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The End of Money?
National and personal debt levels, however, are not the only things driving us closer to the edge. We are now at the point that it makes more financial sense to try to buck the system rather than play by the rules. We see people at both the top and the bottom of the wealth scale bucking the system and facing minimal punishment. The benefits of bucking the system, by the way, are massive. From avoiding tax fees by hiding money in overseas bank accounts to collecting various forms of government assistance by claiming to be poorer than you are, people are making the system work for them. Of course not every wealthy person has an overseas bank account or is involved in insider trading...nor is every person that is receiving government assistance working under the table, but there is a fair amount of fraud out there. You may recall the lawsuit against HSBC where bank managers agreed to pay a fine of $1.6 Billion for money laundering charges. According to The New York Times, "State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system."
On the other end of the spectrum things look just as dire. A study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve that was cited by NBC News informs us that unemployment fraud in 2011 alone cost American taxpayers an estimated $3.3 Billion. Fraud, however, is not the only issue. In the same way that the government chose not to seek criminal charges against the managers of HSBC, the present system pays people more to be on welfare than to work at a minimum-wage job according to a Cato Institute study.
Few argue that the current system is working properly, but just as few can agree on what to do about it. The wealthy focus on the fraud and waste of the poor and the poor focus on the fraud and waste of the wealthy...and little changes. What I dislike about the current conditions is that some people are made to feel that they need to put their values aside in order to survive, no matter how wealthy they are. The problem with people putting money before values is that it encourages the same behavior from the very poor and extremely wealthy and results in devastating atrocities committed against our neighbors and against the environment.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the use of money in the management of natural resources leads to tremendous amounts of waste (for more on this, see http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-3-resources.html).
Options for Moving ForwardAlthough numerous people in the US and around the globe are in debt and are struggling, few take time to consider a way out. This could be because they simply do not have time to think about anything except working and surviving.
One option is to abandon money altogether. It is difficult for us to imagine the entire globe abandoning the use of money without everything turning chaotic. Right now, money is basically the only thing that virtually everyone in the world values. Some feel a sense of moral obligation, others value their freedom...but the common currency that keeps everything out of a state of upheaval is money. Thus money has become equated with each individual's standard of living and even survival, and to abandon money without everyone in the world agreeing to a substitute common currency could very well lead to chaos.
Considering the entire globe abandoning money is complex, but we can think about what it would be like for a single person to do so (moving off the grid) because we have heard of people being successful with it. If an individual is considering abandoning the use of money altogether, the main problem she will face is a lack of convenience, but if not addressed, that lack of convenience could threaten her survival. Money gives us the convenience of exchanging our hours of labor for the things we need to survive as well as the things we want to have to be happy. These begin with food, shelter and clothing and move into the more extravagant stuff. Without money, each individual needs to hunt her own food, build and maintain her own shelter, and gather materials for her own clothing and make it by hand. She has the option of working with a partner or in a group where these tasks are shared so she can spend her time doing other chores that are considered a worthy exchange for the tasks performed by other members in the group, but nonetheless, the tasks she will need to perform are probably more geared toward survival of the group rather than recreation. And without some means of acquiring a new computer every few years, having electricity to run it, and having internet service, just surfing the internet (a common pastime in the US), would be out of reach for her. As stated, some people have elected to move off the grid and have been successful with it, but it does not seem to be something for the faint of heart. You have to be into it and you have to be comfortable that one day something could happen where just a few dollars would spare you a lot of drama or might even save your life.
Engaging Differently to Realize the Power You HaveThe next option is to continue engaging in the global economy but to do it differently than we have been doing in the past. Some predict that the global economy might someday crash, but for now if we choose to stay on the grid, we need to deal with the problems of money. To begin, we recognize that money is power. So the manner in which each person spends a dollar she has in her pocket has a significant impact on the world. For example, if she spends that dollar on an ice cream cone, it has a very different impact than if she invests it in Big Oil. In the first instance, the dollar will probably go toward maintaining the cows on a farm and in the second instance her dollar will probably go toward drilling for more oil. This is not to say that maintaining cows is necessarily any more virtuous than drilling for oil, but rather that the money is simply invested in very different ways. The question of "Which investment is better?" depends on a person's values.
If you are continuing to engage in the global economy, you will want to unleash your power (which has nothing to do with building wealth). You unleash your power by avoiding spending money on things you do not absolutely need. In this way you avoid having to give up more of your precious time on the planet working just to pay for superfluous things. You also will want to avoid acquiring debt because with debt comes payments toward interest. If paying for superfluous things is a waste, paying the interest on the debt you acquired because of purchases of those things is definitely a waste. Thus we recognize the second source of a person's power: education. With the proper education, an individual is able to avoid falling into traps like monetary debt
The reader will note that the stress on education being critical to ensuring sustainability contradicts some schools of thought. The Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit, put forth by Rosalyn McKeown for the purpose of advancing sustainable development in the US, for example, suggests that "...more education increases the threat to sustainability." This is based on research that claims better-educated folks, who tend to have higher incomes, often consume more resources than poorly-educated folks, who tend to have lower incomes. Of course that assumes that the people with the higher level of education truly are better-educated when it comes to surviving and being happy. Statistics show, however, that happiness does not increase linearly with wealth. At a certain level of wealth, people are comfortable and any wealth over and above that seems to make little (if any) contribution to overall happiness. If the better-educated folks realized this fact, maybe they would also realize that increasing their level of consumption does not bring happiness and instead would unleash the power of their wealth in ways that do bring happiness (like spending it in ways that help educate others). For more on sustainable development and management of natural resources, see http://practicalmanifestations1.blogspot.com/2013/04/fundamentals-part-3-resources.html).
Next step: Develop a plan of action
Links to the Overview and Parts 1 through 9 of the Series
5. Spirituality+Philosophy (Under Construction)
6. Education (Under Construction)
7. Communication (Under Construction)
9. Vision for the Future (Under Construction)