What rules the world besides money

When money doesn't rule the world

Cover story by Lara Mallien, published in issue # 8/2011

“The crisis is the result of a failing economic model based on growth. An international elite and a ›global middle class‹ are causing devastating ecological damage through conspicuously excessive consumption and excessive possession of natural resources and human capital, ”read the“ post-growth declaration ”of a conference held in April 2010 in Barcelona with over 400 participants from academia, social movements and civil society from over 40 countries.
Excessive consumption and excessive possession - that sounds like greed. However: "It's not greed!" This is the view taken by a number of authors in this issue of Oya. But the other position is also held: Of course, this is also about greed. How do you start doing business beyond overexploitation and exploitation? Interestingly, when asked what role money plays in a solution, the different approaches to the Gordian knot of compulsion to grow and injustice become clear.

Growth engines
Hans-Christoph Binswanger, Swiss economist and author of the book »Die Growthspirale«, sees the need for growth in the creation of money and lending by the banks: if you want to invest and get a loan for it, you have to repay it with your future profits. If all companies want to make a profit, the purchasing power of the consumer has to grow, and in order for it to grow, new investments have to be made so that more work and more income are created - which is only good from a market economy point of view if only the resources of nature are not were so darned at last. That is why Binswanger advocates slowing growth. Instead of corporations fixed on profit, he would rather see foundations and cooperatives.
Now it is not only possible to make a profit with entrepreneurial activity, but also with the money itself: This creates »investment income«, and when these are invested again, instead of being spent ... - On the question of whether the compound interest effect is not the main engine for the need to grow can almost break out into a religious dispute. Why is this such a hot topic?
The so-called free economy movement is particularly associated with the interest rate criticism. What's behind it? Peter Berner, who is concerned that their ideas are perceived in broader circles, explains:
»The free-economic systemic criticism of the German businessman Silvio Gesell (1862–1930) questions the self-evident that affects the function of money. Bourgeois and Marxist economies agree that money only has an intermediary function. "
The latter judges the free economy differently. The central problem is that it is worth making money with money.
»The growth of interest-bearing assets follows an exponential function. Empirically proven, however, the growth of the real economy in Germany has been more or less even for 50 years - linearly. In the first decades of the post-war period, the interest costs could easily be served from economic growth and left a cake to be distributed. Around 1980, however, the growth curve of the financial sector overtook that of the real economy, and since then there have been ever tougher battles over the ›distribution‹ of the increasingly blatant shortage - because only about 5 to 10 percent of the population benefit from the equally rapidly rising interest income, while everyone else benefits Subsidizing these rich creepily and constantly - in Germany at the moment with an amount in the order of one billion euros a day. "
Reform proposals that were derived from this are not a ban on interest, but a restructuring of money. Means of payment should be charged with a kind of demurrage, e.g. B. by circulating banknotes are given an expiry date, after which they must be exchanged with a certain loss of value. The fees would benefit the state and not (as is the case today with interest) the owners of financial assets. In this model, it would pay off to lend money at zero interest, because otherwise it would cause costs through the mooring fee. Nobody would be interested in hoarding it, but rather getting rid of it as quickly as possible by buying it, giving it away or lending it out.
"Flowing money" is the catchphrase here. But it's not about spending money faster and faster, so that the resource carousel would turn even crazier. It should flow continuously and not get stuck in financial assets. Everything would remain in a reasonable framework if the national economy was not constantly exposed to the "suction cup" of the financial economy, believes the free economy for growth. That sounds good, but when the name Silvio Gesell is mentioned, economists usually close the shops.
Thomas Seltmann (see page 50) can explain this: »Gesell was a staunch supporter of a free market economy - a market economy freed from monopolies and monopoly profits, income without performance from the possession of privileges such as land, resources and patents. He was an unusual mix of liberal and socialist. So it is not surprising that both left and right parties rejected him. To this day, the perception of Gesell's proposals also suffers from a messianic personality cult of many of his followers as well as the fact that from today's perspective he published questionable philosophical and ideological theses that reflect the zeitgeist of the time. On the other hand, he expressly opposed anti-Semitic, racist and nationalist ideologies in comments on current affairs. John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946), one of the most important economists of the 20th century, complained that the free economists bombarded him with writings so penetratively that he almost lost his interest in studying them and discovered Gesell's merits only late. "
This is probably also the case with the members of the Bundestag, who are written to again and again by Gesell supporters in their desperation of not being noticed. It is no wonder that they do not "land", since neoclassical economic theory assumes that the monetary sector of the economy has no impact on the real economy.

