hOURS – helluva Organized United Reciprocation System
Why I created it (by Fred Kittelmann)
The point of hOURS is to be an alternative economic system, in opposition to the competitive, monetized, capitalist, “free market” we’ve already got.
hOURS is by no means intended as an ideal form of economic relations, but rather as a step along the way to unraveling all the nastiness.
hOURS is of course also quite puny in scope compared to the dominant system, but others are doing similar things, and there is incredible room and potential for growth. We have to start somewhere and this is a good direction in which to proceed.
One more caveat, before I get comfortable on the soapbox. I’m amazed at how universal the appeal of hOURS has been. I’ve gotten near unanimous enthusiasm from a wide variety of folks. I don’t want to risk narrowing that appeal by emphasizing my own personal motivations, which are likely to be different from those of many of you. I would ask that you judge hOURS based on what it is: a system of reciprocation where people… Don’t judge it based on what I, think it is. In the long run that doesn’t matter.
The main means by which hOURS challenges the dominant system is by providing the opportunity to boycott the almighty dollar, indeed money in general. To replace dollars with another unit of currency, of our own creation, as other LETS’s do, would be to seriously weaken its potential. Presently, most people value money, a fictional construct, over real-life concerns such as working conditions, interpersonal relations and the environment. In conflicts between the above, people generally make decisions based on the “bottom line”. hOURS devalues money, making it less of a necessity in people’s lives. Thus it begins to tip the balance toward the “real” concerns, improving people’s quality of life.
You might ask, isn’t money good for people though? It depends on what’s meant by “people”. To think money can bring an improved standard of living is a narrow viewpoint. It helps whoever gets it, but only at the expense of others: either whoever gave it up, or in the case of more having been printed, everyone’s money becomes a little less valuable. Economic growth in general worsens the standard of living of the human race as a whole through effects like increased monetization, increased dependency on others, the destruction of non-exchange type means of providing for ourselves, and counterproductivity. Cars are a good example of the latter. If only a few people have them, the technology can enhance their quality of life by making transportation easier. But when everyone has a car it’s gridlock and no one goes anywhere. (To be fair, economic growth might not be 100% bad if the business enterprise created thereby, produces a product or service useful to the human species as a whole, and does so at a sensible level – But who has a job like that?!) hOURS is anti-growth and anti-money. By participating, people achieve a degree of autonomy from the big institutions which control the bulk of the money. If we can boycott money, we can boycott the Federal Reserve System, Wall Street, and big corporations. We won’t have to put up with any sort of moneylords, like bankers, that earn their living parasitically, presiding over transactions and skimming off the top. Even the government and professions like law and medicine would eventually be effected. Taken to its logical conclusion, a situation where everyone satisfies their material needs through hOURS rather than the current economy, such institutions lose all their power and surrender their ability to impact public policy and decide what sorts of activities people will engage in. Three cheers for that!!!
Financial empire, perhaps even hierarchy in general, is impossible under hOURS. We all have the same net worth (24/7) to spend as we see fit. The highest standards of living are possible, but fortune as a means of being able to dominate others is not. There’s little room for surplus value, or exploitation of any kind. One particular form of domination, made possible through the manipulability of an abstract concept like money, but impossible with the non-manipulability of units of time, is the wide discrepancy in how the work people do is valued. It’s not right that executives make thousands and thousands of times as much money as Wal-mart clerks do. (Especially when the latter actually do something useful by telling you what aisle such and such is in, but the former set policies that destroy the environment and make decisions like “let’s build bombs instead of bicycles”.) No wage discrepancies are legitimate. Even the neurosurgeon who saves someone’s life should not earn more than the clerk, for the former is not possible without the latter. No one can practice neurosurgery without a slew of others providing for their more mundane needs. Perhaps this is clearer if one considers a farmer rather than a clerk. If no one will grow enough food to feed others as well as themselves, we all have to be farmers. There can be no division of labor. The division of labor is a group effort in which everyone plays an equal part. Therefore everyone should be compensated equally. Neurosurgeons ought to be happy with the prestige and honor that comes with a special skill, and not feel the need to economically crush everyone else under their heel to boot. Turning back the clock a bit we can see an even better example than the farmer. What about the surgeon’s wife who cooks and cleans and so forth, whom he couldn’t do without? The dominant economy has, and continues to, define many people as not just worth less, but worthless. The homeless people on the street can’t even get that minimum wage clerk job. Full employment, according to the Federal Reserve Board, is actually 4% unemployment, a level they roughly maintain through manipulation of the money supply. True full employment would lead to a breakdown of workplace authority as the consequences of losing a job dwindle to next to nothing. hOURS rejects all that crap. In an hOURS world, everyone is welcome. Everyone is useful. And there’s no Fed to say otherwise.
Not that hOURS would be a utopia. It’s still a market type system, which has many problems. One is the matter of collective goods. Markets have no incentive to create any, and tend to destroy those inherent to the aboriginal human condition, like clean air. If pollution is a side effect of a business, no incentive to rethink things will naturally ensue, for it doesn’t show up on the bottom line, whereas dealing with it would. Exchanges are dissociated from their social context. Contrary to working by consensus, who the costs and benefits of economic activity get assigned to means everything. If making widgets in a certain way saves the company $10, but the side effect is that half the world gets cancer, it’s still rational from a business perspective; even more so if the company also makes cancer medications. By the way, it’s not necessary to believe business leaders would have to be monsters to act that way. Psychological mechanisms like denial and ego defense bypass that hurdle, allowing “the system” to operate according to its own logic. Then again, some such people really are monsters. One federal official, several years ago, lauded the destruction of the ozone layer as good for the economy because it would increase sales of sunscreen and sunglasses. And you know what, he’s right. (Bet you didn’t expect me to say that.) Here’s the critical leap to make: If the economy is a thing which makes destruction of the ozone layer ok, we need to get rid of it. We need the ozone layer. We need it bad. We don’t need the economy. (What, that’s crazy.) Here’s the critical observation to help make the leap: The word “economy” has a mystifying effect. It means both the bottom line concerns of sunscreen manufacturers (and other big businesses). And it also means the way we provide for ourselves. Having the word mean both helps narrow, private interest masquerade as the public interest. Believe it or not, we can provide for our material needs without destroying the ozone layer. One thing that makes me want to puke is all the exhortations to travel and fly, and all the corporate welfare being doled out to airlines in the wake of the terrorist attack. Believe it or not, we can provide for our material needs without flinging ourselves great distances through the air. In fact, our standard of living need not suffer at all because of it. Don’t let the two senses of the word muddle your head. In the one sense, the economy is a nasty thing that’s been kicking our asses daily. If we bring it down, how do we maintain an economy in the other sense? hOURS.
All right, returning from that slight tangent, another problem with market economies is that they radically increase the amount of competition in human relations and the general ill will that breeds. We see people getting attached to their niches in the marketplace. When people’s livelihoods become attached to their niches it generates a downright demented consequence: economic activity becomes about creating needs rather than satisfying them. The significance (size) of ones niche (economic territory) becomes more important to ones success than how well that role is fulfilled. My house has a very old furnace built so well it will probably outlast me. Good job satisfying needs, but bad for business – no repeat customers. Making crappy products designed to break down is rewarded under the market system. You get to sell replacements. This problem is also apparent in the efforts of professions to drive up the need for their services.
Though hOURS is such a market type system, there are a few reasons why it can mitigate problems like these nonetheless. 1) We don’t actually have a free market economy. We have corporate socialism, which is even worse. While a marketplace works to the advantage of the strong, (The New York Times gets more out of “the marketplace of ideas” than I do. Big business gets more out of a market economy than I do. The market is a fictitious claim of “level playing field” to help justify inequities.) on rare occasions it can fail to serve the interests of the powerful. When this happens though, the truth comes out; as such results are not allowed to stand. In other words, when Chrysler fails, it doesn’t. Add this to rampant corporate welfare and it’s clear we have a system of corporate socialism designed to serve monstrosities like Chrysler. An actual free market would be a step up. 2) Under hOURS, people won’t be motivated by scarcity. Scarcity makes people freak out. The supply of money is tightly controlled. hOURS can be generated by anyone at any time. Without the need to compete for a scarce resource, people are less driven to act unethically. With an hour being an hour, it greatly reduces people’s ability to increase the value of their wares through mean-spirited anti-social mechanisms (e.g. pillaging the water supply or other collective goods, propaganda and intellectual hocus-pocus making ones skills seem more desirable, etc.) 3) Another consequence of an hour being an hour is that people can shift market niches without a loss of value. Suppose people, under hOURS, got so good at promoting holistic health that people rarely got sick anymore. Loss of livelihood? Not so. They can earn just as many hours at their new bike building business. There will be no need to defend their original business by say, promulgating advertising to dupe people who don’t need their services into thinking they do need them, or doing a crappy job to encourage repeat business. But when someone moves from an area they have expertise to one where they don’t, isn’t this an overall loss for society as a whole? No, because that’s smaller than the overall improvement in social welfare associated with the health services being less needed. It’s just plain old moving on.
An ideal economy would have true reciprocity with concern for all. This is seen in primitive societies where mutual aid is so much the norm that saying “thank you” is frowned upon. (There’s an implication one didn’t expect the thankee to be so generous, and it makes you look like a rude miserly type who keeps careful track of debts and obligations instead of mellowing out.) hOURS clearly isn’t that, but we can use it to start cleaning up the mess. I’m optimistic about its chances for success because it’s an example of a paradigm of activism I developed called “activism from superiority”. The key feature is that “doing the right thing” is the better way to live; meaning that benefits naturally accrue to those involved, in this case the building of a supportive community, not having to pay taxes, and other advantages of relief from the crushing grip of moneylords. Such a framework is more conducive to building a mass movement than traditional efforts which need to acquire resources and work on motivations like guilt and sympathy. The “force of example” to others is stronger, and you get a sort of natural selection as the flow of resources, relatively speaking, favors those who participate over those who don’t. By utilizing the value in what people have to offer that our society considers “throwaway”, and building a community of resistance that withdraws support from the system and grows stronger because of it, we can make great change.