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What would happen if the world’s debt disappeared?


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We are living in a time when too many of our financial resources are allocated to non-productive activities — principally the accumulation of wealth by “making money with money” and a myopic focus on economic activities that service our massive debts. This is why people work at jobs they hate. It is why investments are not being made in renewable energy, public education, the arts, health care, or the eradication of poverty. We have built a massive financial house of cards on debt — with money itself coming into being when loans are taken out, a pool that grows exponentially due to the interest that accompanies it — and so we are not able to bring consumer culture to an end or focus our creative talents on planetary sustainability.

By the way, this is exactly what my friends at /The Rules are trying to address in their global mobilization effort.

So if we were to erase all debt, the 7 billion people alive today could focus on their passions. We could all come together to address global threats — be they resource-based like the scarcity of fresh water or peaking of global oil production; or cultural like the loss of spiritual meaning in the secularization of society or the soullessness of employment drudgery that comes from working long hours at a mind-numbing job.

What comes to my mind is the way cities try to implement broad solutions to address economic development, transportation, resource management, social justice, and environmental concerns. They must operate within constrained budgets that keep draining further without a clear end in sight. I imagine what would be possible if everyone was able to set out on their own intellectual and experiential journeys without the fear of a debt-collector coming to their door. How then would the peoples of this world choose to live out their lives?

Perhaps you have your own dreams of a better world for you and your loved ones. What comes to mind for you? This is not merely an academic question, by the way, because we each participate in the social realities that are lent our beliefs, our actions, and our obligations. If we were to collectively decide that our debts are no more, they would cease to exist.

This is because what we take to be real in many respects becomes so as a self-fulfilling prophesy. We each have the power to be accountants — defining “the real” by choosing what to measure and imbuing it with significance. In this way, the Gross Domestic Product was claimed as an economic alter for measuring the progress of civilization in the 20th Century. Perhaps in the 21st we will replace it with Gross National Happiness or some other novel metric for capturing the essence of our values and purpose as a civilization on this Earth.

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