Voting with dollars
In the last week of February 2009 Pacific Brands, the manufacturer of some iconic Australian clothing brands such as Bonds tank-tops (The blonde haired Chesty Bond is the quintessential symbol of the Australian lifestyle), Jocks undies, Berlie bra’s and Dunlop shoes decided to sack most of its Australian manufacturing work force, 1850 people. It would manufacture its clothing and manchester off shore. The reaction in the media and from individuals was immediate. We wanted the power back in our hands, Lindsay Bussau of Carnegie in Melbourne wrote to the Age newspaper; “… a union super fund should buy (the factory), start a co-op and re-employ all the workers, and go into competition with Pacific Brands. Perhaps a new line of undies called Bondy or Burly?” The nightly news interviewed shoppers outside Target (a retailer of Pacific Brands) and they declared they would not buy Bonds products in a hope that the executives of Pacific Dunlop would change their policy. People around the country were disgusted at Pacific Brands lack of loyalty to the customers who supported it, and also the bonuses the CEO would receive for cutting costs. They felt powerless in the face of a blatant use of power to hurt people that average Australians could empathise with- the employees.
Would one lost sale make a difference to Pacific Brands? Would a 1000, the company can make the undies and bra’s for a quarter of the cost in a foreign country because of lower wages. ( A global problem is the race to the lowest wages. In order to have good local markets foreign workers need decent income, otherwise in the name of competitiveness business owners will force wages down or send income offshore to those that ask the least, and unfortunately that can be as low as a dollar a day) I doubt a small downturn in sales will make any difference to their bottom line. Remember that wages are the traditional manner for wealth and power to trickle down from those that have it to those that don’t, removing this adds to inequality of power. Ms Bussau is closer to the idea of monetary democracy she should use her compulsory superannuation contributions to get a stake in Pacific Brands or start up a competitor. The problem is she can’t actually control the super fund she wishes to purchase the factory because the investment decisions made with her money have been legally proxied to the fund managers. This is a common attribute of state initiated privately run compulsory superannuation schemes. The government legislates that part of the employees income should be transferred to a fund manager who can then invest the money within regulations as they wish and glean off handsome management fees. The employee can only access that power once they reach retirement age, usually around 65. The monetary power moves from her employer usually a large company to another large company all the while those making the transfers (deals) take their cut. The compulsory superannuation system in Chile is one of the most significant changes introduced by the pro-economic-liberalist government which has lead to a classically booming economy – increased GDP- and escalating monetary inequality, the power is moved from the wage earners to a few fund managers.
Being an average wage earner Ms Bassou must beg via the press for the actions to be taken on her behalf, even though the money super funds hold is partly hers. She can vote out a government if they don’t spend her taxes wisely, but she is given no say in the money held for her in a superannuation fund.
So Ms Bussou should start her own super fund, then she would have complete control over how her compulsory superannuation money is invested (in Australia all employers must pay 9% of employee income into a superannuation fund which is available to the employee at retirement age). Well legally she could, anyone can start up a self managed super fund, however it takes time and money to set up and manage, according to the ATO (Australian Tax Office) a self managed superfund will cost $6000pa in compulsory audits and regulatory compliance, they advise that it is not worthwhile unless you have more than $150 000 dollars in your super fund, and that makes sense the costs would eat the profits otherwise and you would lose money and time so the poor lose control and the wealthy gain control. Most people don’t have the time or money to micro manage all their own affairs only the wealthy get control of all their monetary power because they can pay others to do the leg work and when you have great sums paying small wages for this leg work makes less of an impact on your profit, as stated before the rich get richer the poor get poorer.
