You know that feeling when you can’t decide whether you should laugh or cry? That’s how most discussions about the economy make me feel. I suspect that the act of pondering mainstream economics causes a short circuit in the brain that simultaneously turns off imagination and logic. Maybe it is because everyone is pretending they understand something that doesn’t make sense. Like when a room full of sustainability professionals share their worries about a recession – have they ever considered the sustainability implications of urging the economy to take more and more from nature forever? And if they have thought it through, they must be expecting that we can fix it all with some mysterious ‘technology’ that is always just around the corner. So many serious faces saying such stupid things!
When I wrote Syafika and D’arby don’t save the world I wanted to make something happen to the economy that would be dismissed as ridiculous by almost everyone, so I imagined that, just as a recession starts, community and environment groups get behind a cryptocurrency called $Renew, which are created when people do good things. Initially, $Renew are created and distributed to people according to their use of renewable energy (or rather, non-use of non-renewable energy), but then it is extended to other things (If you could, what would you pay people to do?). I gave $Renew some other properties too:
- $Renew decay over time, so they can’t cause the problems they would if they accumulated (inflation, increasing inequality)
- There’s a limit to how many $Renew anyone can have
- Transactions are only approved for sustainable products and services (so you can’t use $Renew to buy things like petrol – which is not only sensible from a sustainability perspective, but an expression of my dislike of cars and trucks)
I anticipated that $Renew would be so popular (how could they not be if they were given out for free just when the economy was crumbling?) that the government would have to accept $Renew (at least tax $Renew and maybe even accept $Renew as tax payments) and that the government would realise that without $Renew, we’d follow the rest of the world into a Depression. However, given the recent rise in the profile of Modern Monetary Theory, perhaps the government these days would respond by creating their own money instead. And that brings me back to the reason for this exercise – to point out that the government could reshape the economy by creating money when we do good things or create it specifically to spend on good things, if they wanted to (if we asked them to). If it was too complicated to make this money decay, taxation could be used instead – to control the amount of money circulating and to discourage spending on unsustainable things.
There’s another thing that happens to the government in Syafika and D’arby, but I’ll tell you about that another time.