Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lewes Pound

Not, that's not the dog pound. It's the pound sterling. Or something approaching it. Thailand Chani raised an interesting question yesterday in her blog: Does anyone think capitalism is a good thing? I have been wondering the same myself, and it's a good question in view of the economic chaos in which we now find ourselves. The domino-style collapse of major American financial institutions is evidence enough that capitalism is not the invulnerable fortress it was supposed to be.

If capitalism is in crisis, it has been ailing for some time, though the symptoms have been well hidden from general public view. Not a hard trick, perhaps, in a country that appeared to be thriving so well on the system for so many years and became--for the blink of an eye, at least, in the long history of the planet--the top dog in the financial world. But it's pretty clear by now that this situation can't last for very much longer. Capitalism--with the help of more than a little slave labor, let's not forget--produced this country's wealth. Today, under the capitalist system, that wealth is slipping more and more from the hands of the average citizen and into the hands of the corporations and their wealthy beneficiaries. I don't believe it's a "good thing" for the vast majority of people.

By the same token, though, socialism has also showed its weaknesses. I was brought up in the belief that socialism would best serve the interests of the underprivileged and the needy, but it has not worked out the way many hoped it might. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire is evidence enough that this alternative--and rival--to capitalism has also run its course.

I'm thinking more and more small. I was intrigued to hear a report on the BBC World News about the Lewes pound: the little town of Lewes in Sussex, in the south of England, recently took to printing its own money, for use exclusively in its own community, with the idea of stimulating the local economy and keeping the money made and spent by its citizens within the general confines of the town. It might seem a step backward, in a globalized world. But it could also be seen as a step forward, into a future where tight communities become more and more self-sustaining, and self-regulating. Where democracy can be practiced on an intimate scale more successfully than by countries engaged in internecine competition and conflict.

Naive? Perhaps. According to the BBC report, the desired result of keeping local money in circulation locally has been foiled, thus far, because people are buying the Lewes notes and hoarding them for souvenirs or selling them on Ebay. The whole thing reminds me a little of a Peter Sellers movie (remember "The Mouse That Roared"?) But still a nobly eccentric British experiment, and one that stimulates further thought about the twentieth century financial systems that have so badly failed us, and that are so urgently in need of adaptation to the needs of a changing and ever-growing population of the human species.

I know I'm not alone in believing that the current century will have to see the evolution of a whole new way of thinking about money, the use of resources, and the provision of life's essentials to vast new numbers of human dwellers on this planet. I personally lack the economic prescience to imagine what this new way will look like, but our post-industrial systems have clearly failed to provide the matrix for a safe and humane future for our species. We will need to to do much better than this if we are to survive.


carly said...

"I think God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability."

Capitalism sucks. Which invariably brings up the other isms. But they suck too. What is needed is a new ism. One based on mimicry of how nature functions.

the growing concept of small "lifeboats", of communities of the brighter people pulling together to splinter off from the slavery caused by the ignorant masses is a hot current phenomenon.

John McCain has done the country, and perhaps the world a great and grave dis-service selecting Sarah Palin. Lack of judgement on his part has shown how inept a leader he would be. It's a more frightening scenario even than Bush. That it is not stopped is another very serious testament to how broken the system is.

John Torcello said...

Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations; as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Neo-Conservatism does not honor the definition; at least not in practice.

Untethered from rational regulation/controls/oversight/balance of powers; eight years of Bush/Cheney (and possibly four more, if we're not careful and committed against McCain/Palin) are testament to the 'samsaric' nature of uncontrolled human weakness, greed and selfish grasping. Capitalism is distorted and becomes Monopoly/Conglomerates...and everyone loses...

Unless modern civilization outright fails and we slip into a new 'Middle Age'; Globalism is real...Rather than criticize its immature implementation presently; let's work to realize its fulfillment; for example, supporting the integration of 'people' into the overall process in a way that benefits everyone; not just the abuses of cheap labor and immoral profits.

Sounds a lot like the need to apply real 'values' in our individual lives and the way we live them to me...?...!

Jean said...

The Lewes pound is not a joke or a one-off, it's part of a substantial grassroots initiative in many towns across the UK called LETS (Local Exchange Trading Schemes) See: http://snurl.com/3r5uz Some have been more successful than others, but when enough people get involved to make it work it's great. For example, I have friends who belong to Cambridge LETS, a very successful scheme, and who exchange a huge range of services: babysitting, gardening, taxi-services, computer troubleshooting, cooking everything from a birthday cake to a special-occasion meal (the full list fills a substantial booklet)... It needn't be an immediate exchange; you can build up credits and spend them later. Almost everyone finds they can offer a service that someone needs, not just those with obviously professionally saleable skills. They help each other, build community and also benefit from a huge range of services that many of them could not afford to pay for in the normal way.

