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Beyond Scarcity

An interview with two organizers of Santa Cruz LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) highlights some solutions to the artificial scarcity of our lives.
ďThis planet hasóor rather hadóa problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasnít the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.ĒóDouglas Adams, The Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy.

Many of our worst consumer habits arise from a perceived scarcity of resources in our communities. In fact, what is usually scarce is not resources, but money, or at least money issued by the national treasury. Every community has a wealth of resources: the knowledge, skills, experience and imagination of the people and the natural resources of the land they live on. Scarcity is not created by a lack of resources, but by the concentration of material resources in the hands of landowners and the concentration of money resources in the hands of the wealthy. Ordinary people can at least bypass the concentration of money by creating their own monetary value systems.

Such a local currency system is being formed in Santa Cruz. It is based on LETSystem, a Local Exchange and Trading System initially developed in Courtenay, B.C., Canada. With local currencies, participants create value in their communities by issuing their own currency, whether it is printed as paper money or only exists in accounting tables. There is no interest on accounts and no one starts out in debt, as so often happens in capitalist economies, particularly in the ďGlobal South,Ē where the general population is collectively indebted to North American, European and Asian investors. I interviewed two of the people working on establishing a local currency system. Robin recently returned from Scotland and Argentina where she studied existing LETSystems. Luis came to Santa Cruz from Argentina, where he was involved with a local ďsocial moneyĒ system called Solidarity Barter Network.

Fhar Miess: Why is an alternative currency important in a place like Santa Cruz?

Robin: For me itís an important tool to relearn that in order to consume, we have to produce. Itís learning that we have to have a sense of fairness and it means that weíre putting out as much energy as weíre taking back, and learning that our consumption is because others are producing. Itís breaking through alienation. So, if you go to a barter club or a local currency trade fair, and you want to have what somebody else is offering, youíve got to figure out what you have to offer them. It has to be a just exchange. Itís a way of bringing the consumers face to face with the producers, making them one and the same so that we can relearn what producing is all about.
Itís also a way to figure out what we can produce locally so that weíre not consuming things that are coming from all over the world. What can we do here? What can we do for ourselves? How can we be more self-sufficient and circulate our energy more locally?
I think itís important here in Santa Cruz for a lot of reasons. One is that while itís a fairly wealthy community, thereís also a lot of scarcity. Weíre paying so much for rent and so much for everything we need to buy that even if youíre working full time, it can be really hard to make ends meet. Thatís because weíre paying so much collective debt. The banks are controlling how money gets issued, how much money there is. Thereís never enough for ordinary people to really get their needs met without selling their time, selling their hours in some enterpriseóitís so much time. So, itís a way of kind of breaking away from that. We get to say, ďwell, how much money do we need to support ourselves?Ē Itís kind of breaking through the scarcity paradigm.
Itís also a way of getting to know each other and getting to rebuild the community. Some people feel that Santa Cruz has such a great community, but while for some people thereís a really strong social fabric, itís also a really transient community. There are a lot of people coming in and out and they donít have that. So itís a way for people to get to know each other in a real way, really build reciprocal relationships. Itís not just the sort of relationship you get when you go out to the bar together, but building relationships that are based on giving each other real value and really being able to offer something to one another. Itís much stronger.
And itís a way for people that have abilities that arenít acknowledged in the formal market to be able to share their talents, people that are producing things that youíre never going to make a big enterprise out of.

Luis: One important issue with this kind of project is that everyone is a leader. This is different because, people, I can see it regularly here, they are waiting for some organization to give them something. There is in this project the possibility to build your own project. Everybody is a protagonist. Everybody can be a leaderómust be a leader, because if not, the project will not be successful. So, there is a big difference. It is building community within the community from the community. Thatís a strong point.

Robin: One ot her thing that is inspiring to me is thatóI traveled last year to the UK and Argentina to see how people were implementing this type of system, and what I came out of it with was how incredible it was seeing people really getting how money works. Itís an amazing tool to realize that we can create our own money. You see people get this look in their eyes when they really get that, seeing people get involved in designing how the money is going to look and how the system is going to work.

Luis: And itís just ordinary people, you donít have to be an economist.

