Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cutting the Gordian Knot -- Part 2

How can we in the modern world get along without money? This is, I think, the essence of Maju's question. And maybe the simplest answer is: well, we're going to find out. Real soon now. Whether we like it or not. Because the meaning, and value, of our money is dissolving before our eyes. It could take the form of runaway inflation but there are other forces that could also come into play that would do the trick -- such as a complete and total meltdown of the stock market.

Regardless, there's no question that we can survive in an economy without money, at least without money as we now know it. What's important even in our present situation is not really the shuffling around of money (as in the shell game run for so long by our beloved plutocrats) but the production and allocation of resources. One way to think about it is to think about what happens when someone with health insurance goes to the doctor. Money need not change hands (though in some cases there might be a small co-pay). You show someone your membership card, they sweep it through a little box and you're good.

But what about the doctor, won't he insist on being paid with money? Only if he's a fool. Because in the economy we are now headed for, he'll have no way of knowing what his money is worth, and its value will certainly deteriorate over time. Much better to be presented with a piece of paper telling him that he now has the right to continue living in his home without having to worry anymore about a mortgage; that he can forget about his car payments because the car he's been paying on is now available for his use whenever he needs it; and he can get all the gas he needs simply by presenting a ration card at the gas station.


Of course, such a system will require a huge bureaucracy to run it and there is always the danger of inefficiency, unfairness and corruption. Just as there is now, and always has been, regardless of whether we are living in a "free market" system (in which every large business has a bureaucracy of its own) or a socialist system. There is one very real rub, however. Because it's going to take time to set up such a system and make it work. Which is why it's important to start planning it now.

Is this an idealistic way of thinking? I've been accused of being an idealist. But I'm not. It's a realistic way of thinking. Unless anyone has a better idea of how to deal with our present, ever expanding, catastrophe. If so, please by all means comment below.


  1. You are right or at least could be in the sense of runaway inflation and even the total meltdown of the stockmarket. But, as long as private property exists, people will use something to barter: be it gold, cattle, weapons...

    Gold is in fact the most likely refuge in these times, at least for those who can afford it. And gold, along with precious stones and other materials (silver, copper, oil...) can put up with the lesser value of paper money. While paper money, be it state or cooperative-backed will remain for the daily transactions.

    I saw it happening in Serbia: the dinar devaluated nearly every day but that just made people work in German marks (now would be euros - or even yuans, some day maybe gold weight units or even chickens, like in the Dark Ages).

    I don't think it's so easy to get rid of money, unless you get rid of private property as well.

    And getting rid of private property is not so easy. It does not just need to get rid of the state that protects it (what may happen via collapse) but also to create an alternative system of democracy and justice, not just formal but effective at all levels. No Somalias with their mafias (between state and corporation) but no USSRs (all in the state) either.

    It's a really challenging situation and the social psychology does not seem ready for such adventures right now. Would we have the social vibe of the 60s to 80s, I'd expect a rapid golbal revolution in a couple of years, whatever the ultimate outcome, but the spirit of today is of apathy and lack of hope.

    As I see it, the classical model is collapsing and there's little that can be done to save it. But there is no real alternative arising, with some honorable exceptions in Latin America and some Asian spots. But the more they are able to "invent" is some sort of socialdemocracy, it seems. And that's clearly not enough.

    Apart from the collapse of the Capitalist system as we know it, there's something else that has to happen: the invention of a new form of socialism. The predictions are broken: Marx may have foreseen (to some extent) Capitalism until our time but he could not foresee what after it, not clearly at least. He and Engels, as well as the anarchists, were inspired by the Paris Communne. But the Communne like other similar experiments later on, failed one after the other. Even the USSR upon its collapse prefered to sport a western-like capitalism than to restore the soviet system as it was concieved.

    The big problem is not so much property and capitalism, that they are, but where the power lies? Who takes the decisions and what for? And at every level: from neighbourhood to Earth, from factory and shop to global economy and ecology.

    For Negri, who wrote in a more possitive social mood, the one after the 60s, this issue of power is the really central one and the one on which the class struggle of the Toyotist phase happens. But it is not anymore the classical (Fordist) class war but more of a war between the citizens (in which the working class has become - in Marx' age the workers had not even the right to vote yet) and the centers of power (state, corporations, lobbies, media - all working for the wealthy).