Handsome B. Wonderful said...

I like the hybrid governments of Europe that are emerging such as in Scandinavia. They combine the best elements of Democracy/capitalism and the best elements of socialism.

Mandt said...

Very interesting. A good site to explore post modern capitalism can be found at: http://afterarmageddon.blogspot.com

Peace MandT

Anonymous said...

I think that to understand the pervasive effects of capitalism we have to question the acceptance of intense greed in our society. What sane person could not see the realstate bubble was fueled by outrageous greed? As we now feel the fear completecollapse, don't we each feel some need to hord or gain something as a buffer against the storm? Isn't the challenge to end self centeredness and give to others what will increase our sense of belonging to the group that is society?

Cardozo said...

I agree with anonymous, and personally think that some form of regulated capitalism is the best system humans have come up with since agriculture (and the resulting population explosion) put hunter-gatherer societies out of business.

Nothing is wrong with capitalism, as anonymous suggests, that a revolution of personal values couldn't fix.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

As I wrote my comment to this post, I found it turning into a post itself. So I posted it HERE

carly said...

See, this is what I mean about naivete. A revolution of personal values isn't in the realm of possibilities, a pipedream. High personal values have been around for time immemorial, but the lure of wealth wins more than half. Especially within capitalism is control of everything, including revolutions, by the few ultra-wealthy. Placing wealth and distribution in the hands of a few guarantees the cycle of poverty and impoverished society.

Buddhists don't believe much in reality (dust), so they can't get a grip (standstill).

What is needed is a deeper understanding of reality and a revolution that brings man more in line with its functionality. With the coming age of shortages, even the wealthy might not be able to control the accompanying revolution, but with capitalism firmly in place and aided by the naive, they stand a great chance to continue to profit by turmoil and change and to control it.

All they have to do IS ADJUST THEIR GREED A LITTLE BIT. And keep pushing that line of bull that everyone swallows, "Capitalism's the best".

Mandt said...

Interesting view carly. If you are unfamiliar with the writings of Guy Debord you might find intriguing "The Society of the Spectacle," at: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/

Cardozo said...

In response to Carly, I agree that "high values" (i.e. humility and compassion) have been around for a long time and have yet to be implemented as governing principles.

However, the hope for such an implementation is no more a pipe dream than the hope of scientists for a cure for cancer, or for a unifying theory of physics.

The fact that it hasn't happened yet is not necessarily a sign that it can't happen, and it certainly doesn't mean we can't make gradual steps toward that end.

PeterAtLarge said...

John T., thanks for the elaboration on my thoughts. The theme here does seem to be a reappraisal of values and our willingness to stand by those we claim to hold...

Jean, interesting to hear more about the larger context for the Lewes pound. I'll check out the referral. My sister, who lives in Cirencester, is certainly aware of many of these efforts, in the UK, to create a more sustainable future.

Handsome, I hear good things about those governments--and interesting, conflicting reports about the state of happiness in Denmark (good) and Sweden (not so great.)

MandT, thanks for the referral--another one to check out...

Anon, yes, a distinctly Buddhist challenge, I'd say.

Carly, you keep asserting that "Buddhists" don't believe in reality. Not true, at least in my understanding of the teachings. Truer to say that we humans tend to be deluded in our perception of reality, and to mistake our own illusions for it. I have no quarrel with what you say is a "need for a deeper understanding of reality"--and for a revolution in the way we deal with it.

Cardozo, I agree that it does eventually get down to individual values and hard choices. What worries me is the thought that, as a society, we have lost our way so badly that we won't be able to re-align with them.

thailandchani said...

I'm sorry to be late for this post.. but I'm certainly not sorry that I came in after all these wonderful comments!

So much of this reminds me of the Roman poet Ovid who wrote an entire book, METAMORPHOSIS, telling stories about processes of change in nature and human society.  We can either embrace changes that will redirect and help to redefine us after the debacle of the last 28 years (Reagan forward), or continue to pretend the responsibility is not participation but an imposition of will. 


Handsome B. Wonderful said...

One more thing: I read today:

McCain's health care plan involves deregulation and the rabid free market now too. Just like he supported for the banking industry.