7.6 The AhimsaCoin Economy


Just as the Khadi movement was a necessary first step on the road to Indian independence in the 20th century, so is the Vegan movement also just a necessary first step on the road to global sustainability in the 21st century. Veganism only addresses the cultural propagation of systemic violence, but not the structural aspects of such violence. It is not just the types of foods, clothes and shoes we consume that need to change, but our entire consumer culture needs to change on our road to sustainability. As the economist, Charles Eisenstein, has pointed out, when we dig deeper into the ascendance of the consumer culture in our industrial societies, we see the central role of money, specifically our debt-based monetary system and the competition for profits, at the root of it[82]. It is the centrally controlled, debt-based monetary system that necessitates a hierarchical organization of our socioeconomic system. In our current system, we issue currency for debt, but never issue currency for interest on the debt, with the result that borrowers have to compete with each other to acquire the currency for paying back the interest on the debts. Alternately, the economy has to continuously grow in order to grease the flow of currency back to the lenders who truly occupy the top positions on the totem pole. There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the House of Rothschilds[83],

"Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes its laws."

Such is the concentration of power afforded by the central control of money. Over time, the Rothschild progeny and a few others have indeed managed to wrest control of the world's monetary systems. The Georgetown historian, Carroll Quigley, described their plan in 1966[84],

"The powers of financial capitalism had a far reaching plan, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole… Their secret is that they have annexed from governments, monarchies, and republics the power to create the world's money."

As the economist, Thomas Greco, Jr., explained[85],

"The entire machinery of money and banking has been contrived to centralize power and concentrate wealth… Money is undemocratic as it concentrates power in the hands of a few unelected people who are unresponsive to the needs of the people."

Such centralized control of the monetary system was perfect for the Caterpillar phase as it led to the rapid development of the world's military capabilities over the past century. But it is reaching the end of its usefulness. Now, some respected thinkers have claimed that we can address the ills in the hierarchical socioeconomic system by wresting broad democratic control over private capital, through government intervention. The journalist, syndicated columnist and author, Naomi Klein, described what such an intervention would entail[86]:

"Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative."

Russell Brand, the comedian and philosopher had a similar prescription as well[87]:

"A socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron says profit isn't a dirty word. I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit, there is also deficit."

Naturally, conservatives are truly repelled by this prospect of a "new world order" and "government takeover" of the socioeconomic system, leading to the current impasse[88]. Besides, such a response still leaves a central, debt-based monetary system intact, which fundamentally fosters a hierarchical socioeconomic system, dependent on competition and economic growth. As long as our socioeconomic system is hierarchical, we would need selection mechanisms to determine who gets to be on top and who languishes at the bottom, which fosters violence, injustice and inequality. Even if we manage to eliminate all vestiges of racism, sexism, heterosexism, speciesism, ableism, ageism, etc., and restore historical inequities for all oppressed groups, we would still need to select for privileges, perhaps on the basis of merit and competition. That would still result in a system of artificial scarcity, wage slavery, debt slavery and structural violence, just to name a few nasty by-products of a centrally controlled, debt-based monetary system.

When leading thinkers like Naomi Klein argue that capitalism is the problem, they automatically seem to assume that socialism is the solution. But socialism failed badly in the Soviet Union. If the option is between government owned means of production as opposed to the private owned means of production, then the evidence accumulated over the past two hundred years shows that the private control is actually more efficient at allocating the planet’s precious resources. Therefore, capitalism is preferable to central planning and rank socialism, but that capitalism needs to be “saved” once again.

Imagine that we can devise an alternate, distributed monetary system, in which basic equality and environmental sustainability are designed in, from the ground up. After all, why should money be centrally sourced? Money is just an accounting tool for trading things of value and those things of value are distributed among all of us to begin with. As the economist Mike Maloney described it[89],

"Your true wealth is your time and freedom. Money is just a tool for trading your time. It is a container to store your economic energy until you're ready to deploy it."

Therefore, it doesn't make any sense for money to be centrally sourced, especially in this Bitcoin Blockchain era[90]. Bitcoin is a digital payment system invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published the invention in 2008 and released it as open-source software in 2009. The system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without a trusted intermediary, such as a Bank. The unit of currency in the system is a “bitcoin,” which is a virtual currency that can be exchanged for money in the current socioeconomic system at prevailing exchange rates, if need be.

The Blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin has demonstrated that banking can be accomplished reliably in a distributed fashion, using the power of millions of computers on the Internet to achieve the same level of trust, if not greater trust, than that provided by large, centralized banks. While the Bitcoin implementation of the blockchain technology uses a central allocation of currency and is not concerned with equality, it is easy to modify the Bitcoin implementation to accomplish our twin objectives of environmental sustainability and basic equality. Money is also a demand on the Earth's resources and therefore, we can assure environmental sustainability if our alternate currency is issued in the form of ecological credits, measured in terms of a global ecological footprint. Producers who use natural resources would be required to retire an appropriate number of ecological credits in order to ensure that human impact on the planet never exceeds a suitable fraction of the biological capacity of the planet. Prof. E. O. Wilson, has recommended that at least half the land area of the planet should be reserved for wildlife and natural ecosystems and these wildlife reserves should be contiguous from North to South to allow for ecosystem migration as the Earth's climate changes in the future[91]. It's easy to build in such a constraint on the issuance of ecological credits so that our total human impact on the planet never exceeds acceptable limits. It’s also easy to close the loop in such a system since we have satellite technology already deployed that can verify compliance of the human footprint on the planet with the accounting in the system.
In addition, since our objective is to transition to a sustainable, nonviolent society, it is important to build in a measure of basic equality in our alternate currency since equality is closely related to the structural violence in society. As James Gilligan, the former director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School said[92],

