The Future of Money: Review

Jun 26, 2012 4 Comments by

http://www.jamesrobertson.com/futuremoney.htm

Published by Green Books, The Future of Money restates much of James Robertson’s thinking around monetary reform and brings it bang up to date in the context of the Euro crisis. It focuses a great deal on the arguments for governments reclaiming their right to issue money from the banks, and the enormous potential benefits to society of so doing. In a sort of ‘what I tell you three times is true’ fashion Robertson repeats and restates from different angles the underlying arguments, but the repetition does not grate and may indeed be very helpful for newcomers to the territory.

What does grate slightly is the conspiracy feel to the book. In Robertson’s view the fundamental dysfunctions of the monetary system – its inbuilt transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich; its role in accelerating the over-exploitation of planetary resources; and its smoke and mirrors concealing complexity are ‘unspoken purposes’ by means of which we are kept in our place by the 1%. Whether this is true or whether the money system ‘just grow’d’ piecemeal into the dysfunctional animal it is now (as he catalogues later in the book) is not really important. It needs fixing and fixing quickly and the conspiracist mindset may get in the way of effective action.

But this is a minor quibble. The book is an easily readable narrative in two parts – Understanding the Money System and Proposed Reforms. The first provides a short 20 page history of money followed by a section underlining the fact that the money always carries associated values, implicit or explicit and exploring the ethical implications of this fact. The second suggests the shape of monetary reform in a context of other ‘companion reforms’ including Georgist Land Value Tax (replacing income tax and VAT) and citizens income as a primary money issuance channel. Robertson does outline how these reforms hang together and mutually reinforce but the complete vision is for a far reaching economic redesign.

If there is an omission, it is in the lack of any acknowledgement of the conflict between money’s exchange and store of value functions, but this might arguably have diverted the book from its clear purpose of communicating the monetary problem to the interested citizen.

In a final chapter, Robertson uses the quote that ‘capitalism is the exploitation of man by man and socialism is the precise reverse’ (where is this from?) to distance himself from politicking – wisely since the contents are relevant across the political divide. That quote is about the only un-referenced quote in the book, which has excellent notes, references and onward reading suggestions for those wishing to drill down a bit further on the various topics.

From Green Books £14.95 or downloadable as PDF on surrender of email address. Highly recommended.

Featured image: euro coins texture. Author: Christa Richert. Source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1390419

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About the author

Graham Barnes is a Currency Innovation Strategist. He is a Director of Feasta and co-organiser of the Feasta Currency Group. He holds a PhD in Computer Science and worked at a senior level in IT and online marketing in a previous life. His current projects include the design and delivery of currencies to be sponsored by a local authority; by a social entrepreneur to complement and enhance a well established sustainability methodology; and by a restaurant chain. https://twitter.com/GrahamJBarnes https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamjbarnes

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4 Responses to “The Future of Money: Review”

  1. Caroline Whyte says:

    Having just read the book, I’d second Graham’s positive comments above. Another important recurring theme is that the global shift in understanding of the money system that is needed is strikingly similar in quality and magnitude to the that brought about by the Copernican revolution – with the difference that in this case, there are enormous practical repercussions as well as intellectual ones.

    One detail I disagree with is Robertson’s placement of “cap and share” – a proposal for cutting greenhouse emissions that was developed by Feasta’s climate group – in the same category as Cap and Trade and the European emissions cutting schemes, schemes which he heavily criticizes. I believe cap and share to be a very different creature from these other schemes, as it’s based on the assumption that the climate is a natural commons and it places considerable emphasis on equity and social justice. There’s more detailed information about cap and share at http://www.capandshare.org and in Feasta’s latest book, Sharing for Survival (http://www.sharingforsurvival.org).

  2. Graham Barnes says:

    James Robertson replies:

    “Many thanks to you for your following message, and to Graham for his review of Future Money at
    http://www.feasta.org/2012/06/26/the-future-of-money-review/.

    Dear Caroline, I would reply that James Bruges has in the past tried to convince me that the differences between “cap and trade” and “cap and share”  justify the development of “cap and share” schemes alongside the main public revenue (mainly taxes) and public spending system.

    Nonetheless, I have continued to believe that to simplify the system of money exchange between common and private concerns should override complicating it with new schemes of exchange, because complicating it always provides increasing opportunities for the money professionals to rip off the rest of us.

