Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Towards a less fervent work ethic

My translation of Heinrich Böll’s Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral:
In a port somewhere on a Western European coast, a poorly clothed man dozes in his fishing boat as an elegantly dressed tourist loads a new colour film into his camera to catch the idyllic scene: blue sky, green sea combed with pretty, snow-white waves, black boat, red fishing cap. Click. And again: click. And, because three times is a charm and you
re always better safe than sorry, a third click. The clipped and oddly hostile sound rouses the dozing fisherman. He straightens sleepily, fishing sleepily for his cigarettes. But before he can snag them, the tourist thrusts his own packet towards his new companion and, while not quite prizing a cigarette between the fishermans lips, slips one into his hand. A fourth click – that of his lighter – concludes the eagerly performed service. A sudden awkwardness sparks up from a barely detectable, certainly unprovable excess of deftly administered politeness that the tourist – sure footed in the local lingo – attempts to bridge by initiating conversation. “You’re sure to net a good catch today.”
The fisherman shakes his head. “But a little monkey told me the weather is just right.” The fisherman nods.
“So you are not heading out then?” The fisherman shakes his head. Rising discomfort rears its head in the tourist. Of course it is concern for the poorly clothed man that spurs him on, fidgets worry about a missed opportunity into his being. “Oh? Are you not well?” At last the fisherman moves from sign language to the spoken word.
“I feel great,” he says. “Never better.” He stands up and straightens out as if demonstrating his athletic build. “I feel wonderful.”
The tourist
s mien grows dark. He can no longer hold in the question that threatens to detonate his composure. “But why do you not head out?” The response is as immediate as it is brief.
“Because I was out already this morning.” 
“Was the catch good?” 
“So good that I don’t have to head out again. I caught four lobsters in my baskets and almost two dozen mackerel in my nets. 
Now fully awake, the fisherman softens and bends down to pat the tourist on the shoulder. The man’s troubled demeanour has moved him, however unjustified it might be. “I even have enough for tomorrow and the day after that!” he says, trying to soothe the foreigner’s soul. “Smoke one of mine?”
“Thank you.”
Cigarettes are popped into mouths, a fifth click sounds, the foreigner sits himself on the edge of the boat and relieves his hand of the camera. He needs both free to lend gravitas to his talk. “I do not want to meddle in your personal affairs,” he says, “but try to imagine that you head out for a second time, a third, heavens why not even a fourth, and you would catch three, four, five maybe as much as ten dozens of mackerels. Imagine that!”
The fisherman nods.
“You would head out,” continues the tourist, “not only today but tomorrow, the day after, yes every day the weather is good, three times, maybe four times a day. And do you know what would happen?”
The fisherman shakes his head.
“After one year at the latest, you would be able to buy a motor, in two years a second boat, in three or four years maybe a small cutter, with two boats or a cutter your catch would of course be much much bigger – one day you would have two cutters, you would...” excitement snuffs out his voice for a moment... “You could build a little refrigeration hut, perhaps a building for fish smoking, later a marinating factory and a helicopter for patrolling the area and reporting back to you about schools of fish and you could manage your cutters by radio then apply for a salmon licence and open a restaurant and sell lobster directly to Paris without a middleman and then...” Again his excitement overruns him, forces another unwelcome pause. Shaking his head, his heart’s deeps churned with thick emotion, his holiday exuberance almost guttered out, he gazes at the untroubled flood of rolling waves in which uncaught fish play with abandon. “And then,” he says, but again his voice falters. The fisherman pats him on the back as if consoling a child that has just choked on its milk. “And then?” he asks gently.
“Then,” says the foreigner with quiet fervour, “then you could sit peacefully here in this port under the sun, doze, and gaze out across the beautiful sea.”
“But I
m doing that now,” says the fisherman. “Im sitting here peacefully and dozing. It was all that clicking that woke me.” 
The tourist, recipient of an unexpected lesson, withdrew in contemplation. He had once believed that he worked so that one day he would no longer have to. There remained in him no trace of sympathy for the poorly clothed fisherman – just a little envy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Franz Hörmann’s Infomoney, Part IV

(Part III here)
The logic of [debt] is continued expansion. And that is almost a platitude of empires generally, that empires have an expansive logic built into them that obliges them to continue to expand, otherwise they kind of collapse inward. They can’t remain static.
Matthew Restall , source

As a process, civilization resembles a long-running economic bubble. Civilizations convert found or conquered ecological wealth into economic wealth and population growth.
William Ophuls, Immoderate Greatness

Yet we can’t stop the process. A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as Bookchin observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.
Ursula Le Guin, source
Modern money is debt. Its logic is continued expansion for two mutually-reinforcing reasons:

1.   The civilisational/empire project is ‘congenitally’ about perpetual growth
2.   The perfect engine and/or fuel for 1. is interest-bearing debt-money creation.

