How can negative interest realign money with the sacred values of nature?

Charles Eisenstein walks us through a three-pronged technique to transition our use of money back into values that promote nature, community, and sustainable innovation.

BOOK

Sacred Economics

Charles Eisenstein

REFERENCES

List Below

PDF for Sacred Economics below

Intro

Check Step 46 for a history of how money developed from sacred origins into “a force for evil.”

Part 1

Separation and Oneness

Last week we talked about interest, or usury, and using the parable of the 11th round you could see how every step along the way seemed like an improvement, but we got caught in a trap.  Slowly every person grew to suffer more as the town’s wealth grew. Eventually the Earth suffered as well. And yet when “growth” is what you serve, that growth must come from somewhere, and it seems to come from extracting not only from the Earth but from the social and moral bonds that we hold dear. 

 The way money is used today generates resentment and builds depression for the poor as well as the rich.  The system is a pathological, illusory prison: usury equals illusory.  

This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.”

Charles Eisenstein

 He goes as far as to say to bring forth generosity and love and all dimensions of life, “we must dismantle the systems of domination that perpetuate the illusion of separation. Most notably the neoliberal system of Economics but also religion and politics.”

The difficulty is, we are perpetually bombarded and distracted by the reinforced narrative:

Money tends to use the language of ease and convenience, of security and speed, wrapped up with personal agency:

  •  “Just do it.” Nike 
  • “Because you’re worth it” L’oreal. 
  • “Think Different” Apple

Or the language of freedom and liberty being used by credit card companies:

  • “More living. Less limits.”
  • “the future takes Visa”
  • “Everywhere you want to be” 

 Every one of these statements is predicated upon the individual as Sovereign, unique, and a creature of agency, but nowhere in this space do we talk of the social good, the public, the commons, the social economy of what we owe to each other. 

And what do we owe to each other? Matthew Crawford might say it is as simple as being attentive. But, simply paying attention to each other may be too much effort: we already have too many distractions and we resent our attention being begged by another.

 Eisenstein says we must disengage from this system, not oppose it. 

The idea is to feed upon the resources of capitalism to manifest and emerge as butterflies from this cocoon that traps us and holds us back: we must mature, stealing energy from the rotting corpse of capitalism, using it’s bones as a scaffolding from which to build our new society. 

To do this, we need a new story. Not the age of separation, but the story of Ascent. 

Part 2

If you just purchase this handy dandy capitalist katana, it slices, it dices, it says “I’m cool with decapitating capitalism and cultural appropriation” Buy yours now for pennies on the dollar, in only three easy payments at 20% APR … SCRITCHHHH

To escape capitalism, we must disengage from the capitalist solutions. Beyond our own attitudes, the companies need to change as well. From big tech to government our interests are shaped through regulation and choice architecture.

Systemically we need policy in place that align wealth with the sacred. 

As mentioned last podcast, if money functions separately from nature, as an eternal abstraction that accrues value, then it is unnatural. To re-align it with nature, it too must function like nature, rotting and decaying over time. Like vegetables, livestock, or the potency of farts. 

Eisenstein brings up negative interest. This is when money circulates and investment continues, but the original capital loses value. These would lead us to “value” the capital less than the products or services. So, currently, with positive interest, there is an incentive to hoard money (pull it out of circulation) and be rewarded through stockpiling, which encourages stagnation, otherwise known as a recession.

Simple Example: If I get a 5% interest rate from the bank, but the economy only grows at 3%… it is better to store my money, where it extracts more money from the economy than it provides.  

There are ramifications for any economic fiddling (risk/reward math) but “perpetual growth” is increasingly looking unsustainable. First, with wealth inequality – or wealth consolidation – what if their money was like potatoes… and their hill of money rotted and lost value over time? Focus (values) would shift: it wouldn’t be look at my potatoes, but  how can I make use of all these potatoes before they rot? I know! Vodka. And suddenly, the good times are circulating again. 

