freyley (freyley) wrote,

Local Currency continued

As a followup to Keturn's post
The idea of currency that encourages transaction (as opposed to hoarding) has come up repeatedly. In the immediacy, the idea seems to resemble a massive increase in the inflation rate, which is generally understood to be bad. Here's a rosy description, though: (From Rushkoff's Edge essay

People brought grain in from the fields, had it weighed at a grain store, and left with a receipt — usually stamped into a thin piece of foil. ...

Now the interesting thing about this money is that it lost value over time. The grain store had to be paid, some of the grain was lost to rats and spoilage. So each year, the grain store would reissue the money for any grain that hadn't actually been claimed. This meant that the money was biased towards transactions — towards circulation, rather than hording. People wanted to spend it. And the more money circulates (to a point) the better and more bountiful the economy. Preventative maintenance on machinery, research and development on new windmills and water wheels, was at a high.

Many towns became so prosperous that they invested in long-term projects, like cathedrals. The "Age of Cathedrals" of this pre-Renaissance period was not funded by the Vatican, but by the bottom-up activity of vibrant local economies. The work week got shorter, people got taller, and life expectancy increased. (Were the Late Middle Ages perfect? No — not by any means. I am not in any way calling for a return to the Middle Ages. But an honest appraisal of the economic mechanisms in place before our own is required if we are ever going to contend with the biases of the system we are currently mistaking for the way it has always and must always be.)
The first innovation was to centralize currency. What better way for the already rich to maintain their wealth than to make money scarce? Monarchs forcibly made abundant local currencies illegal, and required people to exchange value through artificially scarce central currencies, instead. Not only was centrally issued money easier to tax, but it gave central banks an easy way to extract value through debasement (removing gold content). The bias of scarce currency, however, was towards hording. Those with access to the treasury could accrue wealth by lending or investing passively in value creation by others. Prosperity on the periphery quickly diminished as value was drawn toward the center. Within a few decades of the establishment of central currency in France came local poverty, an end to subsistence farming, and the plague. (The economy we now celebrate as the happy result of these Renaissance innovations only took effect after Europe had lost half of its population.)

As it's currently practiced, the issuance of currency — a public utility, really — is still controlled in much the same manner by central banks. They issue the currency in the form of a loan to a bank, which in turn loans it a business. Each borrower must pay back more then he has acquired, necessitating competition — and more borrowing. An economy with a strictly enforced central currency must expand at the rate of debt; it is no longer ruled principally by the laws of supply and demand, but the debt structures of its lenders and borrowers. Those who can't grow organically must acquire businesses in order to grow artificially. Even though nearly 80% of mergers and acquisitions fail to create value for either party, the rules of a debt-based economy — and the shareholders it was developed to favor — insist on growth at the expense of long-term value.
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