Bootstrapping a Gift Economy
Forgive me for assuming a lot of background on currencies (complimentary, alternative, fiat, whatever), and starting from the conclusion that we need systems of currencies with open rules (in the Metacurrency sense, particularly ones designed to create flows of shared wealth. I owe much to many who have contributed to these ideas, and much of this will be new so I take full responsibility for this development. I would like to invite others to step forward and contribute to the work as it develops. We intend to use the systems that we develop, to first develop the processes and technology experimentally and experientially. Collectively, we have a great deal of experience creating shared assets, in open source software projects, in crowdsourced information resources and process arts innovations like open space meetings where the agenda itself is crowd sourced. This is a large part of what I see emerging in the OWS movement.
We talk of the gift economy, and I would never dispute the importance of this space already, but something is missing from this space for an economy to emerge, that missing part, I claim, is currencies. Volunteer based efforts only get you so far. The next model is to create a private organization to steward shared assets, and we see this working very well in many cases, but the question is how to make this systematic. How do you build shared, public assets in service of the 100%?
A User Story
In agile software development, we use "user stories" to focus development on work that serves the eventual users of the system. We are our own user story, bootstrapping gift economies, which means producing and re-producing the means to produce and apply shared knowledge. As noted above, there already are organizations bulding shared assets as public projects. Wagn, is such a project, with Grass Commons as the sponsoring organization.
We want to create an emergent economy where networks of small organization, vessels, each of which operates independently, and collectively producing support systems for the economy.
Beginnings of a Proposal
First, a little sketch of some elements of the currency systems. Keeping in mind that there are many ways to decompose the wealth creation cycle, and that one of the things we want to produce is a better and deeper analysis of this cycle, so lets start from a simple model:
Intention -- An intention is declared, leaving aside for a moment how it relates to other intentions or whether action is offerred or requested
Proposal, Negotiation, Agreement -- A search for actions in support of the intention
Action -- Actions according to agreed plan or mutual understandings
Acknowledgement -- Take stock of the wealth produced and account for contributions
This needs to be contextualized, and our context is collective creation of wealth, so our first question is about how the collective, the group, is constituted.
Invitation to Stewardship
A new collective comes into being by collective agreement, and consistent with the intent to serve the 100%, this is an open invitation to join in the governance of a group constituted around a shared intention. After one or more cycles, there will be a group of individuals with declared and mutually acknowledge participation in a shared cause. So far, this is a description of a series of speech acts as it connects to a process for group formation, and if the "action" was investing in the formation of private corporation, there is a whole set of institutions that supports that. We intend to build these systems for the gift economy, and we invite pioneers of all stripes to the process. There are systems to design and build, processes to develop, research to do, and many are already doing it.
Currencies to Bootstrap Vessels
Fundamentally, we need financial tools not just for one vessel, but to support fleets of vessels in coordinated action, but it comes down to the individual vessels. That is the level of viability. You can't do much if you are not healthy, and likewise if you don't have a well managed commonwealth on each vessel, they will not be able to contributue much to fleet operations and the acheiving of larger goals. Once constituted in a mutual agreement, the group will now have powers to take collective actions, including the issuance of currencies. If you issue public stock, there are government agencies that regulate that process, and it is possible that if some of these currencies are issued at a large enough scale, we will need to address the legal issues in a much more public way.
Now we are actually getting down to a metacurrency users story as embedded in the open stewardship user story we started from. This script is issued for various purposes related to the group's mission and it would be a basic complementary currency, could be denominated in hours, or dollars, or terras. Holders of such script would be investors in that particular shared enterprise. The goal would be an exchangable script that is backed up by the shared value created in these collectives, and the good word of the stewards of that collective. We are founding the mutual credit of a collective on the mutual credit of the individuals declared as stewards to the currency issue. It is worth looking more deeply into the legal and liability differences that may be created here, but we note that there isn't the same pressure to "write off" losses. In mutual credit systems, the only problem that crops up is "what happens when someone leaves the system, and they have a net negative balance?" This really isn't a natural situation, if I have net received more than I have produced, I could fall short, but can I deny my product to the market if I am alive and able?
If a collective gathers some investments and then folds, the founders would have to retire any (tradeable) currencies it has issued, probably from their own mutual currency. If you can imagine someone joining groups one after another designed to get investments in fictions, then folding, they would soon have a large negative mutual credit balance which should bring attention from the system's operators. Metacurrency's open rules would give us the ability to add supporting systems. For example, an "underwriter" could provide insurance for investments and thereby give another level of confidence to long term investments that their capital will not be eroded by mismanagement of one vessel.
Forget the currency context for a second, and we are in the territory of agreements and contracts, and when you boil that down, you have speech acts for allocation of resources or more simply coordination of action. This suggests a much wider variety and purposes for currencies, than the role of "cash money" in the scarcity economy. Fiat currency has a role in this as "legal tender for all debts", but there is no reason that it wouldn't have a lesser important in an economy driven by shared values. Within a community, or more simple by any mutual agreement, private parties can use whatever currencies they agree on to track and allocate shared resources including cash. Community credit unions could easily be structured where most community (and inter-community) transactions don't involve fiat currency valuations, but are purely transacted in terms of markets of complemetary currencies. The credit union could take traditional cash deposites, but it could also transaction between cash and any complementary currency according to the rules and agreements of the community.
In other words, you would be able to pay your bills in complementary (community based) currencies. If the vendor accepts these currencies, so much the better and unlike paying with alternatives like a charge card, you and the vender could actually save some transaction costs. If anyone needs to pay a bill in cash, there should be no problem supplying it either from 1) cash reserves, or if the credit union goes beyond its reserve limit, 2) it borrows money on the commercial market. The nice thing is we all get to borrow money on the strength of our collective financial strength, the down side is being collectively liable but the new currencies also give us potential power. Transparency and "crowd sourced" review of the community's liability is made possible through the design and implementation of currency systems. In Meta-currency, the idea of "open rules" is that all transactions are systematically reviewable by third parties. You don't have to "openly publish your books", just make the transaction data available to all those with an "interest".
This is great.
Don't start out expressing shame. That's my territory. ;^)