Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Money Movement & Moral Currencies

In my post about Bitcoin, I told you how excited I was about it. The new Money movement seems to be gathering such pace with Bitcoin's digital currency at the forefront. But there is another important strand which centres around 'moral currencies'. It provides a major impetus to the movement.

The idea of creating a moral currency is something I got really excited about in the 1990's with the Ecolabel movement. Its an appealingly simple philosophy. Spend your money with the good guys and the world will be a better place.

And although things have changed since the 1990's, its not yet all farmer's markets, line caught fish and fairtrade coffee. In fact the bad guys quickly took advantage of our desire for green and ethical goods and exploited it. So things got confusing. Should I buy imported certified organic carrots from a supermarket, or local non certified organic carrots from a farmer's market? Who knows?

But the idea of changing the world by spending ethically and creating sustainably is still with us. Perhaps because at some level, we all believe in it. But also because the idea has developed. Today the internet helps us to get and give much more data about the stuff we trade and with whom we are trading. And from this data, future-minded digital adventurers hope to create currencies by measuring trust, respect, reciprocity and every other aspect of our productive relationships.

I'm not sure how you get from measuring these qualities to creating a currency, but I'm glad some brave souls are trying to do it. My worry is that this part of the new Money movement conflates currency with Money. Currencies connect us to Money, by representing our claim on Money's power. But if the dollar, the euro and the renimbi (the Chinese currency) failed tomorrow, Money would still exist. The wealth and assets that back up our belief in the existence of Money - the underlying economy as we like to refer to it in times of crisis -wouldn't just turn to dust.

Money is more than measurement. Just like gravity is more than weight.

One idea about Money is that its a basis for abstract thought, playing a role in our cognitive development as human beings. Most people would accept this about maths or language but not Money. I think there's something to the idea, which is why I get so very excited about changes to our 'monetary conciousness'.

Another idea about Money is that it subverts moral polarities, blurring the lines between good and bad, right and wrong. Most people would accept this because it tallies with their everyday experience of Money. And it also serves to make the idea of a moral currency very appealing.

However, Money's nature is one of pure amorality. It is an immaculate conception. There really is no such thing as 'dirty money', just good and bad ways of using it. So I don't think that morality can ever be thrust upon it directly. And I think its amorality is fundamental to whatever part Money plays in the development of our minds and indeed, our reality. This is why I'm dubious about morality 'sticking' to the currencies of the new money movement. Money has always resisted our attempts to shackle it with an ideology of any kind and will shrug off those currencies that try to do so.

Perhaps the stongest argument against the success of moral currencies is that we already have information about the stuff on which we spend our money and we often ignore it when the stuff is cheap. I know its something I do on a daily basis. A moral currency will become a way of contracting out the moral choices that we should be making. A bit like having a religion.

Understanding Money - knowing what it is - seems to me to be one of our greatest challenges, more so than going to Mars. So I'm excited about all aspects of the new Money movement. For me Bitcoin, or rather the multiplicity of digital currencies to which I hope it gives rise, have the greatest chance of pulling us into a new monetary conciousness; where Money more effectively mediates a supply for our demands and a demand for our supplies. And in so doing creates a reality in which we can fulfil our potential.

Then I might get paid for writing this, rather than driving a van.

No quote this time, but here's a few links for you to check out on The New Money Movement

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