From the 4th to the 6th September 2015, Positive Money held its retreat at the University of Cumbria in the Lake District, attended by Positive Money staff and 25 supporters. Here’s a report from one of the attendees, Jason Sutton:
A retreat!? Not a conference, seminar or caucus this. A retreat (in the sense of a gathering, trust me, no one was backing off). Now, I’m a cynical old so-and-so. Talk of retreats elicits Yurts, yoga, bio-yogurt and would normally have me coming out in hives.
But this was a Positive Money retreat. Big difference. Although it has become my new religion, kinda. It has its mantras: sovereign money; three simple changes; change money, change the world. BUT, unlike religion, it’s a deeply rational and rigorously researched school of economic thought. Sadly no one gets to wear a funny hat, apart from Stan.
London Welsh from Palmers Green myself, I’d agreed to share car, petrol and life story with three other London Positive Money supporters. Representing Camden and Hackney: a poker playing Frenchman, social worker Finn and Geothermal expert from Barcelona. We are nothing if not diverse at Positive Money.
The retreat was in the painfully pretty Ambleside, home to some of Cumbria University. My first time in the Lakes I realised – worth every turn of the five hour drive. Although I reminded myself not to hand over my car stereo to Cristina’s iPod on the return trip. There’s only so much Spanish pop a middle aged curmudgeon can smile through.
We were, about forty of us, housed in a bright, modern building in the drystone campus. The room was full of personality but felt mercifully free of ego. Contributions were self capped. Even so, it was easy to see the breadth and depth of knowledge present. I soon felt like the village idiot. Not only because I have zero understanding of economics. Did I mention that? Surrounded by PhDs and research economists but also linguists, songwriters, doctors, an anaesthetist, a physicist, oh and the Chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust. There are many paths that had brought us altogether, from many places and backgrounds. Does that sound too hippy?
The notion that had resulted in us in a room, in the Lakes, discussing radical economics was that there was a fundamental problem with society, hell, with the world. A problem that contemporary politics wasn’t addressing and that textbooks seemed to overlook. It was the thing that Ben Dyson and Andrew Jackson set out in their book Modernising Money: the money supply was working not for people but for the banks, who through global government negligence had been allowed to create most of it.
Balletic, Belgian Sylviane and dynamic Dora expertly handled us. Skills were collated and opinions garnered before we were ushered through a series of tasks to inform and educate with not so much as a stern word uttered. Mind… Dora did threaten to make the tardy dance. That hastened my step. Seriously, I’ve organised events. This was a graceful waltz. Contingencies must be considered. It takes much effort to look effortless.
Saturday started painfully for me. And, ahem, slightly late. Did I mention also that I’d taken up a bottle of exquisite tequila? Ye-ah. One of those wakings, following what feels like negative sleep, of instant and guilty consciousness that finds you ten sweaty minutes later pretending to be able to read the hand-out in your tremulous mitt while avoiding Dora’s glare.
I won’t detail the sessions. We learned some stuff, mostly about each other. I think that was the point. This was more about creating a community of change than regaling us with facts we’d already read and mulling over mission statements.
Then there was the Story of Self which needs mentioning. We watched the rhetorical techniques of Obama; how one way to engage an audience is to tell them how you arrived at your own principles. This meant picking apart our own lives for a three minute retelling (some took slightly more – you know who you are, Norman). These tales were then salt and peppered across the weekend. They always delighted, often humbled, sometimes distressed. But each added to our understanding of what we were; WHY we were.
A suck of air was agreed. A clearing of heads. We went a-rambling. For me, a chance to enjoy the breathlessly beautiful Cumbrian landscape while pestering the boot bound, clever folk about bond markets, gilts and QE (hint: it’s not a ship).
There was some disturbing talk of peace and serenity at journey’s end. Group lead and keen hiker Fran suggested we centred ourselves (or some such) for twenty minutes. I looked at the lake and ate mints instead… until Bradford Marie asked me to do a vox-pop for her economics radio show. Celebrity at last.
The evening was a celebration. Positive Money’s fifth birthday. A meal in one of Ambleside’s two vegetarian, Italian, cinema/restaurants (who knew?) was followed by singing in a hired pub room, a memorable Calon Lân from the Welsh (excluding me, one stereotype that needs confounding)… was followed by an eviction by a funphobic landlord. No bother. Stan’s hat gave us a quick kitty and a trip to the Co-op kept the evening lubricated back at base camp.
Sunday. Local lecturer and friend of Positive Money, Jem Bendell, gave us his second talk (his first had been about leadership) concerning alternative currencies, from Bitcoin to Bangla-Pesa. It grounded us all, especially the selfies taken by his incarcerated friends in Mombasa. Shocking. It seems that governments don’t like people challenging the money orthodoxy. But that’s what Positive Money is doing. It feels like a revolution… of truth. People will be upset, powerful, vested interest will bridle.
I never did get the chance to tell my story of self… and that’s probably for the best. I’m a screenwriter; I belong on the other side of the curtain. But I’ll be selling the Positive Money story to whomever will listen and, no doubt, some who won’t. This is an essential tale and one that has to be told. The song of sovereign money. It’s an anthem that could change the country. And for me, it started, by a lake on one summer weekend.