David J Weston – Money Reform Activist in Britain and Canada

    INTERVIEW

    David, please tell us a little about yourself.

    Born in Plymouth, Devon, and brought up and schooled in various parts of Britain, including Scotland, I emigrated to Canada many moons ago. I lived and worked in Ontario in accounting and in Adult Education (of which I’m a graduate from the University of Toronto), including also Co-operative Development. After 16 years, I decided to move to Vancouver, British Columbia to work in similar fields. After 6 years, I moved to Vancouver Island, about 40 miles off the coast. As well as beautiful, it’s full of interesting people, some of whom are articulate money and banking reformers.

    How did you become interested in this?

    While still in Toronto in the late 60s someone gave me a small booklet on, and called, The Guernsey Experiment by Olive and Jan Grubiak. This opened my eyes to how money is, and can be, created. The power of handing on a money reform tract should never be underestimated. My accounting training was helpful in dismantling some of the myths, but only once the tract had shaken up my traditional assumptions and beliefs. Then in 1973 I came across an article on the Useful Service Exchange of Reston, Virginia. USE had been created based upon models from the ‘Dirty Thirties’ of local exchange trading currencies of the type advocated by Prof. Irving Fisher. Indeed, the USE inspired me to start a Community Exchange Trading System in Vancouver in 1976. While it did not expand widely, it certainly was a great educator for those of us who were practitioners. I still have newspaper interview clippings.

    When I moved to Vancouver Island in 1979, I once again started a Community Exchange Trading System. About 10 families felt encouraged to join. We did some trading and some joint projects together. In 1982 Michael Linton, who also lived on Vancouver Island, came forward with the brilliant acronym LETS which has caught the imagination of so many world-wide. Michael also developed a computer-based recording system, whereas our group created printed notes. Michael and I differed, however, on the unit of account. He chose a Green Dollar equivalent to the Canadian dollar. I advocated Time points.

    My next paradigm shift was reading Jane Jacobs’ Cities and the Wealth of Nations (particularly Chapter 11) on the importance of local and regional currencies in regenerating local economies. At this time I was attending Ruskin College, Oxford reading Community and Development Economics, and my thesis supervisor was very helpful in directing me to some relatively unknown, but very appropriate texts.

    During this time, I was invited by Paul Ekins to give a paper to the 1985 TOES — ‘The Other Economic Summit’, attended by about 400 international delegates — on the experience and importance of local economies. My paper was Green Economics : the Community Use of Currency. Most of it was published in 1986 in The Living Economy edited by Dr Paul Ekins of the New Economics Foundation. I documented several successful local and regional currencies, from the American Tobacco currency, to Robert Owen’s Labour Notes, to the Guernsey locally-created currency, to the Worgl schillings (Austria) which pulled that town out of depression to prosperity within a year.

    In my follow-up paper I drew upon games theory to show that under our current — Globopoly — economic system where people are losing their money to a few “winners”; that any amazement that the “losers” are going bankrupt, and becoming unemployed, is quite misplaced. For in the game of Monopoly we would be surprised if they didn’t go bankrupt (and unemployed). In other words, the rules made by politicians on behalf of their masters — the corporate elites — ensure that the game of Globopoly continues unchallenged.

    It is important to understand that the reason politicians and political parties are beholden to the military-industrial-financial complex, is because their parties are funded by that complex — which often hedges its bets by funding all the large parties. Yes, “he who pays the piper, calls the tune”. We desperately need funding for all political parties only to come from a combination of electors and a public election fund. I suggest non-corporate funding is a prerequisite to us being able to bring about money and banking reform changes.

    My next evolution was to read more extensively about money and banking systems, and to realise that (1) we are not taught the truth in university, let alone in high school, about the evil — I don’t say that lightly — of the current extractive money system; and (2) that there is a need for a massive public education programme as to the real source of national debt and that it has nothing to do with “overspending” on regular and needed government expenditures but rather the unnecessary borrowing from privately owned, interest-charging banks, at the taxpayers’ expense. Among the books I read were Galbraith’s Money: Whence it Came, and Where it Went; Irvine Fisher’s 100% Money; G.D.H. Cole, as well as others.

