by Noah Bonn, Contributor
For those of you who have never seen the movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the bomb on the city bus serves as an excellent analogy for our current model of monetary economics.
SPOILER ALERT: do not read on if you are planning on watching this 1994 classic anytime soon.
Okay, here we go:
In Speed, an eccentric villain straps a bomb to the underside of a city bus, which will explode if the speed of the vehicle ever drops below 50 miles per hour, once it has surpassed that speed (clever title, no?)
Keanu (an LA cop) learns of the event, but not until the bus is already on the highway, moving well over 50 mph. Like the hero he is, however, Keanu fearlessly boards the moving bus, where he meets Sandra Bulluck- a bus passenger so hot you’ll say, “oh yeah, I’m watching a movie.”
Keanu’s first plan is to get to the airport, where they can drive in circles without risk of traffic slowing them down. After reaching the airport, they confuse the terrorist by creating a loop for the surveillance camera he is using to watch them. All the passengers except Sandra and Keanu get into a van that pulls up along side them. Keanu then rigs up a device to keep the accelerator depressed, and he and Sandra jump out of the door and slide away- wrapped in each other’s arms on a metal surfboard.
After sliding to a halt (actual dialogue):
Sandra: “You’re not going to get mushy on me, are you?“
Keanu: “Maybe… I might.”
Sandra: “I hope not, ’cause you know, relationships that start under intense circumstances- they never last.“
Keanu: (looks at camera) “Oh yeah?“
It’s one hell of a film.
But how does it relate to our economy?
Well, like almost every country in the world, the US dollar is issued by a private (read: for-profit) central bank. This means that all money is created out of interest bearing loans. Because this process creates more debt than money, new bigger loans must always be made to cover the old ones as they are called in- hence the eternal mandate for growth.
If at any point our production of goods and services does not keep up with the rate of interest, then there is a brief period where the middle class is eroded. After that, those who are in debt start missing payments, and a credit crisis occurs. This results in recession of GDP, and all the goods and services that we used to rely on simply disappear. In simple terms, if we do not continue to grow at pace, the bus blows up.
Now, Keanu handled the situation masterfully. He made some policy decisions that bought them some time, then immediately turned his attention to how to get everyone safely off the bus.
Our political arena faces the identical situation. We must buy ourselves some time in the short term, but we must ultimately find a way off the bus for the long term.
There is no question that our economic system is unsustainable, however our politicians, mainstream media, and even most academic institutions act as though this is not the case- that a growth-necessitating system can last forever. This would be analogous to Keanu handling the situation in the following way:
Keanu: “we just need to get to the airport, then we’re golden.”
Sandra: “But Keanu, what about when we run out of fuel?”
Keanu: “there’s enough fuel in this bus to last the next hundred years!”
Sandra: “so you just want stay on the bus and drive in circles for the rest of our lives?”
Keanu: “what, you want to get off the bus?”
Sandra: “actually yes, I would very much like to get off the bus.”
Keanu: “well you can’t, and you’re the reason this bus is running out of fuel. You’re a threat to this bus. Get her!”
Of course, Keanu would never do that. But politicians like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both making the case to be president by each claiming that they can make the bus run faster than their opponent (aka create more economic growth). No concern is ever raised for running out of fuel (“peak oil” or “peak growth”) whatsoever.
But wouldn’t it makes sense for a politician to propose the idea that maybe- just maybe- we should look for a way to remove the speedometer-bomb from the underside of the bus? Wouldn’t that just make all of our lives a whole lot easier?
This is the concept behind monetary reform and ending the Federal Reserve- a private institution that can only issue money if interest rates are above the zero percent lower-bound. This is what creates the unsustainable mandate for eternal growth, and this is the issue that is getting no attention in mainstream politics.
Without a doubt, basing the economic model of a planet with finite resources on a system that requires infinite growth will be looked back on as one of the most foolish practices in the history of our species- right along with slavery, nuclear weapons, and Four Loko.
Luckily, alternative systems do exist.
1) Our currency could be issued by a Public Central Bank instead of a Private one, eliminating the need for profit, and allowing the currency to come into circulation at zero or even negative interest- completely erasing the imperative for growth, while maintaining it as an option. This, combined with the outlaw of fractional reserve lending, would make the concept of a “credit bubble,” conceivably impossible.
2) Treasury-issued money could be spent directly into circulation by the government- completely decoupled from debt- let alone interest. It could be set to a demurrage rate that would both prevent inflation and replace the need for income and sales tax.
3) Would could explore more complex systems such as Jacque Fresco’s Resourced-Based Economic Model, utilizing the technological understanding we already have to meet the basic needs of all people on our planet, without the need for full time “jobs.”
4) We can simply address the root-issues behind economic concerns at a community level. For example:
“what is the best way to feed everyone in this city? Should we ship all our food in from 2,000+ miles away, or should we simply start creating agriculture within this area?
I think people would be surprised how unhelpful the concepts of “economic exchange,” and “centralized regulation,” are when you really get down to what it is you’re trying to accomplish as a community.
But until that time, drive fast my friends.
Your fellow passenger on this crazy bus-ride of destruction.
Noah Bonn is a writer and grass roots activist from Seattle, Washington. His areas of focus include health and wellness, sustainability and spiritual awakening. He can be found at his blog, NoahBonn.com
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