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4/2008 Bob Irvine paper declined by the 2020 Summit by the Rudd Federal Govt

Can New Money and Good Accounting Save the Planet from Human Induced Ecosystem

Service Degradation (Climate Change, etc.) and Bring Health, Wealth and Happiness to All?

In "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy", (Pręger, 2007)[1] David

Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith contend that our market economy and unfettered

corporate power is as instrumental as our excessive carbon effluent in the collapse of Earth's

ecosystem services. They argue that human induced ecosystem service degradation (Climate

Change, etc., etc.) and the rapid rise in wealth of the liberal democratic political economies

are closely related. Both are the result of the freedom granted to citizens and corporations to

plunder the Earth's social and natural resources without accounting for or paying for the cost.

Consequently they find that a different sort of political economy is essential to enable and

allow effective action by all humans to halt our destructive activities and to prevent and

remediate the degradation of the ecosystem services upon which all life on Earth depends,

particularly our excessive consumption, extinction of species and destruction of ecosystems.

These are challenging words, indeed.

We who look, read, and think with the leisure, education and science that our "free market"

economies have enabled, know that the Earth's ecosystem services are very badly damaged

(the evidence is incontrovertible), that the survival of our human species is threatened (the

threat is real), and that our "freedom to plunder" is the CAUSE of most of this damage.

Shearman and Smith find (p.71) that humanity has three options for sustainable economies:

a "free market" liberal democracy with refinement (monetary valuation of

ecosystem services, commons trading, green accounting, etc., etc.). They find this

inadequate since "freedom to plunder" is the cause, and a refinement is not enough.

an ecocentric liberal democracy (eg. the Australian Aboriginal economy) They agree

this would work, but would entail a revolution in knowledge, science and human value

systems and would be resisted by existing vested interests (power and capital), so that

no existing democracy would freely chose this option. They dismiss it as unrealistic.

an authoritarian government with strict enforcement of ecological protection

(dictatorship of the wise) They conclude that "this may be the only solution for

humanity". They contend that the Earth's capacity to provide ecological services will

be extinguished without strict control of all human activity affecting the environment.

Shearman and Smith's classification of the options for a sustainable human political economy

is helpful for framing a proper consideration of just what a "sustainable political economy" is

and how one could deliver and sustain the revolution in human behaviour needed to stop

human induced ecosystem service degradation, promote useful activities and quickly direct

all humanity's creative and scientific energies to the task of regenerating ecosystem services.

These may be the only options to respond to the present threat, so clearly seen by Malthus at

the time the worst of this trouble began, but the question of the best mix is an interesting one.

Shearman and Smith's clear thinking; health and science knowledge; and, good scholarship

cut through the noise of the 'Climate Change' debate bringing clear focus to the main question

of our human future, allowing wise readers to understand and accept that in the getting of our

great wealth great harm has been done, and to realise it is our certain responsibility to fix it.

But for all that, Shearman and Smith's clarion call to strict environmental regulation as the

obvious and only realistic way forward for humanity may underestimate humanity's

willingness to "play fair" when the game is fun and the rules are seen to be in everybody's

best interest. They dismiss the option of an ecocentric liberal democratic political economy as

as unrealistic because they don't believe that the revolution in human power relations and

values that that would entail would be freely adopted by a democratic polity, and could only

be achieved by coercion. But wise and scholarly as they are, they are not political economists

and may not understand that the "freedom to plunder" market that causes this ecosystem

degradation is just a set of accounting rules we freely adopted for the 'human economy' game.

At that time in our history when we chose to transfer sovereign power from our Kings to our

Parliaments, the Kings were our model and we adopted accounting rules that gave us

'individual freedom' (the freedom to be Kings in our rights). Times have changed. We know

more and we see there may be other, better ways to pursue our health, wealth and happiness.

Perhaps a "fair play" market economy is quite a realistic objective for democracy if we choose

rules everyone agrees with (eg. everybody has to have fun). We are freely chose fair rules for

our sports and games (classic ecocentric economies), at least until big money started to play.

Our "free to plunder" market economy, for all its terrible damage, has produced the

knowledge, good science and open minded enterprise needed to transform our wealthy

anthropocentric "freedom to plunder" economy into a wealthy "fair play" ecocentric one.

With the dawning realisation that our Aboriginal nations (surely Earth's greatest ecocentric

political economies - and very liberal democracies) got ecosystem management right, we can

also begin to explore and understand the nature of our anthropocentric economy and how it

has enabled us to so damage the Earth that it has brought such a fearful threat upon us and, to

look for ways we can freely agree with, to make 'play fair' rules for economy and, to fix it.

A good place for Australians to start is understanding our Aborigines. The diverse nations,

languages and cultures, with their supreme skill in governance, law and science, enabled the

Aboriginal civilisations to understand and sustain human land relations, and get them right.

We are just beginning to understand how an ecocentric political economy based on good laws

and land relations sustained the health, wealth and happiness of Aboriginal nations at levels

relative or superior to those of the European merchant classes around 1750. The ecocentric

political economies of Australia's Aboriginal nations provided strong incentives for everyone

to care for country and to act with playful art and generousness of heart towards others.

Aboriginal law and civilisation understood that minimising harm to ecosystem services

means: slowing the flows; sustaining diversity; and, taking care of all creatures below us (eg.

in nature, the food chain or workplace: for they sustain the ecosystem services; they feed us).

The Aboriginal peoples of Australia and the Aboriginal nations subsumed by the sovereign

state of NSW are still waiting for us to talk with them about this. I am sorry, truly sorry, for

the harm I have done by not looking, listening and paying respectful attention, much earlier.

Just as we Australians devised and promulgated (particularly the latter) the "Torrens Title"

system of land tenure, that itself has so efficiently promulgated the ecosystem degradation we

now have incontrovertible evidence of, we Australians have the art, skill and energy to devise

and apply the new accounting rules we need to fix it. We can start by reaching out to those

who already know how to do it, our Aboriginal Aunties and Uncles (just ask, these are the

wisest, kindest, most forgiving, most playful of Earth's peoples) and together begin, first to

imagine, and then, in as many and diverse ways we possibly can, to construct a "fair play"

political economy, beginning here in Australia, that will fully sustain our health, wealth and

happiness, and our human future, without excessive ecosystem damage or undue social harm.

That path will require Ngiyambalgarra (Wiradjuiri word, thought to mean: 'fearless speaking

together')[2] about the merits and demerits of modes of political economy and how we might

so combine the best of them that we save the Earth and achieve everybody's, health wealth

and happiness, now. This is the right (and only) goal for a wise, free and transparent union.

First, consider a quick (and crude) history of our "free market" economy; its nature; how it

arose and why we chose it; and, how for so long, it has seemed to so prosper.

About 250 years ago we free citizens of the emerging western European nation states

(particularly England) chose to shift the main measure of "real" value in our political

economies from the land relations system we call feudalism (and its equivalents in the

economies of other human civilisations) to the money relations system of the liberal

democratic mercantile, industrial and knowledge economies, leading us inexorably to our

"freedom to plunder" market economy. This economic experiment with money based land

relations has brought all with whom we share of life on Earth, to the brink of extinction.

Money (the mighty dollar) is the foundation of the "free to plunder" market economy, so next

let us consider what is known about money.

Money is an agreement between economic actors in a community, to use a token as a means

of payment.[3] Money is useful but in a money based economy there is never enough. We

know scarcity confers immense power on those that control, regulate, generate and trade in it.

Sovereign (or fiat) chattel money is issued and backed by the government of an area as a valid

token of exchange throughout that area and it is fiat chattel money that drives our "freedom to

plunder" market economy. Its value is relative to things individuals and corporations can own

or control (chattels), particularly the artefacts of human endeavour. Chattel money itself, is a

useful human tool. It has been used in diverse forms in almost every known society (eg. the

shell money still used in tribal areas of PNG). However, in European feudal economies much

was excluded from the realm and power of chattel money. Critically, land relations rested on a

hierarchy of fealty bonds and community relationships, not money wealth. Our estates in land

and our rights to enjoy its natural harvests as well as our social relations, powers and values

were determined in other ways than solely by our chattel money power.

During the 1700's as European world trade expanded and our cities and industry developed,

our merchants, industrialists and entrepreneurs grew rich and our Parliaments (which they

influence) transformed chattel money into a sovereign currency, the "Kings Shilling", valid

for all transactions, including the transfer of estates in land and the exercise of social power.

The great civilisations of Asia also toyed with the expanded use of fiat chattel money in this

way but they quickly saw, and perhaps better understood the consequences of degrading their

ecosystem services. They were more cautious, though not cautions enough to save Angkor.

