Wednesday 21 January 2009

The big speech

OK, I've got a small revival of flu, which is my excuse for not writing this yesterday. But wasn't the Obama speech a statement of modern Liberalism you could be proud of - committed to change, internationalist, but including a call to service, and an acceptance that politicians can't do it all?

Why can't we articulate that?

Monday 19 January 2009

A new kind of money

Vince Cable was bang on with his phrase "giving the kiss of life to a corpse". The real problem is not that the banks refuse to lend, it is that they have lost the ability to do so. They have been consolidated to the point of uselessness to the local economy.

They also have no local infrastructure, and what structure they do have points towards the discredited speculative economy, not the real one. It is time to break them up, de-merge them and rebuild a local and regional lending infrastructure like they have in Europe and North America.

But just for a moment, take a quick trip back with me to March 1933, and Roosevelt's inauguration. About 5,000 banks had closed their doors a few days before. The second greatest economist of the age (Irving Fisher) had just published a book called Stamp Scrip, which urged a new kind of local money which lost value week by week, to encourage spending rather than hoarding.

Within a few months, there were 4,000 or so of these local currency systems across the northern states of the USA, following on from the highly successful models in Austria and Switzerland, and all based on the ideas of an Argentine trader called Silvio Gesell. Money that rusts. In Worgl in Austria, the very first, people had paid their local taxes months in advance and the council was able to invest in a range of new infrastructure: the originator there rejoiced in the name of Mayor Unterguggenberger, but that's beside the point.

There we are, some alternative economic archaeology. What's interesting about it is that Roosevelt was persuaded by the bankers to make stamp scrip illegal, in case it undermined confidence in banks. It was almost his first executive decision.

But what's interesting about it now is the reference to the whole affair on Barack Obama's blog, which really makes you wonder what is going to happen in the next few days:

Thursday 15 January 2009

No pasaran!

The approval of the third runway at Heathrow is an extraordinary and historic event, and I kind of think we will all look back to it (15 January 2009) as the moment when everything changed.

Of course, it is also a miserable condemnation of the Labour government, which has never stood up to anybody rich and powerful and clearly never will. They have never challenged a corporate interest. Never imagined a way the world might be different, cleaner, healthier or fairer. They are, in short, utterly pointless and borderline corrupt in their miserable failure to shift us in any way towards a future where the planet might survive. History will condemn them for the bone-headed, utterly craven fawning on power.

But it is important for other reasons too. Because this is a No Pasaran moment for the green movement, shared by an extraordinary cross-section of society who believe there has to be a limit to what we sacrifice on the altar of wrong-headed progress. That there has to be a limit to the appeasement of those corporate interests that believe with so little evidence that the decision will benefit London, the economy, the jobless or anything else. The destruction of whole villages, twelfth century churches, the peace of great swathes of London, the sight of elderly ladies bundled into police vans: it will change the way people think.

In short, they will not let it happen, and the resulting clash is going to be painful for both sides. But there comes a point in history where the powerful so misread the signs that they lose their power, and so it will prove. I betcha!