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Saturday
Nov212009

Radical Abundance

How We Get Past "Free" and Learn to Exchange Value Again.

Here's my keynote from the O'Reilly Web 2.0 conference last week. It is my clearest articulation yet of how we're using an obsolete operating system for money, optimized for a pre-Internet economy. This is a lot of what I wanted to talk about at the New School's “Internet as Playground and Factory" last week.

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Reader Comments (115)

Douglas,

Very inspiring!

Do you have thoughts on issuing a personal time-based currency?

If so, will you outline a paths for others to earn it?

After hearing on your talk (and reviewing ideas of E.C. Riegel) I'm tempted to prepare personal vouchers, redeemable in donated time, as a way to good causes in our rural community.

Highlights of this start small/start now scenario are sketched out below.

I'd welcome your comments on how the personal voucher scenario below might best be launched. In appreciation, I'll send you a voucher for a free hour of my time that I'll be glad to donate to a good cause of your choosing.

Best,

Mark Frazier
Openworld.com
@openworld (twitter)

---- A way for "time donation vouchers" to launch personal currencies ----

1) Prepare personal vouchers

To begin, a person can design, print out, and individually sign personal vouchers committing to do a specified number of hours of work for the recipient of the voucher or his/her assigns. The issuer would choose how many personal vouchers to issue in (for example) 1 hour, 5 hour, and 10 hour denominations.

Each voucher that a person issued would be numbered and recorded on a web site along with a profile of the recipient.

The issuer's profile would set out the skills/types of work redeemable via the voucher. It would also include the person's experience, references, and feedback-based reputation scores for any work performed via the voucher system.

2) Donate the issued vouchers to local good causes of the issuer's choosing

The second step would be for the issuer to give the vouchers to local nonprofit organizations of his or her choosing.

These organizations would then make use of the vouchers directly, in cases where the person's skills were a good fit for their needs.

If the nonprofit organizations wished, they could also pass on the vouchers to third parties (e.g. to employees or vendors who agreed to accept them) as a way to reduce out of pocket operating expenses for the nonprofit organization.

The monetary value of the vouchers used in such "offset" cases would be worked out after the prospective third party recipient had looked over the skills and reputation profile of the issuer (links to the issuer profiles would be on the printed voucher).

If a financial crisis - inflationary or deflationary - proves to be in the cards, communities that move ahead on such a reputation-backed personal voucher system may fare better than those that put full faith and trust in fiat currencies.

The communities might also be better able to withstand scenarios that could include confiscation of gold, silver, or other precious metals.

Launching personal currencies on a basis that helps philanthropies and good causes from the outset may provide a further measure of insurance against political risk. Or so is the hope...

Any observations/suggestions on how to launch -- and scale -- such an initiative will be very welcome.

November 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOpenworld

Thought, ideas, speech, are not labor. Not unless you are, and everyone else is, retarded. As to your criticism of copies and derivatives, well, everything that exists is a copy and a derivative of something else.

I do like the idea of Money v2.0. But your lame attempt at protecting the ip scam, is just that, lame.

November 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

Utter nonsense mika. Simply based upon the assertion that nothing *is* new under the sun, it can be demonstrated that certain thought and expression is work. It is even easier to argue that the reason so many of us seem to be retarded is because we have not done any work.

WHAT WORK IS

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

November 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

oops.
that was by Philip Levine
some guy who did some work for me
so when my heart was broken once
some woman bought his poems
because that's part of what work is

Openworld, best wishes for your project. Consider posting this in the "Forums" section (top of this page, right hand tab). It's been quiet over there for a while, but there are good folks there.

-mason

November 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

mason,

Doug is scamming to make a buck on the back of the monopoly rights racket. The same fascist corporatist system he likes to rails against. So excuse me for not sharing your sycophant reverence for Doug's "originality", because none exists. And if Doug was in any way truthful, he'd confirm and acknowledge that. That aside, it is exactly this sick psychological mindset, this sick reverence for false gods, for any god, that has gotten us into deep trouble over and over again. I expect better from you.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

@mika: i sympathize with the last part of your comment. but obviously it takes time and effort to write books, articles, software, sequence genes, develop drugs, etc... it's work. the real question is whether these things should be free. you allude to this in referring to the intellectual property scam. there, the debate is going to have to concern the powers that property rights will grant to property holders. those rights might be weak (e.g. entitlements to recognition-credit for a discovery) or they might be strong (e.g. anyone in possession of something similar to my product is subject to a fine, if they have not already paid me). in the most dramatic case where ip rights are too weak, people will not be able to make a living creating ip, and labor markets based on ip will be leveled and probably take down public research with them, unless we no longer make access to those forms of labor depend on income. if livelihood is no longer derived from writing, programming, speaking, recording, composing, filming, designing, discovering, etc., maybe it would be derived from a basic income. is that the idea?