Why can’t our disgruntled shopper outside Target buy a stake in Pacific Brands instead of boycotting their products, which may do more harm to workers than good? Well she probably doesn’t have access to the 100′s of millions of dollars required to get a true stake in Pacific brands. Could she perhaps pool her money with Ms Bussou and one thousand others and buy a stake? Well she could if she had enough spare cash. The average Australian employee only earns $911.30 (Nov 2008) (6) a week and that’s if she is a wage earner for only half the population are employed. And how much of that income is available for ethical spending? After She has paid her tax, ($180) Medicare levy, ($30) rent ($200-300 a week), or her mortgage payment ($250-$450 pw), bought food ($50-$150pw), and her weekly train ticket ($30-$60pw), paid for her electricity ($30) water ($10), internet and phone ($40) cleaning, health and beauty products ($20-$500) bought some nice clothes to put on her back (cost emotional from $10 op-shop to $2000 designer) and some chocolate ($2-$20) to make her feel good, or perhaps enjoyed some entertainment like a movie ($10-$20) or concert ($50-$1000) or dinner out with wine ($30-$200). How much does she really have left to influence the decisions made by Pacific Brands? Not bloody much and that’s if she is a frugal minimalist. If you’re wondering the minimum spend was $672 leaving her $239.30 for ethical spending , the maximum spend was $4670, leaving her going without what she wants or maxing out her credit card, and the lower level assumed rather low rent and rather low transport costs, no car!
With a Flat Payment of $22,000 she could implement a bit of monetary democracy. Her $22 000 spare combined with one thousand others would equal 22 million dollars and that would buy a stake in Pacific Brands at their currently low market capitalisation (the value of their shares by the amount of shares issued) of 121million 22 million would give them 20% and probably a seat or two on the board, and that would change their policy.
The idea of power through money is not at all new; most capitalistic ideologies are based around it. The right goods are produced, at the right quantities because of the demand (purchasing power) for them. Every time you purchase a good or service it is the person or persons who receives that money that you are supporting, you are telling the plumber you appreciate him clearing your blocked toilet, you are telling the builder you appreciate that he can make mortar, and use a nail gun. You are telling the engineer you appreciate his knowledge of the physical forces put upon rocks compared to sand and their relative ability to keep your house standing. It is the conversion of our values into action. But in our current system a few have the vast majority of the value choices and the rest of us a pittance. The wealthiest 1% in Australia get 9.2% of individual income (2003-4) (7) but this is just income it doesn’t show how much of the nations assets they control, or hidden income. According to a 2006 study by the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) the top ten percent of adults globally control 85 percent of global wealth, the top 1% poses around 40% (James Davies, Susana Sandststrom, and Edward Wolff, ‘The World Distribution of Household Wealth, ”United Nations University-World Institute for Development economics Research, December 5, 2006, 26. Cited in David Rothkopf “Superclass” Little Brown 2008)
There are certain aspects of monetary democracy which become more apparent with the massive distortion in wealth caused by the current system. One being the control of information, for it is fundamental to democracy to have accurate information on which to base your choices. And I will deal with this in detail in the chapter on information, in particular where your money really goes when purchasing a product, who are you really supporting. Another is literally the amount of choices that need to be made, it is impossible for everyone to know enough about everything to make good choices so we will still need to ‘vote by proxy’ of sorts by supporting groups, organisations, or companies that we trust to make decisions for us. The government is one of the largest pooling of choices and in Australia controls 250 billion dollars a year on our behalf so access to your representative is still required.
When you buy a product, purchase a service or information (a magazine, pay TV), or donate money, you give that group or individual the right to make choices, you need to know what choices are being made on your behalf.
There are also certain needs and wants that we are not comfortable dealing with in a monetary sense, such as love, sex, friendship and general caring. Raj Patel mentions this in his book The value of nothing, he says that after having sex with your wife you would not leave $100 dollars on the bedside table in thanks. It would be insulting even though you very much appreciate the affection. (Raj Patel “The value of Nothing” Black Inc 2009) I can’t help but agree, many things we truly value are sullied when associated with a transaction, gifts are more precious because there is no expectation of something in return, a back rub is better when you don’t have to swipe your credit card at the end. But what this leads to is power going to those that do unpleasant tasks without caring, and little going to those that are truly altruistic, caring and decent.
