By John Glazer
The Athens Monetary Literacy Group in Athens Ohio officially began in June 2016 after six months of group founder John Howell exploring the idea, laying foundations, testing waters with interested parties, recruiting participants, and finally calling the first meeting. The inaugural idea bore similarities with a traditional book club: do some reading, get together to share understandings, and explore perspectives. The original participants varied in familiarity and knowledge of how the monetary system worked, but all shared a desire to achieve common clarity. “Literacy” accurately captured the group’s goal. It was fueled by the insight that the monetary system was somehow foundational to both the challenges and opportunities of a better world.
The early meetings of the group followed the now-familiar logic of thinking through the monetary system: begin with how money is created and how banking works, followed by the current system’s consequences on economic and public life, turning to alternatives to discover how sovereign money might work, and re-engaging with issues in public discourse to expand monetary literacy more widely.
At the start, John Howell recommended readings foundational to the literacy the group sought to acquire, but quickly shifted to suggestions sparked by questions and topics that emerged from the group’s discussions. There was no master plan. Readings and agendas shifted meeting to meeting.
As the group progressed past the “Ah ha!” experience of finally grasping the fundamentals of monetary system literacy, it took a turn toward applied and experiential learning activities.
We collectively wrote letters to editors to promote wider monetary literacy.
We visited the offices of our US Representative, spoke to staff, and conveyed the growing interest in and importance of monetary reform, learning in the process how to speak reform in the non-confrontational, common ground language of mutual problem solving.
We explored and gained perspective on events (e.g., international news) and topics (e.g. MMT) that were emerging in public discourse.
We spent several sessions ploughing through the NEED Act line-by-line assisting John Howell in the Guide he wrote, attending not only to clarity of content but also on how to bridge technical readers and communicate to those seeking basic understanding of the what and the why of the NEED Act’s proposals.
We met with both the CEO and CFO of our local credit union to gain their feedback on our understanding of how money is created through lending, to learn about the distinctive place of credit unions in the banking system, to explore implications of monetary reform proposals on community banking activities, and to start a conversation we hope will continue and spread out into the community.
While there was a life and a progression to the group as a whole, it is important to note that its composition changed over time, with just a few core members providing continuity and staying the course. All who participated—both founding members and late comers—succeeded in obtaining the literacy desired, and it continues to inform their thinking and activities as several have moved on to other things. One thing that has helped sustain the group’s continued existence since June 2016 has been finding in a current meeting the topic and goal of the next thereby enabling the group to chart its own course and affirm its interest in continuation.
Other lessons learned that might help others create and sustain similar groups might come from the contrasts and similarities offered by the book club analogy. It is in the nature of book clubs to move by fits and starts, lose and gain members, go dormant and re-emerge over time. The book club story is usually simple: folks are unable to complete a reading, skip the session devoted to it, fall out of loop on what comes next, and drift to other things. These are certainly risks for all gatherings, but a Monetary Literacy Group is held together—for a while—by the shared goal of achieving a specific literacy: the ability to understand and communicate how the monetary system works and explain why it is important. That’s not an easy climb, and the far-reaching implications are rich enough to nourish sustaining interest.
To succeed, both book clubs and literacy groups need champions. A Monetary Literacy Group has the special need of an early guide to key literature, a resource to feed emerging interests, and an authentic stance as a fellow traveler, learning anew, and thinking through from the ground up. What made the Athens Monetary Literacy Group sustain through changes was John Howell.
H.R.2990 – National Emergency Employment Defense Act of 2011 (NEED Act). 112th US Congress (2011-2012).
Howell, John. 2019. Guide to the NEED Act (National Emergency Employment Defense Act of 2012). Alliance for Just Money, 9 June 2019.