In London, the opening address reflected on the tension implicit in the phrase “The Spirit of Money”, and it was suggested that, when Matter is seen as Spirit at its lowest point of concretion, there is the prospect of an enlightened, spiritualised materialism, facilitated by right flows of money. Alice Bailey’s remark from Esoteric Healing underlined the importance of flow:
“The keynote to good health, esoterically speaking, is sharing or distribution, just as it is the keynote to the general well-being of humanity. The economic ills of mankind closely correspond to disease in the individual. There is lack of a free flow of the necessities of life to the points of distribution; these points of distribution are idle; the direction of the distribution is faulty, and only through a sane and worldwide grasp of the New Age principle of sharing will human ills be cured...” (pp. 549-550)
Two guest speakers with contrasting backgrounds in economics then addressed the theme. The first speaker, Dr. Christopher Houghton Budd, works in the field of associative economics. This relatively new approach to economics is still evolving, and in his book The Metamorphosis of Capitalism, Budd underlines that there is as yet no precise definition. However, the key point is that human beings are placed at the centre of all economic processes, “…because it is our capacity to be both free and responsible that enables us to make conscious what is otherwise left to the unseen working of market forces.” (op.cit. p.46) This emphasis on making conscious or visible the invisible working of the market was demonstrated in his presentation, which focused on the much-maligned field of finance. He began with two intriguing propositions: first, that the worlds of finance and spirituality are two sides of one coin; and second, that finance is not only spiritual in origin, but is also spiritual even in present circumstances.
To explain the first proposition, the audience was invited to contemplate the image, drawn from Rudolph Steiner, of a nut and its shell. According to Steiner, the economic life relates to the spiritual life in the same way that a shell relates to the nut it encloses, but with a time delay. Thus, if you simply look at the outside of a walnut, you can recognise the complex convolutions of the enclosed nut within. And Budd emphasised the point about a time delay, noting, “anyone in monetary policy knows that when you try and set the interest rate you always say there is a two-year time lag before your behaviour catches up with our suggestion.”
To explain the second proposition, Budd began by tracing the roots of neo-liberalism back to Aristotle, including the wonderful Aristotelian definition of the liberal man: “the man or the person who gives the right amount of money in the right way to the right person at the right time.” He noted that in order to be such a truly liberal person, a shift away from our everyday consciousness is required.
He then discussed the dangers involved when money becomes a proxy for real goods, because a proxy prevents us from seeing what it represents, leading to the opportunity for those involved with this proxy to become “discrepant to reality”. He noted that, in the past, those responsible for money often had a monastic training or its equivalent, in order to deal with this possibility of being discrepant.
As an illustration of how people in finance sometimes touch unwittingly upon spiritual truths, Budd quoted from the historian Niall Ferguson: “Finance reflects and magnifies what we human beings are like. Financial markets are like the mirror of mankind, revealing every hour of every working day the way we value ourselves and the resources of the world around us. So that it is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty.”
Budd also traced the roots of the idea of debt forgiveness to the Hebrew concept of a jubilee year. He linked this with the notion that in all economic life, surpluses are always created, thus creating the need to eventually write these surpluses off. But because today we are more self-centred, we resist doing this. He suggested that we should really think about inducing regular, systemic market corrections, which are, in effect, another way of eradicating surplus capital. By doing this as a modern form of jubilee, of debt forgiveness, we would obtain some benefit from the eradication of capital, instead of the unplanned way in which market corrections, such as the recent financial crisis, have happened.
Citing two of the most influential economists of modern times, Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes, Budd speculated on what the world economy would look like if there was the opportunity for every culture to say “what is it we are bringing to humanity’s table, and what is its economic meaning?”
Turning to the issue of circulation, he noted the centrality of the concept in finance. This has the interesting consequence that it is illusory to talk about possessing capital, as the money we give to a bank or other financial institution is not the same money that is returned. Thus we must learn to trust that the correct circulation of money will take place that will allow us to receive money when required.
In conclusion, Budd noted the importance of “goodwill” as an item in accounting, an item which is causing some debate in the attempts to reach an international set of accounting standards. Finding a way to correctly account for, and apply, goodwill on a global scale, “world goodwill”, could be very beneficial for the world.
Before the next guest speaker, there was a panel of two World Goodwill co-workers, who shared their experiences of working with the energy of money, particularly with reference to the use of the meditation on the attraction of money for Hierarchical purposes. Shideh Pouria explained her initial struggles with the idea that money could be used for spiritual work, and how her insight into this idea evolved. She began to appreciate the more subtle aspects of money, seeing in it a hidden soul. She suggested that “the time to elevate money as a symbol of material wealth and power into a more spiritual phenomenon is approaching.” Highlighting each person’s responsibility with regard to money, she noted that, “[a] life of simplicity, selflessness, and harmlessness can channel the flow of money in the direction of the forces of light.”
Lee Blackburn discussed the experimental approach which he took to re-directing the money for which he was responsible, and the successful results. His income was much reduced when he became a full time student but he was determined to maintain his level of donations as before and he decided to test the theory “to those that give shall be given, so that they can give again”. He then entered into a magical experience where money acquired new meaning, and, despite his initial lack of funds, he found that in trusting in the process, he had more than enough funds to meet his needs.
The second guest speaker in London was Josh Ryan-Collins of the new economics forum (nef), which has the motto, “Economics as if people and the planet mattered”. He highlighted some of the differences between nef’s positions and those of mainstream economics, including the thought that, once a certain threshold level of income is reached, any income over and above that threshold contributes very little to happiness or well-being. He proposed that the most important question that we in the West currently face is, how do we reduce the size of our economy without creating politically unacceptable outcomes? And he noted that a significant obstacle to this is the way in which money is created today by banks, because it is a “growth pusher”.
Ryan-Collins then went on to outline this method of money creation, which involves the creation of debt. He noted that money is a political and social construction, and that therefore we can in principle shape how it works and what ends it achieves. Using a graph, he illustrated how banks had in the recent past shifted from investing in productive business into speculation on property through mortgage lending, and suggested that the recent financial crisis was in part attributable to this shift.
Another major point which Ryan-Collins sought to make was that it is not just who creates and allocates money which is important, but also how that money is subsequently spent into circulation. He highlighted the way in which, of every £1 spent in large chain stores, only about 10p will continue to circulate locally, while for a local store, the figure would be closer to 50p. He explained how the creation of local currencies such as the Totnes pound and the Brixton pound could help small local businesses and create a more resilient local economy. He noted other examples of such local currencies in Germany and the USA, and pointed out the positive fact that in the USA, local banks still exist.
In conclusion, Ryan-Collins was optimistic that different forms of money, such as local currencies, trade credits between businesses, and electronic payments systems such as the M-Pesa which has helped farmers in Kenya, would play a significant role in changing our relationship to money. He noted that South American governments were especially innovative in this field, and speculated that reform of the financial system might happen there first.
The concluding address reminded us that, “the simple remedy of loving inclusiveness may seem naïve and almost too simple to mention, and yet it is the only true cure as it goes to the heart and the root of the problem”; and that, “we are talking not just about meeting physical needs but about invoking, calling forth with purposeful intention, that which is needed to help infuse human consciousness with the energy of love and goodwill. This will turn us around to what is Real, and True and Good and anchor us in a recognition of the value of the individual and of the One Humanity. Once this unity is sensed, then the steps towards its realisation will flow automatically, and we will see a new economic order with a sharing of the world’s resources.”