On voles and Openings

I’ll start the story of my Ryde by quotting my first blog post ever (back in 2005):

A few days ago I stopped at a gas station. As I was pumping, I noticed a vole scurrying across the parking lot. The lot was covered with a thin layer of that dry compacted, dirty snow that you get when it's been cold enough that the snow never melted or turned ice. The vole would zip along for about six feet, and then try to burrow under a clump of snow, only to hit pavement so it would zip another few feet and try again. It had come from behind the gas station where there is a field, and it was headed in the direction of a very busy road. This vole was in for trouble and I'd better do something about it. I was half way through pumping so I finished filling my tank and then turned to see what I could do for the creature.
By the time I'd spotted it again, it was about twenty feet from the road. I headed not towards the vole, but at an angle that would cut it off from the road so I could shoo it back to the field. But it must have know that I was trying to prevent it from moving towards its intended direction because it immediately headed for the road at a modified angle calculated precisely to avoid me.
Within seconds the vole was in the middle of the road. The first semi missed it by five feet. The next one flattened it.
I don't know if the vole would have gone on to the road had I not tried to save it, probably it would have. But I do know that if I had stopped pumping gas right when I realized that this vole was in for trouble, that I would have had a much better chance of saving it.
I hate pumping gas. Every time I do it, I feel like I'm that vole flinging myself and my fellow humans as fast as possible right toward those tractor-trailer truck wheels. The vole's consciousness doesn't even include roads and trucks, but unlike the vole, I know about peak-oil, and global warming. I can see the truck coming. But why didn't I stop pumping for that vole? Why don't I stop pumping for all us? How conscious can I become?
I decided to register for Edgeryders after reading this post of Vinay's.  Clearly there's an affinity of sentiment between Vinay's post, and mine from that blog post, but that's not why I signed up.  Instead it's because I've been struggling with that sentiment for many years, and decided to take the "Share your Ryde" mission as an opportunity to continue with that struggle.
There's something that feels righteous about "being willing to face the facts," about not being in denial about how bad the situation is.  It feels responsible, and grown-up.  It feels like honesty, like trying not to be self-delusional, as well as being willing to take a stand.  All these are attributes I strive for.  But my struggle, is around being responsible not only to what is now, but also to what can be, to what is possible.  In his post, Vinya writes: "If you're not aware of this situation, I guarantee you it's because you're not paying attention, alas."  That's a great rhetorical flourish: "If you're not X, it's because you're not paying attention." Makes me really want to be X because the last thing I want to be blamed of is "not paying attention."  But in attention lies the rub.  There are different qualities of attention that yield awareness of facts (how things are), and of possibility (how things might be).
There's that saying "A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest."  What I'm most keen on doing, is focusing my attention on the space of actual new possibilities, on listening for the quiet growing forests of our time.  For me the key experience in this regard over the last years has been what feels like "openings."  Though I cannot deny the importance of "facing the facts," what seems of far greater import is to listen for the possibilities, the search for, and openness to, openings.  When openings come, they have consequences.  An open door is an invitation to at least look into the room behind it. So, to share my ryde is to share openings and their consequences.  The direction of my life has changed drastically since 2003, because of a number of openings and the consequences of them.  Here are the key ones, not strictly in chronological order, but close:

Opening #1: In 2003 my father gave me two books to read: Interest & Inflation Free Money, by Margrit Kennedy, and The Future of Money by Bernard Leitaer.  For me these books were one-way doors.  Once I’d stepped through, there was no going back, because suddenly I understood three things: 1) money was a human invention 2) this particular invention is foundational to all human social patterns 3) we can change it, and there-by change our social patterns. Thus, I became open to a huge new possibility.


The consequence of this opening was two-fold: first, that I became involved in a local currency project (one that never got off the ground), and second that I was invited on the board of the E. F. Schumacher Society, a small non-profit that for decades had quietly been working on many decentralist economic efforts, including local-currency efforts, which has now grown and become the New Economics Institute .

In 2004, the Schumacher Society held what I consider to be a pivotal conference called Local Currencies in the 21st Century.  Plenary speakers at this conference included both Kennedy and Leitaer (authors of those two books), and also Tom Greco, but most importantly for me, it's where I met Michael Linton, Jean-François Noubel, and Arthur Brock.

