Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten Things to Consider When Designing A Peer-to-Peer Reputation System

From Collaborative Consumption
How can the trust we form face-to-face be replicated in our online systems?
By Rachel Botsman on November 29, 2010

The success of many organizations in the Collaborative Consumption space relies on the strength of the peer-to-peer network they build for their community. The key ingredient in these online networks is their ability to replicate the trust we are able to build in our real-world exchanges in the online environment. Here are 10 key factors that help build an effective peer-to-peer reputation system.

1. Unforgivable behaviour: Identify the single most important good behaviour that the reputation mechanisms need to encourage. This will simultaneously act as a strong disincentive for bad behaviour.

2. Decipher: There is a gap between what people actually care about and what they think they care about. Test your system to clarify the difference.

3. Competition: We are innately wired to love being top of the table. Present your user rankings to create healthy competition among peers.


4. Quality: Celebrate and reward users who take the time to contribute quality feedback; they should become the benchmark for others.

5. Signal: People need to be crystal clear on what they are rating. Identify the main behaviour signal you want users to be able to share, eg like/dislike; satisfied/dissatisfied; trust/distrust; reliable/unreliable, etc.

6. Sticky ratings: Pick a primary scoring system (stars, ticks, tiers, thumbs, badges, numerical ratings) and give the ratings sticky names, such as “Power Seller”.


7. Trust dimensions: People build trust in different ways. Scoring systems are great but they are often binary. Build in qualitative feedback systems based on open-ended questions that anyone can answer and that will prompt people to share something revealing and meaningful about themselves.

8. People like me: We like to know, and tend to value, what our friends and people like us think of other people. Integrate “inner-circle” vouching mechanisms (for example, went to the same school, work in the same office) into your reputation system.

9. Peer police: An open reputation system must be peer-policed but if things do go wrong, your organisation needs to be on hand quickly to offer support, resolve disputes and weed out the vandals and abusers.

10. Mirror reality: The ultimate goal of your system is to virtually replicate the trust we form face to face. Mirror the questions and dynamics we use in physical reality.

“10 things” are from Rachel’s “The Reputation Economy” article that appeared in AFR BOSS Magazine. Read the full article here.

The First Day of Kwanzaa: Umoja and Time Banks

Dec 26, 2010
by Rhonda Winter
On Ecolocalizer

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, when we celebrate Umoja, a Kiswahili term meaning unity and togetherness. This includes the unity we share as members of an extended family and community, as well as our collective connections that we have with all life on the planet.

In honor of Kwanzaa, we spent part of today helping our friend Tara put a green roof on her chicken coop, baked cookies to share, and also made a delicious vegan lunch from the backyard garden. The spirit of togetherness and unity is always better with snacks.

While thinking about how to build community unity, I have also been pondering various creative ways that people have been investing their time, now that so many of our fellow citizens and neighbors are unemployed. Innovative locally based solutions and informal economies, like food carts, community farms, barter, regional currency and time banks, are becoming increasingly popular.
Bay Area Community Exchange

In addition to growing her own food, harvesting rainwater, composting and raising chickens, my friend Tara also participates in a local time bank. The time barter group is called Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE); and though it is just a couple of years old, the time bank is helping individuals to strengthen their communities by sharing their own unique gifts and skills with one another.

SF BACE Currency

The time exchange works like a local bank, but it keeps track of actual hours invested in the community, instead of paper money. The currency is time, and everyone’s time is equal. For every hour that you spend doing something for someone in your neighborhood, you earn one hour in exchange labor.

My friend Tara sometimes exchanges a dozen of her chickens’ organic eggs, recycled rain barrels, banana nut bread, locally made honey or a home made Sunday brunch, for other people’s traded labor or goods. On their website, BACE explains a little about how the time exchange works:

” A community timebank is like having an extended family to help out. Whether you give a music lesson, take care of someone’s pet, or take someone to a doctor’s appointment, one hour given equals one hour you can then use. The BACE Timebank honors the unique gifts, talents and resources that each of us has to share, regardless of age, employment or ethnic background, such as tutoring, yard work, repairs, running errands, and storytelling. Timebanks also help enrich our lives with things we may not normally be able to afford, like language lessons or massage. Spending time dollars instead of cash, can help you save money for expenses like rent, medicine, and food.

