In Over My Head

Michael chats with Erasmus University Rotterdam's Julien-Francois Gerber about how debt impacts our ability to rethink growth. They discuss the relationship between credit and growth, and how debt affects the environment and us as people. Julien gives us a history lesson on why we traditionally borrowed money and brings to life past monetary alternatives like decaying money, social credit, and prosperity certificates. He also covers anti-debt conflicts, debtors unions, community alternatives to debt, and the role of shame in perpetuating debt. Lastly, he offers advice on what you can do to have an impact. 

What is In Over My Head?

Michael is on a quest to get his environmental footprint as low as humanly possible. So he built his own off-grid Tiny House. But downsizing and minimizing weren’t enough. He had to take more drastic measures, altering his lifestyle in some extreme ways, all in the name of saving the planet. But when it comes to his goal, he still feels in over his head. He doesn’t know if all the downsizing, minimizing, reducing, reusing, recycling, and sacrificing make a difference. It’s time to bring in the experts.

Join Michael as he sits down with scientists, policymakers, industry leaders, and environmental experts to figure out how to effectively reduce his footprint in all aspects of life. From food and fast fashion to cars and caskets, he gets into what the worst culprits really are and how we can all make more informed choices when it comes to the impact we have on the planet.

If you have feedback or would like to be a guest on In Over My Head, please email:

Well, I'm in over my head. No one told me I'm trying to keep my footprints small was harder than I thought it could be. I'm in over my head. What do I really need? Trying to save the planet oh will someone please save me? Trying to save the planet oh will someone please save me?

Welcome to In Over My Head. I'm Michael Bartz. My guest today is Julian-Francois Gerber. Julian-Francois is an associate professor and environment and development at Erasmus University Rotterdam's International Institute for Social Studies in the Hauge. Professor Gerber's Research focuses on the political economy of sustainability, exploring questions surrounding ownership, credit debt, environmental justice, anti-debt, movements de-growth, and ecopsychology with a particular geographical focus on Western Europe, India, and Bhutan. Julian-Francois has held positions at the Royal University of Bhutan and Harvard University, and from 2018 to 2019 was granted an ISRF fellowship to work on debt at the Department of Anthropology of the London School of Economics, sponsored by David Graber. Welcome to In Over My Head, Julian.

Thanks for having me.

While looking into de-growth, I couldn't help but consider the role debt plays in our modern society from the individual level to companies and countries. It seems like everyone owes more and more. This has implications for us and the environment, and I'm wondering about alternatives. You studied debt from a de-growth perspective, so I'm really looking forward to talking with you. I think to start, it might be helpful to explain the relationship between credit and growth. How are these things connected?

Yeah, it makes a, a lot of of sense to start to try to clarify this. I think credit is really this engine of growth. It's this key factor behind this growth imperative of capitalism. This can be understood in different ways, right? To start with credit fuels growth by bypassing savings, right? You don't need to save a lot of money patiently before you can invest, right? You can immediately use credits to engage in, in economic activities. This is well known, but then credit is also a source of pressures, of new pressures that will foster growth. And this happens mostly via debt, right? And debt is, in a way, this dark side of credit debt can be a huge source of pressures. Like most debtors, they not only have this pressure to pay back the, the loan in, its in itself, right? The principle, but also the interest on top of it.

So they have to kind of make more money to pay both. And this is no small things because very often you engage something, some property items as a, as a, as a guarantee, as a security, as a collateral that you may lose if you don't pay back. So credit and debt, we present this very powerful device that pushes people, but also companies, government, right into more growth. And in no way, this pressure is somehow diminishing, right? It's kind of the contrary taking place these days. And we live in a very financialized world with all kinds of credits and debt mechanisms that have been developed and that continue to be developed. And very recently I saw this report by the I mf that was saying that right now public and private debts, they, they have reached world recall height in human history, something like 230 trillion or something. So something absolutely unheard of. And this is very bad news for sustainability. I think it's bad news ecologically, but also economically and socially because it just doesn't, it doesn't create the right signals, right? And so yeah, we we have this huge pressure for growth exactly when we need it least, right? Given the climate emergency and the ecological crisis at large. So in a way, we could say that this, this is one of the big contradictions of our time. We have this pressure for growth exactly when we should go post-growth.

