Friday, February 12, 2010

Intro to P without B

More from the introduction to my book in progress, "People without Borders; Towards a Cosmopolitan Condition."

By John Taylor; 2010 Feb 12, Mulk 06, 166 BE

In 1843 Flora Tristan (1804-1844) wrote the Worker's Union, which suggested that in every department of France workers build for themselves a communal "Palace of the Worker's Union." Here, "children of the working class will be instructed, intellectually and professionally, and ... working men and women who have been injured at their jobs, and those who are infirm or aged, will be cared for." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik, These centrally located institutions would be paid for by the workers themselves through a "fund for the self-emancipation of labour." As one of the earliest feminists, Tristan hoped that such self-governing institutions, combining the functions of hospital, homes for the aged, schools and centers for advanced studies, women would finally create an atmosphere in which working men would be emancipated from their thraldom to the bottle and women would find equality in what she called "communities of human unity."

Flora Tristan's idea was later taken up by Marx and Engel in their Communist Manifesto. In all-too-typical male fashion, the Manifesto held that workers must take their fate in their own hands by engaging in violent struggle with exploitative owners of the means of production. Only forty years earlier the only successful slave revolt in history had taken place in Haiti. Exploited workers of the world should take this example. There is no choice but to follow the example of a violent slave rebellion.

If Flora Tristan's more pacific dream of progress through cooperation had caught the public imagination, and if everyone, rich and poor, were trained in a trade in early education, then there would be no need for rebellion or forced equalization. Everyone would be both a worker and an owner, wealth would be spread around and there would be no need for struggle or confrontation. Gradually and naturally, differences would vanish and equality and justice would come about on their own. Cooperative ownership of social institutions, being more efficient and equitable, would spread on its own merits -- as indeed it has in recent decades, especially in Europe. Wealth and ownership of the means of production would spread into more hands and old artificial divisions between workers and owners would cease to seem inherent to human nature.

This book proposes that Flora Tristan's Worker's Palaces be built into the entire built world, both cityscape and countryside, according to a universal formula and building code. This can be done by erecting cooperative hillside developments that combine public transport, high-density, modular housing, agriculture, studios and other workplaces in long rows of mounds. With hillside construction the entire built world would be designed from the ground up to improve the frequency and quality of human contact while eliminating pollution, emissions, waste and other negative human impact on the environment. Only bicycle and pedestrian traffic is allowed in the open street, while light rail and other rapid transit are built out of view, underground. This would permit social institutions of Tristan's Worker's Palaces to be located in prominent places, such as town squares and under domed-over street corners.

The cooperative nature of hillside architecture would be bolstered not only by the physical surroundings but also by the economy, especially the monetary system. The current "fractional reserve" banking system with its fiat currency makes every transaction independent of the parties involved; it discourages cooperation or wealth creation on the local and neighbourhood level. Our present financial system tends to concentrate power and centralize wealth.

As Bernard Lietaer points out in his important work, The Future of Money, the particular currency in circulation plays a surprisingly crucial role in conditioning relationships in a locality. By their very nature, fiat currency and interest bearing loans remove reciprocity and social obligation from financial transactions. He points out that the Latin root of the word "community" means "giving gifts together." The kind of money used either destroys or bolsters the gift giving that constitutes the bonds of a healthy, sustainable community. Lietaer's book details the complex varieties of alternative local currencies and barter schemes used around the world. It explains why the systematic use of a specially designed, local currencies can change a region from high unemployment to a vital, thriving economy.

In view of the fact that currency plays such an important role in building community, a good portion of People Without Borders is devoted to discussing questions like: How might currency reform by a world government bring cooperative hillside housing projects into existence? What kind of local currencies should hillside developments choose? How does the threefold Comenian structure not only of world government but of family and neighbourhood affect currency? Lietaer has already proposed a world currency which he calls the "terra." He holds that the terra would not be subject to inflation if it were tied to a standard determined by the ten most important commodities in use at the time. Nevertheless, People Without Borders speculates on the possibility of dividing up the terra into three parts, one for educators, one for politics and a third for religious and artistic purposes.


No comments: