The second important question is: How will new money be entered into the economy? This is a question to be decided through our system of governance: our democratically elected Congress – preferably with input from government at local and state levels. Perhaps a pre-determined allotment would be decided at individual, state, and federal levels. For example, the law changing our system to commonwealth money can stipulate that 30 percent of new money go to individuals, 40 percent to states, and 30 percent to the federal operating budget. Or, what proportion do you think would serve us best, and why?
In the old system, banks were deciding who should get new and existing money, because it had to be recreated constantly as loans were repaid and then reissued. This gave bankers incredible control over our economy and the direction of our investments. The new system takes back some of this control and gives it to WE, the people – individually and collectively. Investment decisions are distributed far more widely. A broader base of deciders makes better decisions, which then leads to better outcomes. Our economy will do better when more people have a say in the direction we take. Bankers have been putting most of our money into Wall Street for the benefit of a few; we will likely put most of it into Main Street for the benefit of all of us. The nuts and bolts of how this works are in the next section.
Since at present, government mostly spends, for simplicity, I’ll just refer to government spending as its means of entering money into the economy. (Just remember we may choose to have it given, invested or loaned.)
Remember, government spending is not a zero-sum proposition; it’s an important part of a healthy circulation cycle. For example, let’s say we have a money supply of 100 units and WE the people decide how to spend those 100 units every year. Government spending pays for those things that matter to all of us – the foundation of a healthy and prosperous economy. It can pay us all a basic income, pay for basic healthcare, pay for education, pay for a well-staffed justice system…
Whatever government spending buys, money goes to someone. It pays a teacher, a fireman, a policeman, a nurse, a researcher, a park ranger, a road construction crew, a clean water monitor. Then it moves around. Those 100 units of money may facilitate 1,000 units of trade. A government employee buys groceries, and the grocer buys from farmers, and the farmers buy from the seed company, and the seed company pays wages. Money moves around. This is how money works, and this is why government spending acts as a broad stimulus in the economy.
And, this is how community works; there are expenses we want to share, because they serve us all. We want to pay together for good roads, good education, environmental protection services, defense, police, fire, etc. We want some portion of the economy to be the things we do together for the general welfare and domestic tranquility.
To maintain balance between I/me-driven spending and WE spending, a portion of the economic activity must come back to government every year. Taxation returns money to the government. This is the important role that taxes play in a healthy and prosperous economy.
So let’s go back to the example of a 100-unit supply of money. If 100 units are used for 1,000 units of activity, and if collectively, we pay 10 percent of our economic activity in taxes, the government will have the same 100 units to spend back into circulation the next year. And, when we change systems, from one that steadily deteriorates the value of money to a stable value money system, government spending will remain relatively stable. Government spending is not taking other people’s money and we won’t run out of it. It circulates. Government spending is a critical component of the circulation in a healthy economy.
If we taxed every bit of income over a basic living amount, our tax could be well under 10 percent – maybe as low as 2 to 3 percent…a topic for another day!
So, how do we want to spend together to enrich our common wealth and the foundation of our prosperity? There are lots of things we may choose to do with this money, and the decision can be made by WE, the people.
How much are we talking about?
For the sake of discussion, let’s go with the 2017 money supply and round to $14,000 billion. Currently about $4,000 billion of that goes in and out of the federal government’s pocket – roughly 28 percent. The banks will no longer have the ability to keep our money circulating by lending-creating it. As bank debt money becomes our money, WE the people will need to keep this level of money in circulation. Remember, this does not mean the banks will be unable to make any loans; it just means they will have to actually have the money from investors to do so. It does not mean people with money cannot individually decide how they want to invest; it just means people of great wealth do not get to decide how our nation’s common wealth is invested for the future.
Banks have issued these money-creating loans at return schedules ranging from micro-seconds to 30-year mortgages. It would be interesting to know what percentage of our money supply turns over each year, but I haven’t found the data. My guess would be at least 1/3. Given that most of the loans have been going for short-term gaming and speculation, it may be considerably higher.
In our new system, when these old loans are returned to the banks, the bank cancels the borrower’s IOU, and cancels their own IOU to produce this amount of money by transferring the sum to the government. Instead of the money supply shrinking, the money supply does not change. But, instead of the bank having the privilege to recreate the money by issuing a new loan, the money is in the government’s cash account ready to be given, spent, invested, or lent back into circulation.
For the sake of discussion, let’s figure the banks will have about 99 percent of their loans returned within a 10-year period. There may be some outlier 30–50 year mortgages that go their full term, but if our law specifies that no debt made using the former money creation powers of the banks can be assumed by another, then it is reasonable to figure within 10 years nearly all money in circulation will be common wealth money.
