Building a new economy around the Credit Commons

Matthew Slater co-drafted the Credit Commons white paper, a proposal for a global solidarity economy money system, based on mutual credit principles. Here he outlines the kind of thinking that has required to escape ‘the Machine’ and build a new economy around the Credit Commons.

Donald Trump once derided Greta Thunberg and everyone pleading with government to heed environmental science as ‘doomsayers’. The more imminent peak oil or environmental collapse appear, the more intransigent our political system seems to be. Whatever the reasons for this, responsible citizens can only accomplish so much while the political and economic winds are blowing against them.

It’s tempting to give up on the very notion of progress; to accept that humans are condemned by God to dream of better societies but never to build them. I don’t blame anybody who retreats into their books, their garden or their movies and tries to maintain their own happiness alone. What should we prepare for, what should we hope for, beyond a quiet life and peaceful death?

There are always scenarios about which we can do nothing – asteroid strike, plague, nuclear war; if these seem more likely there is and never was any point dwelling on them personally.

For many of us, the urge do something remains. But we don’t really know how the enormous prospects of climate chaos and capitalism’s reaction to it will affect us, or what exactly to prepare for. The best we can do then, is accept the coming losses, process our trauma, and while we still have time and resources, try to create more resilient ways of meeting our needs.

If we look under the ‘new economy‘ umbrella most of the discourse is about steering the juggernaut of capitalism towards social and environmental justice

  • The cooperative movement aims for social justice by changing the ownership structure of our businesses.
  • Ethical consumers hope to use their muscle in the market to make progressive businesses more viable.
  • The divestment movement hopes to shift (access to) capital from immoral enterprises and towards moral ones.
  • The sharing economy, popular a decade ago, promised to reduce our consumption by renting rather than owning capital-intensive products like cars and electric drills. That would have been a good start, but where is it now?

All of these are couched in terms of progress, which seem less and less realistic in the face of oil depletion and environmental crisis. As the Roman Empire declined, it taxed all the money and resources towards the centre, impoverishing the periphery, and I believe that capitalism is declining in much the same way as the gap widens between rich and poor. Unless we can disconnect, all the property, wealth, health and freedom we have gained in the last decades will be sucked into a black hole.

Disconnecting is no trivial matter. The Market of capitalism is not just your High Street, but is better viewed as a single global system comprising of:

  • supply chains
  • organisations
  • standards / regulations
  • credit / money

– which together most efficiently concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer shareholders. Most of us depend for everything we earn and everything we spend on that all-encompassing machine.

A strategy of resilience and independence from capitalism doesn’t mean fleeing to the forest and building your own hut. It means withdrawing people and equipment from the Machine, creating intermediate social and economic structures, and turning our backs on that Machine as soon as expedient. It’s no easy task, and requires a shift of the imagination, a resetting of priorities.

That resilience comes through meeting your needs and the needs of your family more directly. It isn’t about ‘self’ sufficiency, which is a lot of work and expense, but about sufficiency of whole communities, larger circles of production and consumption, but closed off from the Machine. Simply committing to buy from new economy producers, and investing money in them won’t ultimately help you unless you are part of their loop of production and consumption.

So who are these people who will produce what we consume and consume what we produce? Before we can withdraw our own spare energy from the dying economy and start producing things for ourselves we will need to identify our new economic partners.

The resilient economy is not like the single efficient global Market on which every individual depends for everything. We should rather think in terms of mutually-supportive groups that join together in larger groups when they have more specialised or capital-intensive needs. This is the structure envisaged by Mutual Credit Services.

It begins with finding each other, and building trust and wealth together. Reciprocation is the component missing from all the other new economy movements; we can only unplug from the Machine insofar as we can produce and consume with others around us.

Think of an economic partner as someone who produces (some of) what you consume and who consumes (some of) what you produce. It is this reciprocation with people you know, perhaps without using money, which is insulated from the Machine. Only through reciprocation in production and consumption can people and groups coalesce to build resilient wealth together.

There are many ways that families, especially if they live close by, can share production and consumption to make life easier. They could start by researching plastic-free products and foods and approach the producers for bulk discounts. Other forms of cooperation might be car-sharing, cooking together, babysitting, house-sitting. Some of them will have useful skills they can all benefit from such as preparing food for the freezer, mending things, dealing with bureaucracies. And as trust builds and cooperation deepens they might end up lending each other money, insuring things together, investing together, co-owning vehicles and the like. Such groups could be considered foundational units of another economy.

This kind of cooperation is a start but it barely begins to replace the role of the Market in each family’s economy. The challenge is to meet more essential needs in the spirit of that fraternal or neighbourly cooperation than in the spirit of business, and gaining as much as you can from each transaction. But it might not be smart to sit those people down and have a serious talk with them about the future, in order to get them to do whacky projects with you. So here are a some of other ideas:

  • Start making / producing something every week – like beer, bread, candles, moisturiser, granola, vegetables, eggs – that you can give to or exchange with anyone, and invite others to help you scale up the operation. There’s nothing wrong with selling it for money as long as that’s not your primary aim!
  • Go to a farmers’ market, take one of the producers for a drink, and find out about their business and how to get involved in your spare time – maybe you can help with sales, marketing, delivery in exchange for produce which you can then consume or pass on.
  • Find a veg box scheme or an organic food supplier and try to engage your neighbours in buying regularly and getting deliveries. By cooperating you can get better prices and/or better quality, and reduce shopping time.

Maybe you’ll post more ideas in the comments, below.

These simple ideas are just first steps in knowing and building trust with people. The more you do together, the more you’ll need to agree, to decide, to invest, to risk, and to share. An economy resilient to the Machine, will need to do without many of the tools and protections built in to the state and the market over hundreds of years. For example without the protection of the law an informal enterprise without limited liability would not likely survive the expense of a court case. We shall have to resolve our disputes privately until we create non-Market institutions we can trust and abide by.

From this early vantage point, the challenge of building another economy cannot be overstated, but at the same time the rewards are manifold. Trust, if we have it, is a boon to our efforts rarely to be found in capitalism, where the love of money is the only value you can depend upon. Moreover it is a pleasure to have substantial relationships and work with people we trust. Being the master of your own work is another huge motivational factor. Taking control of your food is very satisfying and could bring short- and long-term improvements in the health of your family.

Western people are not accustomed to collaboration in social groups, except perhaps in our distant cultural memories of extended families or perhaps professional guilds, but we need to be. I will conclude with a quote from Richard Bartlett, one of the founders of the renowned Enspiral organisation, a network of freelancers working together in small teams they call ‘crews’.

“People enmeshed in really great Crews are most resilient to the psychological cost of doing social change work, and therefore the most able to think and act strategically. It’s at this small scale that we decontaminate each other, recover from the individualist virus, and start to learn a new way of being together.” Microsolidarity part 2.

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