The formal economy is unstable and currently in a recession, but we can create community resiliency through the informal economy, providing a different kind of security based on relationships, trust, caring, and reciprocity. Many other countries have large informal economies that help people meet their basic needs through local connections, as did this country earlier on. By participating in the timebank, you are creating a more caring culture and healthy community to live in that will help take better care of all of us in the long run.

Timebanks have been helping to rebuild the informal, village economy for over twenty years. There are now over 300 communities in 22 countries that are using this (pay it forward) system to help their communities grow and thrive.”

For more information on how to get involved with the time bank, please visit their website:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves: Further Adventures in the Territories of Hope

Published on
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
by Rebecca Solnit

After the Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was easy enough (on your choice of screen) to see a flaming oil platform, the very sea itself set afire with huge plumes of black smoke rising, and the dark smear of what would become five million barrels of oil beginning to soak birds and beaches. Infinitely harder to see and less dramatic was the vast counterforce soon at work: the mobilizing of tens of thousands of volunteers, including passionate locals from fishermen in the Louisiana Oystermen's Association to an outraged tattoo-artist-turned-organizer, from visiting scientists, activist groups, and Catholic Charities reaching out to Vietnamese fishing families to the journalist and oil-policy expert Antonia Juhasz, and Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe in Grand Bayou. And don't forget the ceaseless toil of the Sierra Club's local environmental justice organizer, the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the New Orleans-born poet-turned-investigator Abe Louise Young, and so many more than I can list here.

I think of one ornithologist I met in Grand Bayou who had been dispatched to the Gulf by an organization, but had decided to stay on even if his funding ran out. This mild-mannered man with a giant pair of binoculars seemed to have some form of pneumonia, possibly induced by oil-fume inhalation, but that didn't stop him. He was among the thousands whose purpose in the Gulf had nothing to do with profit, unless you're talking about profiting the planet.

The force he represented mattered there, as it does everywhere -- a force that has become ever more visible to me as I live and journey among those who dedicate themselves to their ideals and act on their solidarities. Only now, though, am I really beginning to understand the full scope of its power.
Long ago, Adam Smith wrote about the "invisible hand" of the free market, a phrase which always brings to my mind horror movies and Gothic novels in which detached and phantasmagorical limbs go about their work crawling and clawing away. The idea was that the economy would somehow self-regulate and so didn't need to be interfered with further -- or so still go the justifications for capitalism, even though it took an enormous armature of government interventions to create the current mix of wealth and poverty in our world. Your tax dollars pay for wars that make the world safe for giant oil corporations, and those corporations hand over huge sums of money to their favorite politicians (and they have so many favorites!) to regulate the political system to continue to protect, reward, and enrich themselves. But you know that story well.

As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren't the corrosions and failures of this system, but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand -- the one that gives rather than takes -- is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.

The Iceberg Economy

Who wouldn't agree that our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness? As it happens, however, huge areas of our lives are also based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return (principles that have little or nothing to do with competition, selfishness, or scarcity economics). Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

Think of the acts of those -- from daycare worker to nursing home aide or the editor of -- who do more, and do it more passionately, than they are paid to do; think of the armies of the unpaid who are at "work" counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand and making every effort to loosen its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline.

Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it, and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness. Behind the system we all know, in other words, is a shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand. Much of its work now lies in simply undoing the depredations of the official system. Its achievements are often hard to see or grasp. How can you add up the foreclosures and evictions that don't happen, the forests that aren't leveled, the species that don't go extinct, the discriminations that don't occur?

The official economic arrangements and the laws that enforce them ensure that hungry and homeless people will be plentiful amid plenty. The shadow system provides soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support. In the meantime, others seek to reform or transform the system from the inside and out, and in this way, inch by inch, inroads have been made on many fronts over the past half century.

The terrible things done, often in our name and thanks in part to the complicity of our silence or ignorance, matter. They are what wells up daily in the news and attracts our attention. In estimating the true make-up of the world, however, gauging the depth and breadth of this other force is no less important. What actually sustains life is far closer to home and more essential, even if deeper in the shadows, than market forces and much more interesting than selfishness.

Most of the real work on this planet is not done for profit: it's done at home, for each other, for affection, out of idealism, and it starts with the heroic effort to sustain each helpless human being for all those years before fending for yourself becomes feasible. Years ago, when my friends started having babies I finally began to grasp just what kind of labor goes into sustaining one baby from birth just to toddlerhood.