This means over that 10-year period, the US Government would have at least $14,000 billion that it would need to give, spend or lend back into circulation – $1,400 billion each year. It would be more if we continue to increase the supply by a diminishing amounts while we slowly wind down the current exponential growth of our money supply.
The $14,000 billion would not divide up evenly over the 10 years if it’s been recycling at a rapid rate. In the first few years the government would have more to give, spend, invest, or lend into circulation.
If we slowly phased out increasing the money supply every year, we would have an additional hefty sum to move into circulation (about one trillion dollars in 2018). To decide how we want to put money into circulation differently, it may be helpful to review Chapter 3.20, and keep in mind our values – foremost: equity, justice, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
How can WE the people put this money into circulation?
What a delightful question! Yes! First, let’s take private money out of our election process; private wealth is corrupting good decision-making. Let’s set up a process and fund it with Our Money. Government leadership is a job of critical importance. We are hiring. It should not be decided as an entertaining popularity contest. Let’s demand resumes, references, tax returns, multiple interviews. Make several days national holidays for mandatory debates, and voting. Let’s have parades and parties to celebrate this important role we play in our democratic republic. There are many good ideas about how to make our election process take less time, give voters better information about candidates, and give every citizen an equal voice. So, let’s do that first. It will greatly improve the quality of our decisions.
Then, to get a taste of the volume of money involved, let’s entertain a couple scenarios, pretending the disbursement will happen all at one time, instead of over 10 years:
Pay off government debt
If we want to be grown-up responsible, then the government debt held by the public currently stands at about $14,724 billion (2017 fiscal year end).2 We could pay it off as it comes due, instead of reissuing more debt to cover it as we do now. Remember this debt was necessary as an anchor for the fractional reserve money creation of the public bankers in our old system. But, in our new money system, there will no longer be this need for the government to be in debt.
Our government debt has maturity dates, so we can’t really pay it all back at once, even if we had the money to do so. We’ve committed to paying a specified interest over a period of time, and will need to wait on some of it until its term is up. For example, in 1982, President Reagan issued 30-year bonds that could not be paid off early, paying an all-time high interest of 14.56 percent. The few investors who had first grab at these bonds, collected that interest up until 2012, even though bond interest was under 8 percent since 1990, and under 5 since 2000.3
As our government debt decreases, the cost of government will decrease. One in six of your income tax dollars goes to pay interest on US Government debt. If the debt is paid off, then we can reduce everyone’s taxes by 17 percent and government will still have the same amount of money to spend. Or we may keep taxes the same and use that 17 percent to fund a transition to renewable energy or infrastructure improvements. Either one will create a lot of jobs, put money into the economy and keep money circulating.
As the US Government ceases to be a big borrower (which it is required to do in the old system), this will free up money for borrowing by the business community. There will be no shortage of credit available to businesses and to individuals. Paying off government debt will put almost $15 trillion back into the pool of funds available to lend and invest.
Repair and modernize our nation
Money can be spent on an all-out effort to transform our economy from a dependency on fossil fuels to renewable energy. Many European cities and a few American ones (Burlington, Vermont was the first, and Las Vegas followed in 2016) have already made the switch to all renewable energy. The technology is here. This is a critical priority for our survival!
We have work to do to repair and rebuild our common wealth. We must restore watersheds and cleanup areas polluted with industrial toxins so people are not dying early. Save our potable water and assure that every citizen has safe water to drink. Replenish our farmable soil. Find a way to support farmers as they quickly eliminate bee-killing pesticides and switch to farming that preserves our food supply. These are all critical priorities. The unregulated free market will not take care of these problems in time. The government must take action.
We can spend to rebuild our infrastructure. Our national transportation and communication networks are sorely in need of maintenance and improvement. We need to fill our potholes, repair our bridges and highways. Put solar recharging stations along our major highway. Today many developing nations provide free high speed broadband to their citizens, increasing economic activity dramatically.
We can build new schools so we do not have children dodging rats, breathing mold and vulnerable to earthquakes. While Philadelphia4 and Detroit5 both made national news for these problems, many cities have aging schools in need of repair. Nationally there aren’t enough nursing schools to meet our need for nurses with boomers aging. (or teachers for the nursing schools – over 1,500 vacant teacher positions).6 We can build new colleges and vocational schools, and hire new teachers so everyone who wants an education has a place to get one.
