Michael Reddy, Ph.D, CPC
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Saturday June 24, 2017
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Money Changes Everything--Towards a Less Toxic Economy


There's an upsurge of "new economy" ideas and efforts these days. Some are relatively mainstream attempts to shift capitalism towards more socially and environmentally responsible directions.

Others want to bring more spirituality into the business world. And some take issue even with the whole concept of money as it is structured in our world. More and more you hear the word "toxic" applied to the current economic system.

So What's All This About?

Who are some of the players and how practical are their proposals? Here I want to give
you some idea of the evolution and range of economic "fixes" bubbling up all over the place these days. Are we looking at real change here? Or just less effectual simmerings of widespread discontent?

The "Old" New Economy
globe webIn the 80's and 90's, "new economy" described the transition from manufacturing and brick and mortar retailing to a technology intensive service economy. Online retailing, social media, instant streaming of video content—all these undercut the hands-on, face-to-face, "old economy."

But this was more about the disruptive effect of ubiquitously networked computers than any fundamental change in economic capitalism. And it quickly became the next big, "dot-com" bubble of the late nineties.

Natural Capitalism

But also, in 1999, Natural Capitalism was published. It argued quite correctly that limited environmental and social plastic litter all overresources consumed by businesses don't appear in their accounting systems. They liquidate this kind of capital and call it income.

The "commons"--shared support systems, like air, water, and topsoil, on the one hand, and sufficient economic equality to ensure social safety on the other—is crucial to all of us. Failure to include its depletion becomes an invisible public subsidy to big business.

The impact of this accounting failure is clearly "toxic." Changing it is a basic idea that informs many more recent efforts.  Let's look at a few of these.

What Are Some Examples of This?

One example of this is "B-corps." The "B" here stands for "benefit," and refers ambiguously to two different business regimes. One is a form of for-profit incorporation (differing from state to state), which requires the corporation to achieve and report on "material positive benefit" to society and/or the environment. Without this, for profit corporations can by law only act to increase the wealth of their shareholders. In the four years since 2010, 19 states have passed B-corp laws, and around 1000 such corporations have been formed.

"B-lab" (bcorporation.net) is a company offering third party certification that a company has met a high standard of social and environmental performance. As of Spring 2014, around 15,000 corporations have taken the first step in certification, and around 900 have completed it.

This is a significant movement that seems to be gathering headway quickly. At the same time, it's impact on corporate capitalism as a whole remains to be seen.

Mindfulness & Wisdom in Business

Another kind of approach is growing also among smaller, Internet-savvy, largely service oriented entrepreneurs. Its stated goal is to bring "wisdom" and spirituality somehow directly into business dealings. The Wisdom 2.0 (wisdom2summit.com) group has organized conferences on both coasts to use technology for social and spiritual good.

meditationOut of it grew a Facebook-based "Wisdompreneur" group (facebook.com/groups/wisdompreneurs) that has surged to over 3000 members in little more than a year. Both of these are aligned with the huge inroads recently made by "mindfulness meditation" in the mainstream world. Mindfulness in sports, business, education, and even the military looks as if it may achieve the same kind of popularity now enjoyed by yoga.

Impacts of the 2008 Meltdown

About 8 years after the dot-com slowdown, another economic bubble, in housing prices this time, precipitated the subprime mortgage crisis. This took down several large financial institutions and precipitated a severe recession. Though the stock market fell 50% in the process, it recovered all of that and more by early 2013. Employment, however, has not.

Wall Street, it appears, manages to decouple itself more and more from the monetary health and well being of society as a whole. The top 1% of Americans possess 40% of the nation's total wealth, while the bottom 80% make do with only 7% between them all (tinyurl.com/1-has40).

Obviously such a staggering level of economic inequality is dangerous and "toxic." When money trumps all other values and accumulates so massively in the hands of so few—businesses, governments, and media have an uphill battle saying or doing anything other than what benefits Uphill-Battlethose few.

Meanwhile, people and planet are crashing. Beyond the short-lived Occupy Movement, this has given rise to critiques and proposals focused not just on capitalism, but the very nature of money itself.

Is "Money" Structured Wrong?

Though there are many more, I'm most aware of 4 of these. Two of them are relatively fleshed out proposals for entirely different forms of economic and political interaction. Michael Tellinger's book Ubuntu Contributionism—A Blueprint for Human Prosperity (www.michaeltellinger.com/ubuntu-cont) eventually does away with money entirely. Perry Gruber's Copiosis: An Introduction (copiosis.com) radically changes its nature.

"Ubuntu" is a Bantu word spread widely by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu that roughly means "humanity towards others." Tellinger, a South African, has actually formed a political party with the same name. "Contributionism" is meant to highlight what we contribute as opposed to what we consume. Meanwhile, Gruber pulled "copiosis" from the Latin term meaning "plenty" (think of "cornucopia").

What About the Central Promise of "Progress"?

earth peopleThough very different, both of these approaches try to envision a system in which modular communities provide the bare necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter, energy, for instance) pretty much automatically, while the "work" that people do is an expression of their passions and desire to contribute to people and planet.

So community members don't work "for a living," but rather for the joy and satisfaction it provides themselves and others. The "living" is a given. And it's worth noting that something like this has been the longstanding promise of progress (more "leisure")—whereas the current system has us struggling ever harder just to attain those basics.

Is This Really Practical?

It's very easy to pull statements from these manifestos that sound impractical, idealistic, and utopian. "Nobody will be forced to do anything." "Everything is available to everyone all the time." Copiosis has everyone entering every single act ("no matter how small or personal") in a networked handheld so it can become part of a vast computerized calculation of "net positive benefit" to society.

At the same time, if our current system is as broken as it seems, somebody has to rethink things from scratch. And it makes more sense to look at what's right about the rough drafts than to simply poke holes and continue to suffer. Why, with our level of progress, are basic necessities not already a given?

The Transition Initiative

Rob Hopkins' transition initiative (timebanks and transition towns) also belongs here. For details, I refer you to my previous article on this (editions.us.com/yogaliving_summer14/#36). It still seems to me to be the most practical approach because it lays out a permaculture-based path to recreating resilient communities that does not immediately confront the powers that be and does not specify an end-state, global solution.More Beautiful World Cover Thumbnail

In this I agree with Charles Eisenstein. Whatever else, confrontation is in its way just more of what's wrong. Two of his books, Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible, come up now. The first of these is a learned, well-researched, and ultimately wise look at the role money has played in the evolution of our civilization.

Eisenstein--"We're Between Stories"

Purely monetary transactions remove the emotional bonds that form when communities share resources more on a gifting basis. Positive interest does cause money to accumulate in an unnatural and unfair way—negative interest might well help change that. Sacred Economics eventually summarizes 7 synergistically related changes (pp. 331-347) that would shift us into
a healthy system.

Much easier to read and resonate to is The More Beautiful World book. In so many ways, Charles explains beautifully—we are "between stories" (i.e., paradigms). The old story of separation is failing on all fronts. And the new story of "interbeing" (unity) is not yet clear. We all have a piece of it.

What's most important in bringing that new story into being is that we all express our unique gifts in the world. It's interesting therefore that both Ubuntu and Copiosis are built around that shared value.

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