The adoption of fiat chattel money by the civilisations of western Europe enabled the

amassing of vast stocks of chattel money capital by trade over long distances and from the

exploitation of natural resources. The expanded use of chattel money enabled the subdivision,

enclosure and transfer of estates from the Barons to the merchants (including those recently

grown rich from triangular trade)[4]. This again led inexorably to the sad circumstances

surrounding the settlement of Australia and over time to the unfettered exploitation of land for

money profit, without consideration for or acknowledgement of real natural and social costs.

It was a massive government subsidy for "business" as true wealth accounting clearly reveals.

Through this process the people's land and social relations (the source of their sustenance and

society) became chattel property, just a thing to be bought and sold for money. The merchant

buyers of the Barons' estates were freed of former feudal obligations for the stewardship of

ecosystem services and social relations over the regional areas those estates covered. Under

the feudal economy the Barons acknowledged in fealty that the rights given to them to use the

land's harvest were balanced by duties for land stewardship, local governance (education,

roads, markets, etc.) and the defence of the Kingdom (peace keeping and military power).

Those feudal obligations persisted, but "defaulted" to our new nation states when their

Parliaments took over prime responsibility for government from the King and proceeded to

dismantle the feudal hierarchies of power and accountability, in the interest of the merchants.

The income taxes and public roads, education, health, welfare and military services, etc., etc.

that our governments now employ and dispense are the modern manifestation of this

burdensome inheritance, acknowledged, but rarely explicitly so (is Bhutan an exception?) .

We citizens of the modern world have recently sanctioned the use of this fiat chattel money in

an international "free to plunder" market economy dominated by very powerful profit driven

nations and corporations. They use money scarcity to harness the energy of billions of people

to generate money wealth from their labour and consumption for the benefit of those nations

and corporations. In the frenzied pursuit of money profit they 'play' without rules and no real

consideration or accounting for the destitution of 50% of Earth's people and the degradation

of the ecosystem services upon which all chattel, social and natural wealth depend.

Chattel money is useful and manipulation of the stocks and flux of chattel money makes a few

wealthy, but everyone would be better off if we had not allowed the pursuit of chattel money

to become the sole basis for human enterprise and our political economy. We made this tool,

and our rule making governments, influenced by merchants, have elevated it to rule over us.

In the same way the nation states and corporations have created and exploited sovereign

chattel money to amass knowledge, skill and power they (we, the people) can make and use

sovereign social and nature money to manifest the social and natural wealth creation energies

that humanity concerted must muster to stop further human induced ecosystem degradation

immediately and start work restoring our lost ecosystem services as fast as we possibly can.

A sovereign carbon tax or emission cap is just a form of sovereign nature money, and it would

not be beyond the governments that will soon apply them, to ensure that those who build

natural wealth by strictly constraining carbon emissions and slowing the flux of Earth's

carbon in geo and bio-sequestration, grow rich by accumulating lots of nature money wealth.

Just as all chattel money is relative to all chattel wealth (the utility of things owned), social

money is relative to cultural wealth (the utility of our art, language, nurturing and knowledge)

and nature money is relative to natural wealth (the utility of Earth's ecosystem services).

Chattel wealth is enjoyed by excluding others but natural and social wealth is commonwealth,

owned and enjoyed by all. Natural and social capital is properly held in trust by governments.

True wealth accounting for the value of our common social and natural wealth (ie. measuring,

recording and understanding the flux in relation to the stock in space and time) and sustaining

our wealthy social and nature money economies will require great playfulness of spirit, new

science, new law, new counting systems, new systems of data collection and understanding,

new professions, and totally revolutionised forms of marketing, employment and government

services (at least until a harmonious and balanced economy is established and stabilised).

A full accounting system for our common social and nature wealth is needed to enable our

governments to create new fiat social and nature money and to establish 'play fair' markets

and systems of payment and pricing for nature, chattel and social wealth flux and exchange.

Liberal democratic governments of free association in the common purpose of everybody's

health wealth and happiness should be well able to ensure that a proper amount of social,

nature and chattel money will be earned when natural, social and chattel wealth creation is

undertaken, and that a proper natural, social and chattel money price is paid when wealth is

diminished by any human activity, particularly a chattel money generating activity.