This dilemma is not without solutions, which unsurprisingly have been with us for as long as money itself, we have always had ways to move monetary power to those that do caring affectionate, nice things for us. Buying someone a gift in thanks for minding your dog while you are on holidays does not sully the act, it does not make it a transaction because there is no obligation to compensate the giver. What we have is two acts of unobligated giving, two kind acts. If we take another look at the situation Raj Patel presents, if the husband were to take his wife out for dinner, or away for the weekend this would not be seen as a payment but it would free up some of her income because she would not need to buy her own dinner and thus moving monetary power from him to her.
We can keep the emotional purity of certain caring acts by distancing the movement of money from the acts and still manage to reward good behaviour; it just takes a bit of thought and generosity. We have used governments for this role often, it gives us distance from those providing difficult to quantify but no less valuable contributions to our wellbeing, be they artists funded by arts grants, domiciliary care, wages to those who will visit the elderly giving them company and helping them do necessary but unpleasant tasks, or simply providing welfare to the poor. We can save ourselves the humiliation of being faced with handing out a few coins to a beggar if we provide money to the government with instructions to do it on our behalf. Charitable organizations can also be used in the same way. And if you want to be more inventive you could pull strings to give a nice caring person employment or a contract to do what they love. It’s odd that a lot of these methods are seen as dodgy, perhaps because they have been used to reward illegal behaviour rather than caring behaviour but as I mentioned in the spiel on money it is the motives of the people involved not the tools that are bad. These same methods of backdoor distanced reward can be used to preserve affectionate acts from being seen as a transaction and still move power to those that are the most decent and caring
A capitalist may well say this idea may lead to many self interested people going around doing “nice” acts because they expect to be rewarded in some way. Well this is not a terrible thing, if it encourages more people to do nice acts genuinely altruistic or not the world will be a better place. I doubt that anybody would reward a supposedly selfless act if they suspected the person doing it was being disingenuous, so even if we make mistakes and reward the self interested the world is a better place than now, and if we only reward those we see are genuinely altruistic again the world is a better place because the caring will have more power. It’s a win – win.
So I’ll now give you some idea of how to go about monetary democracy with or without your flat payment (FP). First you must find out how much money you really control. Most people have some income that is obviously in your control, there are your wages, investment funds, shares, interest and dividends. There are other forms of monetary control you may not have considered, you may have an employee expense account, you may be on the committee of a local club, you may be given money by your partner or flat mates for weekly shopping, all this money supports decisions made by others.
Next I suggest you do a values budget, write down a list of things you value (in the true moral sense not the economic sense, although with monetary democracy they become one). For example you value freedom, for yourself and others, you value free speech, you value good food and safe clean water for yourself and others, you value your family and friends, you value beautiful furniture, you value love, you value sex and intimacy, you value the respect of your peers, you value good books, you value fast cars, you value humanities longevity. This is not a list of things you should or should not value, they don’t even reflect my personal values they are just an example, put some thought into it, you may value as simple a thing as the sound of a chirping native bird in your garden on a cool autumn afternoon, or as grand a thing as democracy. Write them down and try to put them in some order, which could you give up to preserve the other. Then write down where you money goes, are you supporting people that support your values? Again an example of my income $800 which per week which is spent thus; I support my landlord to the tune of $200 of which about 10% will go to the agent, I’m not sure what my landlord is like but the agent is very decent so I have an inkling that he may well support similar values to me. One hundred goes in interest payments to nab and ANZ banks, the way they use this money is not absolutely transparent and I should probably look at refinancing this debt to a more transparent debt provider. Twenty dollars goes to my internet and mobile phone provider Optus which is owned by Singtel, which is owned by the Singapore government which isn’t really democratic so I should really find another option. The rest goes on food and drinks, I am proud that I support small local food producers, local bookshops and local wine producers who care about their products and less about profit.(more on this in information)
Where your money really ends up will take some work, corporations as I mentioned before when talking about shareholder democracy or the lack hereof are very good at being opaque. What I suggest you do is look up their annual reports work out their profit margins by dividing their gross profit by their revenue this will give you a percentage which represents the amount of profit they have demanded from you the consumer, and this profit is the amount of power you have transferred to them, an easy rule of thumb is those that demand less from you should be supported above those that demand more, you can always send them more money if you like what they produce.
