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The Non-Monetary Economy

Road to Resilience

As you now read this, the fate of our monetary economy will be known, but as I write this on Monday morning, I am still in suspense. As important as that is, I’d like to remind you that there is much more than money that keeps our society healthy and functioning. In previous articles, we’ve touched on aspects of the non-monetary economy, such as the commons, barter/alternative currencies, and community building. Recently, I found a great article on this topic by Edgar S. Cahn, which you can read here:

I highly recommend that you read it, but here are some highlights:

• Various studies around the world equate household labor to ¼ to ½ of the GDP of any given country. In developing countries, where … more of women’s work is unpaid, the percentage is even higher.

• “… 80% of the labor that keeps seniors out of nursing homes, and the government’s Medicare and Medicaid expenditures within bounds, is unpaid labor provided by family and friends.”

• A 2001 study found that 83.9 million Americans volunteer roughly $239 billion in unpaid work. This doesn’t include children and adolescents who also volunteer.

• Studies in poor inner city neighborhoods have found that “collective efficacy” is by far the greatest determinant of crime. “Collective efficacy stems from a shared vision, a shared willingness of residents to intervene, and social trust, a sense of engagement and ownership of public space. … Whether we call it “collective efficacy” or “social capital,” there is a non-monetary infrastructure of trust, reciprocity, and civic engagement that is just as real as the sewers, water lines and electric lines that can be measured in dollar terms.”

• “When economists measure productive capacity of the workforce, … only paid work is ‘real’ work. We must draw a new map that includes what … has [been] dubbed the Core Economy, which encompasses family, neighborhood and community.”

• “In the market economy, specialization (or division of labor) reinforced by self-interest is the dominant principle. In the core economy, specialization is replaced by a combination of “do it yourself” that builds self-esteem and a voluntary interdependence that replaces the involuntary dependence that comes with industrial and market specialization. The relevant unit for attaining self-sufficiency is not the atomized individual. It is the family, the neighborhood, the village. Interdependence is a quintessential element of self-sufficiency. There is task differentiation, but nothing approaching what the market does. Specialists are a last resort.”

• “Economists preoccupied only with the state of the market economy … are neglecting the state of the operating system—family, neighborhood, and community. That means that the policies they recommend fail to examine the implications of whether that operating system is reliably performing basic functions such as transmitting values, rearing children, providing support, maintaining safety, generating consensus, preserving memories, sharing limited resources, building trust." In other words, if we are not building community, the chances of success for the market economy are slim.

Another huge part of the non-monetary economy, or, perhaps, I should say the context in which our puny economies exist, is nature. By this I mean the services that nature provides to us for free, such as clean air, clean water, heat, light, growing media (soil and water), the ability to act (bodies), recycling, and resources of all kinds. In an act of intellectual fancy, someone has put a dollar figure on the more tangible of these services: 22 trillion dollars/year globally. I know we all get a little light headed when we start dealing in trillions, but suffice it to say that it is way more than we can possibly afford. So tell me again why it is we want to control nature and subject it to market forces?

To my mind, our real problem is not the size of the national debt. It is that we have lost our way. We have championed individualism and personal wealth over community interdependence, equality, and general welfare. We have lost sight of the abundance, which has been freely given to us, and the appropriate frame of gratitude and respect with which we should relate at all times to our natural world, and to each other. Until we learn to share not only our wealth, but also our hopes and dreams, we will never engage the will to solve our problems.

The “We All Belong” people have the right idea; I recommend attending their movies at Ober Park: Aug 13, 2:30-4:30, Deep Down, a movie about mountain top removal and the effect on communities, and Aug 14, 3:30-5:30, The Calling, a movie about 4 youths thinking about joining the clergy asks the question, “How can we best serve society?” Discussion after both. Potluck after the Sunday movie.

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