From interest to reciprocity, savings pools are a great innovation.

Among all our discussion of currency and tax changes at national level we must never lose sight of the good things happening at local level. For it is at the level of neighbourhood that we all exist. It is at community level where our comfort comes from. It is from the ground up that initiatives and innovations happen. New Zealand has a unique innovation here.

It is at local level where we can take action to restore local economic resilience and maximise our chances of survival after a major bank failure and economic crisis. Nicole Foss has reminded us yet again that the system must crash. “When the music stops there is only one chair for every 100 dancers”.

Money-tabooIn August 2014 I had the privilege of attending the annual hui of the Living Economies Educational Trust. Among the local resilience initiatives being taken are green dollars, timebanks and now savings pools. It is the savings pools that I want to talk about here.

A savings pool is a family sized group of people (4 to 30 people) who get together regularly for the mutual financial purposes. It is a cross between a purchasing cooperative, a support group and a pawn shop. There is not a scrap of interest paid to anyone.

So how does it work? Members meet at someone’s home monthly. They discuss what they will contribute to the group’s shared pool. It might range from $10 to $200 a month, but where the membership is say 10, the group’s monthly savings can quickly range from $100 upwards. Before long you have a sum of, say, $3000.

But you don’t want this money languishing in the bank. You want it out amongst your members doing good. The members volunteer in turn what their financial needs are. Perhaps three in the group have financial needs. Susan draws attention to her credit card debt, Jim is desperate for a new car so he can get to work and a Rosy needs to pay a dental bill. The group then pays attention to those three needs. They figure they can work out how someone can take Jim to work for a while and decide to pay off Susan’s credit card. Without having to pay interest, Susan can put more into the pool each month.

Susan’s promise is to pay $50 a month to pay the pool back, plus another $50 as reciprocation (equal give and take) towards her future pool account. She pays a total of $100 a month now. Or else she could pay $50 a month for double the period. Her choice.

In savings pools trust is important but there is a saying "Trust in God but tie up your camel". Tying up your camel entails prudent purchasing agreements. Collateral is usually necessary. e.g. if I want $1000 from the group to pay off my credit card debt and I have a $5000 car, the group can own my car and I enter into a purchasing agreement with the pool to buy back my car for $1000. That way the pool is more like a special kind of pawn shop. The car should be insured. The whole group reviews their next month’s contribution, and the result is a bigger fund. Since they don’t know Rosy well they meet in her house next time. As trust builds and the social capital of the group grows, they realise Rosy should be next in line for a contribution from the pool as her teeth really are causing her trouble. Maybe there is enough in the pool to meet her needs now.

Rosy offers some appropriate property for sale and purchase, plus an equivalent savings/contribution to the pool. Money, Colorful words hang on rope by wooden peg The accounting spreadsheet is available for them all to see. They add up what they will have at each month in the future, aware of some of the future demands on the use of the funds.

When Jim’s turn comes around for a car the pool has $5000 with which to buy a car. The car belongs to the pool. Jim uses it and pays off $100 a month. But as before he also has to put in another $100 a month so that others can have access to his money during the period he pays it off. If $100 a month is all he can afford then the term could be extended for two years. That is reciprocity in action. So instead of paying it off in one year Jim takes two years. At the end of the two years ownership transfers to Jim. He has paid off $5000 plus he has put another $5000 in the pool. When he has paid off his $500 and contributed another $5000, he can withdraw the second $5000 if he wants as it is his money. Meanwhile for all that time it has been at work for the pool’s benefit.

So you see not only has the group lent without interest but nobody gains from being a borrower without paying an equal amount back to the pool. Reciprocity replaces interest.

There are now at least 22 savings pools in New Zealand and membership is growing fast. Several people are now available to help new groups form. They do this by running a game (it's more fun than monopoly) where they are each given an identity (e.g. a retired couple with no mortgage or a solo mother with part time work) Each person is then handed a crisis/opportunity card saying what happened that month for them (unexpected expense they can’t meet or an inheritance or ‘no change’). Then they role play what might happen within the group. At the end of the game people are itching to start their own savings pools.

These groups work particularly well if they start with a group who already know each other. It is also good if you have a cross section – those with extra money they want to protect in case of an economic crisis and those whose finances are more precarious. If a person dies or moves away their money can be withdrawn, together with their savings points (amount of money multiplied by the number of months they have had it in there) and passed to their heirs.

You need a person who will be a good recorder.

I have been to several of these events. Enthusiastic members of existing pools tell us of the celebration and joy when a credit card is paid off. One group had a party where they ceremoniously cut up the card.

The first financial threat is a global downturn causing major economic contraction and loss of ability to service mortgages. The second is bank insolvency where depositors (unsecured creditors of the bank) find their accounts have been frozen overnight and wake up with a "haircut". In crises the solvency of banks depends on the elimination of debt and calling in non performing loans (mortgage foreclosures and asset seizures).

Savings pools already own all assets not yet paid for. Contributions will tend to dry but but the pool community remains. Loss of liquidity results in temporary paralysis of the system, but no loss of its real underpinnings

The assets of savings pools or more strictly Buyers Clubs in New Zealand are now growing at between 75-100% a year. In other words they are nearly doubling every year. If you would like to find out how it all started have a look at the 15 min video done by its founder Bryan Innes here.

