Sunday, July 10, 2005

Proudhone: head in the stars, and other places

Reading Proudhone is absorbing. It is not that all of his arguments are perfect. I actually have all kinds of markings up and down the page. However, one becomes quite sympathetic to the spirit and goal of the work. Perhaps I have just become soft and can see the wonder of living in an anarchistic world where most people are small business men or work in some sort of collective. I can see that this is a marked independance over the state of things as it is. It would be wonderful if people could easily borrow money, start up a business, and not take on the duty of paying the interest. It would be wonderful if people could work together and make profit as a group. It would be wonderful if people felt more economically empowered and had more control over their financial life. And then one gets caught up. It takes a few minutes to realized that these claims seem to be of the same status as "it would be wonderful if we all had our own spaceship".

I have more to say, but I keep erasing and re-writing. It won't be said tonight. However, I want to suggest that interest may be a usefull tool in the social distribution of loans. Furthermore, as I keep stating, money is scarce--even if we printed up lots of it its value would keep going down. I suppose that if a mutualist banking scheme could work that would be one thing. But until I can see a way for interest free banking to work (in the way it would work in a free society, not as some kind of government transfer scheme), then I don't see how mutualism can be kept up.

However, there is hope. In addition to the cooaperative story below, I have recently discovered the Grameen Bank. The idea is to provide micro loans (no more than a couple of hundred dollars) to poor people in Bangladesh. This bank has been successfull as a bank. It makes lots of loans and they get paid back. This small scale movement in a mutualist direction--providing loans to poor people who couldn't get them otherwise seems to be changing things for the better. However, it is important to note that the loans are small, and would have move things very little for the purpose of ending the monopoly of capital ownership. They even charge interest. Grameen loans appear to be a very good thing, putting money into the hands of people who need it. It is apparantly a profitable way to fight poverty. But as I stated, it is not going to be(nor does it improve the likelyhood of having) a mutualist revolution.

There is one side note. The Grameen Bank appears not only to be lending money, but promoting good decision making. It is not clear that the "16 decisions of Grameen Bank" are actually something that they require all people they loan to to follow or not. Some of the decisions seem, well, incredibly politically and morally charged--"we shall have small families" and "we shall not give or take dowry" among them. All of the decisions are prudent ones, in fact, I may call them cultural pre-conditions of economic success. However, requiring people to follow them in order to loan (if that is their practice) seems incredibly coercive. I have to wonder if it is something that mutualists or others would call "contract feudalism". But this may need more working out.


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