Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Growth money and unity – contemplations of an African response beyond the fall-out
Whilst we do our best to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, it must strike us all that what lays ahead, beyond this turmoil, is perhaps the greater source of our collective anxiety. This is a global panic of seismic proportions and the margin for error is clearly narrowing. I say this because the old adage born out of the 20th century geo-political reality suggested that when the USA sneezed the rest of the world caught a cold. So, what should we make of the situation now?
If we accept as an immutable fact that the dominance of the global big players: USA, China, Japan, South Korea, Europe, underpins our collective socio-economic and cultural norm, we would be setting ourselves up for a monumental crash. To a large extent the dominant narrative of wealth generation continues to have a grip on our sense of reality. And the concluding verse in that story has us all pegged in and onto the idea of continued growth; that insatiable invisible force, without which one cannot truly prosper. But for this type of growth to have persisted, there needed to have been a shrewd accomplice, a certain level of agency. I am coming to this shortly.
Diametrically opposed tensions that exist between growth, resources, creativity and our oft forgotten symbiotic connectivity as humans surrounded by nature, are about to be severely tested. We can already feel the discomfort and as a result our sensory receptors are at a more heightened level of awareness. Many of us are in deeper more reflective states of being and the time may just have arrived where we have the required space to connect more meaningfully with our intuition, our insights, our courage. Are we now able to challenge head on the fiction of our trumped-up human exceptionalism? Before our very eyes the myth of our ringfenced importance is being exposed and by not even a cell, but by its offshoot, a virus. Has Gaia, with her intricate ways of survival, finally lost her patience? Who really knows? But what seems fairly obvious to most, at least at that deeper level, is that the path we have been on as a global inter-connected tribe requires some serious re-routing.
And what will begin our path to a new kind of formation? What will be those first few steps that in time, may become known as the beyond survival moment? Money!
How materialistic of me, but please hear me out.
Money is beyond the mere token of its exchange properties and imbedded in its folklore is a myriad of different faces that echo cultural ascendency, current norms and distant cries of a more enriched exchange experience (please read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein for a wonderful treatise on what could be possible in a world where money regained its gifting quality).
It is said that money, in its present iteration and I am talking here about official fiat backed money systems, western influenced at that, is so detached from reality, from consciousness, so atomised that it pales into a kind of significant insignificance: lethal by stealth, multiplying and devouring at the same time. Are we seeing any similarities here?
Let me illustrate the point. In the midst of our current global panic, death and anxiety, corporate consciousness, to a large extent, has flatlined into a monied centric, single celled expression. Internal organisational exchanges have been based ultimately on the bottom line, that vacuous agent we call money; it empowers the corporate cry to shed what-ever veneer it had of being people centred. Jobs will have to go is heard loud and clear. And most of us in the so called formal sectors are complicit in this cycle, at some level at least.
Growth and money, the deadly duo that gave rise to its offspring GDP, a narrow dimensional expression defining human economic activity, masked as the holy grail to national success and development. Does this story remain our global signature and future? Over fifty years ago the following words were delivered by Robert Kennedy’s stump speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968; which to my mind remains telling, if for nothing else that it came from within the epicentre of global economic dominance: that [GDP] “measures neither our wit nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. The longing for something universally and profoundly different from what is here with us today is indeed a continued globalised phenomenon. And yes, we have seen significant moves toward defining our wellbeing in more holistic ways, but let’s face it, GDP remains king.
From an African perspective, can the realities of a strained global money system, with its cyclical lack of liquidity, together with its offspring GDP, with their inabilities to form themselves around the charms of real life, come to define our starting point at re-creating African unity? That togetherness that our continent so needs. You will forgive me in advance for posing so many questions; however, like so many of us, I think it would be great to seek out some answers.
Alternatively, is this the moment to re-create within the image and vision of who we say we are, One Africa – united within the embodiment of diversity? Is this the moment where Africa takes the lead in devising money systems that are underpinned by its higher ideals and identities? Are there clues to be found in how our so called “informal” local market traders operate, that coming together, sharing of resources, networked interwoven operation that somehow prospers come rain or shine. Is the longevity of the “informal” sector in Africa actually a testament to a reality that the so-called formal sector ignores? Ubuntu - I am because you are, a South African philosophy that beautifully captures the tenet of connectivity and interdependence reflected in various linguistic forms throughout the continent of Africa. By way of contrast we note what is perhaps a defining western concept of I think therefore I am. Are we missing something that is staring us in the face?
