"The Plague of Free."
November 22, 2009 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Doug Rushkoff throws down the gauntlet in his “Radical Abundance” speech at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference. Some highlights of the speech: “The only real possible competition to Google and their economy of faux openness would be peer-to-peer exchange.” “As a result of all this freedom the abundance of genuine creative output is declining. We are actually getting the scarce market place demanded by our currency legacy system. The same way the early Renaissance got a scarcity by killing off half the people with the plague.” Some Alternatives: 1: The development of a digital culture that actually respects the labor of individuals. 2: The creation of new modes of currency based in abundance rather than scarcity.
posted by joetrip (113 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I definitely feel like the web has been, well, atrophying in the past few years. We see so many spam blogs and crap that just has a bunch of Google ads all over them. A tiny bit of lifted or uncreative content plastered with ads and SEO nonsense.

About a decline though, I don't know. It may simply be that the web filled up with crap, and the total amount of cool stuff stayed the same. But on the other hand, I also feel like the web used to be about building cool things and anyone could break out some PHP and build something cool, whereas now there's just this universe of 'social media' people and sundry twits who spend all their time talking about each other.

As far as #1, things like various app stores for other phones really does get you the chance to make money off small applications.

#2: What the hell is a "Currency based in abundance"? There is never going to be a limitless supply of human labor. What the hell does that even mean? Sounds like gobbledygook from Wired circa 1999, when everyone was going to get super-rich from writing websites visited by other web designers. Are we going to pay content creators in free downloads or something?
posted by delmoi at 4:31 AM on November 22, 2009 [13 favorites]


This will definitely be important for the future of our species, other species, and our planet, thank you Doug Rushkoff.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:38 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


[quote]Are we going to pay content creators in free downloads or something?[/quote]

I think the point is, I'm going to trade my design skills for your programming skills, with value placed on your (and my) reputation for following through on each part of the bargain.

Sheep for chickens, but don't trade sheep with Eddie, because his chickens aren't very good. He's talking about facilitation rather than exploitation (hence the "old Paypal" reference in his talk)
posted by Khazk at 4:49 AM on November 22, 2009


I'm with delmoi. How is it not scarcity if we're trading respect and attention, which are both in limited supply?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:33 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can anyone spare a favorite for a cup of coffee?
posted by hal9k at 5:48 AM on November 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


I definitely feel like the web has been, well, atrophying in the past few years. We see so many spam blogs and crap that just has a bunch of Google ads all over them. A tiny bit of lifted or uncreative content plastered with ads and SEO nonsense.

I have this sense, too.
posted by limeonaire at 5:48 AM on November 22, 2009


That's why we haven't had new music in twenty years

Maaaaatloooooock!
posted by fleetmouse at 5:54 AM on November 22, 2009 [12 favorites]


..that's why we haven't had new music in 20 years...

WAT?
posted by oh pollo! at 5:55 AM on November 22, 2009


With billions of people pondering how to make money via the internet, if a viable new model of currency actually exists, it will soon evolve independent of conferences, speeches and hand wringing.
posted by digsrus at 6:00 AM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


In a way, part of me hopes that all publishers and all middlemen get fucked into nonexistence by new distribution technologies. Not because I have a beef with them (though I do have a beef with them), but because not having a publisher, a rep or a label will force people who want to make money with writing, art, and music to do something new. These creative entities will have to devote some of their problem-solving abilities to the creation and sale of new value just to survive. Survival situations, as we know from toilet paper knives and toothbrush prison shanks, create powerful solutions from thin air.

People have been complaining about the decline of creativity since the time of the Greeks. It's easy to be hand-wavy and dismiss it, or bring up your favorite band that's "doing something new" or whatever (Whatever! They're not.). But that misses the point. Creativity may not be declining -- it may just be poorly directed or squandered (you wanna get paid for this fanfic/mashup???).

It occurs to me that Rushkoff's real point should be that we should be directing creative energy towards a new kind of reward/monetary system that is better suited to the zero-cost duplication/distribution system afforded us by the Internet and modern technologies. To implement this, IMHO, we need to force the "creatives" themselves to create this new value system. It will not be invented by corporations or businesspeople, with their investment in the preservation of the current system.
posted by fake at 6:25 AM on November 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


That's why we haven't had new music in twenty years

Yeah, okay, THAT'S bullshit, but more interesting is his criticism of the endless stream of remakes/"reimaginings" in the context of deliberate scarcity -- if you as a company own exclusive rights to something that people did at one point like, then endlessly recycling that thing means you are meeting a demand that no one else can fill. On the face of it, this is maybe not the worst thing ever -- leaving aside cases like corporate comics, where a company's exclusive rights to his characters (at least characters created about pre-1980) are based on mostly exploitative deals that remorselessly fucked over the actual creators and their heirs -- because it means that, so long as there is interest in the brand, at least that company has one (kinda) guaranteed stream of revenue. The problem is that the tested brand becomes the safe bet, and you get old shit endlessly refurbished rather than anything new and interesting and, well, risky. And what IS new is more likely to come from places that don't have this bank of old shit to dust off and sell you yet again, which means that it's from places that don't have the economic might to promote the hell out of that new thing and make you aware of it. What you are made aware of is stuff you already know about, a new Star Trek, a new "V," a new James Bond movie, and even if that stuff is sometimes really great (BSG), its prominence makes it feel like there just isn't anything that's even trying to be original. I don't think that's really awesome for us, personally. I mean, leaving aside how it's not awesome for creators who don't have some old gold mine to strip, I just don't think it's a good thing for our culture.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:26 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


2: The creation of new modes of currency based in abundance rather than scarcity.-Rushkoff

#2: What the hell is a "Currency based in abundance"? There is never going to be a limitless supply of human labor.-delmoi

That doesn't make sense...as long as there are people around, they have some set of skills that another person either shares, or does not have. If the skills are shared, then what the hell do you need currency for? You could just do everything yourself! But since skills are not shared, then there is an inherent value in them. He's saying we should at least be making trades when performing our skills for others. Abundance just means that there are skill sets that are different and have some overall benefit, not that we all share them.

How is it not scarcity if we're trading respect and attention, which are both in limited supply?-anotherpancea

Oh, come on now. Did you even watch/listen to the talk? This is what Rushkoff's whole spiel about the Middle Ages and the local currencies was for. People performed tasks for others, and the point was to become well-respected so they could charge more, or get cooler stuff from trade. They weren't necessarily asking for "money" is the point—being rich may have meant having the coolest-woven-carpet in your house, or getting rare spices from some far away land. They would provide their skills and products for other products or favors, but in lieu of those they would receive local currency. For people who couldn't provide the products or favors, they could turn to this local currency to receive the service. In this case it was pieces of grain ticket papers, but that was really just symbolic of "shared ability to do something useful for the town and people" (The ability to grow food.) This was making layman rich, because they knew, their friends and family knew, and word would spread that their skills were worth paying/bartering for. There was a shared attention and respect toward that person's craft, leading to higher values for that person's work.

Ultimately this transcended monetary value, and in your case it seems to be that way too, anotherpancea. It's obvious that you value "attention" and "respect." So too did the lords of the land, and when they found out that their gold and jewels weren't worth shit to the peasants, they outlawed local currency, created centralized money systems, and began the lend-lend culture which values physical gold and jewels higher than trade-skills and respect.

Fast-forward to now and it's a case of same-shit, different-day.

if a viable new model of currency actually exists-digsrus

It was viable, continuing the example above of the Middle Ages Grain Tickets, to be a local granary owner, don't you think?

The grain is a physical resource. It was a bank that had a definite amount of necessary stuff in it. When it ran out, it ran out, so it was vital that there was always enough grain. Therefore, people had to grow grain, or else come up with a way of getting grain tickets through other services. If you didn't have skills that paid the bills, you DIED. It was also in the interests of the granary owner to make sure that silo didn't run out of grain, because if it did, HE would die (probably at the hands of a thousand angry peasants.)

But when the lords of the land decided that useless gems were what had the value, the whole system fails. Everyone knows you can't eat gems, so why not invent fake gems that can act like real gems except you actually don't need to have enough gems, only about 20% of the actual gems in your vault. And while you're at it, you can charge extra gems for people who don't have real gems because they need to earn gems by "Making My Dinner (c)" and "Folding My Laundry (c)" and if they're really good they can "Suck My Body Parts (c)". Maybe they'll someday get enough gems to pay back the gems they owe me, plus extra gems because I was so nice to give them gems in the first place.

Fast-forward to now and you get a fucking bailout.
posted by Khazk at 6:31 AM on November 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


ps: see also World of Warcraft gold farming / Blizzard "Terms of Service" for a contemporary re-hash of the Middle Ages local currency deal-y.

Please also consider that "viable new model of currency actually exists" for a person in China.
posted by Khazk at 6:46 AM on November 22, 2009


This is what Rushkoff's whole spiel about the Middle Ages and the local currencies was for. People performed tasks for others, and the point was to become well-respected so they could charge more, or get cooler stuff from trade. They weren't necessarily asking for "money" is the point—being rich may have meant having the coolest-woven-carpet in your house, or getting rare spices from some far away land.

Do you seriously think there was a middle class of laborers in the middle ages? Maybe a handful of people, the vast majority of people were indentured servants, either serfs or slaves, forced to produce food for everyone to eat. Right now we've advanced technology to the extent that only a handful of people can produce food for everyone.

I get the idea of a 'skill exchange' – which would allow economic activity to take place in the absence of cash. But unless the ultimate result is cash, it's going to be pretty useless for everyone involved. It could be a way to get projects that might make money, like websites and so on off the ground.
posted by delmoi at 6:46 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


For a currency to really to take off you have to be able to steal it and use it to pay for drugs.
posted by Damienmce at 6:49 AM on November 22, 2009 [9 favorites]


Maybe a handful of people, the vast majority of people were indentured servants,

It's frustrating that "that handful of people" is so neglected, and that the focus is placed not on their successes but instead turned toward the status-quo that reinforces "Lordship" and "servitude" and the thinking that we've advanced technology to the extent of....

You're completely building the case here that there is absolutely no innovative thought coming out of most people, that "we've reached the extent of" our ability.

"it's going to be pretty useless for everyone involved"
"forced to produce food for everyone to eat"
"forced to [program code] for everyone to [get for free]" because there is no value on a 'skill exchange' because "in the absence of cash" we're running around like chickens with no head.

Some liberties taken, and no offense, and I'm glad you're open to the idea, but it's obvious that you probably won't be creating the website soon because no one's going to pay you for it.
posted by Khazk at 6:55 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's frustrating that "that handful of people" is so neglected, and that the focus is placed not on their successes

The successes of the middle class during the middle ages?
posted by effbot at 7:02 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Survival situations, as we know from toilet paper knives and toothbrush prison shanks, create powerful solutions from thin air.

To point out a problem with the metaphor: there's a reason that no market exists for these things on the outside. They're poor but minimally effective simulacra of better tools. They are in the stabbing-people business, but if you can stab someone with something else, you will probably do a better job.

A better metaphor would be "peasant" cuisines. We can all think of excellent foods, Cajun, Mexican, Southern "soul food", or what have you, that are based on the simplest and cheapest staples. They only become widely recognized and loved when the cooks have access to high-quality ingredients, a window of leisure to innovate, and a certain amount of cachet -- which, unfortunately, is generally something that a middleman and/or patron has to offer.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:03 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The trouble with exchange for value in some abstract sense is demonstrated by local barter programs all over the place. These initiatives always split into the guys who provide food, repair services and other pragmatic necessities and the guys who perform healing touch therapy and such. The food guys only want barter from other food guys. The less-pragmatic services trade with each other until they lose interest (no food!) and the food people get back to taking the money they could have made all along.
posted by mobunited at 7:11 AM on November 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


The successes of the middle class during the middle ages?

Yes, and the complete and authoritarian destruction of them in return for "a better way" which led to indentured servitude, non-real money, worldwide economic meltdown, Auto-Tune iTunes top-10 lists, oil and gas dependence, the aversion to risk and the complete and utter devaluation of people who are considered part of the Third World.

So yeah, let's completely embrace history and the foresight of the Lords and Ladies of the Middle Ages, and live our lives striving for power and money to change the world.
posted by Khazk at 7:11 AM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


There was a shared attention and respect toward that person's craft, leading to higher values for that person's work.

actually, crafts were generally controlled by guilds and they were in charge of who would be recognized as a member of a craft, what they would do and what they would be paid - true, some would be recognized more than others - but it wasn't anywhere as free as you're making it sound like
posted by pyramid termite at 7:17 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's frustrating that "that handful of people" is so neglected, and that the focus is placed not on their successes

Because it would be ridiculous. A society that gives economic freedom to a few people, while making everyone else a slave to hereditary income is a failure. People fantasize about the middle ages all the time, they fantasize about being kings and princes and knights or whatever. But the fact is you and I and probably everyone else here would be slaving away in a field somewhere, to be bought and sold along with the land. Those of us over 35 would probably be dead.

Now, I'm just saying that because the middle ages were bad, this would also be bad. I'm just pointing out that the middle ages are not really a positive example of anything.

