Questions pertain to the first four chapters, which form part I of the book. Pick one or two that resonate with you, or come up with your own questions and ideas.
Take your time to study these chapters. A short summary of each will be posted the next weeks.
From the study guide:
CHAPTER 1 “Looking Upstream,” spells out what it means to treat causes rather than symptoms and why restructuring the economy’s most powerful institutions is essential.
CHAPTER 2 “Modern Alchemists and the Sport of Moneymaking,” looks at the reality behind Wall Street’s illusions and the variety of its methods for making money without the exertion of creating anything of real value in return.
CHAPTER 3“A Real-Market Alternative,” contrasts the Wall Street and Main Street economies and puts to rest the fallacy that the only alternative to rule by Wall Street capitalists is rule by communist bureaucrats.
CHAPTER 4“More Than Tinkering at the Margins,” spells out why the “adjustment at the margins” approach favored by establishment interests cannot stabilize the economy, reduce economic inequality, or prevent environmental collapse.
1. What did you ﬁ nd particularly compelling or provocative about these chapters of Agenda?
2. What is the difference between treating the symptoms and addressing the root causes?
How can root causes be addressed while in the midst of the crisis?
3. What effects of the ongoing economic crisis have you observed in your community – for local government, businesses, schools, etc.?
4. What is the relationship between the environmental and social crises/issues making the headlines today and the economic system?
5. How have the credit, mortgage, and/or investment crises touched you and your circle of friends and family? How have your personal decisions and approaches to ﬁnances, debt, and consumption changed?
6. When and how was your deﬁnition and experience of “capitalism” formed, and how has it changed, if at all, since the beginning of the economic collapse in 2008?
7. Table 3.1 (Page 51 of Agenda) contrasts the differences between Wall Street capitalism and a Main Street market economy. What, if anything, is appealing about the Wall Street approach and what would be difﬁcult to let go? What is most appealing about Main Street markets? To which elements would you give highest priority for major transformation?
8. In what ways do you directly or indirectly rely on Wall Street? In what ways do these connections create contradictions in your value system? What can you do to reduce your dependence on Wall Street?
9. How do you respond to the position that regulation of the free market is an infringement on individual liberty?
10. How should the “public interest” or the “common good” get factored into decisions regarding ﬁnancial/market policies and regulations?
11. Besides GDP, what indicators or indices are used in the mainstream media to portray the “health” or strength of the economy? What alternative measurements would reﬂect the true health of people and the planet?
"In a true market system, democratically accountable governments provide an appropriate framework of rules within which people, communities, entrepreneurs, and responsible investors self-organize in predominantly local markets to meet their economic needs in socially and environmentally responsible ways. (Agenda, Page 52)".
In many countries, people are now experimenting with Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS). That is a very good example of how money (local money!) is used as a means of exchange of value (services and products). There is no interest on the local currency, certainly not compound interest, which latter is dependent on the assumption of endless growth of economic production and consumption. Infinite growth, of course, is an impossibility in reality, and never occurs in ecosystems, of which humanity is a part too.
There never is a shortage of money in LETSystems, since value, expressed in local currency units, is created by the very act of a transaction (a good sold or a service rendered). Money has only transaction value in these systems, not storage value as common in our global systems of money making. Local money benefits the local community, instead of making already rich people even richer. It offers opportunities for local people to partake in economic activities, instead of being forced out of business, getting sacked, and doomed to poverty as we see happening all around us.
I have just completed watching the three videos and reading up chapter 1. I want to understand why wall street is singled out for as the root cause of every global crisis. The estimate for the size of the entire world economy is estimated be to be approximately 63 trillion US$. Out of which US contribution (wall street included presumably) is close to 15 trillion. Few countries like China and Russia will account for over 10% of this wealth and perhaps not be influenced by Wall Street machinations, particularly in regard to phantom (my own choice would have been virtual) wealth. So, how the people in these countries are facing similar problems? The total market capitalization of Shanghai Stock Exchange is about 24 billion US$, yet similar symptoms are evidenced in china too. So, where is the problem? In the capital market system, in the concept of debt for financing the growth or the political structure?
I hope in the chapters ahead some of these questions will be answered.
Anand, later chapters deal with some of your questions. As to Wall Street: this is paradigmatic (a model or example) for much what happens elsewhere. The financial institutions over there have been very creative in inventing new financial products and selling these to the world. London City has been creative too, it seems..The whole world is connected in or through a maze of dubious products.
As for China and Russia, I have been reading reports on these countries that are worrisome. Speculation is rampant there too, with bubbles in real estate, especially in China. Food quality in China seems to be horrible (food scandals, without the government doing anything about it) and the middle class is ever more trying to get hold on fresh food from trusted sources. The quality of new buildings seems to become worse. In Russia, millions of well educated people want to emigrate. They see no prospect in their own country.
In Europe, the euro is on the brink of collapse. Next month will be vital.
Also, consider that the US dollar is the world reserve currency. The USA can get away with much of what they are doing because of that fact. The crisis we are facing is not only financial, but a moral (and political) one too. I can go on and on, but it is best when all members of this group do their own research and come up with discussion material. My main focus will be on how to change things for the better.
Just completed reading up Chapter 2 'Modern Alchemists..' some amazing insights are provided in this chapter like 'money growing faster in the bank deposits than trees'. Those involved in creation of phantom wealth do think differently. Two questions did come up in the mind though.
1. When Korten claims that money is created out of nothing by just making two simple entries of credit and debit in the account books of the bank, does he take into account that the bank will have to have that money in some other account in the first place before making that entry into the borrower's account. So, at least another entry of debit is required in another account. For example, can a bank with zero balance in its books, lend any money to anyone? And, if a bank can do it, why can't I? Lending money on the basis of artificially inflated value of the assets any bank holds is another matter. But it can't be as simple as Korten makes it out to be.
