Suppose I have twelve loaves of bread, and you are hungry. I cannot eat so much bread before it goes stale, so I am happy to lend some of it to you. "Here, take these six loaves," I say, "and when you have bread in the future, you can give me six loaves back again." I give you six fresh loaves now, and you give me six fresh loaves sometime in the future.
In a world where the things we need and use go bad, sharing comes naturally. The hoarder ends up sitting atop a pile of stale bread, rusty tools, and spoiled fruit, and no one wants to help him, for he has helped no one. Money today, however, is not like bread, fruit, or indeed any natural object. It is the lone exception to nature's laws of return, the law of life, death, and rebirth, which says that all things ultimately return to their source. Money does not decay over time, but in its abstraction from physicality, it remains changeless or even grows with time, exponentially, thanks to the power of interest.
We associate money very closely with self. As the word "mine" implies, we see our money almost as an extension of our selves, which is why we feel "ripped off" when it is taken from us. Money, then, violates not only the natural law of return, but the spiritual law of impermanence. Associating something that persists and grows over time with a self that ages, dies, and returns to the soil perpetuates an illusion. Though we all know better, we imagine somehow that by adding wealth we add to ourselves and can gain the imperishability of money. We store it up for old age, as if we could thereby forestall our own decay. What would be the effect of money that, like all other things, decays and returns to its source?
We have attached an exponentially growing money to a self and world that are neither exponential nor even linear, but cyclic. The result, as I have described, is competition, scarcity, and the concentration of wealth. The answer to the question I posed earlier, "What has gone wrong with this beautiful idea called money, which can connect human gifts and human needs?" comes down in large part to interest, to usury. But usury itself is not some isolated phenomenon that could have been different if only we'd made a wiser choice somewhere down the line. It is irrefrangibly bound to our sense of self, the separate self in an objective universe, whose evolution parallels the evolution of money. It is no accident that the first highly monetized society, ancient Greece, was also the birthplace of the modern concept of the individual.
This deep link between money and being is good news, because human identity today is undergoing a profound metamorphosis. What kind of money will be consistent with the new self, the connected self, and a world in which we increasingly realize the truth of interconnectedness: that more for you is more for me? Given the determining role of interest, the first alternative currency system to consider is one that structurally eliminates it, or even that bears interest's opposite. After all, if interest causes competition, scarcity and polarization, then might not its opposite create cooperation, abundance, and community? And if interest represents the proceeds from the ancient and ongoing robbery of the commons, might not its opposite replenish it?
What would that opposite look like? It would be a money that, like bread, becomes less valuable over time. It would be money, in other words, that decays ...
~ Charles Eisenstein, who explains how in Sacred Economics, available as a download here for free, or for a price of your choice.