There are lots of jobs to be filled when every job doesn’t have to make someone on Wall Street richer. If we spent just half the $14,000 billion on our nation’s infrastructure, that $7,000 billion could create 7 million yearly salaries of $100,000 each for 10 years! Think what a boost this would be to our economy.
Money can be given to states to use in whatever way is most useful to them. States could strengthen their pension fund obligations, or fund development in impoverished and struggling communities.
We can come up with a long list of delayed investments in our common wealth at the federal and state levels that would all create jobs and improve the nation. What would your priorities be?
And, again, when this money is spent into the economy by government, it circulates. People being paid by government are as much a part of their local economy as people being paid by a Wall Street hedge fund. There is no real economy that excludes government spending; it is ALL intertwined. Government employees shop at local stores, and buy from local farmers. Everyone benefits. And there isn’t a giant straw sucking up profits that sink into a few pockets and cease to circulate locally.
Quality of Life
If life is a right, then long-living shouldn’t be for the rich and slow-dying for the poor. Like most of the developed world we can and should provide health care for everyone. No citizen should have to worry that they will be bankrupt and jobless if they need medical care. The nations providing health care for everyone spend less on health care and have better outcomes than we do in the US. So we will save money, resources and lives when we provide basic care for all our citizens – Medicare for all. And, again, this is not spending other people’s money; it is spending Our Money.
Hospice provided wonderful home services when my mother was dying. Over months, physical and occupational therapists, and nurses came to the house to show us how to make her safe and comfortable. Let’s have a hospitality service for the beginning of life!
Some European countries provide welcome boxes for their new citizen-babies, and a few cities in the US are experimenting with this wonderful way to say we care about all our citizens.7 In Europe, new moms and dads can take up to two months paid leave to bond with their babies and establish a strong family.8 Then they can have someone come in and give them respite, or help with shopping, or laundry or cleaning.9 We can do this. This would make America great!
New moms and dads could choose to have an early childhood expert make a home visit to check for child safety concerns. If parents needed help with a difficult child or sibling issue, a professional nanny-teacher could come to coach them on parenting skills. We could have trained corps of people available to schools to help difficult children in their earliest years before problems compound and these kids are shunted off into life-time failure and sometimes crime.
Finland and Sweden had pilot sabbatical programs, giving people a stipend to take a year off from their job. We could do this. There are many things we could do to promote the general welfare, and improve domestic tranquility. Remember none of this takes your hard earned money and gives it to someone else, in a zero-sum transaction. WE, as a nation circulate this money to benefit all of us. You give a little in taxes to get a lot from a healthy common wealth.
Unconditional basic income for everyone
There is a growing global movement to provide everyone with a basic income. A Basic Income for everyone recognizes that the need for paid work is shrinking as technologies make many jobs obsolete – and much that is currently unpaid – such as caring for each other, our children, and the environment – is critically important. There is also much to be done that people would choose to do, if money were not an issue.
Canada conducted an experiment in basic income in the 1970s in the small town of Dauphin. Everyone received a basic income equivalent to $16,000 in today’s dollars. Records of this 5-year pilot project sat in storage for decades and the results have only recently been analyzed. By every measure people were better off. Most people continued to work. People were healthier. Hospital visits dropped. More kids stayed in school. Mothers took more time with their babies. People were less stressed and happier.10 The Canadian province of Ontario launched another basic income pilot project in November 2017.
In June 2016, after 10 years of discussion, the Swiss people became the first nation to vote on a plan to give every adult a basic income of about $2,555 a month (2500 Swiss Francs), and kids about $625 a month. As Che Wagner from the campaign group Basic Income Switzerland, argued before the vote, “In Switzerland over 50% of total work that is done is [already] unpaid. It’s care work, it’s at home, it’s in different communities, so that work would be more valued with a basic income.” The referendum went down 77–23 percent, but almost 70 percent of voters believe that it will reappear on a ballot after further discussion polishes the plan.11 What would you choose to do if you had a basic income?
A guaranteed basic income is not a new idea. There have been proposals over the past century, calling it by a variety of names, including negative income tax, or a basic income guarantee, or universal basic income. The group usbig.net has resources for exploring this option. By some of their estimates we could break even by eliminating over 100 different government programs that help the poor.
Cutting these programs would considerably reduce the cost of government. There would no longer be any repetitive application processes, means testing, processing, monitoring for fraud, etc. Medicare and Medicaid employ 6,000 people and contracts out most of their work. But, those people put out of work would have a basic income to tide them over while they found another occupation. By freeing up this sizable chunk of state and federal civilian work force, we would be introducing more creativity and entrepreneurship into our economy. I’d rather have these people singing on street corners or planting trees instead of pushing papers! Wouldn’t you?
