Freedom Is a Community-Based Economy

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by Charles Hugh-Smith

We assume the existing hyper-structures of our centralized state-cartel economies will deliver us jobs, happiness, wealth, health and financial security. They will not.

Correspondent Simon H.’s insightful essay is not just a critique of our current centralized economies but an outline of a community-based alternative economy that offers freedom instead of dependence. Though his examples are drawn from the U.K., the dynamics are the same in America and other advanced state-cartel economies.

Here is his essay.

Freedom as infrastructural independence from existing institutionsWhy is it so hard to be productive and useful? To be productive and useful in our contemporary societies involves having a ‘job’ and being paid wages in a fiat currency and paying taxes on them. To be either economically or socially productive means that one has to enter into contracts and obligations demanded by our existing infrastructures and institutions.

Looking at the very high levels of under and unemployment throughout Europe and the US some might say that the system is not working.

One can come up with a far more radical hypothesis on this point when one makes the assumption that the system does not care if you or even it are productive or not. It simply needs you to be dependent upon it and the matrix of its infrastructures, institutions and bureaucracies. Indeed the more people the system can make entirely dependent upon it, the more secure that system becomes as those dependents will seldom bite the political and bureaucratic hands that are feeding and ‘enabling’ them in very limited terms.

In the UK, if one is in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance, the system is constructed to compel you to be as unproductive as possible. In order to receive the allowance you cannot work in a voluntary capacity as you have to be permanently available for paid work if it should ever materialize, nor can you easily ease into self-employment in a piecemeal or transitionary way. Only very limited, authorized forms of training are available and one certainly couldn’t devise one’s own training programme to learn computer programming or any other useful self taught skills or even set oneself a programme for studying one’s own degree.

To be independent, self-reliant and self-educating is systemically unacceptable and this forces us into systemic dependency upon the hyper-structures of educational and training institutions and the bureaucracy or cartel that manage their accreditations to suggest to a potential employer that we might have achieved something worthwhile.

Welfare payments are only payable providing all your time is spent making a stipulated amount of job applications and the rest of the time you must be as unproductive as possible. Ideally you will sit morosely isolated in a cold room contemplating the existential misery of your hopeless situation. It will pay you benefits but it expects to extract the maximum amount of misery in return by making you socially useless and as parasitic and systemically meaningless as possible.

Essentially the system maintains an elevated level of difficulty to becoming productive or useful as being self-employed or acting as an entrepreneur. It places far too many barriers, legal requirements and obstacles in the way to stop people from becoming productive and useful on their own terms. The distinctions in our societies between being a private citizen and a businessman or trader is systemically constructed and the gulf between them is far too difficult for the majority to cross legally.

Consequently the easiest way to become entrepreneurial is to trade illegally. There is no red tape to stop one from setting up lucrative businesses as a drug trader, criminal or a prostitute. The persistence of crime in our societies is largely derived from the fact that it is so hard to bureaucratically establish oneself as a legitimate and fully regulated trader acting within all the rules and regulations.

There are now, and there probably always have been, too many barriers to realizing and developing one’s own productive potentials.

One reads numerous complaints about welfare dependency – yet no one poses questions as to how and why such dependencies actually come about.

As suggested above, a radical hypothesis here is that we are educated and systematically constructed or suspended within the hyper-structure in terms of strict dependency. Many find themselves dependent on welfare simply because it is so hard to become independently productive and self reliant.

The tendency in the media is to attack the non-productive as if they had brought this upon themselves but in reality it is a systemic construction. Why place any hurdles at all in the way of someone making themselves productive and useful?

If this is a systemic or infrastructural problem then that’s great. We can always re-design or create new infrastructures that enable us to become collectively far more productive, socially useful and effective.

We suspect that self sufficiency and independence is a good thing but what is clear is that we are simply not taught or trained to be self-sufficient by the institutions of our infrastructures.

Our dependencies are constructed on a very systematic infrastructural level. I will list just a few, very varied examples of how such dependencies function.