Yeah. And I think what came to mind for me when reading your research was it's, this isn't necessarily just individuals spending money on their credit cards, like the engine of growth and credit is pushing industries in order to extract more resources, right? Like that is part of the reason why they're forced to grow, like you said, because they're trying to keep up with their, their debtors, right? So like, how specifically does debt affect the environment?

So yeah, it, it affects the environment in many ways. Of course you can, we can imagine that this pressure for growth tends to contradict, right? Ecological limits out there. Again, this is valid at different levels, also at the level of governments that have little choice, but to engage into more extractive industries, right? In order to pay, to pay back those loans at the individual level, it looks a bit like that, right? You take out a loan, you have to start to think in a new way. You start to look at the world in a new way, right? In order to secure this timely repayment, of course to different degrees depending on your own like class location, but still, you know, at different degrees, these pressures they cut across classes. You have to start to evaluate things in monetary terms, right? You have to think in cost-benefit terms.

You have to produce commodities because commodities will generate money, right? You focus on profits or growth because you have on top of the principle to pay, for the interest and you look for innovations, but not any kind of innovation. Very specific kinds, the kinds that cut costs, right? And that will facilitate, your debt repayment. Of course, I'm a bit exaggerating everything, but what it's important is to look at this new logic where the environment can really only be like low priority. So it's not because the capitalists are greedy or bad, right? But you caught into a logic that pushes you to think in a certain way and that does not like encourage you to to think in, in ecological terms. I saw this really interesting report by the, the Canadian National Farmers Union of 2010. I don't remember exactly the exact wording, but they were crystal clear.

The, Canadian farmers, they were saying the debt we have, they push us to make choices, you know, based on short-term cash flow rather than on the need of the soils, you know, the need of fertility, the need of the environment. And in the same text they say that this was not always the case, right? Farms used to be traditionally places where you had some kind of long-term thinking, some kind of holistic thinking, right? But somehow debt dissolves all of that, right? And through this document, it was so clear, right, that there is a clash between indebtedness and sustainability.

Yeah, I think that's a good point about how it changes your thinking cuz people might care about the environment, but then yeah, if suddenly you are being forced, like those farmers to have these mono crops because that's what makes the most money or that's what's paying off those debts, suddenly yeah, you're limiting your choices in what you could even grow. So that, that's a really, really interesting example. What comes to mind when you have that example is, you know, you think about people pursuing certain careers or certain work and ideally you'd think that, okay, they want to do this because they love let's say farming or whatever the thing they choose to do. But when debt is such a part of our lives, it seems like, like you said, it really becomes about what makes the most money and what is, like you said, those, those short-term profits. I think that's really interesting. I think that's part of the reason why we are in the climate crisis, right? Because now we're focusing on what makes the most money now versus what is a more long-term sustainable solution, right?

Right. Exactly. This relationship to time, right? I think it's very important to realize that like the temporality we are working in is, we, we are working with in, in, in capitalism is largely determined by the kind of contractual arrangements we're into. And this is very striking with capitalism as a debt economy. I think this typical short-term time horizon that explains this proverbial short-termism, right, of capitalist thinking. And this has like nothing to do with seasonal temporalities or ecological temporalities biological rhythms. And, then if you combine that with this highly developed debt economy like the one we are in right now, and then fossil fuels, you put the two together, you really have something explosive. And I think you have this great acceleration and this great acceleration is this period of the Anthropocene we are in right now. It has been called the great acceleration because many key ecological and economic indicators are just booming exponentially and, and going faster and fast, faster, like GDP, different types of emissions and pollution or extractive activities, even the temperature. So I think debt, and fossil fuels ha have a lot to do with this with this great acceleration.

And is that because there's just so much more potential with fossil fuels? Why, why has there been maybe a shift because of that?

Because of, I think the, that's in the, in the nature of fossil fuels, they, they allow to be used at any time during the night in series. They really allow industrialization, right? You could not do that with biotech resources, right? Biotech resources they have to somehow match natural temporalities the son to do photosynthesis. And, and you just cannot keep the same pace with an economy based on biotic resources. These are ideas that were developed by Nicola Georges Krugen, who was one of the fathers of de-growth thinking. And for him, and, and I think it's a good point, he said that at the end of the day, this fossil fuel era will only be a parenthesis in human history because they're non, they're non-renewable, right? So, so at some point we'll have to go back to economies based on, on biotech resources with, with a much slower pace of life.

