Category Archives: Basic Concepts

Why Can’t Governments Balance Their Budgets?

This is a question I answered more than a quarter century ago in Part I of my book, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis. It is a question that gets scant attention from politicians and economists who are willing to speak only about the need for perpetual economic growth and keeping the government debt at “manageable” levels, never asking why government debt is necessary or how it might be eliminated.

When I first undertook to answer this question, the debt crisis was already well underway and global in scope. Since then the situation has become more critical with debt levels reaching astronomical levels.USDebt&deficits

What I said in 1990 began with this:

The whole world today seems to be awash in a sea of debt which threatens to drown us all. Many Third World countries, despite their huge increases in production for export, are unable to pay even the interest due on their accumulated indebtedness to Western banks and governments. In the U. S., the levels of both public (government) and private debt are increasing at alarming rates. The Federal budget deficits of recent years far exceed anything thought possible just a decade ago. Why is this happening and why is it a problem? In order to understand that, one must first understand some financial facts of life.PublicDebt

Here are the essential points of my argument:

  1. Almost all of the money in every country is created by commercial banks when they make loans either to the private sector or to governments (by purchasing government bonds, notes, etc.),
  2. Money is extinguished when loan principal is repaid,
  3. The interest that banks charge on these loans causes the amount owed to grow as time passes,
  4. Causing the aggregate amount owed to banks to always exceed the supply of money in circulation,
  5. Requiring that banks make additional loans to keep the supply of money in circulation from falling behind the amounts needed for existing loans to be “serviced” (repayment of part of the principal plus the interest due) in order to avoid a cascade of defaults and economic depression,
  6. And that this “debt imperative” that is built into the global money system is the driver of the economic “growth imperative” that results in superfluous economic output and its attendant depletion of physical resources, despoliation of the environment, increasing disparities in income and wealth distribution, and many other problems that plague modern civilization.
  7. That physical limits to economic output on a finite planet make this money system unsustainable over the long term.
  8. That there are practical limits to the amount of debt that the private sector is able or willing to incur.
  9. That chronic government budget deficits are therefore a political expedient that is necessary to keep this flawed system from collapsing as governments assume the role of “borrower of last resort.”
  10. That politicians are quite willing that governments play this role since it gives them the power to take much more value out of the economy than the revenues available by means of overt taxation.
  11. That bankers, for their part, by monopolizing the allocation of credit in the economy and charging interest on it, are able to enrich themselves and exercise tremendous power over the political process making a sham of democratic government.

The empirical evidence strongly supports my analysis. You only need to look at charts showing the growth of debt over time to see it growing at an accelerating rate (geometrically), a pattern that reflects the compound interest function that is an inherent feature of our global political money system.

You can read my original 1989 exposition of these points at Money and Debt: a Solution to the Global Crisis, Part I, and their subsequent elaboration in my latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization,

#     #     #

Seizing an Alternative-sign up now

Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
June 4-7, Pomona College, Claremont, CA
This promises to be the conference of the year.
Get all the details and register here.

Beyond Money—Learning the basics of value exchange

We need to get beyond the confusions and obfuscations that surround the concept of money.

To do that we need to distinguish between what money is, i.e., its essence, and what money does, i.e., its functions. Conventional definitions of money, the ones that are universally taught in schools and universities, tell what money is supposed to do, not what it is.

The essence of money is credit. It is the issuer’s i.o.u. or promise to reciprocate, i.e. to provide real value to the market and accept his currency back as payment for it.

With that in mind, we can begin to make sense of money and effectively address the problems that arise from conventional forms of money.

Conventional thinking lists money as having these functions:

  • Medium of exchange—what we use to pay one another.
  • Store of value—what we use to save our temporary surplus.
  • Measure of value—what we use to quantify the market value of all the things that we buy and sell.

But, as I have argued for almost 30 years, these are separate and distinct functions that need to handled by distinct and different means. (For more about that see my book, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis, Part III).

Let’s focus on the exchange function, for this is the fundamental and proper role of money, and this is where attempts to solve our global financial and economic problems must begin. Anyone who has studied my work will know that I have thoroughly articulated these concepts in my books and my various presentations. But theory and practice develop together, each informing the other, and finding ways to improve the process requires that we look at both.

Over the past several decades, numerous innovations in the exchange function have emerged, including virtual commodities like Bitcoin, LETS systems, community currencies, and commercial trade (“barter”) exchanges.

Of these, the greatest market success has been achieved by commercial trade exchanges which enable their member businesses to buy and sell without using conventional money. Rather, trading is enabled by using the members’ own credit in a process called credit clearing which simply offsets debits from purchases against credits from sales. (For a more complete description of how this works, see my book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, especially Chapter 10).

Over the past 40 years, much has been learned from the operation of commercial trade exchanges, and while they have achieved some modest levels of success, they have barely scratched the surface of the potential market for credit clearing services. It remains for exchanges system designs and procedures to be optimized and standardized and for local exchanges to be networked together into a vast moneyless marketplace.

The trade exchange industry has two trade associations that have been instrumental in helping practitioners to share information and in promoting standards and best practices. These are the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) and the National Association of Trade Exchanges (NATE). But over the past year a new voice, Bartertown Radio, has emerged that seeks to disseminate the knowledge and wisdom of practitioners to a wider audience. Its mission is to provide an “Educational Program for Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, Barter Exchanges, Owners or New Owners of Barter Exchanges or anyone interested in Alternative Economies.”

Broadcasts are archived and can be accessed on demand at the Bartertown Radio website. Particularly relevant is the April 18 broadcast featuring Richard Logie, a man with 20 years of experience as a trade exchange operator and software platform developer. During that interview, Richard shared his experience and knowledge about a wide range of topics including the factors he considers in allocating credit lines to exchange members, how tax issues are dealt with, and ongoing efforts to establish and enforce good standards of operation. That interview with Richard will be continued next Saturday, April 25 at 11 AM Eastern time (UTC-5). Be sure to tune in at .

Other archived broadcasts that may be of particular interest are the April 5 interview with industry leader, Harold Rice of the American Exchange Network, and the interview with yours truly from December 13, 2014. Besides operating his own trade exchange company for almost 40 years, Harold Rice has provided consulting services for entrepreneurs and other exchange operators. He is a fount of knowledge about the details of exchange operation and has special expertise in accounting and tax issues.

#     #     #

Money and Society: Free university-level online course being offered

A free online course (MOOC) in Money and Society is being offered by Professor Jem Bendell, PhD (IFLAS) and Matthew Slater, under the aegis of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability of Cumbria University. The four lessons of the course, intended to” explode myths about the history, nature, present and future of money,” will commence 16 February 2015 and conclude 18 March 2015. For details and registration go to


Thomas Greco’s presentation at the Living the New Economy convergence, Oakland, CA, October 23, 2014

At the recent Living the New Economy convergence in Oakland, I was the first speaker on a panel that addressed the question of the Future of Value Exchange. Here it is below:

If you would like to download the slide deck of that presentation, you can get it here. I had only enough time to show the first 15 slides; the other were included for possible discussion.

You can also find some of my other presentations and interviews on my YouTube playlist.

You can find video recordings of several other sessions from Living the New Economy convergence here.

Thomas Greco presenting at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, October 30

On Thursday, October 30 I will present, The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). in Petaluma, California. If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay area or northern counties you might want to attend. Details can be found here.Please RSVP here.

Newsletter – October 2013

In this issue

  • Changes
  • European tour reportPart 1, the Hague Conference

It’s been quite a while since my last newsletter went out in early June. Since then, a great deal has been accomplished. My European tour, which spanned nine weeks from mid-June to the latter part of August, was successful, productive, exciting, and I might add, exhausting. I’ll say more about that below, but most recently, I provided a remote presentation (via Skype) to a group assembled at Kalikalos on Mt Pelion in Greece as part of the week-long workshop titled Occupy Money. Then, toward the end of September, I participated in the 34th Annual International Convention of the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) in Las Vegas where I shared the podium with Annette Riggs and Rob van Hilten in a panel session about Understanding Diverse Exchange System Models: From Bitcoin and Berkshares, to Transparent Credit Clearing Networks. Unfortunately, that session was not recorded, but the slides that I prepared as talking points can be seen here. Needless to say it was not possible to cover them all in the short time provided.

