Latest News in the World of Complementary Currencies
From time to time the CES gets accused of being “just another money system”. Is this the case? Are Talents just another form of money? To be able to answer this question, we first need to be clear on what money is. Then we can make the comparison. According to the classical definition, money is anything that […]read more
I’ve learned in the last decade just how hard it is to work outside the money system. Its like trying to work outside of FaceBook – there just isn’t anything else equivalent, and all your connections are there. If you drop out of the money system you lose all your trading partners and may struggle to build a new network in a field which is narrower and has less powerful tools.
So if we want to make an alternative to bank-debt money, we need to be working at scale. There is almost no point replacing one money for another if every local pound is to be converted back to cash at the end. Alternative currencies only displace fiat currencies meaningfully when they literally go around and around the economy, and that means, in a complex, developed economy, that it must have a lot of traders. We saw how the Brixton Pound failed on the high street and became an art project. The Bristol Pound went further down the supply chain but not far enough. So how do we achieve the needed scale?
One obvious answer which hasn’t been tried yet is to cover a larger area. Trapping pounds in the local economy is only beneficial if they are circulating. So now the UK Mutual Credit Network is creating a UK-wide trading network, with the intention of diverting more trade towards wholesome producers, and displacing pounds with mutually-issued and mutually guaranteed credit.
The business model is pretty standard – they will form as a member coop inviting their traders to be members; costs will be covered by combination of network and transaction fees similarly to commercial networks like Bartercard, although unlike Bartercard, they will commit to accepting their own currency as far as possible from members. The unique selling point will be the focus on small, cooperative and ethical businesses. Trade is for mutual benefit, and if you have values, you should seek to trade with people who have similar values.
The few thousand business barter networks in the world tend to promise their members increased turnover, especially of unused capacity like empty seats in a restaurant or stock which isn’t moving, and yes it is about that. But this initiative is also about creating a new economy, new money and new payment rails alongside the old. So it’s not just about ‘turnover’ but about building relationships and trust which can be monetised, and committing to trade with one another where possible, to keep that money circulating amongst ourselves. It is a different way of thinking:
- Understand that the pound is your ticket to a global marketplace, and avoiding the pound means trade will be less convenient and efficient. But this friction isn’t just wasted energy, it means that every item comes with more of a story and more of a relationship. It makes you feel very differently about your stuff and your economic relationships.
- If the marketplace is small then you support it by modifying what you want. In capitalism we are encouraged to want very specific things, but a more sustainable approach is to want what is offered. And if something is not available, then bring a producer into the network or persuade someone in the network to produce it.
- When you shop in a supermarket a part of the money ends up locked away in a tax haven, but every pound you spend into a mutual credit network stays available in the network for you to earn back.
- In mutual credit networks every member needs to earn as much as they spend. Therefore you should not sell more than you can buy from the network or buy more than you can sell to the network.
The UK Mutual Credit Network has several alt-economy veterans (including me) on board, and is starting to win support from other orgs like Finance Lab. To become a proper business they will need start-up capital to cover the cost of software at the very least (don’t expect a cryptocoin offering though!) Right now they are looking for expressions of interest from small businesses, ethical business, and cooperatives. If that’s you, then fill out this form!
2019 is the 40th Anniversary of IRTA! Preeminent author, money/banking and barter systems scholar, Thomas H. Greco, Jr. recently recognized IRTA’s enduring value when he observed: “IRTA has been an able representative of the interests of the trade exchange industry and alternative exchange in general. It is a trade association that enables cooperation alongside competition, helping to establish standards of …read more
We’ve been reading some excellent books on social change. Last year, we published “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons,” and turned to many of these books — some written by former Shareable contributors — for inspiration. From tackling economic injustice to environmental inequities, these books are filled with hope for a better future, one that’s based on shared, community-based solutions as opposed to top-down fixes that don’t work for everyone.
At the end of our first year of being totally pay-what-you-can and on the eve of our 10th anniversary, our Chair, Binki Taylor, reflects: ‘Thanks to the amazing commitment of our staff, volunteers and patrons, the Brixton Pound Cafe has made a considerable contribution to the food waste revolution in 2018. From a standing start […]read more
The idea that each country should have one currency is so deeply rooted in people’s minds that the possibility of multiple and concurrent currencies seems unthinkable. Monetary systems contribute to problems of high unemployment and social distress during financial and economic crisis, so reforms to increase the responsiveness and flexibility of the monetary system can […]read more
Holochain is being talked about in my circles as if it were a magic bullet, and the natural platform for any radical initiative to build on. It is true that Holo represents a radical break with web software, and allows a kind of decentralisation which until now has been very difficult. But I want to compare and contrast it with another approach which I believe is more appropriate in some use-cases, the new web standard, ActivityPub, a protocol for sharing and directing content between social networking hubs.