If you do the math, with nearly seven billion of us on Earth right now, that means seven billion years of near-constant tending only to get children upright and walking, a labor of love that adds up to more than the age of this planet. That's not a small force, even if it is only a force of maintenance. Still, the same fierce affection and determination pushes back everywhere at the forces of destruction.

Though I'm not sure I could bring myself to watch yet again that Christmas (and banking) classic It's a Wonderful Life, its premise -- that the effects of what we do might best be gauged by considering what the world would be like without us -- is still useful. For the American environment, this last year was, at best, a mixed one. Nonetheless, polar bears got some protection and the building of at least one nuclear power plant was prevented; the work of groups like the Sierra Club continued to keep new coal-fired power plants at bay; and Californians defeated a sinister oil-company-sponsored initiative, to name just a few of the more positive developments. Erase all the groups at work on the environment, hardly noticed by the rest of us, and it would have been a massacre.

The Alternatives to "There Is No Alternative"

We not only have a largely capitalist economy but an ideological system that justifies this as inevitable. "There is no alternative," as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to like to say. Many still argue that this is simply the best human nature, nasty to the core, can possibly hope to manage.

Fortunately, it's not true. Not only is there an alternative, but it's here and always has been. Recently, I had dinner with Renato Redentor Constantino, a climate and social justice activist from the Philippines, and he mentioned that he never cared for the slogan, "Another world is possible." That other world is not just possible, he pointed out, it's always been here.

We tend to think revolution has to mean a big in-the-streets, winner-take-all battle that culminates with regime change, but in the past half century it has far more often involved a trillion tiny acts of resistance that sometimes cumulatively change a society so much that the laws have no choice but to follow after. Certainly, American society has changed profoundly over the past half century for those among us who are not male, or straight, or white, or Christian, becoming far less discriminatory and exclusionary.

Radicals often speak as though we live in a bleak landscape in which the good has yet to be born, the revolution yet to begin. As Constantino points out, both of them are here, right now, and they always have been. They are represented in countless acts of solidarity and resistance, and sometimes they even triumph. When they don't -- and that's often enough -- they still do a great deal to counterbalance the official organization of our country and economy. That organization ensures oil spills, while the revolutionaries, if you want to call them that, head for the birds and the beaches, and maybe, while they're at it, change the official order a little, too.

Of course, nothing's quite as simple as that. After all, there are saints in government and monsters in the progressive movement; there's petroleum in my gas tank and money in my name in banks. To suggest that the world is so easily divided into one hand and the other, selfish and altruistic, is impossibly reductive, but talking in binaries has an advantage: it lets you focus on what is seldom acknowledged.

To say there is no alternative dismisses both the desire for and the possibility of alternative arrangements of power. For example, how do you square a Republican Party hell-bent on preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans with a new poll by two university economists suggesting that nearly all of us want something quite different? The pollsters showed a cross-section of Americans pie charts depicting three degrees of wealth distribution in three societies, and asked them what their ideal distribution of wealth might be. The unidentified charts ranged from our colossal disparity to absolute equality, with Swedish moderation in-between.

Most chose Sweden as the closest to their ideal. According to the pollsters, the choice suggested that "Americans prefer some inequality to perfect equality, but not to the degree currently present in the United States."

It might help to remember how close we had come to Sweden by the late 1970s, when income disparity was at its low ebb and the Reagan revolution was yet to launch. Of course, these days we in the U.S. aren't offered Swedish wealth distribution, since the system set up to represent us actually spends much of its time representing self-interest and moneyed interests instead. The Republicans are now being offered even larger bribes than the Democrats to vote in the interests of the ultra-affluent, whether corporate or individual. Both parties, however, helped produce the Supreme Court that, in January, gave corporations and the wealthy unprecedented power in our political system, power that it will take all our energy to counteract and maybe, someday, force into retreat.

By the way, in searching for that Thatcher no-alternative quote, I found myself on a page at Wikipedia that included the following fundraising plea from a Russian woman scientist: "Almost every day I come home from work and spend several hours improving Wikipedia! Why would I donate so much of my free time? Because I believe that by giving my time and effort -- along with thousands of other people of different nationalities, religion, ages -- we will one day have shared and free knowledge for all people."

