Money as a Human Right: Poverty, Economic Inequality and the Vision of Grantcoin

Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City

L.O.V.E. Task Force on Non-Violent Living’s side event with the United Nations, at Church of the Holy Trinity. My speech was part of the panel discussion.

I delivered this speech on March 16, 2016, at the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City. The audience was very receptive. — Eric Stetson

We’re living in a world where over 2 billion people are living on less than $2 a day. It’s not because they don’t work hard enough or because they aren’t enterprising enough. It’s because the world’s resources are unequally distributed, in large part due to geographical and historical accidents, such as which lands have an abundance of oil and rare minerals or which societies were able to defeat and subjugate others through war and colonization.

Gross economic inequality hurts the most vulnerable people the most: women, children and ethnic minorities. And it tends to be perpetuated from generation to generation. Only through a combination of significantly above average talent and luck are some individuals able to climb out of the poverty they were born into.

The sheer extremes of inequality in the world today is a moral outrage. But what is even more outrageous is that the way money works — the way economic, and ultimately human value is measured and determined — is designed in such a way that it systematically increases the inequality that already naturally exists.

Whenever a bank makes a loan, that bank — a for-profit corporation — is actually creating new money and issuing it into circulation. That’s called fractional reserve banking, and it’s a system that has been responsible for a great deal of economic growth. The problem is, those for-profit corporations called banks create and issue the money supply according to their own private profit motive, which does not necessarily align with the best interests of humanity as a whole.

Stop and think about what this means. We are living in a world in which some institutions have the authority to create and distribute the money supply according to their own discretion, and those institutions are not governments or non-profits; they are private, for-profit entities that are making the decisions about who should have the right to get access to money based on increasing their own shareholder value.

Naturally, banks see it as most profitable to provide capital to the already wealthy, because they are a safe bet to pay back their loans, and they have valuable assets that can be foreclosed on when they don’t. When banks do lend to the poor, they usually charge high interest rates. Sometimes the interest rates are so high that they entrap poor people in a never-ending cycle of debt, a peonage which can become like a new form of slavery. In fact, whole nations are enslaved to the international banking system in this way — and thus they have lost their freedom and self-determination for their own destiny and that of their people.

The result of this system is an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people and institutions. The problem is severe. It is so severe — so outrageous — that according to an Oxfam study recently published, only 62 people own more than half the wealth in the entire world. This, while billions of people have so little access to money that they can barely survive.

So this is the problem. And it is not optional that we do something to solve this problem; it is essential. If the extreme economic inequality in the world is not mitigated, and the money supply not more equally distributed, we will soon be living in a world in which survival may not even be possible for a large percentage of the world’s population. Some of the brightest scientific minds are telling us that within a few decades, we will approach what is called the technological singularity — a time when the capabilities of robots and artificial intelligence will surpass that of human beings. It will be more profitable for corporations to employ only machines to do most of the jobs that need to be done to create economic production — not only the physical labor, but even the mental labor, the good jobs that require high levels of education. When this day comes, the economic system as we know it will collapse.

As we approach that day, which is predicted to be coming within one, or at most two generations, it is imperative that we begin to recreate the most basic economic institutions of society. The institution of money is the foundation of it all. How is money created and distributed? Who makes those decisions? According to what criteria do people or organizations gain permission, or agency, to act in the world, through the necessary unit of measurement of power to act and to own that we call money?

I am here today to ask you to consider a new way that money can work, a new philosophy of money that starts with the bedrock principle that access to a certain basic level of money is a universal human right — and that this principle should be built into the monetary system itself.

Such a system, a monetary system based on the idea called Universal Basic Income, is necessary for the future we know is coming — a low-employment, highly automated technological future in which the economic value of the average human being’s labor is no longer sufficient to ensure their survival.

Such a system can also begin to cure the festering wound of global poverty today. Even a basic income subsidy of a few hundred dollars a year would change the lives of billions of impoverished people, giving them newfound hope and opportunity, freeing them from the shackles of debt, enabling them to pay for their children’s education, and giving them some measure of security in their elder years.

A year ago, I founded an alternative currency called Grantcoin, which is based on the principle that everyone should have equal access to money whenever it’s created and issued into circulation. Grantcoin is managed by a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization. It is a digital currency which can be stored in an electronic wallet on your computer or smartphone, and sent to anyone in the world in seconds, virtually for free.

Grantcoin is the first alternative digital currency to be distributed by a legally recognized nonprofit organization according to a mission for social good.

My team and I are pioneering a new vision for how money can work to reduce economic inequality and empower the global poor to improve their quality of life. Yes, there will always be banks and lending institutions; that’s a necessary function in any economy. But the Grantcoin team believes that the fundamental starting point for how the money supply gets created should be through a Universal Basic Income for all the people of the world.

It will be a long road ahead to build this idea into a robust economic reality. After one year, Grantcoin has a small community of supporters, investors and donors — some of whom believe passionately in what we’re doing and are volunteering a great deal of their time and expertise to help make it happen. The next step in the road is to find larger investors and benefactors to help capitalize the Grantcoin currency so that the Basic Income grants our organization gives will hold significant value for recipients. We are also looking to expand our Advisory Board and Board of Directors. Spiritual leaders and human rights activists who see the truth and value in our ideas are among the people whose support and participation we are seeking.

In closing, I ask you to think about money as one of the most central institutions of society. Just like government and religion, money determines so much about how people live and relate to each other, and who holds the power to make decisions that affect us all. A few hundred years ago, pioneering thinkers decided to believe and fight for the idea of government by the people, for the people, and for separation of religion and state. Today, I believe it is our calling to reform the way that money works, to democratize it, humanize it, make it work for all the people of the world.

If we do not rise to this calling, we will face a future filled with class conflict, ethnic strife, terrorism, and war, as people fight over extremely unequally distributed resources. But if we have the courage to reinvent the way money works, to make it work in a way that systematically helps to reduce poverty and inequality rather than increase it, we can bequeath a future of peace and shared abundance to our children and grandchildren, for generations to come.

Thank you.

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