Review of DVD:

10   Money as Debt

Bob Young

On the face of it this film might appear cheaply produced, impossibly dense and conventionally simplistic; but this would be to miss the deep insight and subtle clarity which is at the heart of this admittedly sparse animation. After 3 viewings and liberal use of the pause button I have managed to glean most of the message although the innumerable text messages which play across the screen to add the authentication of historical quotes can be got from the website.[] While looking for the website I came across the creatorís landscape and seascape paintings; as they are beautifully produced and express a deep and refined sensibility it is even harder to understand the bland graphics of the film.

The message of the film is clear and to the point; it does not attempt to deal either with any radical alternative economic solutions such as expressed in the Green Party anthology Green Economics. For me this is a stumbling block because I feel that to approach the subject purely in its own conventional terms is somehow to resist the need for a more subversive deconstruction of the underlying causes and mechanisms which gave rise to the capitalist system. It is not that the conventional critique is without devastating consequences and far reaching implications in terms of economic theory, but that with a sense of the real potential of green economics to enhance our sensitivity for human relationships and co-operative practices, we inevitably develop a more profound understanding of what has gone wrong with the mainstream critique of classical theory.

The other element of my appraisal which Paul Grignon also steers clear of, and I can accept that this omission is due to the need to be concise rather than any lack of insight, is the sense that there must be an underlying reason why money is now construed purely as debt. To be fair he does raise this question at the end of the film but does little to flesh out the statement that there are dark conspiracies involved other than to suggest that a collapse is inevitable. He further qualifies the unstoppable rush to ecological disaster with the remedy of monetary reform, but, valid as this approach may be, it leaves me grasping for a key to unlock the dark conspiracy, or complicity of the masses in this apocalyptic vision.

Debt as symbolic yoke of oppression

So if you will permit me to add my own commentary on the film, I want to premise this with the idea that to answer the question as to why such a system was allowed to evolve, we have to trace its origins back to the point in the film where the Banker has his even more audacious idea; that of giving credit for money or reserves which he did not possess. It is at this historical moment that we can say that the relationship between borrower and lender changes categorically. Although Grignon is right to emphasise that such a move would have initially been undetectable, if we want to understand how such a shift in relations denotes the psychological birth of capitalist oppression we have to look beneath the numerical analysis to that of the motivation of both parties.

Having traced the path of debt creation through fractional reserve banking and onto the institution of government-backed fiat currency as the legal form of bank-created debt, Grignon pulls his biggest punch Ė that not only can "banks create as much money as we can borrow", but that, due to the synthetic nature of the debt, we emerge with the "simple truth" that "without the document the borrower signed the bank would have nothing to lend". So thatís it folks: anyone who takes out a loan is a mug because they donít realise that they are signing into a lop-sided bargain. But do they? Isnít this the same bargain that we sign when we accept a wage in exchange for our labour? Isnít it obvious that our work is being exploited to the advantage of the rich who sit around all day in the lap of luxury?

In fact if we return again to that point where the banker has his big idea, and we also give a certain benefit to the intelligence of the borrower who must, to some extent, realise that the banker is benefiting from the rent on his capital without having to do anything for it other than guard the vault, then I feel we have our foot in the door to understanding why such a relationship has persisted and entrenched itself in our culture. To appreciate the full spectrum of this bargain we have to zoom forward again to the climax of the film in the message which asserts that banks can create as much as we agree to borrow. Implicit in this statement is the important idea that not only does money not actually represent anything real, but that there is no necessary ratio between the amount of money created and the Ďrealí created wealth or value of the country.

So what this all indicates is that when Peter Pumpkin signs himself into debt to pay for his new car, he is in effect signing into a relationship of indebtedness not just of the financial kind, but represented by the fact of diminishing the value of his work in relation to the banker. Because he is agreeing to pay interest on the loan he is effectively reducing the value of his own earning power, and moreover this effect is compounded by the process of increasing the supply of money to permit the repayment of the increased quantity of debt plus interest. The new relationship is similar to that created by the process of renting land or accommodation or the selling of labour in a controlled market of scarcity in order to pay the rent and the basics of survival.

Ultimately all of these acts imply an element of complicity and it is only the confusion of the materiality of wealth with the institution of capitalist control of that wealth which leads to a sense that the borrower is somehow unaware of the intangible element of the relationship. At this point my explanation inevitably becomes much more digressive and involved with theories of dualism and the battle between the supposedly ideal world of capitalist hierarchy and its complimentary materialist force as classical economics, but I will leave it here with an echo of Paul Grignonís pondering conspiracy theory.

Basically it all boils down to a sense that it is Ďusí and not Ďthemí who bear responsibility for this situation; and although he is right to point to the ignorance of the complex mechanisms of money creation as somehow the process by which we perpetuate the hierarchy of imbalance and destruction, this is merely the convenient symptom of a deeper urge to suppress our own potential for relationships which express equality, respect and compassion. The other component, as I have hinted, lies in our turning away from the true value of nature as the source of wealth by continuing to perceive it as a separate and essentially meaningless substratum. So I feel if we can address the need for relationships with each other in combination with a realisation of the integrated nature of wealth production we will start to become convinced by the need for alternative models of co-operation which unearth the fundamental malaise suggested by the process inherent in the creation of money as debt.

- Bob Young, January 2007

[Editorís note: Ponder the message here, and compare with that of Escaping the Matrix and the power of Establishment-owned media, as shown by Medialens.

I invite others to submit their reviews of Money as Debt (still available from me for £8.50).]