    Well, don't know. I could go for longer but what I really feel is that there is no push yet, nor a project to replace the moribund Capitalism (with a handful of very tentative neo-commy exceptions, mostly in Latin America). And that it won't be as easy as to just see the system collapse and then the new ideal society flourish automatically.

    It will need a huge effort and a most creative reinvention of nearly all. Meanwhile expect fascisms to become popular in some places and periods, as the once middle classes (including many workers) may expect to get some "justice" that way without putting everything upside down. In times of crisis many people look for neo-conservative solutions of the kind of fascism: economical patches and iron fist order may be tempting for many (though I doubt they work in the mid-run).

    I swear I have been waiting for this collapse to happen for decades but now that it has arrived I dont really see the way ahead clear at all. Maybe it's that I'm getting old... innovation is something that largely belongs to the young ones.

  2. You make a lot of sense, Maju. And you could certainly be right on all points. I have a tendency to reduce everything to the lowest common logical denominator, but life is rarely that simple and reductive thinking is often a mistake. What makes me uncharacteristically optimistic now is the sense I have that this is going to be a collapse of a completely unique sort, which, after the dust settles, will leave the world's leaders with very few meaningful options.

    If everyone else has nothing and you have gold, your gold will be more of a liability than an asset, believe me. So I don't see that as a solution. Weapons, perhaps yes, but you will want to keep your weapons to protect yourself, not sell them.

    What you experienced in Serbia was the collapse of one currency and a black market in another, more stable, one. But in this case it's the most stable currency of all that will collapse. So what other currency will be available to replace it? If the dollar goes down they all go down.

    "I don't think it's so easy to get rid of money, unless you get rid of private property as well." That's a good point. But if the zillionaires lose all their wealth they will lose the ability to maintain their property. So if the state offers to take over their property and allow them to continue living on at least some of it, this is something they might well want to agree to, as their choices will have become very limited. I've seen this happen on the island of Newport, off Rhode Island, where the owners of the very old and dilapidated mansions there could no longer afford to maintain them, so gave them to the state or to charity.

    As for an "alternative system of democracy," as I see it the systems that already exist in legitimate democracies, such as the USA, Canada, France, Britain, etc. could be maintained, provided those currently in power would be willing to undertake the responsibilities of managing a planned economy. And if they are not so willing they would probably be replaced by socialists in the next elections. Unless they could come up with some alternative plan -- but what could that be? People are no longer willing to look the other way while public resources are handed over to well connected individuals in order to preserve "the private sector."

    I like the idea of the invention of a new form of socialism. I think that will have to happen. And I see no reason why that couldn't be compatible with both democracy and a more or less classless society. The USSR, as Orwell recognized, was not really a socialist state, not under Stalin and his successors, in any case. But there are other systems based more or less on socialism that have succeeded, especially what we see now in so many European states. Venezuela and Brazil show much promise as well.

    However, what will be needed, and what is imo inevitable, will ultimately be what might seem like a far more radical form of socialism, based on a planned economy to a very great extent. Which doesn't mean that there won't be periods of serious civil unrest and disruption along the way, because it won't be easy for most people to take that step through the gateless gate.

    As for where the power lies, power to the people, sez I. I don't think the people will any more permit the oligarchs to control them, especially when the money behind the oligarchs has gone up in smoke. Democracy is still the best way to ensure people power imo, so I do think there is hope, because so many countries at least have the political infrastructure for true democracy to blossom. If the centers of power were controlled by the wealthy in the past, the destruction of that wealth will break the spell. Let's hope.

    "And that it won't be as easy as to just see the system collapse and then the new ideal society flourish automatically." No it won't be easy. There will probably be a very difficult and possibly tragic transition. What I am saying, basically, is that something far more equable, democratic and, yes, Utopian, could in principle, emerge from the present crisis, if our leaders wake up in time and also show some courage as well some intelligence. If they don't then fascism is definitely a danger.

    I remember how so many of us expected this sort of collapse back in the 60's so I know how you feel. But speak for yourself as far as innovation is concerned. I've been an innovator all my life and I'm not about to stop for old age. :-)


Add to Technorati Favorites