About

WHO WAS SILVIO GESELL?

Gesell was a German economist and entrepreneur who lived from 1862 to 1930. As a young man he moved to Argentina as a representative of his older brother’s business. His experiences in the economically volatile environment of late-19th century Argentina provided him with deep insights into the dynamics of wealth creation and distribution and enabled him to develop an economic theory that was both straightforward and revolutionary. Despite not even having a university education, his economic theories and proposals attracted the attention of the best minds of his time, notably receiving five pages of discussion in the most important economics book of the 20th century, The General Theory by John Maynard Keynes. His ideas were also influential in the realm of economic policy, forming the basis of an economic reform package in 1899 that led to the longest period of sustained economic growth in the history of Argentina. From there, his ideas spread back to Europe, where they were embraced as potential solutions to the Great Depression.

Despite his profound influence in the first half of the 20th century, his name is virtually unknown today, especially in the English-speaking world.

WHAT DID GESELL SAY?

Gesell was neither a capitalist nor a socialist, but his analysis brought together key elements of both systems of thought. He believed wholeheartedly in the principle of free markets and considered it essential to the economic well-being of mankind. However he also agreed with the socialist perspective that capitalism causes widespread poverty, ever-increasing wealth inequality and recurring economic crises.

Whereas Marx considered economic injustice to be an unavoidable consequence of private ownership of the means of production, Gesell argued that the aforementioned problems are not actually due to the free-market system but rather to the fact that we have never properly understood how to implement that system. In particular, he viewed our systems of money and land ownership as violations of the core principles of free markets.

Gesell explained how our systems of money and land ownership give rise to unearned income. In other words, they cause wealth to flow into the pockets of people who have not contributed to the creation of that wealth. And since a significant portion of society’s wealth is siphoned off by people who have not earned it, there is not enough left to adequately compensate those who actually produce wealth. According to Gesell, this is the cause of insufficient wages as well as the economic instability and recurring crises that have plagued all market economies throughout history.

To be more specific, regarding money, Gesell argued that the two primary functions of our existing form of money — i.e. medium of exchange and store of value — are inherently incompatible. In other words, any form of money that is designed to be used as a vehicle for storing wealth will systematically fail to perform its function as a medium of exchange. And since the circulation of our medium of exchange is literally a matter of life & death, the irrational decision to combine these two functions in one instrument is catastrophic for mankind. The only solution to this problem, according to Gesell, is to separate money’s functions and create a medium of exchange that cannot be used as a means to store wealth.

Regarding land, Gesell argued that its ownership by private individuals is a violation of natural law as well as the core principles of the free-market system. Gesell believed in private property. He believed that the basis of private property is human labor — in other words, if you create it you should own it. However he pointed out that land is not the fruit of anyone’s labor. Therefore land cannot become private property based on the principles of free-markets. It only becomes private property through force and violence. Thus he viewed private land ownership as a violation of the free-market system.

Gesell argued that by fixing these two problems we can enable the free-market system to finally deliver on its promises of stable, inclusive and sustainable economic development. Thus the Gesellian solution is not capitalism OR socialism. It is neither and both.

WHO ARE WE?

The Silvio Gesell Foundation is dedicated to promoting Gesell’s theories and proposals. To date most Gesell-related advocacy has taken place in the German and Spanish-speaking worlds (since Gesell lived and worked primarily in Germany and Argentina). Most of Gesell’s original writings as well as related scholarship are not yet available in English. As a result his ideas are not widely known in the English-speaking world.

Our activities range from translating and publishing Gesellian content in English and exploring ways in which his ideas can be used to address present day challenges. We believe that it is essential that Gesellian ideas be included in the conversation about the future of the global economic system. Thus far this perspective has not been represented either in the realm of economic policy or in the field of academic economics. We aim to change that.

We are currently working on publishing a new edition of Silvio Gesell’s book, The Natural Economic Order. Unfortunately this book is not currently available in English. The new English-language edition will soon be available through our website. We also have a YouTube channel and a Substack newsletter dedicated to promoting Gesell’s ideas. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

JOSH SIDMAN (FOUNDER/DIRECTOR)

Josh has a degree in economics and Japanese from Union College in Schenectady, NY and worked in equity derivatives sales & trading at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. He has also owned and operated a small business for over 10 years. Having experience both in large financial institutions as well as in the trenches of small business gives him a broad perspective that enables him to understand economic issues both at the macro and micro levels.

Josh first became acquainted with Silvio Gesell in 2007 while reading Keynes. Since that time he has written articles and made videos explaining Gesell’s theories and has collaborated with the leading Gesellian organizations both in Germany and Latin America.

Josh is also a father and professional musician who splits his time between Knoxville, TN and Lima, Peru.