Also be weary of corporate values, they are usually meaningless and can change at the whim of a new CEO, compare corporate values you like to their spending, are they really supporting their values? If a company values sustainability what percentage of their revenues did they actually put towards sustainability? In large companies you will often find the numbers are large, they donated 12 million to sustainable projects for instance but as a percentage of revenues it can be miniscule. Most large companies avoid these comparisons by having vague values such as Wesfarmers owner of Coles one of the Oligopoly of supermarkets in Australia who’s core values are Integrity, Openness, Accountability and Boldness, (Wesfarmers website extracted 29 July 2010, http://www.wesfarmers.com.au/careers.html) this is similar to their major competitor Woolworths who value Retail Passion, (what the F…) Integrity, Leadership and Responsibility (Woolworths website extracted 29 July 2010, http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/phoenix.zhtml?c=144044&p=irol-govManage) perhaps they had the same McKinsey & Co management consultant write them. There’s a great quote about McKinsey & Co management consultants from a British government civil servant (McKinsey also advise the British Government) who described them as “people who come in and use Powerpoint to state the bleeding obvious.” ( Malcolm Knox “The Hard Stuff” The Monthly June 2010). As a bit of a laugh I Googled BP’s corporate values in the wake of the gulf oil spill it’s not really surprising that they value being Progressive, Responsible, Innovative, and Performance driven which encompasses and I quote “We deliver on our promises through continuous improvement and safe, reliable operations.” As I said take corporate values as black comedy.
I have never met an individual human who would value accountability over their family, or retail passion over their passion for a lover, which just goes to show that giving monetary power to large corporations is unlikely to be a vote for your human values.
There are many options opening up that provide more information about the people you are supporting or at least try to cut out the middlemen who just leech off our complex system without adding value. This also helps to cut down the amount of work which as you will read in the chapter on work is a good thing. In the financial arena organizations such as Zopa (http://uk.zopa.com/ZopaWeb/) allow individuals to lend and borrow from other individuals, you can ask what the person will spend your money on and also find out more about the person to whom you will pay interest. There are also micro-financing organizations which still pay you interest but also let you pick the projects you wish to support and let you follow their progress, Kiva (http://www.kiva.org/about/microfinance) is just one of many such organisations which allow you to see photos of borrower such as Rizalina Bulabos from the Philippines who wishes to borrow money to improve her living conditions and run a small bakery, she plans to use the money to purchase more ingredients such as sugar and flour to make bread, she is after the paltry sum of $450 so far $400 has been raised as of July 29 2010, although this sum is small it will have a mammoth effect on her wellbeing and freedom.
In the food market – which is essential – there are farmers markets where you can meet the grower, the UK has an online farmers market which is interactive allowing you to ask questions of the grower, many restaurants are now giving details of where their produce is derived and how livestock are treated before their departure from this mortal coil to our table. Ebay and Craigslist allow you to buy directly from another person which at least gives you the peace of mind that you are supporting someone with similar tastes. However more transparency is needed in the lead on effects of our spending, the compounding effect of how our spending is spent by those we give money to, the ethical multiplier.