Opening #2: Michael Linton.  I knew of Michael before the conference from my reading, as he is a pioneer in the community currency world, well know for his design of LETS, one of the most widely deployed community currency patterns. But at the conference Michael was talking about his ideas for open money.  I daresay few people at the conference then, or since then, have understood the import of what Michael was sharing.  He was explaining, as a unified vision,  the necessary aspects of how the structure of money could to change. Namely that 1) money is information, 2) the pattern of flow of that information in relation to communities should be circular, i.e. issued within the community so it would flow around it, not through it as happens with moneys issued outside of communities.  3) That there must be a rich ecology of currencies appropriate to each communities circumstances.  4) That these currencies must exist in the context of a network that emerges out of an interplay between communities of function (what people do together) and communities of identity (how people see and name themselves).  Michael was the first person I met who was thinking coherently on this level and actually trying to build a system that addressed these issues and was designed to scale.  Over the next few years I came to work closely with Michael on the open money project.


Opening #3: Michael introduced me to Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, and to Reed’s Law of Group forming Networks.  These two “Laws” are both fascinating and deep, and they clearly apply to money and currency systems.  Single national currencies fail to provide the systemic regulatory variety necessary for a healthy economy.  Also, a multi-currency network would be an incredible group-forming network.  But the real opening for me was not so much in the laws themselves, but in that they both point to the fact that in networked and cybernetic systems, new ways of thinking are necessary, and the results are surprising and non-intuitive.  


Opening #4: Jean-François Noubel. At the Local Currencies conference Jean-François was sharing his work on Collective Intelligence.  This work identifies and describes the evolution of the forms of collective intelligence from “original collective intelligence” through where we are now, which he calls “pyramidal collective intelligence,” on to the possibility of “global collective intelligence.” In his work, Jean-François also focuses on “invisible architectures,” those patterns that, mostly unconsciously, regulate our lives.  One of the most crucial that he identifies, of course, is the monetary system.  Looking at the world through the this opening, the lens of collective intelligence and invisible architectures, gave me, and continues to give me, not only a powerful explanatory rubric for how things are now, but also where they might go.


Consequences, phase I:  I’m trained as coder (I have a B.S in computer science), but just before my father gave me the books that constitute opening #1, I had decided to give up coding.  Over the years I had written a bunch of a good code that had made a bunch customers happy, but I didn’t feel like it was right.  I wanted to be focusing on something that had a deeper impact.  So I gave it up, and told my partner that I wanted out of our small dev shop.  Well, after openings 1-4, I found myself right back in coding land.  I knew that now I had the opportunity to try and implement software systems that could realize the promise of a new monetary system.  This felt like impact.  So this led to working closely with Michael to build a web-app that was pretty much to his open money specifications, and was meant to be a single server fully functional prototype to demonstrate what a networked multi-currency system would look like.  That system is still operational and used in a couple of places.  You can check the dev site.


Opening #5: The levels of Wealth and their relation to systems. This opening was sparked by Jean-François Noubel, who described to me a taxonomy of wealth.  He had realized that money is a tool that focuses on building tradable wealth, but that tradable wealth is just a small subset of measurable wealth, which itself is a subset of acknowledgeable wealth.  What I realized, is that those levels exist because of systemic truths, i.e. that each level of wealth corresponds to levels of systemic integrity.  That tradable wealth corresponds with parts and products of systems, and measurable wealth corresponds with properties of systems as a whole, and acknowledgeable wealth corresponds with relationships between systems. Here is where I first wrote about all this: http://openmoney.info/sophia/.


Opening #6: Arthur Brock, flow and current-see.  The opening about the levels of wealth came pretty much at the same time as I was also deepening my association with Arthur Brock who I had first met at the Local Currency conference.  When I met him at the conference he was championing what he called “targeted currencies,” special purpose currencies for solving particular community problems, rather than general purpose exchange currencies.  Arthur had been using the metaphor a the electromagnetic spectrum, comparing monetary currencies to visible light, when there was actually much larger range of currency “frequencies” that were available to solve other problems.  But it wasn’t until I came to understand Art’s deeper definition of currency, as “current-see” or formal information systems that allows us to see and interact with currents, flows, that the things really came together.  These different levels of wealth, corresponding to the levels of systemic integrity, also needed corresponding currency types, to manage the different types of flow that are taking place at those different systemic levels.


Consequences, phase II: Openings #5 & 6 showed that my first open money system wasn’t enough, that as well as being able to create new currencies in the network environment, that it would be necessary create multiple types of currency that operated very differently depending on which level of wealth they were targeting.  I wanted to build a generalized “wealth acknowledgement” system.  And I also wanted to try my hand at building a system that would be client-server based that would allow multiple servers to play and thus be decentralized.  At the time I met Geoff Chesshire who had also been working with Michael Linton and was building a currency system called Regenerosity, which used the idea of laying down what amounted to a social network graph to record the changing relationships in a community, which is essentially what monetary transaction are.  Using these ideas I built a whole new system.  Here’s an overview of the technical architecture (what I called the Mesh & Churn): http://openmoney.info/techne/overview.html, and the code I wrote to implement it is here: https://github.com/openmoney.  A demo site is still up at: http://omclient.heroku.com/

The new system was working, and it was pretty easy to create mutual credit currencies, as well as reputation currencies, and if you were a geek you could configure other types of currencies too.  But there was a big problem.  Though I had made allowance for these different types of currencies, technically most of my focus was on laying down that social graph, the mesh.  I hadn't yet paid lots of attention to what the range structure of different possible currencies could be, and how I was going to integrate that.

