NASHBUCKS AND A WHOLE LOT MORE

11 09 2009

I’m sorry I missed the chance to report first hand on Metro Council shooting down the chicken proposal, but at least I had a good excuse.  I was working on another front to create a saner future here in Nashville.   Something almost as basic as local food–local money.  Hey, food will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no food, y’know?

In case you haven’t been following the story (and the mainstream media don’t want anybody following it, believe me), the US dollar is rapidly being turned into funny money.  That’s another story, and I’m going to talk about it a little later in the show, but right now, let’s talk about a different problem with money:  how come there’s plenty of it to keep bankers living in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, but it’s hard to find financing for community gardens, small-scale home improvements/alternate energy conversions, environmental improvements and cleanups, neighborhood businesses, and other projects that would actually make the daily lives of us common folk a little easier?

This has to do with the circulation of currency in a community.  If the only places you can spend money are chain stores, then what happens to your money is that, after the employees are paid (as little as possible, in most cases), the rest of the money goes to those who produced the goods (usually China, these days) and then what’s left goes to the stockholders of the company, who are mostly located elsewhere, too, even if it’s not so far afield as China.  In this model, currency doesn’t really circulate so much as it gets sucked out of circulation.  And OK, a little bit of it does trickle back down, but most of it gets sucked up.  The income and assets of the wealthiest 5% of Americans has been growing, even as the economy tanks.

On the other hand, locally owned businesses do not ship as much money as possible out of their communities.  This enables more money to circulate locally–and the more times money circulates through a community, the more work it does, which translates out to more happening in the community–not just more commerce, but more community.  Unfortunately, big companies and their so-called “economies of scale” have played havoc with locally-owned business.  I have seen the devastation that Walmart, for example, brings to small towns.  Those “low, low prices” turn out to be very expensive in the greater scheme of things–but that’s “an externality” for Walmart, or any other big company.  The damage they do in the communities where they impose themselves is not their problem.  By law, they are supposed to suck up all the money they possibly can and give as much of it as they possibly can to their stockholders.

So, what can we do about this sucky situation?

One of my teachers used to like to point out that most human attention is devoted to sex, food, and money, and that straightening out our relationships with these core concerns is essential to societal, as well as personal, transformation.  We have had a sexual revolution going on for several decades now, with some success,  and the local food movement is on the way to changing how and what we eat.  Local currency opens up the third, stabilizing leg of a saner society:  it begins to change the way we treat money, labor, investment, and, ultimately, the whole environment.

That’s a tall order.  Practically speaking, what can we, here in Nashville, start to do?

The folks at the Common Good Bank, based in Massachusetts, have done their best to come up with a good business model for creating a local currency.  Rick DeVoe and Susan Shann are bringing this movement to Nashville,  looking for 50 depositors, a store willing to act as an ATM, and five–only five! local merchants who will accept what is tentatively being called “Nashbucks” here in Davidson County.  From this humble beginning, they believe they can create a combination credit union/bank that will use its assets to invest in community projects and dedicate any profits it generates to benefit local non-profits.   The bank will be run democratically, with all depositors having a say in investment and policy decisions.

What does “local currency” have to do with this?  Well, first of all, by definition, it stays in the community.  “Money” is a form of energy.  Energy that stays in the community…energizes the community.  Second, it can be created locally in response to local needs.  The fact that banks can loan ten dollars for every dollar of deposits they have can be used to blow real estate bubbles, or it can be used to create viable local communities. Again, “money” that is local, rather than national, legal tender will tend to stay local.  By definition, it can’t be sucked into the multinational vortex.

William Spademan, who started Common Good Bank (which is applying for, but has yet to be granted, a bank charter)  likes to say that Common Good is “a social mission with a bank” rather than “a bank with a social mission,” and his terminology and long range vision confirm that.  On the “vision” page of Commongood’s website, Spademan offers the following:

For many of us, life is very good. Still, we share a vision for a better world:

  • a world where everyone is guaranteed adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, and fulfilling work;
  • a world where land, air, water, the beauty of nature and the wealth we have created are protected and used carefully for our common good;
  • a world where community and cooperation are at the center of our lives, where we care about and take care of each and every one of us, delighting in our diversity;
  • a world where decisions are made by everyone, for everyone’s benefit;
  • a world without pollution, weapons, injustice, poverty, disease, misery, obscene consumption, corrupt governments and unrestrained corporations;
  • a world at peace.
  • Our current economic system works against that vision, benefiting some people while leaving others miserable and desperate. Common good banks are a way to achieve our shared vision a little bit at a time, but very quickly, with immediate benefits for everyone, starting right here, right now.

Statements like that are straight out of the Green Party’s vision.  And that’s the thing about the Green Party vision:  it’s not copyrighted, or patented, and it couldn’t be, because it’s what everybody wants in their heart of hearts.  It’s just going to crop up everywhere, like new grass in the Spring.

Our local group, “The Fellowship of the Commons,” has created a new word:  “integritism.”  Here’s their definition:

integritism – [1] a political philosophy advocating individual integrity in the public sphere and a direct, participatory and inclusive form of democracy [2] collective efforts to convey the commons in a whole and unimpaired condition to future generations.

