IE + IT = ED? from The Memory Bank 3.0 by keith
Is informal economy plus information technology a path towards economic democracy?
What follows is frankly autobiographical. It is an attempt to excavate the intellectual and political connections between my early and later work in economic anthropology...
Oliver Cromwell established a ‘Commonwealth’ in 1649 after the English Civil War. It meant a government formed with the common consent of the people and it was intended to replace the old regime of absolute monarchy and aristocratic rule. British democracy never recovered from the counter-revolution of 1660 (the restoration of the monarchy). But the American democracy subsequently retained the spirit and sometimes the name of that original Commonwealth. And it persists as the title of the largest and most diverse voluntary association of nation-states in the world today, following the break-up of the British empire. In the work of John Locke, whose political philosophy did so much to inform the English-speaking democracies, commonwealth referred not just to the form of government, but to what we might call ‘the public good’, the welfare of all citizens. Today the great corporations command our unequal world with all the haughty power and indifference to human welfare that was once the hallmark of the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France. For us, however, ‘Commonwealth’ can no longer refer to anything less than democratic self-government by humanity as a whole; and economic democracy, in thousands of measures, large and small, is indispensable to achieving that end.
What then does the term ‘common wealth’ mean in the context of the community currency movement? What is the ‘wealth’? Not the money itself, for sure. Money, conceived of as a commodity with its own value to be hoarded and deployed as an instrument of power, as capital, is the opposite of open money. Nor is the collectivization of such capital in the manner of twentieth century socialist regimes remotely appropriate either. Rather, the wealth to be mobilized is the human creativity in all of us, resources that have been ill-used for too long, because of the money regime we have been forced to live by. This creativity belongs to each individual, but it can only be realized in society, together. Society should be conceived of as a multitude of levels of association and many of these could take the form, as one of their dimensions, of a community with its own circuit of exchange and money. Economic democracy in this limited sense would point us to more inclusive forms of polity; and then perhaps the dream of abundance that has long inspired humanity would be realized as more than just the riches of a few. Workshop: ‘Clusters, Network Organization and the Informal Economy’, Bologna, 29-30th June 2006 in the series, Rethinking Economies.