Robin: You get it! You really get it! Itís a way of realizing, ďWhoa! Weíve been really misled for a long time! Theyíve been lying to us! We can create our own system.Ē We donít need banks, we donít need governments to give us energy.

-----
If you are interested in joining the system or helping to get it started, sign up on the groupís e-mailing list by emailing SantaCruzLETS-subscribe (at) yahoogroups.com.

Copyleft © 2002 by The Alarm! Newspaper. Except where noted otherwise, this material may be copied and distributed freely in whole or in part by anyone except where used for commercial purposes or by government agencies.
 
 


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Comments

Local Currencies, etc.

You'll find an excellent online resource with information about local currencies that are being used around the US and the world, at this URL: www.schumachersociety.org/frameset_local_currencies.html.

"Gault Scrip," a somewhat different, more modest form of local currency than the one described in the article above, has been circulated in the Eastside Santa Cruz neighborhood for many years by Gault School. On this small scale, the local currency concept has been moderately successful, not to mention a good fundraiser for the school. I am excited to consider the possibilities of a general-purpose local currency that circulates throughout the entire Santa Cruz area, and hope to learn more about the SantaCruzLETS proposal.

With regard to the comments about economic activity representing a "fair exchange," and the sources of scarcity including debt that is intrinsic to the system, I'd like everyone to consider the nature of a tax on the sale or purchase of goods or services, or for that matter, the income tax. In an exchange of goods and/or services, the theory is that, ideally, equal value is exchanged for equal value. This goes for wages, as well: theoretically, the worker exchanges his or her time and effort for something of equivalent value (money, benefits, etc.). Enter the government, which then assesses and collects a tax on this exchange. Often, the tax proceeds are themselves used to pay off public debt. If the purpose of economic exchange is to maximize the satisfaction of needs among the population generally, and to manifest the collective abundance throughout society, then what can we say about anything that, like taxes on productive activity and fair exchange, impedes that process? To me, the conclusion is inescapable: taxes such as these engender scarcity, all the more so when they are levied to repay debt!

Unfortunately, local currency systems (or local barter systems, which have also been tried around here), are not immune to the economic drag of production/exchange taxes. In fact, if more local currency or barter were to occur, you would soon see an intensive effort on the part of the various government taxmen to collect on alternative-economy transactions.

I think that moving toward local currencies is a big and important step toward regional self-sufficiency and immunity from the punishment inherent in the "scarcity economy." Let's do it! But be aware that we will still have to confront the taxmen on the other side of the transition, and they will be as nasty (in the effects of their actions, at least) as the DEA was in its recent raid on the WAMM pot farm, despite California's assertion of State authority in the matter of medical marijuana. Unlike that case, however, the taxmen will come from Federal, State, County, and City governments. With luck, we will be able to reform local and regional systems of taxation to minimize their drag on the economy, and mesh well with our local, alternative economy. But we'll need to be ready for the inevitable conflict with State and Federal tax authorities, who won't take kindly to being paid in LETS bux or Gault Scrip, and may very well act to marginalize our system.

Forewarned is forearmed! Be prepared.
 

Beware Of The Merritt's

Beware of Merritt and his ilk who would unleash the capitalists from all regulations and who would do away with all Social Service programs in what he calls our Ďcity of pickpocketsí. These sly weasels try to seduce us with promises of less governmental control, then they shaft us with price-fixing and monopolization of the resources we need to exist. Beware of the slipperiest and most insidious who trick us with tempting rhetoric while abusing people that are taking direct, upfront action for what they believe. Watch out for the Merritts of the world who demean old women celebrating peace and sick and dying people needing medicine to further their own selfish aims.
 

beware freedom and liberty

"Truth Lover" is right! Beware anyone who encourages you to reclaim liberty and freedom for yourself, or encourages you to respect and allow these things for others.

Beware personal freedom, because it comes with the sneaky subversive obligation of self-sufficiency. Your mommy and daddy have shirked their duty to care and provide for you for the rest of your life, so now someone else must do it! Why? Because gosh darn it, you're a special and unique person and you deserve it!

Also beware anyone who anyone who preaches freedom for others, for how can you expect to live comfortably if you can't just "rob Peter to pay Paul" as they say? I mean honestly, what are you supposed to do then - EARN what you have? Grow your own organic food? Dig your own well? Build your own bicycle? Set up a multi-million dollar high-tech pharmaceutical manufacturing plant for medicine out of your OWN pocket? Why produce anything, when you can just take it from someone else?

