidly evolving. It is feeding the fire, starving the fears.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Art —> <— Needs

Mary Dineen from Sante Fe writes:

While I haven't yet lived completely off the monetary grid, I have traded much art for needs — medical, alt medical, dental, firewood, and other trades. I think opening the dialogue about how the Big business of Art is intricately linked to Big Business and business as usual is important. I have and do sell art, but am not in the strata of "financially successful" artist. Those artists who are 'successful', to what ever degree, have something to lose, should, when the monetary structure collapses. And yet those of us artists who have nothing to lose by a collapse know we all have so much to gain by this shift. Freedom!

The emperor's clothes syndrome is still in place in the big art world — it is deeply connected to big money. Big artists don't want to open this Pandora's box because it would seem like economic suicide. How would successful artists live, if not by the almighty dollar? Mind you, I have painted seriously for 16 yrs, selling or not selling, living gracefully, at times very precariously, but painting still. I am an artist, it is what I do. "Life obliges me to do something, so I paint" (Rene Magritte).

Many artists live reclusive lives, simply because the world at large is so foreign, so not in line with how artists see life. I feel that artists will be reintegrated into life when money is no object. I look forward to it!

Mary's feelings and activities have parallels with those of Caroline Woolard. Caroline co-founded and Trade School in New York, facilitating the direct exchange of artistic services and goods with services and goods that the exchangers agree on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

'Money is as money does'

A friend of ours emailed us saying that a friend of his responded to the title and blurb about our book in this way: ‘All societies use money of some sort or other. Think cowrie shells, pigs, cattle, etc. In capitalist societies, when groups try to dispense with official currency, they substitute with barter based on credit which is still a form of money. Most such attempts wind up producing their own form of currency. So I don’t think the downfall of capitalism will be preceded by the disappearance of “money”.’ Our response follows.

Although many non-capitalist societies have used objects or promises in similar ways to the way we use money as a means of exchange, they are all ‘limited-purpose’ monies or currencies. A key distinction between cowrie shells and cattle and a one dollar coin circulating amongst people arises from what you can do with these ‘monies’ in the social context in which they function as a currency. In non-capitalist societies ownership of the means of production, such as land, is not negotiable but rather arranged through inheritance or other social arrangements. Therefore that kind of money buys a very limited number of things and, most importantly, is marginal to the everyday functioning of the mode of production (the way people gain their sustenance and structure power).

In contrast, in capitalist societies money is necessarily ‘general/all-purpose money’ and has much wider uses. In the advanced capitalism of the North many realms of material production and social organisation are run strictly along market-based principles, so a lot of important decision-making incorporates monetary valuations and relationships. In fact money — gold, the British pound or US dollar — is the key building block of power structures and the means and mode of production within capitalism.

From this perspective it is curious to suggest, ‘I don’t think the downfall of capitalism will be preceded by the disappearance of “money”.’ If we focus on money as a unit of account as it exists in capitalism today, this function is absolutely critical to the functioning of our social system. Capitalism and its general-purpose monies that we are most familiar with are conjoined like chicken and egg. The fall of capitalism would necessarily entail the end of money, as we know it. After all ‘money is as money does’ and it is really the social behaviour around money that makes it what it is in any specific context.

The strict definition of barter that we like to stick to in theoretical discussions refers to the direct exchange of one good and/or service for another good and/or service, or unilateral exchange. In fact alternative currencies — alternative to the official/formal tender — generally represent another set of systems again, which try to develop local multilateral trading systems. These kinds of systems have been operating for decades and generally grow to a level where they stabilize and are popular for a limited set of exchanges between limited numbers of people. The operation of these currencies often complements capitalism rather than challenges it. For instance, whether or not LETS are radicalising or stabilising organisations depends how they work. Look at our answers to the FAQ at

In our book, we discuss a practical example of a community that uses a form of exchange, ‘labour credit’, that can be compared in some ways with money but, most importantly, goes in a completely different direction from the all-purpose money at the heart of capitalism and from most alternative currencies. In our example, labour credit involves devoting a certain amount of time per week to general communal duties in exchange for being provided with one’s basic needs. Because this arrangement takes place in a relatively closed circuit, whereby all the agents have collective decision-making power over the content and form of the exchanges they are engaging in, then what they are doing is quite different from making exchanges based on either limited-purpose or general-purpose monies. Of course, for certain purposes they are obliged to trade with the ‘real world’ at which point the non-market system breaks down by the very nature of the case — we live within capitalism.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Money without capital?

Ever since the rise of capitalism and its form of generalised exchange-value as a universal money (such as gold and later the British pound and United States dollar), people have argued that we could have money without capital. This argument was raised again at The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) conference at the University of Newcastle (Australia) 28 November to 1 December, specifically at the Permaculture session on Tuesday afternoon and again at the Life Without Money workshop on Thursday morning.

Ted Trainer's arguments, freshly iterated in his new title, The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World and summarised at the permaculture session, in many ways coincide with ours except on this point. Ted maintains that money at some level could still be useful in a residual sense and could be a relatively useful tool. Again some of the participants in our workshop expressed the opinion that money could exist in a reformed version of the current economy, which somehow respected social and ecological values however no clear or detailed model was offered: how money might be re-defined, its boundaries and functions altered so it played a useful role in a world where equitable social and sustainable environmental values are paramount.

Our book is written partly to advocate the opposing point, which is the same one at the basis of Marx's analysis in Capital, especially in the first two chapters of Capital I. Chapter 1 of Capital I can be read as a careful exercise in showing that capital and money are conjoined as chicken and egg. The reference is worth making not only to encourage readers but also because it shows that definitions of money are based purely on how people behave; use of money is a form of behaviour replete with social meaning. Money is a social fact.

There are numerous reasons for questioning how a neutral simple money might exist. In the workshop we talked about various iterations of LETS and how they fail the test of necessarily expressing or supporting social and environmental values. Kinds of time-money also raise issues of equity and skill. While I wouldn't deny that right now and in some contexts these more community-based 'monies' seem useful I do question their ongoing roles in establishing and maintaining fair and sustainable practices.

In our book we offer a positive example in the labour credit system operating at Twin Oaks community. The key point here is that this system is carefully operated by the whole community, which has established fair and sustainable property, social and environmental relationships and values which co-define this unit of account. I would sharply distinguish this kind of labour credit from 'money' although, in certain other iterations especially, labour credit and money can have suspect similarities.

Tracts in Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and The Poverty of Philosphy get to essential points that Ariel Salleh embellished in the TASA workshop, i.e. a universal money is the first step towards creating an abstract idealised sphere of human practices that is absolutely distinct from the material cycles of nature. This false objectification in turn leads to social confusion about the place of humans themselves within nature — a confusion that lends itself to hierarchy. The human objectification of nature and of other humans serves as a rationale for exercising power and exploitation. According to Salleh, this is a critical element in understanding duality and imbalance within the human-nature relationship, a false dichotomy which can only end in our damaging material relationships with each other and with nature under capitalism.

Towards the end of 'The Power of Money' section of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx critiques the role of money in capitalism and prefigures a world without money:

"Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society... It transform fidelity into infidelity, love into hate...

"Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things — the world upside-down — the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.

"He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward...

"Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person... Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life..."