By Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Vermonters for a New Economy
The demands of a changing climate seem overwhelming. We need new energy systems, new transportation systems, better housing, organic farms; the ways we need to do things differently encompasses every aspect of our lives. Bill McKibben recently called for a mobilization on the scale of World War II, where every piece of American industry was pointed in the same direction.
Yet at the same time, our governments at every level struggle under the burden of colossal debt. Cities in our industrial belt are in receivership, where local dictatorships called emergency managers have been set up to close schools, cut wages, and shortchange public services to the point where wholesale contamination of public water supplies has been ignored and our children poisoned with lead.
In this context, how can we ever afford all the infrastructure we need to forestall, mitigate, and adapt to climate change? We look at the costs, and the amount of borrowing and taxation that would be required is prohibitive.
As a society, we have forgotten about the powers granted to us in our Constitution. Article I, Section 8 guarantees to Congress the right to coin money. This means that Congress has the power to create money for any and all purposes, including the measures we need to take to address the issues of climate change. We do not need to borrow this money from the Federal Reserve Bank. We do not need to tax our citizens into poverty to do it.
For 800 years, the British government issued money into existence to build public projects using a system known as tally sticks. This practice ushered in one of the more prosperous, peaceful, and stable periods in recent history. When money is created through the construction of infrastructure and other goods and services, it does not have the same inflationary effects when paper money floods the markets without corresponding production.
If we had done this in Vermont in the aftermath of Irene, we wouldn’t be struggling under the bonded indebtedness that storm caused that is now suffocating state government. Unfortunately, states do not have this power, but the federal government could have done it for us.
Public Banks would be a way for states to create the credit needed for large infrastructure projects without either private debt or higher taxes – this was demonstrated in Canada between the years of 1939 and 1974 when the public Bank of Canada issued money for projects like the St. Lawrence Seaway, the national highway system, the public health care system, and education for Canadians.
The monetary and banking systems we have created in this country are not natural phenomena, the laws of gravity do not constrain us from doing things differently. We can decide to change the way we issue money, we can decide as a society to prioritize a safe and healthy environment for future generations, instead of systematically discounting it into poverty, which the current system requires.
On Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7:15, BALE hosts a talk by Gwen about how this new (and old) system of money could work. She will be outlining the steps we could take on the state and federal level to create the money needed for climate change. Join us.