The miracle of Wörgl

In 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, the Austrian town of Wörgl was in trouble and prepared to try anything. Of its population of 4,500, a total of 1,500 people were without a job and 200 families were penniless. The mayor Michael Unterguggenberger had a long list of projects he wanted to accomplish, but there was hardly any money to carry them out. These projects included paving roads, streetlights, extending water distribution across the whole town, and planting trees along the streets.

Rather than spending the 40,000 Austrian Schilling in the town’s coffers to start these projects off, he deposited them in a local savings bank as a guarantee to back the issue of a currency known as stamp scrip. The Wörgl money required a monthly stamp to be stuck on all the circulating notes for them to remain valid, amounting to 1% of the each note’s value. A businessman named Silvio Gesell came up with this idea in his book The Natural Economic Order.

Nobody wanted to pay for the monthly stamps so everyone receiving the notes would spend them. The 40,000 schilling deposit allowed anyone to exchange scrip for 98 per cent of its value in schillings but this offer was rarely taken up. That was because the scrip could be spent as one schilling after buying a new stamp. The money raised with the stamps was used to run a soup kitchen that fed 220 families.

Over the 13-month period the project ran, the council not only carried out all the intended works, but also built new houses, a reservoir, a ski jump and a bridge.
The key to its success was the fast circulation of the scrip money within the local economy, 14 times higher than the Schilling. This increased trade and created employment. Unemployment in Wörgl dropped while it rose in the rest of Austria. Six neighbouring villages copied the system successfully. The French Prime Minister, Édouard Daladier, made a special visit to see the ‘miracle of Wörgl’.

In January 1933, the project was copied in the neighbouring city of Kitzbühel. In June 1933 major Unterguggenberger addressed a meeting with representatives from 170 different Austrian towns and villages. Two hundred Austrian townships were interested in adopting the idea. At this point the central bank decided to assert its monopoly rights by banning scrip money.

One can only imagine what had happened if communities all over the world had been free to copy the idea. The Great Depression may have ended in 1936 and World War II may never have happened. It may be a lesson for the future. If another major economic crisis is about the plunge the world into another world war, this ‘miracle money’ can prevent that from happening. The reason is

1. The Future Of Money. Bernard Lietaer (2002). Cornerstone / Cornerstone Ras.

The assembly of the canton Glarus

Swiss democracy

In the interest of the people

For a society to function, it needs a kind of order only a government can provide. Over time more and more people came to believe that a government should work in the interest of its citizens. That is quite a leap as traditionally governments were a kind of crime syndicate providing a protection racket. Citizens paid taxes to a lord or a king who provided them with security against other other lords, kings and ordinary criminals.

Even today many governments more or less resemble crime syndicates. They are oligarchies working in the interest of those in power. Government officials often take bribes too. Except for Northwest Europe, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand, governments range from a bit corrupt to very corrupt. Even when the government isn’t corrupt, citizens often feel that it doesn’t work in their interest.

country-corruption-map
corruption per country (flaxen = most clean, crimson = most corrupt)

The above graph from Transparency International gives an indication of the corruption in each country. Poverty is seen as a cause of corruption but corruption is also a cause of poverty. If a country suffers from corruption, money is diverted to unproductive people. Investors will be wary of making investments so interest rates need to be higher to attract capital. This makes fewer investments profitable and the country will be poorer.

Main features

Only the Swiss are satisfied with their political system. Probably that is because of some of the unique features of Swiss democracy. The Swiss combine representative democracy with direct democracy. The government and parliament administrate the country but if citizens feel the need to take matters in their own hand, this is always possible.

Switzerland uses direct democracy in the form of referendums more than any other country in the world. These referendums are binding, which means that the government must respect the outcome. The following types of referendums exist in Switzerland:

  • mandatory referendums on changes in the federal constitution
  • optional referendums on other federal laws that will be held when 50,000 eligible voters demand for it
  • similar rules exist on the state and communal levels, but the constitutions of the states deal with the specifics
  • citizens can propose a change in the constitution via a popular initiative, and the electorate can decide whether to accept the initiative, an alternative proposal from the government or parliament, or to keep things unchanged

Switzerland is a federation of 26 member states called cantons. The member states have a large degree of independence.