You would register once or ideally at birth when you get a Social Security number. Using blockchain technology to eliminate fraud, you would get a check every month for life. Children could receive a partial amount til they turn 18, that could either go towards their family’s costs, or be set aside in a savings account for when they turn 18. Imagine how our nation would change!
Yes, it raises interesting issues about dependency, personal responsibility, and productivity. Would everyone just sit on their porch, smoke pot and twiddle their thumbs? Would enough people want to farm so that we have plenty of food? I asked my dairyman, who devotes untold hours to providing the best milk on the planet, what he would do. Mike said he is passionate about providing good food and he would keep at it. But, it would be a godsend, making his life more comfortable, and help him tide over downturns.
Could small businesses find good labor? Certainly our model of exploitation would need to shift toward a partnership model of business, but this would be good for our nation, right?
Inadequacy, despair and dependency are a part of our culture today. According to the Census Bureau, in 2012, approximately 52.2 million (21.3 percent) Americans drew income from major means-tested government assistance programs each month.12
In 2012, roughly 50 percent of our population received benefits from one or more general government benefit programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Compensation, Veterans’ Compensation, and/or Railroad Retirement.
We can eliminate these programs when we provide health care and a basic income for everyone. Not only would we eliminate a great deal of expense that goes toward means testing and monitoring and paper work, we would eliminate the embarrassment and humiliation that goes with standing in lines for hours and asking for help when times are tough. We would not be eliminating financial tough times completely, because with freedom come mistakes. And with mistakes come hardships. That’s life. But, we could eliminate unnecessary hardships.
What would happen to people who have earned more Social Security over their lifetime than the amount we might choose to provide with a basic income? We could phase out Social Security, raising everyone to a basic income level and paying those who earned more under our current system for their lifetimes. Then we either raise basic income to the SS high, or provide for all at a lower and equal level.
Social Security began as an insurance program. That’s still its official name, Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program. It was not intended to be a retirement plan, paying more to those who contributed more; it was intended to be a basic survival income for the old and disabled. However, the money power twisted it into a system that values those who work for money over those who work without. The people who choose high paying careers and work at least 35 years, get the highest payout of $2,788 per month. While someone who parents, or cares for a disabled family member, or worked at a low salary with a nonprofit can end up receiving the lowest payout of $750. This says we value money-making, not a life or caring.
With a Universal Basic Income, everyone would simply get a basic income for life. If we make the universal basic income enough for living simply, we would eliminate the elderly who currently can barely survive on their meager $750/month in Social Security benefits.
It would take time, and perhaps generations to make the cultural shift. We have people who are fourth generation welfare recipients, still facing lives of mostly despair, poor health, curtailed educations and sometimes crime. Would some people choose to take their basic income and vegetate on alcohol and drugs? Probably. Some do today. But a different system encourages different behavior. As each successive generation faces genuine opportunity, fewer would choose to waste their lives. It is the poverty, despair, and hopelessness that keeps people trapped. Healthy, happy kids who can see a positive future do not choose a life of vegetative despair. Kalamazoo, Michigan has been promising its students who graduate from high school, a college scholarship since 2005. It’s made a difference, not only for the kids, but for the whole town.13
An equal annual distribution of new money, or basic income, would not make everyone the same; some people would still have advantages from their genes, accumulated past wealth, hard work, or innovative ideas. Other people would still be disadvantaged and make foolish choices. Just as in a board game, even though people start out with the same amount, they play the game differently, and some come out ahead. That’s life, too. But, in our new system, the game is not rigged against some and to the advantage of others. And, the system would no longer be set up so some people’s lives and health are exploited for the benefit of a few wealthy people.
Basic Income is a worthy option to consider. While it’s a great idea on its own, it likely needs a change in the money system to work. If we implemented it under our current system, it could cause inflation, because it would require an increase in government spending, which currently means more borrowing and money creation by private bankers. The organization USBig claims it could be close to a wash when we eliminate all the existing programs. Check out their resource papers at usbig.net. In a common wealth money system, the reduction in wealth extraction by the tiny elite money power would pay for this basic income expenditure.
A universal basic income makes the most sense to me, but if that’s a step too far, then a bonus check is another option. We could send everyone a check. Roughly 75 percent of our population of 320 million is over 18 years old – so 240 million adults. IF we had an even 10-year distribution – which we would not – that’s $1,400 billion to distribute each year. We could send 240 million adults a check for $5,800 every year for 10 years. And, we’d still have the same amount of money circulating. This would put money into circulation on Main Street, which would cause a dramatic upswing in business everywhere. That money would circulate from customer to business and employer to employee and around again. And, the direction of the economy would be chosen in the most distributed way. If we buy solar panels for our roofs and electric cars with our windfall we could put the shift to renewable energy into hyperdrive. Those who say they want a free market would have an opportunity to see a true one with a level playing field and genuine consumer choice.