Imperfect as it may be, ad-free, nonprofit Wikipedia's sheer scope -- 3.5 million entries in English alone, to say nothing of smaller Norwegian, Vietnamese, Persian, and Waray-Waray versions with more than 100,000 articles each -- is an astonishing testimony to a human urge to work without recompense when the cause matters.

Butterfly Spotting

The novelist and avid lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov once asked someone coming down a trail in the Rockies whether he'd seen any butterflies. The answer was negative; there were no butterflies. Nabokov, of course, went up that same trail and saw butterflies galore.

You see what you're looking for. Most of us are constantly urged to see the world as, at best, a competitive place and, at worst, a constant war of each against each, and you can see just that without even bothering to look too hard. But that's not all you can see.

Writing my recent book about disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell, led me to look at the extraordinary way people behave when faced with catastrophes and crises. From news coverage to Hollywood movies, the media suggest that, in these moments of turbulence when institutions often cease to function, we revert to our original nature in a Hobbesian wilderness where people fend for themselves.

Here's the surprise though: in such situations, most of us fend for each other most of the time -- and beautifully at that. Perhaps this, rather than (human) nature red in tooth and claw, is our original nature. At least, the evidence is clear that people not only behave well, but take deep pleasure in doing so, a pleasure so intense it suggests that an unspoken, unmet appetite for meaningful work and vibrant solidarities lives powerfully within us. Those appetites can be found reflected almost nowhere in the mainstream media, and we are normally told that the world in which such appetites might be satisfied is "utopian," impossible to reach because of our savage competitiveness, and so should be left to the most hopeless of dreamers.

Even reports meant to be sympathetic to the possibility that another better world could exist in us right now accept our Social-Darwinian essence as a given. Consider a November New York Times piece on empathy and bullying in which David Bornstein wrote,

"We know that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that there is also a biological basis for human compassion. Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up. Research by Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months behave altruistically."

Are we really hardwired to be aggressive and selfish, as Bornstein says at the outset? Are you? No evidence for such a statement need be given, even in an essay that provides plenty of evidence to the contrary, as it's supposed to be a fact universally acknowledged, rather than an opinion.

The Compassion Boom

If I were to use the normal language of the marketplace right now, I'd say that compassion and altruism are hot. It might, however, be more useful to say that the question of the nature of human nature is being reconsidered at the moment by scientists, economists, and social theorists in all sorts of curious combinations and coalitions. Take, for example, the University of California's Greater Good Science Center, which describes itself as studying "the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society." Founding director Dacher Keltner writes, "Recent studies of compassion argue persuasively for a different take on human nature, one that rejects the preeminence of self-interest."

A few dozen miles away is Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which likewise draws on researchers in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to Buddhist ethics. Bornstein's essay mentions another organization, Roots of Empathy in Toronto, that reduces violence and increases empathy among children. Experiments, programs, and activities like this proliferate.

Independent scholars and writers are looking at the same underlying question, and stories in the news this year -- such as those on school bullying -- address questions of how our society gets organized, and for whose benefit. The suicides of several queer young people generated a groundswell of anti-bullying organizing and soul-searching, notably the largely online "It Gets Better" attempt to reach out to queer youth.

In a very different arena, neoliberalism -- the economic system that lets the invisible hand throttle what it might -- has finally come into question in the mainstream (whereas if you questioned it in 1999, you were a troglodyte and a flat-Earther). Hillary Clinton lied her way through the 2008 primary, claiming she never supported NAFTA, and her husband, who brought it to us, publicly apologized for the way his policies eliminated Haiti's rice tariffs. "It was a mistake," Bill Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10th. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did."

Think of those doing the research on altruism and compassion as a radical scholarly movement, one that could undermine the philosophical and political assumptions behind our current economic system, which is also our political system. These individuals and organizations are putting together the proof that not only is another world possible, but it's been here all along, as visible, should we care to look, as Nabokov's butterflies.

Do not underestimate the power of this force. The world could be much better if more of us were more active on behalf of what we believe in and love; it would be much worse if countless activists weren't already at work from Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and the climate activists in Tuvalu to the homeless activists around the corner from me. When I studied disasters past, what amazed me was not just that people behaved so beautifully, but that, in doing so, they found such joy. It seems that something in their natures, starved in ordinary times, was fed by the opportunity, under the worst of conditions, to be generous, brave, idealistic, and connected; and when this appetite was fulfilled, the joy shone out, even amid the ruins.