The Swiss constitution promotes making decisions at the lowest possible level and delegating power to a higher level if that is deemed beneficial.

The citizens of the Swiss states elect the Council of States (Senate) by majority vote. They can cast as many votes as there are vacant seats. Voters can propose representatives and influence the fractions of different political parties.

The Swiss elect their National Council (Congress) every four years by proportional representation. The people vote for a political party. Optionally they can vote for a specific person on the candidate list of the party.

Executive power has been distributed in Switzerland. The daily affairs of government are performed by the Federal Council consisting of seven members.

It is customary that all major political parties are represented in the Federal Council.

Constitutional changes need a double majority, which means that majority of the electorate as well as a majority of the cantons must support it.

Most Swiss communities use direct democracy to make decisions. In a few small cantons people can vote directly by the show of hands.

Evaluation

Combining representative democracy with direct democracy means that the citizens aren’t burdened with the daily affairs of government but still are in full control as they can vote on any issue when they feel that is needed.

Direct democracy allows for a more fine-grained alignment of government decisions with the wishes of the citizenry as on some issues the majority might be liberal and on some others it might be conservative.

Before laws are introduced, interest groups such as state governments, political parties and non-governmental organisations are consulted, and their concerns are taken into account. As referendums tend to come down to yes or no questions, this is important.

Proportional representation allows for multiple political parties that more closely match the preference of voters. New parties can emerge more easily. It also means that small shifts in voter preferences tend to have little effect on the political landscape.

Swiss voters can influence the make up of the political fractions of multiple political parties, which means that the people who are elected in parliament for a specific party are more likely to be acceptable to voters of other parties as well.

All major political parties work together in the Federal Council because there is little room to forward political agendas. It is always possible to call for a referendum.

The use of direct democracy in Switzerland makes it less relevant who is in government so that political discussions tend to focus on issues and content rather than people and rhetoric. The Swiss tend to be well-informed about the issues that are at stake.

Proportional representation as opposed to win or lose elections foster cooperation between political parties as individual political parties mostly don’t have a majority so that they need to work with other parties to achieve their goals.

Proportional representation reduces the need to spend large amounts of money on political campaigns and other manipulations like gerrymandering, voter fraud and vote suppression as the effects of these actions tend to be limited.

Many countries have strict limits to political donations and campaign spending. Switzerland does not have these restrictions. This is not as harmful as it might be without proportional representation and referendums.

Direct democracy undermines the effects of lobbying for a law doesn’t pass if it is not supported by a majority of the voters. And so interest groups need to convince the citizenry rather than politicians in order to achieve their objectives.

In Switzerland the Congress represents the nation as a whole while the Senate represents the states. Hence, a decision tends to need the consent of a majority of the parliament of the nation as well as a majority of the cantons.

Most countries have a Congress and a Senate but many are unitary states and not federations like Switzerland. In unitary states the role of a Senate varies. For example, it can focus on protecting the constitution against laws that violate it.

Switzerland doesn’t have a Constitutional Court or Senate to protect the Constitution. There is no good safeguard of human rights. The majority can vote for stripping the rights of minorities. Switzerland is bound to the treaties it signed but better safeguards to protect human could be an improvement.

Conclusion

The Swiss are satisfied with their political system. And even though it has a few weak points, there is good reason to believe that other countries benefit from implementing a similar political system in which the citizens have the final say. Yet, different nations might opt for different versions of direct democracy.

Some people think that a better political system is possible. There are many ideas. The Swiss political system has proven to work in practise. It allows citizens to vote on proposals to alter and improve the political system. So even if a better system is possible, the Swiss political system may be the best way to get there.

The Swiss federation can be a model for the European Union and the United States. By delegating responsibilities to the state level it might be possible to reduce bureaucracy in the federation while increasing the legitimacy of the centralised institutions. Swiss democracy might also be a model for a world government if that ever comes to pass.

