The Four Big Stories In Complementary Economics

Arthur Warmoth, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2005

Marc Pilisuk recently asked me if I thought there might be a documentary film somewhere in complementary currencies. This is part of my answer.

There are actually four big stories in complementary economics, of which complementary currencies are only one. The stories are:

1. Complementary currencies and local/micro banking.

Complementary currencies mainly serve the market sector of the economy. Money as a public utility financed by a service charge deals with the excessive competitiveness of the presentsystem, the ecological destructiveness of near term-focused planning, and the instabilities of the business cycle. (Bernard Lietaer, The Future of Money, 2001; Thomas H. Greco, Jr., Money, 2001.) Microbanking provides access to liquidity for persons usually considered too insignificant for conventional banking to deal with. Credit unions might be an interesting market to approach to implement alternative models of banking.

2. Taxation and public spending.

This and the subsequent stories get into the economics of the commons. The public seems to be forgetting that taxes are actually designed to pay for valuable, often essential, public goods and services. Varying degrees of venality and corruption tend to erode the public's trust that they are getting value for their money. However, in an information economy, the information commons is probably the most valuable asset of all, and it will be the main basis for quality of life in the future. Sufficiently available money--which is made possible by complementary currencies--can lessen some of the temptations for venality and corruption. Information technology and institutional system redesign can greatly reduce the overhead cost of government and offer greater accountability. The governator is moving somewhat in the right direction, but his thinking is hobbled by his commitment to a business-focused ideology that embraces free market-fundamentalism and the outdated notion that 'business creates wealth and government spends it.' David Osborne and Ted Gaebler's Reinventing Government (1992) offered a good recipe for separating the legislative priority setting and the service delivery functions of government that could lead to the realization of these efficiencies, if only legislatures were inclined to reinvent themselves.

3. Ownership

This may actually be the biggest story right now. Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson have recently made big headlines by their abuse of stockholder and employee ownership. But the bigger story is the fact that the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans (including the proposed 'privatization' of social security) is precipitating the crisis predicted by Louis Kelso (that the concentration of the ownership of productive capital is squeezing out jobs as the basis for claims on the output of productive capital) and may lead to the pension fund socialism predicted by Peter Drucker (in The Unseen Revolution, 1976). (Also see Jeff Gates, The Ownership Solution, 1998.) Pension fund managers could become more important than legislators as shapers of public policy in the near future. Investment in 'miracle' technologies and investment in sustainable regional technologies (including social systems, natural capital, etc.) are important areas to study. Co-ops, land trusts, etc. will become increasingly important. New investment institutions taking advantage of the cheap information processing (including cheap accounting) made possible by technology are on the horizon. Philanthropy is in for radical revisioning.

4. Ecopsychology

Along side all of this are the questions of values and ethics than can only be addressed and managed by telling ourselves and one another appropriate stories built around images of sustainability. (The neo-Jungians call this imaginal psychology, and Susanne Langer called it "presentational symbolic forms.") This is the growth industry being explored by the bioneers of the ecopsychology movement.