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Landreth

btw: just be clear, i'm saying that i sympathize with the anti-ip attitude, not with the attitude toward mason.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Landreth

I am happy to respond to thought-out, negative views. But not name-calling. There's a real world many of us still must live in. That means using US dollars while we attempt to do better. The value of the dollars we are using is based, largely, in killing other people.

Does that mean it is hypocrisy to both assert the rights of people to live and to use dollars? Yes. Likewise, it is contradictory to both criticize corporate structures and depend on them. But that is life. There are contradictions, and part of growing up is learning how to surf them. It is painful and confusing.

And of course, things other than farming still count as labor.

Yes, I'm very interested in alternative currencies and voucher systems. I will read up and respond.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrushkoff

It's about love.

Why do people pirate movies? I think it's because the movies are the same old stories and themes, rehashed with better special effects, but still the same. Who wants to pay for a story you've heard before?

The new thing will be for people to create things with love. The gift is in the giving, and when people create things purely to help the other people in their community, when looking after others becomes more important than looking after yourself. When you turn around and see that you don't need to look after yourself anymore because everyone else in your community is doing it for you (and you for them of course), that is when we will have entered the new age.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEddie

Fine. Then if it's labor, get paid for labor, not for monopoly rights. As for time expense and exertion amounting to labor, I say bullshit. It takes time money and effort for me to eat food, digest it, and shit it out. Now, imagine I incorporate myself as a fascist corporation and get my fascist government lackeys to enforce monopoly rights on my shit. Anyone that handles my shit pays me royalties on my royal shit. That's exactly where we are now.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

@Eddie: Sorry, but it's very hard to believe that the reason people pirate movies and TV is because they find them boring and unoriginal, still want to watch them, but don't want to pay. People don't pay more for increased quality in entertainment. In fact, they want exactly the opposite.

People pirate stuff because why would you pay for stuff when you can get it for free? It's completely rational and doesn't demand the creation of some new-found aesthetic sense that we both know the media-consuming public has never had.

And by the way, the world you speak of where you don't have to look after yourself, because everyone else looks after you? That's a DYStopia you speak of, not a Utopia.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Anthony Landreth,

I completely reject monopoly rights, I completely reject the corporatist system, and I completely reject government coercion to extract wealth from persons thru taxes and inflation. And I will do everything I can to cause these things to cease and deceest

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

(deceest should read desist)

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

There's a lively ongoing discussion on this over at Metafilter:
http://www.metafilter.com/86891/The-Plague-of-Free

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoetrip

Douglas,
I keep thinking that the extraction capability of currency is also linked to what Tony Giddens called "distanciation." We've seen how the placelessness of the international currency markets allow these to rush to those states that offer what they seek (transaction cost savings, transparency or its lack, etc.). We may need to find a way to privilege the local again. Many of the services we might exchange are local-biased (farming, baking, car repair, elder care...). Perhaps we can emerge from our Facebook fugue state with some version of local societies (plural), as local peer-to-peer organizations (e..g, Rochedale coop-type orgs) that form society-to-society links between locales.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

I am certainly the intellectual bumpkin here. All, please bear with me.

Mika, but for your temper i revere you as much as Anthony, Douglas and Eddie. I *regard* you all and g-d equally. I especially love your great humor, just like i especially love certain attributes of Eddie, Douglas and Anthony.

Eddie, i totally agree about the mind set of the new age as it were, but piracy (even of derivative and imprisoning garbage) is not about love. I think mika and i would prefer some hacker mod or g-d squad rather *destroyed* these tired narratives and the, um, 'fascist' corporations that produce and traffic them. OTOH they are a part of the matrix in which we live. The narratives work, because we work them. That is why love and certain other energies or attributes will have to create the new narratives, necessities and beauties.

We will always have also to *look out for ourselves,* and not just for others. Today, this implies, making sure one gets a taste, a piece of the pie or the action. It implies watching one's back or having a reliable surveillance system. In the days ahead it is going to mean a lot of things, like getting over old group identities.

The fact is we may never completely arrive to the new age. But i suspect looking out for ourselves will be a sort of discipline occupied primarily with regarding one's responsiveness, one's freedom and one's duty.

I know very little of what's on the table concerning intellectual property legislation. But i gather from Anthony that Strong and Weak are key terms (almost like electron bonds?). I also imagine the new laws should consider the varying scale of participants and practices. The important principle for the designers/legislators is to be thinking "abundance." The system should function as smoothly as possible. Any and all resultant proceeds from friction in the system should be churned back into the regulatory and taxpayer domains.