For more information go to the Living Economies website where you can read more and see a typical agreement.

To start one in your area contact either Peter Luiten, Bryan Innes, Phil Stevens or Helen Dew. Or leave your information here

Purchasing power, poverty and tax systems

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Who would have thought New Zealand children go hungry?

With child poverty a major political embarrassment it is time to examine causes and propose solutions. Not only are there 146,000 people out of work in New Zealand but the working poor are really feeling the pinch. Many part-time workers want full time work.

So it isn’t any surprise that even the National Government has realised that it is important to make some effort to feed hungry school children. Schools are the perfect indicator of the state of household wellbeing in this country. No measure proposed so far will get at the root cause.  Nurses in schools won't give families sufficient purchasing power to feed and clothe their children. Raising tax rates of those on high incomes won’t do it either. Nor will legislating for a minimum income.
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The problem is there is not enough money to buy essentials

So let's look at the family budget spelt out in the Dominion Post Sat 1 June. The family was a real Porirua family with three school aged children. The income was two benefits plus accommodation supplement plus family tax credit, which brought in a total of $685.29. The itemised expenditure tallied $752.69, leaving a weekly shortfall of $67.40.  There was no tobacco, alcohol or gambling listed in their expenses. Expenditure was $180 for food, $300 for rent. There was also a weekly payment of $80 for a car loan, and presumably this was for both capital and interest repayment.
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GST, income tax are reducing purchasing power.

Now let's analyse the family’s expenditure in terms of taxes and interest.  For decades we have lived with income tax and assumed it is fair and normal to tax income. Since Roger Douglas introduced it we have also taxed spending in the form of GST, now at 15%. I don’t know how long we have taxed enterprise but our company tax is projected to bring in $10 billion in the 2014 year. So income tax, GST and company tax now comprise over 79% of our Government revenue. Yet we completely fail to tax the use of the commons for private purposes – “the commons” being defined as that which is given to us by Nature.  Such resource rentals should include all private land and all commercial operations requiring the use of part of a natural resource e.g. aquifers, forests, fisheries. It includes minerals, oil, coal, gas, waveband spectrums and of course the 49% of Mighty River Power which is now in private hands and the proportion of any port or airport which has been sold off. The potential for gathering resource rent is significant. images-3This means taxing us for the use of residential land, valued by various reports at approximately $300 billion. Numerous tax reviews have recommended taxing land, but no government has adopted their recommendations, largely because the banks have sewn up all possible security on land. Since land will always be there (give or take an earthquake and a subsidence or two), banks want it as their security on their loans. And so government has to have the second best security – the labour of the people. Banks oppose any proposal to tax land. 98% of our money supply is created when banks issue loans. With most of the population blithely unaware, we allow private banks to create our money as interest bearing debt. When a farmer or a manufacturer has to borrow from a bank at interest, that interest is inevitably built into the cost of every item they sell. Secondly when a bank creates a loan, it creates the principal but not the interest. So everyone has to compete to earn enough interest to pay the bank. Because there is never enough money in the system to pay back all the loans with interest at the same time, someone has to go back for further loans. The Porirua family is a case in point. If their budget remains the same, they will have to borrow $67 every week to keep afloat, and pay interest on that. Unless WINZ issues them with another loan, the loans sharks with their exhorbitant interest rates will be circling. So where is this all coming through in prices? Well the landlord is paying interest on his or her mortgage and paying tax on income derived from rent, as well as GST on all landlord related expenses. If he or she buys a heat pump, carpet or curtains, GST is in the price. When the landlord employs a painter the wages have to be large enough to allow for income tax. imagesThe Porirua family’s meagre food bill includes 15% GST. The electricity, petrol, vehicle maintenance, vehicle registration and clothing bills all contain GST. Each of these items also contain a labour input. The mechanic had to pay income tax so calculates the charge-out rate to allow for this. Each of the items listed also contains an interest input. For example, the clothing factory may have borrowed from a bank for capital and the selling price of clothes allows for the interest the firm has to pay the bank. We are talking here about purchasing power. My granddaughter says she can easily live on $90 a week in Mexico because prices are low. It is wages relative to prices that is important for purchasing power. According to Matt McCarten (on Q&A 2 June), real wages in the last 20 years have gone down 30%.  It doesn’t matter how cheap an item is if you have only a few cents to use as payment. Purchasing power is a better indicator of wellbeing than inflation What this means is that until we change our tax system and return the money-creating privilege back to the people where it belongs we will continue to scratch our heads about hungry children and the growing number of people who can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try. As you can see, both reforms will have to go together, because no government is going to tax land while the banks have this monopoly on land. While we live with the private creation of money, we won’t be able to tax land rather than labour, sales and enterprise. I am not suggesting the sum of resource rentals should raise all government revenue required. We would still need excise taxes and a Financial Transaction Tax. It’s just that once we face the money issue we can then face the tax issue and liberate purchasing power of the nation so that all may have enough to feed their children while labour is encouraged and enterprise is unleashed.