(I’ll admit I struggled for long time with this one: whether to have the Commonwealth continue onward with a watered-down, tightly-constrained version of a conventional (to our timeline…) money-based possessionist economics, or go all the way to a full ‘no-possessions, no-money’ responsibility-based economics. The former is much easier for most people to understand; but whilst the latter is much more challenging relative to our timeline’s culture, it is far closer in spirit to what was intended within the ‘Agreement of the People’, and also aligns exactly with the spirit and, in some cases, real actions of the Levellers, the Diggers and the early Quakers. The Commonwealth’s economics as described in the stories might at first seem hopelessly idealistic – somewhat as per Star Trek, perhaps? – but one of the aims of the entire series and storyworld is to identify the rough-edges and traps and loopholes, and thence identify what would be needed to make this type of economics potentially feasible in our own real-world. Worth exploring, anyway.)
The new Constitution for the Commonwealth – the Agreement of the People – covered the basis for law in the post-Civil War nation. But for the law to work, it also needed a new approach to economics. That new approach came from a perhaps unexpected source: the New Testament of the Bible.
Key players in the debates on economics were groups such as the True Levellers, the Quakers and the Diggers. One of the most eloquent and persuasive voices was a leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley, who argued that the key underlying cause of social harm was covetousness:
“Was the Earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?”
Such notions extended onward to the notion of property itself. Winstanley in particular argued that to follow Christian teachings fully would require not just the abolition of property in land, but the entire system of ownership and aristocracy that had caused the common people so much pain throughout the preceding centuries:
“Seeing the common people of England by joynt consent of person and purse have caste out Charles our Norman oppressour, wee have by this victory recovered ourselves from under his Norman yoake.”
These were the arguments that won the economic debate.
The short-term result, of course, was a vast flight of capital, with the suddenly-dispossessed aristocrats and other large landowners fleeing the country with as much of their wealth as they could carry in portable form. The only practical means to stop the flood was to take the final step away from ‘rights of possession’: to reject not just money, as a measure of nominal wealth, but all possession-based forms of property.
At that moment, England became a Commonwealth, in a literal rather than solely symbolic form. Property and prosperity were vested, not in the State, but in the people as a whole, and as the responsibility of the people as a whole.
No more landlords. No more rents. No more tithes to the Church. No more monopolies, bribes, kickbacks, the whole meshwork of corruption that had pervaded throughout the monarchy, the aristocracy, the landowners, the law, the judiciary, the self-styled Grandees of Parliament, and beyond. And no more taxes, either – in monetary form, at least, though those services that had been genuinely necessary before did still need to be supported somehow.
On the surface, though, for most people, there was very little change. A family’s heirlooms and possessions remained largely in that family, as the responsibility of that family. The hard work of harvest and haulage went on, much as before. The main difference was that they were no carrying the previous mass of middlemen, devoid of either value or values, who had taken everything that they could and gave nothing back. Freed of that dead weight, the economy bloomed.
(The Third Civil War of 1650-52 was, in effect, the former landowners’ last attempt to regain control of ‘their’ possessions and populace. In the Commonwealth’s timeline, as well as in our own, the various parties fell straight away into bickering about possible ‘rights’ to possible future spoils, and the whole farrago soon fizzled out into ignominious failure. In the meantime, the newly-freed Commonwealth went from strength to strength.)
For some decades, the guiding light for the Commonwealth’s economics was Christian teachings – particularly themes such as “care for the poor, for they will always be with you”. The focus on responsibilities of all for all – rather than ‘rights’ for a self-selected few and ‘responsibilities’ of self-servitude imposed on everyone else – remained a touchstone both of economics and of law. It was not until the early part of the next century that a more considered theory of economics, more fitted to the more secular society that the Commonwealth would become, began to be developed by a new generation of economists such as Adam Smith. (The version of his seminal The Wealth of Nations in the Commonwealth’s timeline differs in many details, of course, from that in our own timeline, but the underlying analysis remains much the same.)
Much as in a household, economic relations within the Commonwealth – intranational trade – did not need money at all. Instead, for the most part, they followed a complex, robust model of mutual-responsibilities that was summarised, in far too simplistic form, by another theorist in a later century, as the phrase “from each according to ability, to each according to their need”. International trade, however, was a different matter: this did need money, or some comparable exchange of goods – a challenge that led all too often to conflict of various forms, and at times even outright war.
Despite this, the Commonwealth expanded fast, with Wales and Ireland both joining with England before the end of the 17th-century, and Scotland, somewhat grudgingly at first, in 1701, after that country all but bankrupted itself (as in our own timeline) in a failed attempt at creating its own colonies in the most inhospitable regions of Central America.Then onward, further and further around the globe: more and more countries joined the Greater Commonwealth as a shared trading-bloc – not as colonies forced into subservience (as in our timeline) but as overt and explicit peers. By the time, and even thereafter, that much of the American part of the Commonwealth split off from the rest, in the bleak yet often farcical War of Dependence of the 1770s, the Greater Commonwealth was already a truly global community of economic peers upon which, overall, the sun never set – and it would continue to be that way for well beyond another century.
Last Update: August 29, 2017