A Review of Zeitgeist, Moving Forward

by  Roland Stahl
February, 2011

“You can only get a loan from a bank if you can prove that you don’t need it.”

     I have been watching Zeitgeist, Moving Forward, and it is pretty interesting – lots of ideas sound familiar to me from my own writings, but there is one very critical point, which they seem to miss, and it surprises me.  

     The whole discussion of “access centers” where you just go in, take what you need, and when you are done you simply return it – all for free, etc., is appallingly simplistic.  The narrator dismisses the notion rather quickly that if everything be freely provided, everyone will simply lie in the sun and do nothing.  

     My own insight is that this whole idea is subject to severe limitations, and even then it is suitable only for a certain segment of the population.  I envision a two-tier economic system – a free market economy for the upper tier (limited by what I have called a “resource depletion tax”), and a “free farm” arrangement for the poorer members of society (vide: New Solutions to the Problems of the Present Day - a Plan for International Prosperity and World Peace, 1992).  The problem is how to deal with poverty, because the free market capitalist economy does not adequately provide for the social problems of poverty.  On the other hand, the free farm approach encounters serious obstacles when it is attempted to apply it to all of society: it runs counter to the desire inherent in all of life to flourish and “get ahead.”  

     I hardly need to detail the flaws in the Zeitgeist (or free farm) approach to economics: no one will want brand B; everyone will want the best of everything, the newest, biggest, and best.  No one will want anything used, chipped, older, outmoded – there will be no economic incentive for selecting anything other than the very best of everything.  Why eat hamburger and fries when you can eat lobster and caviar?  

     No, my system allows for providing for the needs of the poor with a free farm arrangement, but there will have to be a certain amount of regulation in the distribution of “free goods.”  For one thing, I imagine two tiers to provide a minimal, but essential degree of regulation: an upper tier of “stewards” who form the responsible core of the farm and who enjoy a somewhat better standard of living than the “volunteers.”  For example, the better living quarters, better quality beds and so on, will be given for the use of the stewards, while the older stuff (or smaller rooms) will be given to the volunteers, perhaps on a seniority basis.  Anyone who wants anything more will have to pay for it.  Of course, the funny notion of “no longer observing money” is so simplistic that I hardly need to pass over that with more than a tolerant smirk, and I have already exceeded my quota.  

     So, instead of paying out millions of dollars every month in transfer payments so that deadbeats can occupy a room in a flophouse downtown and spend their days smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, we can simply provide space at one of the country farms where these people can be provided for in a humane way, yet at the least cost to the rest of society.  This will leave the cities as spaces occupied only by those who are actually involved in productive work.  When a business fails, you don’t have to resort to crime and fraud – you can simply pack it in and chill out at the free farm until you (perhaps with a different set of partners) feel like taking on another project “off the farm” and “into the jungle.”  

     The cost to society will be hugely less (free farm vs. transfer payments) for two reasons: direct costs will be far less; a hundred people can be kept in decent comfort on the free farm, with dormitories and cafeterias, for the cost of a few welfare checks.   But, secondarily, the immense social costs of robbery, fraud, marketing of useless junk, drug addiction, prostitution, murder, and other by-products of a necessity to come up with money every month, will be greatly reduced, since there will be no need for any of that behavior.  (It won’t be eliminated entirely, of course, because there are other causative elements apart from financial necessity.)  

     But it is an essential part of my vision that this whole free farm culture exist side by side with a free market capitalism, so that everyone can be as free as they want, but with another option for those who wish to get off the tread-wheel for a while.  The other half – those in the free market who are motivated and on to something, will find they can accomplish their goals in a streamlined manner, without being bogged down by carrying all the dead weight of loafers or drunks.  

     I see plenty of utopian visions like that suggested in Zeitgeist, but I have never seen anyone advocate anything like a two-tier system which combines socialist utopian theory with free market capitalism.  It has always seemed interesting to me that the idea is a perfect marriage of Capitalism and Communism, both of which have some interesting and commendable features, but both of which are plagued with some very serious problems.  Socialist utopian visions can never work unless a creative element is free to explode off the top, providing evolutionary vitality.  

