The UsuryFree Eye Opener

The UsuryFree Eye Opener is the electronic arm of the UsuryFree Network. It seeks active usuryfree creatives to help advance our mission of creating a usuryfree lifestyle for everyone on this planet. Our motto is 'peace and plenty before 2020.' The UsuryFree Eye Opener publishes not only articles related to the problems associated with our orthodox, usury-based 1/(s-i) system but also to the solutions as offered by active usuryfree creatives - and much more for your re-education.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So You Want To Invent Your Own Money

Millions of Zimbabwean Dollars. By 2009, hyperinflation had rendered the currency worthless. Photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

Riches beyond belief

If you want to know what money is, don’t ask a banker. Take a leap of faith and start your own currency
"I don’t have much money. Then again, I couldn’t say exactly how much I do have. In the Co‑operative Bank’s IT system is a database entry that says I have £97 in electronic money. In my wallet I have three £10 notes, pieces of paper with pictures of the Queen on them, issued by the Bank of England, promising me £30. I have six pieces of metal, too — copper-nickel alloy and nickel-plated steel, to be exact — valued at 59 pence in total. So that’s £127.59.
My wallet also contains a £5 Brixton Pound note — a local currency found only in the south London neighbourhood where I live — which I got as change from a local bar called Kaff. On my mobile phone is a series of text messages telling me that I have B£39.61 on my online Brixton Pound account. This is electronic money stored in a database, sent to me by local residents to pay for copies of a book I wrote. If I open my computer, there is a programme called MultiBit that connects to a distributed computer file called the blockchain. It contains a record that says I have 3.8462 BTC — or bitcoins: I earned them selling the book to people in Israel, the USA, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand via an exchange called BitPay.
That’s not all. I have a Totnes Pound, 20 South African rand, and a couple of hours saved up on a timebanking platform. It’s possible that I have other money, too — but that depends on what you mean by ‘money’. The authorities have their own view of what counts as legal tender, or ‘real’ money but, even so, the definition has been controversial since antiquity. One of the most interesting sections in the British Museum is a display of counterfeit coins — not ‘real’ according to the powers that be, but frequently real enough to the people who used them.
I, too, was once a counterfeit of sorts. A left-wing chancer with a background in anthropology, I immersed myself for two years in the financial sector, styling myself as whatever a derivatives broker is supposed to be. I wanted to uncover what exactly goes on in networks of power, to experience those dynamics first-hand, like a kind of gonzo journalist. For the most part, the work involved trying to peddle giant bets — known as swaps and options contracts — to various investors, banks and corporations. In the process of doing it, though, I stopped being a counterfeit and started becoming a real broker, internalising the cultural codes of high finance. I was thrown out in 2010, and ever since then I’ve been fascinated with developing other ways in which one might go about exploring, rewiring and playing with the financial system.
How can a piece of paper store 10 pounds of value? What are pounds anyway?
The trouble is, while my experiences in mainstream finance taught me a lot about what the industry does, they only gave me glimpses into the nature of the mysterious stuff it does it with. The financial system exists, above all, to mediate flows of money, not to question what money is. Investment banks create financial instruments that steer money from one place to another, with built-in sub-conduits to siphon it back — extractive devices used by investors. To draw an analogy with computer coding, we might say that financial instruments are analogous to ‘high-level’ programming languages such as Java or Ruby: they let you string commands together in order to perform certain actions. You want to get resources from A to B over time? Well, we can program a financial instrument to do that for you.
By contrast, money itself is more like a low-level programming language, very hard to see or to understand but closer to gritty reality. It’s like your computer’s machine code, interfacing with the hardware: even the experts take it for granted. You might need to explain to someone what a bond is, but nobody is ever ‘taught’ what money is. We just see it in action and learn how to use it. Indeed, the only way you ever tend to get a glimpse of it is in relief, by contrast with another programming language — or when you’re forced to build it again from scratch.
Most people never get this opportunity. If you had to ask the average person in the financial industry to explain what money is, they’d probably rattle off the economics textbook description: ‘a means of exchange, a unit of account, and store of value’. This is not a very helpful definition. How can a piece of paper store 10 pounds of value? What are pounds anyway? Money sounds like it’s an ordinary noun, a self-contained object. If it is a physical object, it must be paper or metal or digits on a computer. And yet, very few of us think a £5 note is merely a piece of paper: the same idea of £5 can be expressed in electronic or metal form, after all.
No, to delve deeper into the nature of exchange we need some first principles, and these take time to uncover. The best guides in this half-lit territory turn out to be not economists, but rather the loose bands of monetary mystics and iconoclasts who are developing strange new exchange technologies. They are a scattered tribe, with elders including the likes of Bernard Lietaer, Ellen Brown and Thomas Greco, sages passing on tips on how to breach the Monetary Matrix. I find myself sitting in a pub in Stockwell, south London, with Matthew Slater, a nomadic developer of open-source currency systems, and discover that he no longer bothers with a bank account or a fixed address. ‘Once you’ve broken through appearances,’ he says, ‘there’s no going back.’
I was introduced to Slater by a common friend named Jem Bendell. The two of them met in an Indian hippy colony called Auroville in Tamil Nadu, and Bendell is now a professor of sustainability leadership at the University of Cumbria and an undercover monetary revolutionary. I have an enduring memory of a TED talk in which he ripped a banknote into pieces, trying to make the point that the paper itself doesn’t have value. Everyone in the room winced, as if to say: ‘You could have given that to me!’, but Bendell was getting at a powerful idea." (snip) ...
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