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notes on money and community.html
Money and community
Community is people, people living with each other and the world around them. Community is not a thing, a structure, or a formal organization. It is process, interaction, relationship, and dance - more a verb than a noun. Good communities these days are as rare as good churches.
Our troubles do not derive from any lack of love. People care deeply and want to live in peace and joy - if anything, we care too much and we love too hard. We already have plenty of love. We simply need to find more effective and more intelligent ways to express it. We need to love more wisely. Yet the way money works disposes us to acts of stupidity, fear, and violence. A true measure of love in the world is our ability to relate at all given the irrationality of our economics.
How Money Makes the World Go Round
It all comes down to money in the end. The problems of the world come from our actions, and our actions, both as a society and as individuals, are largely determined by the way money works. Many trivial and even damaging things are being done simply because some people have the money and the will to do them. In contrast, other things of real value, many essential to the survival of the planet, are not happening simply because those who have the will, have not the money. People are working in ways detrimental to their personal health, to that of the environment, both locally and globally, and to the well-being of their community because they need the money.
For most of the planet, the money comes first - what we do to get it comes second. And this is so because money is our means of exchange - we need to earn it to keep in the game. This is a problem, since money is, both by design and in function, scarce and essentially difficult to come by.
The flight of money from a community can leave it devoid of the means to trade within itself, even when resources are available. People are unemployed, not because they lack skills or they are unwilling to work, but simply because the money to employ them has drained away from the part of the world where they live.
Poverty is a lack of money
Hunger is a lack of food. Feed the hungry and they are hungry again tomorrow. Show them how to farm and they can feed themselves. Poverty is a lack of money. Give conventional money to the poor, and they are poor again tomorrow. Show them how to use their own money, and they can manage their own affairs.
The real issue is the quality of our work. Are we planting trees or stockpiling arms? Are we building schools or prisons?
Consider the extent to which the economy of your own community is distorted at present by its need to import money through the export of real resources, often at unrealistic prices. Communities will squander resources, pander to tourists, entice heavy industry, and accept questionable benefits from government programs simply to keep the wages rolling. And consider how your community exports money to bring in goods and services at the most "economical" prices, rendering local producers idle, at an incalculable cost to the infrastructure of the community.
The world is round. In the real world, things circulate. Conventional money is often thought to go round and round, but for most communities, it really just goes through and through.
Most regions are communities in name rather than reality. An effective community is a process, an ongoing collection of interactions and continuing relationships. It used to be that towns, villages, and regions were much more self reliant than now. When transportation was slow and expensive, when much had to be produced locally as it was too perishable to travel, when moving money was itself a risky business, most of the productive work in a community was addressed to meeting its own needs with what was available locally. With the advent of "cheap" energy and transportation, technologies of preservation, and the present ease of monetary transfer, even across national boundaries, communities everywhere have been progressively drawn into patterns of cash crop specialization and the inevitable dependency relationship.
The Role of Gift in Community
Really, a community is a persistent gift exchange cycle. Community exists to the extent that the pattern and quality of that which really happens is in some way serving its members. The reality is simply that people give each other things, do things for each other. The mechanic fixes your car, the teacher gives your child an education, the salesman gives us the goods, you give your best at work. And in exchange for these real gifts, we confer symbols on each other. You give the mechanic $325, the teacher gets $2,184 per month, the price tag is $19.99. Perhaps you get what you are worth at work.
Real actions and services in the world are acknowledged by placing monetary values on them. A symbol is attached to a reality. This raises two particular problems. One is well-known and needs little elaboration: Money itself becomes more important than real wealth. The symbol begins to seem real. Numbers that show on the balance sheet mean more than real costs that don't show - the depletion of un-renewable resources, the degradation of humanity. People become more interested in making money than the service they are offering. Entranced by the "tinkling cymbal," getting matters more than giving.
Since real actions are compensated with money, the patterns of money flow determine the patterns of gift exchange. Actions take place only when money is available - no money, no deal. Often we find this poverty of symbols in the midst of real wealth - the real world waiting for symbols to give it permission.
Furthermore, as money flows in and out of the community, so do real gifts - goods and services, resources and energy. A "community" that uses only conventional money actually has very little gift re-circulation in its local economy. Service of one by another in ongoing cycles is largely left to the informal economy, which is quite restricted and inefficient.
In contrast, in a local money network every action is naturally part of the cycle of gifts within that community simply because the way that the symbols are patterned determines the pattern of the economic world - to recycle money is inevitably to recycle goods and services - and love - within the community.
It makes little sense to be the witting victim of a symbol, simply the creation of the mind. Why not use money - just an arrangement of symbols - to keep account of our actions in a way that works?
Using community money doesn't remove the need to spend it wisely, but it does lift the anxiety about ever running out of it. The focus returns to the goods or services being exchanged and the money becomes the secondary concern. This opens the opportunity to be generous, to give proper acknowledgement, as every dollar I spend circulates in the community and returns to employ me. It also enables me to fully enjoy the gift.
It is easy to earn in a community money network and so everyone has money to spend. Nobody needs it, so things happen because people want them to happen. People serve willingly or not at all. Nobody gets to tell anyone else what to do. Rather than being paid for our work, we are acknowledged for what we give. Acknowledged in good money - good in our own community. After a while, most people come to realize that the greatest part of the reward is knowing that we are helping someone else.
In our conventional economy we developed a particular set of symbols and we now allow them to dominate the reality of our lives. We attribute a significance to our accounts - our bits of paper, our pieces of silver - that gives them more importance than the real wealth of the world. We need to recognize what is real and what is of our imagination, and we need to act on the knowledge of that difference.