Mark Boyle outside
Photograph: Mark Boyle
Money - this tool we currently use to oil the wheels of local, national and global exchange - has many inevitably destructive consequences. One of these consequences stands out above the rest - not only because of its critical role in creating the ecological mess we're finally starting to fully understand - but because of how misunderstood and overwhelmingly miscalculated it is. This consequence: money keeps us separated.
Not just from the people in our local community, but from the destructive repercussions that the stuff we mindlessly consume has on everything involved in its supply chain. Which is great news for the global marketeers, such as many of the major apparel corporations, who rely on their sub-contracted Haitian workers (who get paid an hourly wage we wouldn't bother to pick up off the ground) never meeting the end consumer who pays $100+ for the shoe that took them minutes to make. And vice versa.
But when we know something, can we really unknow it? And if we can't, how can we just keep turning a blind eye? Buying 'green' or 'ethical' (whatever they actually mean, given that no one can actually give a standardised definition) is not sufficient enough anymore. The very act of buying is the problem. It means we're consuming something that we had almost zero relationship with; not with the earth that supplied the materials, or with the person who made it. Until the degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed are no more than one degree, symptoms such as climate change, peak oil and deforestation are simply inevitable.
Trying to endlessly buy our way to sustainability is as ridiculous as trying to shag our way to virginity.
Just in case you aren't aware of some of the symptoms of our total disconnection from what we consume are today, here is a flavour:
We're using over 85,000,000 barrels of oil
EVERY DAY (2006/2007 figures). That's the equivalent of 22,000,000,000 (yes, 22 billion) slaves, working 40hrs a week, to maintain this fantasy society, this temporary illusion of a functioning economic model. The effects of this on our biosphere, our obesity levels (40% of school children in US are obese), the rate at which we conquer the few remaining natural ecosystems left etc. are simply staggering.
We are destroying our rainforests now at the rate of over 1 hectare per second. That's 150 acres per minute. 216,000 acres per day (an area the size of New York). 78,000,000 acres per year (an area the size of Poland, roughly).
When you consider that 50% of all species on the earth (yes folks, contrary to what our current culture and religious institutions would have us believe, the universe/earth wasn't created solely for our pleasure and God isn't a white male human!) live in tropical rainforests, you get a fuller understanding of the effects of the devastation we're inflicting on millions of years of evolution of life on this planet. All so that we can take more than we need.
The global economic model we persist with is complicit in the murder of 1 child every 3 seconds from starvation alone. When you consider that this happens at a fossil-fuelled time of abundance in human history, when the free-market economics of the the UK throws out 33% of all food produced (US - over 50%), it's makes me feel incredibly angry. How do you feel about it? Angry? Sad? And can you transform that emotion into positive action?
This criminal discrepancy can't be interfered with, however, as to do so would be to mess with free-market economics. However, when the banks need us to bail them out, then apparently our politicians and economists are more than happy for us to interfere with the market.
An estimated 1.2 million Iraqi people have been killed in 'Operation Iraqi Freedom', with countless others suffering horrific injuries. Why? A complex set of reasons, but three stand out:
a. Resources - we want cheap oil so we can have cheap everything else. Iraq has plenty of it.
b. Political positioning in Middle East - which again, like everything else, comes down to the economy. If security really is your main concern, bombing people doesn't make you safer. As Michael Franti once said, "you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace"
c. Deconstruction means reconstruction. And do you know who gets the contracts? That's right, the victors, and Halliburton in particular. If that corporation means nothing to you, Bush's former vice president Dick Cheney was their CEO
and still works for them.
In the US alone, 19,000 factory farmed animals
are killed every single minute. Multiple that worldwide, and you see the scale of the atrocities (socially and culturally accepted as they are). 776,000,000 animals
(check the astonishing counter here
) were killed - in conditions on a par with Auschwitz - in the US in this month alone. And this is just the confirmed murder count.
6. £1 out of every £8
spent on all retail in the UK goes to Tesco
(this occurred at a time when their Chief Executive, Terry Leahy was one of Blair and Brown's chief advisors). That's 12.5% spent on everything - food, clothes, appliances, gadgets, the lot. The other 87.5% is now almost entirely soaked up by the other corporate giants: IKEA, Asda/Walmart, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Marks and Spencers, HMV, Morrisons, John Lewis, The Coop, Dixons and Argos just to name a few.
I don't think you need me to outline the effect a small number of incredibly powerful corporations has on growers (food, cotton etc), local communities and how we actually perceive the world, which they control through tools such as advertising and branding.
Free-market economics is nothing of the sort, even economists recognise that, hence they introduced competition law. Because if they didn't, the logical conclusion would be that in time, the rich would get richer to the point where one corporation owned everything. Yes, everything. That is the true nature of a capitalist system if left uncontrolled. To ease some of the horrors of this system, they introduced these laws, which in effect create oligopoly's which in reality just give the illusion of choice. Thousands of types of ready meals to chose from, yet only two or three political parties.
On the same note, here are some sobering thoughts (according to the UN):
The richest 1%
own 40% of the world's assets. The richest 2% own 49% of the world's assets. The richest 10% own 85% of the world's assets. Lets rephrase that, and see how it looks:
90% of the world's population (i.e. the poorest) own only 15% of the assets.
If you like to pay lip-service to politically correct words such as equality, it is essential to understand that equality can never occur in this economic model. Class systems need to be maintained within nations and between nations. If they weren't, the effect on inflation would mean the rich were no longer rich, and who they hell would go to the factories that make our stuff if we were all rich?
Please stop paying lip-service about equality if you continue to reinforce an economic model that can only serve to make inequality more extreme. It is a model in which, by its nature, the poor can only get poorer, and the rich...
are just a tiny selection, a glimpse at a world where millions of years of evolution are being wiped out by humanity; 50,000 species a year, and that's just the ones we know about.
So do we now say 'Not in my name anymore', or do we continue content in the knowledge we're doing our bit
We say we don't want these things, yet how many of us are prepared to change our lives enough to end the complicity, and to actively work towards a new localised economic model, where friendships and knowledge of the local economy come to replace this inadequate tool - money - as our primary source of security again.
This economic model can never be equal, truly sustainable or just, by its very nature. It can be improved a little bit, but that's about as good as it will get folks.
The Question is: What are you going to do about? Continue with Business as Usual? Or dare to imagine something completely different, and be the change you want to see.
I guess I'm asking if you want the blue pill, or the red pill? If the latter, drop me a line. If the former, stop reading and get back to work, your economy needs you.
THE FREECONOMY BLOG is written by Mark Boyle, who has been living for the last two years without money, and is the founder of the Freeconomy Community. He is the author of The Moneyless Man.
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