Opening #7: David Abram’s “Spell of the Sensuous.”  Abram’s book provides an amazing account of how we’ve shifted the locus of meaning from the natural sensual world to human constructed one in the form of our abstract alphabet.  The opening came while reading his account of the evolution of writing.  That description opened my eyes not only to how currency is very much like writing, but that it’s also on a similar evolutionary track, going from a very concrete representation form, “pictograms”, to a much more abstract one, an “alphabet.”  We think of modern money as very abstract, most often just bits a banks computer.  But what I realized, is that money is still very concrete, and just like pictographic writing. It’s not abstract at all because all moneys so far use the same encoding mechanism they always have for value: relative scarcity (just like all pictograms use the same encoding mechanism for meaning: shape)  And that encoding mechanism is only really appropriate for tradable wealth where scarcity is a true for parts and products of systems.  It’s not appropriate for the wider levels of wealth.  What I saw is that we have no “alphabet” for encoding all the levels of value, and that’s what the open money system I’d been working on could evolve into.  I’ve written a couple blog posts about this if you want to read about it in more depth:  here and here


Consequences, phase III: The rise of the MetaCurrency project, XGFL & the Flowplace.  By this time, it was clear that I was interested in more than “money” because monetary currencies are those that apply to the smallest circle of wealth, tradable wealth.  I was committed to working on what I was calling a “meta-currency” system that had a currency specification language that would be capable of representing wealth at all levels.  So Art & I founded the MetaCurrency project to be a home for the tech protocols and know-how that would make this happen. Focusing on this problem from the currency-specification language point of view resulted in a design document that included the Simple Game Format Language (SGFL) which later became XGFL (X for eXtensible).  This language was to be for currencies, as HTML was for web resources.  

At the same time I started working with Jean-François and Fernanda Ibarra who together wanted to a usable platform for groups of early adopters they were working with in the transitioner network who wanted to start living these ideas of multi-level-wealth currencies.  So together we built the Flowplace.  Here's the demo site. The Flowplace implements the XGFL language, and at the same time includes a bunch of other important ideas necessary for actually organizing communities (what we called circles) around them and making them useful, the equivalent of a marketplace in the multi-level-currency context.  Jean-François and Fernanda have used the Flowplace in a number of contexts and people have had transformative experiences as it can give a taste of a what a multi-level-currency world might look like.  But from my perspective, as a system designer, this experiment, like my previous one, was a dead end.  Where the Mesh & Churn didn't have a native way to include currency specification, the Flowplace with XGFL, didn't have a native way to relate currencies to each-other.  We did do some important work on what we called membrane currencies to address this difficiency, but it just didn't feel right, and I knew it didn't have legs.

Opening #8: The evolution of expressive capacity.  Unlike all the other openings I’ve listed, for this one I can’t pinpoint its source.  Of course it builds on all the other openings, but there’s not a particular person, conversation or writing or even moment that I can remember where it arrived.  I think its the product of all of us working together around the MetaCurrency project.  I now see that all the previous openings were partial views of this bigger pattern.  So, yes, money is information, and yes, its evolution is like that of writing, but here’s the deeper pattern: It appears that the greatest leaps in “novelty,” i.e. increased possibility that we know of, all arise because of the emergence of new embodied information encoding systems, what I like to call “expressive capacities”.  DNA, neurons, language, writing, the printing press, computers, these are all examples, at various levels of complexity, of such expressive capacities that allow for a explosion of possibility that is unimaginable before their arrival.  Notice that though they are all “revolutionary” some of these new expressive capacities are more revolutionary than others.  The invention of writing and the printing press are extensions of the basic expressive capacity of language.  But the arrival of language and DNA are much more, shall we say, foundational.