You're completely building the case here that there is absolutely no innovative thought coming out of most people, that "we've reached the extent of" our ability.

Well, you don't really know what kind of case I'm trying to build, beyond the obvious one that this idea won't do many people much good. I excepted the simple case where entrepreneurs without much money can "invest" their time on other projects to get work in other skill-sets, And it could be useful for dedicated hobbyists.
posted by delmoi at 7:19 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Khazk, 'scarce currency' is a great idea. It's like these grain bartering tickets from the middle ages, except you can spend it on anything, anywhere, anytime. Everything that's not cash just puts limitations on what you, the craftsman or laborer, can do with it.

Peer-to-peer exchanges are fine, but the whole point of them is that any sort of currency is unnecessary besides a handshake or contract. Doug Rushkoff wants me to be tied up to some internet site where I can bake a Rushkoff-Cookie and trade it for some Rushkoff-Noodles, Rushkoff-Haircuts and Rushkoff-Programming. Someone's gonna get rich from the idea, and it's not going to be me.
posted by romanb at 7:20 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The less-pragmatic services trade with each other until they lose interest (no food!) and the food people get back to taking the money they could have made all along.-mobunited

Those initiatives fail because there is no common, shared, necessary skill among all participants. There may be common, shared skills among the subsets of the group perhaps but are they as necessary as food production?

It also fails because some people had chosen their pragmatic profession based on the assumption that they could make money doing it exclusively. Now that they can't (in a barter-exchange for value system) they're fucked. The people who base their livelihoods on manufacturing, a system designed for mass production, fail when the community is no longer "massive." The demand for craft goods is eliminated when manufacturers can do it more cheaply, with the whole underlying reason being the money system.

This guy is not advocating "a return to the Middle Ages" because it's impossible now, unless global catastrophe strikes. What he is saying is that innovators are being crushed, just like in the Middle Ages.
posted by Khazk at 7:27 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm still shaken a little that he got up there and talked about central banking in a way that I'm only used to hearing from conspiracy theorists. Note that he takes care to say "and this isn't a conspiracy", like he wants to put some space between himself and the anti-NWO crowd. But essentialy, this is what the CS people say, except that they extend the genealogy of banking back to the shapeshifting reptilian Jews of Babylon.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:30 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


*CT people
posted by fleetmouse at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2009


so what are we going to call this "scarce currency"? - L33TbuX?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2009


actually, crafts were generally controlled by guilds and they were in charge of who would be recognized as a member of a craft, what they would do and what they would be paid - true, some would be recognized more than others - but it wasn't anywhere as free as you're making it sound like-pyramid termite

Again, another example of "absorption" and "conformity" that continues to prevail into today's life. It's a failure of both society and the craftsman who did not and could not fight that tide.

It sounds suspiciously like an open-source software community aside from the payment part. Whatever.

Again, another example along the lines that "it doesn't work" or "it can never work, it never has before" or "there's no way that you can possibly do this on your own" or whatever.

Someone's gonna get rich from the idea, and it's not going to be me.-romanb

Unfortunately I can see where this is headed and it's not looking good. There's an element of mistrust there that destroys this idea time and time again. The peer-to-peer handshake is the valuable part to the parties involved, because their needs are met. Why should they have to provide this data to a watchman when the deal is done?

Is there a benefit to the barter system at all when there's a middleman involved?

The benefit is community and respect. The third party isn't some "overseer" who doesn't have needs as well. The third party may need the services of one of the other two. That's why communities exist.

If you don't believe me, then a) why did you buy a MetaFilter account, and b) why did they build MetaFilter in the first place.

A big problem is that you all seem to be forgetting that these values are separate entities and have a different purpose than money. The big deal is "why use xxxx peer exchange site to find a wedding photographer when I can just use Google instead" and the answer is "because if Google is solely interested in making money then their interests are different than yours"
posted by Khazk at 7:51 AM on November 22, 2009


Wow, what a great articulation of the problem, but I don't see the articulation of the solution-- yet. Just a glimmer, and an intriguing one.

"Humans are the only species with unemployment," is another statement of the problem, because why should we have people idled in a knowledge-based economy? People are not suddenly less knowledgeable. His idea that it is for the lack of currency that fits the knowledge age is intriguing. Our industrial era model of employment is to keep the machines running, and if the machines don't need to run or can run with fewer people-- then people go hungry. What about all the other things people can do that do not involve keeping the machines running?

What do we really spend our money on, and how can we get that to go through alternative value-exchange systems? Housing, education, healthcare, and food make the the vast bulk for me. I am starting to see his point.

Anyway, thank you for the post.
posted by brewsterkahle at 7:58 AM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm deeply amused that the first commenter in this thread has more than 26,000 metafilter comments for which he has made zero dollars and says "There is never going to be a limitless supply of human labor.".
posted by srboisvert at 8:09 AM on November 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


A comment, like many internet things, are by nature almost impossible for the creator to monetize, but are collectively monetizable by the host service.

Google makes lost and lots of content behave this way by taking an illusionary host role. Google is an ad company. When people realize they are an ad company, that everything they do exists to push ads, that they make money from content they don't create, and that that their structure is designed to attack competing systems of monetization, they will understand the Web much better.
posted by mobunited at 8:17 AM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


In this case it was pieces of grain ticket papers, but that was really just symbolic of "shared ability to do something useful for the town and people" (The ability to grow food.)

The ability to grow food is intrinsically tied to the ability to have land. If you don't have land, all your skills are worthless. You can pretty-much go down the line with any industry. Metals require ores mined from someone's property. Hell, just the ability to exist, to live under a roof in total obscurity, still requires you to pay into the system.

Land ownership promises unfair hierarchies based not on talent or hard work of the players involved but on existing agreements between the owners. Historically, those owners are the ones with the stronger armies (external acquisition) and police (internal maintenance of acquisitions).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:19 AM on November 22, 2009


The real problem is that there is a sharp divide between intellectual products which can be readily copied, indexed, preserved and reused forever, and matter products which are destroyed through use. The Internet has pretty much destroyed our economic model for promoting the creation of intellectual products, which has historically been based on their artificial destruction.

My wife used to be a freelance writer. Her market was mid-level magazines -- pet, hobby, and industry magazines paying a few hundred dollars for an article. She wrote fast, produced good copy in little need of editing, so she made a good living at it for awhile. She would write, for example, an article on how to teach your cockatiel to talk. A couple of years later she'd write another, possibly better with newer examples and input from readers of the last article, and she'd be paid for it again because if you wanted to teach your cockatiel to talk it was kind of a pain to go sifting through back issues of a magazine most people don't even keep looking for her last article.

I say she "used to be" a freelance writer because that market is on its way to meet the Titanic. It's dead, gone, and what little of it is left is sinking very fast. Now you can go to Google and instantly find five hundred articles on how to teach your cockatiel to talk, so it's not in anybody's interest to pay my wife to write another one. So instead of writing a newer better article for pet lovers she doesn't write much at all.

The flip side of this, that it facilitates the distribution of things like my novel that would otherwise never have seen the light of day, doesn't really make up for the destruction of the professional class that creates quality intellectual content. Rushkoff's ideas on money don't really address this problem because at the end of the day my wife may have the skill to write articles that people like to read, but she has to get something for that that can pay for more food. Inasmuch as you will never be able to copy food, whatever "new money" is introduced to encourage the creation of intellectual content will have to interface with the "old money" that buys food.

And this is what the hoopla is about over things like eBay and PayPal, which made it possible for individuals and very small businesses to do what only large businesses had previously been able to do. It's not that they are a new kind of money, it's that they make the old money work more conveniently for smaller players. Rushkoff would probably point to my novel as an example of the kind of thing he's talking about; I "gave it away" and have gotten more money from it than I probably would have if an actual publisher had given it a shot. But I really made that money mostly because PayPal makes it unnecessary for me to stand on a street corner with a basket for someone to give me five bucks. The fact is I wrote my novel without any expectation that it would ever be published, as a symptom of my own mid-life crisis, and while it's good that I was able to distribute something that is designed to thoroughly upset the reader in chapter 1, there is also a sharply limited amount of content that is created that way, and most of it is not going to be as good as content that is vetted and edited by practised professionals who are paid enough real money to provide food and shelter for themselves to spend a lot of time honing their craft.
posted by localroger at 8:23 AM on November 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


If the ability to have land is so important why do I know so many bankrupt farmers?
posted by Damienmce at 8:35 AM on November 22, 2009


Throws down the Gauntlet? Yawn.
posted by borges at 8:38 AM on November 22, 2009


In a way, part of me hopes that all publishers and all middlemen get fucked into nonexistence by new distribution technologies. Not because I have a beef with them (though I do have a beef with them), but because not having a publisher, a rep or a label will force people who want to make money with writing, art, and music to do something new. These creative entities will have to devote some of their problem-solving abilities to the creation and sale of new value just to survive.

Publishers and middlemen provide a valuable service - they wade through the alpine piles of utter crap to give us smaller piles of moderate crap with a bunch of more easily found good stuff around the edges. There's a reason vanity publishers are shunned by critics and books stores, and the cheaper vanity publishing becomes, the larger those mountains of crap will rise. As to survival, it's easier for the would be writer to survive by learning accountancy.

(On preview - much what local roger said.)


The big deal is "why use xxxx peer exchange site to find a wedding photographer when I can just use Google instead" and the answer is "because if Google is solely interested in making money then their interests are different than yours"


Is xxxx peer exchange photocopying out of copyright books that I need and posting them for free? Alarming though Google is becoming, they do provide and for "free", things and information that I could not otherwise get. Lot of grey in the great google debate.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:44 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those initiatives fail because there is no common, shared, necessary skill among all participants. There may be common, shared skills among the subsets of the group perhaps but are they as necessary as food production?

Mmmmm. If only there were some medium of exchange, so that people with specialized skills that the avergae person needs only a little of, once in a while, could nevertheless trade that skill with a wide range of people and use the medium to obtain the necessities.

Survival situations, as we know from toilet paper knives and toothbrush prison shanks, create powerful solutions from thin air.

Also lots of death. That's what's behind door number two. You're put into a survival situation, you fail to come up with a viable solution to the problem with which you are confronted, and you die. Or perhaps go extinct.

This is one of the stupidist talks I've ever seen. His solution to the problem of free is that millions of people voluntarily go back to some kind of internet-based barter system? Barter? For realski? Changing the medium in which you choose to demand payment does nothing to alter people's desire, or lack thereof, to pay you. The problem is that a technological innovation has occurred which has demolished most of the costs and barries to entry for distributing and producing content, and so content providers face near perfect competition for their services, and the quite substantial profits that one could eke from scarcity are now demolished. Advertising in particular, which had been the prop for much of the media, is never going to work like it did in the past, because it is no longer necessary for advertisers to congregate around honeypots of pooled attention and attempt to scoop up a fragment of what's already there. They, too, can cut out the middleman, and attract people's attention to themselves almost as easily as can skilled content providers. The value that used to be there isn't hidden, it's gone. A real What Is To Be Done for our age.
posted by Diablevert at 8:50 AM on November 22, 2009 [10 favorites]


"The same way the early Renaissance got a scarcity by killing off half the people with the plague."

So, can I hear somebody who's actually a medievalist give that part of the talk? His take on late medieval and early renaissance wealth creation was about as realistic as a Tamora Pierce novel. I have no idea what he's saying about grain store scrip losing value over years (what, is grain only put into a granary once?), Philip the Fair's coinage was more about controlling those feudal lords and abbeys he seems to put into the same class as monarchs, and as people have pointed out, peasants didn't generally own their own land. To go to the Medieval Sourcebook's economics page there are plenty of mentions of coin value for weight of grain dating back as far as 600, and a look at the wages list shows a huge difference even between those burghers who were getting "wealthy," as Rushkoff put it, and the actual gentry - by two or three orders of magnitude of annual income. So while I guess it's a nice allegory, I'd like to see him compare it to a system that actually has basis in reality or just say it's this new thing he'd like to try.

Oh, and I was under the impression that renaissance wealth creation was less about a scarcity of labor (after all, all that learning and art wasn't funded by all the people, just an extreme concentration of wealth in a few competing families and guilds) than it was about an abundance of land and coin, which is I think a lot more in line with what he's trying to say.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


He starts talking about, I think Philip II move to consolidate the Tours pound as a national currency of France (which as a country was probably nothing more than Tours and Paris, but I digress). Unfortunately dual currencies were not eliminated at that point the ducat was still used internationally and every little town made their own currency ... including Paris!

So I kind of lost him after that. I don't know what it is about engineers that makes them think they can solve all problems with some cleverness. It makes you look sort of like a dip when you talk about problems people spend their entire lives studying and you show even a cursory understanding of the more fundamental issues.
posted by geoff. at 9:09 AM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


That's why we haven't had new music in twenty years

Indeed
posted by Slothrup at 9:26 AM on November 22, 2009


People performed tasks for others, and the point was to become well-respected so they could charge more, or get cooler stuff from trade.