Competition and ethics
For those looking to reshape currencies today, Gesell is just one of many who have made interesting money construction suggestions in the past. You don't want to be pigeonholed, you want to experiment freely. The complementary currency expert Ludwig Schuster (see page 36), for example, prefers to refer to Jane Jacobs “Economics of the Regions” and to the liberal economist Friedrich August von Hayek, who advocates free currency competition. "The key to a sustainable monetary and financial system will not be a universal solution that makes people happy, but rather the simultaneous coexistence and coexistence of very differently conceived funds," says Schuster.
Ralf Becker, who is involved in the research and development of complementary currencies in the Money Network Alliance, deals with various aspects of the economy: “Today, our market economy and our monetary system support the principle of competition far too one-sidedly. The granting of cash credits - alone or mainly - according to the point of view of return does not do justice to the socially oriented and ecologically involved people. I am counting on gradually overcoming the one-sided competitive orientation. In the future, lending could e.g. B. half according to the return principle and half according to social and ecological criteria. "
Isn't competition the ultimate economic principle and, by the way, great because everyone tries to produce more and more efficiently and to keep inventing new things? Everyone benefits: competition stimulates business and prices fall. Competition not only creates something, but also destroys it: If low wages are paid for reasons of competitiveness, rainforests are cut down or someone goes bankrupt, there are winners and losers. A loser has to reorganize, find his new business niche, and growth continues. The business ethicist Ulrich Thielemann advocates protection of the living environment from the colonizing encroachments of the market by consciously refraining from exploiting everything that can be exploited, i.e. accepting ethical standards.
Niko Paech, who designs a post-growth economy (see page 36), also brings ethics into play. An entrepreneur could be content with a modest salary. "Nobody is forced to set expansive goals such as 25 percent return per year." Beyond the financial sector, Paech also problematizes the division of labor as such, which causes the pressure to grow, because it is the reason for the constant need for capital. If a product is not manufactured in one place but in seven different places in the world, investments are necessary everywhere, and all seven companies have to make profits again. In addition, one shouldn't ignore the consumer: only when there is a demand can one bring it to the people "more and more".
Generally speaking, the focus is on the consumer in the discussion. This is what Tim Jackson does in his book "Prosperity Without Growth", which has been widely acclaimed in the press. The main growth driver is people's consumer behavior. The question is why people within society primarily define themselves through material things by charging goods with "social and psychological significance". So is it greed after all? And the ethics discussion exactly the right one?
Christian Felber, who sees a market economy without striving for maximum profit and without the pressure to grow in his model of the economy for the common good, does not assume that ethical standards and human reason alone are sufficient, but wants to initiate a democratic process that leads to it to create legally anchored, tangible »incentives« so that, for example, loans are granted according to social and ecological criteria (see page 26). In this way, an orientation towards the common good could emerge and ultimately an economy for the common good that was committed to values ​​such as building trust and cooperation.
Ludwig Schuster, on the other hand, relies more on entrepreneurial self-organization. He thinks about an economy organized in networks: »The boundaries of these new spaces, created by local initiatives or communities in the› Social Web ‹, are defined by shared values ​​and voluntary affiliation, by social identities and› Networks of Trust ‹- trust networks, who create their own currencies and economies. Everyone can participate in any number of these ›member economies‹ as long as they agree to their terms and conditions. Anyone who does not adhere to the rules can be sanctioned and - in contrast to the national currency systems - sometimes even be excluded from a market and its money in an emergency. As a result, each of these common currencies is exclusive in itself, but in their diversity they cause a broader social inclusion than the existing monetary system is able to achieve. «Has the free market economy taken to extremes? Or something completely different that has yet to be invented?