Interest is exponential growth. Societies that systemically rely on it must grow else they collapse. This is the basic dynamic of a Ponzi scheme or economic bubble: if it isn’t growing, it’s collapsing. Because infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, it follows that civilisation needs to discover, systemically, how to stay moving, how not to stagnate, by embarking on a new course of sustainable development. Therefore, because our money systems, financial institutions and the broader commercial world are each perpetually growing offshoots of the underlying civlisational dynamic, we need a profound revolution in all of these systems and down to the underlying dynamic before such a fundamental change of direction and emphasis becomes at all possible. Some call this a revolution of consciousness, and I agree with them.

The end of growth is a far more radical undertaking than most realise. Mere tweaks to the current system cannot induce it to function healthily on a path of sustainable development / steady-state growth. What is required goes against civilisation’s grain. Because our socialisation governs what we think of as natural and possible, a critical part of accomplishing this change of direction is education.

Education is currently an institution designed with perpetual growth in mind. It produces obedient consumers unschooled in imaginative and critical thought, incapable of direct democracy and mature citizenship, and thus prepared to subjugate themselves to meaningless jobs to pay for addictions skillfully foisted on them by the advertising industry to briefly assuage insatiable hungers generated by the hollowness of the broader system. Schools teach us what to learn, primarily by rote, not how to learn with playful yet sceptical enthusiasm.

In light of all this, Franz Hörmann’s proposal includes radical change to the education system. His tentative idea accomodates findings from brain researchers like Gerald Hüther and evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray, and educationalists such as John Taylor Gatto and John Holt. The ideas and findings of such thinkers and scientists cannot be realised in the current system, which is why no amount of evidence in support of them nor reasoned appeals to the elites have much effect. In something of a catch 22, the broader system has to change before it can want to revolutionise its education institutions, but education has to change to generate mature citizens who collectively give rise to and can sustain the type of new system humanity now requires. This double bind is echoed in Bookchin’s observation: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” As I have stressed elsewhere, it therefore falls to outsiders to make the attempt to get sufficient numbers hungry for self-motivated re-education in and then desirous of radical change.

Life coach

In an information money system, most of today's professions will no longer be needed. "Work time" (that time we humans spend doing something we don't want to do but must in order to secure a certain standard of living) will be significantly reduced, perhaps to as little as 8 – 10 hours a week.

However, there will be a new profession, though it will be more of a calling than a job: the life coach.

Mainly during the paradigm change, but also thereafter, everyone will be accompanied by an empathic, experienced friend who has 25 – 30 people in his or her care and helps them develop their potential. Today,
coaching is familiar as a brash management approach in almost all large companies. For our purposes, life coaching is closer to the mark. Moreover, life coaching will involve all personal assistance, training and support functions carried out today by bureaucrats who often toil anonymously under insufficient holistic knowledge (doctors, teachers, trainers, etc.). There is today a large number of highly empathic people who derive their greatest pleasure from helping others freely develop their potential and realise their goals and ambitions. Such people gravitate towards a wide variety of professions, for example Reiki practitioners, energy healers, shamanic healers, psychotherapists, physiotherapists, nurses, teachers, and countless others. And though in these professions there is an equally wide variety of attitudes and beliefs, those active in these fields are united by one significant factor: they are made happy by helping others.

The life coach concept embodies those aspects of the information money system proposal that are currently the least understood. Many people are discomfited by the idea that their entire lives would be accompanied by others, by people who would have a comprehensive overview of their life's course, their private goals and desires.