Is it within us to re-create money systems that by their design encourage networked intercontinental trade, based on goods, services and time-based exchanges; and that encourage freer flowing circulations of money; that deploy, for example, zero or negative based interest rates? Would such interventions ward off wasteful hoarding, uncreative rent-based tendencies that interest often produces, and that skew wealth distribution and stymie creativity in the areas we need?
We would not be re-inventing the proverbial wheel, merely recreating a reality regarding exchange that has been widely lost, particularly at the “official” level. And please do not think that these are some outlandish off the wall discussion points. As a matter of fairly recent history, the USA and countries in Europe have also dabbled with some of these ideas, mostly during chronic economic periods, brought about by major warfare and situations like the Great Depression. However, executive arms of most of these states, often quickly suppressed the apparent success of alternative money systems, particularly decentralised variants that helped to maintain real on the ground economic capacity in those difficult times; whereas conventional fiat-based money systems performed to the contrary. There is no need for me to pose the question why such suppression happened, but to ask whether at this point in time we should be seeking to understand the phenomenon of money that much more and moreover, to deploy money/exchange systems that serve our needs better.
Perhaps the most notable example of a contemporary alternative exchange system is the complementary Swiss WIR money system. As a place of comparison, Switzerland of course is a relatively small country with a population of around 8.6 million people; however, it is run effectively as a committee, consensus based, considering the interests of quite distinct language and ethnic groups, familiar themes to countries within the African continent. The Swiss WIR is an electronic zero interest rated credit debit money system that runs alongside the official Swiss Franc (CHF). Its focus is on supporting Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) economic activity and was introduced during the time of the Great Depression, where chronic liquidity issues prevailed. The Swiss WIR created a means for SMEs to gain access to an alternative non-convertible funding source. Goods and services could be funded partly in Swiss WIR and the Swiss Franc and therefore business owners, their employees and customers were able to continue with real life exchanges keeping the real economy afloat.
To this day, the Swiss WIR remains a steadying force for the Swiss economy, acting in a counter cyclical manner, so that when fiat based liquidity is low, it provides a certain amount of exchange elasticity, enabling real time economic activity flows to continue. My understanding regarding the Swiss WIR system is that it is built upon a deeper sense of trust and community that seeks to ensure that the SME community is well networked, self-supporting, sustainable and able to serve the wider needs of society.
I am merely scratching the surface here and accept, without complaint, that much more would be required in order to rationalise a new form of money system to fit Africa’s socio-economic and cultural eco systems. However, the recently established Africa Continental Free Trade Area is a work in progress and to my mind provides the type of opportunity for us to explore and design our money systems in a manner that makes sense for the reality that we are in and that is appropriately phased, so that we re-orientate to the emerging paradigm of our choice.
If an alternative money system is appropriate, we could for example opt for a complementary system like the Swiss WIR in the initial phase, running parallel to the existing systems. Subsequently and aligned to the extent to how far our exchange activities matched our cultural, spiritual mores, we could then move onwards, establishing more comprehensive alternative systems of exchange, based around an overall fiscal and monetary regime that rewarded deep rooted innovation, environmental conservation, and the recognition and utilisation of human resourcefulness – examples of our innate authentic intelligence that remains a bedrock within Africa’s heritage and its communities and is re-emerging as a force of universal influence and good.
There are larger minds out there, much more qualified than I am to delve deeper into the efficacy of alternative money/exchange systems that this piece has attempted to highlight, to explore and to place on the table as an item worthy of discussion. My hope is that this topic warrants a far deeper conversation now and not tomorrow, that never comes and which could in any event, be too late. Ultimately, my hope is that this theme is something that will be of interest to a broad constituency and channelled toward the African Union (AU) and its States, perhaps even placed on the AU’s Agenda 2063. Why not!
In the midst of this current viral exposure and of the chronic economic version that is likely to follow, let our actions now and going forward serve as that necessary injected substance that circulates, neutering the illegitimate offshoots that threaten chaos. Let us become our collective antidote, connected, steadfast, fluid and prepared!