Oh, of course. Yeah. And I think I find debt so interesting, like we've been talking about how, you know, it's not that people don't want to slow down or companies don't necessarily want to grow. It seems like when it comes to debt, you know, it really forces people to make decisions or maybe companies to have certain incentives that they maybe wouldn't align with their values. Something that comes to mind with that is kind of how debt affects our community. How does debt affect our communities?

That makes a lot of sense. And it's a question that is rarely asked actually. And there is not so much like research being done on that. I think the pressure, the pressures I was mentioning, they definitely also affect communities. And in many ways, and, and just to give you a few examples, debt is well-known as a mechanism that creates what we call social differentiation, right? In a given community, some people using debts may be unsuccessful and lose the land that they have used as collateral and become landless. Some other may be very successful and become entrepreneur flourishing entrepreneurs. And so it tends to create inequalities within communities, right? To start with. And then it's also factors behind migration that's documented. A lot of people migrate to find jobs elsewhere to the cities elsewhere because of death levels. And this is obviously not good for community relations.

Another factor is the destruction of the commons. In many parts of the world, you still have like very vigorous commons common property, but you cannot get credit based on a common right. You cannot use it as a collateral. So the only thing you can do is to divide the common into individual property parcels that then you can perhaps use as like a security if you wanna get credit. So if you need credit, there is a pressure against the commons, which again, you know, undermines community. And then the most obvious one is the individualizing effects of of the contract, right? You, take a loan as a person, not as a group usually, and then it's a very individualized way of engaging in economic activities, right? It's not a collective or a community-oriented way. These are all factors that, clearly, I think contribute to impact community bonds.

Yeah. And I think that idea of the commons is so interesting. I know that comes up quite a bit in in de-growth literature and Yeah. Especially when it comes to debt. That makes a lot of sense. That, you know, maybe individually you might be accumulating more debt than you would if you were in a community because you have more resources to pool. Whether that's time, whether that's equipment for, let's say again farming, whatever it might be, it seems like yeah, the commons helps in people perhaps not being in as much debt. Is, is that correct to say?

I think it could very, very well, yeah. The commons could be like an anti-debt measure. It's a particularly painful fact, you know, that they're being dissolved because people elsewhere need access to credit. There are other activities that could be mentioned as like anti-debt, but that that's, that's one to keep the commons alive, right? As a source of resources, as a source of raw materials. Agroecology would be another example. Typically, agroecology precisely doesn't require a lot of entrance inputs. So if you're serious with your ec agroecological practices, you don't get into debt, you know, and like cash crops and

Sure. Yeah. And I think it's kind of, the whole system. Maybe something I think might be interesting to address is why people borrow money. My understanding it's not always just that they have a credit card and they want to go on a trip somewhere. There are larger factors at play, right?

No, absolutely. And I think it's useful there to have a, like a global view, maybe not just like a view, like restricted to to the west, because that is also a global problem now. And if we look at it, we realize that like a lot of people they borrow just to buy food, for example. And you mentioned cash crops before as not being, you know, the food you would have every day. And, and I think that's very true. And these changes also the former logic of agriculture. So now farmers, they have to borrow to buy food, which is, which is kind of paradoxical. Yeah. But it's, it's true in many parts of the world. And traditionally you had polycultures and polycultures were precisely designed to provide food all along the air. But even there, I must say that if you had a bad harvest, you would still, you know, knock on the door of the money lender.

And so that has for a long time made peasants very prone to indebtedness. But there are other reasons why people borrow. And historically an interesting one is is related to the tax system. A lot of people took their first loan historically to pay taxes, and that was a key way by which the colonizers were able to force people into capitalism, into the market economy, right? Suddenly they had to pay tax. If they couldn't, they had to borrow. And there the worldview changes and you have to engage in monetary activity and you cannot just live, you know, your life outside, outside the market or with minimal interaction with the market. Paradoxically, today it's a bit the reverse. Today you get into debt to pay less tax, right? For example, if you take a mortgage, then you may have a tax reduction. So it's also changing, but tax is a very, it's a very important factor. Then there are other reasons like lifecycle events, for example, right in the west, typically to purchase a house. But for example, in South Asia, weddings can be a source of huge death that are a burden on the shoulders of the young cup or the, all of the families, you know, for decades. And of course, funeral sickness, whenever the welfare state doesn't do its job.