Upon my return to Arizona from Europe I had to begin searching for another residence, since the house where I had been renting a room is no longer available. I’ve just moved into another shared housing arrangement which I hope will turn out to be suitable, at least temporarily.

This uprooting, combined with the let-down that followed the summer’s excitement, has caused me to deeply ponder the questions, What’s next? and Where do I want to be? While my energy level is not what it once was, I still enjoy relatively good health and am able to adapt to different environments so long as they provide a reasonable level of comfort for living and working. I’m growing impatient to hear opportunity’s knock, still hoping to involve myself in a breakthrough project that is adequately funded, with an able and energetic team that can achieve results that are on a par with the best business start-ups.

European Tour Report—Part 1, June, 2013

The first 4 weeks of my tour were a whirlwind of presentations, workshops, interviews and discussions. I’ll skip the details and report only the highlights, starting with the Hague conference, then report on the rest of the tour in my next newsletter.

The Netherlands and 2nd International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems (CCS)

It was a great pleasure to again visit (for the third time) STRO in Utrecht and to discuss with Henk van Arkel and the STRO team our various projects and common interests. STRO, with projects in several countries, is one of the most effective organizations working in the area of sustainable economics, community empowerment, and exchange alternatives. Together with Time/bank The Hague, they sponsored my first tour presentation (on June 18) for practitioners and social entrepreneurs. My slide show was titled The Exchange Revolution: Taking complementary currencies and moneyless trading to a new level, which described the various issues that must be considered in creating and managing alternative exchange mechanisms.

The CCS Conference in Den Hague far exceeded my original high expectations. I’m very encouraged and inspired by the quality of the presentations and discussion sessions that occurred during the entire 5 days of the conference. It seems that the movement has reached a new high level of competence and increasing cohesion, and seems poised to achieve significant results in both the theory and practice of community empowerment through the creation of systems for providing local liquidity. That, of course, is a prerequisite to transcending the growth imperative and transitioning to a steady-state economy. I expect that progress will be very rapid from this point onward.

Presentations, documents, and interviews from the Academic portion (June 19 and 20) of the Conference are available toward the bottom of this link. You will find what I think is a pretty good interview with me here, and brief video interviews of 27 presenters from Day 3 (policy makers day) can be found on the YouTube channel of Qoin. More video recordings by Hagen Schmidt of some of the sessions are to be found at this link.

As usual, I took many photos to document my travels and events. The pictures of the Netherlands portion of the tour can be found at this link.

Practitioner Sessions

Among the practitioner sessions that I participated in during the final two days of the conference were the following.

* Intertrading. One of the two discussion groups I proposed in the “open space” was about networking credit clearing exchanges together and development of the necessary intertrading protocols. We had quite a lively and productive discussion, which has become an ongoing process since Sebastiano Scrofina set up a Google group for that purpose. If you want to view the posts or join the discussion, go to this link.

* Measures of value and Units of account. Another session I lead was about measures of value and units of account. This also resulted in a lively discussion. Thanks to Zsuzsanna Szalay, we have a voice recording made with a digital recorder. You can download the file from this link.

* Business Models for Complementary Currencies. Daniel Neis provided input for a session on business models. Pertinent links are provided in his post to a Google group which he has started for discussion on that topic. You can read it, and join the conversation by going to this link.

As a side note, it always amazes me to see how effectively the DutchIMG_2753 deal with personal transportation. Besides having a very efficient network of trains, trams, and buses, their use of bicycles exceeds that of any other people I’ve visited, even urban Chinese. They make bike travel safe and convenient by providing many bike “roads” that keep bike traffic IMG_2754physically separated from motor vehicle traffic, and by providing huge amounts of space for bike parking at train stations and other locations.

I hope you are all enjoying the cooler Fall weather.