Apple for a long time considered one of the good guys of the corporate world, Steve Jobs was normal just like us we think; he wore jeans and spoke our language avoiding corporate jargon. Apple makes cool products that seem to look after the consumer not the bottom line but it has come to light that their Taiwanese manufacturing contractor Foxconn (one of the biggest electronics contractors in the world making, ipods, iphones, intel motherboards and Amazons kindle) has the work done by more than 400,000 Chinese people who live and work at their factories. The long hours, pressure to not make mistakes, competition for scarce income and constant micro management has essentially “manslaughtered” a dozen people in 5 months. (Editorial Desk the China Post “Suicides at Foxcon raise troubling issues” 02-06-2010, http://www.asianewsnet.net/home/news.php?sec=3&id=12271) At least a dozen people (maybe more) have committed suicide because they worked for Foxconn, do you really want to support a company that drives the makers of your iPhone to their deaths? The corporate world may come up with wonderfully beautiful products but it comes at a cost, to quote from the China post in order for Foxconn to get such lucrative contracts as the production of the iPhone they must implement “aggressive cost-management policies,” they must pay the least and get the most from the worker aggressively. I don’t hold aggression as a value, nor should you, but Apple does. (ibid)
The fact these Dickensian tragedies have come to light – although too belatedly to save the lives already lost – is a sign of improvement, the activism against sweatshops and their beneficiaries such as Nike and The Gap in the nineties promoted ethical consumption and a desire to know where our money goes once it is spent at the flouro lit shopping mall and what actions it supports. You may well note that Apple and others use third parties (contractors such as Foxconn) to do evil, we can also use them to do good as I have stated before; it is not the method but the values of the people wielding power that matter. The corporatist explanation for the suicides is that the families get a large payout from the company if someone dies on the job, and therefore sons and daughters are sacrificing their own lives to financially benefit their parents (300USD per month salary compared with 14,500 USD payout for deaths on company property). This does not justify the actions of the company Foxconn or Apple if anything it makes our global system look all the more horrid, average people are forced to take their lives in order to gain some financial security for their kin, what horror have we created? We have created a world that values a person’s life at the measly sum of $14500USD.
I overheard a conversation in the lift at work the other day that highlights how distance or isolation can distort our values. I work in a multi-million dollar bank office building overlooking a marina and surrounded by multi-million dollar high-rise apartments in the modernized but sterile Docklands precinct of Melbourne. We have stainless steel kitchens and $2000 dollar Herman Miller “Mirra” office chairs, but we are a homogenized campus of bankers moved away from the hustle, bustle and randomness of central Melbourne. As I caught the lift up to the 4th floor I overheard two middle aged well dressed women talking in the lift beside me one whom was pregnant and talking to her colleague about baby strollers. The pregnant bank employee said a friend had spent $6000 on a pram (stroller) for her soon to be born baby, thankfully they were both quietly repugnant of the extravagance but still felt it worth mentioning and the purchaser still worthy of being a friend and I noticed a slight hint of envy, the pregnant woman’s less expensive stroller would not compete. This puts our values into perspective, the stroller which will be used for a year or two is worth one third of a Chinese iPod builder’s life. I would be happier if they had been using the friends extravagance as an example of immoral behaviour rather than an interestingly envious extravagance. It is the acceptance of such value choices, benign or complicit which perpetuate an immoral society.
It’s always better to meet the person getting your profit or interest, then you can judge if they are worthy of your support because of their similar values. If they have similar values they are likely to spend your money on people that also support your values. This I know will take some work and for most it is out of the question in a global community therefore we must encourage honest information, genuine actions and open communication and not be afraid to openly say when we feel a friend has spent poorly. Always look at intentions and consequences not the tools or method used, some will use third parties to do good not harm others will produce beautiful items while killing people. Be thoughtful, ask questions and don’t be afraid to say a purchase is wrong. For every dollar moved is a vote, and when it is moved to someone that supports your values that vote is doubled, and when the person you have supported gives the money to someone that supports the same values it is doubled again, this is the compounding effect of monetary democracy small changes in your buying behaviour can make big differences. Think ethically, purchase and give to those you trust, don’t trust those that hide where your dollars end up and don’t be afraid to ask questions, you will make a better world.
The Change has started
The use of monetary democracy is already growing and it is being pushed by the ecological and economic problems now being faced by western democracies in particular and the globe in general. John Gerzema chief insights Officer for marketing giant Young and Rubicon sees the next push in consumerism as being values based, consumers don’t just want value for money but they want the brand to represent their values and the company to exhibit the values they also hold. Consumers are learning to differentiate between desire and moral values. And we are starting to wield what monetary power we have. From co-ops buying organic beef in bulk because they can’t get a retailer to supply it at a price they can afford, to a move towards déclassé consumption, conspicuous consumption is no longer in fashion, people are buying fashion items that show they are part of the community not the elite, he cites the trend toward baglady clothing on the streets of New York as an example of the wealthy even trying not promote their difference. (John Gerzema, TED lectures, http://www.ted.com/talks/john_gerzema_the_post_crisis_consumer.html) This trend maybe similar to what happened in the nineties during the last recession when grunge became popular, workman’s (known colloquially in Australia as Druggy shirts or flannies) shirts and simple cotton summer dresses became de rigueur for the average as well as the supermodel. Recessions are a sobering experience which forces us to look more deeply at ourselves and what really makes us happy, and what we want for the future. Gerzema in his marketing parlance may have hit on the fact that when the people speak they want sustainable progress not ostentation.
