Ending a Taking Economy and Creating a Giving Economy: Confronting the Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) and Taking Effective Action
by Zeus Yiamouyiannis (guest essay)
There no longer seems to be a rational alignment between economic cost and value. This means questioning so-called conventional wisdom and critically considering whether or not to own property or even to go to college.
Here are some examples:
- In my own life, I owned a Florida vacant lot that would normally (and did actually significantly appreciate) in value, but the property was taxed so much in just a few years to pay for a municipal road that the taxes ate up the entire value of the property and I had to unload it just to stop the bleeding.
Lesson: Get rid of property that cost more in maintenance and taxes than they are worth. Don’t let sentimental attachment prevent you from liberating yourself of economic burdens, whether it is real estate property or old furniture in a paid storage facility.
- College tuition is twelve times more expensive over the last generation and college debt has skyrocketed, yet the wages of college grads have actually gone down over the last fifteen years.
Lesson: Maybe developing a broadly educated critical and creative perspective along with specific skills based in filling a societal need, self-learning, apprenticeships, social entrepreneurialism are better investments than college.
- So-called economic stalwarts like McDonald’s hamburgers and Wal-Mart are experiencing unprecedented revenue and sales losses. This does not seem to make sense since they provide low-cost (albeit low-quality) goods to consumers who now have less to spend.
Lesson: Maybe the value of health, quality of life, not getting diabetes, and eating good food is gaining strength over cheap junk food.
What you can do about it
Okay, we have a skewed system. There is no true money. We have a perfect storm of easy money for the 1%, economic burden for the 99%, and market distortion for all 100%. What can we do about it? In such this skewed climate, the best investment you can make will be in quality of life, simplifying/ decluttering/ forgiving debt, and building communities of relationship and exchange. We will have to get real about where we are now as unworkable and invent our way forward together.
Extending more credit-debt and adding another few trillion dollars to the national debt is not a solution. This conventional practice “extend (loan lengths) and pretend (that debt equals money)” does not work. In fact, kicking the can down the road only makes our collective coming-to-terms far more difficult. We need courage, compassion, and creativity. We will have to create our own community economies, ones that actually work and reward honesty, meaningful work, and collaboration.
When we have no champions, we will have to be champions for one another.
What might this look like? I will give a few examples below that I will be discussing in my Gaia TV series to be released over the next couple of months, but the more detailed opportunities are provided in the last third of my book, Transforming Economy.
Transformed economic thinking and practice: Ten operating principles in the new economy (or how to have a higher quality of life through less money and better relationships).
1) Invest with integrity: If you don’t support what a company is doing don’t invest in it, no matter how much that company supposedly earns. If it does so on the backs of workers in sweat shops or on the back of the environment, don’t invest in the company. If it supports new, cleaner, and more promising technologies and practices, consider investing. I chose specifically not to invest in oil at its low, even though I knew price would be rising in the future, because I do not want to support fossil fuels.
2) Consume and spend according to need and quality rather than greed and vanity: This may mean purchasing less, but buying something that lasts longer. Refuse to be drawn into the manic extortion myth that we all must consume more or our economy will collapse. Our economy will adapt in the direction of our purchases. driven.
3) Know your purchases have power: This principle is well explained in this short video by actor Woody Harrelson. Changes in purchasing force changes in market. A rise in the concern and demand over healthy eating has forced McDonald’s to offer more salads, Wal-Mart to offer organics, and big companies like Kraft foods to buy up smaller organic companies because they were losing market share.
4) Explore the possibility and beauty of house sharing: Single family residences are becoming a thing of the past because of their cost and environmental impact. Think about it: Families living together can have brothers and sisters for their children even if they have only one child. Families living together can share food preparation, saving in time and cost. Families living together can share child care, freeing up adult time to do other things.
5) Time banking: Time banking is a great way to respect the talents and contributions of others on an equal basis. In this system people trade skills now matter how basic or refined one hour to one hour. Gardening skills, graphic design, information technology, karate instruction all become, in essence, exchangeable currency on the common unit of time. This not only allows jobs to be taken care of without actual cash changing hands, but it builds community and respect for the talents of others.
6) Local currency (money printed and kept in a community for exchange of local goods and services), open-source alternative currency, and electronic currencies (like Bitcoin, etc.): These allow for grass-roots influence over monetary policy. You won’t simply have some technocrats devaluing the currency or raising or lowering interest rates on local currencies, for instance. These alternative currencies and the practices associated are so potentially powerful because they are voluntary, and dedicated to relationship/contribution and not simply individual extraction. They are run on a very different practical value system.
7) Debt forgiveness: Sometimes the simplest and most direct actions create a space of people to start a new life. When a person simply cannot pay a debt, oftentimes due to illness or divorce or a loss of a job, it does not make sense to force them into an even worse situation by piling up fees and interest on money that they owe. It actually helps everyone if their talents can be freed up from simply servicing debt. A simple way to start with this on an individual level, is to retire debt owed within a family, with the expressed blessing that such a reprieve will pay itself forward in volunteer work and ability to pursue one’s passions.
8) Gifting each other tax-free money, goods, and services: Few people take advantage of the fact that the U.S. government allows Americans to gift any individual person (without limit to the numbers of people) up to 14,000 dollars per year without having to report it. The Internal Revenue Service does say that you have to value your services when given to another person, but who is going to exceed 14,000 dollars of services? We can be legal, and still generous, without getting tangled up in a bureaucratic mess.
This principle extends to swap meets, tool lending libraries, and so forth. By enhancing direct face-to-face economic exchange through cultural exchange in MeetUps, library talks, and community strategy sessions, we are re-humanizing the economic system and taking back our power.
9) Voluntary simplicity: Self-chosen low income, tiny homes, and urban gardening: The virtues of voluntary “downshifting” sustainable living create their own, largely non-material, quality of life rewards. Less space can mean greater intimacy. If you don’t want to support a bloated military with your tax dollars, instead of being thrown into jail for tax dodging, why not make less than the personal exemption on your taxes, while making up the difference with community-oriented exchange of tax-free gift money and services? Simplicity psychically de-clutters the mind and the person does not have to worry so much about maintaining or losing material goods.
10) Non-violent, civilly disobedient “unplugging” from unethical businesses: What could be more revolutionary than for Wal-Mart executives to wake up one day and realize that no one is coming to their stores? What would happen if consumers made demands en masse that a store must pay a living wage or we simply will not shop there? We do have the power to organize around pro-social choices to force change in a non-violent way with our refusal to participate in unjust practices.
If we are to be “we the people” and our government is to be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” then we have to learn to assert our authority and responsibility in meaningful, impactful ways.
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The original essay can be found on citizenzeus.com. Zeus is the author ofTransforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities. HisTransforming Economy series is on Gaia TV.