Don't think of this as simply a description of my hopes for 2011, but of what was going on right under our noses in 2010; it's a force we would do well to name, recognize, celebrate, and enlarge upon now. It is who we are, if only we knew it.

Rebecca Solnit hangs out with climate-change activists, homeless advocates, booksellers, civil libertarians, anti-war veterans, moms, urbanists, Zen monks, and investigative journalists and she sure didn't write this piece for the money. She is the author of 13 books, including last year's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, and this year's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Timebank Movement Level Research Survey

We need your help in collecting information that can inform our collective efforts to improve the accessibility of timebanking to all who can benefit from it. As you know from earlier correspondence, we (Marc Brakken, UW; Preston Austin, Dane Co. TimeBank; and Stephanie Rearick, DCTB and TimeBanks USA) have been accepted to present a paper at an upcoming conference in Lyon, France. The topic is “30 years of Complementary Currencies: What next?” and our paper is titled “Deploying Timebanking for Human-Scaled Economic Development“

As part of our research for the paper and, more importantly, for future development of cooperative and collaborative tools and infrastructure for this movement, we need to learn what’s already happening and what’s in the works at a movement level around the world.

Could you please take a few minutes in the next week to reply to the following questions? We appreciate your help and plan to use the information we gather to work with timebanking organizations and individual movement-level thinkers to help all of us be better equipped for success.

The form is online here:

If you have other questions you think we’ve missed please let us know! There is a separate set of questions we intend to ask (or work with others doing similar research) of individual timebanks. The list above is geared toward developing a better understanding of the state of the movement.

For questions/comments on the survey, please contact Stephanie Rearick at steph (at)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cash, Check or BNotes- Weighing a new city currency option

From the Baltimore Guide
October, 13, 2010

European nations have the Euro. Would that make Baltimore’s projected new currency the Balto? The Crustacean? The Hon?

How about the BNote?

If the organizers of the Baltimore Green Currency Association have their way, the city’s new alternative money system will launch next spring.

Jeff Dicken of Canton and Michael Tew of Greektown are spearheading the effort to create an alternative economy, one that would, if all goes according to plan, pump money straight into local businesses and keep commerce local.

The B-note is a genre of money known as “complementary currency” that is designed to be used in a specific and limited area. Dicken says such currency is in use “in dozens of cities in the U.S.”

The Berkshires, he notes, are home to BerkShares, and Ithaca to Ithaca Hours. Pittsburgh has the Pittsburgh Plenty.

The idea is that the currency is used in small independent businesses that are based in the city.B-Notes would not be used in large chain stores or other organizations with out-of-town, or out-of-state, headquarters.

Local currency, notes Dicken, helps strengthen the relationship of local supply and demand, plus “it re-introduces a social aspect to commerce. Buying things locally reduces the need to bring things in from otuside the community.”

In addition, he notes, local currency “provides economic opportunity — we can provide very small loans, create jobs, etc. These would be for loans that conventional banks won’t touch.”

And while there’s a name for the currency so far, the look of the note is still being decided upon. In fact, there’s a contest for local artists interested in contributing; information is available on the website, Ideally, it sould be more colorful than standard U.S. currency, and of a slightly different size.

At the moment, the association’s efforts are devoted to marketing the idea to local businesses who might be willing to work with the new currency.

“Right now we’re in the education phase because there are quite a few people who don’t know exactly what money is. We want to raise people’s consciousness,” says Dicken.

“Complementary currencies have been shown to circulate within their region many times faster than the national currency, which increases everyone’s sales,” says a statement on the organization’s website.

“This is one reason local currencies became popular in the 1930s – they were an effective way to build business and create jobs as the effects of the Great Depression continued to be felt across the country.”

The initial rollout of BNotes is planned for Hampden. Dicken says thast several businesses have expressed interest, including Breathe Books and Alpha Graphics. If the rollout is successful in Hampden, it may move to other neighborhoods. “One avenue we may use to expand the area where the BNote is in use, is to coordinate the expansion with an organization such as Baltimore Main Streets,” he says, and mentions Fells Point and Highlandtown.