There is also a new movement which started in the US and has spread to Australia called carrot mobs. Instead of just abstaining from products one doesn’t think are morally good the group rewards those businesses that are doing good. The organisers contact a business be it a coffee shop or a supermarket and agree to mob the store buying up their goods and therefore supplying money, and giving them a bit of attention (queues out the door seem to garner people’s attention) and the shop owner agrees to do something worthwhile in return. San Francisco’s Epicentre Café agreed to use the money to make the café more environmentally friendly, upgrading the heating and cooling system and getting biodegradable utensils. (Carrot Mobs reward Shops for Good Habits, ABC San Francisco, 21 October 2009, http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/assignment_7&id=7076678) Investment companies like Australian Ethical investments also use a carrot by supplying capital to companies deemed ethical in not only their core business but also in the way they conduct their business. They invest in few banks but many smaller projects and some environmental start ups.
However the monetary stick has also been used to some effect in Australia. In 2007 logging company Gunns planned and received tepid approval from the federal government to build a wood chip pulp mill in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. The Tamar is a pristine valley which has small farms, vineyards and a fisheries, it is a truly beautiful part of the world. I know this having recently visited the area that stretches north from Launceston, the rolling green hills, and wide estuary with its untainted seafood, small local farms and vineyards down dirt and gravel tracks is the stuff of an old English utopians dream. The cool climate pinot noirs are world renowned the berries and organic pigs exquisite and the peace, quiet and clean crisp air is the panacea for any city worker ill. A pulp mill no matter how eco friendly would still pollute the area in some way, even the site of it in such an Arcadian paradise would look like a festering maggot filled wound in the side of a voluptuous nubile Venus. Environmental groups and businessman Geoffrey Cousins – who was also a board member of Telstra Australia’s largest Telco – decided to try and stop the project. Again the peoples elected officials had not done the ethical thing so the people proposed not to attack Gunns directly because most of Gunns product (wood chips) was sold to foreign companies to be made into paper so using buyer power was difficult if not impossible within Australia, instead they attacked the prospective financier of the project ANZ Bank. They realised that you must look at connections in your monetary votes, I know I’m harping on the point but monetary power compounds (think compound interest you earn interest on the interest you have already earned therefore the growth is exponential) whether it is used for good or evil.
Get up the NGO activist group got on board and encouraged customers and shareholders of ANZ to write to their CEO asking him not finance the pulp mill. Geoffrey Cousins appeared in the media reminding ANZ that financing the pulp mill went against their own stated values of not supporting environmentally damaging projects, and the Tasmania Women for Change Alliance urged ANZ’s customers to protest by closing their bank accounts thus moving their monetary vote elsewhere. (The Accountability Dilemma, The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 2007).
Eventually ANZ announced that it would not fund the construction of the pulp mill, although its press release stated it was for financial reasons (I would like to reference the press release but a search on ANZ no-longer produces a result) I know having worked for ANZ at the time that the legal department were massively involved in the decision making process. Legal are not concerned with credit or financial risk, whether or not a loan can be re-paid but the legal/social implications of funding, during that period every archived box on Gunns was dragged up to the legal department for review they were looking at what position the bank was in and whether they could get out of funding this new socially “toxic” deal, my inclination is that the monetary and social action did have an effect on a funding decision. At the time of writing Gunns has not found a financier for the project and the pulp mill has not been built. As a sad post script at Christmas 2009 Gunns served papers on 20 environmental activists accusing them of campaigning against the company via its customers in Belgium and Japan, via its banks, and investors, they noticed monetary democracy in action and didn’t like it one bit. The company said these actions add up to a conspiracy to injure the company and an illegal interference with Gunns trade and business operations.( Gunns Shot, Ethical Corporation, http://www.ethicalcorp.com/content.asp?ContentID=3502 and http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2009/01/08/48565_tasmania-news.html) thankfully sanity prevailed in the courts and the judge threw the case out, saying there was no case against the activists. Gunns felt confident they could use the justice system to uphold what they saw as their right to power over the people, thankfully the judge threw the suit out of court, but not before the campaigners were put through a financial and emotional hell.