In response to this, we present below some answers to the most frequently asked questions

1) Can a life coach dictate terms to me?
Life coaches are supportive companions who can only make suggestions and offer positive incentives. They have no power to punish whatsoever and cannot therefore bring any force to bear. Their advice is simply advice to be considered, experimented with or rejected. Because one of our foundational premisses is that people are fundamentally good (friendly, cooperative, positively oriented), we want to establish a new society without force and punishment. In our view, it is normative social pressures and processes that encourage competitiveness and scarcity-based thinking, and subsequently fear and greed as drivers of antisocial and criminal urges. Once we are able to cooperatively produce the things we need and want in abundance such that we need not fight each other to acquire them, then envy, theft and deception will fade away as social behaviours. Psychological disorders (e.g. kleptomania) should be healed through compassionate and sympathetic therapies; "punishment as deterrence" is of little-to-no use in such cases.

2) Why would I have any need for a life coach at all?
The paradigm change we are now going through will be a serious psychological challenge for all of us. On the one hand, certain social assumptions will be displaced (e.g. the basic idea of the "moneyed person" as being superior to others, and the idea that money grows or "works"). On the other, other aspects of our contemporary understanding of life, the universe and everything will be subjected to profound changes (e.g. the basics of material realism, human health, concepts of body, mind and soul, but also what sort of life goals we set ourselves and how we choose to spend our time). Because these changes will confront us almost all at once, many of us will feel rather inundated, unmoored, perhaps to the extent that the process will place us in something approaching a state of shock. In light of this, it would make sense to have a competent and trusted person to turn to, a person who is already quite familiar with these changes, but one who also possesses the psychological communicative competence to gently and constructively guide those who trust him or her through the transition period. Their attentive and compassionate guidance can also prevent, lastingly, some of us from falling prey to emotional stress, panicking, and turning to violence (such as burning cars, breaking windows, robbing shops, etc.). Because we will have far more free time in the new society, it also makes sense that these trained life coaches are able to offer suggestions from a wide variety of sensible activities that are also fun. Later on, life coaches will propose further physical, mental and spiritual development, not as an attempt to manipulate but always as suggestions that their "students" can try out, accept or reject. A life coach is a health, nutrition and fitness advisor who is widely connected with all their colleagues who have their own specialist knowledge. A specialist among specialists. Life coaches can thus been thought of as a living knowledge network focussed on helping all people develop their potential.

3) Can my life coach lock my account?
No. Your life coach helps you to set up your own "economic system" by helping you draw up your "life contract with the whole community" (organising your personal price and tariff systems and shopping basket). They can also draw on the support of life coaches who are differently specialised than they. Life coaches cannot force you to do anything, nor can they punish you. As there is no power-based hierarchy in the information-money system, no one can benefit from manipulating anyone else. Everyone is on a level playing field as a direct logical consequence of the structure of the information money system (but only in terms of opportunity: this equality cannot result in uniformity of outcome, will not produce a homogeneous mass of identical people all wearing blue jeans and sneakers).

4) Is having a life coach optional or mandatory?
We want a new society without compulsion. However, seeing as we will in future no longer have doctors, lawyers, teachers, trainers etc. (i.e. professions whose practitioners know us today more or less as anonymous numbers), having a life coach is indeed mandatory: the role includes all these valuable functions (which means of course that holistic understanding for each individual's situation is ensured). Basically, life coaches negotiate our "life contract" with us as representatives of the rest of the community. Because "the community" functions as a dummy (proxy) in the life contract, the contract's content can be fully adapted to the particular interests and needs of each individual (see
cooperative individualism). But, should the "chemistry" between an individual and their life coach not be quite as desired, the individual is free to seek out a different life coach. The heart of the relationship is trust. And of course every life coach is also under the guidance of their own life coach. 

Me again. In conjunction with Hörmann’s Life Caoch idea, which is essentially about opening up education to be a seamless part of one’s entire life and not bound to schools and colleges, I believe the ideas of Sugata Mitra are a very good fit. He has tested his idea of self-organising learning environments (SOLEs) quite extensively across the world and the results are incredible, and is currently raising funds to implement them. These would be unmanned, safe environments for children to use as curiosity leads them, in sharp contrast to the mandatory and regimented school factories we know today. They would use what Mitra calls the Grandma Method (constant encouraging praise about accomplishments). This would be a screen in the SOLE connected to a positive and encouraging ‘authority’ figure on hand to assist the children should they feel they need assistance. If this has peaked your interest, his talks are fun to watch.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Franz Hörmann's Infomoney, Part III

One of the reasons proposals as radical as Professor Hörmann’s are still considered unworthy of serious attention by most is because of the assumption that humans have always traded economically, that trucking and batering is fundamental to human nature: homo sapiens sapiens = homo economicus.  This assumption contains a further assumption, namely that economic activity is synonymous with selfishly maximising advantage. This train of thought is logically impelled to conclude that human nature will find a way, within the current system, to perpetuate the perpetual growth dynamic it requires to function at all. Leading economists such as Paul Krugman are convinced it will be so. Why reinvent the wheel? And anyway, There Is No Alternative, right?