The technologies have important commonalities. Both can be used to diversify from our dependence on web applications hosted centrally by one organisation or in one country, and which hold all the data for all users. They both get around this by defining a protocol – a language – for different programmes running on different machines to connect to each other. More than that, both can be thought of as a meta-protocol, which allow protocols to be defined so that apps can share whatever information they like. In this software paradigm, anyone software which implements the protocol can become a node in an information-sharing network; data can be managed by its natural owners not by a single service provider, and any application can be re-imagined without a central server. In particular, we need to reimagine Facebook, Amazon, Ebay, Paypal, and both approaches allow that, although I’m not sure how well they scale (or will scale with more investment).
ActivityPub was created as a protocol for creating decentralised social networks to replace facebook. It sees the word in terms of actors who perform actions upon data objects called activities organised in chronological streams. So in a social network, that means a user would post a status update, and another user would ‘like’ that status update. Each user has an inbox and an outbox which publish and collect the activities of the agents they follow. This is perfect if you want to add functionality to your social network. You just define a new ActivityStream, and any node which implements that definition can work with your new datatype. Users can form groups and because a group is a kind of agent, they can act as a group. Each node lives on a web server (which means that it is always online), and users log in through their browser to their local node where their account is stored. If you forget your password, you can do a password reset, but the server can still be targeted by hackers or criminals.
Some ideologues insist on their tech being fully decentralised, meaning that it is peer to peer, and has no servers; ActivityPub doesn’t go that far, but rather, is distributed, meaning that it has many centres instead of one.
Some would say that ActivityPub isn’t ‘truly’ decentralised, but distributed because each node is a kind of centre. It is possible to be more decentralised by eliminating web servers altogether, creating a network only from the software instances who happen to be online at that moment. This is called a peer-to-peer, or sometimes ‘agent-centric’ network, and this is what Holochain makes it easy to create. Not having a server means you don’t have an account anywhere, and you authenticate to the network using a private key on your device. This means that users have to manage their private keys and if they lose it, they lose their identity. It also means that peers need to cache each others’ data otherwise you would only be visible in the network if you were actually online – but that’s ok because Holochain manages all that.
Each Holochain application has a unique thumbprint, called its DNA, which is a hash of the application’s data definition. That means that all apps with the same DNA comprise a network and can talk to each other. This is perfect if you want to disintermediate Uber with a decentralised ridesharing app. Everyone using your app is automatically part of the same network.
I see two major strategic differences between the technologies:
Firstly it seems to me that many people are underestimating the problems of using agent-centric software, in which each user is responsible for keeping their private key safe and safe from theft. Most users don’t have the mental apparatus, habits, tools or filing systems to look after private keys; they still use the same or similar password for everything and rely on a password reset sometimes. 3rd party services are emerging to help us manage our private keys, but giving your keys to somebody else kind of defeats the objective of agent-centricity.
The second difference is that Holochain is a protocol for defining protocols, each application implements one and only one protocol, and has one DNA thumbprint and one defacto network for sharing data. But ActivityPub offers a whole series of protocols each called an ActivityStream, each which can be implemented independently. Thus each datatype could be thought of as comprising a network in itself, but an application could use several of these types together. Thus a ridesharing network could be brought together with a room-sharing network in the same app. So while Holochain allows application developers to create new networks, ActivityPub requires that the community agree on the data definitions first, and then each definition (and by extension each network of publishers of that data type) is available to all.
For my purposes as someone who wants to see a massive coming together of alternative movements, ActivityPub seems a better way to go because it provides more opportunity for coordination at the political level – around the specification of each ActivityStream. My concern with Holochain is that it seems more optimised for the classic startup approach to software where one team makes one app and tries to monopolise a field with it. So saying it is early days for both technologies and they could go in different directions. Maybe I’ll follow up this post in a couple of years…
Thanks to Lucas Huber, Dorian Cave and Bob Haugen for comment on the draft of this article.
If you love podcasts and love the Brixton Pound, we’ve got a treat for you. Our Kitchen Manager Sean has recorded his first podcast. And it’s all about the subjects dear to our hearts: food poverty, radical health and environmental activism. Sean is chatting with Hannah Cousins and the podcast is recorded by Ralph Pritchard. […]read more