Currency Commons: Power To The people

Vermont coppers issued by the Republic of Vermont. 1785 design shows a plow and the sun rising over the Green Mountains.

John Ford

If a revisionist view of the Commons is what we are looking for, then the message from both Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest is plain. Political and legal rights can only exist within a sustainable economy and this will require a move from private to public control of the money. The models here for putting this into practice of course are the two great charters. They are Social Charters that affirm Commons Rights which are different from human rights and civil rights; they are rights of both of access and of preservation and have something to do with an idea of a shared ecology and a responsibility of stewardship.

The rights of stewardship and the obligations of resistance represent the central principals within an emerging movement that is gaining ground. Writing in Kosmos Journal in 2009 James Quilligan former policy advisor for the U. N., outlines a bold approach in renewing the Commons, stating that “instead of seeking individual and human rights from the state, people may begin to claim long-term authority over resources, governance and social value as their planetary birthrights—both at a community and global level. Commons rights provide an important basis for creating covenants and institutions that are not state-managed to negotiate the protection and sustenance of resources and ensure that the mutual interests of all stakeholders are directly represented. Through the assertion of people’s inherent rights to a commons, the role of the state would become much more balanced between enabling the corporate sector and enabling citizens. Instead of regulating commerce and finance in the public interest (while also regulating the commons for the benefit of commerce and finance), the new duty of the state would be to confirm the declarations of the rights of people to their commons, allowing them to manage their own resources by recognizing and upholding their social charters and commons trusts”.

What Quilligan is proposing here is a viable form of co-governance where the Commoners begin to take back, at the lowest possible level of authority the process of decision making that is currently relegated to the state. Given that the governing policies of the state evolved primarily to maintain free market access for corporations and that a large majority of their time is spent with budgetary appropriations, and that they fail to even recognize the existence of the Commons, makes them ill equipped to take on any kind of a governing role in this domain. In the same manner that the free market is dominated by profit maximizing corporations, the Commons will host a diversity of Commons Trusts that will act as a catalyst in the formation of co-governing bodies securing authority to manage our currency, our production, our labor, our farms and our lands. These trusts come under a legal principle called Public Trust Doctrine that found recognition in Magna Carta, became part of English Common law and eventually became embodied in several of our state constitutions. Public Trust Doctrine has something to do with ‘ownership’ and access to resources, affirming that they belong to the people and not to the (S)state. Expressed in this trust doctrine is the idea of trusteeship or stewardship where the trustees are held accountable for the management of the resources of the Commons both for present and more importantly for future generations. It is within these Commons trusts that we find the legal framework most suitable for the embodiment of the fiduciary institutions necessary for the transition toward a form of decentralized co- governance.

The Commons movement is now emerging as a potent counter force to the hegemony of neoliberalism representing a third sector that transcends the polarized dynamic between business and government by affirming customary rights to self-determination and including citizens in their shared management and preservation of their own resources. These nascent movements that are currently developing from the global implosion are circumscribed by scale and involve by necessity the two underpinning structures of money and government. This transition however, is not a reformist effort. Government serves exclusively the needs of neoliberal finance; and money as a debt medium will continue to extract wealth from the remnant of a producer economy. Both are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The Currency Commons is a proposal to establish the first of a series of Social Charters in Vermont. These Charters will seek legal recognition of trusteeship and co-governance, and begin to articulate the rights and the responsibilities of Commonning on a state-wide scale. The process of establishing the Currency Commons first requires a recognition of the fundamental right to a fair medium of exchange, secondly it requires that we secure this right through a Social Charter and thirdly we empower the citizens through a Public Trust to administer the requisite management of a Vermont public credit currency where the ultimate power and privilege of Seignorage reverts back to the people as the rightful  beneficiaries of their money supply, their credit and their labor.

De-privatizing the money supply and placing it in public control is only one side of the equation. However, it is the most critical side of the equation for it is here that we have the most leverage and here that we can begin to confront the issues of free trade, forced globalization and the ongoing destruction of family farms and the working class on a completely different playing field. The other side of this equation of course is production, which is why E.C. Riegel in the quote at the beginning of this article defined this ‘critical juncture’ as a coordination of purchasing power with producing power. This is the ISSUE that we are faced with today. Control the issuance of public credit money in Vermont, and then you harness both the producing and the purchasing power. This is the beginning economic freedom.

Within this broader ideal of Commonning as an economic way of life, is a recognition of the importance of making things; that is, we become producers once again.  It is both a utilitarian and aesthetic approach to living as it was in the pre-Renaissance period when the ideal of the Commons flourished. We produce, not import what we are capable of creating, of making.  The localization movements in Vermont today recognize clearly the importance of the production side of the equation within the bigger picture of the global Commons movement. It is apparently more of a struggle to redefine purchasing power in the larger context of the critical nature of controlling the money supply that could serve as the foundation for building local economies.

Vermont has established consistently throughout its unique history, a leadership role in promoting principals of self-reliance, independence and justice. The struggle against privatization begins with economic rights of self determination outlined within a Social Charter. The opening of the Currency Commons in Vermont is the first step toward a decentralized currency and the beginning of the implementation of a system of co-governance through Public Trusts where the rights of the Commons are not simply recognized, but affirmed both legally and socially as being the most essential component within a human scale society.

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