Democratized Money, Sufficiency and Sustainability

Here is a link to an interesting four-part lecture series by Mary Mellor, filmed in February 2012 (h/t Tom Hickey at Mike Norman Economics):

Understanding Money — Prof Mary Mellor (Videos)

The first part traces the historical development of money, emphasizing its social nature. The middle two parts concern money and banking, and the crisis. The fourth part, which most motivated me to link to the lectures, considers the social potential for democratized money to enable sufficiency, sustainability, and social justice.

The social potential of democratized money has been a preoccupation here at heteconomist (see, for example, Money and Paths to a Post-Capitalist Society). The viability, under such a system, of economic activity not driven by profit or reliant on growth is discussed in MMT is NOT a Theory of State Capitalism (!).

I was interested to note that as part of a broader democratic determination of economic priorities, Mellor regards a citizens’ income and right to meaningful work as requirements for social justice. This would broadly resemble a participation income or, perhaps, a Job Or Income Guarantee.


10 thoughts on “Democratized Money, Sufficiency and Sustainability

  1. Homework! Ok, but I’m going to need extra time since “Australianese” is my third language. And it’s much easier to read than speak.

  2. For international readers.. Hard money theories aren’t popular in the UK. Mary Mellor presumably covers this subject for Americans. The UK mainstream is monetarist.

  3. Mary Mellor’s lectures are very good historically. I wasn’t convinced by the bit about the end of tally sticks though. I see the foundation of the Bank Of England as a political decision to ring fence the currency commons for the benefit of the banking sector. In return, a politically weak monarch was able to pursue a vendetta against France. This also seems to tie in with the blog about Keynes and the long run. Long run effects of King Billy’s choices haven’t fully adjusted.

  4. Re MM’s slides for session 4 – if people could only understand: ‘do nothing to harm another human being’ is not meant to be some kind of wildly hopeful aspirational imposition of external law; but rather a statement of being, recognition and expression of the essential self – then all of the other concerns would automatically be unnecessary! When you cheat, you harm another human being; when you lie, you harm another human being; when you kill, you definitely harm. ‘One law to bind then all’. That to me is the hiatus to be bridged when the problem-maker is the problem-fixer! It is that simple ….?

    I know it’s a big-ask; but I do not honestly, see any other way ….. mind travels in circles. That is what history tells me!

  5. Mary Mellor’s point on the feminist analysis of capitalism also demonstrates that wage labour is only one of many potential forms of exploitation in social relations. Marxism shouldn’t blind people to the many forms of exploitation that have existed throughout history, the most prominent being slavery. It follows logically from this that post-capitalist structures, institutions, relationships, etc. are not necessarily free of exploitation. This has also been a fairly standard criticism of historic labour movements; that gender is just one of the many forms of exploitation they have retained.

  6. Jrbarch,

    In the classic game theory problem of the prisoner’s dilemma, the quickest prisoner to rat out their friend has the best outcome.

    If we take a game theory view of a Rochdale cooperative… All members of the co-op have an equal democratic role in decisions. All members of the co-op have an equal share of surplus value produced. The cooperative works best when everyone puts in equal effort. If this happens then nobody is being harmed. Some members will realise that they can do less than they need to and still get an equal share of the output. When other people notice what’s going on then they will start to do less as well. The game is now no longer cooperative and quickly becomes a race to the bottom.

    Now lets look at the game of capitalism. In a context of perfect competition, capitalism seems fair because people get an output that’s proportional to their input. However, as soon as one player becomes more successful than others, they are able to distort the market by monopolising the possession of key resources. The incentive is therefore to grow as big as possible as quickly as possible in order to become a price maker. Small players are then unable to set prices and are always relegated to the status of price takers. An important principle of using markets to determine social necessity is that all players must be price takers because markets communicate by price. Austrian’s place a lot of store on price information and in a lot of ways they’re right, but they usually don’t notice that capitalism doesn’t work in this way and if they do notice, then they blame governments. That’s just irritating because it’s wilful preference for theory over reality.

    Game theory explains why people with bad motives often do well. We need to structure the game of society in such a way that people with bad motives do worst. This is generally known as a coordination problem.

    When I wrote this, I thought it was an interesting tangent that there are demand monopolies as well as supply monopolies. Large retailers are demand monopolies because they aggregate demand in order to control supply prices.


    The video was funny. I never realised that “look over there” could be so effective. I guess it’s because looking is unidirectional.


    r.e. “Money and Paths to a Post-Capitalist Society”, I had Polanyi the other way round, i.e. capital had to be restrained for markets to function. Veblen’s view is that a market economy is exactly what capitalism is not. The historical evidence suggests that perfect competition was a short phase. I think using Polanyi’s definition of capitalism was a mistake because it would also describe the reformed systems that you had in mind. I think ditching Polanyi’s market capitalism resolves your logic. I thought the bit about floating exchange rates, trade balances and deficit spending was a good insight. I haven’t read much trade theory because I don’t like it, but you could maybe draw out some implications on external trade. I think the importance of floating currencies is an idea that’s worth pursuing. In reality there’s a mixture of floating currencies, pegged currencies and systems that are somewhere in between.

  7. Hi HH – it’s a bit of a stretch for me to move from a statement about ‘harmlessness’ to game theory (aka mind games)!!!

    However I do understand the perspective. Since there is a story-telling meme afloat at the moment, and I am trying to argue an opinion that restructuring of society has been going on since the days of the cavemen without success (because it’s the cavemen themselves who need restructuring) and, ipso facto – different perspectives are important: –

    Suppose we borrow one of peterc’s excellent sofas he so generously provides commentators on this blog, and whiz it out say 1/3rd in along the trailing arm of the Milky Way, where we can sit comfortably (like old friends) and chat quietly. We could also borrow a plasma screen, activated by buttons on the arm of the sofa that zoom the screen to unbelievable resolutions in both Time and Space (constrained only by our ability to operate the controls) highlighting any event that has transpired on our home planet at any detail, even down to the atoms that cluster to create the forms we know so well; layered to map the energy flows and ‘patterns’ that shape the whole.

    We could watch fascinated as the sunlight moves over the face of the planet, and all of the people get up and yawn, make their coffee and catch up with their ‘news’ – gigantic waves of activity that send power grids, communication and transport networks into frenzied activity, harnessed as they are to the perpetual Market. We note how ‘robotic’ (latest fashionable discussion) people’s activities are: coming home tired at night, drink some anaesthetic relaxant – then up the next day to do it all over again on stimulants – until they drop quite dead. And yet they are real human beings – not robots!!! And the greatest news is still: ‘you are alive’ …. although nobody seems quite to know what exactly that means.

    In fact earth is not the only channel; there is so much to watch and discuss – but anyways ….

    So, you have zoomed into ‘game theory’ and I am just adjusting the controls out just a tad. And I am saying, zooming back and forth in Time and Space – ‘why do people play these games? No matter what society they build, what mountains they climb, or what valleys of hell they are prone to descend in to. What relationships they have; what technology they employ, what civilisations and cultures and technology (cycles) may arise – (like waves and foam, only to topple and merge again back into the ocean and tremendous potential of human existence ….. for as long as we exist). What markets are used for and how; everything can change on the drop of a hat. There are billions and billions of us come and go on the planet; each disappearing in turn, without a trace. What is it that people really want; given the brief opportunity that each has to be alive’? When death draws a line through existence, everything must be surrendered. Everything sums to zero. What is this incredible expenditure of energy really all about? One day, even the moon and the sun and the stars will be no more; the dust of the universe will be recycled ….

    And the answer I suggest to you is simple – FULFILMENT: peace, joy, happiness, contentment, clarity, tranquillity, and serenity – whatever label you want to put on it. Society may be all about systems of belief; the mind may be all about theory and concepts – the human heart is all about fulfilment. That is what makes us significant. The mind is full of questions: the heart is full of answers! The mind lives on vapour; the heart lives on substance.

    Once you recognise the driving engine then and only then is it possible to recognise how wildly and widely our compass swings on planet earth, in the search for contentment. How directionless we actually are! Then we can sit on our sofa and zoom all sorts of perspectives and see exactly the same thing. Always the compass is pointing to the outside and never realigned, to point within. We laugh at how the advertising industry and politicians capture the people with their promises. The prophets of technology and the information age arrive and the people listen; just as they did when the agricultural and industrial revolutions came and went. The sun might wake people up, but without self-knowledge it is just a play.

    That is THE PARADIGM SHIFT to use words I have often seen written in the blogs. Not something that is ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ or ‘new age’- not something that is dependent upon circumstances in an ever-changing world: but to find something that is Real, practical, within each and every human existence. Something that people may not know how to recognise or find at the moment granted – (but that does not mean the potential is not there and is currently being ignored). Life is real, human beings are real, the desire to be content is real – but the play is just a play. What we seek is within.

    I get bored with social change and all of the headlines! What I would really enjoy watching is a movie where people on this earth begin to discover and enjoy that Energy within them; celebrate being alive from the day it enters on the very first breath and departs with the last. Mind is not involved; mind becomes still and is just a witness: it is the heart that tracks the pulses and swings on the ultimate swing.

    If there is anything in a human being that can teach the mind contentment, clarity, kindness, generosity and strength – it is the heart that is connected to that Energy within.

    Sitting on the sofa with you and others HH, I have to tell you – we have tried everything else??????? Am not saying to give up the mind and all of its pursuits because they are relevant to our world today: just to all of that – add one more dimension; one more capability, one more plug-in accessible in the realm of the heart. That Energy is the best thing since sliced bread and everything to the human heart! (To the mind it is a mystery but that slowly changes over time). It puts the humanity back in the human being.

    OK, back to the daily routines.

  8. Especially awesome comment, jrbarch. I don’t see how I can get back to my daily routines after that but, hey, I consider that a good thing.

  9. Game theory is only a static theory. It’s used to describe how outcomes are affected by rules. It can’t be used to describe change. I actually wrote my first assignment in art college on the paradigm shift. What I’ve decided since then is that there are a lot more things happening. Paradigm shifts are becoming less significant because our abilities are becoming greater.

    My current belief is that the view of life as energy is heavily influenced by a thermodynamic view of the universe borrowed from physics. Leaving aside my own concepts of information for the time being, I’m also happy to say that life is an increasingly sophisticated perception of reality. I don’t believe that we can distinguish between this perception and reality itself.

    In terms of personal behaviour, my view is that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. This is why I think that, although there are lots of bad laws, the concept of law is a good thing. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to try and influence people to behave better but I don’t believe that it’s possible to convince everyone not to be selfish at the expense of others.

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