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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sustainable Capitalism

Money is the capacity to consume, to use or use up things. And we do need to consume and so produce to live. Producing things for consumption and developing our technology to do so has brought tremendous advances to humanity.

Money is a wonderful tool for measuring production and consumption of things. Much better than trying to barter or bargain--since I am terrible at that; and I am getting too old to carry things to market. A unit of money is simply a piece of paper or an accounting entry that shows I owe or am owed something I need, want or value. The money system works because we all together through our governments give assurance for the note or accounting credit or debit.

Financial Capital is measured by the amount of money one has or the assets that can be traded or accounted for by money. So our condo in this market is worth about $250K.  I owe $125k on my mortgage. Unless the condo appreciates or depreciates, I can count on $125k to use to buy things if I sell our condo. However, we have to live somewhere and intend to keep our condo. So that $125k doesn't really mean that much. I'm just glad I don't owe the bank more. I am also glad that I can avoid paying some taxes on my other retirement income because I can declare the interest on my mortgage payment. My bank is glad even more because then I wouldn't be giving them money.

Some of us seem to need or want more than others. That's okay. I needed lots more financial capital when I was going to school or raising my children. I need and want a lot less now. I need and want transportation, nourishment, reading, writing, and education (primarily through libraries and internet), interacting with my family and friends and knowing they are and will be safe and happy, being of some use to others, running and walking on trails and in parks, nice weather, breathing clean air, drinking clean water, eating nourishing food, enjoying good health and health care, and some culture and fun (primarily through museums, institutes, schools, theaters, cafes and pubs). I do want to continue to explore through travel but mainly locally. So these are what I value, most of which cannot be measured in money. However, I realize that the goods and services that provide these are measured in money.

I do not measure my worth or success in terms of money, my capacity to buy and use (up) things. And I don't think most people do. So I am not at all concerned about gaining more or fearful about losing money. I think that makes me free in a very basic sense; i.e. in the sense that I think all people should be free from fear for or want of basic needs of life and pursuit of community and public happiness.

So I want an economy that is not based on financial capital. I do not want an economy that functions simply by increasing money or moving money around (usually up, to people who have the most) without fostering real capital--like a casino does, like Wall Street does, like housing speculation does, like buying, selling, corporatizing businesses does, or like commodifying and depleting earth resources does. I'm all for economic growth but not the kind that the big banks, the stock brokers, the financial fund operators, and the transnational (i.e. non-local) corporations mean.

I'm all for capitalism. But the capitals in which I am most interested are human, communal, earth, spiritual, educational, cultural capitals. This are the capitals I want to support, enhance, and protect. A capitalism that does not grow these capitals is a sham, unsustainable capitalism that will ultimately destroy itself by destroying its very life supporting system.

And this is just what we are seeing in earth change, fragmenting communities, fear and terror, non-renewable energy depletion, and plutocracy with loss of political engagement. By focusing on profit, by understanding profit as an increase in money not capital, by subordinating all capitals to financial growth, by measuring success of nations, cities, and persons by the accumulation of the private, individual ability to consume, we are on an unsustainable path as a species.

And I think that most of us sense this but react to it in different ways, some by building more solid walls, by burying precious metals, by buying weapons, by trying to take things away from others, by holding on to destructive dogmas. A better way is to redesign our economy into a sustainable capitalism.

Next: How

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