    However, John Jopling has kindly sent me a copy of the new Feasta book on Sharing for Survival, and I will read it carefully and review it in my next newsletter – next month, I hope – and see if it changes my present belief.

    Dear Graham, I am grateful to you for your review. I would make the following four points.

    First, I think you may have missed the scale and significance of the “Copernican revolution” that the book proposes for the money system.

    Second, the factual nature of the transfer of wealth from poor to rich throughout history is evident; I don’t think I can be said to come to it as a “conspiracy theorist”; indeed I recognise that many people working in the money system have been unaware and still are unaware of that unspoken purpose.

    Third, I don’t think the question of a possible conflict between money’s exchange and store of value functions is relevant to the any of the reform proposals in the book; indeed I don’t really see what the conflict might be.

    Finally, if you look up in Google the widely used quip that ‘capitalism is the exploitation of man by man and socialism is the precise reverse’ you will see that it is attributed to somebody that virtually nobody has heard of. So to reference it academically might have seemed a bit artificial. That’s my excuse for that!

    It’s great to be in touch with Feasta and I wish you all good wishes for Feasta’s continuing future, although without Richard.”

    James

  3. Graham Barnes says:

    James

    Thanks for your email and apologies for the delay in replying.

    > Dear Graham, I am grateful to you for your review. I would make the following four points. First, I think you may have missed the scale and significance of the “Copernican revolution” that the book proposes for the money system.

    I understand the prescription and I would love to see that revolution take place. But I don’t yet see quite how we expect the masters of the universe to hang themselves, especially while they control the rope supply. I wish I had more faith in the power of education and enlightenment, but I tend to think it almost unfair to expect the man in the street to take a break from his wage slavery and wise up enough to be an informed revolutionary.

    > Second, the factual nature of the transfer of wealth from poor to rich throughout history is evident; I don´t think I can be said to come to it as a “conspiracy theorist”; indeed I recognise that many people working in the money system have been unaware and still are unaware of that unspoken purpose.

    My emotional response is to believe the inbuilt transfer of wealth from poor to rich. Maybe it has been disguised or neutered as a message because of the general increase in standard of living during the oil age. But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. If this effect exists it needs to be countered whether its an explicit plan or an unintended consequence. Your text states it as a ‘purpose’ of the monetary system – I’m not sure it is, and it really doesn’t matter whether it is or not – it needs fixing either way.

    > Third, I don´t think the question of a possible conflict between money´s exchange and store of value functions is relevant to the any of the reform proposals in the book; indeed I don´t really see what the conflict might be.

    Taking a cue from Richards work I think that monetary reform might result in multiple currencies being used for different purposes. Exchange currencies would be designed to facilitate exchange now and be spent quickly. Store of value currencies would be designed to hold or increase in value over time for savers and investors and would be held on to for the appropriate period. At the moment the complex interaction between these functions may be one reason why governments are reluctant to take back control over the money supply. If they could leave the store of value function to the competitive market, but reclaim the exchange function as a sort of monetary ‘commons’ function, they might feel more empowered. I can’t claim my thinking here is very well formed but that’s the gist of it.

    While we have one size fits all currencies, it’s always going to be a matter of who you trust least – greedy bankers or corrupt short-termist politicians. I have read Stiglitz and others on the need to redine the relationship between governments and bankers. I just wonder if it could more easily take place if we separated and simplified the money functions.

    > Finally, if you look up in Google the widely used quip that `capitalism is the exploitation of man by man and socialism is the precise reverse´ you will see that it is attributed to somebody that virtually nobody has heard of. So to reference it academically might have seemed a bit artificial. That´s my excuse for that!

    So nobody still knows who he is!

    > It´s great to be in touch with Feasta and I wish you all good wishes for Feasta´s continuing future, although without Richard.

    Thank you. Yes we all miss him. Just have to keep rereading his writings.

    Would you be happy to use some of this dialogue in a response to the blog review?

    Kind regards

    Graham

  4. Graham Barnes says:

    James writes:

    “Dear Graham,

    Thanks. Yes, of course, please make use of our dialogue as you wish.

    You might want to stress that mine is a normative concern: what should we do to help our global human society to survive the next fifty years or so? and I see that as qualitatively different from enquiries of a more factual and academic nature.  In the Conclusion to Future Money I mention Gramsci’s contrast between “optimism of the will” and “pessimism of the intellect” as an example of that.

    All the best,

    James”