I’ve been reading Douglas Rushkoff’s “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” and have by coincidence just reached a chapter of the book covering the topic of currencies and the economy as Washington D.C. attempts to avoid another default. I found similar writings from Rushkoff on the same topic in two articles published by Arthur Magazine. As can be seen from these excerpts, they’re helpful for understanding our current situation:
Local currencies favored local transactions, and worked against the interests of large corporations working from far away. In order to secure their own position as well as that of their chartered monopolies, monarchs began to make local currencies illegal, and force locals to instead use “coin of the realm.” These centralized currencies worked the opposite way. They were not earned into existence, they were lent into existence by a central bank. This meant any money issued to a person or business had to be paid back to the central bank, with interest.
What does that do to an economy? It bankrupts it. Think of it this way: A business borrows 1000 dollars from the bank to get started. In ten years, say, it is supposed to pay back 2000 to the bank. Where does the other 1000 come from? Some other business that has borrowed 1000 from the bank. For one business to pay back what it owes, another must go bankrupt. That, or borrow yet another 1000, and so on.
An economy based on an interest-bearing centralized currency must grow to survive, and this means extracting more, producing more and consuming more. Interest-bearing currency favors the redistribution of wealth from the periphery (the people) to the center (the corporations and their owners). Just sitting on money—capital—is the most assured way of increasing wealth. By the very mechanics of the system, the rich get richer on an absolute and relative basis.
The biggest wealth generator of all was banking itself. By lending money at interest to people and businesses who had no other way to conduct transactions or make investments, banks put themselves at the center of the extraction equation. The longer the economy survived, the more money would have to be borrowed, and the more interest earned by the bank.
[…]Commerce is good. Commerce is not the problem. Monopolies are.
Except in a few rare cases, corporate charters and centralized currency were never intended to promote commerce. They were intended to prevent locals and non-chartered entities from creating and exchanging value. They are not extensions of the free market, but efforts at extracting value from the free market. Corporate monopoly charters were extended to a king’s favorite companies in return for shares. Then, no one else was allowed to do business in that industry. Centralized currency forced businesses to run their revenue through the king’s coffers. Likewise, in its current form, centralized currency is more akin to a ponzi scheme of interest rates, each borrower paying up to the banker above him.
Both of these innovations—corporate charters and centralized currency—tend towards resource exploitation rather than innovation. They are extractive in nature, not productive. And, more importantly, these particular innovations cause wealth to end up being generated through speculation rather than creation. They cause scarcity, not abundance. Over time, it becomes easier to make money by having money than by doing anything. And this was the pure, stated intent of centralized currency and banking in the early Renaissance: to keep the wealthy wealthy, in the face of a rising merchant class.
This isn’t some extremist perspective. It’s just historical fact, though largely forgotten and seemingly refuted by our collective false memory of the Renaissance’s greatness. If you’re interested in finding out more about this, or seeing the evidence on which my research is based, take a look at the best historians writing about the era: Fernand Braudel (The Wheels of Commerce: Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century, Volume 2, Univ. of California Press, 1992), Carlo M. Cipolla (Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700, WW Norton, 1994) or Bernard A. Lietaer, whose book On Human Wealth used to be available for free download off his site, but doesn’t seem to be anymore. In these books, you can find out about the sustainable local economic systems of the Late Middle Ages, learn that the Black Plague actually began after mandated centralized currency had impoverished Europe, and find support of my contention that cathedrals were built with local money before the Renaissance, not Vatican money during the Renaissance.
I highly recommend checking out both articles here (as well as his most recent book “Present Shock”):
More voices of sanity (Nicole Voss and Laurence Boomert) calling for an overhaul of the monetary system can be heard on the C-Realm podcast :