Yeah. I think that that life event thing is so interesting cuz perhaps some people might have, a smaller wedding because it would save money, but I feel like there's also, especially culturally maybe that pressure to have a big wedding, like you said, you know, so I'm wondering where does kind of that cultural norm play a part in, in our debt cycle?

There's a huge cultural component to that for sure, right? There are so many things we have to buy culturally, right? For cultural reasons and, and also for psychological reasons. For example, all the category of conspicuous consumption, right? Of positional goods, which are basically goods that like show our status or give signals right? To the community, like a fancy car and so on. And, but these overall, they're still kind of rare. I think it would be really a mistake to think that these are the main reasons for the state of overindebtedness that we find now so generalized.

Yeah, that's a good point. That it's not necessarily entirely about that. And, and that's why I appreciate that historical example and talking about agriculture and, and other cultures that gives you more of a, global perspective on why people borrow money. And, you know we've kind of touched on it a little bit, but the, the class struggle in the world of debt and some of the research you've done is on actually conflicts that have come up in regard to debt. So maybe tell me a bit about that.

Yeah, so indeed I did some research on these anti-debt conflicts and I was reading David Graber's book Debt the First 5,000 Years. And he made many very ambitious claims about the extent of anti-debt conflicts. And so I was like, okay, I really need to look into that. And I contacted him and he was very encouraging. And then I joined him for a while at, at LSE in London to work precisely on that. And well, it turns out that these conflicts has have really witnessed an exponential rise since the eighties. So since the, the beginning of this financialization phase of capitalism, there are many well-known examples in the us right? You occupy that, the strike debt movement in Spain, there are a very powerful, very well organized movement against a mortgage, for example, India is a hot spot of anti-debt conflicts.

Also, there are anti-debt student debt movement in the uk, but also in Chile, in South Africa, in, in different parts of the world. So there is this exponential rise in the, since the eighties, and if this trend continues, it could really become like a, a very, very powerful political force in the 21st century. I think that an increasing number of people are, are fed up with, with what has been called the debt fair state, right? It's this state that have public services that are so bad, you know, that people have no choice but to take out loans, right? To pay for medical bills or education. Some theorists have even argued that in this current phase of capitalism, the class struggle if you want, has really taken now this creditor versus debtor nature much more than the, classical clash between employers and employees.

So I think it's a very interesting idea and it's true that today not many people would like describe themself as belonging to the working class. They would much easier recognize that they're debtors and potentially more ready to organize around debt, you know, than around like labor issues. I don't, but since we were talking about de-growth, I think, I think it's worth mentioning that this anti-d debt conflict, they could very much become a, an ally to the, to the de-growth movement. Because at the end of the day, if you interested in de-growth, you, you also have to tackle this debt issue and, and a synonymous of de-growth would be de-accumulation. So it's super intimately linked with the debt economy, right? If you criticize the growth imperative.

Yeah, no, for sure. And with these anti-debt movements, remember something in your paper it mentioned that it was also connected to those social safety nets, right? When those weren't in place, then that would go up, and there would be more problems, right?

Absolutely. Yeah. And this is very much linked also to this attacks on the welfare stage, right? Disman this like sta safety net. But I, I don't want also to be necessarily too state-centric because also communities, you know, used to provide these safety nets and yeah. Communities are also dissolving, right? There is a, a good book by Steven Marlin that says that economists have been so blind to communities, right? They much of like theorizing in economics is around either the state or the individual and we forget what's in between, right? And so much is happening in between, I think today probably the most interesting experiments are happening in between, right? In the communities. And that's where also we find alternatives to debt and mobilizing around debt.

Yeah, no, tell me more about that. Do you have some examples of communities having alternatives to debt?

There's a Spanish platform of people affected by mortgages. That's the translation. And it's really community-based. They have groups of support groups where they would invite people who are facing dead issues, you know support them emotionally, legally, and also from an activist perspective. So they would prevent seizure of property physically by being there. So occupying the land and, and they prevented like that many many confiscations of houses several thousand in, in Spain. And, and one of the early organizer actually became the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau. She tried to maintain that. It was not always easy then to translate that into policies at the municipality level. But another example quite a controversial one would be this zero-budget farming in India. That's an entire farmer's movement that is called zero budget because they try to go without debt.