Featured image: The assembly of the canton Glarus. Democracy International (2014). [copyright info]

See also: http://direct-democracy.geschichte-schweiz.ch

Witbreuksweg dormitory

Meaningful coincidences

Is it possible to prove that this universe is a virtual reality created by post-humans? The properties of this universe can’t be used to this aim. But there may be another way. If we live inside a virtual reality there might be a script. And if there is a script then this universe probably is a virtual reality. Presumably someone must be running the show in that case. Such a script might generate meaningful coincidences we can recognise. And indeed, peculiar coincidences happen, for instance similar extremely rare events happening on the same day.

On 15 July 2011 two television towers in the Netherlands caught fire. One collapsed in a spectacular way. There never had been a fire in a television tower in the Netherlands before while those television towers had been there for more than fifty years. And the number of television towers was small, making such an incident even more improbable. This caused some speculation as to a common cause. This is unlikely as these towers are two individual masts in different areas.1

The following happened to me. In 1992 I was making a bike trip in Groningen where I lived back then. While I was on my way a car door suddenly opened just in front of me. I could barely avoid a collision. Some ten minutes later, while I was still on the same trip, it happened again with another car on another road. Remarkably, it never happened before or after this trip that a car door just opened in front of me, even though I made bike trips nearly every day.

Incidents like these might be mere random events. The law of large numbers states that bizarre accidents happen all the time by chance. There is no way of calculating the odds of an event like two television towers catching fire in one country in one day because these events are extremely rare. The probability of each of these events happening is extremely low, but the number of possible rare accidents is extremely high.

But how low and how high? That matters a lot. If there are a million of these events, and the odds of one of them happening on a certain day is one in a million, we shouldn’t be surprised to see such events happening. On average an event like that should happen every day. But if the odds are one in a trillion, and these events happen quite often, we may be on to something, because on average it should happen once in a million days.

We attribute meaning in many different ways and we are not inclined to think of randomness in the case of unusual events. The number of possible meaningful coincidences is close to infinite so it should not suprise us that meaningful coincidences happen. On the other hand, bizarre meaningful coincidences are more likely to happen to someone but are less likely to happen to you or me. A curious coincidence like two television towers catching fire on the same day is less remarkable than this happening twice. And a complex scheme of meaningful coincidences has more significance than a simple incident like two car doors opening in front of you on the same day.

There were plenty of unusual incidents in my life. It seems there is something more. Once I entered a do-it-yourself store. There was a couch near the entrance. The price tag was € 389. This caught my attention because as a student I lived in dormitory 389 on the campus of the University of Twente. Price tags often end with a nine so the incident wasn’t impressive. Then I realised that it would be far more curious to find a price tag of € 401 as I also lived on domitory 401 and price tags rarely end with a 1.

A few seconds later I ran into a pile of bags of potting soil. These bags had 40l conspicuously printed on them, noting that they contained forty litres of potting soil. That was close enough to 401 to be intriguing. Even more so because dormitory 401 is the place from which I had been evicted by a certain lady. And peculiar coincidences referring to her had been happening over the years.

Two years later I came back to the same store. Bags of potting soil with the 40l marking were situated outside near the entrance. This reminded me of the previous incident. There was no couch near the entrance nor did I see a price tag of € 389 there. These things I noticed while I proceeded to fetch the one item I was planning to buy. The price of this item turned out to be € 3.89.

This scheme is more intricate than two television towers catching fire or two car doors opening in front of you on the same day, most notably because there was a repeating pattern while these incidents also appear to be part of a larger scheme, in this case of a sequence of peculiar coincidences referring to a certain lady. The first coincidence was already remarkable. The second one was truly inconceivable if you come to think of it, or perhaps not, if you are a sceptic.

Featured image: Number 381 dormitory. University Of Twente (2013). [copyright info]

1. Onderzoek: Hoe konden twee zendmasten vandaag in brand vliegen? Algemeen Dagblad (15-07-2011). [link]

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

Meeting Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau

Despite his bumbling and clumsy appearance, Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau was always able to solve the mystery. Guided by a few hunches and some vague clues that only made sense in his mind, he always ignored the most obvious explanation of the facts. How can a clown like him be correct all the time while the competent fail? The answer is that Jacques Clouseau is a fictional character in a story. The plot was always the same: Jacques Clouseau is right in the end.

