Money, Scarcity, Interest, and the Web of Wealth

Bernard Lietaer and Stephen Belgin have a fascinating article, In Whose Interest? in the latest issue of Fieldnotes. They examine the nature of interest:

According to Stephen Zarlenga, Director of the American Monetary Institute, “Loans were made in seed grains, animals, and tools to farmers. Since one grain of seed could generate a plant with over 100 new grain seeds, after the harvest farmers could easily repay the grain with ‘interest’ in grain.” However, what will an ounce of silver give rise to? Once interest was applied to money, debate and confusion arose that has continued to this very day. One of the central issues of this debate was how much interest should be applied.

Two observations arise from this. First, the conventional interest meme values scarcity: when money enters the system, there is only so much of it, and the interest due on repayment of the money needs to come from the existing money pool, which means that it becomes scarcer in one part so that it can be more plentiful in another. A graph of distribution of net interest transfers across ten income categories in Germany makes this visible.

There’s a net transfer of interest from the poor and middle classes to the wealthiest income brackets, and “This transfer of wealth occurs independently of the cleverness or industriousness of the participants—a classical argument presented to justify differences in income.”

Elsewhere Lietaer has noted that money is not value neutral – it has profound effects on society. The flip side of that is that money has enormous leverage for social change – but this is rarely understood or taken advantage of.

The second observation is that on the web, giving or sharing information does not remove it from the giver. Tina Turner once said that she did not like computer music tools because all computers are good at is copying. How profoundly true! So an item on the web is like that seed that can give rise to more seeds, and not just not disappear but, to the extent that it stays connected to its children, be enriched by the info ecosystem, web mycelium, that is generated. This is close to Buckminster Fuller‘s definition of wealth as forward days of survival. I don’t fully grok this, but re-visioning and re-implementing money’s mediation of wealth seems to be part of our exploration of web society.

This entry was posted in Techné, This Dew-Drop Bardo and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *