Proposal: Sustainable Living

Modern money is created via interest bearing debt. The only way to pay back that debt (which is larger than the original loan) is with new debt. Thus, debt grows exponentially. The only way that can work is if the economy grows exponentially, too. We live on a finite planet. So money-as-we-know-it is inherently unsustainable.

Should we include alternative currencies, local currencies, gift circles, and demurrage (negative interest) money in a Sustainability SE?

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    I'd hope we'd be able to keep the sustainable living site free of this sort of heterodoxy-that-conflicts-with-reality. – 410 gone Jul 7 '12 at 15:19
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    @EnergyNumbers I can hardly see how the first paragraph is in conflict with reality - infinite growth economics is clearly a problem on a finite planet heading towards carrying capacity. And it seems like a stance more founded in logic and evidence than neoclassical economics does.. – naught101 Jul 10 '12 at 4:32
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    You don't have to agree with my analysis - that's not the point. Question is, is this within scope for the site proposal? – Jay Bazuzi Jul 11 '12 at 7:18
  • No, it is not within scope for the site proposal. See area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/33364?phase=definition for an idea of what is. – 410 gone Jul 11 '12 at 15:20
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    @EnergyNumbers: Maybe you think I sound like the kooks who made the "Money is Debt" and "Zeitgeist" videos on youtube, and you assume I agree with them. My argument above is just a shorthand, since debating the nature of money is off-topic here. I can't stand to watch those videos for more than a few minutes. I am instead trying to channel Charles Eisenstein and David Graeber. I might still be a kook, but I want to clarify which kind of kook I am. Still, I can see that you feel strongly that money is off-topic for this proposal. Got it. – Jay Bazuzi Jul 12 '12 at 5:40
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    I think some aspects of economics may be on topic. I think we'll need to be highly vigilant to keep crank stuff off the site. As I wrote below, I think Skeptics is the right place to deal with Zeitgeist/Money as Debt nonsense. We could have dealt with the question above about debt on Economics.se, but sadly that site died due to lack of interest (ba-dum-tish) – 410 gone Jul 12 '12 at 6:20
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    The proposed SE site is regarding lifestyle (see definition), not economic policies. – chao-mu Jul 15 '12 at 16:55
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    @EnergyNumbers There are two kinds of money: the kind that you and I use everyday and the kind that banks exchange between themselves and central banks for settlements. The kind of money we use everyday is indeed created and destroyed by taking out and repaying debt. Banks create this kind of money through the fractional reserve system. There's nothing controversial about these statements. I believe that discussing sustainable living without being able to talk about the design of money is daft. Think about the popularity of LETS currencies in local communities. – Steven Devijver Sep 3 '12 at 11:24
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    @StevenDevijver please do take it over to Skeptics.SE, where that sort of thing can get robustly rebutted. – 410 gone Sep 3 '12 at 12:46
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    @EnergyNumbers it seems your convictions are clouding your judgement. – Steven Devijver Sep 3 '12 at 13:01
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    Our current life-style "guides" us to live/act in a non-sustainable way. Money (or the way we transact with others) is a big part of that. Seems like a good enough question to merit some discussion at least. – GuruM Oct 4 '12 at 9:03
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    However, the question "What about Money" is a bit too broad. Modifying it to be stick to the context of "Sustainable Living" would make it more useful. Suggestions "Forms of money suitable to Sustainable Living?" would be more appropriate. – GuruM Oct 4 '12 at 9:12
  • One issue is that money is always transferred debt. Gift economies are debt economies, and it is from these that currency arises. So I don't really see how one can avoid it. I also don't really see it as a matter of sustainable living.... – Chris Travers Oct 5 '12 at 13:17
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    (Graber argues, I think successfully, that money is debt even under a gold standard.) Since we agree that "What about Money" is too broad, what about "What about sustainable economic strategies?" That is orthogonal to money, covers things like bartering strategies, cultivating gift economy elements, and the like but doesn't likely reach the monetary system or monetary policy. – Chris Travers Oct 5 '12 at 13:41
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    @EnergyNumbers, I am less interested in economics as a field, then I am in money from an anthropological perspective (Graber's approach). But everything we do has an economic component since it touches production or consumption of goods. I am more thinking of questions like "Are there sustainability advantages to moving my money/borrowing from local credit unions instead of big banks?" Again this doesn't touch monetary policy, and personal finance isn't quite the right area either. – Chris Travers Oct 6 '12 at 0:38

I don't think this is what they mean by "sustainable living". I think you are looking for something closer to the Personal Finance and Money stack exchange.

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    I disagree. Sustainability is all about resources, and money is one of the most important resources of a family. So maintaining a lifestyle where what comes in exceeds what goes out perfectly fits within the scope of "sustainable living". See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability#Economic_dimension – Stijn Van Bael Oct 25 '12 at 15:58

I don't see this as within the scope of sustainable living.

First, money is always transferred debt with or without interest, whether or not we are on a gold standard, if we accept Graber's theories. Gift economies are explicitly this way. The fisherman gives away fish and thus gains honor, and other people give him things thus gaining honor themselves. It is out of these systems that currency arises, I think out of a need to be able to account for and pay off certain kinds of debts (particularly in a legal framework, at least if early Iceland and Ireland are good examples of formalized commodity exchange systems as currency). Moreover I think you can see double entry accounting rising in a Europe where cash was seen as a debt equivalent rather than the other way around (hence our basic accounting terms, borrowed from Pacioli, are basically the language of debt in Latin).

So in this regard, "what about debt-based money" doesn't really matter regarding sustainable living. Even if money was on a gold standard it would still be a way to transfer debt. The important aspects I think are how we make the connections in our personal lives of mutual obligations. I could see aspects of gift economies playing into such discussions, but all money is debt-based. I owe you, so I give you a token that allows you to pay off what you owe someone else. It doesn't matter what that token is, really. Alternatives to that approach might be relevant.

This being said, I would hope that "What about economic strategies for sustainable living" would be very much on-topic, and might include some degree of personal finance (with a sustainability aspect), cultivation of elements of gift economies etc.

  • The alternative is using either wares of actual practical value or tokens backed by such wares practically as currency. Gold coins are not debt-based, they are based on market value of gold. It is entirely possible to create a fully sustainable currency... in theory. In practice as long as big banks exist this won't be a reality, and if/when that ceases to be the case, this site will no longer be a viable resource to peruse in such an endeavor. In other words, that would be a purely theoretical subject with zero real use value. – SF. Jan 29 '13 at 8:35
  • I think we mean two different things when we say debt-based. The US dollar is often created by banks borrowing dollars to loan. But gold currency is debt-based in a different way, namely the fact that it represents a societal debt. Gold isn't particularly useful except to represent favors that one can redeem it for. Thus gold represents a societal IOU if you will which can be redeemed in different ways. I see this as Graber's point regarding commodity-based currencies as representative of debt. (tbc) – Chris Travers Jan 30 '13 at 10:29
  • (cont). My own research into early Ireland and early Iceland (both of which, like early Babylon, had silver/commodity currency systems--- in Babylon it was Silver/wheat, in Ireland it was silver/cattle, and in Iceland it was silver/cloth) is that these currency systems exist initially for a single purpose, which is evaluating civil fines. If someone sues you the jurist can award a fine, and that can be paid in either the medium of long-term exchange (silver) or a specific standard commodity. Again this is a way to pay off societal debt. – Chris Travers Jan 30 '13 at 10:31
  • It still is possible to create a currency of practical value. Think Watt-hour as a currency unit for example. (of course storage would be an entirely different matter...). Still, we're engaging exactly in this discussion for which the asker's question got my -1: It's totally fruitless and pointless. – SF. Jan 30 '13 at 10:42
  • Sure, see early Iceland treating ells of homespun cloth as legal tender, but I still think that doesn't get one away from the innate link between currency and debt, i.e. currency exists to quantify debt, not the other way around. – Chris Travers Jan 30 '13 at 10:44
  • All trade is based on paying debts even if the debts last a second or less. Debt is a virtual (promised) value; currency represents value, these three are inseparable. The issue is about currency holding actual, real, usable value and not virtual and especially not a false virtual (promise that can never be fulfilled). You can always pay debts with currency but if the economy crashes, you're left with a sack of edible grain and not with an IOU piece of paper by an entity that ceased to exist. – SF. Jan 30 '13 at 10:58

No, it is not within scope for the site proposal. See http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/33364?phase=definition for an idea of what is.

If you want crank theories about money debunking, then the Sceptics StackExchange is the place for you. See for example https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/3306/6236

If you want to discuss the realities of managing your own money, then as Oleski says, Personal Finance and Money is the place.

If you want to discuss economic theory and practice, then please support one of the Area51 proposals, or start a new one.


Even with a clear proposal there can appear clearly off-topic questions. It depends on the site members & moderators to flag & close them.

I personally see most of the money topic as off-topic, but there can be good questions for this site.

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