    I also wrote articles on Money and Banking, being published in Geographical (journal of the Royal Geographic Society); the New European Quarterly Review (which reaches many influential decision-makers); The Radical (journal of the Lib Dems in Britain); and others. I’ve also been quoted in a number of books and articles including James Robertson’s article in the New European Quarterly Review – Economic Democracy: A Multi-level System of Currencies, in which Robertson equated “Weston’s thinking and writing with that of Jane Jacobs”… (both) as “shining exceptions” to those of most professional economists and monetary and financial experts.

    Some say Canada is where it’s at for Money Reform. Any reason why Canada is more open to Reform than Britain?

    I would offer the thought that Canada is where populist Social Credit governments were elected in two provinces, and in one (Alberta) made a gallant attempt to implement a genuinely alternative currency (the Prosperity Certificate). That, like the Worgl schillings experiment, was ruled unconstitutional by political pressure by the private banks — “he who pays the piper”. But Alberta did at least set up provincially-owned Treasury Branches all over the province, which exist to this day. In other words, Canadians have had some hands-on experience with regional money systems.

    In Britain, the debate on the single currency offers Money Reformers the opportunity to articulate our alternative vision. Are there any similar developments in Canada?

    Yes, and that is the real threat of the Liberal government accepting the American argument that Canada would be better off with (a single) American currency. The slippery slope currently being touted is that Canada should replace the Bank of Canada (set up in 1935 and potentially accountable to parliament), with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, a private bank owned by 200 private shareholders. We know that “currency determines sovereignty” and therefore Canada’s sovereignty would disappear, to be replaced with orders from Washington. America’s dream of Manifest Destiny would be a step further towards achievement. Aggressive American imperialism is being resisted by Canadians. Among my colleagues are two who have been fighting to retain Canada’s independence from “the land of liberty”! One, a Saskatchewan organic wheat farmer, David Orchard, came second in the recent contest for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. Another colleague is former Deputy PM of Canada, the Hon. Paul Hellyer. In 1997, Paul founded the Canadian Action Party (CAP) to give Canadians an alternative to the US-dominated Liberal Party.

    Tell us about your involvement with the CAP….

    In 1997 Paul hired me as the British Columbia Organiser for CAP. I was happy to do that, because of its commitment to money and banking reform. I organised enough candidates to enable CAP to run in that election and in future federal (national) elections. The Hon. Paul Hellyer has written a number of books which make his position absolutely clear — he is a committed and active money and banking reformer. How do we best communicate money reform?

    I think it has to be done in a variety of ways. One, is the traditional word of mouth — to one’s family, one’s friends, one’s acquaintances. We should take every opportunity, as issues arise in the dailies, to respond with letters to the editor. People do read them. One may have to write repeatedly in order to score, but eventually it happens. Think of the huge number of readers we would otherwise not reach! We should continue to use the Internet, both with email and websites. Further, we need to found community-owned radio stations and television studios. They exist and broadcast in other countries. In Vancouver, for example, Co-op Radio has a 50 mile radius — reaching a realistic listening audience of thousands. Why not here? “But it takes legislation”, I hear you say. Fine… then join and work for a political party that includes community media ownership in its platform. What are the key points that you like to emphasise?

    We should not preach at people. We need to use humour, analogies, stories, documented examples of currency successes, poems and music, graphics, cartoons, and the like. Replace Fear with Trust. Replace Greed with Generosity. Replace Despair with Hope. Never give up — the first hundred years are the hardest! Question all assumptions. To think clearly is a political act.

    What is the main hurdle we must overcome in our efforts to communicate our positive message?

