The simple question, alluded to in the title of this article, is: ‘How do we end the wages system?’ That raises further questions – ‘Why end the wage system? What is wrong with it?’ or the fundamental question: ‘What is the wages system?’ It is my contention that all social and environmental reforms which ignore the role of money in directing human activity are doomed at best to be palliative, addressing individual causes for concern whilst ignoring the root causes from which the individual problems stem. As Marx and Veblen were well aware, the wages system lies at the heart of social injustice and ecological unsustainability. So long as absentee owners direct the work of waged or salaried employees (whether in private or state corporations), the motivation for reform will be constantly frustrated. Where money is the master motivation, all other values fade into subsidiary considerations. The major debates currently raging about war, famine, agribusiness, debt, environmental/ecological degradation, GM, world trade and poverty all stem from one central cause. People are held into doing what they are doing because they seek to profit financially from their co-operation with others. Whether the ‘profit’ is from speculative sale or sale of labour time becomes immaterial. Both are beholden to the same phenomenon: money is the first consideration in determining a course of action. The money economy is dividing people not only from their work and its product, but also from the land that ultimately sustains all forms of human society. If one cannot live on bread alone, one certainly cannot live on money at all. It is absolutely essential that material goods and services exist, and that the resources necessary for the production of those resources are cultivated and conserved. The money economy has come to obscure the practicalities of everyday life.
The money economy
With industrialisation, we were liberated economically from traditional social ties, only to become enslaved by a money system operating beyond everyday comprehension. Rights and responsibilities associated with respect for the ‘commons’ and social justice are swept aside in favour of economic pressures. Money is enthroned in place of identifiable individuals whose ability to hold sway over others could be monitored by a system of checks and balances which, however imperfect, nevertheless made the oppressor ultimately accountable. The present system of income distribution has come to seem as natural – even if as unpredictable – as the weather. Incomes are the reward for participating in the formal economy, regardless of whether the work is constructive or destructive of welfare.
As we have observed (Hutchinson et al., 2002, pp.42-43), oikonomia, the material economy where tangible and useful wealth is created, is now dominated by chrematistics, the money economy that is parasitical upon oikonomia. The ‘real’ economy is the one that ‘earth has given and human hands have made’. The money economy takes from the God-given earth, and from human society, destroying and not replenishing. In short, we have an insane system of economics that counts waste, devastation, pollution, war and social devastation as ‘wealth’.
Take just a few examples. A car accident or environmental disaster adds to GNP (the over-all measure of total national wealth) because of the increase in economic activity – fire services, car replacement, ambulance, medical, insurance, and so on that it causes. Furthermore, in the formal economy, food is manufactured, not by God, but by the ‘food industry’: in 1971 a food industry study found that total food expenditure in 1971 need only have been £1,800 million to provide a varied and healthy menu. It was actually £6,636 million – i.e. the food industry added four and a half thousand million pounds – in processing, preserving, packaging, and so on, with all the attendant waste and pollution. In chrematistic terms, we were all ‘better off’. Today, international rulings force small farmers in poor countries to abandon sustainable and reliable practices for mono-cultural cash crops for export. Across the world, ‘financial services’ and dealings far outweigh trade in actual goods and services, which form a mere 5 per cent of the total. The money economy continues to sweep across the world, devouring land and cheap labour sources, leaving social and ecological devastation in its wake. In Hong Kong firms no longer manufacture goods: they merely trade in goods produced in the cheap labour factories, spreading across China. Already, a decade ago, 85 per cent of China’s rivers were dead. The key players: corporations, academics, and politicians – are mesmerised by the money system. In purely chrematistic terms, we are all ‘better off’ if we work for money, regardless of the social and ecological impacts of that work.
Citizen’s Income and the National Dividend
Citizen’s Income seeks to alleviate poverty, particularly family poverty, under capitalism. Arguments for it flow from the observed shortcomings of the welfare system instituted by Beveridge in the aftermath of World War II. The arguments are often accepting of the terms and premises of the capitalist financial system, and sometimes – but not always – assume that full employment and a growing economy are needed to provide the means to pay for Citizen’s Incomes.
The Social Credit movement emerged from a very different stable. Just over one hundred years ago, Europe was plunged into a senseless war. In a brief moment of sanity, young soldiers on the front lines joined hands in singing Christmas carols. People then and since have asked why war is necessary. The Social Credit movement became a worldwide political force working to end war, environmental degradation and economic growth based upon war and built-in obsolescence. Its message was plain and clear. There is enough for everyone’s need, though not for everyone’s greed.
Clifford Hugh Douglas, author of the original Social Credit texts (See Hutchinson and Burkitt, 1997) considered the expenditure of human life and resources in the Great War something to be learned from, rather than something to be repeated for the sake of creating a strong, financially sound, economy. Social Credit was part of a much wider social movement in the so-called ‘inter-war years’ of the twentieth century. Progressive thinkers from all classes and all walks of life questioned the wisdom of basing the formal, finance-driven economy on production for war, waste and consumerism.
