The only feasible future of money is that it has no future.
That’s perhaps a bit extreme: but unfortunately it happens to be true.
It should be clear to just about everyone by now that the money-system on which our current economy is based is in deep trouble. I don’t think I have to go into any detail on that. The problem is that not many people seem to be thinking far enough about just how deep that trouble really goes…
One symptom here is that, because it’s so obvious that the money-economy is in deep trouble, there’s a lot of attention being placed at present on supposed ‘alternative currencies’. Some of them are just local equivalents of ‘fiat-currency‘, “currency that a government has declared to be legal tender despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value … money based solely on faith” – in other words, “it’s ‘proper money’ because we say it is”. Some of the other ‘alternative currencies’ are based on ‘energy-exchange’ – the LETS principle. Some of them try to use time itself as a kind of currency. Some try to bypass currency entirely, and go back to point-to-point barter. Many, many variations on that same overall theme.
I’ve seen dozens of these ‘alternative-currency’ schemes, maybe hundreds; worldwide there are apparently tens of thousands of them. But they all have one thing in common: none of them will work.
Not in the longer-term, at any rate, or across an entire economic scope. And if we’re talking about viable futures, we need to be thinking longer-term, and whole-of-system.
The reason why all of them will fail in one way or another is because they’re all trying to resolve the wrong part of the problem. To use the classic metaphor, all they’re doing is quibbling about the nature and position of deckchairs on the Titanic, about who has the right to possess and control those deckchairs. But the real problem isn’t the deckchairs, it’s the ship: and mistaken assumptions about the importance of deckchairs could cause the ship itself to go down – after which all of those arguments would become somewhat moot… We need to get at least some of the attention away from the deckchairs long enough to have some chance to save the ship – otherwise we’ll all go down with it.
It’s easy to get distracted here by the myths of money. From the inside, it no doubt all seems to real, so important. Yet seen from the outside, it’s just another strange religion, with its own high-street churches and gaudy cathedrals, its over-adored high-priests and attendant clergy and near-despised laity, its strange rituals and language and jargon – though all of it oddly bereft of any redeeming ethics or morals. Yet the main purpose of that religion, it seems, is to hide the only real fact here: none of it is real.
Even the very term ‘fiat currency’ should tell us that: the entire money-economy is just another inherently-absurd religion, held together by little more than misplaced faith. It’s a mere myth: nothing more than that. Yet an increasingly deadly myth, if we’re not darn careful…
It’s a myth built on top of another myth: barter.
And that myth in turn is built on top of yet another arbitrary myth: the myth of possession.
In the longer-term, the blunt fact is that none of us possess anything. Possession is a delusion, a fearful toddler’s attempt to defy the fact of change. To paraphrase a certain well-known story, the more we try to cling on to things, the more they slip through our fingers.
An economy is literally ‘the management of the household’: and the only real result of myths of possession is that they make that management that much harder. Overall, a possession-based economy guarantees ‘The Worst Possible System‘, in which all of its resources tend to drift automatically to the place of least need.
Possession is a meaningless myth: and yet somehow we try to pretend that it’s ‘real’. We talk about ‘property rights’: yet if we follow the trails of provenance and the rest, we find that those purported ‘rights’ end up in some arbitrary assertion of ‘possession’ – which isn’t real. Its actual basis turns out to be some equally-arbitrary form of theft from everyone else – a theft that is then somehow rationalised through some suitably-convoluted yet ethically-indefensible structure of ‘law’. The same is true of ‘intellectual-property’: we now know, as fact, that all thought is inherently collective: hence beyond an interesting form of theft, there is no fundamental basis by which anyone – let alone any commercial ‘corporate person’ – could claim to ‘possess’ any idea at all. The same is true of relationships: we don’t and can’t possess each other. We don’t even possess our own life, because of that one, simple, bald, inescapable fact that we die.
Responsibility, however, is real. We can build a workable economy around that. That’s actually how most real-world economies work in practice, at every scale, from a literal ‘household’ and beyond.
But possession is a myth: a deadly myth. If we try to base a world-scale economy on a possession-based model – as at present – ultimately no-one wins: whether so-called ‘rich’ or so-called ‘poor’, we all lose. Collectively, we cannot hold to those myths of possession and still survive. There is no way to make a possession-based economy sustainable: by its very nature, it cannot be done.
And the fact is that every barter-economy is an overlay on myths of possession: barter assumes that we have the right to possess something – or rather, to withhold from others – in order to have it to exchange. If a possession-based economy cannot be made sustainable, no barter-model can be made sustainable.
And every money-economy is an overlay on top of a barter-economy: it assumes that we have the ‘right’ to possess something, and arbitrary faith-based agreement about the ‘value’ of the currency – in whatever form that ‘currency’ might take – as an intermediate proxy for multi-party exchange. If a possession-based economy cannot be made sustainable, a barter-based cannot be made sustainable, and hence no money-based economy can be made sustainable.
In short, if we wish to create a sustainable economy – as clearly we must – then one fact at least must be evident to everyone: the only future of money is that it has no future.
Or, to put it the other way round, anyone who does think that money has a future isn’t thinking.
Trying to think up yet more ‘alternative currency-models’ is just a waste of everyone’s time, effort and attention – none of which we can afford to waste right now. Arguing about currency-models, and promoting one as somehow better than others, is not going to make any real difference to anything: it’s just arguing about how to save the positions of individual deckchairs on the Titanic. Might be wiser instead to pay a bit more attention to the real problem here, and to start thinking – urgently – about how to save the ship itself, before we all go down?
Everyone knows about the Iceberg Effect – that there’s usually a lot hidden beneath the surface.
But what about its corollary, the Other Iceberg Effect? Because if only one-tenth of something is visible, and the rest of it is floating beneath the surface, the whole thing tends to rise up when some of the top is cut away. Or, equally, the visible part will shrink slightly – more accurately, sink slightly – if part of the subsurface portion erodes or melts away.
The first part of the Other Iceberg Effect can give the dangerous delusion that a resource is sustainable, self-renewing. As we cut away some portion of the top, look! – there’s still plenty more! The level has risen again – it’s almost the same as before!
But it’s that ‘almost’ that should give us the clue that something’s not right here… Another clue is that the shape of the periphery – the visible boundary of the resource – will often change as the iceberg rises: so if the boundary seems to change as we extract a resource, watch out…
If we don’t heed the warning, we’re likely to keep on going, keep on extracting this ‘self-renewing’ resource – until suddenly, and supposedly without warning, the resource vanishes, and we’re left floundering in deep water instead. Because what’s happened is that each time we’ve removed that top layer, yes, the level has almost returned back to where it was – but to do that, the whole iceberg has risen in the water. And eventually there’s no more iceberg left…
So watch out for those two warning-signs:
- a resource that almost replenishes itself as we use it
- a periphery that changes its shape as we use the resource
There are many, many resources that are like this: a company’s reputation, for example. And in each of those cases, if we don’t watch out for those warning-signs, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find ourselves in deep water – or worse…