This impromptu article by Raymond Aitken, i.e. Reclaiming the economic surplus by liberating the Economic Commons, reflects an informal email discussion between open cooperativists, which took place in July-August 2015:
“We need “not only recovering money as as part of the economic commons, but also our innate human creative faculties (human capital), and the natural and cultural resources (including land and real estate), as well as the financial instruments (financial capital), which define and allocate our usage rights over the natural and cultural commons.
Essentially, these four factors of production that comprise the economic commons have been erroneously commodified, so that they are bought and sold within the economy, and rented out at compound interest. Only the added value that we create through the fourfold economic commons should be exchanged within the economy. Privatisation (enclosure) of the economic commons, and their subsequent commodification, is what permits a small group of non-productive apex rentiers to extract the economic surplus, thereby impoverishing human society and degrading our ecological support systems. The existence and parasitical relationship of the unreal economy vis-a-via the real economy, attests to this root problem.
I believe we are on a journey of “reclaiming the economic surplus by liberating the Economic Commons”.
However, as Ellen Brown put it, our first challenge is: “getting us all on the same page”, or as Pat Conaty said “singing from the same hymn sheet”.
* Context, root problem, common strategy and a diversity of tactical options
Too often we identify a promising solution at the tactical level, and then forget to check its coherence relative to macro level opportunities and threats. We therefore need to ensure that we sufficiently understand the wider context, so that we can identify the root problem, and not just palliate its secondary effects. Once we are reasonably clear about this, we can formulate a common strategic aim.Then, at the tactical level, we can envisage a complementary range of solution-options that can be implemented according to the developmental and bio-cultural conditions of the given territorial polity that we might be acting in.
Let’s not underestimate the resourcefulness of our chrematistic adversaries
It is good and necessary to feel optimistic, like when Mary says “that the tide is turning”, but we should also be careful not to underestimate the challenge that we face.
I would rather say that we have “a window of opportunity”, but we must not underestimate the resourcefulness of our chrematistic adversaries. The context and root problem is that, for at least four centuries, the trojan horse of central banking has successfully maintained its parasitic grip on the nation’s Treasury, in order to extract the economic surplus of each nation, which arises from the division-specialisation of labour, and the ensuing development of social organisation and technological leverage. Rentier-debt banking evolved from and incorporated previous methods for extracting the economic surplus, such as landed feudalism and piracy/banditry (primitive accumulation as Marx called it).
Despite the perspicacious expectations of many great thinkers, including Marx and Polanyi, the pirates of rentier finance have proved themselves to have a formidable adaptivity to every crisis that arises from the fundamental contradiction of their project, (relative to authentic human nature -vis-a-vis their idol of homo economicus, and to our humain imperative towards stewardship of the natural and cultural commons for future generations).
* Thinking like a “bankster”
It might be advantageous to sound the mindset of our adversaries, and imagine their possible scenarios. We can assume that since a long time, they have understood the the fallacy of infinite economic growth on a finite planet. They are intelligent enough to foresee the time when there will be no more possibility of “financial returns”, on the exponentially inflationary monetised debt they peddle, once it exceeds the ecological limits of the planet. The propaganda-dogma of rentier capitalism was for anaesthetising our intellectual defenses, not theirs. Their focus must be clear: to maintain their illegitimate privilege of extracting the economic surplus, within the imperative for a steady-state economy.
What they need to do is transition the debt, which is at the foundation of their false global monetary system, from “growth-debt” to “steady-state debt”. Perhaps that is why they are floating memes about “full reserve banking” through their agencies like the IMF.
Instead of maintaining financial returns from debt-bondage, they must use the present terminal phase of the growth-debt system, as an opportunity to establish a system to extort the economic surplus from a steady-state economy, based on the full reserves of steady-state debt, and enforced through a technocratically managed feudalism.
Seizing the window of opportunity, as the rentier lobster sheds its exoskeleton for a new one
The way the so called economic crisis has been triggered and managed, basically amounts to a massive transfer of wealth and claims on the natural and cultural commons, from the people to the apex rentier class. The final chapter may well be a globalised bail-in, triggered by the inevitable implosion of the quadrillion dollar derivative debt bubble.
However, a growing proportion of the population is growing immune to the increasing dosages of economic and geopolitical “shock therapy”. Even some of those who are employed in the military and police are questioning where their loyalties lie: with the People, or as enforcers of the mercenary State; which has long been usurped by rentier finance. Like the lobster that outgrows its old exoskeleton, the system of rentier debt is vulnerable between its transitions. This represents a window of opportunity that we must exploit with daring competence in a timely way.
* Crossing of the State Rubicon
We have to be as audacious and as radical as our worthy adversaries. The re-evolution required to reset the monetary system back onto a democratically sustainable basis, implies a simultaneous re-evolution in our concept of the State, especially regarding the provision of public services, and how to finance them. We have to compare the strengths and weaknesses of more than just the two usual options for monetary system provision: i.e. either the private banking system or the State.
In our SWOT analysis of options, we should include a third way, that of a Civil Society provision, through a tri-articulated circuit of decentralised NGO financial institutions, working on a basis of interdependent subsidiarity on an international scale. In short, a new international monetary system, by and for the People, without discrimination regarding socio-economic circumstance, nationhood, faith or gender, and which systematically distributes the economic surplus in ways that are appropriate to the healthy function of both the productive merchant economy, and of the regenerative non-merchant economy (of public services and infrastructures).