Douglas brought his shrewd, common-sense, analytical mind to bear upon the practicalities of the workings of the money economy. As the 1914-18 War raged across the world, factories were working at full capacity. Vast quantities of armaments, uniforms, tanks, machinery, ships and other forms of transport were churned out on all sides. Farmers on the land prospered, supplying food to the armies of military and civilian workers. But the apparent prosperity was ephemeral because it was dependent upon the workings of an unsound financial system. As the war ended, Douglas was an obscure engineer accounting the finances at Farnborough aircraft factory. He predicted the inter-war depression and explained how it would happen and why. He detailed how the finance to run the war was conjured up by the Government as debt, when it could just as easily have been created as credit, in which case the prosperity would continue after the War.
In the immediate aftermath of the War (1918-20) Douglas wrote a series of articles on finance and income distribution. These were closely studied amongst trade unionists, politicians, economists (including Keynes), and a wide spectrum of intellectuals. A vast literature on Social Credit, including weekly newspapers, books, pamphlets, and journal articles, circulated throughout the UK, the Commonwealth, the US, Scandinavia, and Tokyo in multiple editions. Douglas’s predictions were correct, and his work has never been faulted. What is physically possible is always financially possible, because finance is a man-made system of accounting, and can be adjusted to meet the will of the people.
At the heart of Social Credit theorising is the justification for paying a National Dividend to all citizens regardless of work status on grounds of the common cultural inheritance. Douglas argued that labour – paid work – does not create wealth: ‘The simple fact is that production is 95 per cent a matter of tools and process, which tools and process form the cultural inheritance of the community as a whole’, being the result of work done over generations by an army of technologists, the vast majority of whom are now dead (Douglas, 1919, p. 95). Thus claims to a share of the common cultural inheritance, which rightly belongs to the community as a whole, can be justified not by work, and not by private ownership of land and property, but by common right of citizenship. Over a period of three decades Douglas argued consistently that finance is purely a matter of accounting: what is practical and desirable on social grounds is financially possible, because finance is a man-made system. The key to economic democracy is the political will to bring about legal change.
Women and Social Credit
Proposals for a non-means-tested National Dividend, payable by right of citizenship, were of particular interest to women. Although Social Credit was not specifically a women’s movement, women who studied the economics of the social credit movement in the interwar years campaigned on the basis of its potential for improving the socio-economic status of women. Their arguments are echoed in current studies of mothering and home-making:
Mothers in the United Kingdom today are in an impossible situation. Our very title has been erased from Government policy on families [Guidance for Government Departments October 2014] and general political discussion in a pernicious Orwellian language trend. Women who are mothers are expected to engage in the workforce in a liberalist and capitalist tradition of individual interest where market forces reign supreme – there is no room for love and care, let alone awareness of interdependency common to all our lives. There seems to be no place for maternal care. No place for improved, supported services investing in family life.
So writes Vanessa Olorenshaw in her ground-breaking pamphlet, The Politics of Mothering.
Women activists of the 1930s argued that Social Credit offers every woman and man a birth-right income based on the productive capacity of the community. It would:
… ensure economic independence and freedom, for it will release her from being tied to the home when she wishes to live her own life or bound to some man who ill-treats her. Nor would she be driven to work-wage slavery in competition with men in order to stay alive when she has caring responsibilities within the household. Women would get equal pay for equal work because ‘a Social Credit Government will naturally stand for fair play for all citizens without distinction’. Each individual woman will be able to say ‘If I do this job as well as a man could do it, I shall want the same pay as a man.’ And if the employer says, ‘No’, she will be able to say: ‘Very well, I refuse the job. After all, I can live on my National Dividend.’ This places every woman in a very powerful position. (It will apply equally, of course, to badly-paid male workers.) (Quoted in Hutchinson and Burkitt 1997)
Women were politically active in support of the proposals throughout the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States over the middle decades of the twentieth century.
From master to servant
Central to the Social Credit debate are the core issues of farming, finance, and the household. To date, mainstream economic theory has failed to accommodate itself to the realities of economic life. These include the futility and waste of war, which is officially accounted as a plus, and the need for income security so that good work may be undertaken in the home, in the community, in local businesses, and on the land. Today, concerned individuals and groups are bringing forward the identical issues as those surrounding the massive international debate based upon the writings of C.H. Douglas less than a century ago. Douglas asked the fundamental question – why should it be ‘absolutely necessary’ for the workers to produce weapons of mass destruction in order to put food onto the household table? His question remains as valid today as when he first posed it a hundred years ago.
Douglas, Clifford Hugh (1919) Economic Democracy
Hutchinson, Frances (2005) If citizen’s income is the answer, what is the question?, European Business Review, Vol. 17, No.2. pp193-200. www.emeraldinsight.com/charter
Hutchinson, Frances and Brian Burkitt (1997) The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism, Routledge (Jon Carpenter 2005 reprint).
Hutchinson, Frances, Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen (2002) The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy, Pluto Press.
Olorenshaw, Vanessa (2015) The Politics of Mothering, available from www.facebook.com/Politics of Mothering.
Frances Hutchinson is the author of Understanding the Financial System: Social Credit Revisited (2010) and of The Economics of Love, forthcoming.