Life, Money and Illusion;
Living on Earth as if we want to stay
What the book is about
"Life" refers to the biological processes by which living things maintain themselves over time, "Money" to the present economic ideology that says that as long as the volume of money changing hands increases, all will be well. "Illusion" refers to the fact that these two perspectives are directly opposed in terms of how they would solve current problems. One of them must be mistaken.
Table of Contents
Preface second edition
1. Without Vision, the People Perish
2. Vision for the 21st Century
3. Life; How it thrives
4. Problems with Life; Human Impacts on a Full Planet
5. Mutual Provision; Money, Markets and an Orderly World
6. Magnitude and Abstraction; When We Grow Very Large
Problems with our Market Economy
7. Where Value is Neglected
8. Where Value is Overstated
9. Money; Its Creation, Management and Growth
10. The Monopoly End Game
11. First Steps
12. Practical Changes
13. Monetary Reform (some options)
14. Cultural Foundations; Working Together as Societies
15. How to Get There from Here: Legitimacy, A Question of Direction
16. A Crack in the Road: Motor Culture
17. What Will Become of Us?
Afterword: Looking Back to the Present
Appendix: Tapping our Collective Potential
Economics is everything people do for each other. Whether actions are taken for love, barter or money, they contribute to mutual provision. I use the phrase "mutual provision" synonymously with "economics" to make it clear that the whole process is, in essence, about people taking care of each other. This reassuring perspective is often lost in the shadow of the competitive economic model now in command. To the extent that the present model no longer serves the common good, it will change as conventional wisdom recognizes the deviation.
Life, Money & Illusion tracks how economic patterns change as the communities they serve grow from extended families, through local populations and nations, to global civilization. While there are advantages to large-scale production, the potential for participants to be alienated from each other and from the natural environment grows with the size of the system. With alienation come opportunities for unfortunate advantages to be taken.
"Money is the life blood of civilization. Without money it would be very difficult for any but small communities to work together in mutual provision. By enabling millions of people to cooperate, money provides a great service. With this service, however, comes danger. Money gathers and flows in economic streams. The greater these flows, the greater the temptation to tap in and drink deeply."
The Need for Change
Another aspect emphasized in the book is the fundamental shift that is taking place in humanity's relationship with the Earth.
"Throughout history, the amount of fish that people could catch was limited only by how much time and equipment we invested in fishing. Today, the amount of fish we catch is limited by the number of fish in the sea... We face similar limitations with forests, food lands, fresh water, fossil fuels and the Earth's ability to absorb waste."
With this fundamental shift, from consuming a fraction of what nature provides, to being able to consume it all, and more, comes the need to restructure the economic system. The system we have inherited is designed for expansion and does not work well when it is not growing. With most of the Earth's capacity now full with humans, we need an economic system that can be stable at a size consistent with the carrying capacity of our planet.
There are many practical ways of reorganizing mutual provision to accommodate our "full" Earth. Many of these are described, including: well-being measurement, where social and environmental indicators are used to guide policy formation and help reconnect our large system directly to its social and environmental impacts; tax-shifting, so that public revenue is a levy on problem-causing activities, rather than an expense that discourages employment and enterprise; alternatives to our debt-based monetary system; and encouraging people to seek fulfillment by enjoying what living offers, rather than through material accumulation.
Obstacles to Change
An economy based on sustainability makes sense when people think about it, but it's not a possibility that gets much exposure through conventional channels. It will take widespread popular assertion before sustainability is adopted as society's goal. A major problem is the obstacle of wide-spread denial. The problems of pollution, resource exhaustion and social disintegration are big and frightening. People don't want to face them. As a result, most are inclined to accept the reassuring message that all they need to do is earn and spend more money and all will be well.
Nurturing Popular Will
To fortify readers to face the present challenge, I dedicate space to explaining the psychology of denial. The potential for overcoming barriers swells when the tendency to block out disturbing thoughts is identified and cause for hope offered. We humans are extraordinarily gifted with perception, intelligence, creativity, experience and cooperative ability. There are creatures with far less potential that have sustained themselves for many millions of years. We should expect as much, and more. Our current problems are largely due to success. The present system is powerful. It has succeeded at doubling and redoubling material production - the result sought by those in control. No one expects problems to result from their success. We seek to solve emerging problems through further expansion. Life, Money and Illusion makes the case that the fundamental shift in our circumstances is creating new problems, ones that cannot be solved without a fundamental change in how we manage mutual provision.
The Question of Direction
Growth based economics are well past their "best before" date in the developed world. If we are to pass the Earth on to our children's children, we have to change direction. A popular education campaign is outlined to introduce the choice between "grow-until-we-drop" economics and the economics of sustainability. It is a Question of Direction.
I haven't discovered anything new here. A generation of pioneers has worked out a full spectrum of ways to overcome today's problems. By assembling their insights into this book, and by following up with the Question of Direction campaign, I feel we will be able to focus attention on the pivotal choice we need to make in order to change direction. Through cooperative networking, those of us concerned about the future can employ the leverage of democracy to bring this choice to popular attention.
I believe that humans will be living secure, healthy lives seven generations from now. But to do so we will have to shed the Growth ideology. We know which way to proceed. Life, Money and Illusion invites you to apply your will to the lever that will ultimately tip the balance.