Perhaps it's just because it's Sunday, and I've less attention to spare, but I have no idea how this isn't zero sum, i.e. driven by scarcity, not abundance. In metafilter terms, there's only one languagehat or jessamyn: there are others who are interesting linguists or librarians, but only one person can be the *most* respected in this community.

Whatever goods accrue to them from their efforts are also scarce, not in the sense that they couldn't each have ten times as many favorites, but that the value of those favorites would be inflated away, because the respect and attention which those favorites represent is itself scarce. There's only so much 'benefit of the doubt' that their histories here will buy, for instance.

You can see exactly the same kind of inflationary pressures in WoW gold markets, especially if you're willing to dig into the effects of dollar-yuan exchange rates on the US dollar price of WoW gold, which some virtual economists have done! Scarcity is everywhere, efficiency matters, and "free" is a myth.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:34 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The peer-to-peer handshake is the valuable part to the parties involved, because their needs are met. Why should they have to provide this data to a watchman when the deal is done?

Is there a benefit to the barter system at all when there's a middleman involved?
- Khazk

In this hypothetical middle-aged Internet, I would visit a website to get credits for the services I provide to that website's community. Those credits would stay with the local Internet Lord, and I could only use my credits there and only for whatever services are provided by members there. You're locked in.

I still don't quite understand if we're supposed to be against cash money, or advertising. In some ways, using Google is in almost every way more advanced than this proposed system. You get listed on their website which could get you a few potential customers. The more people talk about you, the more likely you're at the top of their listing. Even if you pay Google to advertise for you, it has nothing to do with how you deal with your customers. You can use Google to advertise your services for bartering as well.
posted by romanb at 9:49 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


People take this guy seriously?
posted by fleacircus at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Y'know, I think in the end this is beating around the bush. We all know fake-ass money will just lead to people being exploited as bad or even worse than they are now. We all know that the situation is at it is because people will either take stuff online without permission, copy it to their own sites without permission, will create crap that is easier to find on Google than quality material, or will write substandard material that people will make do with.

We should know that a million people making $1 is worse than 1000 people making $1000, too, but much thrives on the ego satisfaction of a guy who made a dollar and his feeling that the Internet has finally put him on a level playing field with those fucking thousandaires.
posted by mobunited at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2009


LONG BOOM!
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how rushkoff has to qualify his ideas with "this is not nuts." haha, im on board though.
posted by pwally at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2009


We should know that a million people making $1 is worse than 1000 people making $1000

No, we really, really shouldn't.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:19 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, there's a lot of people in this thread with boxes on their heads. And it's very bad for everyone's health.

Seriously.

An argument for the status quo of our scarcity based ways of doing business is an argument for the catastrophic demise of, if not our entire species, certainly our so-called "civilization", which as much as I deeply despise aspects of it, I think I prefer it to the so-called middle ages.

1349 anyone.

Wow, what a great articulation of the problem, but I don't see the articulation of the solution-- yet. Just a glimmer, and an intriguing one.

Thanks for that, brewsterkahle. I don't think it's a screw-up on Rushkoff's part that he spent roughly 80 percent of his time on The Problem. I think that's entirely the point of his talk. That is, at this point in time, November 2009, the best we can do, with any authority, is define THE PROBLEM. Frustrating, but there you go.

Get creative, folks, in more ways that you can possibly imagine. That's the only solution I've personally ever had to anything. And ummm ... love is probably the answer.
posted by philip-random at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


had this line of discussion years ago, with Holgate?
anywho, it is all about the (re)allocation of natural resources and the system in place to redistribute that. The currency aspect is an-an- sol-larry.
posted by clavdivs at 11:13 AM on November 22, 2009


Also lots of death. That's what's behind door number two. You're put into a survival situation, you fail to come up with a viable solution to the problem with which you are confronted, and you die. Or perhaps go extinct.

Actually, what's come from an impending "survival situation" for most publishers and the recording industry has been a whole lot of anti-user, anti-consumer awfulness. DRM, rootkits, lawsuits. Legal and social shanks. It's apparent that they will bleed themselves out. One way or the other, artists and authors are going to have to figure out a new way to deal.

Publishers and middlemen provide a valuable service - they wade through the alpine piles of utter crap to give us smaller piles of moderate crap

I hear this all the time. If this is all that publishers have to offer, frankly, they have fuck-all to offer. I can cite a dozen or more cases where publishers rejected excellent work off the top of my head. It's a pretty weak justification for a top-heavy, user-hostile industry. Plenty of sites exist to vet work, just look at MetaCritic, Wikipedia and the like.
posted by fake at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I truly feel there is nothing more important to intellectual discourse than getting books on Google.

Wikipedia is great and wonderful, but oh my god, it is becoming all there is to say about a subject. One project I've wanted to do is to look at school papers done over time, and graph the diversity of facts declared before and after Google. It has most likely diminished severely.

We, as a society, have to figure out how to get the information density of books, into the most common search engines. The truth is just rotting.
posted by effugas at 11:25 AM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


The truth is just rotting.

This is by design
posted by clavdivs at 11:30 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a beef with them (though I do have a beef with them), but because not having a publisher, a rep or a label will force people who want to make money with writing, art, and music to do something new. These creative entities will have to devote some of their problem-solving abilities to the creation and sale of new value just to survive. Survival situations, as we know from toilet paper knives and toothbrush prison shanks, create powerful solutions from thin air.

Problem here is that creative people *already have* their creative skills well-honed in terms of writing, art, music-- that takes massive practice and focus. Requiring them to suddenly create their way into a whole new skill set is basically saying "Get a job" -- it's not about making them better at their art or more able to get paid for it. People who are amazing at just one talent are rare enough-- talent at writing, art or music doesn't necessarily translate into talent at anything else.
posted by Maias at 11:42 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


#2: What the hell is a "Currency based in abundance"? There is never going to be a limitless supply of human labor.

Part of the context of this is
1) Traditional book libraries,
and
2) Projects like the one my group is working on, RepRap, which managed to bodge together a 3D printer which makes copies of itself. (Concession to hairsplitters: For a generous definition of 'copy'.)

In each case, the more we contribute to the commons, the more valuable the commons become to each and every one of us.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


*already have* their creative skills well-honed in terms of writing, art, music

I see your point, but if that were strictly true, we wouldn't "need" the publishing industry to sort the "alpine" piles of garbage out there as argued above by others.
posted by fake at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2009


2: The creation of new modes of currency based in abundance rather than scarcity.

I've wondered how an "information economy' seems to turn some of our assumptions on their heads: increased supply creates more, not less, demand. Is it because the engine is addiction rather than sustenance?
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


StickyCarpet, It's not just about consumption; we can use technology to address real human needs, like education, communication, and so on.

For example, someone could come up with a <$100 build cost prosthetic leg with microprocessors and servos, based on a laser scan of a stump, and then host the project online, and then everyone in the third world who's got <2 legs and access to a fab lab or fab machine can make of use of it. This seems unreal today, but could be real a decade from now.

Or a cheap cell phone/LED light charger, although the existing market may be addressing this.

There's a set of indian technical institutes that have put ?1000-10000? hours of engineering class lectures online. The web and technology is more than just iCandy.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:10 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


This was one of the most rambly, nonsensical talks I've heard in ages. I can't believe it made it onto the Metafilter favourites page. Normally Metafilter rips the shit out of stuff, here, people are being largely supportive. I'm confused.

I'm also confused by his idea. His idea is bartering? I'm pretty sure we tried that already, and that currency works a lot better. If anyone could give me a concrete example of how Rushkof's idea could work in practice, I'd love to hear it.

I'm interested in a lot of the things he's talking about (e.g. I've looked into this before) but I'm pretty sure this guy is just an idiot.
posted by greytape at 12:47 PM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think the guy is a mimbo.
posted by borges at 1:03 PM on November 22, 2009


> I definitely feel like the web has been, well, atrophying in the past few years. We see so many spam blogs and crap that just has a bunch of Google ads all over them. A tiny bit of lifted or uncreative content plastered with ads and SEO nonsense.

It's being integrated into people's lives-- it's moving from a formal representation of what people do, toward an informal account of how people are. It's no longer a painting, but a mirror.

Maybe I'll actually watch Rushkoff's speech now.

Or maybe not.

As has been suggested above, any barter system is going to be limited until it guarantees you can trade for food and shelter, and guarantees your trades for food and shelter will be accepted.

Bluntly, though, the pre-billing of "currency based on abundance" makes me less willing to spend the time. Currency is a literal measure of scarcity; trying to sell abundance makes no sense. The model of X scarce good in exchange for Y abstract money unit doesn't need to change, even in the face of the massive volume afforded by digitalization, the web, and the zero-cost distribution of info.

The most important things that need to be changed are the cost of the transactions and better security and anti-replication technology. Prices need to be much lower-- an efficient, invisible micropayment system needs to be setup-- but not zero. The fact that ebooks and software can be perfectly and easily pirated is a technical issue, and can and should be fixed.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


darth_tedious: The fact that ebooks and software can be perfectly and easily pirated is a technical issue, and can and should be fixed.

But it can't be fixed. The problem is that those products consist of information, and copying information is what computers do.

Consider for a more meatspace example that instead of selling you cars outright a car company wants to rent them to you by the passenger mile. Moving things around is to cars what copying information is to computers; it's what the machine is designed to do. But in order to maximize its profits, the car now has to figure out how many people it's carrying, because you might start giving your neighbors rides. That means less miles which would mean less profit for the car company if they just charged by the odometer mile. So the car company would have to implement some enforcement mechanism. Maybe the car would weigh itself, or measure acceleration performance, or have seat sensors. But some check would have to be put on carpooling freeloaders for the business model to work. (It would also have to make very sure that you don't tamper with the odometer, which is a problem even in the RL used car market.)

The problem is that, once you make a car capable of moving things around, anything you do to enforce the per-passenger business model becomes negative functionality; you're adding hardware for the sole purpose of reducing capability. If you compared a car that doesn't care how many people are in it to one that won't start if it thinks you have a passenger, you would likely consider the second car defective by design. This is what DRM is, and it doesn't matter what the technology is; it can and will be cheated, or drive business to the competitor with a more realistic business model. And the problem is that "giving it away" is a very realistic business model for information. It's kind of hard to compete against that with any model that results in paying your rent.

A related problem is that no matter how safe information is on its path from the vendor to you, it has to be released from its DRM shackles in order to be used. Your eyes and ears and the air between the playback machine and them are not subject to any DRM scheme, and if it can be played it can be recorded (presumably by a non-DRM encumbered device). Technology always catches up with this. The CD was originally introduced partly to discourage copying; in the 1980's a CD couldn't be copied at its original quality and was vastly superior to cassette tape copies. The original digital tape format failed largely because of its restrictive DRM that prevented it from making more than a third generation recording even of stuff you recorded yourself, in a bid to plug the "analog hole." Eventually this became untenable and when a device with similar capability, the recordable CD, came along that didn't have such a stupid restriction it took over the world. Roughly the same thing is happening w/r/t movies as I write this.

This has completely broken the reward structure by which capitalism encouraged the creation of this kind of content, and the problem cannot be fixed technically. Rushkoff may not be on the path toward a workable solution -- I really think he isn't, something much more radical will end up emerging -- but he is correct that the problem exists and isn't going away.
posted by localroger at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2009 [10 favorites]


Bluntly, though, the pre-billing of "currency based on abundance" makes me less willing to spend the time.

He relates it to limited supply of the realm's money, which conceivably allowed money suppliers to make a profit from all exchanges using a scarce currency in their control, as opposed to the unknown abundance we would have otherwise. His illustration is the self-produced grain that would fetch a form of granary voucher while in storage. He seems to argue that money as we know it discourages exchange and limits wealth creation to the capital holders. His grasp of the problem is not new and include discussions of alternative money in the real world, such as Yap money, and tally sticks and chirographs.

There are bigger problems here perhaps, one being that modern money is relatively easy to transact on the internet, although not very secure, and there's no reason digital money would be any more secure or worthwhile. Another problem is real: grain you can eat is no match for internet commodities such as a words and songs when it comes to value. Yet another problem is that money reform might be needed at a higher level than just a private company on the internet for it to succeed as designed.
posted by Brian B. at 3:29 PM on November 22, 2009


Hmm... kind of disappointed with the discussion quality here. I enjoyed the talk a lot; he raises plenty of good points and constructs a good narrative, considering the limited time. Wired-esque techno-evangelism and/or cultural critique in general often tends to be blissfully ignorant of political, historical, or economic perspectives, but this fit in well with the little knowledge I have of those subjects.

I'm not sure people are grasping what he is really saying. Our economic system is set up to maximize efficiency. Scarce currencies are ones that create scarcity because of debt and interest, and they work well to create efficiency because people are basically forced to do more with less --more productivity with less labor, capital, or resources-- in order to pay back their debt.

The problem is that (1) debtors have basically taken over and (2) left everyone else struggling to find ways to convert all their apparent digital wealth into something useful. People are creating all kinds of wealth that is not helping anyone because the medium of exchange is not set up to bring that wealth to the majority of the people. Instead it goes to investment bankers and shareholders.