Sellers are also starting to allow buyers to pay what they feel, allowing prices to be set on ethical values rather than dictated by greed. Lentil as Anything is a vegetarian restaurant which started in the popular formerly seedy seaside suburb of St Kilda in Melbourne. It doesn’t have prices on its menu just a box on the counter so the patrons can pay whatever they feel the simple but nutritious vege-currys, dahls, salads and lassis are worth to them. They can eat for nothing if they want or they can pay $50 for a vege curry. Its success has led to another restaurant opening in the Abbotsford convent “artisan” precinct 4 km from the heart of Melbourne. The money that is collected is used to pay the rent and suppliers and whatever is left is split evenly between the staff. Founder Shanaka Fernando ran in to problems at the Abbottsford site and almost left until public outcry forced the management to negotiate on his rent. There has been running problems for all the 130 tenants at the Abbotsford convent as the management rather than creating a vibrant diverse community has become blinded by dollar signs and the perceived need to be financially successful. Shanaka put it thus; “The culture here is more dictatorship than democracy. It’s a classic example of where people elected (the management board) for service and they interpret service as power.”(Peter Munro and Ruth Williams, “Convent’s tenants are Leaving, the police are called in: just another day in utopia” The Sunday Age, September 5, 2000)
Shanaka has shown through Lentil as Anything that you can run a business leaving it up to the customers to set the price based on their values but he runs into problems when dealing with the rest of society which does not behave this way, rents are set by landlords that have factored interest and profits into the inflexible pricing.
Western society can learn a lot from more traditional ways of setting prices. Most of us when travelling through Asia or the middle East have had to bargain for goods be they carpets in Istanbul or Bintang tank-tops in Bali. This is not only a fun process but a very good way of finding a fair price that suits both the buyers and sellers wealth. The prices are automatically adjusted to suit the buyer’s purchasing power and the seller’s costs. If you are from a wealthy country and would normally pay $50 for a t-shirt getting it for $10 or $5 is a bargain for a local who earns $10 a week 50 cents is fair and this will be found out in the process of offer and counter offer. The seller will get what they believe is a fair price for you to pay. This is also why it’s considered rude to accept the first seller offer, if so the seller will feel ripped off by the buyer, they had obviously started the process way to low for you considered the first offer a bargain. As you may notice this price setting through bargaining is also a very good driver of equality those that can afford to pay more do, and those that have less means pay less.
I always find it slightly naïve of people to complain about this bargaining for prices on the basis that there’s always someone who got a similar t-shirt or carpet cheaper, they feel ripped off. They seem blind to the fact that ripping off is institutionalized in the West, standard retail mark up is 100% and in some industries like fashion it can be 500% and discounting is done from this price not the cost price.
Money is the greatest of human inventions; it is the materialisation of the most ethical human characteristic; Trust. Money can and should be our greatest tool for democracy, for DemoKratia! You will learn in the chapter on Fluid Economics when given freedom from sanctions and manipulation we can and do spend and sell based upon our holistic values and this will lead naturally to a better more fulfilling prosperous and sustainable world.
Many of the methods of monetary democracy relate to the one thing we truly own, ourselves, and who or what we serve, in a way labour democracy is more fundamental than monetary democracy but I have put money before labour because in our society money is more prevalent than labour and more immediate as a tool of influence. Nonetheless for whom you work, to whom you sell (or give) your ideas and whom you hug is just as important as the money you spend. Labour democracy maybe a greater evolution than monetary for it can only happen with the FP (Flat Payment).
David J Campbell