So here's the crux of the opening: I see that we are at nexus point where new expressive capacity is ready to emerge that's on the same "foundational" level as language and DNA.  Our current day money is to that new expressive capacity as the coordinating hunting grunts of some proto-hominids is to language.  Just as those grunts were somehow synthesized into a small collection of phonemes out of which an infinite number of words could be built, and which themselves are connected and organized into the subject-predicate grammar of human language, so is there the possibility for us to evolve away from that form of grunting we call money.  What we can it evolve toward, is, for the lack of a better term, a language of flow.  What this language expresses as an embodied information encoding system, is the equivalent of DNA, but for social, rather than biological organism.

Consequences, phase IV:  After this opening became clear, it was pretty obvious what the problem was with XGFL.  It’s at the wrong expressive level.  Expressive capacities are all built out of fairly simple nested composable units.  Narratives are built from paragraphs, which are built from sentences, which are built from phrases, which are built from words, which are built from word parts, which are built from phonemes, which are built from phones.  The rules for composability at each level are fairly simple, yet the variety of that which is expressible is infinite because of the combinatorial explosion.  This same property works for all other expressive capacities, think of DNA and neurons, a small vocabulary of composable parts, mixable with definite meaningful grammatics.  You see the pattern.  Starting with XGFL to define currencies was like starting with a whole paragraph as the basic unit for a language.  It was an expressive capacity without the necessary simple levels of composability.  Here’s a blog post where I wrote about this.  That post includes a diagram of a new architecture that we worked on for quite a while, but again, it didn’t quite feel right, until…


Opening #9: The Receptive Stance.  In November of 2010, I flew to Denver for a working retreat with Art.  The opening came early on in our working sessions.  I have photo of the flip chart with the exact quote we wrote down when it came: “Composition requires creation of a negative space, i.e. receptors for an as of yet unknown interaction.”  For so long we had been searching for some currency ontology, i.e. we were trying to figure out what the basic currency components were out of which we could build our flow language.  This opening had us flip our attention, i.e. not to look for the parts, but to look at the negative space, the structure of containment that could allow for the rise of as of yet unknown parts.


Consequences, phase V: From this opening a whole slew of other things have emerged (and are still emerging).  These consequences haven’t played out yet, so I’ll just say that it’s led to what we are calling the ceptr platform, as well as a strategic plan for rolling it out, which includes a very cool app call Streamscapes.  Prototyping for both of these is at: https://github.com/zippy/anansi

To close, a short story: I live in an intentional community. One of the things we've been doing here is lots of planting.  For me, this meant that besides starting a terracing system to create a kitchen garden this year, I also planted four fruit trees: a cherry, two peaches and an apple.  I decided to buy fairly large trees (not the less expensive bare root trees you can get) but ones that were already a good six foot tall with a root-ball, to get a head start.  It felt like a good investment.  Well, not more than a month after planting, the apple tree started leaning over in the wind.  So I added some stakes and support to help stabilize it.  A month later I found the tree almost lying flat.  Examining it, closely I found that it was no longer a tree with roots, but rather more like a stake with branches jammed into the ground.  Some critters had totally separated the growing trunk from all the roots.  Turns out it was voles.  Nearby the trees I had dumped a large pile of manure which was planning to spread in the spring.  The warmth of pile is now host to a prolific family of voles, that apparently also took advantage of the soft earth that resulted from my digging a nice hole to plant the apple tree, and enjoyed the roots and bark of the tree in the mean time.
So here are the voles again, intersecting with my life.  But this time, oddly, something I did was giving them life, and to my expense! There is the economic farmer in me who's frustrated and angry.  Frustrated at the loss of a $50 tree, and wanting to just go get rid of those voles.  But there's someone else in me who's laughing.  I can't quite name that person, but I feel like he/she's laughing at a joke that's on me, and it's actually a good-humored joke.  It feels like maybe that vole-chewed tree is part of a bigger pattern that I can't quite see, but that person inside me can see it, and is chuckling at my farmer response to the vole.  What is that pattern?  I don't know for sure.  But what I am sure of, is that though I have to be responsible to facts of the current reality, at this stage, it's essential that pay very close attention for openings through which I may be able to become responsible to emergent possibilities.

What are people actually doing?

Wow! That’s a really thoughtful piece of writing, thanks for sharing. I checked most of your links, and I understand something but not all. Here’s what I do understand: there is no overarching reason for money to be a scalar. In fact, in David Graeber’s book on debt I found many examples of societies and communities that use more than one form of money: a currency for buying potatoes, another one for thanking your wife’s clan for bringing her into the world and letting you actually marry her. Graeber is an anthropologist, and claims that a lot of currencies have been used to rearrange the relationships between human beings not as a byproduct, but as their core functionality. His arguments seem solid to me.

