The current financial crisis holds western societies in a firm grip, again. It is too easy to blame it on corruption within financial institutions. We don’t ask: why do we need financial institutions at all? Why borrow money? Once we understand how western society is based on shifting money, we come to a better understanding.
Western society is mainly the product of Christianity, which has laid down certain rules for property, inheritance, work ethics and community. According to the Bible only a limited group of people is entitled to inherit, namely the eldest son. Women rarely inherit and they aren’t allowed to act independently in economic life. This meant that the majority of people had to start from scratch, empty handed. After several generations this could only lead to an unequal division of wealth. Feudal, large landownership is born. Another, almost equally important aspect of Christianity is altruistic labor, combined with sunny optimism. You perform for the good of community at large; it’s honorable to almost reinvent the wheel in your own lifetime. Under attack you offer the other cheek rather than that you fight back. Result is that the vast majority of people isn’t self-supporting. They have no property to make a living with and no savings for difficult economic times. The moral was swiftly born that ‘average’ people ‘can’t’ fend for themselves and that they ‘need’ patronage. Was it possible for the small wealthy group to protect the vast majority of people? Certainly not. The structural lack of self-sufficiency, colloquially called poverty, led to revolutions, crime or military expansion abroad.
The answers western society came up with to tackle inequality were socialism, fascism and later the welfare state. All of these were based on a principle of the state providing for the individual, both morally and economically. And no small ownership. The inevitable consequence is an upgraded feudalism with many public officials who need payment. The monthly debt is born: a large burden of taxes and social security payments and everybody has to take part. The citizen must hand in a certain share of his or her income, inheritance and property to the public office and later the public office may return a tightly-fit good or service. However, this is not for free, the citizen has to pay a ‘fair and honorable’ price for the service. Property circulates blindly and stupidly, unrelated to performance. Financial institutions come in handy here. Any difference between collected and returned services will be bridged by interest. Since any economy naturally undergoes times of better and worse yield, a problem rises. How to pay for the debt when income is low?
What do westerners themselves have to say? I’ll spare you the litany of answers and debates and mention examples of positive citizen initiatives. American Architect Michael Reynolds built a low budget community from garbage in Taos, New Mexico, with his bare hands. His angle is environmental preservation and consumer self-sufficiency. Reynolds says there is no need or justification for the overrated official standards that really enslave people, where it should have uplifted them. Secondly, British philosopher Alain de Botton calls the pessimism of people like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and even Elton John ‘far more uplifting’ than Christianity’s blind optimism.
Finally. What do I say? In thinly populated areas where people live in small communities, no one owns the land. It’s the other way round: the land owns the people. There’s no rent, nor land tax or bureaucracy. Michael Reynolds’ small self-sufficient community works fine then. But how about thickly populated lands? Fully shared community land would be chaotic. Then how to avoid feudal inequality? I have an unexpected answer: you will find it in the Koran. The Koran gives an inheritance law that leaves no one out, it gives women equal rights of ownership and independence, it says you must treat your children equally. Mostly Koran says: support your kin, yet you can do things yourself, so do it. The result is a credit economy instead of a debt economy: small ownership, less tax, less debt, less government, more reliance on natural ties between people. Where Christianity gave the word ‘family’ an oppressive resonance, Islam gave it a sheltering sound. Poverty is not: not having fine things. Poverty is: no self-sufficiency. It is true that Koran sometimes differentiates between men and women, yet the result is more equal than in most of our western legislation. However, Islam is many bridges away from this simple appreciation. Therefore I shouldn’t care if it sounds like I try to sell Islam. Bottom line is that oligopoly and lack of separation between private and government tasks lead to our debt economy and it is the main characteristic of western economy, even today.