"If there is one principle I could emphasize that is the most important principle underlying the prevention of violence, it would be equality. The single most significant factor that influences violence is the degree of equality vs the degree of inequality in that society."

If people are treated equally by the monetary system from the outset, then that mitigates poverty at its roots. As Gandhi rightly observed, poverty is the worst form of violence. Besides, the pyschosocial stress of inequality has public health consequences. People get sick when they feel poor, even if they are materially richer than some of the richest people who lived just a century ago[93].

One such distributed monetary system can be conceived in the form of “AhimsaCoin”. AhimsaCoin would be similar to Bitcoin, but with authenticated members automatically receiving one AhimsaCoin every 50 minutes into their account during their lifetime. The authentication could be any form of unique identification technology that minimizes the probability of ghosts sucking up the ecological footprint on behalf of unscrupulous users. Think of AhimsaCoins as the space travel rewards bestowed upon each human passenger on spaceship Earth, which is then traded for real goods and services.

Each AhimsaCoin entitles the owner to the productivity of 1 square meter of the Earth's surface for one year so that humanity’s global ecological footprint does not exceed half the Earth[94]. As the human population on Earth increases, the frequency of AhimsaCoin issuance will decrease to 1 every 51 minutes, 1 every 52 minutes, and so on, so that there is feedback built into the system to encourage human population stabilization. Also, the frequency of AhimsaCoin issuance should, perhaps, never increase over time so that there would never be an incentive for drastic population reduction either. AhimsaCoins would be retired by producers who extract resources from the Earth, as if they were ecological credits. Private enterprises would raise capital by issuing stock and collecting a sufficient number of AhimsaCoins for their stated purpose.

Capitalism in the AhimsaCoin system would work in much the same way, as we know now, but without credits. Since the total footprint of human activities on Earth would be constrained, economic development would occur only through true productivity improvements and innovation. Besides, since every human being would have ready access to AhimsaCoins sufficient to meet his/her basic needs, it would be impossible for exploitative enterprises to flourish in such an economy. People would do something only if they are truly inspired by the work, while routine work would need to be automated by the private enterprises. Indeed, corporations that inspire workers in the AhimsaCoin economy would be transparent, open-source, cooperative enterprises. This would naturally foster a gift economy where volunteerism flourishes. Those who earn extra AhimsaCoins by serving their fellow humans voluntarily would truly be celebrated. Those who hoard AhimsaCoins would be viewed as heroes since they would actually be reducing the overall human footprint on the planet! Cradle-to-cradle enterprises would have an advantage, as they would need less AhimsaCoin capital to operate. Finally, a distributed monetary system like AhimsaCoin would be perfectly matched with the distributed energy, communications and food systems of the future. The fact that AhimsaCoin codifies basic human equality and thus dignity, along with environmental sustainability, right from the outset, would just be an added bonus!

We are at a socioeconomic crossroads that reminds me of the dilemma facing the 90s era Internet community as we were deciding between a hierarchical communications system architecture for the Internet (ATM) vs. a non-hierarchical, distributed architecture (Ethernet)[95]. Despite grave misgivings expressed by the telecommunications specialists of those days that a distributed, non-hierarchical architecture would be unreliable, the Internet has turned out to be remarkably robust and stable even as it grew exponentially. Perhaps, our Internet experience would serve as a springboard for the adoption of a non-hierarchical, distributed currency system like AhimsaCoin, as we look towards our Butterfly future.

[82] http://sacred-economics.com/

[83] See discussion in http://bit.ly/257PeIE

[84] Quigley, Carroll, Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, GSG and Associates, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0945001102, http://amzn.to/1zot71w

[85] Quote taken from Thomas Greco’s presentation, “Money, Power, Democracy and War,” http://slideplayer.com/slide/8007644/

[86] Quote taken from article:  http://www.thenation.com/article/capitalism-vs-climate/

[87] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk

[88]  Here’s a reasoned criticism of Klein’s position: http://bit.ly/1TqyZ1Y

[89] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyV0OfU3-FU

[90] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin

[91] Please see E. O. Wilson, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, Liveright, March 2016, ISBN-13: 978-1631490828. http://amzn.to/1Rfrzwb

[92] Quote is taken from http://www.zeitgeistmovingforward.com/

[93] See, e.g., http://inequality.org/inequality-health/

[94] This assumes a world population of 7.4 billion people and a planetary capacity of 15 Billion global hectares.

[95] A detailed comparison can be found here: http://bit.ly/1XoPQH8