This mindset experiences capitalism as a true expression of human nature and ingenuity. Capitalism – it argues – has always found a way through its crises. It will therefore continue to find a way through. Unsurprisingly, there is much projection of our current dominant belief set evident in assertions that regardless of the culture, regardless of the historical or pre-historical period, capitalism is what is and was always being practiced when we peer beneath the surface. That consumerism, capitalism, work for wage and debt money are in fact mere babes relative to our genetic age is not satisfactorily addressed or refuted.

The above clump of intellectual conviction blinds. Confronted with the simple truth that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, acolytes and high priests of current orthodoxy blink, smile politely, and continue with the programme as if nothing had changed, as if, fundamentally, nothing can change.

Radical ideas come from the fringes, where loonies and nutjobs play. Seen from the cenre this must be so, but orthodoxy’s perception does not mean new and radical ideas are necessarily without value simply because their source is outside orthodoxy. As promised, today’s post delves deeper into what information money would entail. Again, I want to point out that this is a proposal to be tested, not a prescription to be obeyed.

Democracy begins with a democratic money system

Only after the entire population understands that:

1) Legal money exists today only as notes and coins;
2) Bank money in fact represents bank debt, i.e. commercial banks  indebt when they create "money" by issuing credit and when paying their bills;
3) Money creation can also occur democratically through an institution (Democratic Central Bank) specially (and legally) established for that purpose;
4) Neither debt nor interest need be a part of money creation by such an institution;
5) Money can be both a medium of exchange and of cooperation

… can society progress to a system of self-determination (or self-organisation) worthy of the title of democracy.

Contemporary "democracy" has a quite different definition:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ... We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. … In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind." (Edward Bernays, "Propaganda")

Today, we can create an electronic full money [a.k.a. "full-reserve banking" or "100% reserve banking"] that does not require the co-creation of debt. "Full" means that the bits and bytes are no longer claims on money (money as legal tender), they themselves are legal tender. Furthermore, full money is always the property of the customer. The bank merely makes their computer systems available as a virtual trustee (just as goldsmiths' safes once were).

When you deposit your money with a bank today, it is no longer your property. The bank becomes the new owner of "your" money. You merely possess a claim on what was once your money!

Full-reserve banking reform is currently being called for by senior staff at the IMF. This reform would set up a money system in which there were:

No debt created when money is created,
No interest attached to money creation,
No insolvency and expropriation,
No taxes, and
No inflation.

Electronic full money can be created at any time without having to create a corresponding debt (claim on liabilities). Its accounting entry would be recorded as follows:

Cash on equity (at the Democratic National Bank)

The electronic means of payment is created on the cash side (as "money" itself, not as a "claim on money"), and on the equity side it is evident that we are as citizens all co-owners of the Democratic Central Bank. Money created as "cash on equity" would occur democratically and legally, and provide the entire population with purchasing power ("basic income guarantee").

However, we will also have to develop a new price discovery process, as the "law" of supply and demand would instantly encourage a scarcity of goods and services (and thus lead to inflation) in reaction to there being "too much" purchasing power in everyone's hands. Henceforward, we will call the price-regulated basic income guarantee a "basic guaranteed provision"

Money creation (in an Infomoney system)

Money creation in the information-money system is carried out as an accounting entry for every citizen by the Democratic Central Bank (DCB).

Cash on equity (at the DCB)

It would make sense to record these entries over people's social security numbers ["SS no."], as existing social security computer systems could be used. Democratic money creation would then fall under the remit of the social security system, meaning that the exchequer (treasury) would no longer be needed. For one thing, this system's new "full money" can be legally created at any time for the common good, and we will no longer need to go into collective debt (as the state) to privately instituted money-creation businesses to acquire purchasing power. Moreover, "full money" cannot be increased via interest or in pursuit of profit.

In these ways, information money resembles electronic full money. The difference between information money and full money is not in their creation, but in their destruction. 

Money destruction

When information money is spent, it is not transferred from person to person (as per claim and liability in accounting practice). Information money is destroyed when it is spent by means of the following accounting entry:

Expense on cash [“Aufwand an Kasse”]

This means that contracts are not completed between individual persons. Each citizen completes a "life contract with the whole community" (the social network, the "Democratic Central Bank"), a contract that can be specially adapted to each stage of life. For each individual, these contracts contain an individual price system (how much information money is to be destroyed at each purchase), an individual tariff system (how much information money is to be created for which delivered service) and an individual shopping basket (which goods and services are desired at what intervals and in what quality).

The accounts of the individuals involved in an exchange are affected independently when transactions are carried out, i.e., money is not transferred, and neither claims nor liabilities are added to any balance sheet. As such, information money does not circulate. One consequence of this is that neither inflation nor deflation can arise, another is that all issues pertaining to the velocity of money become moot. All money in this system is freshly created for each individual, at need, immediately ("cash on equity (at the DCB)"). It returns to the void (is destroyed) when it is spent ("expense on cash"). This latter feature means that money cannot be lent and no interest can be charged. 

Price discovery in the information money system

The goal of the information money system is to overcome scarcity across the world. This goal will be attained by the following distribution rules:

1) Goods and services that exist in abundance are simply ordered and delivered (without payment, i.e., because there is no symbolic consideration, no information money is destroyed).

2) Scare goods and services will be distributed at individual prices. In other words, the prices entered in each person's price system are offered, i.e. buying and selling will occur (information money is destroyed via the accounting entry "expense on cash"). If the price offered is too low, it is not registered and the good is not distributed to that person. However, when this occurs the production process is immediately published on the internet with all causes of scarcity displayed. Everyone is then invited to jointly resolve these bottlenecks. Those who succeed in resolving one of bottlenecks receive the good or service at the price they originally offered for it, as well as a bonus for contributing to the process of minimising scarcity.

Me again. Recall the attendant changes to the contractual system set out in the first post of this series. There we read about a radical design to encourage cooperative rather than competitive business exchange:
All the system’s participants complete a deed of partnership with the entire community (the social network, the “Democratic Central Bank”). These contracts consist of: individual price systems (how much information money is spent (destroyed) on goods and services: accounting entry: “Expense on cash”), individual tariff systems (how much information money is created [earned] for rendering services to the community by a particular individual: accounting entry: “cash on equity”), and individual shopping baskets (which and how many goods and services of what type and quality are desired at what intervals).
This new contractual arrangement severs the link between price and supply and demand. How exactly prices would be determined in an infomoney system is addressed by Professor Hörmann only with a vague reference to it being democratic and transparent. I would like to see more detail on this, but do not think such a system beyond the wit of man. And again, the Osbeee system (Open-Source Banking Economy, German-only website) has been set up using Infomoney to test the system by doing it. It is moslty in the doing that we discover solutions, not in the planning or proposing.

What appeals to me about the severance between prices and supply and demand, is that it demotes money from its current position as powerful store of value, and demotes the so-called ‘free market’ as all-knowing judge of societal value (it knows the price of everything but the value of nothing). This means that economic exchange blends with play, passion and fun and is no longer about selfish profit maximisation via material acqusition. Hörmann’s system enshrines in its very structure a commitment to ending the false dichotmoy between work and play, ends the modern notion that life is hard, that suffering must be endured, and sets up a flexible and open socio-economic apparatus in which a ludic revolution becomes sustainable. And it does so while freeing society from its current systemic addiction to infinite economic growth.

As I see it, humanity has clumsily stumbled into a situation where material want is no longer necessary. But, accomplishing this took a long time and has included the profoundly rooted establishment of multiple institutions – now extremely powerful – that cannot relinquish their grip on power, even if their guardians might want to. Because we have all been socialised by this historic process and its attendant justifying myths (paradigms), true (radical) alternatives to it will seem strange to most of us. To those of us who see the potential in radical proposals falls the obligation of doing something about it. It will be by testing and living these proposals that the growing success of The New sends curiosity about and trust in The Radical deeper and deeper into the centre. It also means that when the centre collapses, we have at least the beginnings of what can takes its place.

(Apologies for the fluctuating fonts and font sizes. For some reason, Blogger can't handle some invisible formatting information that I'm unwittingly copying into Blogger's editor.)