How telling the master of smug moralism, Ronald Reagan, censured the Soviet Union 30 years ago not merely as the "evil empire" but the "focus of evil in the modern world." Stand aside, Satan, Hitler or Pol Pot, displaced by upstart Commies, like Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mikhail Gorbachev?
Lo and behold, retribution thundered down on this holy warrior: Reagan's sham piety
was promptly discredited when underhanded, decidedly imperial Iran-Contra
travesties came to light. In fact, the U.S. imperial spread, now spanning 1000
outposts across 170 countries, preceded any Soviet menace. Surveying Washington's
autocratic domination of the Great West, journalist Robert D. Kaplan concludes,
"If you look at the history of the U.S., we were an empire long before we were
Notably, neither lawless invasion, nor battle royal, lifted America to modern global ascendance, simply bankrupting the anemic Soviet economy with a pricey arms race. Capitalistic might, lavishly dramatized in the movie Network as the "interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars, petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars," won that epic shootout. Even Reagan understood insolvent empires, evil or otherwise, shrivel. And thus today's conundrum, especially for seething detractors of the American imperium: does not the greenback, and national assets supporting domestic affluence, drive Yankee addictions to drone and pillage whatever "axis of evil" we target?
Alternative Exchanges Blossom
No longer the archaic root of all evil, money's still bottom line for empires. If pessimists are right, predicting our dollars will run out before we exhaust countries to invade, the empire is slipping away. Yet assuming dollar power postpones implosion, consider the multiple blessings of fleeing the dollar, joining alternative currencies for practical, if not moral survival. What if underground defiance of the entrenched money monopoly, wherein central bankers collude with the exceptionalism of manifest destiny, has a role to play before serious protests get underway?
Adjunct mediums of exchange are prospering, nearly all unpegged to official rates and free from most state scrutiny. The most commonplace are swappable points from credit cards or hotel-airline miles, admittedly corporate. Clearly, the cleanest way to exit the dollar rat-race is take off for the boonies, grow your own food, secure housing and energy off the grid. But less life-shaking options, like in-depth bartering goods or exchanging work (cashless, "time-banking"), can bypass officialdom (even surveillance). Under the radar transactions, after all, celebrate the "inalienable rights" of rugged individualists, on the right or left.
Who denies the direct link between the dollar/government monopoly and the magnitude of imperial expansion, bankrolling drones, outposts, and secret prisons? Were dollars not the reigning global currency, think we'd dish out anywhere, anytime "rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air"? Again, from the prescient Network: "the international system of currency . . . determine[s] the totality of life on this planet . . . the world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business . . . one vast and ecumenical holding company." Or as one 19th C. banker summarized, the power that controls "Britain's money supply controls the British Empire. And [we bankers] control the money supply."
Five Alternatives to Dollar Domination
So, short of joining an inaccessible commune, how can we foster personal and community liberation while sticking it to the Bains (and banes) of the world?
1) Set up or join co-operatives, online or not, that oversee time-based currency exchanges. In Japan, contributors gain hourly credit (often helping out poorer, older people) with retrievable credits (used for child care, shopping, house repair, whatever). This "time-banking" modernizes the "babysitting co-op" notion with flexible time as the medium of exchange. Imagine needs (or tools or problems) you and neighbors share. Empower your family by cleaning, shopping or cooking meals for others who return the favor, thus optimizing time and money (group pricing).
2) A multitude of local American currencies exist, per Wikipedia, including the Ithaca (NY) HOUR, the oldest, largest, still operating platform: "several million dollars (value of HOURS) have been traded since 1991 among thousands of residents" and hundreds of businesses. This is community-enhancement at its most grassroots, engendering the social confidence any workable currency must command.
Similar alternatives, here begun by Canadian Michael Linton, are LETS (local exchange, employment or energy trading systems), democratically organized, not-for-profit enterprises that provide community information services and then record transactions. "Mutual credit systems," LETS create interest -free local credit s without scrips or direct swaps as transactions (in points per hour) recorded in a central, membership-wide location. In 1989 Australia allocated $50,000 to develop a LETS to run remote, Western Australia state conferences, produce software, training packs, and fund Linton's visit. By 1995 250 LETS served 2.3 million Aussies, the highest such number in the world.
3) Switzerland boasts the most successful business-to-business, non-profit adjunct platform, the WIR bank, a 1930's depression answer to severe cash crunches. The WIR Bank today sustains an independent exchange that serves the hospitality, construction, manufacturing, retail and professional industries. The WIR franc delivers an electronic currency recorded in clients' trade accounts without paper money that, proponents claim, increase sales, cash flow and profits, advanced by credit lines "secured by members pledging assets."
Why credit-strapped domestic ventures, public or private, profit or non-profit, haven't promoted a like system, exchanging critical parts and services to keep production going, is puzzling, especially considering the remarkable WIR track record and longevity.
4) Breakthrough visionaries innovate compelling municipal solutions, like the celebrated Brazilian city (Curitiba) that faced the double whammy of lousy garbage pickup and an underused bus system. The solution? Award (mainly young people) bus tokens in exchange for garbage bags separated by recyclables. The city got cleaner, saved on waste costs, and free time was exchanged for freedom to travel. No doubt, others know of equally brilliant, cashless solutions.
5) Though Internet coinage, like Bitcoin, is stumbling, other virtual exchanges, and/or modified WIR programs, are inevitable. The Internet is too global and too good at tracking not to foster strong exchanges. House and apartment, if not tool exchanges, are a natural. The Community Exchange System (CES) is a small, international trading network (without coinage) that facilitates buying and selling, an alternative "online money and banking system" that claims to outperform barter by establishing a digital unit of value. CES web site claims 485 global exchanges in 53 countries, with another 37 Australian exchanges on its Australian server.
No Panacea but Freedom Beckons
No, none of these ad hoc exchanges or currencies will stop imperialism or revolutionize economics. Were any to explode in importance, thus threatening state power, there'd certainly be blowback to tax, monitor or control. But how different ultimately is that from, say, gun access, especially if 3-D printers reproduce weapons of menace in higher numbers? The world is both shrinking and growing, with unknowable results. Technology is the ultimate double-edged sword, capable of invasive spying yet also fostering programs that could free consumers from dollar domination.
As consumer purchasing worsens, par for the course as unchecked capitalism concentrates wealth, people will default to viable currency and exchange experiments under way. We are nearer the beginning than the end: soon enough all users of the WIR Bank will have been born after its 1930's debut.