Alternative currencies (like superfluid that he mentions in the talk) offer a way of bypassing the debt and enforced scarcity, where there is never enough money to actually pay back all the loans.

If people are interested in this I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer, or at least reading some of his articles on his website. Also Michael Hudson has some fascinating articles about debt.
posted by ropeladder at 3:29 PM on November 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


The most important things that need to be changed are the cost of the transactions and better security and anti-replication technology

No. You've missed the entire point. We are in an age where advances in digital technology are very rapidly driving the cost of sharing information towards zero. It would be like if Star Trek replicators were invented, and they were rapidly being scaled up to working on larger and larger objects. And everyone who exists in the "selling stuff" industry is now screaming for laws to prevent me from making myself a near-free copy of your car

Scarcity is dead. Any society which embraces scarcity will be washed away by the tsunami of information crashing in from the societies which embrace the new way of the world
posted by crayz at 3:31 PM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


Scarcity is dead. Any society which embraces scarcity will be washed away by the tsunami of information crashing in from the societies which embrace the new way of the world

I believe it was 1970. Buckminster Fuller made a presentation in which he declared the natural scarcity of resources officially over. That is, given advances in technologies of production, distribution, storage, COMMUNICATION, for the first time EVER in the history of humankind, there was enough food, shelter etc to go around. And as such, all future scarcity would be artificial, political and, in a word, EVIL.

Thirty-nine years later, it feels like we're finally starting to "get" this. Some of us anyhow.

darth_tedious: The most important things that need to be changed are the cost of the transactions and better security and anti-replication technology. Prices need to be much lower-- an efficient, invisible micropayment system needs to be setup-- but not zero. The fact that ebooks and software can be perfectly and easily pirated is a technical issue, and can and should be fixed.

Man, I can only hope we all live long enough for you to realize how wrong your logic is here. Not that you can't make a buck selling arguments like this to interests that want to keep things "as they are" (ie: DRM). But failure is assured.
posted by philip-random at 4:07 PM on November 22, 2009


Actually, what's come from an impending "survival situation" for most publishers and the recording industry has been a whole lot of anti-user, anti-consumer awfulness. DRM, rootkits, lawsuits. Legal and social shanks. It's apparent that they will bleed themselves out. One way or the other, artists and authors are going to have to figure out a new way to deal.

Yes. They failed and are dying. The relevant question is, was any other outcome possible? Could the recording industry have taken some other path which enabled them to remain a profitable industry? I would say the answer was no, because of two simple words: Perfect copy. They might have moved more quickly to transition from companies that sell music to companies which sell marketing services to musicians, as the latter is an area in which they retain some expertise, but perhaps that's no longer valuable in the absence of the market power they had when they owned the music, also. But even if they had, such a fundamental transition seems to me equivalent to death.

The rumble of the wave is beginning to reach the beach, now, as people begin to realize that what happened with music is going to happen not just to movies, but to all content. What people in general seem to have some insane mental block about is the possibility of failure. Just because it would be in many ways sad and bad for the production of intellectual content to cease to be a viable profession for more than a handful of people doesn't mean it's not going to happen.
posted by Diablevert at 4:31 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


No. You've missed the entire point. We are in an age where advances in digital technology are very rapidly driving the cost of sharing information towards zero
...
Scarcity is dead. Any society which embraces scarcity will be washed away by the tsunami of information crashing in from the societies which embrace the new way of the world


That's fantastic! Why don't you fly over to Somalia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Congo, Tajikistan, and the poor areas in India and China that Scarcity is so over and they can get all the free movies and music they want on their cellphones!
posted by delmoi at 4:46 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


> given advances in technologies of production, distribution, storage, COMMUNICATION, for the first time EVER in the history of humankind, there was enough food, shelter etc to go around. And as such, all future scarcity would be artificial, political and, in a word, EVIL.

Man, I can only hope we all live long enough for you to realize how wrong your logic is here.


>
No. You've missed the entire point. We are in an age where advances in digital technology are very rapidly driving the cost of sharing information towards zero.

>
But it can't be fixed. The problem is that those products consist of information, and copying information is what computers do.


>Eventually this became untenable and when a device with similar capability, the recordable CD, came along that didn't have such a stupid restriction it took over the world.

> defective by design. This is what DRM is, and it doesn't matter what the technology is; it can and will be cheated, or drive business to the competitor with a more realistic business model.

Yes*, yes, yes, and yes.

The cost of info is being driven to zero; no technical solution is permanent, and therefore an arms race will always ensue; and it's very hard to compete against a rival who gives material away for free.

All these things are clearly the case; in an age of digital reproduction and redistribution, the Special and Expensive Snowflake model is a hard one to maintain.

It seems very neatly to fit within the Dutch Boy/Finger/Dike paradigm. But I would argue that it must be pursued, as well as it can be-- because the alternative is a future of consolidated wealth and power flowing only from massive firms that can afford equally massive loss-leadership strategies; the need for very little from most people but manual labor; and to reassure mass anxiety, the occasional one-in-a-billion YouTube 15 Minute Celebrity. Which is to say... it will all be much as it has been for the past year or so, but on a routinized, systematic, and lasting basis.

At the risk of being all too parochial, distribution of information means leveling of playing fields-- and the fact is, those of us in the US particularly, and in the West, generally, have enjoyed a very unfair playing field relative to the world for a very long time.

To rehash an old argument, when we save a few bucks by nicking this software or that book, we ultimately help create the conditions for moving jobs to places where those non-payments can still enable some massive corporation to be massively profitable: Overseas.

The process of leveling, for those in rich countries, is likely to be an increasingly trying one.

*Is withholding basic food and shelter evil? Probably.

Is withholding information technically difficult, even ultimately futile? Possibly.

Is withholding information evil? No. Unless *not* gossiping is wrong, and *not* sharing your bank account PIN number with the world is evidence of moral failing.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2009


The most important things that need to be changed are the cost of the transactions and better security and anti-replication technology.

No. You've missed the entire point.


Amen. All the billions that have been spent on hassling consumers with DRM over the last two decades has done nothing except make consumers hate and mistrust distribution companies.

If you think crippling or hobbling information is progress, or imposing more restrictions on your own customers is the way to improve transactional commerce... you're not paying attention to history.
posted by rokusan at 6:27 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi, scarcity and distribution are related but different issues.
posted by bardic at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I definitely feel like the web has been, well, atrophying in the past few years.

If you mean because every goddamn website of the last five years has the same interchangeable "Web 2.0" look, shiny beta badge and 'clever' funnily-spelled naming convention... I'm with you.

I miss variety, and I wish designers take something other than "copy whatever Apple does" as their inspiration.
posted by rokusan at 6:29 PM on November 22, 2009


"Wikipedia is great and wonderful, but oh my god, it is becoming all there is to say about a subject."

I think it's more complicated than that. On more than one occasion I've gone and purchased a book in meatspace due to reading about something on Wikipedia.
posted by bardic at 6:29 PM on November 22, 2009


Actually, it seems to me that Wikipedia is getting less complete as time goes on; many articles are becoming worse over time, as people remove stuff from them. Sometimes it's because it was wrong, but often it was right, but written before you had to cite sources for every statement.

And there are some thing wikipedia doesn't do well. Have you read any movie pages lately?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:10 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doug Rushkoff wants me to be tied up to some internet site where I can bake a Rushkoff-Cookie and trade it for some Rushkoff-Noodles, Rushkoff-Haircuts and Rushkoff-Programming. Someone's gonna get rich from the idea, and it's not going to be me.

From superfluid.biz's explanation of its currency, Quids:

All About Quids

The value of a Quid is determined by users of the superfluid system. It’s not equivalent to a dollar, and you can’t buy them with dollars, or sell them for dollars. Quids simply represent a tool to help you barter most efficiently.


I am absolutely certain that I could, in fact, buy and sell Quids for dollars if I were of a mind to do so. All I'd have to do is offer a money laundering service on superfluid. They probably have some kind of TOS that lets them stay in denial about this.

When deciding how many Quids to charge for any offering, you’ll want to look at comparable offerings already online. If you see nothing comparable, you might derive it from our expectation that the median price will be about 60 Quids per hour.

The implication here is that anybody's time is worth roughly the same as anybody else's. Given the fact that people are not all equally good at what they do, I'm sure that a spread of Quids per hour will become evident sooner rather than later.

In fact, the value of Quids, like that of any other currency, is ultimately going to depend on the total number in circulation.

There are three ways that participants can use Quids:

1. Buy and sell Services and Products.


So far so good.

2. Borrow a few Quids; based upon the number of Quids you hold.

...which sounds a lot like dealing with a traditional bank; no surprises yet.

3. Earn a few extra Quids by being an active participant; there’s periodically a small monthly dividend provided to users in bonus Quids (expiring after four months, unless used), based in total upon growth of the community, and distributed based upon the number of transactions (purchasing or selling) each participant transacts within the system.

As an active participant in the community, you add value to the system, so you’re given 200 Quids to get you started when you join.


Now this - this is interesting. What superfluid is effectively doing here is implementing a social wage, and it will be fun to see how it plays out.

The value of Quids derives from two elements: The first is the basic premise that Quids always represents a swap of services or products into the system.

Except it doesn't; the initial allocation of 200 Quids is effectively a loan, and there appears to be no mechanism to avoid bad debts. I could join, spend my 200 Quids on something useful, and leave - having effectively sucked 200 Quids worth of value out of the community at no cost to myself. There's also nothing stopping me from setting myself up as a middleman and churning through tens of thousands of Quids just to game the bonus system.

The second is that we are fully transparent about the model, and limit the use and number of Quids.

In this regard, superfluid aspires to operate exactly the same way as any other central bank.

We maintain total currency at an aggregate level such that the average user balance is about 400 Quids (including bonus Quids). Your individual balance will, of course, depend on the transactions you have completed in the system. And while we don’t plan on increasing this limit, we will notify community members of any changes that may affect the value of each Quid.

Translation: we will control monetary policy to maintain inflation of our currency within our desired target range.

We (the owners and employees of superfluid), do not take credits out of the system except as individual participants. That is, we do not harvest Quids to operate the business.

So, they're not eating their own dog food, but they expect me to play? So far, the only reason that's even mildly interesting is the social wage and the possibilities for gaming the thing.

superfluid operates on a membership fee of $200 per year, with no per transaction charges.

So you can trade dollars for Quids. $200 membership gets you your first 200 Quids.

We are currently in an open beta period, and are not charging users the membership fee. Users will be given at least 90 days prior notice before we move out of beta and begin to require payment.

Uh huh.

I don't know why Rushkoff sees this kind of thing as different from any other kind of currency. It's just currency, and its legitimacy and usefulness depends - exactly as for any other currency - on a consensus decision to trust the central banker. And if superfluid looks like getting too big for its boots and actually becoming disruptive, you can bet your last Quid that the existing central banks will move to crush it utterly.

What really would be radical, and what really would have the potential to become Global Finance 2.0, is a decentralized cryptography-based currency whose legitimacy is based on the strength of its crypto and a web-of-trust arrangement among its end users. The first person to design a workable system along those lines might well make us all richer.
posted by flabdablet at 7:13 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


The first person to design a workable system along those lines might well make us all richer.

I'd like you introduce you to David Chaum. He developed — or proposed, anyway — such a system using blind signatures. It was implemented by DigiCash and several banks offered it to accountholders; there was a time when it was really going to be the "next big thing." It didn't quite pan out, and I think the hype/bust cycle has kept anyone from trying it again.

Granted it was not totally decentralized, but it was as decentralized as I think you could practically hope for, and you certainly can't fault Chaum for thinking too small. (Quite the opposite.)

That we can't make even a cryptographically-secure payment system fly, given the dearth of alternatives (is there anyone who doesn't hate PayPal?), I don't see much hope for a totally separate currency.

Furthermore, if such a currency did start to catch on, it would almost certainly face intense pressure from governments who maintain currently-popular currencies and derive significant economic benefits from that control. This wouldn't be helped by the near-certainty that the first people to use a new currency / transaction system would probably be involved in grey- or black-market activities. (Just look at e-Gold.)

Don't get me wrong, I think there's a desperate need for such a system too. But Chaum was a pretty smart guy and gave it a solid shot, and it didn't take. Anyone planning to try it again would do well to take a hard look at what went wrong (not just with DigiCash but also e-Gold, which still exists but not in a form anything like its creator hoped it would be) and precisely how they would avoid the same fate.

It's definitely a Hard Problem, but it's not hard from the technology/engineering side, it's hard from the marketing, financing, and legal sides.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:54 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Amen. All the billions that have been spent on hassling consumers with DRM over the last two decades has done nothing except make consumers hate and mistrust distribution companies.

If you think crippling or hobbling information is progress, or imposing more restrictions on your own customers is the way to improve transactional commerce... you're not paying attention to history.


I'm not sure if you've been paying attention, but DRM works fine on the iPhone and Kindle. The cost of hardware is going down, so rather then try to make their information work on PCs, content companies are building their own cheap computers to distribute content, for pay, on those.

Of course, the kindle has an analog hole, though.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 AM on November 23, 2009


DRM works fine on the iPhone and Kindle

The iPhone has only been around for a bit more than two years, and the Kindle less than that. I don't think that's really enough of a track record to declare either some sort of success that denies the underlying reality of DRM.

