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Our money our future - Money for the 99% by the 99%

This week's theme for the Transition Network's Social Reporters is Economics and Transition.

When asked to write a blog on the economy I thought there's a few approaches I could take, hmmmm:

1. How about the desperate addiction to economic growth to service government debt and shareholder returns - resulting in inherently unsustainable economies the world over? Forget climate change and it doesn't matter how many forms of life are extinguished, we must GROW the industrial economy! In the UK we're going to build lots more roads (roads are better than rail because, according to DfT formulas, more cars is the most effective way to grow the economy, so they don't like giving money to things like trams, bike lanes etc.).

2. A list of the figures that reveal the scale of the unfolding financial crisis, a country by country, bank by bank story of domino style collapse. The poorest will be hit first. What will it mean to us all if a significant number of people don't have the means to buy the basics? We are the 99%.

3. A response to the savings and pensions crisis? A personal investment survival plan including the best ways to invest in gold, palladium or trade in other base commodities like wheat, palm oil etc.? A personal favourite is the Keiser report for understanding the madness of the market fraud against the 99% and lack of any real investment advice.

4. The story of how creation of debts for private profits has massively inflated the price of homes, so enslaving millions into working their whole lives to pay back - with interest - the immense volumes of money bankers created out of thin air?

5. My favourite pub rant is the offshore banking debacle - the wealthiest people in the world and big trans-national corporations play by different rules. They systematically remove wealth from economies the world over to avoid paying tax. The figures are staggering, 50% of global trade, cash stashed by the richest totals circa $20trillion and rising.

But you can search the internet for any one of these and probably find the facts easily enough by someone far more eloquent. So I've posted some links and I'll leave it at that.

bristol street artInstead, maybe it is more interesting to hear what I have been trying to do in helping to create a local/regional currency scheme the Bristol Pound. It is, in part, motivated by these 5 things, plus a few more, but also because I love Bristol, the city I live in, and I find my energies are more suited to creating things than fighting to stop bad things happening (we urgently need more of both). I love the spirit of the people in Bristol and crucially, the independent traders, retailers, artists, street traders, crafts people, restaurants etc. Bristol is often called counter cultural, and for me it's that which makes it feel so exciting a place to live and work. It's that counter cultural attitude that might just save our collective arse when the chips are down. I want my home city to not just remain that way, but to see a lot more of that creative enterprise and try and build some alternative means to function as the system we currently depend on demands an ever higher toll from us all. It may soon fail to provide for many people and then we will need to be skilled in organising a functional local economy if we are to avoid the most serious social fallout in recent history.

So, a couple of years back I decided to hold a seminar called "Money and Economics" (without any real expertise or connections). I posed a few basic questions to try and find out what to do about the endless push for economic growth vs the need to create closed loop, ecologically sound economies. A guy called Chris Sunderland turned up saying he wanted to create a Bristol Pound. The more I thought about it the more obvious an idea it seemed. Everyone who knows anything about the private banking system knows it is structurally designed to impoverish the 99%, so why not create our own system. But doing this at scale across a city was pretty daunting. We knew this would only work if we took the time to hold open the space for other people to come forward and offer some serious skills, ideas and lots of time. We ended up with a great team.

We have spent a lot of time building a strategy in Bristol and working with other transition initiatives, the new economics foundation, Qoin and others to develop an electronic 'banking' system that we think is a genuine alternative. It's called Monea and it already sits behind the Brixton Pound and soon, I hope, behind many other initiatives. I'm hoping this system we have developed can be a solid building block that allows new democratic money systems to spread across the UK and further, to other cities and places that can run a diversity of local to regional currencies at a scale not seen before. I dare not say too much of how far we might go for fear of jinxing it, but simple paper currencies are working well elsewhere: in Germany the Chiemgauer and in the US Berkshares where regional banks support them. We now have the technology to go much further.

In Bristol we have gone for a sterling backed model, something we felt was a necessary compromise in building the network of users to critical mass. We are a CIC and will run it as a 'Multi Stake holder Cooperative'. But there are many alternatives and it's worth really doing some thinking about what it is you want to achieve in setting up a currency scheme (as well as all the other Transition style currencies check out Bernard Lietaer's The Future of Money, Peter North's book Local Money, the Spice Project and Community Forge).

In Bristol we have worked hard to persuade our local authority to support the Bristol Pound, but the key elements we want in place first are having the critical mass of diverse independent businesses signed up to the scheme, and support from our Bristol Credit Union to handle the accounts. We have held many talks and meetings with local businesses and trader associations, in the council, community groups and activist organisations and of course the local press. But it's not just telling people what we want to do but asking for real input about what would work for them. It has been a long road to collaborate with so many people and there is no guarantee of success, but the prize is great - a currency can be a systemic driver of equity and sustainability. If it does not work at the scale we hope for? Already the connections and growing understanding that has been fostered along the way make it worth it for me.

We have learned a huge amount that we want to share with others in terms of FSA regulations, the compromise between open source development and security, the technologies behind mobile phone payments and where we can take currencies in the future. But most important we are learning how to organise and that as we get better at organising we can genuinely start to create and collectively run the economies that deliver for people.

In my experience more and more people have stopped believing that the democratic system we have can match the power of the financial oligarchy that spans the world. How can we have any form of democracy when such a tiny number of people are running the money system? Organising and participating in creating and running the financial system is essential if we want real democracy. So get out there and start banking!

P.S. If you cant be asked or you're too busy doing something far more interesting then at least let's make this the Xmas no.1 He is a hero for singing this at a leaders summit in from of Obama et al.


Links

Nicholas Shaxson Treasure Islands. Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World

Naomi Klein http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,5

Ilargi at http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/

Richard Wolff http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/feb/19/us-taxation-taxavoidance?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

Peter Victor 'Managing without growth: slower by design, not disaster'

Tim Jackson Prosperity Without Growth

Nature:

Johan Rockström et al. A safe operating space for humanity

Photos: Bristol Street Art; Bristol Pound leaflet

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