And so they put forward agroecological techniques to make sure there is no need to go to the creditor. And I'm saying controversial because they have also a right-wing side, you know, where they glorify Hindu science and things like that that have been also criticized by others. But I'm also not interested in purity, right? There is always the perfect movement doesn't exist. And I still think that zero-budget farming is, is doing a lot of things very interesting that can be used also in other parts of the world.

Have they had any successes with this zero-budget farming?

Yes, absolutely. Yes. And this is also quite well documented. And then of course, the right-wing, the current right-wing government of India is very happy about that and is trying to support it. But living that aside, you know, if you look at the, at the actual results on the ground, it's apparently quite successful and they're, they're they able to have really decent yields and, and, and production level with like basically zero agrochemicals and artificial inputs.

Yeah, and it seems like, like you mentioned, it's, that's coming from more of a right-wing side, which I find interesting. And like you talked about, people aren't not identifying as workers more as debtors. And it seems like with de-growth and even the environmental movement, people are focusing around justice as well and how that kind of brings in different viewpoints and, and different groups for a kind of a common goal, right? Do you see debt as part of that equation?

That is a tricky one. You know, because I was gonna say that, you know, that like you have labour union, but you still have very few debtors union, but it's something that, it's a new and promising form of raising awareness and taking action collectively. But on the other hand, it's true that there is a subjective side to to death that like very often prevents mobilizing, right? It's sometimes associated with or not sometimes very often associated with shame and with failure. And it's something you don't talk about. And so a lot of people struggling with that, the last thing they would do is organize, right? But I think that's, this is changing and that's the point I was trying to make in, in this paper I wrote on anti that conflicts, right? I think this is this, this subjectivity of that is changing.

And now more and more people are connecting the dots and realizing that no, it's not just, you know they own like individual responsibility. It's a system that like also pushed them into, into debt because public services were not available because education is too expensive and, and so on and so forth. So it could be a great door, right, to start to question, you know, the type of organization of the economy we have, whether it is today the case, I'm not sure yet, you know, but it's something that could appear in the coming years.

Yeah. And I find that idea of, you know, shame quite interesting when we're talking about debt, I think about on the individual level Yeah. About maybe just talking about money and finances with friends and family and, and maybe coworkers or something. I feel like it's one of the things we don't talk about. It's very private. It's, it's very personal. And I wonder, do you think if we talked about it more openly and more objectively, do you think that would change our relationship to debt?

I think it would very much. Yeah. And there is actually very moving stories of people like quote unquote coming out, you know, and saying, yes, I'm indebted, yes, I'm struggling. And things that were absolutely unthinkable, you know, in the past. And I think debtor's union could provide that space also, you know, to share more on our situations on the choice we have to make. And in a similar way, right? Like also the taboo on salaries and wages also could be broken as well. Some people have said that this is a crucial aspects of the ideological class struggle also, right? To instill this feeling of shame and, and silence. And so to mobilize against indebtedness requires some kinds of shift in consciousness somehow, or awakening. I like the idea of awakening it. If I did not believe in that, I would not, I would not do these kinds of work, right? It sounds religious, so, and maybe to some extent it is, I dunno. But there is really something like that that has to take place.

That's interesting. Tell me more about this awakening. How would you describe that?

Yeah, it's about realizing one's situation. And in the kind of ties, right? We're like, we are in and differentiate between those ties. The one we wanna keep and the one we don't need. It's about going beyond, you know, what is being taught every day in the media. It's about questioning that. I think it's so easy, right? To fall into some kind of like dominant narrative and to and to have ones like horizon being narrowed down to something so little, right? There is so much room to to think, you know, the economy differently out there. And that's what I was trying to do also in the article. You you read on, on credit for Postgres future, and there's a richness of theories there of people coming up with very interesting ideas, right? Sometimes with amazing results on the ground and that are still largely forgotten.