Be especially watchful against any who preach BOTH freedom and liberty for yourself and for others. Those who promote equal standards for all without regard for wealth or class are idolaters of the evil pagan deity Consistency.

There are no free rides. Everything has to be paid for by *someone*, somewhere. Make sure it's them and not you!

---

The Libertarian philosophy: my needs are not your obligation. Your needs are not my obligation. Don't agree? Then move back in with your parents.

-Van
 

Van's Flapdoodle

Libertarian Philosphy: Survival of the sleaziest. Everyone is an island. Toll-gates and membership cards for everything from neighborhood parks to the air we breathe. That air being polluted of course due to the free expression of corporations to pollute the air. Freedom to shit on the sidewalk which of course is maintained by the sidewalk police who demand that you present your sidewalk membership card in order to walk on it. Walls blocking all things of beauty so that non-participants don't enjoy it without having paid their user fees. Freedom to try to grow your own organic food in soil that has become inert due to the freedom of the Van's and Merritt's use of chemicals. Freedom to dig your own well into water polluted by the free-wheeling Van's and Merritt's. Freedom to do anything you want because everyone is an island and nothing we do touches anyone else.
 

SO wrong

How many different ways can I say "Uh, wrong"?

> Libertarian Philosphy: Survival of the sleaziest.

Wrong. Survival of the strongest and smartest, so long as they don't abuse, rob, or otherwise intrude on others. Survival of those who are both resourceful and honest.

> Everyone is an island. Toll-gates and membership cards
> for everything from neighborhood parks to the air we
> breathe.

You've clearly never spoken to a real Libertarian. Or if you did, you didn't listen. Doesn't surprise me.

Some Libertarians are greedy bastards who would build a park on their private property and then charge you a high price to enter - others would build it and ask a donation, others still would make it open to the public without any of the bullshit city govt restrictions (if I owned a park, it would be open 24/7 and let you drink alcohol, smoke pot, and walk around naked as long as you didnt harrass anyone) and hope that a spirit of gratitude would be realized by the visitors to return the favor to the park owner in their own ways.

How little you know, yet how harshly you judge.

> That air being polluted of course due to the free
> expression of corporations to pollute the air.

You seem to have mistaken us for the Republican party. A common, but still ignorant, mistake. Most Libertarians recognize that the air we breathe is not easily compartmentalized, and that we all have a responsibility not to pollute the air of others. We also recognize that the federal govt's heavy-handed and sloppy enforcement of its labyrinthian environmental regulations is a multi-hundred-billion-dollar WASTE of people's money; money that could be spent far more effectively.

> Freedom to shit on the sidewalk which of course is
> maintained by the sidewalk police who demand that you
> present your sidewalk membership card in order to walk on
> it.

Only if the owner(s) of that sidewalk wish it to be that way. If someone spends the resources to build a sidewalk on their own property, they have the right to regulate it as they wish. Dont like it? Then go walk somewhere where you're welcome.

> Walls blocking all things of beauty so that non-
> participants don't enjoy it without having paid their
> user fees.

This is Capitalist philosophy. Libertarian philosophy ACCEPTS, but does not DICTATE, Capitalism. A group of Libertarians, united in unanimity, can collectively own a garden and operate it as openly or as closed as they wish. Libertarian philosophy does not make these silly assertions with which you seem determined to credit it.

> Freedom to try to grow your own organic food in soil that
> has become inert due to the freedom of the Van's and
> Merritt's use of chemicals.

Then dont buy the land, or learn some biochem and you'll know how to test the soil first. Take some responsibility for yourself, instead of acting like a spoiled child.

> Freedom to dig your own well into water polluted by the
> free-wheeling Van's and Merritt's.

A Libertarian (okay, in a perfect world, but no one is perfect) will not pollute a well if that pollution would affect other wells not in his/her possession, without either obtaining consent from, or providing an agreed-upon compensation to, all those affected.

> Freedom to do anything you want because everyone is an
> island and nothing we do touches anyone else.

You've just criticized Anarchist, not Libertarian, philosophy. Please learn the language first, or seek a proof-reader before posting.

-Van
 

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