Sunday, September 13, 2020

Rethink: Inheritance, debt, and world views

At the end of June I joined a twitter thread started by George Soros where he referenced a short podcast essay he made about rethinking debt.



While the thread was short, it touched upon some interesting ideas I wanted to expand upon.

Read outside your echo chamber

One person suggested that my comment came from within an echo chamber. In fact, what I wrote is what it sounds like when someone of European descent (ancestors primarily indigenous to Ireland) finally exits the Eurocentric echo chamber.

Persons of European descent often imply that economic discussions are linear thinking between the theories of two Europeans: Scottish Adam Smith (Capitalism, 1700's) and German Karl Marx (Communism, 1800's).  If you question anything about current implementations of Capitalism, the dominant European economic thinking in the 1900's and thus far in the 2000's, you are then "accused" of being communist. The idea that we might be expressing concepts from world views that originated from outside of Europe doesn't occur to them.

Due to events in Canada earlier in the year (pre-COVID) involving indigenous land protection groups, and events during COVID-19, I have embarked on my own antiracism training. While I have been questioning some small aspects of dominant European thought throughout my life, I now have a better understanding of where these ideas came from and where some of the alternatives came from.

Government Debt

George Soros ideas are simple, and involve different instruments for global or domestic government debt.

Built into the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) is economic policies mirroring a European world view, and debt from these institutions pretty much always come with an imposition of European economic policy within the borrowing countries.

The idea that capital accumulation should be individual, but debt shared (through government, or otherwise externalised) is European thinking that I don't subscribe to.


I believe we have all heard the phrase "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children". Some indigenous North Americans such as members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy subscribe to the Seventh Generation Principle where decisions we make today should taken into consideration and result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

For as long as I can remember I have thought the same thing about capital itself: that we don't inherit it from our parents, but borrow it from the future. Understood this way, inheritance is yet another form of shared (via the future) debt that exists only to benefit historical individuals. The future is claimed to "owe" the beneficiaries of this inheritance even if they make no contribution to society themselves.

There are levels of capital accumulation that are near a subsistence level that don't qualify as debt, where there is no issue with passing on to the same people you would normally be a caregiver for in life. This is the type of wealth transfer to descendants that most individuals will be personally familiar with, and is not what I'm referring to.

Individuals manipulating public policy to generate public debt

When we have individuals accumulating capital that could allow families or whole communities or countries to subsist for many generations without further contribution then this is public debt for personal gain.

I have never believed that those currently in the top 1% of capital extraction actually "earned" that wealth based on the value of their contributions to society. I believe they extracted that capital and created that public debt through flawed public policy (said in another way, corruption).

Rather than applauding these individuals, such as George Soros, Bill Gates, or Warran Buffet, I consider their building and abusing public debt to be immoral. While some of these individuals wish to direct some of this wealth and influence towards policy goals of their choosing, this doesn't change the fact that these individuals are manipulating public policy based on the public debt they have created.

If you take a close look at those declared the "richest" people in the world, you might notice something in common.  They were all able to accumulate this personal monetary wealth based on government granted and/or protected monopolies.

Cory Doctorow wrote a book-sized essay he titled "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism" where he discussed one aspect of government protected monopolies.  Rather than understanding that the mere existence of a monopoly is economic and political harm, western governments have transformed into believing that the only possible type of harm is "consumer pricing".

From this Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla), Sergey Brin (Google) were able to build upon the decades of monopolist public policies actively promoted by Bill Gates (Microsoft, pharmaceuticals), Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison (Oracle), and others in more traditional media and communications.  These are individuals who helped expand government granted monopolies (right-of-way wired communication monopolies, wireless spectrum monopolies, author monopolies, inventor monopolies, etc) into something that enables a small number of individuals to accumulate personal benefit at the expense of society as a whole.

Much of the current attempts by western governments to regulate "Big Tech" are doomed to fail as they narrowly focus on the harm made blatantly visible by specific individual monopolists, rather than recognizing that flawed government policies entirely created the problem if the first place. They insist on rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than bothering to steer clear of the iceberg.

North American indigenous world views

Whether we call it Turtle Island or North America, there were people here for thousands of years before Europeans visited this land in the 1400's. While early interactions were civil, this relatively quickly changed to colonization and in the southern part conquest (what the settlers declared themselves to be the United States). While the European settlers in the North (what Europeans declared to be Canada) weren't as overt in their conquest, the ongoing violation of treaties suggests us northerners weren't that much better.  The official policy of the government of Canada has essentially been genocide of indigenous treaty partners.


As I'm learning in the Indigenous Canada course I'm taking, North American Indigenous world views and governance are very different from European. While there are differences throughout North America as there are in Europe, commonalities exist:

  • Philosophy of interconnectedness and belonging
  • Unity through collaboration
  • Relationship with the land extending to environmental stewardship

Rather than the European focus on the individual, often to the exclusion of the group, indigenous North Americans believed each person should have accountability to the group for their own actions and words.

Rather than competition which is seen by Europeans as how to create growth opportunities, collaboration is the focus.  Each child, youth, adult and elder must have a role and each retain a responsibility to each other and to the community.

The European concept of "purchasing" and then "owning" land was inconceivable, and thus the perspectives of Europeans and North Americans on agreements and treaties were quite different.  Europeans believed in a concept of ownership (exclusivity without responsibility) of land, animals, people and ideas which was not shared by others. Indigenous North Americans believed in stewardship, a view I personally share.

The welfare of fellow citizens

With a pre-European North American world view, policies such as a Universal Basic Income would be obvious. As we all have responsibilities to each other, there would no longer be this push to have complex (expensive to administer) programs that seek to negatively stigmatize sharing as happens with most social welfare and other programs in North America today.

In a country where we recognized responsibility for each other, we would no longer be willing to sustain policies which enable so few individuals to extract so much wealth from the commons or the future.  Policies which create and sustain monopolies would no longer be supportable.

Land stewardship could replace land ownership, with the building up of public debt (as we see in the energy sector) being replaced with sustainable land and resource usage.

If we also replaced coercive justice with restorative justice, much of the problems with over-policing and the disconnect between policing and the communities would no longer exist.


I will never claim to have all the answers, but the most critical thing I have learned thus far this year is we all need to exit the Eurocentric echo chamber.


I am a strong supporter of decolonisation. In this I'm not only referring to racist language used as part of colonizers treating the colonized as inferior, but to also visit whether precolonial world views, governance and laws should be readopted in countries such as Canada.

As I look at how Europeans and their colonies have addressed various crisis from the current pandemic to the global climate crisis, I have come to believe that European economic thought from the 1700's and 1800's has failed our species. We need to steer in a different direction if we are to have a sustainable future.


Sep 30 addition:

While transcribed in 1980 and posted online in 2011, the following speech by Russell Means is helpful to understand.

Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”

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