A Money Coach in Canada

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Word. The particular story and thoughts that follow derive from my faith tradition, ie., Christianity. I’m writing with my fellow Sojourners in mind, primarily. Those of other persuasions may also connect to the broad theme of the post (and I hope you do).

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The question was so loaded it was life-threatening and Jesus knew it.

“What do you say, Rabbi?”
“Is it lawful to pay this tax to Caesar?”

The offence of the tribute tax went deeper than just having to cough up money when you were already the oppressed. The currency in which the tax had to be paid inherently served as imperial propaganda before the age of advertising: Its imagery of Caesar made devastatingly clear who had the power and who was the vanquished. It was scorchingly and humiliatingly personal too, an item you held right in the very palm of your hand.

You have the coins and it means you are colluding and integrating with the Empire and the cult of emperor worship. You don’t have coins and you are outside the economic system and you probably don’t survive.

To be asked by the religious leaders “Is it lawful [by God as the Hebrews understood him] to pay the tribute tax?” is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Answer “yes” and as a Jewish Rabbi you are now colluding with the Romans against God’s people. Answer “no” and the politicos in the crowd who helped frame up the question would legitimize killing you.

You know how Jesus answered the question. He first asked them to produce a coin (think of the implications of that), then asked the counter-question, “Whose image is on this coin?”. If you don’t know the rest of the story, it’s here.

What does this story say to us, two thousand years and a few cultures later?

Our coins, of course, are different. “In God we Trust,” some even read. Nonetheless coins, currency, money, are a construct of the empire (or world, if you prefer) in which we live. This empire does not crucify people or crush dissidents by leaving corpses rotting in our streets as a message to our families and communities or fund circus-spectacles featuring grotesque slaughters of men and beasts. But it is other. It is a construct. Unlike water, air, grain, milk, items all freely given to us as the necessities of life, money is a medium we humans created.

For some time now money hasn’t even been coin per se, nor even a representation of coin, but rather electronic blips and bytes representing ideas so complex and convoluted and separate from pretty much everything we know and understand that, frankly, we’ve pretty much lost track of it. It represents empire.

I argue this then. A healthy (holy?) stance towards money involves an internal distancing from it. I don’t mean negligence. I don’t mean rogue attempts to bypass currency with bits of silver or gold. Like it or not, we are as integrated with our empire as the Jews were in the Roman Empire. But let’s understand that money is no less a thing of “Caesar” now than back then.

Questions.

What does it mean when we assert our right to our “hard earned money”?

Are we consorting with the empire?

Photo Credit: HowardLake

Dear Vancity,

When I worked for your subsidiary, there was much, and worthy, soul-searching going on:   Who were we and How would we show up in the marketplace?

If ever there was a time to stake your ground, surely it’s now!

It’s now, when a handful of your gutsy neighbours (who may even bank with you?) walked straight into the heart of your turf, the financial powerbrokers on Wall Street, and raised their 200 or so fists defying what financial institutions have become. And sparked a movement.

It’s now, when thousands  – millions?? – of Spaniards (oh!  those Spaniards!) spilled into the streets for 15O, indignant ones, speaking against the savage consequences of capitalist structures unchecked (uncheckable?) by political will (euphemistically speaking)

It’s now, when thousands of Oakland folks have tasted tear gas (including this woman in a wheelchair) for insisting that people come first:

It’s now, when this kid PWNS Fox News (for once, thank god, for once):

and when a Pulitzer Prize winner PWND Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s own lame-ass apologist for the worst of capitalism:

and when young mid-riff baring, cardboard placard bearing girls are corralled into red netting and then peppersprayed

So. In light of corralled girls and teargassed wheel-chair bound women and articulate youth and the hashtag #occupy showing up here, there, everywhere, does Vancity have something to offer? Yes, this vid gives a glimpse of a better way. It’s inspiring.

But it’s not a manifesto, and if ever a ballsy manifesto (nothing pretty, please! and no slick marketing!) was needed from a financial institution, one whose DNA is still gritty and radical even if tamed over the years, it’s needed now. Is a credit union something more than a kinder, gentler bank? I’m listening. And I hope about 99% of Canadian citizens are too.

Photo Credit: Net_efekt

Work with me here.

Here’s the situation. Based on a true story.

You run a well established bank – let’s say, a Canadian bank called CanadaBank.

You borrow $Millions from Canadians by issuing Citizens Savings Bonds and offer them decent interest.

You take that money you’ve raised and lend it out at higher rate to another country, ’cause that’s what bankers do, and you’re a banker.  Let’s call it the country of Perezo.

Perezo.  Oh, Perezo.  Perezo is run by a Military General (MG) who keeps law and order, true, but at dear cost to the citizens.

Western Democracy it’s not.

You hear rumours that MG, who promised he’d use the money to build infrastructure for water and transportation, instead siphons off most of it to his relatives and friends and also uses a lot of it to bribe judges. But it’s not really any of your business and  you are getting the loan payments back on time, with interest, which you then give back to your Cdn. citizen Bond holders, keeping the profit.

But then the citizens of Perezo revolt successfully.

Overnight, MG is gone. In his place is a revolutionary, beloved by the people, named Juan. He pledges to end corruption, fire the bribed judges, and free the people MG had imprisoned. He is also contemplating kicking out all foreign businesses.

Your phone rings.  It’s Juan. He wants a meeting with you.  In Perezo. You fly down to meet him, keenly aware that Juan could give a rats ass about you or your bank.

The meeting goes worse than you anticipated. Juan notes how your bank’s money had enabled MG to purchase the guns that had mowed down citizens in the streets. How it paid off judges who imprisoned some of the country’s best thinkers who had dared speak out against MG and his henchmen. And he shrugs off your rebuttals that you had lent it to be used to build infrastructure, asking you, “where is it? Do you see water towers? Do you see good streets?”.

You develop a cold sweat because you realize you may well not see a penny of that money back. And your bank owes it to the people of Canada.

Readers – over to you. Dig deep into that inner armchair economist in you. What would you say to Juan to convince him to honour MG’s commitment to repay the loan?

ps – This is a real situation faced by a top banker. I have a book he recently wrote about his banking adventures, called “Banker to the World“. Chapter One describes how he handled it.  You get the book (maybe) if you take a shot at responding in the comments!  (one book to give away.  if more than one brave soul answers, it will be by random draw)

Photo Credit: UberZombie

The following vid made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Granted, there is likely a measure of posturing going on to convince countries they’d better seriously step up … but neither do I think for a moment these people are being frivolous. Kinda made me want to learn how to hunt and grow my own food. DISCLAIMER: I’m not an economist! Just took a couple courses waaaaay back in the day. So this is just my armchair take.

A super important thing to understand: Bank Capitalization

When you give your $1 to the Bank, they then can invest that $1 to make profit (of which a teensy portion goes to you as interest).

Usually, banks invest that $1 by loaning to Joe the Pizza Man down the street so he can buy a second pizza stand, or to Cindy so she can buy a bungalow.

But here’s the super-important bit: The Gov’t allows the bank not to simply lend out that $1, but perhaps $8 or more. Why? Because of faith.

Faith that Joe probably will succeed in his biz and pay back not just that $1, but the full $8.

Faith that Cindy will pay her mortgage as agreed upon every month.

Faith that those effing bastards on Wall Street would similarly use the money with integrity as they select investments. They didn’t.

Bank Capitalization refers to how many $1s they in fact have. In short, how much that have that is real, not faith-based. That faith is well and truly shaken.
And all our intricate webs between banks and businesses and countries are seriously frayed.

Photo Credit: komodoro

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