Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trade School

Caroline Woolard, co-founder of NYC's Trade School and panelist at Left Forum (see below), suggested we present a workshop on the ideas in Life Without Money, engaging with participants and collecting information through a survey on sharing practices. 'A Life Without Money?' is set to take place on both Saturday 14 April at 3 pm to 4.30 pm at the GeneralAssembly at 902 Broadway (4th Floor) and on Sunday 15 April at 4 pm to 5.30 pm at the GrandOpening at 139 Norfolk Street, New York City.

Here is the description, that you'll find, with more details and a way to sign up on the Trade School calendar:
Experiences as a writer and filmmaker, experiments with alternative living and work arrangements and exchange systems, and teaching sustainability and social sciences, led me to initiate and edit a recently published book with ten contributors — Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies. In this workshop I'll outline some key themes in the book, which argues that social and environmental values are much easier to respect in systems of mutual aid where money plays no part. The book also presents some practical and strategic examples for constructing a world without money. This workshop will explore these ideas in a collaborative way. When you sign up let us know if there are questions or topics of particular interest to you so we can make sure they are covered. There will be plenty of space for interaction in the workshop, which will mainly involve discussion. You will be asked to fill out a survey focusing on your sharing practices, which will be your 'payment' for attending.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Left Forum, 16–18 March 2012

Last weekend we participated in two panels at Left Forum in NYC (16–18 March) talking about Life Without Money. Left Forum attracted around 4000 participants, many attending for just one day. There were around 400 panels so a lot of competition for attracting punters. Over 50 people came to our panels, which included lively discussion on the problems with monetary economies, non-monetary options and strategies for demonitisation. During the week some participants followed up by emailing us through the book website.

The theme for this year's Left Forum was Occupy! and we spent some time over the last week following developments with the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park last weekend and their activities at Union Square (see photos taken by Frans Timmerman: above, 21 March Union Square and, below, 24 March at Zuccotti Park).

We're working on a short piece on non-market socialism that might appear in the next Overland.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I'm in New York until late in May as a Visiting Scholar of the Economics Department of the New School for Social Research and collaborating with Cameron Tonkinwise (Chair, Design Thinking and Sustainability, School of Design Strategies, Parsons) on some critical papers on sustainable production and exchange.

This weekend co-editor of Life Without Money Frans Timmerman and contributor Ariel Salleh will appear with me on a Left Forum panel focusing on our book Occupy the World: Life Without Money (10 am Sunday March 18) and I will appear on another, focusing on three books, including Life Without Money: Capitalism, Sustainability and Economic Democracy (noon Sunday March 18).

Last weekend I was in Chicago and presented at a small CPE seminar at the University of Wisconsin Madison arranged by Erik Olin Wright and Bob Freeland. The discussion afterwards reminded me of the workshop Ariel Salleh, Terry Leahy and I presented at the 2011 TASA conference at the University of Newcastle in Australia. Of all the disciplines, sociologists seem to have limited, less critical and/or vague understandings of economics, regarding economics as irrelevant and/or with a worrisome degree of complacency. They also have partial understandings of the nature and extent of the environmental crisis facing us.

Nevertheless, this group definitely take economics seriously and, given a precis offered by one of the participants on Monday,  I was confident I got the main points of some of our arguments across.

Erik made a strident defence of a generalised unit of account as a useful measure in complex economies and of keeping money in certain spheres of the economy. At the same time he agreed that commodification and monetary values permeated too many sectors of our society, which would be improved if such inroads were rolled back. He expressed great confidence that environmental and social values can be fed into prices created in a democratic way. He seemed to suggest a democratic form of planned national economies in which, he argued, trade would still be vital.

It is hard to unpack such impasses. However, I make several observations that anyone holding Erik's kind of a position needs to address with respect to the process hazily described and the 'money' thereby created:

1. How can you create a set of indicators that form an index ('money') when social and environmental values are often contradictory and social and environmental contexts are so complex? For example, to avoid resource depletion (including of non-renewable energy sources) one might consider more time-consuming and exacting production options demanding superior effort and training/skills, a social cost = an environmental benefit. Often all options involve environmental benefits and costs and social benefits and costs. How do you, let alone usefully, compound such contradictory (and subjective) sets of valuations into one price?

2. It would be useful to know how proponents of such vastly different price structures and monetary mechanisms define money under current capitalist systems: do they hold a labour theory of value? If not, how do they define money holistically and in each of its functions, i.e. as a unit of account and circulating symbol of value? Then, how do they see the abstract social character of money changing under the system they propose?

3. Money as we know it, as a generalised and universal unit of account, arises as such through everyday marketplace activities within capitalist production for trade at a profit. In other words, money is defined by our behaviour. Marx pointed out a series of tests for 'utopian socialists' who advocate imputing prices. He said, in effect, 'Okay, so you give everything, say a fair price as it leaves its point of production but what happens given that some goods and services aren't salable (no-one wants them or not at that price)? Therefore, the imputed price cannot be effectively carried through in practice?'

4. If you keep 'money' what is it about it that you are keeping and what are you changing? If it's not the 'free market' mechanism of prices altering as signals to productive units to increase or decrease production of certain goods and services, what exact role is price fulfilling and why do you maintain this is the most effective way to fulfill that purpose?

5. If money is reserved for only certain, say minimal sectors — Erik suggesting that the most complex production processes required monetary calculations to operate efficiently — then there is the added problem that inputs in non-monetary areas cannot be satisfactorily (i.e. monetarily) factored in. In fact, reserving pricing to the most complex sectors, i.e. having the greatest number of inputs, automatically exaggerates this gap, because these sectors are at the top of the economic chain.

I could keep going, but those are enough meaty questions to start with.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sharing gardens

I have just been reading the recent special issue of Communities: Life In Cooperative Culture (Winter 2011, #153) on Permaculture, especially in its communal aspects.

I found 'The Sharing Gardens' by Llyn Peabody (pp. 41–45) an interesting read because they have made non-monetary activities a fundamental aspect of gardening and sharing harvests in a community setting:
'a world where sharing is the norm; a world beyond buying and selling and private ownership.'(44)
Llyn suggests that this is a new framework for developing community supported agriculture, where instead of monetary exchanges lubricating production, its financing and remuneration, those active in the gardens share in the harvest using gifting practices:
'Our model is meant to help people develop the practice of giving without thought of return; without specifically accounting in a buy/sell or even bartering state of mind. We encourage volunteers to "give what they can" and "receive what they need."' (43)
Although this experiment is inspired by Christian teachings, the material practices mirror non-market socialism.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Latest review

You can find a review of Life Without Money by 'PB' at the Socialist Party of Great Britain site. It's called Gifts and giving and appears in the Socialist Standard 1291, March. You can download a pdf of the whole issue here.