The institutions of education are not interested in educating their pupils in how to be able to effectively research and educate themselves as that would ultimately negate the reason for their own institutional existence. The student is thus systemically constructed as institutionally and infrastructurally dependent.

Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he can feed himself for a life time. The same is true of education. Recognize your children’s or student’s interests and foster them, but more importantly, teach them the skills how to research information and teach themselves. Teach them good personal management and how to become educationally self reliant so they can teach, develop and evolve themselves for a life time.

Previously our infrastructures did not offer the resources to make such a thing a viable proposition, but with the advent of modern technologies and the Internet all the resources required are immediately available in principle.

Many people are entirely reliant on frozen junk foods, ready meals and fast foods because the system of education never taught them how to grow their own food or how to cook it. This systemically arranged skills shortage, gives rise to the ‘demand’ for ‘productive’ junk food industries. Again we find that such industries are positively constructed in so much as they generate jobs and profits, yet the hidden cost of such ‘productivity’ is obesity, poor health and ultimately high medical expenses when the system ultimately has to pick up the costs in some form or other.

Again within the twisted logic of systems of waged labour and ;productivity’, the negative costs of trying to counter the effects of the unhealthy feeding system in the first place are also constructed as a positive in that the clean-up operations also provide jobs within the health care and numerous other ‘industries’ associated with tackling weight loss.

We are all entirely reliant on various forms of production, simply because the system never taught us how to make or maintain anything ourselves. If one goes back 30 or 40 years, it was common for many self-taught mechanics to service, repair and maintain their own cars. As more and more technology is introduced into cars and a whole host of other consumer goods, then the scope for self-reliance in cost effectively maintaining them carries on diminishing and we become more dependent of the hyper-structures of the system.

The more complicated laws become, the harder it is to represent oneself and the more dependent we all become on the costly infrastructures of the industry of lawyers, accountants and whole departments which have to be established in order to meet bureaucratic and tautological demands for compliancy.

We assume the existing hyper-structures will deliver us jobs, happiness, wealth, health and financial security. They will not. They are already failing to meet their obligations and will continue to deteriorate in their capacities for fulfilling them.

As our systems of education become too expensive to function, then we need an alternative infrastructure and training that which will enable us to freely educate ourselves.

If our systems of government are too inefficient and too expensive to operate then we need alternative infrastructures which will allow for democratic, efficient and costless self community determination and construction.

If our existing infrastructures for being productive, economically and socially useful are failing, then we need alternative infrastructures to become productive, self-reliant and at the same time improve our communities and the quality of our interactions and daily lives.

If our pension and care systems cannot afford to support aging populations, then we need to establish alternative community based infrastructures for care and support.

Freedom is independence. To be a free thinker is not to be dependent upon existing dogma, national curricula and the existing infrastructures of education and accreditation.

Freedom is not having to be dependent on government for anything. Freedom is not having to depend upon systemically too big to fail banks and a corrupted financial system for one’s economic and social security.

Freedom is not having to depend upon our existing infrastructures to be economically productive and useful. Every human being has the potential to be productive and socially useful, the only problem is that our existing infrastructures are far too restrictive in practical terms for the greater part of individuals and communities to fully realize their potential.

What we need is a new war of independence, one that is not waged on the battlefield, but technologically designed and constructed to enable our independence from the stifling hyper-structures of our existing institutions.

Freedom is not foolishly relying or being dependent on governments and institutions to solve our problems for us. Freedom is to take that responsibility upon ourselves and design and construct all the problem solving infrastructures that will be required.

An economy is merely a system that allows for investments and the production and exchange of goods and services and it need not be based upon industrial models of production and consumption and a centrally controlled system of finance, regulation and taxation as such.

If one takes the phenomenon of the exchange of services, then a ‘service economy’ is merely an economic financialization of what we would commonly refer to as social relations. I can make you a cup of coffee as a friend or as a waged employee in some coffee shop chain. In terms of an economy for the exchange of goods and services there is no intrinsic difference between what takes place in either scenario, The difference exists only in the terms in which the exchange takes place within two different kinds of economy which effectively service the same requirements.

