Unsurprisingly, everyone everywhere is talking about the economy. The usual twist on the topic is to ask “how can we fix it?”, but Douglas Rushkoff would like to suggest that the global financial collapse is a blessing in disguise and that we should just let it die, as it gives us a chance to reassess the assumptions that our monetary systems were built upon:
… it’s even more important for us to come to grips with the fact that the system in peril is not a natural one, or even one that we should be attempting to revive and restore. The thing that is dying—the corporatized model of commerce—has not, nor has it ever been, supportive of the real economy. It wasn’t meant to be. And before we start lamenting its demise or, worse, spending good money after bad to resuscitate it, we had better understand what it was for, how it nearly sucked us all dry, and why we should put it out of our misery.
His point is that, at every level, the system was designed to benefit those who set it up at the long-term expense of everyone else – it’s almost miraculous it’s lasted as long as it has:
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.
Just in case you think Rushkoff’s a sneaky pinko or something, it’s worth considering that he’s an advocate of local economies and currencies, and opposed to any form of centralised control; even if you don’t agree with what he has to say, he raises some talking points that we’d all do well to at least consider. As he points out, we may not get another opportunity… and you know what they say about life handing you lemons. [image by Cory Doctorow]
But what do you think? Should we build a new world where value is produced by actual effort, or can the financial system be fixed to ensure we don’t all strive for the profits of a few?