2. In the chain of lending where banks are only collecting commission for signing up borrowers, there has to be someone at the end with all the risk. Which is this entity?
I know of this practice for a fact because in India we have an entity called National Housing Bank. They lend money to all other banks to sell housing loans. The banks charge 2% commission and sell it to their customers. The National Housing Bank insures the risk, the lending bank insures the risk and then they require the customer to pay for another insurance in case of default. So, whoever is insuring this is making a lot of money covering the same risk mutiple times.
However, my suspicion keeps getting stronger that it is the concept of debt within the capitalist economy which is at the root of all the problems.
These are good questions, Anand. As to no. 1: a bank needs some savings from their customers to begin with. Then it can lend money, on the basis of these savings, on a 1:10 ratio, if i recall correctly. They can lend much more than they have as savings. This is called leverage. So, they can indeed create money as Korten says. There is much more to this, like the role of the FED, the role of interest and how that plays out in lending even more money to customers. There are some instructive videos on the internet explaining all this. If I ever find these again, I'll make a link to these.
As to no. 2: this is explained in a later chapter (have to go through the book to find it, it's in the first half): as in the case of subprime loans, these were sliced, repackaged, securitized (I believe that is the term) and then sold as AAA rated products all over the world. So, the risk has been spread all over.
As to debt: I have written about that in the pages (debt for investment is ok, debt for consumption not ok). The fact that compound interest comes into play has been explained by me too: this presupposes infinite growth, which is impossible. One gets another perspective on debt when one sees it as the counterpart to a service rendered or product sold: in a transaction these are two sides of the same coin, so to speak. In LETS systems this is abundantly clear and poses no problem. As long as there are limits to both credit and debit there is no problem. One has to give and has to take, so to speak. That is the basis of sound business.
David Korten also mentions that a government of a country could, in principle, decide to issue all of the debt-free money that it wants. There is a risk of inflation that goes with this. In practice, countries do not seem to be sovereign enough to do this (issue debt-free money). Also, the central banks could lend money to the governments at a (near) zero percentage rate, but they don't. They lend money to banks which in turn lend money to governments by buying bonds at certain interest levels. So, the banks can make large sums of money out of nothing, by the mechanism of interest. The citizens pay the price for this, because governments have to cut their services down ever more and more in these times of austerity. Can it get any crazier than this? It simply isn't sustainable economic practice.
Iceland has bravely refused to pay back its unsustainable debts and got out well of it. Maybe other countries should follow..
Closing down all those independent central banks and installing a new type of central bank that serves a country instead of commercial banks might be an option to consider..
And, lastly, creating tokens or chits (money) presupposes, in a sound economy, that useful services are rendered and products made, instead of speculating on a market (food, houses, etc.).
Michael, I basically agree with you. Money is just an invention, an agreement as to how to exchange products and services and should pose no problem to humanity. When the money got an intrinsic value (gold and silver coins) things changed, I think, because scarcity crept into the system. This actually has been an error in human thinking ever since intrinsic value and exchange value got mixed up.
Besides that, there has been too little discussion here, and elsewhere, on the issue of land and resource use.
Mother Earth gives us land and resources for free. It is a natural capital. Yet we think we can own the land and resources such as oil and water and minerals and speculate with these resources. Humanity lives in total illusion.
You have an enlightened view of economy and the human being. Excellent. There may be some problems though: if a person is not enlightened, and not very healthy and not very skillful, and even for the enlightened person, he or she lives in a society and needs to engage in economic transactions. In the current context that means that you cannot just take land and grow vegetables and live from that. One has to pay for land (rent or ownership). One has to pay for medical bills. And so on. That means one has to have a job. In the current economic system, things do not work out very well for many people. So, some alternative system will be necessary. I pointed to local currencies, time banks, and community building as alternatives in other postings. Another very important point to consider is the size of the world population, their growing demand on resources, and their wish for greater material prosperity. Does the Earth have enough resources for that? What about climate change? And so on. We face multiple crises at the same time: ecological, financial, economical, social and moral. These things need deep consideration and a nationwide and worldwide discussion. We will be forced to rethink our systems, no matter how enlightened we are.
One of the institutions that has done tremendous work in this direction is the Schumacher institute, now called New Economics Institute. The legacy of E.F. Schumacher begins to bear fruit. In India, Great Britain, Third World countries and also in the USA (Berkshares local money for example), and elsewhere.
Thanks for responding to this thread. It concerns the most important question that humanity faces today: what values do we want to express in our daily life, and how can we do that? This goes deeper than Occupy Wall Street.
David Korten puts it quite well in chapter nine: "Greed is not a virtue, sharing not a sin".
I hope that others will participate in this discussion. It has just begun and needs worldwide participation on a massive scale.
Thanks Michael and Martin.
The challenge really, as I see it is not to find an alternative of which there are many. But how to get the people to accept any of those alternative. Who in developed world would like to give up on the fancy gadgets, mansions, cars and all the other accessories of living which money brings.
The question then appears to be political and not of economy. Leaders of most countries perhaps know how to fix the economy. But can they sell that 'fix' to the people?
Prince Siddhartha gave up his kingdom to become Gautama the Buddha. Shortly afterwards Emperor Ashoka embraced frugal living to become The Great Emperor. In recent past Mahatma Gandhi did so. Currently Gandhi's admirer and follower Anna Hazare's life can be examined by anyone. He possesses only two sets of clothing, a cot to sleep and a plate to eat. We all admire him but do we follow him?
What it is that stops us from doing something which we know is the right thing to do yet will not do?