Starting from scratch: Matthew Slater, barefoot economist and Credit Commons co-designer, Part 1

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Perception dollar by Matthew Slater of XR and the Credit Commons Collective

Donald Trump recently derided Greta Thunberg and everyone pleading with government to heed environmental science as ‘doomsayers’. The more imminent peak oil or environmental collapse appear, the more intransigent our political system seems to be. Whatever the reasons for this, responsible citizens can only accomplish so much while the political and economic winds are blowing against them.

It’s tempting to give up on the very notion of progress; to accept that humans are condemned by God to dream of better societies but never to build them. I don’t blame anybody who retreats into their books, their garden or their movies and tries to maintain their own happiness alone. What should we prepare for, what should we hope for, beyond a quiet life and peaceful death?

There are always scenarios about which we can do nothing – asteroid strike, plague, nuclear war; if these seem more likely there is and never was any point dwelling on them personally.

For many of us, the urge do something remains. But we don’t really know how the enormous prospects of climate chaos and capitalism’s reaction to it will affect us, or what exactly to prepare for. The best we can do then, is accept the coming losses, process our trauma, and while we still have time and resources, try to create more resilient ways of meeting our needs.

If we look under the ‘new economy‘ umbrella most of the discourse is about steering the juggernaut of capitalism towards social and environmental justice

  • The cooperative movement aims for social justice by changing the ownership structure of our businesses.
  • Ethical consumers hope to use their muscle in the market to make progressive businesses more viable.
  • The divestment movement hopes to shift (access to) capital from immoral enterprises and towards moral ones.
  • The sharing economy, popular a decade ago, promised to reduce our consumption by renting rather than owning capital-intensive products like cars and electric drills. That would have been a good start, but where is it now?

All of these are couched in terms of progress, which seem less and less realistic in the face of oil depletion and environmental crisis. As the Roman Empire declined, it taxed all the money and resources towards the centre, impoverishing the periphery, and I believe that capitalism is declining in much the same way as the gap widens between rich and poor. Unless we can disconnect, all the property, wealth, health and freedom we have gained in the last decades will be sucked into a black hole.

Disconnecting is no trivial matter. The Market of capitalism is not just your High Street, but is better viewed as a single global system comprising of:

  • supply chains
  • organisations
  • standards / regulations
  • credit / money

– which together most efficiently concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer shareholders. Most of us depend for everything we earn and everything we spend on that all-encompassing machine.

A strategy of resilience and independence from capitalism doesn’t mean fleeing to the forest and building your own wattle and daub hut. It means withdrawing people and equipment from the Machine, creating intermediate social and economic structures, and turning our backs on that Machine as soon as expedient. It’s no easy task, and requires a shift of the imagination, a resetting of priorities.

That resilience comes through meeting your needs and the needs of your family more directly. It isn’t about ‘self’ sufficiency, which is a lot of work and expense, but about sufficiency of whole communities, larger circles of production and consumption, but closed off from the Machine. Simply committing to buy from new economy producers, and investing money in them won’t ultimately help you unless you are part of their loop of production and consumption.

So who are these people who will produce what we consume and consume what we produce? Before we can withdraw our own spare energy from the dying economy and start producing things for ourselves we will need to identify our new economic partners. Part 2 tomorrow, when I’ll talk more about this.

Part 2 is here.


About the author

Matthew Slater develops software for complementary currencies. He co-founded Community Forge, which free hosts software for collaborative credit schemes; he co-authored the Money & Society MOOC, a free masters level multidisciplinary online course. He co-drafted the Credit Commons white paper, a proposal for a global solidarity economy money system, based on mutual credit principles. Core team member of @deepadaptation. Collapsenik.