In the tradition of our peace church, we held a table talk on Friday, 11 October, around the theme of economics. A table talk is as much about the fellowship of sharing a meal as it is about the theme under discussion. With 11 people attending, we were in for an interesting discussion.
As the starters were served, we started the discussion around looking at what we understood economics to be. This included the ideas that economics is the study of the social interactions of how we exchanged resources, and the examination of how we protected our resources and assets. We also discussed the way we see the current system operating and the development of currency. The question was asked, why did we develop currency and move away from barter or 'gift' economy. It is possibly easier to see why we moved from barter systems to the use of money but why a shift from a 'gift' economy where the focus is on meeting need with the only expectation being that our needs would be meet in return. There was the suggestion that 'gift' economies still operate within the family context where dependants are not able to pay for what is provided by their carers. We didn't look at the wider community and those who were unable to pay for what they needed to survive.
We then looked at what made something a currency. Although the gold standard was raised, it was recognised that this hasn't applied for sometime and that this really didn't influence what society accepted as currency. The argument was raised that a currency is accepted because of trust between the participants but is reinforced by the fact that government accepts the currency for the payment of taxes. This led to the idea of sovereign currencies issued by the state for what they wanted to achieve and collected back in as taxes. A concept discussed by Mary Mellor (2010).
Does this same principle apply to regional currencies? Maybe not. Although some regional currencies (Kennedy, Lietaer, and Rogers, 2012) are supported by local government some seem to rely entirely on the trust of the participants that others will accept the currency for the exchange of goods. Of course the issue was raised as to whether we needed a currency at all (Boyle 2012).
We wanted to go beyond what happens currently in society so we turned our focus to economics and the bible. We found that the bible has a lot to say ranging from the ideas of Sabbath rest (every seven year) for the land, jubilee concepts, the tithe being a shared celebration and not a gift to the priests and levities, Zacheus giving back four fold, Jesus over turning the money table, the early church sharing everything in common, the shared feasts, Paul's working as a tent maker while sharing the gospel, and the idea that he who will not work will not eat. The message seems mixed although coming through is concern for the welfare of others and less about the self interest of gathering wealth for self.
We then turned our attention to issues of how to bring about change. A key issue here was the idea of working locally rather then focusing on global or macro changes. How we interact locally with others was seen as higher priority than fighting for change in the global context. If you haven't changed your own way of operating then you can't really expect to change anything greater. We need to be the example of what we believe should happen at the higher level.
M. Boyle (2012) The moneyless manifesto: Live well – live rich – live free. Permanent Publications.
M. Mellor (2010) The future of money: From financial crisis to public resource. PlutoPress.
M. Kennedy, B. Lietaer, and J. Rogers (2012) People money: The promise of regional currencies. Triarchy Press.