This opens up a way into design currencies; in the digital age it makes sense that such design currencies become reputation indices computed from a stream of acts that lives on some server. So far so good. The next level of your piece is a reflection of what money really is, why is it that we use the same word (“currency”) for something we use to  acquire potatoes and something we use to acquire a family. This level of abstraction is beyond me, for the moment.

I would be really interested in the empirical part of this story. I know people are experimenting with local or community currencies, like the famous Wir in Switzerland. A friend of mine, a VC, has just invested in a company that hosts a currency called sardex (yes, they are from Sardinia). You probably know a lot about these things. So I have two questions.

One is about these people. How many are them? What are they doing? How are their currencies faring? Which projects are considered successes?

The other one is about yourself. You and your crowd have obviously spent a lot of time thinking deeply about this stuff. Where did the path lead you personally? How do you measure your own success? What pays your bills, if the question is not too blunt?

Currencies everywhere…

The empirical approach is very interesting one.  The problem with it, is, just as in the case of currencies in general, what do you choose to measure?  And are you are aware of why and what your are choosing?

When you talk of “local or community currencies” it seems pretty clear that you are refering to tradable wealth currencies.  If you don’t include in this  category the WIR and the business barter network currencies (niether of which are very local, but which trade in the $ billions per year), then I would guess the number of people globally actively involved in the kinds of currencies you are talking about is somewhere between 1M and 100k.  It’s very hard to estimate by their local nature.  And what’s success?  In my view every single one of them is a success because they are all experiments in the new expressive capacity, in the awakening to new a new empowerment.  In other’s view, not so, because most such initiatives start and sputter to a quiet halt.  In my years working in this area, though, I’ve seen a massive jump in interest and participation as well as formation of new initiatives, which looks like an exponential curve.

But to me, these types of systems (tradable wealth) are the least interesting.  If you look at systems using the broader definition of currencies and wealth (i.e the formal systems that allow us to see and shape flows) then, the participation is global, and most humans participate in these forms of currencies without recognizing them as such.  Grades, credits and degrees, e-bay/amazon ratings, +1, Facebook “Like”, USDA Organic & Fair Trade sticker, air-line miles, buy-10-get-one-free coffee cards, postage stamps, khan academy badges, the list is endless and the participation is fully global.   There’s just one “tiny thing” missing, and that’s the understanding that these are all forms of the same expressive capacity, and a knowledge and manifestation of the grammar and carrying infrastrucutre to embody that expressive capacity.  For some reason “exchange” and “trade” is blinding us to the greater reality of flow.  The reciprocal “balanced” flows of trade apply to the lowest level of wealth, but the language of flow will encompass all levels.

Where we are with all these example currencies, is in a state that would be equivalent to proto-hominids without language but having thousands of words and gestures and dances and such, all which communicate concepts in many different realms of their lives, but who yet have no realization that when they are signaling eachother during a hunt, or chanting around a fire, that they are actually doing the same kind of thing.

Your question of how I measure my own sucess is really great.  If you are asking that question informally, the answer is typically in a feel for the nubmer of features I’ve implemented in the code recently, and the number of skype calls I’ve had with my colleauges, or blog posts I’ve written.  Formally I track the hours spent on both these arenas (coding & communication), and success is currently measured in my ability to increase the absolute number of those hours.  We have also been working towards some currency definitions that will make participation more explicit in the context of our working community, and which might also track a communal sense of our experience of goodnes, truth and beauty.  Which is one place where a real measure of sucess lies.

Perhaps at the deepest level my measure of sucess is about the number of possibilities that I can see and feel.  The current world-wide disaster is most apparent to me in how we are using up possibilities, and decreasing possibilities available to most of human-kind to the bare minimum: fight for survival.  This again points to why “expressive capacity” is so important.  Expressive capacities, both the fundamental ones, like DNA, Neurons & Language, and extenders like the printing press and the Internet, allways vastly increase possibility.  Thus, I believe that our greatest need is to discover/invent the new expressive capacity, the language of flow.

As to what pays my bills, I am a coder, and have started a number of projects over the years including glassbead.comsff.onlinewritingworkshop.com, and more.  More recently I’ve been getting some faimly support which is allowing me to decrease hours spent on paying work and devote more to building the metacurrency infrastructure.


Vanishing in the distance

Eric, I really appreciate your honest response, thanks.

Your vision of currencies everywhere is fascinating. However, is it operational? Some of the items in your list are indeed currencies, although of limited circulation (airline miles), but others seem simply vectors of information (USDA Organic & Fair Trade sticker) and cannot really be redeemed. All of this stuff is information, to be sure, and all currency is information. But not the other way around. Even in your fascinating hominid example there is a false step: signaling when hunting is not the same thing as chanting by the fire because, you know, dancing about architecture is meaningless.