In the case of the iPhone, I think the DRM system has stood because it's not really holding back a large number of users from anything they otherwise want to do. Most people I know with iPhones don't buy apps. They only get free ones, and they're happy with the selection (maybe overwhelmed) as it is. The fact that they can't easily copy an app from a friend doesn't really seem to bother them that much, although if somebody developed a "killer app" for the iPhone and set the price particularly high, then I think you'd start to see people work around the DRM more often. Plus, there have been valid questions raised about whether Apple's closed-system model for the iPhone is really sustainable in the long run if they want to remain the market leader; unauthorized copying has always been more of an issue on open systems than closed ones.

The Kindle is more interesting because it represents the digitization of a heretofore analog bit of content: the (mainly paperback) book. Sure, books have been scanned before, but it's the first really successful effort to replicate the product in digital form.

I think the main reason you don't see piracy on the Kindle is because the system allows it. Not Kindle books, but because you can read any unprotected file that you want, someone who doesn't want to pay for content can just bypass the Kindle store and load it up with content that's already DRM-free. The ebook selection available on P2P systems isn't nearly comparable to Amazon's, but it's not trivial either.

I assume the Kindle has some method of over-the-air updating so that Amazon can magically fix the DRM system whenever it gets broken, and I think it will be an interesting cat and mouse game when it heats up. But they are silly if they think they can do it indefinitely. My suspicion is that their plan is a bit like Apple's with iTunes: get the thing going as a closed system until the DRM maintenance becomes too much of a technical and PR headache, and then transition to being DRM-free. (This way they can at least tell the publishers that they tried.)

In fact I suspect one good sign of a mature digital marketplace for a certain good is the lack of DRM. Music has just recently achieved it, and I think it might signal that the most disruptive part of the digital transition is over. Movies still haven't, and books are just moving into the first, DRM-encumbered stage from an analog format.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:39 AM on November 23, 2009


We should know that a million people making $1 is worse than 1000 people making $1000

No, we really, really shouldn't.

You missed the point, unless you believe poverty can be eradicated with Google Adsense sites, given that this is about content production, not the developing world (and your rebuttal brings up the spectre of microfinance, which isn't all your inner Protestant would like it to be).

The million people making $1 thing is how virtually all distributed content networks work. It is almost always a sucker's game for the content producer and makes the Web worse by driving down the motivation to produce quality content, since the labour isn't worth it. If Google cared about making the web useful beyond an advertising ploy Adsense wouldn't exist, though it isn't the only offender. Behind Seth Godin's feel good, have cool conversations, be awesome bleating lies Squidoo the spamfest Squidoo.

Now to get my point more thoroughly, replace $1 with "the money a cup of tea or three costs per month." You make that; the host makes the same or more from you and 999,999 guys. This amount of money is meaningless to you, well in the margin of your personal float, but once concentrated by the host it's significant.

Beyond leading blogs and portals (most of which were established years ago and have pretty much taken the available space - you will *not* create a new Gawker Media just by writing real good, every day, writing a business plan and rubbing elbows with advertisers) monetized web content relies on a great number of people performing irrational amounts of labour for tea money. Eventually, many of them get rational and abandon blogs for microcontent platforms which pay nothing, but require no real effort. The folks left who do work on more involved content shift more toward those who aren't competent to share any other way. It also causes rot in the whole system, since the content business gets motivated to link and copy instead of create (Think: How much new media ultimately threads back to CNN or the NYT?).

On the other hand, when 1K people make 1Kx the tea money, they can buy food and shelter instead of tea, and have a rationale motivation to create content that doesn't suck. That's a good thing for them and a good thing for the user. I don't know how, but we need to address this issue, since in terms of social effects, this kind of distribution seems to be almost MLM-like in its ability to get as close to a scam as possible while keeping its trousers on.
posted by mobunited at 2:03 AM on November 23, 2009


Granted it was not totally decentralized, but it was as decentralized as I think you could practically hope for

Hope springs eternal.

Some of the pieces may already be in place, if dormant.
posted by flabdablet at 2:22 AM on November 23, 2009


the first people to use a new currency / transaction system would probably be involved in grey- or black-market activities

The fact that facilitating the distribution of porn amongst a bunch of socially retarded computer programmers was a major driver for the rise of the Internet doesn't stop the Internet being useful for the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong, I think there's a desperate need for such a system too. But Chaum was a pretty smart guy and gave it a solid shot, and it didn't take. Anyone planning to try it again would do well to take a hard look at what went wrong (not just with DigiCash but also e-Gold, which still exists but not in a form anything like its creator hoped it would be) and precisely how they would avoid the same fate.

Seems to me that both those systems relied on all their users deciding to trust a central authority (the system provider in e-Gold's case, central banks for DigiCash) to maintain the value of the currency. I think that's an inherently fragile design.

It's definitely a Hard Problem, but it's not hard from the technology/engineering side, it's hard from the marketing, financing, and legal sides.

In my view, what's needed is a system that works at least as well as the various LETS schemes do for small-scale exchange between small groups of mutually trusted people, allowing it to get off the ground in multiple locations without needing a large centralized investment; but it also needs to be capable of facilitating exchange between entities that don't have any direct links of trust between them, and it needs to be impossible (not merely difficult) to game. It absolutely needs to not rely on a single certifying authority, and it needs to be independent of but interoperable with any existing centrally-issued currency. These requirements do, I think, make it a technically Hard Problem as well.
posted by flabdablet at 2:47 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


(and your rebuttal brings up the spectre of microfinance, which isn't all your inner Protestant would like it to be).

Presumably the Protestant thing is because you were assigned but didn't actually read Weber in college, but microfinance? I'm on the record here as disgusted by the rates at which micro-financiers do business. Just as with pay-day loans, the default rate drives interest rates, which drives defaults, which... ad nauseum to an absurd equilibrium. It's only better than the alternative because there is no alternative.

this is about content production, not the developing world

Do you really think that "developing world" and "content production" are mutually exclusive sets?

You missed the point, unless you believe poverty can be eradicated with Google Adsense sites

Just because it doesn't help you doesn't mean it doesn't help anybody. If there's somebody else willing to do it cheaper, it 's generally because that person needs it more. For that person, your tea-or-three is going to make a difference between crippling poverty and less-crippling poverty, maybe even a manageable working class existence. Metafilter itself runs on Google AdSense revenue, and as I understand it, Matt was able to quit his job to run the place full-time because of the all those nickels and dimes. It may destroy your dream of being the world's richest kazoo player, but the improvement in another person's situation more than equals the loss in yours.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:19 AM on November 23, 2009


Presumably the Protestant thing is because you were assigned but didn't actually read Weber in college, but microfinance? I'm on the record here as disgusted by the rates at which micro-financiers do business.

When it comes to both the Protestant quip and microfinance, I see your opinions are shaped by things in an unreal, ideal state, as opposed to the way they actually happen, which is the toxic hand-holding between a faux work ethic and usury.

Do you really think that "developing world" and "content production" are mutually exclusive sets?

Nope, just not the same topic per se.


Just because it doesn't help you doesn't mean it doesn't help anybody.


Just like the lottery.

If there's somebody else willing to do it cheaper, it 's generally because that person needs it more. For that person, your tea-or-three is going to make a difference between crippling poverty and less-crippling poverty, maybe even a manageable working class existence.

Are we really talking about a hypothetical developing world Adsense spammer who spamsites his or her way out of destitution now? Has it really been winnowed down to something this silly? Can you demonstrate the existence of this type of person in significant numbers?

In the real world, where this is not an edge case, people work too hard to make shit money from Adsense due to a distribution structure that gives you a nickel and vacuums a zillion nickels for them.

Metafilter itself runs on Google AdSense revenue, and as I understand it, Matt was able to quit his job to run the place full-time because of the all those nickels and dimes.

Metafilter is a decade old early adopter of bloggage, which I specifically covered. You pretty much can't start a Metafilter now. Neither can the guy your microfinance loan will go to so he can pull himself up by his bootstrap and start a community blog for sweet ad money. Hell, that's lottery odds even here in Fatland.

It may destroy your dream of being the world's richest kazoo player, but the improvement in another person's situation more than equals the loss in yours.

Yes, think of the poor little children being denied microfinance loans to start up Adsense spam sites so they can start paying back at 30% or so!

Also, I find it significant that every time I poke at this, the real feeling under the pretense is "Fuck the artist." This has happened before.
posted by mobunited at 7:36 AM on November 23, 2009


Also, I find it significant that every time I poke at this, the real feeling under the pretense is "Fuck the artist." This has happened before.

If you're going to continue imputing beliefs to me that I do not hold, then the real message you ought to be uncovering using your finely tuned exegetical skills is: "Fuck you."

Congratulations. You have earned attention. Spend it well.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:18 AM on November 23, 2009


This is interesting enough discussion, but I think there's a good deal of conflation here. On the one hand there's discussion of digital currencies, on the other problems with the free copying of information and the consequences for intellectual property. Can someone explain to me how these are connected?

For what it's worth, on the IP issue, it seems clear to me that many forms of IP are simply becoming Free Goods, and that there's really no way for us to stop that. If the market then fails to provide decent books, films and music, government has to step in. This has been done, rather well, before.
posted by greytape at 9:48 AM on November 23, 2009


The fact that they can't easily copy an app from a friend doesn't really seem to bother them that much, although if somebody developed a "killer app" for the iPhone and set the price particularly high, then I think you'd start to see people work around the DRM more often.

I agree with that prediction. Which to me suggests that the main function of DRM is to protect overpriced content.

Way back when, when Apple first started selling songs with iTunes, many skeptics said it was crazy, because they were DRM-locked at the time (they're not anymore), and because everyone already could download all the music they wanted for free. Those skeptics (and I was no believer myself) were proven wrong because Apple picked the right price point. As it turned out, we all learned that people were more than willing to pay 99 cents for a song: that price seemed "about right", and so the incentive to pirate was reduced enough that Apple could make billions selling things that were also out there for free. Surprising, maybe. Success, clearly.

I think they have the App Store similarly nailed. The DRM used there isn't to stop app piracy, and it's arguably unnecessary. People love the free apps, and after trying a couple of hundred of those will sometimes gamble on the 99 cent paid ones, too, since even if the software sucks, hey... 99 cents. But once the apps start asking for five or six or twenty dollars... well, good luck with that, developers.

The market has shown that a dollar "feels like" the right price for music or a phone application. It works, and makes DRM moot.

If DVDs were priced with similar savvy and common-sense (what "should" a movie ticket or DVD cost?) you would see sales rise and piracy decline, too.
posted by rokusan at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


As it turned out, we all learned that people were more than willing to pay 99 cents for a song: that price seemed "about right", and so the incentive to pirate was reduced enough that Apple could make billions selling things that were also out there for free. Surprising, maybe. Success, clearly.

The line I've always liked is, "people will always pay for something that they can't get for free". In this context, I think what Apple figured out is that it's not the song people are paying 99 cents for, it's the CONVENIENCE (ie: a good copy, easily found at a centralized location). Volia! If you're working 50 hours a week, raising kids (or whatever), suddenly your time is worth a lot to you.

If DVDs were priced with similar savvy and common-sense (what "should" a movie ticket or DVD cost?) you would see sales rise and piracy decline, too.

Movies are thus far different from music in that there's generally a sizable lag between their theatrical release (even if it only happens in five cities) and their DVD release. That is, a bunch of marketing goes on. The NAME of the movie gets thrown in our face and then ........ all kinds of time for pirates etc to get busy. One idea I've seen tossed around that makes a lot of sense to me is simultaneous theatrical and DVD release, to the point of selling DVDs right at the theater.
posted by philip-random at 10:59 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I transcribed parts I thought important on my blog.
posted by joeclark at 11:07 AM on November 23, 2009


yea, seconding ropeladder! (previously ;)

also on rushkoff, i think what he's really railing against is a central bank mediated system of value and exchange...

and there is a very real alternative: gold, viz. cf. india, mauritius & sri lanka (what backs the buck? "The Fed has a capital to asset ratio of just 2.4%") [NB: mutant & malor are together on this one!]

but like with gold's limitations other alternatives are worth (re)considering:
-corporate scrip
-digital cash
-community currencies
-supranational SDRs

that is all :P
posted by kliuless at 11:11 AM on November 23, 2009


Why don't you fly over to Somalia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Congo, Tajikistan, and the poor areas in India and China that Scarcity is so over and they can get all the free movies and music they want on their cellphones!

...

delmoi, scarcity and distribution are related but different issues.


Hear hear.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2009


This is what DRM is, and it doesn't matter what the technology is; it can and will be cheated

I don't want to derail into a feasibility of DRM discussion, but I do want to point out that if Motorola (General Instrument) & Cisco (Scientific-Atlanta) digital cable boxes haven't been hacked for free HBO, or if they have, the hackers and the anti-hacker enforcement folk are keeping things awfully quiet.

drive business to the competitor with a more realistic business model.