In an harmonious[5] balanced growth economy all payments (prices) will include components

for relevant natural, social and chattel costs (wealth degradation). Social and natural costs are

barely counted and not paid for in a "free to plunder" market economy. In a "fair play"

economy these costs will be carefully accounted for and paid. But they will be measured and

paid for in fiat nature and social money, not in chattel dollars. This rule change will upset the

chattel money sector of economies at the same time that wise, strong and universally

accountable good governance will be needed to sustain and protect our remaining ecosystem

services and to manage transition in the chattel economy fairly, ie. to minimise social harms

(lost social wealth) and ecosystem degradation (lost nature wealth). The rapid growth of new

social and nature money sectors will help this transition by dampening demand for chattels

and increasing demand for social and natural wealth creating activities and services.

Prices in a "fair play" market economy will not only be counted in fiat chattel money (Dollars,

Yuan, Yen, Euro) but also in other chattel money tokens (eg. frequent flier points) and in new

nature and social currencies backed by our common cultural and ecosystem wealth. Nature,

and social money income and payments will reflect changes in stocks (capital). The stocks

will be held by the people in common through their governments and will 'guarantee' the

value of social and natural currency while providing no interest or other incentive for

hoarding. Social and natural money income will be spent in "fair play" chattel markets. So

with some finesse this transition can be managed, to the benefit of industrialist and merchants.

Shearman and Smith observe that adopting an ecocentric political economy: "entails a

complete revolution in human values and of all existing vested interests (power and capital)",

but the creation of new fiat natural and social money will enable new economies that multiply

opportunities for wealth creation, while constraining actions that harm nature and society,

This means finding fair and practical ways to revitalise the dollar as a useful medium of

chattel exchange and to welcome the new wealth creation opportunities that nature and social

money (more money) will create. If implemented with effective and sustained support from

both business and government the increase in total wealth resulting will apply like a tide

across the Earth lifting the wealth creation capacity of all economies. Each new currency

would be exchanged at bounded market rates as is now done for our dollar. The removal of

nature and social price subsidies would simply remove the "free to plunder" element and put

chattel money in its place as our servant, not our boss. It would also leave all the Earth's

creatures healthier, wealthier and happier (including us humans, with three 'fair play' chattel,

nature and social economies to do our wealth generating activities in).

The new wealth creation opportunities should be quite sufficient for all government to start

building everybody's health, wealth, and happiness now, in a free but revitalised democracy.

In Australia we may wish to keep Dollar Bill $ but adopt Rainbow R and Eora E as our fiat

nature and social money tokens. The international reference product (aka Big Mac) would

then cost eg. $2R12E6, and paid in $, R or E combined at "fair play" market exchange rates.

Calibrating and managing the transformation to an harmonious balanced growth economy will

require a revolution in governance, business and professional service. But money is magic (as

we all know too well) and with wise leadership this can be done. So let's keep talking about it.

If we act fast, new money and good accounting might just save the planet and bring a good

measure of health, wealth and happiness to all beings, including our children's grandchildren.

Misunderstanding money caused it, but we did the damage and its up to us to fix it, now. The

wealthy, ordinary and destitute all only have one Earth, to care for together, or lose forever.

- - -

Author: Robert Mac'Lean Irvine


© Copyright CCZ 2008 (Creative Commons Zero)


The author acknowledges the work of all political, nature and social economists upon who's wisdom and

teaching this work seeks to build. All merit is shared. Dedicated to grandpa Bob Irvine who stood up for

Aborigines, to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen who revealed the economy of nature and to Bernard Lietaer

who revealed the nature of money. (Thanks for the stories, music, songs and dances and, for the fish.)

Notes in the text

[Note 1] David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, Pręger,

2007. Philip Adams interviewed David Shearman on ABC-RN Wed, 20 Feb 2008.

[Note 2] Ngiyambalgarra - Wiradjuiri word thought to mean: 'fearless speaking together' .

(Authority: Muurrbay Aboriginal Language & Culture Co-operative

(Source: URL=

[Note 3] Bernard Lietaer, The Future of Money: Creating new wealth, work and a wiser world, Century, London. 2001 p. 41.

[Note 4] The triangular trade sold goods to Africa, slaves to America and produce to Europe, it boomed.

[Note 5] A musical triad - harmony happens when 3 musical notes play felicitously together.

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