Complexity science 101 begins like this: the world is a flux of matter, energy and information. Entities are not really there: they arise by ontological commitment, when I decide a particular mass of suspended H2O molecules is “that cloud”. The cloud does not really exist in a reductionist sense: it has structure but is blurry at the edges, individual water molecules enter and exit it. It is a pattern, and it makes sense to make an ontological commitment to it because then I can talk about something I care about, for example air traffic.

Tradeable wealth currencies are a powerful concept. We need it to explain a great many social phenomena. I agree that moving towards a higher level of generalization might yield good intuition. But I  am not sure diluting it to include, in perspective, just about any kind of signalling is a productive stance.

Having said that, I applaud your rigorous thinking. It is always a pleasure to meet someone who is not afraid to go deep.



Your argument that all currency is information, but not the other way around is of course correct, and I did not claim that information is currency, nor that any signaling system is currency.  Nor am I claiming that there aren’t crucial distinctions to be made between different classes of formal information token systems that allow us to engage in the different types of flows that show up as the different levels of wealth to us.  What I am doing is being open to the similarities.  The similarities between these different classes of flows indicates to me that their unifyability into a new expressive capacity is not only possible but absolutely essential, and will also yield untold depth and power.

Perhaps this image might help some:

You see, this general map is about flow.  Transactability is just one of the options.  An in-depth version of this diagram, built as a concept map decision tree for currency design, is available here: http://lifeblooddesign.com/currencymap/.
My claim is that if we expand our vision of currency into the realm I'm talking about, then our ability to solve actual problems in society will go up, because we wil start looking more wholistically at systems, not just at their parts and products.  We will be much more aware of when reciprocal flows are important and only use monetary currencies in those cases. In most cases, I believe, they can now be superceeded by non-reciprocal flow management systems, and that the reciprocity built into the core of trade money, is actually a "legacy system" (as Douglas Ruskoff says); a hindrance.
BTW, I think you missed the point with my proto-hominid example.  Of course the chant, and the hunting signals are not "about" the same thing.  Just as a reputation currency, a fair-trade label, and a coin are not about the same kind of wealth.  The point is that the content of the chant, and the content of the hunting signals could both be encoded in language, once it was developed.  Perhaps my example of "chanting" was not good because it associates with music and dance which is more about emotional expression.  What I was trying to evoke was special purpose meaning signaling systems, i.e. that the chanting had definite semantic content, for example that there might be different kinds chants which might "plan" the tribes next days activities.  When language develops, as a general purpose meaning encoder, then there is a great transformation.
Likewise, I am claiming, that when we develop a general purpose wealth encoder (which money is NOT because it only works well for tradable wealth), then there will be a new great transformation.
I really like your complexity theory reference, because actually to me it's a case in point.  My experience is that folks have exceptionally strong attachments to the ontologies embeded in money, more so than almost any other such commitments I know of.  So much of our world seems to depend on those ontological commitments that folks rarely are even ready to look at them as commitments, rather they appear just as reality.  That's why I choose the term "openings" in my original post.  I have had to yield my own ontological commitments to the ideas of recpiprocity and exchange, to become open to see these possibilities I'm suggesting.  What I was trying to do with this post was map my own openings as as an invitation to others into that space.  

Can non-reciprocality scale?

O-k, I think I get it. From the little I know, your point about people being reall committed to what they think they know about money sounds true.

Do you know Bruce Sterling’s novel Distraction? it’s a novel, but it could be a treatise in economics. Amidst all the great ideas in there, Sterling depicts a convincing future tribal society that operates on “reputation servers”. I keep thinking about it, because it extends the little reciprocal commitments described by Graeber to a non-reciprocal but circular setting.  I keep thinking about it, trying to poke holes in it… but it could work, think. The question, maybe is whether you could scale such a system to an inter-tribal level. But perhaps there is no need for that, perhaps there will be other currencies totake care of that…

A general purpose currency


thank you for laying out your travels through the world of open money and the various paths you traveled that didn’t quite work out.

I have a feeling that we need to start at a more basic level. Rather than designing currencies, we need an infrastructure that allows currencies to emerge. We need a simple but ubiquitous way of transferring (whatever we might call it) from one player to another and of keeping track of it quantitatively.

Whatever will be transferred is going to emerge as people start playing with it.

I summed it up under the heading of “soft” currency, i.e. a currency that isn’t pre-defined, that has no intrinsic value, but that still can be used in transactions if people desire to do that. It’s an accumulator of information but a very soft one. The name “credits” emerged somehow, but it could be called whatever we want. The important thing is we have to have a general purpose and generally usable infrastructure for it.

