Cooperative Economy in the Great Depression

The mood at kitchen tables in California in the early 1930s was as bleak as it was elsewhere in the United States. Factories were closed. More than a quarter of the breadwinners in the state were out of work. There were no federal or state relief programs, nothing but some local charity—in Los Angeles County, a familyof four got about 50 cents a day, and only one in 10 got even that.

Not long before, America had been a farming nation. When times were tough, there was still the land. But the country was becoming increasingly urban. People were dependent on this thing called “the economy” and the financial casino to which it was yoked. When the casino crashed, there was no fallback, just destitution. Except for one thing: The real economy was still there — paralyzed but still there. Farmers still were producing, more than they could sell. Fruit rotted on trees, vegetables in the fields. In January 1933, dairymen poured more than 12,000 gallons of milk into the Los Angeles City sewers every day.


The Basic Function of Money

The basic function of money is to bring needs and resources together. But the conventional money system is failing miserably in this regard. Vast human resources sit idle, while vast needs go unmet – often in the same neighborhoods, even the same block.

This has large implications for the debate over social services, health care included. Perhaps the question isn’t just the government versus the market, spending more versus spending less. Perhaps we have to start asking questions about the kind of money we use. Lawmakers in Washington are busy trying to construct legislative contraptions to make the market – i.e. greed – result in better care. But just maybe, a new kind of money could give rise to a new kind of market, with care built in.