Beyond Money: Notes on Neoliberalism and its Alternative
The Zeitgeist Blog — In our modern world of reality television, smartphones, and Wal-Mart, it is easy for one to forget that there is a network of influences and power structures that direct the course of our daily lives as individuals and as a society. While one may worry that he or she will not catch the bus or that a thief might break into one’s car and steal the stereo, we pay little mind to what is needed to make the buses run or why an individual may turn to a life of thievery. Even major issues, such as the scare that the United States government might have shut down in the face of a debt crisis or the Occupy Wall Street protests, receive their time in the spotlight on major news networks and are then glossed over in a matter of weeks. To wit: when was the last time you thought about Darfur, or Goldman Sachs?
Our passing interest in socio-economic issues and obsession with sensational but irrelevant news reports have contributed to a mentality in which people cling to a staunch, partisan viewpoint on an issue only when it sporadically crosses our minds, and with this trend of selective sentience, it is easy to understand why the facts of global economics have been thrust even further under the rug than they were during the days of the Red Scare.
For instance, a majority of people in America don’t know that the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile was aided into power as an experiment of hyper-capitalism by the economics department of the University of Chicago and their guru Milton Friedman1, or that the Washington Consensus (a set of policies designed to create a global neoliberal economy) has been imposed by force onto foreign nations by the U.S. government and organizations such as the WTO and IMF.2 This disinformation, the secrecy by which a capitalist world order spreads and thrives, is unacceptable in what is supposed to be a nation ruled by her people.
However, there is something else about capitalism that most people do not know: there is an alternative. I speak of a system that has been more widely ignored by the media and obscured from the public eye than the capitalist agenda or the ideas of Marx, a radical divergence from the myriad problems of capitalism or Communism. While the alternative has its faults, this system could prove to be our salvation from poverty, hunger, war, and disease. All that is required is to stand up against our own intellectual enslavement.
The Roots of Capitalism
Modern capitalism has its roots in the philosophy of Adam Smith and others, and has evolved quite drastically since its inception. Smith’s ideas were admirable for their time, and still are today: the tenets of private ownership through one’s own labour, the profit motive, and the entrepreneurial opportunity of any individual have led to the lifestyle that we in the West enjoy today. Through the British Empire into the post-war American industrial complex, the technological and social advances of the modern world are, arguably, the result of free enterprise. Everything from the Space Race to the iPod is capitalism at work.
However, while the successes of capitalism vis-à-vis social development are to be celebrated, there is a much darker side to its development and expansion.
The American Revolution is the archetypical example of an oppressed people rising against an empire and creating a “democracy”. A major factor in the colonists’ desire for independence, however, was the Stamp Act of 1765, which required that printed materials in the colonies must be produced on paper carrying a British revenue stamp, and must be paid for in British fiat currency. This made the colonies dependent on the central bank of England. Political independence meant the ability to print interest-free currency, and interest-free currency meant economic independence.
Despite the Revolution, the United States were not fated to be free from fiat currency; after the industrial boom of the late nineteenth century, a group of wealthy bankers and industrialists colluded to fabricate a stock market crash in 1907. This enabled them to pass the Federal Reserve Act in Congress, creating a central bank separate from the government. The Federal Reserve, a private institution, loans fiat dollars to the government in exchange for bonds. This means that for every dollar created, that dollar (and interest) must be repaid, causing inflation and putting an ever-growing debt on the public. This is why the government is facing such massive debts—-not because of spending.3
In order to gain more wealth and power, the elite fabricated another market crash: the Great Depression. The bourgeois industrialists made a huge profit selling their stocks at top dollar to facilitate the crash, and in order to pay off the state’s debts, the U.S. government confiscated all gold bullion from U.S. citizens and eliminated the Gold Standard, meaning that the dollar no longer had value in and of itself.4
Since the inception of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the dollar has been devaluated by 96 percent, while public debt has risen by a nearly equivalent amount. This is no coincidence, as the money supply continues to expand in a futile attempt to pay off debts, and as the money supply increases, the value of each individual dollar drops while it is still required to be paid back to the Fed.5
Shock and Awe
The neoliberal machine was not satisfied with gaining control over the money supply and domestic markets, however. It sought new opportunities to profit from the masses. Investigative journalist Naomi Klein details in her book, The Shock Doctrine, a history of U.S. economic interference in third world economies dating back to the 1950s, a legacy of infiltration, extortion, and bloody dictatorships all toward the goal of imposing the Washington Consensus and pure free-market capitalism against the will of the nations whose resources and sheltered economies were targeted.
Klein’s narrative, which details the establishment of “Chicago School” economics in many nations across the world, voices the conclusion that economists use crises—-whether natural or man-made—-to take advantage of the state of shock of the local population to implement sweeping reforms, including privatization of state enterprises and services, deregulation of currency, and the lifting of trade restrictions—-all under the assumption that drastic reforms would “shock” the economies into health. However, the truth behind the reforms is much worse: rather than improving the nations’ economies, the policies caused mass layoffs and unemployment, hyperinflation, food shortages, and explosive national debts that were impossible to be repaid.
In many cases, these policies were not only harmful to the population, but required excessive force and authoritarianism to be implemented; the early days of the Chicago experiment involved indoctrination of hundreds of Latin American students, violent coups in Chile and Indonesia, and mass torture and disappearances across the board. In the words of Chilean psychiatrist Marco Antonio de la Parra, regarding the hyperinflation, wage cuts, and mass typhoid infections in the empty streets of Santiago: “We were confused and anguished, docile and waiting to take orders … people regressed; they became more dependent and fearful.”1
After the dictatorships of the 1970s collapsed, the Chicago School turned its attention to taking advantage of economic strife, shanghaiing protests in Poland and South Africa to achieve their goals, and finally using natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, to move local, impoverished populations out of the way of economic reform, both literally and politically.
