Just Money: How society can break the despotic power of finance

Simon Barrow
By Simon Barrow
14 Jan 2014

The arrival of Ann Pettifor's latest book, Just Money: How society can break the despotic power of finance, is an important publishing moment for the beginning of a new year.

It explains how control of money has been taken away from democratic institutions and vested in unaccountable corporate ones, why austerity economics is pure superstition, and how claiming back social control of finance is possible -- but only if we can give up some major illusions about the nature of money itself.

All this and more needs to be said, persuasively and concisely, at a time when the clouds of financial and ecological crisis are gathering once more, when neoliberalism has secreted itself into our cognitive apparatus, and when the ideology of cutting the public sector has therefore falsely established itself as the 'common sense' solution to debt that guides policy thinking in these islands and across the world.

Those of us who have known and admired Ann and her work as a subversive political economist over the years will expect insight, clarity and hope from Just Money. We will not be disappointed.

The author, whose work has featured on Ekklesia as well as a myriad other places in recent years, was a leading light in the Jubilee 2000 global debt remission campaign and what followed – which was a lot. In an earlier book and in other writings she anticipated the 'big crash' of 2008 that so-called orthodox economists and financiers missed altogether (while still managing to contribute to).

As well as pioneering alternative economics through the cross-party Green New Deal group (http://www.greennewdealgroup.org) and the New Economics Foundation (http://www.neweconomics.org), she has assisted Christian initiatives on economics and environment (like Operation Noah), guided Advocacy International and founded Prime Economics (http://www.primeeconomics.org), her major base of operation right now.

This book unveils and unmasks the assumptions behind the money system, and our relationship with the form in which we have created it, which is mostly – put in theological terms – one of idolatry. That is, attributing divine power and likeness to that which is not divine, and making false gods to usurp the true God (whose concern is for those pushed to the margins, and whose hallowing requires the end of marginalisation processes and the dethroning of what Walter Wink has called 'the domination system' in which we live, move and have our being).

Though Ann wouldn't call herself a theologian, and although this is ostensibly not "that kind of book", the way she discusses and expounds finance and economics is therefore profoundly theological. It says that we do not have to be enslaved to a commodified mystification. It announces the possibility of deliverance. It demolishes the moneylenders' temple. It calls for metanoia, for turning around and heading in a new direction. It puts life and flourishing ahead of commodification and hoarding. It tells us (in the deconstruction of a stockpiling system that constrains, denies and ultimately deals out death) that another world really is possible… and it achieves all this without the use of the kind of 'religious' language that so often masks genuine theological (as well as political, economic, personal and social) insight.

I will have more to say on Ann's thesis in due course, but the preceding is what I would want to write as a prolegomena for those embarking on a more detailed examination of the 121 pages that make up Just Money's compact argument. What's more, if you are reading this you don't even have to wait until you can get to a bookshop or receive a delivery, because Just Money is actually produced as a digital book. For only £2.99 in Britain (prices may vary elsewhere) you can download it digitally from Prime Economics to your laptop or reader straight away. I would advise doing that.

In the meantime, here are one or two things some other people have said about Ann's new opus which are worth passing on.

First, from publisher Dan Hind (http://thereturnofthepublic.wordpress.com): "We all spend a lot of our time thinking about money; how to get it, how to spend it. But its nature eludes most of us. We do not ask what money is, and so we organise our lives around a mystery.

"Professional economists aren’t much help. The mainstream of the discipline and most of its critics are unanimous in seeing money as a neutral medium of exchange and finance as a mechanism for connecting lenders to borrowers. If you stray from this consensus you will find yourself in a wilderness of goldbugs and Bitcoin enthusiasts.

"In Just Money the acclaimed economist and critic of modern finance Ann Pettifor explains authoritatively and clearly what money is, where it comes from, and how it is currently controlled. She goes on to describe how we the people can use an improved understanding of money and finance to build economies that are more productive and just than the bank-ridden rackets we are currently lumbered with.

"Another world, a fairer world, is possible. But if we want to secure it we will have to do away with our inhibitions and misconceptions about the most misunderstood invention in human history."

Then: "Just Money sets out in plain terms the link between the change in our pocket and the change we want to see in the world. Ann Pettifor, director of Prime Economics, is a fantastic economist." - Patrick Aldrick.

"Ann Pettifor's economic analysis has proved prescient in the past. Today her work becomes increasingly relevant for those wanting to understand the link between easy but costly credit, the rise in consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Above all Ann's demolition of the argument that ‘there is no money’ to reduce poverty, finance childcare and fund the transformation of our economy away from fossil fuels, makes her work essential reading for Greens everywhere." - Caroline Lucas MP.

"The critical issue is, if you can map a system, you can start to see what people aren’t actually watching, the dark corners, and often it’s the dark corners that really matter. Ann deserves a lot of credit because she was trying to highlight these issues many, many years ago, and unfortunately, there weren’t enough people who were trying to map the system, model it, and then above all else, modify it. We have to map the financial system and then work out how to change it going forward." - Gillian Tett, Financial Times.

"As we wrestle with the biggest economic and environmental crises facing society, Ann Pettifor is a rare voice giving us a brilliant analysis of the overweening privilege given to finance. Her vital insight has been to explain how money, and the way banks are allowed to create and allocate it, fuels both economic and environmental havoc. Without Ann's call to re-imagine our bank and money system, we would not be able to find even the beginnings of the answers we desperately need." - Andrew Simms , New Economics Foundation (nef).

"Ann Pettifor, the wonderful economist who first said that ‘Britain is living in an Alice in Wongaland economy’, a line that on its own is worthy of a Nobel economics prize, points journalists to George Osborne's Mais lecture of 2010. He was then a model of fiscal rectitude. Britain had to move away from ‘unsustainable private and public debt,’ he said, to ‘a new model of economic growth that is rooted in more investment, more savings and higher exports’." - Nick Cohen.

"I haven’t read this yet, but it’s by my Green New Deal colleague Ann Pettifor and as a result I’m pretty sure it has something very useful to say." Richard Murphy, Tax Research (http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/)

* Ann Pettifor is director of Prime Economics (Policy Research in Macroeconomics). She is a political economist, writer, and analyst of the global financial system. Ann is co-author of the Green New Deal and predicted an Anglo-American debt-deflationary crisis back in 2003. She is best known for her work on the sovereign debts of low income countries and for leading Jubilee 2000. Ann is also a fellow of the New Economics Foundation. Her blog is called Debtonation: The Global Financial Crisis - http://www.debtonation.org/

* Ann Pettifor on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/annpettifor

* 'Monetary reform for public good, not private aggrandisement', by Ann Pettifor: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19920

* Buy Just Money here: http://www.primeeconomics.org/?page_id=2389

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He has studied economics as well as theology, though still regards himself as a novice in the former. You can follow him on Twitter at: @simonbarrow and on Rebel Mouse for news briefing: https://www.rebelmouse.com/simonbarrow/

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