    We need to get involved in politics. This is hard for some because, they argue, politicians only break their promises once they are in power. True, but why? As already mentioned: “He who pays the piper calls the tune!” That is, if the New Labour Party is funded, as it partially is, by British Aerospace, then it is not surprising that British Aerospace got big fat contracts when New Labour became government. The same would happen to the Lib Dems or the Tories. When the banks fund the parties, we get bank-friendly legislation. We must be proactive and assertive with politicians. Given enough hassle, they will listen — but do press them, as a top priority, to change the funding of political parties to funds only from the electorate, and from a limited election fund, with absolutely no funds coming from elsewhere. That could make all the difference in election results, electing people who can bring about the necessary changes. Remember, while advocacies and demonstrations are essential to the democratic process, it’s only elected officials who can raise their hands and change the rules of the legislative game.

    An extract from David’s 1985 TOES speech

    In the town of Worgl in the Austrian Tyrol, there stands a bridge whose plaque commemorates the fact that it was built by debt-free, locally created money. This is just a small part of a significant experiment which transformed towns and whole areas out of poverty within 3 months and into prosperity within one year, when there was widespread unemployment in the national economy. In the early 1930s this small town (6000 pop.), was suffering like every other from the Great Depression. Worgl’s Burgomaster, Michael Unterguggenberger, faced an empty treasury, because the unemployed citizens could not pay their taxes; there were roads, bridges, buildings and parks needing maintenance, for which the town could not pay; and idle men and women earning no wages. He recognised that all three problems could be solved if he found the connecting links. Those links were the key human information systems of money and a community-owned bank.

    The three problems the Burgomaster outlined co-existed because no one had any means of exchange, and his simple solution was to create money locally, with the Town Hall as the bank. He issued numbered “certificates for services rendered” to the value of 32,000 schillings, in denominations of 1, 5 and 10 schillings. These became valid only after being stamped at the Town Hall, and depreciated monthly by 1% of their nominal value. It was possible for the holders to “revalue” them by the purchase, before the end of each month, of stamps from the Town Hall, in the process creating a relief fund. The depreciation not only encouraged rapid circulation, but also the payment of taxes, past, current, and upcoming. These taxes were used to provide social and public services, such as for the payment of wages for the building of streets, drainage and other public works by men who would otherwise have been unemployed. During the first month, the money had circulated 20 times. Taxes were paid, unemployment reduced and local shopkeepers prosperous.

    It enabled unemployed people not only to receive a local wage, but also to create useful public assets — street repair, including a new drainage system, street lighting, construction of a ski jumping platform, bridges and a new water reservoir. The workers found all businesses in Worgl accepted the currency in payment and at face value, and the notes returned to the town treasury bank as dues and taxes. Economically, there was no inflation, and politically, the money was unanimously acceptable to all the municipal parties. Because it was a depreciating currency, it circulated with rapidity, boosting the local economy. Because it was a locally controlled bank, the politically ensured ‘multiplier effect’ helped to create and enhance the well-being of the local community.

    It is observable that the more a pound can be circulated and recirculated within a region or community, the more economic activity will take place. In contrast to this is the ‘extractor effect’ of externally controlled currency and banking, whereby every pound that is extracted is, in effect, a pound lost to the region or community. In Worgl, people were able to pay their current taxes in the currency, and also discharge their tax arrears. Many paid their taxes in advance because it was financially advantageous. Apart from the obvious employment benefits, physical assets were created. Although the Worgl money was unanimously accepted at the local level, there was opposition from two centralist forces — the Tyrol Labour Party and the Austrian State Bank. There seemed to be the fear of the experiment spreading, for the idea was copied by the neighbouring town, Kirchbichel. The town monies were valid in both places. Other towns in the Tyrol also decided on issuing depreciating money, but didn’t proceed due to threats from the State Bank. The nearby town, Kitzbuehl, followed suit with a similar programme. A meeting of 200 Austrian mayors decided unanimously to follow the Worgl example. Prominent people, including Premier Daladier of France, visited and were enthusiastic. The end of the experiment…. it became clear that the financial interests of Austria and of Europe were afraid of this success spreading, as ultimately the State Bank threatened, and took, legal action against it. After a long legal battle, the Austrian Supreme Court decided in favour of the bank, and the innovation was prohibited. The idea spread to Bavaria and was also squelched there. On 1st September 1933, the Worgl experiment was terminated.

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