And instead, we always come with the same recipes and the same kind of thinking and feeling stuck there. But that's where history and the history of experiments are so telling, I think. And so eye-opening that no, there are many possibilities out there if we are really serious about the dig growth alternative, right? We have to look at the entire monetary system. And this is so, because it's very difficult to distinguish, right? The monetary system from the credit system, if you use national currencies, the two were very much overlap, right? Because modern money is basically a liability, it's a debt, right? Of an issuer and typically a bank, a private bank. So today we have like this huge amount of money that is like created as debt by banks out of nothing really. So by that I mean not backed by any com commodity, like gold or silver.

And the key point there is just to say that like these debts and all the pressures that they create, right? They're like inherent in the current monetary system. And it's a very worrying fact. But then many people have proposed alternative and like one of the early ones was this like decaying money. And it was proposed, by Silvo Gesell. And Gesell was a brilliant economist. He was a renegade economist. And his basic idea was to say we should not allow like people to just accumulate money, right? And thereby creating an artificial scarcity, but we should allow money to circulate much more freely. And for that, he said, why don't we launch like paper currency? And to which to this paper, we would have to add a stamp regularly in order to keep it valid. In a way it was a kind of negative interest rate in his mind.

It was a way to to make money just like other physical commodities like food or clothes. It would go bad basically, right? It would go bad with time. So you had little choice but to use it and make it like circulate. And this is of course completely at odd with the current systems where money creates money and you hoard it and you get more money via interest and so on. And if you start to take this idea of decaying money, seriously, the entire logic of the capitalist systems is, is destabilized in very interesting ways. For example, banks would have to completely, you know, rethink what is considered like rational or, or economic, but whether this would be compatible with degrowth is another question. And I have also some, some doubt about it. But but I think it's, it's one of those like very interesting alternatives that that should be taken seriously.

And it's not that that it was never applied also. And there was a, a famous example there that is like very often quoted because it's so striking. It happened, in Austria in the thirties in this village called Worgl. And they took this idea seriously. They had their decaying money system and they managed to tackle a, a really impressive number of problems. They redressed these high levels of unemployment, they repaved the streets, they rebuilt the, the water system. I think they even, they built houses and a bridge and so on. And it was called the Worgl Miracle. And so not unsurprisingly, many villages and towns wanted to copy that. And there were about 200 towns in Austria that really wanted to do the same. And it posed a huge threats to the central bank of Austria because it would take a lot of power from it, right?

Basically people self-organizing and doing their own money and having their own system, you know, what would be the purpose of the central government of central banks then? And so it didn't take long for the Supreme Court of Austria to just consider a criminal offence to issue local currency. And yeah, I think it's it's a very interesting examples, right, that sees this weird dialectics between the grassroots and government, right? Sometimes the grassroots can can be extremely creative, but then hits, you know, in the limits imposed by the government. And sometimes we need public services also perhaps organized at the, at the governmental level. So it's a, it's always a tricky dialectic.

I appreciate that example. It's really, really interesting. But yeah, it's, it's unfortunate that it was shut down by the Supreme Court. Cause it sounds like it made a lot of progress and, and yeah, even just getting people to think differently about money in the system. And actually that came up with a social credit as well, if I remember that paper correctly, right? With the political movement.

Yes, exactly. Social credit is another of those example of an alternative to the current debt-based monetary system. And it's also very largely forgotten today. And maybe I can just say a few words about it. So it was launched by, a British engineer called C.H. Douglass. And he was really the pioneer of this social credit movement. The entire movement started with this paradox that people did not have enough money to buy what they had produced, right? Somehow. And so there was some kind of contradiction. That's what Douglas noted, right? Between the people's lack of purchasing power and the abundance of goods out there. And he noticed that if you take all the salaries, all the dividends in capitalist as a whole, right? He would not be equal to the total cost of all the goods and services produced in a week.

So there was a problem there. And so he came up with a number of interesting proposals, and one of them was to democratize access to credit because he realized that most of this power was in the, in the hands of banks. And that maybe requires a little parenthesis because I think, I think banks are really extraordinary institutions. Sometimes, their power is so big that it becomes invisible. So it's so like under our eyes that we stop like seeing it. But banks really, they, they have such a strategic role in capitalism, right? They really decide who will get a loan, who will not, what industries are to be developed, which one are not, right? So they are our societies like entrust them with this huge power to decide really where we going and who is going where and stuff. And so when you realize that these, these organizations, banks are largely undemocratic and like motivated by private profit, it becomes like a bit of a problem, right? To give them so much power. And that's, that's something that Douglas so very, very clearly. And so he said we need to have, a kind of universal basic income. And so that, that's like a very important idea he really pioneered. And today it's very much on the agenda of the degrowth movement.

Yeah, no, it's a, yeah, UBI I comes up quite a bit and de-growth and, and just generally it seems like more in the news. And one interesting little piece of history I found when reading your one paper was that actually a social credit government was elected in Alberta at one time.

Yes. No, absolutely. That was in the, in the thirties at that time. It was a major political movement all around the world. And it, it's still alive today. It's very marginal, but it's still alive. And Alberta was perhaps the only place where they actually took power. And there was a social credit government there that lasted for quite some time the social credit league. But yeah, unfortunately they were not really able to implement, you know, Douglas' idea that at some point they try to start some, what they call the prosperity certificate. And this was based on Douglas' idea that we should have a ticketing system, right, that would match salaries with the cost of what is actually produced at all times. And for him, this was, a kind of non-capitalist way of generating prosperity for all. It was a very powerful idea, but very much anti-capitalist, right? And that would be a complete change of monetary system, and that's what the Albertans, you know, tried to do. But then the measure was quickly disallowed again by the Supreme Court. So exactly the same scenario as in Worgl in Austria. And what's interesting is that, or maybe a bit strange, but the social credit movement in Albert also transformed to a pretty conservative movement. And so it becames more and more conservative with time and less and less and capitalist.

Yeah and I, and I appreciate that example obviously because I live in Alberta, but just that idea of looking back at history and realizing that yeah, maybe things actually were different and how possibly they could be that way again, if we just shift our mindset, right?

I agree. Yeah, at some point it was a very creative place there and very avant-garde.

So, Julian, this has been interesting. You know, this show is about empowering citizens to take action on the climate crisis. And so when it comes to debt and the environment, what can people do to have an impact?

Yes, that's a very good question. And of, of course, those were a difficult one. I would say that like one easy thing to do or one first thing to do is to start playing with these deadlines to look at the economy and it's problems, right? And suddenly, like many things start to become clearer somehow, right? Look at things around us in terms of debt and, and so who is impacted why and so on, and what's the cost and why are we thinking the way we think and so on and so forth. And then very concretely, I think we'll have to organize, right, collectively, and I think we, we talked briefly about debtor's union, and I still see this as something that could be done much more. I'm considering starting one here in my neighbourhood in, in Amsterdam, because it happens that Dutch households, for example, are the most indebted household in continental Europe.

And this is so because of the cost of mortgages that are huge in this country. And then from a de-growth perspective also, there will be little other options, but to cancel debts, you know, whenever it relieves the growth in the pressure of the growth imperative. And I think large-scale debt cancellations will be on the agenda of many, many groups and even political parties pretty soon, right? I'm talking about student debts, mortgage farmer's debts, you know, but also public debts of municipalities or, or deaths of countries of the global south. And then what can be done also is to promote all kinds of like, exchanges and production that are debt free. And we mentioned agroecology as an example, but mutual credit also is, is a, is an option or UBI as we, as we were saying, these are all very potent device, you know, that prevent people from falling into, into the debt trap. And then we didn't get a chance to mention it a lot, but the, the ecological debt as well, right? Since the show is interested in climate change also. Well, the, the climate debt or the ecological debts that the rich countries owe to the rest of the world needs to stop and need to be repaid in one way or another. And if some pressure comes from social movements, that's, I think it'll, it'll be the way to get this idea as much more widespread.

Well, that's very helpful advice, Julian. And overall, this has been a very rich conversation, so thanks so much for coming on the show.

Thanks, Michael.

Well, that was my conversation with Julian-Francois. I think the thing that stood out for me the most was just realizing the role that debt plays in our society and thinking more about alternatives and talking about it. Well, that's all for me. I'm Michael Bartz. Here's a feeling a little less in over our heads when it comes to saving the planet. We'll see you again soon. In Over My Head was produced and hosted by Michael Bartz in partnership with Environment Lethbridge. Original music by Gabriel Thaine. If you would like to get in touch, email

I'm trying and save the planet. Oh, will someone please save me?