Chris Ryer of Southeast CDC in Highlandtown says that in general, he thinks local currency is a good idea. He thinks Highlandtown would be a better rollout point than Hampden, being well-balanced with a number of small local merchants, and filled with a population that likes to use those businesses, such as the thrift stores, hair salons, groceries and more. In particularly, he adds, the Latino population would be a strong factor in the acceptance of another form of currency.

The BNote would have a value equivalent to a dollar; in other words, one Bnote for $1, and so forth. However, in exchanging currency, there are incentives. $10 would be worth 11 Bnotes. If changing money back to U.S. dollars, $10 would be worth 9 BNotes.

Rob Santoni, controller of Santoni’s Supermarket, says that if the BNotes roll out as described, “I can see us looking at it. Any program that can link city patrons to city business is a good thing. It puts a wall around the city and makes it our own national with our own dollars that we don’t leak to the suburbs.”

However, he acknowledges, there’s a big difference between a great theory and a working financial system, since “I just see the logistics and the banking regulations as steep hurdles to overcome.”

Dicken knows that there are skeptics out there, but describes alternative currency as “a hybrid barter system,” and believes that it will gain acceptance much the same way frequent flyer miles, Nintendo points and credit card rebates have.

“Ultimately,” he notes, “if there were some kind of a dollar crisis, the BNote could emerge as a stable source of value.”

According to Dicken, the Baltimore Green Currency Association is working with the Patapsco Bank to provide services, and expects some stores to act as cambios, or exchange offices, for BNotes.

Fells Point resident Laura L. Gamble, former president of Bank of America-Maryland and a founding member of Skipjack Partners, a business consultancy, is a little more reserved.

“To me, it looks like a clever merchant discount program since you get 11 local dollars for $10 U.S. I think the difficulty in programs like this is keeping the local currency circulating because people may use it once to try it, but if there is not a lot of outlets for it, people’s interest may wane. The question will be whether the discount and the desire to support local merchants will be enough of an incentive to keep it going.

“That’s my two cents – in U.S. Currency, legal tender for all debts public and private,” she jokes.

Can You Live Without Money for a Year?

Mark Boyle did—and he says you can, too. (If you don't mind making paper out of mushrooms and brushing your teeth with cuttlefish bones.)

From Mother Jones

By Emily Loftis
Fri Oct. 15, 2010

By choice, Mark Boyle basically doesn't have a cent—or, more accurately, a pence—to his name. Boyle lives in rural England in a trailer he spotted on He feeds himself by growing everything from barley to potatoes, foraging wild edibles like berries and nettles, and occasionally dumpster-diving for luxuries like margarine and bread. He cooks with a wood stove fashioned from large restaurant olive cans; brushes his teeth with his own mixture of cuttlefish bones and fennel seed; and makes paper and ink from mushrooms. He barters labor for rent, Internet service, and whatever else he can't find, grow, or make.

This experiment in currency-free living started in 2008 after Boyle, an Irishman who worked in the organic food industry, saw Gandhi and was inspired by the Indian nationalist's legendary asceticism. Boyle's experience became the basis for his book, Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living, which has just been released in the states. By the end of his year without dough, he'd decided that the life he'd gained by shedding currency was worth continuing. When I recently spoke with Boyle, he was making plans to buy land with the royalties from the book—his only cash transaction in the last two years—to start a moneyless community. He talked about the insights that drove him to make his new lifestyle more permanent.

Mother Jones: It seems pretty ironic that you were a student of economics and now you're moneyless.

Mark Boyle: You're right, it's a bit ironic. But I think it's wrong to think of economics as money. The actual word itself actually revolves around meeting one's needs. Money is one way of meeting our needs, but it's only one way. I think I couldn't do what I do today without studying economics, because you need to understand the system first—how it currently works—in order to change it.

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MJ: Do you ever feel like you should be more engaged in the political process in order to promote sustainability?

MB: I feel like what I'm doing is a political process, to be honest. I think every single thing we do is political. Even if you go to the shops and buy a packet of biscuits, then you're buying into the system, willingly or not. I think we're conditioned into thinking political systems as being either communism or capitalism. I think there are a lot more options available. We just haven't explored them. My statement is really a message to the environmental movement more than anything else.

MJ: Whom do you think your book will have more of an impact on, serious environmentalists or people who were never interested in ecological issues?

