And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
— New Testament, Mark 2:22, New International Version
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal…
– United States Declaration of Independence, 1776.
All the things that humans create in the world, from hammers and nails to spaceships, first began as ideas in the human mind. Economic systems are human creations. There is no invisible hand. Every economic system, both past and present, has reflected its society’s values on everything from the meaning and value of work, to the relative importance of competition and cooperation, to the inherent worth of human beings, both as individuals and as a species.
In order to replace the current money-jobs systems, whether called capitalist or socialist, with systems that will be more just, peaceful, universally prosperous, and ecologically sustainable, we must first look at what values we will need to adopt globally in order to allow such a change to take root. As the New Testament says, you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.
From among the various possibilities currently being discussed for reforming economic systems, I prefer what people variously call demonetization, non-monetary economics, non-market socialism, de-growth solidarity, gift economy, or a variety of other names that denote the abolition of money-based exchange, and jobs as a way to ration the money used to purchase required resources. Under demonetization, meeting the needs of people and the ecosystems in which they live replace today’s obsession with commodifying everything, everyone, and every relationship in the names of progress, growth, and, of course, profit.
Dr. Anitra Nelson, coeditor of the book Life without Money, prefers the phrase non-market socialism, and defines a society run by this form of economics as a “money-free, state-free, class-free society where people’s needs are still met. And they’re met by people sharing in decision-making and sharing and doing all of the work of production and exchange.” In order for us to achieve such a society, we must free ourselves from current “values”, including the need to compete against each other for survival, the need to justify our existence, and the need to be of profit to someone else as the prime condition for meeting our own needs.
In order to truly revolutionize our systems of producing goods and services, and distribute the resources of the community fairly, we must, first and foremost, recognize the equality of all people.
For me, the keystone of pro-demonetization values was most eloquently expressed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”. Somehow, people often miss the self-evident nature of human equality. This applies even to the author of these words, Thomas Jefferson, who was himself a slaveholder.
We understand that the Founders’ definition of men meant propertied white males. All women, all people of color, and poor, propertyless white men were not included in their meaning of equality. The Declaration of Independence was addressed to British King, George III, by white men in the colonies who were aristocrats, even though they held no titles as such.
Contrary to what Justice Antonin Scalia might think, we are not circumscribed by the Founders’ limited understanding of what they wrote. We can do better. Today, more people recognize a generalized, baseline humanity, irrespective of color, gender, or socioeconomic status. This broadened understanding is part of the maturation of a civilization.
Furthermore, we have empirical evidence of human equality. Strip away the superficial differences many people deem important: variables such as gender, height, weight, skin color, IQ, physical strength, and social differences such as ethnicity, citizenship, religion, or class, and certain fundamental truths about human beings emerge.
Firstly, we all come to earth from the same source. It is immaterial whether you believe in a personal Creator, as the Founders did, or believe in the impersonal processes of biology, chemistry, and physics, or are agnostic on the issue of what the ultimate source is. The woman’s womb is the physical source upon which we all can agree, even as we debate the metaphysical sources; all human beings are born via the body of a woman, whether a child began in a petri dish through in vitro fertilization or was conceived in the more conventional way.
Secondly, we are all born naked and helpless, with basic biological survival needs; we need gifts to survive. Although the amount of resources we require to meet our survival needs vary according to our individual biology, our culture, and even our climate, we all need food, clothing, shelter and healthcare. In youth, these are freely given to us by caretakers. For example, none of us, even if we were born into wealthy families, paid for mother’s milk (or a bottle) by whipping currency out of our diapers to engage in a commercial transaction. If people would simply stop to think about that fact, they would realize that the gift economy that they would write off as hopelessly Utopian, exists now for all of us. You have no children? Then consider the fact that trees make oxygen for us without sending a squirrel to our homes monthly with a bill in its mouth for oxygen services rendered.
Thirdly, all of us go through a basic maturation process: crawl before we walk, walk before we run, learn ABC and 1 2 3 before we read Shakespeare and spreadsheets. That there are individual variations in this arc, due to diseases, accidents, warfare, or starvation, does not negate the existence of the basic arc of development. Similar arcs describe the lives of all other animals and plants albeit with different time frames. It is the way of life on earth, and no amount of money can override this basic fact.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we are all mortal. And when you die, you can’t take it with you. Thus, one can say that death is the great equalizer. But we need not wait until actual death to be equal. It is better to say that mortality is the great equalizer. Since we are all born mortal, and we remain mortal, we are all born equal, and we remain equal. Our social or economic differences during the course of life do not erase this equality. In the end, he who dies with the most toys still dies.
Once you accept the premise of human equality as a basic value, you easily understand how a money-jobs economic system violates this value. The money-jobs system is premised on our superficial inequality. Our fundamental equality means that no one has a greater right to the resources of this planet than anyone else, and no one has the right to withhold those resources from an equal as “unearned” or “undeserved.” You and I have as much right to food, clothing, shelter, and health care, as well as the social resources that allow us to be culturally engaged human beings, as the Pope, the President of the United States, the Queen of England, or the Koch Brothers.
Likewise, now that Fred Phelps has passed, Rep. Paul Ryan moves up my list of most despicable people on earth. But, I acknowledge that neither I nor anyone else can claim the right to deprive him of the basic resources of life, nor can we require that he become profitable to another in order to live decently. I believe he has to justify his actions, such as putting forth the horrible “Ryan budget”, which would only be useful if it were shredded and used as mulch. But he never has to justify his existence. None of us do. Either we were put here deliberately by an anthropomorphic creator God/dess, or we are the accidental byproducts of the co-mingling of impersonal forces. Who among us has the gall to argue with a creator deity that others of us should not exist? And who among us are foolish enough to argue with impersonal forces about the merits of certain accidents?
Some people lead extraordinary lives for good or ill. But their actions do not alter their fundamental equality with the most ordinary and anonymous among us. Though our deeds may be exceptional, our existences, as individuals and as nations, are not. It is exceedingly difficult for most of us to accept the fact that none of us, individually or collectively, can rightfully claim the power of life and death over our equals. But the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will get rid of wretched economic systems wherein the few determine the quality of life of the many, and in which both the few and the many think this course of events is the working of God or luck or Nature before which we are powerless. These evils were not imposed upon us. They, no less than hammers, nails and spaceships, are products of the human mind.
Kéllia Ramares-Watson is an independent journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, who asks, “Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?” She is ctive on an international email discussion list in support of demonetization. Kéllia can be reached at theendofmoney[at]gmail.com.