Again, this new word, “integritism,” resonates strongly with me.  “Integrity”  beats “the audacity of hope” and “change you can believe in” in my book.  The “hope and change” guy has been sadly lacking in integrity, from  backing the Bush bailout to backing down on single-payer health care to  backstabbing Van Jones.   Oh, well Van, friends like that you don’t need.  But I digress….

On a page entitled “Spirit and Covenants,”  (not words commonly associated with banking!) they explain their name thus:

We call ourselves a “Fellowship” because we are doing something unique for a political organization. To us, this isn’t just a campaign of like-minded individuals who agree on an agenda. We are asking something more because something more is needed. A fellowship has an added sense of belonging and camaraderie that also suggests a higher order of commitment and obligation. This is reflected in our determination to rise above the usual machinations and manipulations we’ve all come to expect from politics. We will do this by rebuilding trust, from within and without, one person at a time.

“One person at a time”….something I’ve been saying on this show for years.   It’s so gratifying to meet somebody else who has independently grasped the same truth…but wait, there’s more…just as they have defined “fellowship” in ringing terms, so do they define “commons“:

The Commons courses through us and around us, to us from the past and from us to the future. It is a gift from the universe meant to be universal; bequeathed to us by billions of years of extraordinary cosmic and biological evolution, as well as thousands of years of individual and concerted human enterprise. It is precious in its most minute expressions and awesome in its majesty. Each and every manifestation, writ large or small, has not only value by its usefulness, but more importantly, if part of nature, an inherent worth and right to exist without being interfered with, a freedom to be and to become.

We speak of the air, of the water, of the soil, and we speak of language itself. Mathematics and medicine; mice, music and e-mail; the carbon cycle and the bicycle; eco-systems and systems of justice; democracy; photographs and photosynthesis; footballs, philosophy, farmers’ markets, stock markets; hardwoods and hard-drives; wheels and whales. We did not earn these things, we inherited them. Taken together they constitute a wealth immeasurable.

What we must understand and take the measure of is ourselves, if we are to convey the Commons forward to the generations that follow, relatively intact. So much life and possibility has been damaged already by ignorance, greed and shortsightedness, and much more is threatened. The critical institutions of man, of which we all share ownership and stewardship duties, are not responding to the deepening crises enveloping both people and the natural world – they must be rethought and reformed. We have right now an unprecedented responsibility, unasked of generations past.

Some things we own individually, as it should be, but the greatest of things, these things described here as part of our Commons, belong to all of humanity. We are not only owners of these treasures but also their trustees; and not only to our children and their children, but to all the myriad forms of life that now depend on our good judgment and good deeds, many for their very survival.

Their proposal for actually accomplishing this is to establish boards of trustees for the various divisions of the natural world that are our common wealth–the air, the water, the earth, the trees, and to empower these trustees to safeguard the integrity of what we so egocentrically refer to as “resources.”  Well, I don’t share the optimism that leads them to posit that kind of governance–I think nature is going to take us down a few pegs over the next several decades and centuries, down to the place where potential human interference with the climate will once again be puny.  Honestly, though, I’d rather be wrong about that, and if I am, if we succeed in maintaining a cohesive global culture through the changes that are hitting us, having somebody be the Lorax and speak for the trees is a damn good idea.  And if we get whittled back down to walking distance-sized political units again, it’s still a damn good idea.

I’m not sure I’ve made the case for why locally-issued currency is an important part of this economic revolution, but I suspect that local currency, like sex and certain visionary substances, makes much more sense in the experience than in the logical explanation.  Check out smallisbeautiful.org and www.berkshares.org for words on this from those who are experienced.

Meanwhile, here and now in Nashville, Rick and Susan are looking for fifty people and five stores–a small beginning, indeed, for the task that “The Fellowship of the Commons” has set out to achieve is every bit as daunting in its own, real-life way as the mission of the “Fellowship of the Ring” whose name it strangely echoes.   But I think it is important to  start small at the same time as we aim high, because small is the sane way to start–you and me, one on one–we have had too much “bigness” in our culture, and we  are all poorer and more alienated for it.  If you want to keep up with–and join in–this effort here in Nashville, check out http://fellowshipofthecommons.org/ I can tell you right now that the next meeting is at Richland Library, on Charlotte Ave., Tuesday Sept. 15 from 6 to 8 PM.  The next economy won’t come into existence without you and me making it happen.  Here’s a place to start.

music:  John Lennon, “Power to the People”

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3 responses

13 09 2009
Mark Herpel

That Common Good Bank is a great idea. I’d like to hear more about the integration of the bank with a local currency. That has a bright future.

Mark
editor@ccmag.net
http://www.twitter.com/dgcmagazine

30 09 2009
sirensongs

Hi dear, just checking in. I share your concern with the current fascination with “bigness.” Takes away from us all.

8 10 2009
GrundyGreen

Martin,

I would really like to have a speaker on this in the Chattanooga area.

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