Negative interest money has existed, such as the WIR in Switzerland, and “emergency currencies” in the 1930’s in America. In 1906 Silvio Gesell proposed “ the natural economic order” where a stamp of a small percentage was periodically pasted onto paper currency, this maintenance was a fee on the currency. For example: if a dollar required a one cent stamp every month to stay valid, it would depreciate at an annual rate of 12%.

Only money that goes out of date like a newspaper, rots like potatoes, rusts like iron, evaporates like ether, is capable of standing the test as an instrument for the exchange of potatoes, newspapers, iron, and ether. For such money is not preferred to goods either by the purchaser or the seller. We then part with our goods for money only because we need the money as a means of exchange, not because we expect an advantage from possession of the money. (6)

Silvio Gisell

Naturally, the wealthy would hate this. But considering the bigger picture monetary wealth is a limited scope of “wealth”: it is only fiscal wealth, economic power.  If wealth is instead measured through happiness and well-being, it will be linked with intimate connections and communities, mutual benefit and attentiveness, which also provides emotional stability, and can generate it’s own economies.

Part 3

But what about land use, property, and ownership?
Currently, we are paying more attention to how land is used and how the environment is treated in general, which is great… but how do we contend with the resources extracted and regurgitated as pollution onto the land?

The consumer citizen has increasingly been distanced from the means of production, and nature, to remain focused on the separated individual self. We become “rational actors” or “rational optimizers.”

The tragedy of the Commons is an economic parable about how “rational actors” optimize individual wellbeing at the cost of the entire community, destroying the equilibrium to thrive for self-interest. Our current model exacerbates or encourages extraction, or commodifying the commons into private wealth.

“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?”

Chief Seattle

This “property-fication” is a marketplace behavior stemming from an artificially contrived value of land. One placebo solution, highly-touted, is that through more efficient, cleaner extraction technology, we all benefit…  but technology has its own cascade effects, one being to displace workers. 

Hence why Eisentstien recommends a social dividend: call it UBI or welfare or whatever.

You may ask: where will the money come from, because with negative interest the money supply would continue to shrink?

We will develop a “Commons backed currency” to generate new money and align it with preserving nature. If the land was in a public trust, a social shared resource that could be lent (leased) to corporations for a limited amount of time, the lease would be our social dividend, capital, and currency.

We would then be forced to find good stewards for the land lest we destroy our capital. As well, shared interests would re-invigorate community interaction and deeper concern for nature. 

To deter extraction in favor of sustainability we would tax corporations for pollution and detriment before they could use the land, not after when they can sneak away. At it’s best, this would make it so expensive to mine minerals or oil that it would be cheaper to innovate and leave the ground alone.

This is what we mean by aligning sacred incentives with money: if our incentive structure makes money itself less desirable through negative interest, money only functioning as a means of exchange, while we are charging fees for “earth damage” before you can even touch the land… we severely inhibit profanation of the commons, and we get people to come together around a shared interest of protecting the commons… after all, it is where their money commons from, and it is the inheritance to future generations. 

This is a three-pronged attack to

  1. realign money with natural decay,
  2. alter the way land is used, letting it become the currency backing or capital as a communally shared resource, and
  3. letting pre-pollution taxing redirect innovation towards enriching a sustainable commons. 

We need to mature into responsible, considerate adults, turning our creative energy towards reciprocity, not extraction. Capitalism is a corpse maker, and we have had plenty of time to shelter and grow inside this rotting framework… we must use the energies at hand, redirect them into incentives that align with the sacred, and spread the story: our current capitalism is not the only way. 

New side project: Belly Button Lint

If you would like Ryder to create some longer form written articles on various concepts (like Negative Interest) let me know by contacting me.

References

Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics (PDF of book)

Charles Eisenstein, Ascent of Humanity

Matthew Crawford The World Beyond Your Head

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