However, it would be irresponsible to ignore our debt and the need to prudently prepare for our future and choose this as a single path, but there’s no reason we couldn’t give every adult a little bonus to generate local economic activity. This, too, will create jobs. For example, if we used just 10 percent of the money to give every adult a bonus, that would put an extra $580 in our pockets every year for ten years. That’s enough to generate some citizen directed economic activity.
Balance, proportion and prudence
Congress can specify a percentage of annual money creation and recirculation that goes toward any or all of the following:
- Re-loan to the banks to assist them in the transition (over a limited time)
- Pay down government debt as it comes due
- Spend to make the transformation from fossil fuels to renewable energy
- Spend for infrastructure maintenance at federal and state levels
- Pay for universal health care
- Give to citizens as basic income or as a bonus.
- Whatever else citizens vote to give, spend, or lend it on.
How would you like to see our common wealth improved? What would you want to see funded? How could this decision be made to best serve the General Welfare? What if we asked everyone to select their preferred proportions for the allotment of funds every two years on the federal ballot? We could require that Congress stay within some percentage of our citizen’s preferences. This would encourage voting, if people knew their vote had this additional impact.
We will make the best decisions about how to improve the general welfare and the common wealth when we have some decent data on its current condition. It’s worth our while to know what we have in common wealth assets and the current liabilities against them. Let’s take a comprehensive look at our common wealth and its value.
Unfortunately, we don’t currently keep track of this. Our US Government Financial Report gives a nod at the end of the Notes #25 to what it calls our Heritage Assets – our public lands and historical sites. It acknowledges we have set aside land for public and military use, public parks and sites of cultural importance. But, none of this is given any value. Only financial assets are booked in our national accounts (cash on hand, accounts receivable, financial investments).
Our government gives no financial value to the very real common wealth that guarantees our ability to prosper and to back the promises made by our money system – the health and level of education of our population; the effectiveness of our institutions for justice and governance; the usefulness of our transportation and communication networks; access to a rich cultural heritage of art and ideas.
The Federal Government owns nearly 650 million acres of land – almost 30 percent of the land area of the United States. Let’s appraise it and book the value of its many resources, including recreation, watersheds, minerals, grazing land, etc. Let’s book any delayed maintenance or clean-up costs on the liability side of our national accounts.
Let’s book the value of our drinking water aquifers, and book – and mourn – their loss as we draw them down below sustainable levels. Fifty years ago Oregon put a law on its books that required water permits take into account the state of the aquifer. This is a smart thing to do; it doesn’t make sense to give away so much water that it will be impossible for people to live and farm in the state within a short time. But, after 50 years of inadequate funding and free market propaganda, we still do not know the volume of water remaining in our aquifers, and we keep giving more and more of it away every year.14/
There is a clear financial value to having clean air to breathe and water to drink. Let’s book it. Let’s account for the liability of air pollution. Let’s book the loss when fracking destroys the potability of an aquifer forever.
Let’s book the value of a rich and diverse web of the species of life that inhabit our nation. And, let’s book the loss when we wipe out a species for short-term oil extraction profits – though we may never know what valuable benefit they were to play in all creation.
Let’s book the value of an educated and productive citizenry and book the liability of kids who do not complete high school. Let’s book the number of people waiting for justice, mentally ill, homeless, and in prison as liabilities. Let’s book the value of a happy population and domestic tranquility. And, let’s book as a debit the extraordinary number of people on anti-depressant drugs. Let’s have as broad and detailed an index as possible measuring how we are achieving the goals for our nation set forward in our founding documents.
When we do not give this common wealth a value, it is easy to whittle it away without anyone paying attention. We find ways to assign a financial value to nearly everything else, so surely we can come up with a way to value our common wealth. If JPMorgan and other businesses can book goodwill on their balance sheets, we can book domestic tranquility and the general welfare on the nation’s balance sheet.
It’s worth putting some resources towards cataloging our very real assets and the liabilities against them. It’s a big project, but worthwhile. When we know what we have and what is dragging its value down, maybe we will be better stewards. We will have useful information for determining how to build up our common wealth, the foundation of our prosperity. Our priorities would be clear.
And, in a common wealth money system, we have the money to repair, improve and make Main Street healthy.