MB: I've tried to write it in a language that is accessible for more people. When talking to an environmentalist, [I try] to really push the boundaries of that environmentalist. But I also try to communicate with the general public. I think that's the key—to not use one method of communication for all.

MJ: How has living without cash changed the way you interact with the wider community?

MB: In current society, your security is cash, and that has huge repercussions. But when you take that out of the equation, you have to have relationships with people and you have to have relationships with the environment to survive. I have more friends than almost ever. We're convinced we need money to have friends and partners, but actually I've found the opposite to be true.

MJ: You write that a lot of your interviews are comprised of repetitive questions. So, what is a question that nobody's asked you?

MB: I find that really striking that at the start, nobody was ever really asking me about what it's like choosing to be a person without a penny in a world that's striving for more and more.

MJ: Well, what is it like?

MB: At the start, it was quite difficult. I grew up in Ireland and part of the culture is that you almost fight to be the first person who buys a drink at the bar. It's quite a giving culture. Going out to a bar and not even being able to buy myself a drink, let alone for my friends—that totally brought up the whole male ego stuff and wanting to be the provider. And then I learned one of the most beautiful ways you can give is giving of yourself and your time. I feel like I've worked through a lot of that and it doesn't bother me anymore. But it definitely wasn't easy at the beginning.

MJ: Can you elaborate more on your concept of not putting more energy into getting food than what you'll get out of it?

MB: It's kind of compared to a tiger or a lion; if they feel like they're running after their prey and using too much energy, they won't do it because there's no point in expending so much energy to gain less than they're going to spend. We don't think in those terms because we've got all the fossil fuels and we basically have an insect-free, risk-free energy source. Our food has got way more energy embodied in it than we actually gain from it. But it's just because we've got access to fossil fuel. Once that goes, we're going to have to go back to a whole different way of growing our food again.

MJ: A lot of people's survival is built into the current system, like urban populations or people who can't access land. Assuming that a lot of people adopted the money-free lifestyle, wouldn't everything collapse?

MB: This is about transition. We couldn't move from what we are today to—even in 10 years' time—living completely moneyless. It's about moving away from complete dependency on money, which is a very insecure position to be in, anyway. You can't have all your eggs in one basket. As more and more people move away from one economic model to another economic model, then the market reacts to that in certain ways and people produce less. It's more about slow evolutionary process than a revolutionary process. And that's quite key to the whole thing. Our whole agricultural system is based on fossil fuels. Each gallon of fossil fuel is the same as 40 man-hours per week. That's a lot of extra man hours. And so if we're going to get back to a way of agriculture that doesn't involve oil, then people are going to have to transition away from some of the jobs that aren't necessary.

MJ: Tell me about the moneyless community you've formed since writing your book.

MB: All the proceeds of the book are going into a trust to buy land for the first community and hopefully subsequent communities as well. In a kind of similar way, back in the day, slaves would buy their way out of slavery so the kids could be free. We're buying pockets of land out of the money economy and then using that land for workshops and courses for free for people who will come along and experience moneyless living and learn all the skills of moneyless living.

MJ: How many people intend to live there?

MB: We get about 100 emails a week from people wanting to stay. I'm starting with a core group of those people whom I know and whom I've built up a relationship with for the last few years. So it's about 14 who are bringing the project forward. We're going to build capacity for 20 people and roughly 8 of those people are going to be permanent, and probably another 8 will be kind of transient. We're trying to build in an entry level for people who want to experience it. So if people aren't ready to make the whole step, they can come for a weekend or come for a month, or come for two months.

MJ: You write that self-discipline is made to liberate and not to constrain the soul. After your experiment, do you still find this to be true?

MB: Yeah. I think greatest thing I've gained from the last two years has been a massive sense of liberation. There's a really good quote from Epicurus; he says, "If you want to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his wants but subtract from his desires." When you reduce what you need in life to the bare minimum, then that's when you achieve true freedom. It's kind of like an alcoholic: You have to keep drinking more and more alcohol to sustain a certain level of drunkenness. In a way, I think we're like that. We've never got enough. So the more we consume, the more we want. And the more we want, the more we have to work to pay for all these things and insure them and then get stressed about them and protect them and get bigger houses. I think true freedom comes with letting go of them.

Emily Loftis is an editorial intern at Mother Jones.