I have put my ideas on this together in a blog post and would be interested what you think of such a general purpose infrastructure for the combined gift and soft transactional world of interactions that will have to grow as opportunity arises.

Here’s my take on it

Occupy Economy: The case for soft money

Keep us in the loop?

Eric and Sepp,

I have read also Sepp’s long post. Despite two degrees in economics, I am still struggling with the concepts, I am not ashamed to tell you. My two cents is that Sepp’s account of the history of money is almost completely off the mark, if we are to believe David Graeber’s influential book. Not sure whether the whole argument falls apart as a consequence, probably not, but a revision might be useful.

Anyway, this is an interesting topic, and I would very much like to be kept in the loop. After all, Edgeryders is all about making policy recommendations to the EU, and I don’t see why we should not make some about enabling the creation and circulation of a diverse money ecology, with different currencies following different purposes. Some of that seems to be happening anyway in Europe.

This platform’s content feeds into a research effort to identify issues being researched and acted upon by young Europeans. If your conversation takes place here, it will be in that stream.

A more realistic proposal…


yes I have heard about David Graeber’s book and have linked two discussions by Graeber at the end of my article. I acknowledge that Graeber is probably right in maintaining that the precursor of money was not barter but some credit system. It does not substantially change my argument that we should have some kind of money that is more flexible than what we have today, so I probably won’t revise the article, at least not until I have had a chance of reading the actual book.

Also, you should be aware that my proposal is not something that could be implemented at country or continent level. It is an invitation to get out of the rut of thinking that we have built up about money, and to consider that there might well be alternatives. I very much agree with the direction of the work of Eric and others in the alternative and local money area, that there are many transactions that can’t be measured (and can’t therefore be rewarded) in terms of today’s money and that we therefore need a kind of system that can embrace those transactions.

For something to stimulate thinking at the EU proposals level, I just came across a more realistic proposal. It is in a paper by Trond Andresen from Norway, titled

What if the Greeks, Irish, Baltics, Spaniards, Italians did this:

high-tech parallel monetary systems for the underdogs?


Trond says that the availability of an alternate currency in the countries that are economically struggling would help maintain local economic activity which today is hampered by the lack of official Euro currency, and it would also eventually increase the chances of paying up on the debt, because a fluorishing economy has a better chance to catch up with payments than one that is suffering.

Trond is concerned that authorities might act to try and stop such a currency, but if they actually initiated it or gave it their nod of agreement… who knows if it might not work wonders…

Already under way

From what I know, there are already several local currencies in place, without authorities taking any countermeasure (and why should they?). You guys are experts, so I don’t need to tell you about the Swiss Wir, the Transition Network’s Brixton Pound, the Sardex in Italy…

Interestingly, the mechanism of social trust described by Graeber with respect to the merchant’s transactions in the Islamic world circa 1200 (the state does not intervene, not even to enforce contracts; your ability to thrive depends on the solidity of your network of trust and your assessment abilities) fits quite qell at least the case of Sardex, which I have looked into a bit more.

Are you sure?

Eric, I am not aware that Graeber has a normative message (“we should do this or that”). He has his own political inclinations, but that’s not where the value added is. The value added is descriptive: namely, that money has actually been used to signify the web of relationships that you mention (some are communistic, some are hierarchical, some are exchenges). Among these relationships, those of trust have been especially important in propitiating different individuals who were not part of the same family to, as we would say today, “collaborate”, i.e. engage in joint enterprises like organizing a caravan to some remote parts of the world.

If you can make a case that something you invent is good at doing that, you have a business proposition that many people will take seriously. After all, this discussion is about how to decouple the enabling power of money from all of its toxic consequences!

As for human relationships that go beyond exchange, Graeber’s position is that they are out there and always will be (“we are all communists with our best friends and all feudal lords with children”). I am no anthropologist, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

This isn’t about “local” currencies

The proposal from Norway isn’t really about local currencies. As you say, there are several of them, but (as you imply) they make little difference in the grand scheme of things.

What Trond Andresen proposes is a real alternative to the Euro that can knit national economic activity together, at least to some degree. What we have now are isolated attempts at currencies that hardly deserve the name, they are so small in comparison with what we call the “real” economy.

Whether the state would intervene is a question that can only be decided when such an alternative really takes off and becomes comparable in importance to national (or in our case Euro) currency. Historically, the more successful attempts of making alternative currencies have been suppressed. It was the case with the Austrian Wörgl experiment, terminated by the Austrian central bank, it was also the case with gold-based internet currencies that were taken down by the actions of the FBI in America just a few years ago.