The leap out of the market
In any case, one thing becomes clear: almost all of these proposals only think in terms of markets. And then a new rift is opening up in the discussion that can rarely be bridged. In an interview on page 36, Friederike Habermann reminds us of the simple logic of the game »producing added value«: Even if you are only playing with gummy bears and no banks and no financial industry are involved in this game, in the end the company owners always have more and the employees stand always empty-handed after they went shopping. That is the germ of the whole spiral of competitive pressure, concentration of wealth and the urge for new investment opportunities, as Marx has already explained.
So why play this inherently dubious game at all? Almost all of them stick to the terms of a market economy in the public discussion, because anyone who moves beyond this margin is considered to be far-left or so illusory that it makes no sense to speak to him or her. But exciting discussions are developing across the rifts.
If Christian Felber is concerned with values ​​such as trust, friendship, affection, cooperation, for example Andreas Exner, ecologist and editor of the magazine Streifzüge, asks in a book review of Felber's concept of the economy for the common good, why doesn't he see precisely these? Values ​​have nothing to do with the relationships of participants in a "market"? Exner reminds us that there is not only a planned economy and a market economy, but also the need-oriented production aimed at common goods that does without the structure of “company” and “employees” (see Christian Siefke's text on page 40). There is no money because it is not about exchanging anything. There is lively discussion about this on www.keimform.de or www.demonetize.it. On the latter page there is also a comment by subsistence researcher Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen. In response to the disaster in Japan, she writes:
»The first law of the economy of growth is: The application of a technology is correct if it serves to increase the profits of money. And vice versa: The goal of increasing the profit of money produces the corresponding technology and also uses it. The subsistence orientation is diametrically opposed to the money orientation, i. H. the orientation towards that ›that which exists in itself‹ - that is the etymology of ›subsistence‹. This includes the idea of ​​promoting the living, which is supported by a person's self-understanding as part of the living whole, within which he / she behaves cooperatively. "
Niko Paech also emphasizes the importance of subsistence and thus builds bridges to economic activity beyond the logic of money. In their place, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen puts the principle of the gift. A gift does not require a gift in return, it does not come from an altruism, but because it is so natural and realistic to give, to share, to contribute.
The criticism that hails against this view complains that it is a "back to the Stone Age". One could counter this: "The way we currently do business is based on the Old Testament." John Locke (1632–1704), the English moral philosopher, is considered the father of liberalism. His thoughts on the right to property for each individual and the idea that everyone could collect as much money as they want was an educational impulse and at the same time religiously founded. It is a "divine right" that everyone belongs to himself and is allowed to appropriate property for his own self-preservation. He refers to the Bible passage: "Heaven is the Lord's heaven, but he gave the earth to men."
If in a secular world - which is supposed to be controlled rationally by Homo Oeconomicus, who always makes decisions that are advantageous for him - the subliminal phrase "Subdue the earth!" Appears to me at least strangely backward. It seems so logical that the idea of ​​freedom with its valuable impulses has developed in history, but if it weren't for the truth, it would not have been cleared up to combine a contemporary understanding of freedom with the idea of ​​caring for and sharing a world to which I belong, but which I myself not appropriate and sell?
The book "What will become more if we share" has just been published by Oekom by the Nobel Prize winner for economics, Elinor Ostrom. It contains a variety of examples of how the commons economy works. Amazingly, no one considers this book to be particularly radical. Above all, it shows practice, and it is convincing.
In practice, the worlds do connect. For example, regional money projects, which work within the market economy, develop clear commons structures. It seems important to me to look at the paradigms of the different lines of discussion, but more important than any theory is always practice, which is always supported by community where something is pleasant for everyone involved. Whether in close neighborly relationships, in pragmatic communities of use, in an eco-social company or in the global network - the impulse to grow together can safely spread exponentially. At some point there will be enough clever people who will write new economic theories about it.


Literature for deepening:
Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen: Money or Life. Oekom, 2010 • Ulrich Thielemann: System Error.Why the free market leads to bondage. Westend, 2009 • Bernard Lietaer: The money of the future. Riemann, 2002

more articles from issue # 8