I know people that got True Blood from BitTorrent, but "competitors" in the traditional sense-- satellite TV-- aren't killing Comcast.
posted by morganw at 11:56 AM on November 23, 2009


I don't want to derail into a feasibility of DRM discussion, but I do want to point out that if Motorola (General Instrument) & Cisco (Scientific-Atlanta) digital cable boxes haven't been hacked for free HBO, or if they have, the hackers and the anti-hacker enforcement folk are keeping things awfully quiet.

I dunno if that invalidates the point, though. The essential metamophasis here is that previously information had to be embodied in a physical object, now with the internet you can have near-infinite perfect copies. The fact that in order to get free cable you have to physically dick around with the box consitutes a significant barrier for most people --- if they fuck up, they'll break the box, and it's possible that the cable company may cut them off entirely if they come out to fix it and realize how it got broken. Being embodied in a physical object imposes all sorts of costs and limits. Whereas to get free music or movie or whatnot, once you learn the trick *cough*bittorrent*cough* then you're aces, the only costs involved are the time it takes to find what you want and the miniscule but extant risk that you'll get busted for violating copyright. There are people, millions of them, confident enough in their technical skills that they'll do things like jailbreak an iphone or what have you. But they're a minority. With content, however, the technology makes it so easy to copy --- is designed to make it incredibly easy to copy --- so that all you have to have are a small core of dedicated hackers to make the initial breakthrough and boom, that TV show or movie or song is out there, a google away, for the casual consumer to download.
posted by Diablevert at 12:22 PM on November 23, 2009


Why don't you fly over to Somalia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Congo, Tajikistan, and the poor areas in India and China that Scarcity is so over and they can get all the free movies and music they want on their cellphones!

If your point is that scarcity still exists on Planet Earth, nobody's arguing with you. However, if you're arguing it's inevitable, that's where Bucky Fuller's declaration comes in. That is, for much of human history, yes, there was not enough to go around. Too many people, not enough food, shelter etc. Hence, scarcity based economics wasn't just good business, it was the grim reality of the human condition.

Not so since 1970 (or whenever). Now we do have the resources (due to enhancements in design science and technology) to feed, clothe, shelter, comfort everyone on the planet. That we're NOT doing this is a choice we are making.

Rushkoff's talk doesn't address this kind of stuff on the surface but, for me, it's very much there in the undercurrent.
posted by philip-random at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2009


I don't want to derail into a feasibility of DRM discussion, but I do want to point out that if Motorola (General Instrument) & Cisco (Scientific-Atlanta) digital cable boxes haven't been hacked for free HBO...

Because the "full price" is worthwhile to enough people to make it profitable... for now. As the cost (and mostly the ease of use) of on-demand internet video programming improves, you'll see those boxes hacked to death more openly, and an reignited DRM war over it... or Comcast etc will have to drop their prices to retain their share. I know which of those two tacks I expect the big players to choose. Too bad, too, since that'll just turn it into the (dying) music distribution business.

Still, even today of course they're hacked (slip your installer an extra $100 and see what happens) but it's annoying enough to discourage the casual hackers, and enough people happily pay the full price to make it an acceptable loss.
posted by rokusan at 3:45 PM on November 23, 2009


Ropeladder says:
I'm not sure people are grasping what he is really saying. Our economic system is set up to maximize efficiency. Scarce currencies are ones that create scarcity because of debt and interest, and they work well to create efficiency because people are basically forced to do more with less --more productivity with less labor, capital, or resources-- in order to pay back their debt.

The problem is that (1) debtors have basically taken over and (2) left everyone else struggling to find ways to convert all their apparent digital wealth into something useful. People are creating all kinds of wealth that is not helping anyone because the medium of exchange is not set up to bring that wealth to the majority of the people. Instead it goes to investment bankers and shareholders.

Alternative currencies (like superfluid that he mentions in the talk) offer a way of bypassing the debt and enforced scarcity, where there is never enough money to actually pay back all the loans.

If people are interested in this I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer, or at least reading some of his articles on his website. Also Michael Hudson has some fascinating articles about debt.


Then Philip Says:
If your point is that scarcity still exists on Planet Earth, nobody's arguing with you. However, if you're arguing it's inevitable, that's where Bucky Fuller's declaration comes in. That is, for much of human history, yes, there was not enough to go around. Too many people, not enough food, shelter etc. Hence, scarcity based economics wasn't just good business, it was the grim reality of the human condition.

Not so since 1970 (or whenever). Now we do have the resources (due to enhancements in design science and technology) to feed, clothe, shelter, comfort everyone on the planet. That we're NOT doing this is a choice we are making.


This was the point I was trying to make (in 15 minutes, in trying circumstances, with a Twitterfeed behind me). That's why I mentioned Norbert Weiner and his concerns about how we would build an economy around a world where robots did all the work.

If we can't figure out how to model an abundant economy of creative content, then I don't know how we'll ever be able to allow and abundant economy of energy, food and other resources to happen.

As for telling people they'd get "rich" if they figured it out and developed the next great currency system, well, I kind of regret that. It had more to do with how bored the audience looked. These were not tech people or even tech culture people. Most of them were just trying to figure out the next "web 2.0" investment to make. So I thought I'd wake them up by "selling" this as a business opportunity for them.

I do see the problem with Superfluid as it's currently envisioned, but it is a start - and better than the other b2b version, Itex. I would prefer to see something with no server at all. Something that has no central authority, and can't be shut down easily once it succeeds.

If there were a way to put all of the currency's adjustments onto the client side. Somehow, all the apps would talk to each other, and regulate the money supply as required (because no matter what you do, people will always attempt to "buy in" and an exchange rate will establish itself over time). Eventually, if the currency is successful, it's value will go up relative to other currencies. And then you won't have units small enough to accomplish the smallest tasks.

But I would really love to experiment with a distributed, non-local version of a LETS system or TimeDollars - or maybe something like what the metacurrency project is talking about. Where currency again becomes a utility for transactions instead of a way of extracting wealth from those who are creating value. I realize that smart people have tried to launch such systems before, but maybe central banking hadn't gotten bad enough. Today, enough cash has been drained from the real economy that we may be ready to adopt some new media.

(As for the Middle Ages, don't get caught up in whether it was a great time or not. All that matters to the discussion, I think, is the fact that some other working money systems once existed and were dismantled because they were not biased towards centrally orchestrated scarcity.)
posted by rushkoff at 5:52 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification, sir.

I would prefer to see something with no server at all. Something that has no central authority, and can't be shut down easily once it succeeds.

From my mostly non-tech grasp of the issue, this reads to me like Napster (doomed to fail due to the fact that it had a central server) versus Kazaa etc with no particular center. We do require a new approach to economy and "currency" that has no center, because as Mr. Yeats pointed out all those years ago ...

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


This sort of thing is always best avoided.
posted by philip-random at 6:52 PM on November 23, 2009


re: IP, wrote this in 2000 and thought it might finally be of relevance here :P
been trying to frame use vs. exchange (economic) value in relation to intellectual property and borrowed an analogy from karl marx & frederick engels, "All that is solid melts into air," which also happens to be a nice book on modernity by marshall berman.

so the use value for air is very high, without air we would not be able to breathe. but air's economic value is low, because no one as yet has figured out a way to ration air to individuals. because of its commodity status air is freely shared despite its clear value.

however, in an environment where air is scarce, such as underwater or outer space, the control of air is much easier to regulate. those who own the compressors, tanks and regulators (infrastructure) to deliver air to paying customers are able to derive economic value from what nominally is a ubiquitous and free resource.

the same reasoning behind use and economic value can be applied to IP. control of IP in the past was relatively straightforward given the use value of IP was limited in scope to those who had the necessary infrastructure in place to utilize it. in the music industry, recording and selling songs were a function of owning the distribution rights and the facilities to mint IP onto vinyl, tape, CD or whatever media format desired.

high capital costs were a deterrent for widespread multiplication of IP and hence supply was relatively easy to regulate, copyrights enforced and economic value maintained. but with widespread and low cost availability of equipment to record and exhibit all sorts of media, even marginal consumers are now able to gain access to IP (and even produce it), rendering those types of IP essentially free.

the important thing to recognize is how amenable IP is to commodification. given use value for a specified market, if the IP represents a complicated process that only companies with large resources are able to replicate, then its economic value is easily defended. but if fixed and marginal costs to replication are low, the ability to defend IP declines, whether through legal enforcement or otherwise. it becomes like air.
cf. Content Is a Pure Public Good

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 9:00 PM on November 23, 2009


If there were a way to put all of the currency's adjustments onto the client side. Somehow, all the apps would talk to each other, and regulate the money supply as required (because no matter what you do, people will always attempt to "buy in" and an exchange rate will establish itself over time). Eventually, if the currency is successful, it's value will go up relative to other currencies. And then you won't have units small enough to accomplish the smallest tasks.

It might be useful to get away from the idea of currency as a property of the system, and instead have one currency per participant, which effectively means that every transaction involves a foreign currency exchange, and exchange rates fluctuate based on the individual participant's state of economic soundness as judged by their immediate peers.

I wouldn't be able to buy stuff from you until the exchange network can find at least one complete set of currency exchange links between us. Once that's in place, I could issue as many flabdablets as I needed to in order to pay for whatever I'm buying from you. The next player down the line would exchange those for an equivalent value in bobs; then those would get exchanged for carols, then carols for teds, teds for alices, and finally alices for rushkoffs. I end up debited a certain number of flabdablets, you end up credited the current equivalent in rushkoffs.

This doesn't suddenly give me infinite buying power, because I need to negotiate a fair exchange rate with Bob to make the transaction happen at all; issuing an arbitrarily large number of flabdablets will simply reduce the exchange rate that Bob is prepared to offer me and depress the flabdablet's value. Bob and I have to have reasons to trust each other before we'd be willing to contemplate an exchange transaction, and this trust has to be established outside the currency network. Everybody along the chain can impose limits on the maximum transaction size they're prepared to handle, and those limits can and probably will vary depending on exactly who they're dealing with.

Things start to get interesting once the exchange network can find multiple routes from you to me. In effect, I'd get a choice of peers to exchange my flabdablets with, and I'd presumably pick the one that gave me the most favourable rate - which, in practice, would be the one attached to the path with the least "leakage" from me to you. The bigger the system, the more competitive pressure exists to avoid ripping people off on exchange rates.

If you and I are doing business often enough that we trust each other to a certain extent, we can cut out all the middlemen and negotiate a direct rushkoff-flabdablet conversion rate.

Is there an elephant in this room that I've failed to see?
posted by flabdablet at 11:34 PM on November 23, 2009


Right. This kind of exchange obviously works better when we are already interdependent on other levels. We live in the same town, for example. I make wagon wheels and you run the apothecary. You need the drugs you make for me to work properly, or you endanger your wife and family the next time they take the wagon out for a ride.

I'm trying to understand quite how an instantaneously negotiated exchange rate for all exchanges works in the context of the fact that we're negotiating, anyway. And then how it scales up for anonymous exchanges across CraigsList/Etsy distances.
posted by rushkoff at 6:07 AM on November 24, 2009


Why not enlist the opposition and allow non-profit contributors to the economy to accept tax deductions from consumers? They can then acquire these transferable deductions and sell them to an exchange where tax debtors can buy them for a hard value. In this way the exchange is regulated, but not by capital.
posted by Brian B. at 7:05 AM on November 24, 2009


Is there an elephant in this room that I've failed to see?

not really an elephant per se, just that transactions costs in multiple currency regimes can be a pain -- say in antebellum new england, cf. the suffolk system -- and that periodic 'bank' runs would still be unavoidable -- say a rumour starts about flabdablet's health -- prompting the (re)invention of central banking all over again...

high(er) transaction costs may be a feature, esp if it fosters greater trust and/or mitigates misplaced trust. and hopefully, by revealing hidden costs that renders the whole process of establishing networks of trust transparently visible, the system would be made more stable. it might also have salutary knock-on effects wrt organisational structure.

also this hearkens back to what i learned as a 'brick currency' where everyone in their village could create money by going to the local mud pit (with some straw) and make bricks that could be exchanged for other goods & services (or, of course, used). i couldn't find any refs online,* but it does bring up the point: what constitutes a brick today?

there's the obvious things, like a barrel of (btu equivalent) oil or a unit of (real) GDP [or military expenditure] but it's the less obvious ones that are more interesting (obviously!) like consider carbon credits and other such efforts to make a market in or put a value on pollution reducing activities. or how about just being nice (violence reducing activities)? which is the concept behind social wages.** or going to school, to learn or teach? art?

regardless, as long as the nation-state remains the fundamental political unit of our times (and central banks their economic arbiters) it's hard to see anything bottom-up, or otherwise, changing; inertia and path dependence... until it breaks! like if not directly affected already, i think most people are at least feeling the strain, which is why were even talking about all this stuff in the first place :P

---
*could only come up with tea bricks; i can think of some other bricks that could be used as currency :P i guess there's also cigarettes, viz. king rat, but once you start going down that road it's more about currency or 'trust' based on the power of coercion/extortion or other means of appropriation/taxation...

