Why Our Money System Cannot Create A Sustainable Economy, And How To Deal With This Problem

The world looks for solutions to its current crisis, but in the discussions I observe we rarely put into question what I consider to be the common denominator to all these issues: money.

The form of money we mostly have today is issued by a debt system that all nation-states without exception use for their money creation. Is it reasonable then to think that with this unique system we can succeed in solving our problems and sustainably meet the needs of 7 billion people? I highly doubt it. In this article, I’ve summed up the three main reasons why our monetary system can’t help humanity create a sustainable economy:

Reason #1: It needs constant growth to keep working

In a system based on debt, money is created when a new loan is given by a bank to a business or an individual. To be able to constantly repay for loans, we always need to make new products and services, creating what we call “growth”. If we failed to do so, banking institutions would not get their money back, they would go bankrupt and this whole economy we depend on would crash.

Creating constant growth means that we inevitably have to transform what was once a gift from nature or society into paying products and services: we convert forests into areas for intensive agriculture, ideas into intellectual property, herds of elephants into ivory stocks, we privatize seeds and the access to nature, we empty the oceans from its fish, we transform mutual help into paid services… In the process, we erode our communities and destroy our natural resources, we sacrifice our social and environmental wealth in favor of economic interests. In a world where we all are suffocating, how can we still believe in unlimited growth?

Reason #2: It widens the wealth gap and fosters unhealthy competition

The monetary system has reached a point where it acts like a Monopoly game in which the player who’s about to win keeps getting richer at each round, putting the other participants in misery and trouble. The money system is designed in a way that it has for the past 250 years enabled the richest to grow larger financial empires (brilliantly proved by the economist Thomas Piketty). Is it then surprising to discover that now 1% of people own 41% of the global wealth; and the top 10% own 86%? Or how about this one: “The 85 richest people are now as wealthy as poorest half of the world.” In 2014, shareholders have broken the world record of dividends: a trillion dollars, an increase of 310 billion since 2009.

Because a few have a lot more than others, money has become scarce for a large part of the population, meaning that we have to compete fiercely against each other to get our hands on what remains. This inevitably promotes individualism, hoarding and mistrust. How can we expect to grow healthy societies with these foundations?

Reason #3. It makes helping the rich more rewarding than helping the poor

I worked with entrepreneurs for several years and observed that the areas of most concern were the ones that led to potential financial gain. All over the world small and large corporations build products and services that target people who can obviously afford them. Although this seems financially logical, it’s the reason we have vast quantities of products and services built for the (supposedly) needs of the richest while even the most basic problems of the poor remain unsolved. Abandoned by society, some have no choice but to stand on their own and take on hard jobs for low wages that are sometimes beneath human dignity, or worse, engage in activities such as drug and arm trafficking, prostitution, theft or begging. Don’t people say that we’re all equal?

The current money system can’t support a sustainable economy. So what do we do? Do we remain seated, waiting for governments and central banks to change policies about the global money system?

Money looks like something that only an elite can manage, but it’s in reality nothing more than “an agreement within a community to use a standard as a medium of exchange”. During the past 30 years, we have seen a tremendous growth of complementary community currency (CCC) around the world, from a handful in 1980 to more than 5,000 today: the Brixton Pounds in the UK, the BerkShare in the US, the WIR in Switzerland, the Chiemgauer in Germany, the Sol Violette in France, the TEM in Greece, the RES in Belgium, the Palmas in Brazil and the Fureai Kippu in Japan. These initiatives, based on principles much different from the ones that rule the traditional money system, show that new economic dynamics that foster more solidarity, responsibility and equitability are possible when rules of the game are different. These new forms of currency also show us that some communities have not waited for higher institutions to set up solutions: members have gathered together, shared their problems and co-created new money models to complement the traditional system and fill in the gaps.

You can learn more about money, progress and community solutions to move toward a sustainable economy in the book I wrote with Ruth: “Creating Our (R)Evolution”. It’s available on free access as we’ve decided to rely on donations to fund our work. Looking forward to seeing you as one of our readers!


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