-mason

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

First of all the last 20 years have been a Cambrian explosion of musical innovation. Not at the level of massive corporate top-ten hits, which are sickly retreads of 40 year old top ten hits, but rather at the level of small, fast innovative new ideas. If you don't think we're in the midst of an irruption of creative production, you need to adjust your focus. Your statement of the problem is fatally flawed if you don't recognize the new culture being generated right now.

Second, I suggest that the business-to-business barter-like currencies you describe already exist. The are the bizarre value laundering mechanisms used by financial services corporations, far removed from the realm of cash or democratic regulatory oversight. At the level of global exchange, that kind of nonce value swapping nearly sent us back to the middle ages last year...

But you are correct. Those kind of local value systems did make a few people insanely rich. Which is one reason the financial services corporations are trying so hard to push for a "cashless" system. Get rid of a relatively neutral exchange medium and move everybody into localized value exchanges. Instead of dollars or yen, you can rely on gift cards or cell phone bux! And unlike cash, those privatized systems lose value for the user, grow massive value for the owner of the system.

I think your utopian idea resembles the same dystopia that Visa is desperately trying to build for us right now.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterzota

and Doug is right. there will be profit. more certainly than a 'basic income .'-)

in the meantime, i am equally unqualified to engineer a broad system for the exchange of currency:-(

all i really *know* is based upon how i care for my chickens and what i happily accept for their eggs. the rest is just a very spotty exposure to the softer humanities. the rest i am learning from other eggmen!

Strength to each of us!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBRss3HUipw
If the sun don't come we'll get our tans from standing in the acid rains, or with afternoon tea
which knows no segregation, no class nor pedigree
It knows no motivations, no sect or organisation,
It knows no *one* religion,
Nor political belief.
-mason

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

This is a vastly complex issue, for reasons Doug touched on in his history/preamble. Essentially, we are challenged (every man, woman, and child) to uncouple ourselves from a system that has provided a framework for virtually every detail of civilization from the dawn of time. The fuck up ratio on that is off the charts.

It staggers the mind trying to envision the processes involved in stepping from the only model we have ever known, to one where communities of people willing to sacrifice their future for smokes and plasma TV's will buy in. Or can buy in.

Like in the late middle ages, anybody who has a relative advantage in commerce over his neighbor will resist as if life itself depended on it, while those on the other side will sheepishly agree if only because they gotta eat.

I realize that the direct intention is simply to reorder the "net", however the net does not exist in a vacuum. There are real people at every IP address. Usually. They gotta live in both worlds and so that point of overlap is where the friction will come. Otherwise, those who "get rich" on a newly modeled net will simply be usurping a new slat in the social hierarchy as many have done before them. Folks who have no chance in hell of gaining even electricity are as screwed as they ever were.

Complex problem, no? But entirely worthwhile. The same old same old just isn't going to work anymore with the rise of technology, and the result will be increasing gaps in wealth and social standing, where the hip get rich, and the rest do as they have always done. Go hungry.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAetius Romulous

mason,

They say that humor is just another form of aggression. :D
Tempered as my comments may or may not be, they are not born out of aggression, but out of truth as I see it. You know I bare no malice towards you (0r Doug).

But back to topic. Anthony and Doug are arguing the argument of 'how many angels can fit on the head of a needle'. I'm arguing that that whole conversation and paradigm view is idiotic, that we need to quit it and get away from it. Subtlety in arguing idiocy is still idiocy.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

Our economic problems are a symptom of our political problems. Political problems are a symptom of cultural problems. Cultural problems trace themselves directly to us as individuals. This is crucial to understand. Our psychological mindset is key in us resolving and solving this mess.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

By and large we all have a similar objective.

I am fairly certain that engineering a nonviolent transition is far from idiocy. The revolution is personal, but the work is collective. If your reasoning in post 16 were sound, Oprah Winfrey's idols and angels would be satiated by your services.

:-)

Don't be angry with me!

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-11-20/oprahs-kremlinologist/

-mason

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

I am fairly certain that engineering a nonviolent transition is far from idiocy.
==

That's not what we have from Doug and Anthony. What we have from Doug and Anthony, at least on the monopoly rights front, is not a transition away from fascism, but a kindler gentler version of fascism. Fascism with a smile. Which I completely reject.

As for the Oprah Winfrey's minions, they all voted for the bankters' fraudster Hussein Obama, which should tell you all you need to know of their iq level and situational awareness.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

..banksters' fraudster..

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermika.

mika, i can't continue trying to work with someone who writes off millions regardless of their IQs or awareness. Even as a teen, when (due to some personal traumas) i believed in a benevolent fascism, i never was able to entertain such a sentiment.

As for Anthony, i believe he's asked for your vision on obtaining livelihood in a re-structured system. I assume a view to the short, mid or long term is your choice.

-mason

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermason

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