**this was jeremy rifkin's solution to the end of work...
posted by kliuless at 10:20 AM on November 24, 2009


kliuless, I can't see how to map the idea of a bank run onto the system I've outlined.

A run occurs when a bank's creditors all attempt to call in their debts at the same time, and the bank can't pay them all out because it doesn't have enough liquid assets.

Could you outline a scenario whereby something run-like happens in a system where each individual player issues his or her own currency, and all transactions involve (possibly a chain of) foreign exchange? Could you also see a way that such an event could cause the same kind of widespread, damaging knock-on that a bank run does?

If everybody is able to issue their own currency, and everybody has read access to the current balances and transaction histories of everybody else, what use is a bank?
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2009


right, runs on individuals should be expected (essentially personal bankruptcy) but like you say that should be considered a feature, not a bug, because (more frequent?) 'culling of the herd' so to speak should actually work to prevent "widespread, damaging knock-on" effects and raise overall system stability, altho perhaps at the expense of more 'local' disruption.

but in my mind there are at least two caveats to limited and isolated 'resolutions' obviating systemic risk, involving (as always) correlated counterparties:
  1. depending on the 'node' in the network, if any individual -- or more likely a group of individuals -- were to amass a 'sufficient' amount of counterparties then they could (re)create a 'too big to fail' moral hazard problem (like we face today) that might compromise the network. and you can see why there'd be an incentive for individuals to 'federate'; take the suffolk system (linked above), "With so many banks in New England, each issuing it own form of currency, it was sometimes difficult for merchants, farmers, artisans, and even other bankers, to discriminate between real and bogus banknotes, or to discriminate between good and bad bankers... The Suffolk Bank was chartered in 1818 and within a year embarked on a novel scheme to deal with the influx of country banknotes. The Suffolk sponsored a consortium of Boston bank[s.] When the Suffolk collected a large quantity of a country bank's notes, it presented them for immediate redemption with an ultimatum: Join in a regular and organized redemption system or be subject to further unannounced redemption calls... Most country banks initially refused to join the redemption network, but after the Suffolk made good on a few redemption threats, the system achieved near universal membership." so like individuals might spontaneously self-organise not only into 'banks', but at least the semblance of a central bank. indeed there are reasons why we have the banking system we have; it did not arise sui generis of whole cloth out of the vacuum (ex nihilo ;) altho it may seem that way sometimes when prior rationales are lost or taken for granted; inertia and path dependence...
  2. a good way of raising correlations among counterparties is through insurance. either mutually, through a third party, or gov't, if 'insurance' is provided and the basis of which is flawed (something always comes along, eventually; TINSTAAFL and all) then the 'isolated incident' has a habit of spreading because no one ever thought that could happen. so like a good recent example, "One of the great lessons is beware of platitudes, such as 'There has never been a national decline in home prices'. If you believe that there has never been a national decline in home prices and that there never could be, then you bid home prices up to levels that don't allow for the risk of widespread losses, because you concluded it could never happen. Then the fact that they are at those new high prices introduces, in itself, the risk of a national home-price decline. So the actions of people relying on history change history, and that is what people lose track of." [cf. reflexivity] an insurer, or assurer (ensurer?), acts similarly -- oh, we're covered -- but just because 'risk' is transferred, does not mean it has disappeared. of course the insurers job is to beware of platitudes, but still... again, there's reasons why they're heavily regulated. and then look what happened!
now you can outlaw colluding individuals or collective insurance, but i think the whole point of the exercise is to try and design a system that fails gracefully. while i don't think you can -- point: why aren't we already (living in an anarchist utopia)? counterpoint: who's to say we're not? [counter-counterpoint: where does agency lie?] -- that doesn't mean we shouldn't try! just that we should be careful in doing so because there are reasons why things are the way they are, even if they may not seem like good ones... /end platitude :P
posted by kliuless at 9:06 AM on November 25, 2009


I see now that Rushkoff’s comment on no new music in the last 20 years was a slight misstatement on his part. He meant musical styles, and he was paraphrasing Jaron Lanier. Without referring to the session we’re critiquing here, he made these points on the last episode of the Media Squat (November 23, and it really is the last episode before the show goes on hiatus).

I take issue with Lanier’s claim, given that a huge variety of dance-music styles have been invented since 1989, including krazy shit like happy hardcore and two-step. But I don’t have a reference for what Lanier actually said, so I don’t want to go too far with that.
posted by joeclark at 11:35 AM on November 25, 2009


some meaty commentary from flabdablet, thanks; I'll try to to be as comprehensive in response from us at superfluid:

I am absolutely certain that I could, in fact, buy and sell Quids for dollars if I were of a mind to do so. All I'd have to do is offer a money laundering service on superfluid. They probably have some kind of TOS that lets them stay in denial about this.

Well, we're probably not going to chase you down if you do so. If you did it publicly, we'd politely ask you not to, but we're not the feds. If people go nuts wanting Quids, well, good for the system to be so popular, but we're not going to facilitate or authorize any conversions.

The implication here is that anybody's time is worth roughly the same as anybody else's. Given the fact that people are not all equally good at what they do, I'm sure that a spread of Quids per hour will become evident sooner rather than later.


We don't actually state that there's this sort of equivalency, simply that it's a starting point for users to work with in how they approach the system. Even if we did want to put that sort of standard in place, a currency provides flexibility that ultimately allows for great variation; witness how Ithaca Hours became something totally unrelated to hours. There are local hour banks that actually enforce that sort of equivalency, but that's more a social exercise rather than a scalable system

2. Borrow a few Quids; based upon the number of Quids you hold.
...which sounds a lot like dealing with a traditional bank; no surprises yet.

Not quite... as superfluid charges no interest, which is the core reason that banks loan dollars to you. superfluid loans Quids simply so that you can transact more easily with others. There are a number of alternative economies that start user at zero units of currency, then allow users to transact purely from debt; we're more like these than a bank in this sense.

Except it doesn't; the initial allocation of 200 Quids is effectively a loan, and there appears to be no mechanism to avoid bad debts. I could join, spend my 200 Quids on something useful, and leave - having effectively sucked 200 Quids worth of value out of the community at no cost to myself. There's also nothing stopping me from setting myself up as a middleman and churning through tens of thousands of Quids just to game the bonus system.

In order to actually transact (within the b2b iteration of superfluid), you will complete a W9 and the data would be confirmed before you get to the point you mention. So, yes, there is a threat to the system to the extent of 200 Quids, but you couldn't actually cycle through easily doing that. Hence, you could game the system on a very limited basis, but not really worth your time. You couldn't actually churn "through tens of thousands of Quids just to game the bonus system," either, because that system is dividend based, like a co-op or some conventional corporate structures; it would be too unwieldy for you to manage that particular scam (and your profit still wouldn't be so great), although I'm sure there are other scams we haven't thought of yet, and will need to deal with as we go.

In this regard, superfluid aspires to operate exactly the same way as any other central bank.

Well, sort of, in the sense of controlling currency, but with stricter limitations than any central bank puts on itself and with entirely different goals and tools.

Translation: we will control monetary policy to maintain inflation of our currency within our desired target range.

Well, we start off by saying what the policy is, and that if that ever changes, you'll hear about it. I wouldn't participate in any sort of project that didn't include that level of transparency. It doesn't really seem like there's a subtext in that: the average amount of Quids per user stays the same. Inflation (as a colloquial term used when thinking of monetary inflation) has the implication of constant growth of the money supply. While we have a way to increase the supply of Quids if necessary (thus inflating the currency) these would be discrete and very rare events driven by actual need for Quids not by us charging interest to harvest Quids for superfluid which is what a bank would do.

So, they're not eating their own dog food, but they expect me to play? So far, the only reason that's even mildly interesting is the social wage and the possibilities for gaming the thing.

If we were taking currency out of the system, and spending it in the system, while at the same time controlling that currency, we could print as much as we liked, and that would make us just as bad as the US Treasury. If you look at other "barter exchanges," (discussed a bit more below), you'll see that they tend to collect revenue in all of three ways; subscription (which we do), per transaction dollar fees (which discourages use, and sucks the life out of the system), and % per transaction in-currency fees (which they use for...uh, I don't know; printing services? once they scale, how can they spend enough of their currency on their own needs?)

So you can trade dollars for Quids. $200 membership gets you your first 200 Quids.

I thought you said that was a loan? :-) The 200 Quids is a fairly random small number, and 200:200 seemed a useful way for the numbers to fit in users' heads. Actually, the 200 Quids is a valuation of that member in the system. And $200 is both the fee, and a metric we'll use to decide when and to begin charging, because at the point that we estimate that annual use has a value in that range, we'll begin charging it to new members.

I don't know why Rushkoff sees this kind of thing as different from any other kind of currency. It's just currency, and its legitimacy and usefulness depends - exactly as for any other currency - on a consensus decision to trust the central banker. And if superfluid looks like getting too big for its boots and actually becoming disruptive, you can bet your last Quid that the existing central banks will move to crush it utterly.

The purpose is far different, and although we're quite proud of what we've built thus far, I'd guess that Rushkoff is not totally thrilled with some of the compromises we at superfluid have had to make in creating an environment in which all legitimate business products and services can be legally exchanged. It's important to keep in mind that although superfluid does do a lot of useful stuff that no one else has been able to do as well yet, there's a level of magic that we admit to not quite having achieved here yet. There are IRS regulations on barter exchanges that cover almost any use of virtual currency for business transactions. So, our next effort will be a non-commercial one launching in a couple of weeks; you may find that it fits in more with what you'd like to see, but be aware that although the new one will have more magic to it, it will be constrained in what can be offered through it (by these same IRS regulations).

What really would be radical, and what really would have the potential to become Global Finance 2.0, is a decentralized cryptography-based currency whose legitimacy is based on the strength of its crypto and a web-of-trust arrangement among its end users. The first person to design a workable system along those lines might well make us all richer.

I understand the appeal of a decentralized structure, and it may well be worth working on as a conceptual project, in order to define what it would look like. I'm not sure how web-of-trust would play into the use of currency, but I'd be interested in hearing your specific thoughts on this. Most significantly, I'd suggest that while the problem of anonymizing the electronic exchange of tokens that represent the currency is hard and interesting it has little to do with the financial and social side of the problem, i.e. how and who imbues value into that token, be it paper or anonymized electronic receipts.
posted by nathans at 4:20 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


kliuless: "also this hearkens back to what i learned as a 'brick currency' where everyone in their village could create money by going to the local mud pit (with some straw) and make bricks that could be exchanged for other goods & services (or, of course, used). i couldn't find any refs online,* but it does bring up the point: what constitutes a brick today?"

Something like Amazon's Mechanical Turk? The prerequisites for most of those tasks are pretty minimal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:27 PM on November 25, 2009


With so many banks in New England, each issuing it own form of currency, it was sometimes difficult for merchants, farmers, artisans, and even other bankers, to discriminate between real and bogus banknotes, or to discriminate between good and bad bankers

Sorry if I'm dim, but I still can't see the parallel.

If I'm buying stuff using my own currency, and any vendor I buy from gets paid in their own currency, and we do this using an open-source system that makes appropriate use of digital signatures, there really is no need for a bank (whose function is to provide a medium of exchange that two parties can agree to use) and therefore no need to discriminate between real and bogus banknotes (there are no banknotes, only transactions) or good and bad bankers (there are no bankers, period).

Your point about federations forming with the aim of attempting to monopolize transaction routing is definitely worth thinking through. The closest present-day parallel I can think of is internet service providers. Many, many people do in fact end up dealing with one of the well-advertised majors, and getting spectacularly poor deals as a result; but there are still plenty of good deals available to people who can be bothered to go looking for them, and there are good resources available to help people help each other do that. Also, if one of the major backbone operators were to melt down, Internet traffic undoubtedly would be disrupted; AT&T might well be too big to fail.

I'm not sure how web-of-trust would play into the use of currency, but I'd be interested in hearing your specific thoughts on this.

My specific thoughts on this are in the process of playing themselves out in this very thread. I don't pretend to having much financial expertise, and my thinking is probably superficial and deeply flawed at the same time; I don't know much about (prior) art, but I know what I like :-)

Most significantly, I'd suggest that while the problem of anonymizing the electronic exchange of tokens that represent the currency is hard and interesting

I really do think that the idea of "the currency" is one of those fish-being-unaware-of-water deals that bears closer scrutiny. The main flaw of a common currency, as I see it, is that when it fails it does so catastrophically; in Zimbabwe, everybody has less spending power now than they did an hour ago, for reasons totally beyond their control. If every economic player tracked all transactions in units of a currency they controlled themselves, and inter-player exchange rates were always negotiated transaction-by-transaction, then a currency failure would only affect the person actually in control of that currency.

Instead of a traditional web of trust, what you'd end up with is a web of exchange rates that performs an analogous function.

it has little to do with the financial and social side of the problem, i.e. how and who imbues value into that token, be it paper or anonymized electronic receipts.

I see anonymity as a side effect of universal, interchangeable, physical cash rather than as a desirable system property.

If you are going to have enough information to make an automated rational decision about my currency's exchange rate with respect to yours, you are going to need access to my current balance and my history of direct exchanges with others that you yourself have also performed direct exchanges with.