The licence plate number on Franz Ferdinand’s car features a reference to 11 November 1918, the end date of World War I. The war comprised of billions of actions of millions of individuals. To make it end on this date requires complete control of every thought and every move of every actor. The world we live in could be fiction. Hence, I may be right about the nature of this universe, the identity of God as well as the future direction of society and the economy, while the greatest minds on Earth can do no better than firing a shot in the dark.

It was the autumn of 1989. My life had just gone off the rails. I had been evicted from a students dormitory for not fitting in the group, which more or less came down to not getting along with a particular lady. I made her cry, or perhaps she cried to make me feel so miserable so that I would leave. And this I did. Henceforth I committed myself to leading an insignificant life so that I would disturb no-one, something even a complete failure like me should be capable to do. But perhaps I grossly underestimated the enormity of the failure as even this modest goal may well be out of reach.

I moved back to my parents’ home to gather some courage to try another dormitory. In the years that followed came the peculiar coincidences suggesting that my business with this particular lady from the dormitory had not finished yet. Some of these incidents were quite disturbing. They were to few in number to make me suspicious, but they were too curious to remain unnoticed.

Back then in the autumn of 1989 there wasn’t much to laugh for me, except for a few episodes of Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau that were aired on German television. My parents lived near the German border so I could see them.

In 2008 it became clear that my business with this lady wasn’t finished yet. In the years that followed I bumbled through the investigation with some vague clues that only made sense in my mind. And that resulted in this plan for the future. If I am right, or when people are going to believe that this might be the case, it would be the result of an array of accidents and failures, or perhaps the plot of the story, but certainly not my genius.

Featured image: Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau [copyright info]

Eve in the Garden Of Eden

Mother Goddess Eve

Female figurines have been found during archaeological excavations. The most famous one is the Venus of Willendorf dating from around 23,000 BC. Some scholars believe these figurines depict mother goddesses. And indeed many ancient cultures had mother goddesses associated with fertility. Women give birth and humans in early civilisations may have thought that women have special powers that enable them to create life. One of the best known mother goddesses was Isis in ancient Egypt.

Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf

It has been argued that the worship of mother goddesses disappeared because men desired to control women and their sexuality. This may have happened when caring for children became a family matter rather than a communal affair. Women can be sure that their children are their own but for men this is different. The genes of men who are inclined to raise the children of others tend to die out. And so men may have sought reassurance that the children they cared for are their own. As they could walk out, this commanded a position of power. In this way patriarchy may have replaced matriarchy.

The Garden Of Eden is seen as a myth with no historical evidence to support it. Nevertheless the tale reflects the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The life of hunter gatherers was far more agreeable than the plight of the farmers that came later on.1 The Garden Of Eden provided for everything and resembled the life of hunter gatherers. After the fall Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden to work the ground,2 which was a life of toil.3 This reflects the transition to agriculture.

God appears to be male in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran but many believe that God has no gender. This is, above all, a politically correct stance. Historically Yahweh and Allah have been male gods. Yahweh and Allah even had a wife and children. Yet Jews and Muslims do not see God as a Father like Christians do, even though there are a few references to God as a Father4 and a Mother5 in the Torah. Remarkably the God of the Christians can give birth6 so perhaps God is a Mother after all.

Isis with Horus
Isis with the child Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This universe could be a virtual reality that exists for entertainment so the script could come with such a plot. God may have devised a scheme to disguise Her identity using Virgin Mary as a substitute. The veneration of Virgin Mary as a mother already existed in early Christianity. Later on statues and images of Virgin Mary with the child Jesus have erected made similar to those of the Egyptian mother goddess Isis with her child Horus. In the Quran God claims to lead people astray.7 The Mother Goddess Mary, who may have been eliminated from the Gospels, re-entered the Church via a back door. As many prayers were directed to Virgin Mary, she became a proxy for God.

Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon
Virgin Mary with the child Jesus. Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon.

