Sunday, 1 February 2015

Accounting, Debt, and Society

It is now some months ago that we looked at this chapter (Jackson & Dyson 2012, chapter 8). In fact, the reading group has now completed reading the book and I still struggling with this blog entry. Why?

The chapter describes the transition process with particular emphasis on the reorganisation of the Bank of England accounts and those of commercial banks. Although I depicted these changes in Keynote presentation animation sequence, I struggle to present it in a blog more clearly than it is represented in the book. So I am not going to attempt to restate it or copy their diagrams to a blog. Maybe at some point, I mat publish the animation.

However, it isn't the difficulty of presenting the accounts that challenges my thinking. What is important to me is the way that accounting relates to how we came to be in our current economic position. What I am going to argue is that all our problems stem from a desire to keep account and to know what we have or don't have. I know that some in the reading group have objected to my views on this.

I was hoping that I might have Graeber's (2012) book by now and have read some more on the history of debt. Graeber, according to Jackson and Dyson (2012, p 33-34), contends that debt goes back to a time when “goods where freely given with the caveat that the person receiving them would have to return the favour at some point.” It is the accounting for or quantification of these debt obligations that forms the basis of the formation of money.

Here I will depart from Jackson and Dyson's argument and draw on some of my own faith and belief objectives. As long as the obligation to return a favour is simply an implicit part of the community, there is a freedom to share and interact based on ability to meet need. Once we begin to account for the obligation we begin to argue about the value of the obligation and whether everyone is meeting their obligations. The freedom to share as we are able is diminished and it slowly transforms to the system that we now labour under. The obligation to pay for goods and services enslaves the community to work (often meaningless work) simply to foster trade and in order to live as part of the community.

In our modern society, it has gone step forward so that we are bombarded with messages to purchase items that we don't need. Lenshyn (2014) talks of how when sitting with his son watching cartoons, during one of the advertising breaks, his son turns and asks for the toy being advertised. Lenshyn calls it a barrage to consume. I find myself feeling the same way when I am bombarded with advertising leaflets through my mail box or spam emails. The share volume consumes time to clear. Yet, the message of our society is that we need to push out there messages to purchase, to continually upgrade to the newest and greatest. It is hard to switch off to this drive because it invades the way our society works.

How did we get to this point from a society that in my terms felt an obligation to freely meet need where ever and when ever that was possible. Maybe we don't believe it ever existed. I know for many they don't see it now as a possibility.

The result is that we talk about having to produce to “pay our way in the world.” Surely we produce to meet need, to improve the quality of life. No, these are not the focus of our attention. The focus in our society is no longer on need. Rather we are focused on profit and to ensure that we are making a profit we keep account. We condemn people to slavery so they can be part of our consumerist society. Those who aren't able to participate or don't wish to participate are condemned.

Yes, I campaign for a change in the way money is created because I don't believe money should be the constraint on what we do to help others or to improve the quality of life for everyone on the planet. It seems to me that our values and economic assumptions are twisted and we have lost sight of the primary objective of meeting need and improving the quality of life for everything on this planet.

Yes, chapter 8 presented a new accounting structure for banking but is this only part of the solution?


Andrew Jackson and Ben Dyson (2012) Modernising Money: Why our monetary system is broken and how it can be fixed. London: Positive Money.

David Graeber (2012) Debt: The First 5,000 Years. New York: Melville House Publishing.

Lenshyn, C. (2014). Gelassenheit: Deepening the alternative presence of Jesus. In J. Harader & A. O. Green (Eds.), A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World (pp. 19-27). New York: Ettelloc Publishing.

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