<rant>This kind of radical financial openness stands in stark contrast to most of the "commercial in confidence" dealing that goes on today. It's my personal belief that "commercial in confidence" is just a code phrase that the big end of town uses to mean "fuck off and die, small person, while I keep ripping you off behind your back" so I'm all in favor of getting rid of it.</rant>

My limited understanding of economics leads me to believe that there are many beautiful and elegant ways to run an economy that can all be shown to work really well provided that every actor is rational and fully informed. It strikes me that it might be worth building some toy economies that actually attempt to operate on that basis.

As a starting point, what I have in mind is a distributed database containing exchange transaction objects. Each of these would contain, at a minimum:
* timestamp
* identities of both transacting parties
* pre-transaction balances of both parties
* post-transaction balances of both parties
and would be digitally signed by both parties.

Every participant's database peer (as opposed to client or server) would store, at a minimum, a copy of all transactions involving the owner, and allow the owner to:
* specify who they are willing to conduct direct exchanges with
* specify a direct exchange rate for each of those people
* discover a least-cost route for a proposed exchange with any other reachable network user
* work with a direct peer to generate signed transactions
and would allow direct peers access to enough information to make all this work.

Nebulous as hell to be sure, but all I've got at present.

Seems to me that what would then imbue value into my tokens is the collective opinion of my own circle of trusted immediate peers, which is as it should be.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 PM on November 25, 2009


I've just found my way to An Economy with Personal Currency: Theory and Evidence, and am currently reading it with interest.
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 PM on November 25, 2009


I do like the concept of this sort of protocol for general purposes; and I believe it's worth developing, but still think you'd need to integrate it with a fairly consistent shared currency (although more credit to you if you can figure out how to do without). In practical terms, what you spec seems not a web of currency valuations as much as a functional and interesting web of transactions and transaction preferences.

* specify a direct exchange rate for each of those people

-This is core to the missing piece, because it's not actually an exchange rate when negotiated in this strictly contextual manner, it's more like a negotiated rate. You're invariably negotiating a rate in a transaction anyway, and some shared notion of the currency's value is very useful in this.
posted by nathans at 8:59 AM on November 26, 2009


I still can't see the parallel.

sorry, i'm assuming that by issuing your own currency, you'd effectively be a bank [/end conflation :] hope that clears things up!

there are many beautiful and elegant ways to run an economy that can all be shown to work really well provided that every actor is rational and fully informed. It strikes me that it might be worth building some toy economies...

that's actually what soros (also someone who knows a bit about currencies ;) was aiming at early on in his lecture series:
[economic theory] started out by assuming perfect knowledge and when that assumption turned out to be untenable it went through ever increasing contortions to maintain the fiction of rational behavior. Economics ended up with the theory of rational expectations which maintains that there is a single optimum view of the future, that which corresponds to it, and eventually all the market participants will converge around that view. This postulate is absurd...
also an exalted state of affairs known as perfect information/competition and a precondition for market efficiency, which he argues is really just "market fundamentalism" and what got us into so much trouble to begin with; an imaginary (toy) dialog might go something like this:
economist: as a starting point, assume the market is efficient.

soros: but it's not.

economist: well, assume that it is.

soros: but it's not!

etc.
so apparently there's a lot of soul-searching going on right now where a lot of economists who used the efficient market hypothesis to provide (what turns out to be) the veneer of mathematical precision are having to come to grips. as soros puts it, "the social sciences cannot produce results comparable to physics." like taking the EMH as a given just isn't the same thing as doing so with, say, the riemann hypothesis or something. i dunno.

i guess why i'm belaboring this point so much is that thanks to market fundamentalism, we've ended up with a 'toy economy' that is only marginally glued to reality (working only for a few), and the remainder left attached i think is rapidly becoming unstuck.

the question then of course is how to ground it (hopefully with a 'safe landing' for all, or most...) and the working solution appears to be a variation on a theme that i thought delong expressed well:
One way to understand Keynes's General Theory is that Say's Law is false in theory but that we can build the running code for limited, strategic interventions that will make Say's Law roughly true in practice. The modern American liberal economist's view of libertarianism is much the same: libertarianism is false in theory, but it is very much worth figuring out a set of limited, strategic interventions that will make the libertarian promises roughly true in practice.
or, in other words (and getting me back on topic ;) how to make efficient markets "roughly true in practice."

flabdablet proposes 'personal currencies' because these SVUs would be based on "the collective opinion of my own circle of trusted immediate peers," who would presumably approach perfect, if not intimate, knowledge of flabdablet's 'credit history' and thus, multiplied by everyone else in the economy, we will have achieved the Vaunted Efficiency (of a giant space station :) yay! all very elegant, in theory!

as it states on the tin:
...each agent issues her personal IOUs, and a costless efficient clearinghouse adjusts the exchange rates among them so the markets always clear. The results suggest that if the information system and clearing are so good as to preclude moral hazard, any form of information asymmetry, and need for trust, the economy operates efficiently at any price level without government money. These conditions cannot reasonably be expected to hold in natural settings. In a second set of treatments when agents have the option of not delivering on their promises, a high enough penalty for non-delivery is necessary to ensure an efficient market; a lower penalty leads to inefficient, even collapsing, markets due to moral hazard.
i only read the abstract :P but as it hints, and to reiterate, any information system, to be efficient, must eliminate moral hazard and information asymmetries... um, if i may resort to platitudes again, easier said than done!

to be sure, i'm not saying that personal or peer-to-peer currencies aren't the way to go. indeed, i'm very much in favour of them being tried! (alongside other types of currencies as well ;) it's just that i'm pretty convinced that it isn't the monetary system per se that's at the crux of the issue, so much as generating 'signals from noise' or providing the conditions for such (asymptotically perfect knowledge). like whatever system -- or configuration of systems -- that can, should be worthy of consideration and further exploration.

+ i'm not sure that the fault doesn't lie in ourselves, as derailed and rerailed upthread, in an ostensibly post-scarcity world of (some) abundance, do we know what 'value' even means? i.e. taking Kadin2048's example, would we really want our value system based on contributions to amazon's mechanical turk? and, if not, what then? i'm not sure there's an answer that anyone, much less a majority of people, can agree upon... maybe those who can should form their own states? maybe this is already happening wrt 'red/blue'? i dunno [however i've often cf.'d delong's Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow's Economy].

anyway, the beauty and/or goal of a (political-)economic system should be to accommodate widely varying perceptions of value, that it cannot should be seen as a failure, imo... um, and on that note, i'll quote columbia economics and finance professor eli noam's Goodbye, Macroeconomics, at length :P
As e-money emerged, symposia were full of professors of macroeconomics and central bankers lamenting the difficulty of controlling this new supply of money. In other words, the efficiency of the advanced economy had to serve the efficiency of monetary policy, not the other way around.

Instead of suppression, how could the new technologies create new tools for government?

The most important aspect is the ability of the new technology to differentiate and customize. On the internet, each packet is identified as to sender and receiver. Which means that one can identify users, and uses. And if we can identify, we can differentiate.

This is very powerful. Traditional macroeconomics was very aggregate. It was their essence. The reasons were two: for theorists, it was easier to write equations that way. And for policy implementation, it was difficult, in very practical administrative terms, to disaggregate the many economic agents in a society.

But now, we have tools that can differentiate. With proper legal authorization, a central bank could charge different overnight rates to different banks or vary reserve requirements. Sales and other taxes could be varied selectively for different products, regions, or users. Tax credits could be tied to spending for particular uses. Stimulus money could go towards spending or investments that are above the level of last year.

To give a close analogy: In the past, toll roads could charge motorists only in a very undifferentiated way. But now, with automated billing and stored payment systems, we can charge different prices by time of day, by frequency of use, by the characteristics of the driver, by the characteristics of the car, and by the proximity of a driver’s residence to public transportation alternatives. In sum, we possess a much finer tool than before to stimulate and to depress demand for transportation, and to do so at a lower cost due to the ability to pin-point incentives.

We need, of course, to deal with some implications. One is on individual privacy. To differentiate one needs to know a lot. But this problem could be resolved through a system of pseudonyms and trusted intermediaries. A second problem is international trade. Basically, could a government differentiate in favour of its own people? The World Trade Organisation rules say no. But that is likely to become a relic of the industrial age.

The industrial age was the age of massification. Mass production. Mass consumption. Mass media. Mass advertising. But not any more. All around, we see customisation and individualization. Macroeconomic activity by government will eventually follow, and become a sub-aggregated ‘mezzo’ economic policy. Economists, technologists, and policy analysts should work to develop these tools.
so like, may a thousand ~6.7 billion (and counting) currencies -- and central bankers -- bloom!

oh and, also btw, re: fish-being-unaware-of-water...

you need look no further than the power and hold over people of the almighty dollar; there's sort of a wil.e.coyote-over-the-cliff aspect to belief in USD as a reserve currency even when fundamental* support for it went out the window years ago.

---
*at least economically; from what i can think of, what's levitating it now can only be off-b/s stuff that you can't really put a price on, e.g. military and technological(?) superiority... that and the US' boundless optimism :P cheers!
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on November 26, 2009


more like a negotiated rate

Well, kind of, though I'm thinking it can just be set unilaterally rather than requiring any explicit negotiation. If you and I are direct peers, my direct exchange rate wrt you says how many flabdablets I think one of your nathans is worth to me; yours wrt me says how many nathans you think one of my flabdablets is worth to you. Obviously if we both agree about the relative values of our currencies, each of these numbers will be the reciprocal of the other.

You're invariably negotiating a rate in a transaction anyway, and some shared notion of the currency's value is very useful in this.

I don't really see why. If you've got some product on offer for 100 nathans, and I can find a transaction route to you, then I will be able to see the equivalent in flabdablets - let's say it turns out to be 1500 flabdablets. It's up to me to decide, based on my own perceived valuation of other (perhaps even comparable) goods and services in flabdablets, whether I think this is a good deal or not and whether to offer you more or less. I don't need any notion at all of how you value other people's things in nathans for the purposes of this evaluation.

still think you'd need to integrate it with a fairly consistent shared currency

About the only use I can see for anything like a consistent shared currency is for use as an off-network intermediary for transactions requiring untraceability (black markets, tax evasion etc.) and I can't see good arguments for deliberately adding design features to expedite those things. If there's a demand for them, I'm sure it wouldn't take too long for e.g. bullion exchanges to appear on the network.

If somebody (or many somebodys) in the network wants to set themselves up as a trader in gold or diamonds or bricks or grain storage or even dollars, I can see no reason to stop them. Hell, I might even be able to make a bit of money by speculating on the dollar value of the flabdablet.

But I can't bugger up anybody else's currency by doing that, since everybody's balances are always held in their own currencies. The network as proposed provides me no way to buy, hold or sell nathans; to do that, you and I would need to work out a mutually acceptable method of tracking that stuff external to the network.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 PM on November 26, 2009


kliuless, if I'm the entity that's analogous to a bank, I can't see who would be queuing up outside demanding their money back, since I haven't borrowed any. All I can ever actually borrow is stuff.

If I have a positive balance in flabdablets, that means I've sold more stuff than I've bought; a negative balance means I've bought more stuff than I've sold. If I run an endlessly growing negative balance, that means I'm extracting value (in the form of goods and services) from the trading network without putting anything back, and if my direct peers (who, you will recall, are people with whom I have a personal relationship of trust, and am presumably in regular communication with by means other than making trades) can find no good reason to let me keep doing that, they will eventually devalue my currency. If I take no notice if this signal, and merely "print more money" in an effort to stay afloat, peers can set a zero exchange rate for my currency, at which point it doesn't matter how big a number I can think of.

One possible way to game this: say Alice is Bob's direct peer, and Bob is Carol's, and Alice is operating parasitically by doing endless buying and no selling. Alice and Bob could come to an agreement whereby Bob continues to offer Alice a favorable (i.e. non-zero) exchange rate, and Alice routes all her transactions through Bob. Since all Carol sees on transactions routed via Bob is amounts in bobs, and all she can guarantee to have stored in her own node of the distributed database is transactions she's signed herself, and since Bob's balances are not growing ever more negative even though Alice's are, Carol can't see that Bob is enabling a parasite and has no motivation to devalue the bob, and therefore Bob has no disincentive to refuse such an arrangement with Alice.

I haven't yet worked out a robust way to design away this possibility, but I'm sure one exists - it will involve finding a way for Carol to get a verifiable copy of all Bob's transactions since the previous one involving Carol.
posted by flabdablet at 4:59 PM on November 26, 2009


...which would seem to require, at the very least, that a sequence number for each transacting partner be included in each transaction record so that incomplete lists are detectable.
posted by flabdablet at 6:19 AM on November 27, 2009


right, to the extent that flabdablets represent a (reasonable) claim on your time and effort, and reflect the relative scarcity of your works vis-à-vis everyone else's, there shouldn't be any problems. everything in proportion :P

i'm just not sure reasonableness claims can be assumed, cf. Chaos in Group Decisions, viz.
posted by kliuless at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2009


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