The prime example of the shock doctrine is the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China. In response to the government’s conversion to “state capitalism”, opening Communist China to the wrath of the free market and putting record profits into the hands of the Party, students of Beijing organized a protest for democracy in the capital’s main square. The resulting massacre is common knowledge, but many in the West are completely ignorant to the nature of the protests—-not a campaign for capitalism, but against capitalism and the undemocratic way it was implemented. The students fought and died for democracy, but not for the free market.
A World without Money
So, what is there to do about it? Should we elect honest politicians, boycott shady corporations, and donate to charity? Well, one could and should do that, but it won’t change much. Politicians are, by design, unequipped to deal with social ills; a lawyer is not an economist, engineer, or sociologist. Boycotting corporations can be an effective way to send a message, but when a corporation or trade cartel controls an industry or lowers its prices to drive out competition, it can often be difficult to avoid their products. And while donating to charities is an admirable and helpful way to contribute, most money donated to Haiti earthquake relief, for example, never reached the Hatians.6
Then, what else is there?
The Resource-Based Economy (RBE) is a concept for a new form of global economy designed by social engineer Jacque Fresco. The RBE is a system in which every human in the world is provided all of the necessities of life and all of the comforts of twenty-first century Western living—-for free. This idea seems fantastical at first glance, but there is significant science behind the concept.
The first problem with the RBE theory is the common belief that there are not enough resources on Earth to eliminate scarcity—-not only do we not know, because there has never been a comprehensive survey of Earth’s resources, but all evidence points to smart management of resources eradicating scarcity.
Looking solely at the energy crisis, it becomes apparent that our current system is outdated. Looking past the prison of fossil fuels, one can see a world full of energy; conservative estimates report that 32 percent of the UK’s energy consumption can be satiated by tidal energy alone, not including wave or wind energy. This does not mention the half-million zetaJoules that can be harnessed using geothermal energy, or the perpetual energy emitted by the sun. Opponents of these five energy sources cite how weak and expensive they are, but this is because oil industries control patents, trapping the technologies in the past. Utilization of these energy sources would enable every human on the planet to have unlimited, free electricity.7
In regard to transportation, many think that electric cars are weak and inefficient, but the truth is that the Bush administration shut down development of a completely electric car that can travel for eight hours at a constant rate of 60 miles per hour on a single charge of an average-sized battery. Another technology currently being developed by an organization called ET3 stands poised to replace cars entirely; using tubes evacuated of air, new technology enables maglev trains to travel—-safely—-up to 200mph locally, and 4,000mph intercontinentally with little energy and maintenance required.8 To put it in perspective, a trip from New York City to Beijing would take under two hours.
The most pressing issue is that millions of people are lacking food and potable water. This problem is also the easiest to solve: using advanced hydroponics, it is possible for every city in the world to have a large building, about an acre in size, in which all of the food for the surrounding areas could be grown locally, naturally, and in abundance. Along the same line of thought, desalinization plants could remove the salt from sea water, providing an abundance of drinking water even in deserts, as well as providing for hydroponics centers.9
The only problem standing in the way of these technologies is profit: Maglev, electric cars, and alternative energy will not be utilized, as the oil industry would collapse and drag the global economy into depression. Likewise, food, water, and medicine will always be scarce because there is profit to be made in scarcity. In this light it is scarcity, reinforced by the profit motive, which is the problem. However, eliminating scarcity requires the most radical step toward RBE: the elimination of money.
Most people find it difficult to picture such a world, and the primary argument that I hear is: without the profit motive, what incentive will people have to work? If resources are distributed evenly regardless of how hard they work, they won’t work hard, right?
The key difference is that people will not have an incentive to “work” at all, because wage labour will not exist. Virtually every profession existing in our society can be replaced by machinery. Before you protest the improbability of this, or scream “robot uprising!”, many industrial jobs have already been replaced by machines run by computers—-this is why most jobs in America are in the service sector today. With current technology we can replace mundane jobs with computer-run, human-overseen machines; everything from automated delivery and food preparation systems, to buildings that construct themselves, to advanced nanotechnology replacing doctors is possible when we are free of the monetary system.
This leads to the question: what will people do? Without a career, having all resources provided for free, people would do nothing, living a hyper-sedentary life. This is a fallacy.
I pose a question in return: what are your hobbies? I am writing this article because I enjoy writing, even though I do not get paid for it. Likewise, musicians will record and perform music, artists will still paint, architects will design buildings, and teachers will teach. The only difference is the context in which these “careers” will be performed—-rather than profit, people will contribute to society that provides everything for them. To put it into topical terms, everything will be open source. Without the hindrances of funding and profit, the arts and sciences will blossom at a rate heretofore unseen in history.
The final issue which I wish to cover is the role of government in an RBE. The simple answer is that with an abundance of all resources, the replacement of labour with machines, and humans being free to live their lives as they choose, there is no need for government. In order to understand this, a realization of what legislation truly does is needed: legislation provides bandages to social problems. What is a speed limit? A predetermined speed which cars may travel safely. But with cars that drive themselves, for example, why would there be a need for speed limits? If someone has free access to everything from food and medicine to televisions and computers—-and money no longer exists—-what incentive is there to steal a stereo from a car and sell it?7
The conclusion with which I want to leave you is that a Resource-Based Economy, simply put, can end poverty across the world, provide every human with a standard of living and freedom never before experienced, virtually end crime as a social ill, and enable a global society free of war, famine, crime, prejudice, and pollution to thrive. In the words of late comedian Bill Hicks, “…we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
*This article originally appeared on the official Zeitgeist Movement blog