Friday, April 24, 2009

Bed Jump Cape Town

My incredible wife, an incredible creative consultant and the founder of the awesome Messy Monkey Arts has started a new project called Bed Jump Cape Town.

She has been going around the city of Cape Town with the renowned photographer, Inge Prins, photographing everyday people jumping on a bed - Surfers on Muizenberg Beach, the cleaning staff at the Mount Nelson Hotel, fishermen at Kalk Bay Harbor and more.

The goal is to have a large gallery show, where the photographs are auctioned off and the monies donated to a program started by three mothers in Lavender Hill (a rather poor and gang infested suburb of Cape Town). The program called, Mothers Unite, feeds the local children daily with foods donated by local businesses.

Here are a couple videos to give you all a taste. The plans are to take the same concept global - Bed Jump San Francisco, India, Europe and more.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Oh Thesis Question!!

I am in that time - that time of trying to survive and navigate the thesis proposal. I have a good idea of the arena I want to explore - value and money. Specifically the role that alternative currencies can play in promoting a broader spectrum of values - most notably issues of scarcity and competition.

These are two of the elements that I consider to be critical to the belief mechanisms that help to drive modern capitalism and the connected negative consequences of that system. The question then is how do you create a system that recognizes concepts of abundance and cooperation? My answer has come to rest on notions of money - and on ideas of creating alternative currencies that place or rather respond to values of abundance and cooperation in a positive way.

I believe that a currency that operates under the rules of 1) Zero Interest 2) A separation of medium-of-exchange and store-of-value 3) that has a demurrage, will bring us closer to meeting the goals of reducing environmental destruction, reducing growing inequalities (which is driven by hoarding of money) and of reducing the need for competition (and therefore commodification) while helping to promote the ability of communities that currently lack a medium-of-exchange to generate their local economies (and here I am referring to communities in Africa).

I place my energy behind the creation of alternative currencies because I believe this has two impacts on society 1) It allows us, as a society, to recognize our power over the economy and that money is our creation, not some God given right of the state or even a natural byproduct 2) It allows us to explore value systems and forces us to talk and debate about what are the most critical things that our money needs to value.

In this way I turn to the rise of mobile technology in Africa and the pioneering ideas of Michael Linton who talks about the value of technology in the spread and creation of alternative currencies. Much of his thinking is detailed by Keith Hart who talks about the changing subject/object relationship that is produced through the virtualization of money.

As I am sure, and hope you can see, I have built my thinking into a pretty cohesive flow. The big question is where do I ask my question and at what point do I place that question? I am not interested in the quantitative element of this discussion, I think Friedrich von Hayek said it best in his book "Denationalisation of Money",
"Though the popular tendency in economics is to accept only statistaically testable theories...they have acquired a quite undeserved reputation." (p. 48)
He then goes on to say,
"To introduce sharp distinctions which do not exist in the real world in order to make a subject susceptible to mathematical treatment is not to make it more scientific but "rather less so." (p 48)
It is with this in mind that I look to explore these questions through a much more philosophical and theoretical lens. I believe that these questions are not mathematical but are far more social and political.

I am trying to find a professor at University of Cape Town that is wiling to work with me in exploring these ideas and helping me to formulate my theoretical framework. I have, as of today, still not found that individual. I will continue to push forward.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Community Currencies - From von Hayek to Linton and back again

As I dig further into my research of money and the varied ways we could organize our currency system I have come across an interesting convergence. It is a convergence that I have seen happen in other arenas, but the starting points are vastly different.

I have been researching alternative/complementary currencies (I use the term "alternative" as a loose definition. Effectively meaning a complementary currency, however one that acts as an "alternative" to the national currency) for over 6 months, and political-economy for many years. I have read large amounts of literature with the majority of it coming from groups of people who make the argument for local economies.

These authors include Thomas Greco, Michael Linton, Eric Harris-Braun and many more. What all of these people are trying to do is present the opportunity for communities to create there own medium-of-exchange. And, ultimately, to challenge the monopoly of money creation that the state has aquired. Many of these writers are focused on the "local" and of, "reinvigorating" these local economies with the aim to building new social relations, creating value around community and small businesses. One can see this as a push back, a Polanyian double movement, against the multi-national corporate driven globalization. The argument is in part grownded in the belief that these alternative currencies could capture some of the ground back from the advance of globalization. I have written about my issues of conceptions of the local that dominate much of this literature.

The part that does excite me about it is the idea of actually being able to create your own medium-of-exchange as a community. That this in its own way is paradigm shifting - Keith Hart talks about this, though I don't think he uses the term "paradigm shifting". Eric Harris-Braun, Art Brock and Bernard Lietear also touch on this. It certainly challenges one of the most taken for granted elements of the economic systems - money creation. The goal is to really redefine what currency means and how we view our economic system. Each one of these thinkers/writers deserve a much deeper analyses, but for now I am mearly trying to set the stage for a type of convergence that I want to highlight.

Until recently I had not come across any other main-stream economists making an argument for the creation of alternative currencies. I have heard that Greenspan has talked about the rise of alternative currencies in the 21st century (I have yet to see the actual quote). However, my recent discovery of the book by Frederich von Hayek called, "Denationalising of Money" calls for the end of the state monopoly of money creation - the separation of money creation and government. His argument is founded on the belief in markets and free competition. That these two elements will lead to the creation of multiple, stable (but flexible) currencies and will end the ability of the government, through its monopoly, to create inflation/deflation by printing more money.

One thing that von Hayek does not say in his book is if the government will still be permitted to create money? Or, if all money creation, is left to the private sector. I am inclined to believe he would have defaulted to the latter.

What I find extremely interesting here is that we have, on the left - the community based local economy activists and on the right we have the neo-liberal free-market economists - all coming down to the same conclusion; freeing up the right to create a medium-of-exchange.

What, of course, is critical here is how these alternatives are framed and what, if they are to be created, these alternative currencies look like. This leads to the next, and what I think is probably the harder and more complicated question to answer; what are the critical elements of an alternative currency? What attributes does this currency have? How is it valued? Is it backed by commodities? Assets? These questions are all very murky and are talked about by many different schools of thought.

At this point I believe that a zero-interest (Silvio Gesell and Margrit Kennedy), non-debt based (James Robertson and others) currency offers the greatest possibility of enabling a type of capitalism that does not require continues growth , and helps address the issues of compound interest and exponential growth (Steady State Economics, Herman Daly and many others). The ultimate goal being a reduction in the environmentally destructive nature of our current economic system, and reducing those that live in absolute poverty.

I am not fixed on these attributes, I may discover that there are serious flaws in them. I continue to explore and dig around. The place that this has brought me to is an exploration of the explosion of the mobile phone in Africa and the concurrent development of mobile-banking and airtime bartering/transfers. With a grant that I recently received from the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion I hope to explore this intersection between global networks, virtual currencies, under-monetized economies and alternative currencies. My feeling is this intersection offers an incredible opportunity to explore the multiple elements of the issues raised.

More to come....