The early Christians may have believed that Eve was the mother of all the living, that Mary Magdalene was a reincarnation of Eve, and that Jesus was a reincarnation of Adam. They may have believed that Eve was not made out of the rib of Adam but that Adam was born as a son of Eve so that Adam and therefore Jesus were a Son of God. The Gospels have been redacted, perhaps to bring Christianity more in line with the Jewish religion. And so the birth story of Jesus from Virgin Mary may have been introduced to replace the birth of Adam from Eve, which was at odds with the account in Genesis.

Eve may have been a Mother Goddess before the creation story was redacted.8 Genesis 1 already contains a creation story explaining how men and women were created.9 Hence, the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 is at odds with Genesis 1. It is also peculiar that the woman was made from a rib of the man10 as women usually give birth to men. Adam is simply referred to as ‘the man’11 while Eve is referred to as ‘mother of all the living’.12 Adam calling Eve mother of all the living before they had any children also suggests tampering. Finally, it is hard to believe that Eve and Adam were the only people as their children married.

Eve being the Mother Goddess makes all these contradictions disappear. And that is a remarkable coincidence as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 were probably based on two different older creation myths from Mesopotamia or Egypt. If this universe is a virtual reality running a script, this may be less remarkable than it seems, as it might be part of the plot of the story. One can imagine that the original story was that the Mother Goddess Eve felt lonely and wanted a husband for Herself.

The Quran mentions the creation of Adam extensively but says little about the creation of Eve. The Quran blames Adam for the Fall and leaves Eve mostly out of the picture. And so Jesus might have suffered on the cross in order to redeem himself for he might have considered himself to be the reincarnation of Adam. Yet, in the Quran Adam repented and is forgiven. Hence, sin and redemption are not major issues in Islam.

Jesus is called Son of Mary in the Quran13 while Christians call him Son of God. This is peculiar because the name of God may have been Mary, a secret only God could know. In the Quran Sura 74 named The Hidden Secret or The Cloaked One it is claimed that the number 19 is related to a hidden secret. The Arabic name for Sura 74 can both be translated to a hidden secret as well as a man wearing a cloak. Sura 19 is named Mary while God appears to be a man but might have been a woman named Mary.

starcrescent

The star and crescent became the symbol for Islam. This symbol has a long history predating Islam and it was formally associated with a Moon goddess. In the Biblical context it has different meaning. In the Biblical story of Joseph the Moon symbolises the woman while the star symbolises the child.14 In this way the Islamic symbol may represent the Mother Goddess with the child, just like the Madonna with the child Jesus.

The St. Mary of Zion Church in Ethiopia is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant. It is claimed that the Ark came to Ethiopia with King Menelik after he visited his father King Solomon. Mary of Zion is symbolised by the Ark of the Covenant.15 That is a remarkable coincidence. As the ark was the residence of Yahweh, the God of Israel, this coincidence too may indicate that the God of Christianity was named Mary, and that the God of the Jews is a woman.

Featured image: Eve in the Garden Of Eden. Henri Rousseau (1906-1910). Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

Other images: Venus of Willendorf. Don Hitchcock (2008). Wikimedia Commons; Isis with Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons; Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
2. Genesis 3:23 [link]
3. Genesis 3:17-19 [link]
4. Isaiah 63:16 [link]
5. Isaiah 66:13 [link]
6. John 1:13 [link]
7. for instance, Quran 4:88 [link], Quran 5:41 [link], Quran 11:34 [link]
8. Asherah – Wikipedia [link] Some scholars have found an early link between Asherah and Eve, based upon the coincidence of their common title as “the mother of all living” in Genesis 3:20 through the identification with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat. Asherah was also given the title Chawat from which the name Hawwah in Aramaic and the biblical name Eve are derived.
9. Genesis 1:27 [link]
10. Genesis 2:22 [link]
11. Genesis 2:20 [link]
12. Genesis 3:20 [link]
13. for instance, Quran 2:87 [link], Quran 4:171 [link], Quran 61:6 [link]
14. Genesis 37:9 [link]
15. Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion – Wikipedia [link]