The problem for the financialized service economy as a means of ‘organizing’ social relations, is that it places a certain degree of mistrust as to the motives of the service provider. We do not know if the service provider resents providing the service or whether we can trust anything they say to us in the process of our exchanges.

They may say “have a nice day!”, but we may then think is this a genuinely felt speech act or merely a training manual speaking? When the latter is true then the speech act is vacuous and meaningless. In this process the quality of our social relations and the terms of our exchanges are suspiciously hollow and systemically degenerated by the economization of service exchange.

In short context matters, and our existing infrastructures effectively limit the contexts in which we can realize ourselves as producers and properly humane beings.

Humanity is born into freely co-operative, sociable communities, starting from the smallest family units which are based on relationships of love and free exchange of goods and services. This still functions as an economy, and it is one that very effectively organizes the exchange of good and services between its members.

From this basic unit, we then move onto the economies or communities of our friends and neighbours where our exchanges of goods and services are equally based upon love, friendship, trust and good will. These relationships or economy for the exchange of goods and services are essentially no different from what takes place within financially based economic forms of exchanges of goods and services, but significantly, when such exchanges take place without money changing hands then it is more valuable in a sense as we appreciate the integrity and honestly behind our interactions.

In contrast, in terms of the infrastructures of our broader communities and societies, we find ourselves and the quality and nature of our relationships constrained and determined by financially organized economic chains.

In the real world we make exchanges all the time based upon other different infrastructures which are also based upon different forms of trust. If I accept payment from you for something in traditional terms, for example if you give me cash I trust that you have not passed me counterfeit money. If I accept a cheque, I trust it is genuine and will not bounce. If I accept either, I trust that the value of the currency you have given me will not collapse before I can convert the fiat product of the exchange back into some goods or service that I will need in the future.

The economies of exchange that function in our private spheres, are similarly based upon trust. If I fix your guitar for you today, I trust that you might fix my computer some time in the future if I get a problem. In this example labour and expertise are being exchanged and what is actually being exchanged is absolutely no different from what would happen if a computer expert took a guitar to a guitar workshop to be repaired and some time later the Luthier took their laptop to another repairers shop.

The labour and expertise traded as such are identical, the only difference is between the infrastructures which effectively organize the exchanges that take place. This ad-hoc economy of give and take in friendships is nothing other than a form investment and of saving up for the future possibilities for the exchange of goods and services. The fact that money does not usually change hands does not alter the underlying nature or fundamental economics of such relationships. Both must be productive as such, but it is only when money changes hands that any productivity can be measured, systemically formalized and taxed.

Our current infrastructure for widespread exchange of goods and services based upon trade via fiat currencies, functions far more efficiently than bartering forms of exchange, because its fiat proxy infrastructure makes the exchange easier to arrange as it is spread across a far wider systemic grid of participants.

However, at the same time the traditional fiat currency infrastructure renders the latter form of transaction as recordable and hence taxable whereas the exchange based upon friendship does not as it cannot be booked as such and no fiat profit is made even though we all personally and socially profit from such exchanges all the time.

When one analyzes one’s life one can see that the vast majority of exchanges we make with one and other are not financialized at all and they take place without contracts and direct promises in complex infrastructures of socially private spheres, hopefully governed by notions of community, friendship, love and good will. It stands to reason that within either infrastructure, what has occurred in terms of ‘productivity’ is precisely the same. The only question is which infrastructure would we prefer to base our lives and productivity upon?

What kind of world do we wish to inhabit? A world where one is alienated, stressed, cloistered and isolated within the dubious trappings of the infrastructure of financialized material consumerism, or one where all one’s productivity, material and service exchanges, function in terms of a broader familial sociality and communitarianism – governed by principles of love, friendship and loyalty – of communities defining and building themselves with a sense of purpose as the organic expression of a self-determining collaboration and unity.

Thank you, Simon, for contributing to our understanding of the community-based economy.
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