Thursday, July 16, 2009

Beyond Money

I went to a panel and discussion last night hosted by a spawn of Daniel Pinchbeck’s Evolver group, which aims to create positive transformation of consciousness by 2012. The topic of the discussion was “Beyond Money” with Guillaume Le Bleu from Open Money in San Francisco and Matthew Edwards from Circle Center in Fairfax.

Guillaume talked about tools for facilitating indirect reciprocity or karmic payback for good deeds in the community in order to reinforce the doing of good deeds and support the lives of those that do them, including creating reputation-based systems that certify the goods deeds and then receive economic benefits in their communities. One example given was when people help fix potholes in the road, there is no direct payback. But we could facilitate that payback by giving them some kind of certificate that they could then use at a bike shop for a discount.

Matthew emphasized building networks and systems of trust and reciprocity or gift-giving within the local community that meet everyone’s needs. Right now we usually rely on a small family or friends circle that meets few needs without money and then a much wider circle that meets needs through the monetary system and global economy. We could develop (or redevelop) the middle circle of local community that could meet many of our needs through alternative currencies. We can do this through things like time exchanges that don’t place too much emphasis on keeping score. He has a system that allows the receiver of a service to make a gift to the giver of the service in whatever amount they see fit.

The most interesting discussion blossomed in the World Café. We came up with more questions than answers. Matthew raised another question, “ how do we bridge gift economies and alternative currency systems?” –bringing the best of the two together. Along a similar vein, I observed that there seems to be two primary goals that currencies systems seem to want to meet: achieving better allocation of resources/getting good things done and overcoming alienation to create community and trust. So I asked, “how do we create systems that synergistically meet both of these goals?”

We spent some time in small groups discussing these questions and came up with more questions. How do create systems that assess true value, not market value? You can create a system that minimizes the individual accounting of services and goods so that there is space to value things in other ways, using gifts to reward, simple accounting of hour-for-hour, offering zero and up sliding scale, making sure everyone’s needs are met. Creating abundance of things a community needs permits less commodification and then other values emerge. If exchanges are not moderated simply by the market and how much cash you have in your account, it permits the complexity of the individual and community context to be more transparent and hence exchanges can be adjusted based on principle (how much does this person need this thing and how good have they been to the community) rather than the simple question of, “do they have the money to pay?”

Reputation and trust-based systems help reinforce doing good for the community, but the system should in some way make sure that everyone’s needs are met regardless of their reputation, work or status or there will be individual and possibly community breakdown. People should receive rewards for doing positive acts in their community but no one should be made to suffer as the community as a whole will likely suffer.

The market often makes money flow to certain people or businesses based on image and advertising, not what they actually do. We have politicians, celebrities, pollution companies, financial institutions, internet companies all making lots of money regardless of the fact that few do much for the world given their enormous resources. How do we create a system that assess rewards what people actually do to help meet needs and create happiness and not just what their image purports they contribute? This can be done in smaller scale networks of trust so that transparency and feedback can occur within the group. This also makes sure that everyone, at least in the network, is cared for. Is it much harder to let people you know in a circle of trust fall through the cracks if they become unable to care for themselves than if we are all separated by an anonymous medium of exchange. People then are also less seen as functions or roles in the economic system to be owned by the employer and supported by dollars if their service is up to par rather all divine beings worthy of care and love and autonomy to make some decision about how they spend their life energy. Exchanges based on complexity of context and relation rather than anonymous exchange also help build community and collective wisdom as you are developing connections with others and assessing how the whole context and the value of the exchange fits into the transaction.

This group was optimistic that synergies of gift economies and community currencies would help facilitate the necessary transformation of consciousness to make 2012 something to look forward to. We already working on it. Come join us. Or start a project yourself.

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