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Alternative Money

Alternative money systems. Yay or nay? For me, in my ongoing quest to be part of the movement that is saving the world, I say, regrettably, nay.

I can’t deny that alternative money sounds cool, it sounds well-intentioned, and they’ve got *something* going with the idea that money needs to be questioned. But I just don’t buy their solution to the whole issue.

Alternative money is… money. It’s different money. But… it’s money.

Revolution, to me, looks like a simultaneous internal and external awakening among many individuals at the same time which leads to the spawning of a gift economy system where it really is “each according to their ability to each according to their need” – but for real this time. We can start small, with experimental ecovillages or towns dedicated to showcase the system and build awareness, then eventually this movement will take over the world.

Gift economy is the real deal. It’s the real answer to the problem which everyone faces when they come up against trying to work out economics in a fair and loving way. But it’s not *easy*. It’ll almost definitely be hundreds of years before the world population at large is ready for such a change. Anyone who is interested in working towards this goal (I am) should build some sort of conspiracy centred around social change that picks its battles, has a detailed strategy worked out, and which aims for the very long term. In 3-5 years I may be the guy to start this conspiracy. Talk to me then if you’re interested.

What can I say about alternative money? It’s just… you know, money. It’s still exchange. It’s still, “Sorry, I can’t help you unless you help me, but if it makes you feel better it’s a vicious cycle cause if I gave of myself freely in this world everyone would take advantage of me.” Either you are doing exchange, or you are doing a gift economy. I don’t see much difference.

The major flaw with alternative money is just this. It doesn’t solve anything, except perhaps to express a bit of your discontent with the standard way money is done. Secondarily, there are practicality issues that make it just *hard* to really use alternative money. And why would anyone waste their effort on something with so little returns? I know I’m sounding businesslike, but what if those returns could be in the form of some other positive change in the world? Is alternative money worth it in this light?

Trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, alternative money could have two other positive sides to it.

One, it is free of the awful banking system which is in place in our society nowadays. Banks and governments invent money out of nowhere for themselves, resulting in inflation which can be considered an effective “hidden tax”. (And a hidden subsidy for banks… much needed of course…). An alternative currency that was free of inflation would be pretty convenient, supposing it was also actually useful to buy stuff with. The only thing is, the one alternative currency I know in any detail, the Spanish Eco, is pegged to the Euro and is subject to the Euro’s inflation. I don’t know if this is the rule for alternative currencies.

The other positive side I can think of is that people feel money is “dirty” and unconsciously act as if it were such. Perhaps by using an alternative currency which they believe isn’t as “dirty” they can act in a more positive way. I think this unconscious feeling must be a large part of what created alternative currencies in the first place. The only thing is, I think it’s better to confront the negative emotion directly, and not try to run from it into mirage-like false solutions which are never going to get us anywhere.

In conclusion, skip the instant gratification, ignore the Utopians, forget it being somehow *easy* to change the world, and sign up for the long haul, real work, real results stuff. In the end that’s the only thing that’s going to actually be worth the sacrifice.

Edit 13/06/2013:

I’ve since seen a more or less reasonable-sounding person advocate for bitcoin, the most popular version of alternative money. Bitcoin, and his explanation of it, seemed a lot smarter than the “Eco”. I think my criticisms are likely to still have some meaning, though, and it remains that Bitcoin is still in the idealistic stage, not very practical as an actual currency. At least, not as far as I know.


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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Albalida January 29, 2012, 6:29 am

    A friend of mine has two parents who are both economists, so he maintains that at the root of it all, money represents work. It’s the time and energy that you spend contributing to society, that society promises you will be reimbursed for.

    Unfortunately, nothing is more easily broken than a promise like that, made by a collective with so little focus. I see that the “invisible hands” or the collective that determines the value of money, don’t care about sustainability, or else it would have adjusted the system– it would have mattered that fossil fuels are not being made anymore, rather than being cheap in the slice of time that we have a lot and gradually getting more expensive as we allow our civilization to be built around it. The collective is also too distracted to arbitrate things like fair pay– there are people who are paid a disproportionately large amount for very little work, and many others who are overworked and underpaid by comparison. When the very value of the promise of society made manifest, by money, when the value of that goes down, it’s at once nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault.

    Or maybe the reptilian shapeshifting aliens who run the banks are to blame somehow.

    I like the system in Scott Westerfeld’s dystopian young adult novel, “Extras”. People who took steady jobs that kept the city functioning, were given a kind of currency called merits. Academic success was rewarded with this merit-money, rather than knowledge being its own reward that a student would be expected to translate into a lucrative skill much later. What the main character was really after, was fame, because that was the currency of the innovators rather than the steady workers– though every person had some balance of both merits and fame, and both could be exchanged for goods– and depended merely on how many people noticed that person’s innovation. People still found the flaws in the the system, in ways like giving some random person fame points just by saying their name repeatedly for no reason.

    On one hand, I can see how fans of the author would see the main character as unbearably vapid, so wholeheartedly supporting a riskily nepotistic side of that world’s economic system, not to mention how the fame currency is supposed to reward innovators but actually rewards via conformity. On the other hand, it does recognize that other people are a resource: the people who notice you, and care. This system allows love to physically feed a person. Of course, that’s sci-fi for you.

  • Carmen February 7, 2012, 3:53 pm

    You talk in this piece as if low iailntfon was an accident of some sort. The other great manipulation of our times is the acquiescence of the Fed and Treasury with the Chinese currency peg. Geither has had many opportunities to name the Chinese as currency manaipulators…he pulled back from the brink in March 2010 on the promise that the Chinese would alow the appreciation of the Yuan. This hasn’t happened in October 2010. Why? The artificially low Yuan feeds into the US CPI calculation as a large chunk of consumer goods that don’t generally experience price rises and in fact have fallen in price (certainly over the last decade). This offsets (hides) price rises from domestic service providers (banks and insurance companies, etc) while the Fed is left to crow that interest rates don’t need to rise because iailntfon has been ‘tamed’. Sure the banks control the economy…but the Fed and Treasury are complicit. The industrial base of the US has been sold off to fund US bank profits that could only be made under a ‘permanent’ low interest rate regime (that drove the bubble). That’s how we got into this recession. Obama and the Dems are just as useless as the GOP when it comes to dismantling these hijinx. Both parties rely on Fed monetary policy to bail them out of their fiscal excesses.

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