Is it really so difficult to undertand that when you have economic trouble because there “is no money” as is the case in Greece and other EU countries, that it would be positive to bring into existence a kind of money that cannot be “sucked out” of the country to pay debt, a kind of money that must be used for internal economic activity… or that the resulting upswing in economic activity in that country could increase its earnings in Euro and therefore affect its capacity to pay back the debt it had to contract?

Local, then!

Agreed. But does that not imply locality is needed for these currencies to function? If Sardex could be used to pay Italy’s foreign debt, there would be a tendency for it to be siphoned out of the local economy, just as silver coins disappeared easily from circulation in 17th century England. The lack of acceptance of these currency on the global financial markets seems to be a requirement for them to serve their purpose, and to add resilience to the financial system.

Now, locality does not need to be geographical in a networked world: it can be social. And that opens the door to many an interesting scenario.

Local yes, but not too local (meaning not too limited).

It is true that locality can be geographical or it can be social. The proposal of Trond Andresen at http://www.itk.ntnu.no/ansatte/Andresen_Trond/econ/greece-etc-2.pdf is addressing locality in a geographical sense, mainly because the problems in Europe with inability to pay interest to the bankers is an exquisitely geographical question, restricted (for now) to mainly the southern European countries, that whole belt that goes from Greece through Italy, even France, to Spain and all the way to Portugal. All of those countries (and perhaps also Ireland) could profit from having their own version of local money as proposed by Andresen in his paper.

And yes, you are right, the locality of the currency, i.e. the non-functionality in international trade, would be a necessary pre-condition to its functioning as a local stimulant of economic activity.

Social locality is another, and very interesting, concept. It goes way beyond the borders of countries and enters into the lion’s den, so to speak. It is international yet local in the sense that only certain types of people, and perhaps only for certain types of interactions, will use that kind of currency. Yet it is a real currency separate and distinct from the state-backed bank-issued currencies that are the rage today. That is really what I am proposing in http://blog.hasslberger.com/2012/02/occupy_money_-_the_case_for_so.html where I stress the need for the development of a separate infrastructure that can take care of transfers and the keeping-track of the currency, may it be called credits or some other name. This will stimulate economic activity in that sector of the economy that is fed up with hard money for ideological reasons, either to do with the exploitation that comes with it, or in disagreement with the environmentally destructive or otherwise odious disposition of the major holders and users of that kind of currency.

Both of these proposals have their distinct public, and their distinct ways of helping construct a better world. Both of them take away a slice of business from the “hard” currencies but that is something we need to accept, lest we end up in a society where slavery is enforced by … monetary means.


forget money

Greaber’s thesis about the orgin of money, is yet another opening.  I haven’t examined this deeply yet, but I think it’s deeply indicative of the same path I’ve been on.  Money as a psyco-social fact has deeply changed the way we think, enough so that it’s even hidden its own origin in myths that paint non-money users look “primitive” because all they can do is barter.

For me the heart of Graber’s message, though he doesn’t really seem to see it himself, is that we must raise our vision beyond money, beyond exchange, beyond value-for-value.  Where that leads us is not community currencies, or soft-money vs. hard-money, nor (obviously) does it lead us “back” to barter or the “gift-economy”.  Even the very phrasing “gift-economy” is something that’s been created from the vantage point of a money economy.  It compresses what is really a deep ecology of interaction types into what it considers one type transaction: the gift.  The supposed “gift-economy” is really a deeply relational economy, with many many levels of relation revealed and understood.  The way forward is to scaling that wealth of realational webbing, which can only be doing by a new expressive capacity which can reflect that web of wealth.

The purpose of my post was to try and illuminate the way forward: into the realm of conscious living systems wealth.  Where new expressive capacity, a language of flow, if you will, is what emerges.  BTW this isn’t a projection of a future.  It’s a description of what I see happenning around me.

As to how this is helpful for the project of EU policy growth, well, I think the key thing is that current institutions, governmental and corporate will be going in one of two directions about this emergence.  They will either help it happen, or will try to block it because it’s so alien to their own structures.  Again I see both trends.  This web-site is an example of the former option, but you see vested interests doing hostile things as they see non-monetary currencies edging into what were monetary realms.  For example, look at what’s going on in the US around p2p housing and ride-sharing.

Wow, just re-read this exchange. How lovely. Thank you for it. In fact I did read Distraction, and loved it, perhaps because you suggested it!

Perhaps its time for me now 10 years on, to write another post on openings, and where things are headed, which is precisely into the space you are talking about, scalability of current-see systems…

1 Like

I also re-read it with great pleasure. Some of your musings have been prescient, it seems. Count on me to engage with the next crop! :slightly_smiling_face: