A bank that guarantees it will deal with money in an ethical way, in other words one that functions within a global project of justice, solidarity, autonomy and nonviolence.
Is such a thing possible? Some people believe so and dedicate their time to supporting this kind of initiative, i.e. to creating banks that, in their opinion, are capable of operating in the economic field with a social conscience and some criteria of solidarity, satisfying physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual needs rather than the simple profit-making that regulates commercial banks.
These ethical banks do not set profit as their goal, but have a social aim, in that they want to prevent marginalisation and favour cooperation between advanced capitalist societies and those that are considerably less so. To put it simply, they want to create harmony between ethics, politics and economy. Discussions about initiatives such as this, which see themselves as self-managed, merit further examination. Here we will limit ourselves to making a few points.
It is not possible to ‘separate’ one sector of the economy and manage it differently to the rest. No one can seriously believe it is possible to enter the world of finance and keep themselves rigorously separate from the financial system as a whole. That is impossible from the moment one goes beyond the threshold of meaning, i.e. as soon as the bank and alternative network becomes a point of reference for the offer of money. The fascination for the idea of alternative credit goes back to attempts to realise Proudhon’s ideas, which were developed not from an ethical point of view, but as an instrument of struggle against the all pervasive power of capitalism. Those who examined the ethical problem of economic management—not only finance, but the economy as a whole—were economists of the Catholic school, Toniolo, then Vito and Parrillo, the latest to have worked out the problem in terms that were acceptable to capital. In fact, the Roman Catholic church has approached the problem on more than one occasion, with all due caution.
We are convinced that no such thing as an ‘ethical’ management of money is possible, just as there is no way to face capital and the economy as a whole that is not conflictual.
It is sufficient to read the list of principles that are defined as ‘ethical-political’ by the promoters themselves, to see what we mean:
1) my money must simply be an instrument, not a source of profit;
2) my money must not serve to finance the arms trade;
3) my money must not be mixed with ‘escaping’ capital;
4) my money must not support dictatorships;
5) my money must not speculate on poverty;
6) my money must not support activities involving laundered wealth derived from illegal activity.
That is all very well, so long as ‘my money’ remains ‘mine’ and so long as it pays me sufficient interest.
Do we really believe we can self-manage and ‘humanise’ capitalism?
I certainly don’t.
[Original title: La banca etica, in “Canenero”, no. 1, 28 October 1994. English translation by Jean Weir published in "Let's destroy work, let's destroy economy", Elephant Editions, London.]