     Oh, and, by the way, all the malarkey about the insidious monetary system with its debt basis seems to be mis-applied emphasis.  The real lesson there is that debt is a killer, whether it is personal debt, a corporate debt, or the national debt of a sovereign state!  Once you are in debt, and must borrow more money at ever more punishing terms in order to keep afloat, it becomes harder and harder to keep from sliding ever deeper into debt.  In fact, you are not expected to get out of debt; the plot is to run people into debt so that they cannot avoid financial collapse, during which time the banks continue to claim their confiscatory 29% interest for the five or six years it may take for foreclosure proceedings to close.  

     In the same way, on the other side of the interest pay window, once you have sufficient wealth it is easy for that money to earn more wealth faster than you can spend it, causing a continuous rise in personal wealth.  Once you reach a certain plateau, then the inertia is all behind you to become more and more wealthy.  It is a mirror image of The Descent Into Hell whereby your increasing debt level forces you inexorably past the line into realms where the laws of mathematics will force you ever deeper into the hole until you reach a point where it is impossible to recover (legally – of course there will always remain the options of murder, mayhem, fraud, and theft, not to mention prostitution, drugs, and gambling).  

     This is inherently and progressively unfair, and it leads to social stratification with a self-perpetuating wealthy class over an endlessly struggling class of peons who can never get out of debt (as Alice learned through the looking glass, “you have to run very fast just to stay in the same place”), unless they are fortunate enough to hit upon some winning strategy, or join a successful revolution (not a bad option to consider, these days).  It is unfair to blame the bankers who offer loans at high interest rates: the high rates are required to cover the significant default rate on the shakier loans, so that the worse your financial status, the more interest you have to pay to service your debt.  Banks are not really responsible for debt: they simply take advantage of it to make money.  One solution would be to outlaw the loaning of money at interest, so that no one would be able to get into debt.  This has been tried, with usury laws forbidding the charging of more than 10% interest, for example.  This makes sense: if your credit is so bad that no one will risk lending money to you at less than 10% interest, it probably means that you are fundamentally bankrupt, and the circulations of debt simply postpone the inevitable collapse and give much of the profits from your collapse to the bankers instead of your final creditors.  You might as well simply bail out and go to the free farm as hang on another few years with escalating debt levels until the inevitable collapse.

     Borrowing money at interest is a very scary business, whether for a person, corporation, or sovereign state.  The risks and dangers of falling behind and reaching a level where it is mathematically impossible to recover are very real.  The consequences can be far-reaching, whether it be the bankruptcy of personal family finances, the bankruptcy of General Motors, or the bankruptcy of Iceland, Ireland, Greece, or Spain, followed, like dominoes, by all the other countries until China is left alone on the Monopoly board as the winner – and then there will be another revolution and someone else will rise to the top.  I don’t think this transition has been adequately appreciated by the modern world: military might is no longer the real measure of power; it has given way to economic might.  

     The activities of the American government might seem to promote a growing economy with a growing GDP, but that is just the visible bubble on top: the underlying real financial strength is not measured in economic activity, but by more fundamental measures of wealth: actual resources, including natural resources, money (both held and owed), and infrastructure: schools, roads, hospitals, water, and power – Zeitgeist got that much right.  The world is currently played like a game of Monopoly, and the United States is not necessarily winning the game; in fact, this should be a wake-up call, since there are still substantial resources remaining in that country, yet they are melting away very quickly under some very surprising economic theories.  (Will P.T. Barnum please stand up?)

     Actually, the “United States” is not really one of the players on the Monopoly board.  There are numerous Players, both individual and corporate, but “The United States” is just a fictional abstraction (in financial terms).  It is a sink into which debt is loaded, and this is one of the principle mechanisms of generating more wealth for the Players, as the “U.S. Government” sinks woefully beyond that line of total bankruptcy to a mathematical certainty, barring the fortunes of war, and/or acts of God.  

     It might start raining manna from Heaven any day now; I hope you have a bag ready.  


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