Monday, April 06, 2009

Let a thousand monies bloom

The protesters in London have been chanting "Abolish money!" But, maybe there's a better way to avoid the global market quicksand. Douglas Rushkoff says to "program your own money". The answer isn't no money, but our own new currencies outside of the centralized currency monopolies. In other words, let a thousand currencies bloom.

"Once we accept the fact that the money and banks we have grown accustomed to using are not the only ways to generate capital, we liberate ourselves and our businesses from a finance industry that has enjoyed a monopoly over our commerce for much too long. They have not only abused our trust through corrupt self-dealing, but abused their privilege through systemic usury. Businesses are only obligated to support their employees, owners, and customers -- not an entire finance industry."

Sound crazy? Maybe, but only until you realize that a number of communities are already doing just this. USA Today reports on all sorts of local currencies that have sprung up: Ithaca Hours, Detroit Cheers, Plenty in North Carolina. They support the local economies and are not traded on the stock exchange. The real trick will be creating currencies that aren't tracked by any government. Of course, we can imagine that this is happening already, outside of the eye of USA Today.

And it's happened elsewhere. "In 1995, as recession rocked Japan, unemployment rose and currency became scarce. This made it particularly difficult for people to continue to take care of their elderly relatives, who often lived in distant areas. The Sawayaka Welfare Foundation developed a complementary currency by which a young person could earn credits for taking care of an elderly person, and then spend them on the care of their own relatives in distant towns. At last count, the alternative currency was accepted at 372 health centers throughout Japan, and all administered by a simple piece of software. Close to a thousand alternative currencies are now in use in Japan."

Something like this also exists on the 200 person island that my father lives on. There's no bank on the island, so nearly all exchanges are swaps- for example, my father will fix someone's car and get a dinner in exchange. Most business on the island is part of this gift economy. Not only does it work better than money or credit; it's also considerably more convivial.

I think a lot of people are looking to keep doing business, while getting off the grid. Fixing a car should have more value than betting on other people's debt. Why let the market (and its attendant jackoffs) decide value? Perhaps the trick is in creating home-grown currencies and invisible exchanges- aiming not for market visibility, but total invisibility. What's encouraging about it is that for all the people who will say, "Nope, never gonna happen!" there will be just as many who will be quietly making it happen.


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