How to Fix Money, Banking, and the Economy, and Usher in a New Convivial Civilization
It is clear that governments and banking corporations have long colluded in creating the present system of money, banking and finance that dominates economies around the world, and that they have no interest in making the kinds of changes that would reduce their power or share the wealth more fairly. As I have described it before, the banking cartel has been given the privilege of creating money out of thin air as debt and charging interest for its use, while the central governments get to spend as much as they want for whatever they want without regard to their limited tax revenues or the popular will.
In a recent interview, Prof. Richard Werner confirmed that fact and also explained that banks have been buying the wrong kinds of assets with the money they create, and that is why programs of “quantitative easing” (QE) have failed to achieve the outcomes he intended when he proposed them.
He argues, as I have, that we need more small banks that direct their money creation power toward small enterprises that will use the funds for productive purposes and strengthen their local economies. But the long term trend has been in the opposite direction, toward fewer and bigger banks that direct funds toward big corporations and capital funds that use the money for asset purchases, and toward central governments that use the money to acquire massive amounts of weaponry and conduct military adventures and destructive wars around the world.
But our most pressing need is to eliminate the growth imperative that arises from banks creating and lending money at compound interest. Since interest on money created as debt accrues with the passage of time and causes the debt to grow, the money supply is never sufficient for all loans to be repaid, so additional loans must be made in order to keep the money supply from shrinking and causing recessions or depressions. Since the money supply always lags behind the total amount owed, the economy is stimulated toward artificial and wasteful expansion of economic output. Not all increases in GDP are beneficial, and some are downright destructive. The production and use of weapons of war, for example, add to GDP but provide nothing to satisfy basic human needs or desires, and actually result in the destruction of existing infrastructure and death and misery for the people who happen to be on the receiving end.
If the necessary changes cannot be expected to come from the top of the economic and political pyramid, then they must emerge from the grassroots. Achievement of a steady state, equitable, peaceful and environmentally friendly economy requires deep restructuring of our systems of exchange and finance, and a shift away from debt finance and the increasing size and power of corporations and national governments.
As I’ve argued before in my articles and books, banks are supposed to perform two essential functions, the exchange function and the finance function. In the exchange function they should provide flexible short-term interest-free lines of credit to active buyers and sellers that are ready, willing, and able to provide goods and services to the market immediately or in the near term. This, in effect, monetizes the value of each business’s goods inventories or their capacity to provide valued services in the short run. As an adjunct to providing them with short-term exchange credit, banks should also provide them with credit clearing services in which their purchases are offset by their sales. This is precisely the sort of service that has been provided since 1934 by the Swiss WIR Bank (founded originally as the WIR Economic Circle Cooperative), and by the scores of commercial trade (or “barter”) exchanges that have been operating around the world.
In contrast to the exchange function, the finance function requires long-term credit instead of short-term credit. In performing the finance function banks should not create new money but should reallocate the temporary surplus funds of savers to entrepreneurs who will use it for productive purposes like capital improvements that increase their capacity to produce and distribute needed goods and services, and not for speculative and non-productive asset purchases. Further, they should provide these funds, not as interest-bearing loans, but as temporary equity that, unlike debt, causes the providers of funds to share both the risks as well as the rewards of business enterprise, and does not cause the growth imperative. If the equity stake of the bank is temporary instead of permanent, that will prevent the endless accumulation of vast pools of capital and will make capital a servant to productive enterprise rather than its master. Such equity shares that banks would administer on behalf of their depositors (savers) should expire after the original funds have been repaid to the savers along with a reasonable share of the profits that have been earned during the period of the agreement.
By making these simple changes in the kinds of banks we have, and way money and banks work, we can eliminate the endless expansion of debt, the inequitable distribution of power and wealth, the erosion of democratic government and the despoliation of the environment, and usher in a new more peaceful civilization.
If existing banks are unwilling to make these changes, or if existing banking regulations do not permit them, they can be implemented by other organizations that are entirely outside the banking system. The commercial trade exchanges mentioned earlier have, for more than 40 years, been facilitating the exchange function by providing credit clearing services to small and medium sized businesses, and are classified by the US government as “third party record keepers” that are not subject to banking regulations. By making some minor improvements in their operations and by networking them together, trade exchanges can evolve the exchange function in ways that can provide a worldwide web of exchange in which interest-free credit is locally controlled but globally useful.
Likewise, the finance function can be, and is, increasingly provided by small investors directly to entrepreneurs without involving banks by using innovative mechanisms like crowdfunding, community investment funds, and direct public offerings. By providing investment funds to SMEs and cooperatives in the form of equity shares, interest-free loans, or revenue shares, they can help rebuild local economies in ways that make communities more resilient and self-reliant, and most of this can be achieved by private enterprise without the need to enact any new laws or regulations.
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Thomas H. Greco, Jr. is an educator, author, and consultant dedicated to economic equity, social justice, and community empowerment. He specializes in the design and implementation of private and community currencies and mutual credit clearing networks. His latest book is The End of Money and the Future of Civilization. Read more at his website.