The risk of unquestioned dependency on the State is attested by the numerous mentions in the email thread, relating to the usurpation of State sponsored or controlled banking as a public service, as well as the on-going treason of TPP, TTIP and TiSA negotiations, whereby State representatives are surreptitiously abrogating the democratic, economic, cultural and other human rights of their citizens, so that the resources and economies of their nations can be appropriated and asset stripped by transnational corporations.
In his book “Our enemy the State”, published in 1935, Albert Jay Nock asserts that the main factor influencing monetary history is what has been called “the iron law of fundamental economics, that man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion”. This is both source of all human progress, as well as the temptation for some men to usurp the State in order to capture and accumulate the economic surplus produced by others. Relative to the present constitution of the State, and its mutually corruptive relationship with rentier finance, can we really count on the implementation and sustainability of State mechanisms for redistribution of the economic surplus, including “taxing the bads” of “usurious rent seekers”, in the form of taxation of the “inflation of land values”?
* Reclaiming the economic surplus by liberating the Economic Commons
In spite of its fundamental social and ecological contradictions, rentier capitalism “functions organically” (as Michel Bauwens wrote in STIR magazine), because of capitalism’s cunning resourcefulness in externalising the risks and consequential costs onto society and the environment, whilst privatizing the Economic Commons, and thereby economic surplus produced by others, to itself.
Economy originates in the division of labour, whereby specialised production is leveraged through social organisation and technological development, to produce an “economic surplus”, which can be reinvested to create a self-sustaining process of human development, which we recognise as “civilisation”.
Specialisation of work means that everyone produces not for themselves, but for the others. This implies that the unadulterated economy is inherently interdependent and solidary, as everyone has to exchange the added value they produce, for that which they need from the others. Our self-interest is totally aligned with supporting the economic production and exchange activities of everyone else.
We can only produce “added value”, because our production always depends on the pre-existence of natural resources, which are transformed by the application of our inherent (pre-existing) human creative faculties. The Gift Economy of the commons always precedes and encompasses the reciprocal exchange economy. Therefore we can only claim property rights on the added value part of our production. Regarding the pre-conditional factors of production that we ourselves did not create, we can only be allocated use rights over them.
These factors of production represent the Economic Commons, because everyone depends on them to produce the added value on which we all live. So any allocation of usage rights, by the community, should be conditional to the benefit of the whole community, and conditional to the stewardship of these economic commons for the benefit of future generations.
* The Four Factors of Production
The Economic Commons comprise four interrelated factors of production:
(1) human capital (labour) which is applied to the next factor of production (resources), to produce “human added value”;
(2) the natural and cultural commons – i.e. the resources provided directly (natural) or indirectly (through innate human creativity and the endowment of human knowledge) for the benefit of all; land and real estate are rightly part of the natural commons
(3) money as a means of accounting for the future creation, current distribution, and consumption of human added value: money is a liquid (unconditionally transferable), legal-fiction claim (right of consumption), on human added value, which provides the economic liquidity necessary for economic production and exchange; and
(4) financial instruments as a means for registering the allocation of use rights on the natural and cultural commons: financial instruments are illiquid (conditionally transferable) legal-fiction claims/rights of use, also known as (financial) capital
In a healthy (unadulterated) economy, the monetary system functions to activate, direct and coordinate human work, and to distribute the economic surplus:
(1) to the merchant economy of surplus production, according to the merit of effort and skill of its actors, and
(2) to the non-merchant economy for the regeneration of the economic commons, and solidarity to help reintegrate those living in economic precarity
* Enclosure and commodification of the four-fold Economic Commons
As I said at the beginning of this reflection, rentier capitalism is based on the privatisation (enclosure) and subsequent commodification of the above described four factors of production that comprise the Economic Commons; so that they can be bought and sold, or rented out at compound interest.
The “labour market”, “money market” and “financial market”, as well as the associated asset inflations-strippings that are standard practice in the land/real estate sector, is evidence of the main forms of rentierism (ribah/usury). The result is that the human being is treated as a material commodity, to be bought and sold into slavery through the bond markets, by which Central bank base money (which becomes commercial bank reserves) is created.
In order to transition to an unadulterated healthy economy, we need to renew our paradigm regarding the nature and purpose of capital and money, and its relationship to human capital (as work/labour) and the commons of natural and cultural resources. This will not be easy, as the false understandings we have inherited or been educated in, do not willingly relinquish their emotional hold on our way of thinking.
* The nature of money
Money is a social relationship based on the monetisation of mutual credit rights and obligations. Monetised credit is an emergent property that arises in the context of a community of producer-consumers (prosumers). In other words, money is a common good rooted in the Economic Commons. As such, it is a universal cultural phenomenon. Monetary instruments, such as currency, cheques and bills of exchange represent social technologies devised to facilitate the proof of, transfer and discharge of monetised credit rights and obligations (money).
Like all technologies, monetary instruments can be turned to serve nefarious purposes, like transforming the social relationship of monetised credit into a revenue generating asset, by ransoming its economic liquidity to extort interest, so that the commons of monetised credit becomes privatised as rentier-debt, which then extracts the economic surplus into private hands.
As legal fiction devices that are rooted in the collective mind, both monetary and financial instruments are particularly vulnerable to the mirage of intellectual fallacy and deceit. It is perhaps no surprise that Chinese economists, who have no emotional attachment to the dogmatic propaganda of rentier capitalism, have created the Fictitious Economy Research Lab, in order to objectively understand and thereby harness the power of capitalism towards the ends of the Communist State
I have in mind to visually map out the monetary-financial system, so that we can place the various initiatives and financial institutions that have been mentioned in our discussions, in an integrative systemic context.”