Grace Rachmany: comparing ideas for a moneyless economy
This is part 1 of an interview with Grace Rachmany, of DAO Leadership and Voice of Humanity. She has some very interesting ideas around currency design and building a new economy based on community / reputation. As with all our interviewees, we think you’ll be interested in her ideas, and what she’s up to.
I’ve recently done your ‘Future Ain’t What It Used To Be’ course – on the future of currencies, of money, of the economy. We looked at DAOs, NFTs, and different kinds of currencies, different ways that people might interact with each other and exchange things. I met lots of interesting people, heard new ideas, read and watched things that I’d otherwise have missed. I recommend it highly.
I discovered that we have similar values, based around decentralisation and mutualism. And that you have a cunning plan to change the world. So I’d like to talk with you about that, and try to get you to explain it in very simple terms.
Before we talk about what you’re doing – What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s your motivation?
I’m a systems person. Wherever we look, something’s not right – healthcare, environment, inequality. But the problem is systemic. What’s the infrastructure problem that’s causing all these external problems? What are the flows that we generally ignore, because we think ‘that’s just the way it is’. Money is an example – it’s not a given – we just invented it. So I look at systems, and think about what replacement systems might look like, that we can invent, that would change some of the structural limitations on the outcomes we can get.
Are you looking at the money system specifically, or all aspects of the economy?
There are a few main aspects. The money system is certainly one of them. Money itself is invented – how does it work? Another one might be AI – which is a little bit invisible to us. I recently received lots of adverts for men’s boxer shorts. I’d been researching hydraulic cylinders on YouTube, and I’d just bought some welding gloves, so Amazon’s AI decided to advertise men’s boxer shorts to me. There are invisible forces that we’re not aware of, that are making decisions for us. If you and I search using Google, we’ll be shown different things.
Why is that a bad thing?
I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but it limits the outcomes that you and I could get. So imagine there’s an algorithm that’s optimising right now for the maximum amount of money I might spend – that’s not in my interest. Here’s an example. Let’s say I buy all of my clothing from a website, and I start buying slightly larger trousers. It will keep trying to sell me larger clothes, but not more nutritious food so that I could lose weight. The AI’s decision is based on selling me more stuff, not what’s good for me. Or it might decide that I’m pregnant. If I start buying larger clothes, and maybe certain supplements, it will start trying to sell me baby stuff.
At the moment, these algorithms are clearly not programmed for my good.
Media and communications is another example. When we were young, people communicated by talking. Young people now use text messaging a lot more than they talk. Some people recognise that text is not ideal to solve emotional issues. But some people break up via text! That form of communication causes certain kinds of misunderstanding, that might not happen with verbal communication.
So these are the underlying forces that we don’t think about. Things like communications media, search engines, monetary systems, passports etc. Another one is voting / democracy. We vote, but how many people look at the ballot and say ‘wow, look at all these wonderful parties and politicians – how do I choose between such great options?’ Not many – I think most people have to hold their nose when they vote.
The people who climb to the top of the greasy pole are not the best among us.
Not at all. Voting is another example of a system that people think is the best thing we’ve invented so far. So what? It’s not good enough for our current situation. We can invent something better.
So to answer your original question – it’s not that I’m trying to solve one problem – I’m just looking at ways we could change some of our underlying protocols, that would shift the realm of outcomes that we could have.
So you’re not talking about an overarching blueprint, you’re talking about building different elements of a new system?
Tell us about some of the elements you’re thinking of – what are your ideas? What are you doing?
I’m working on an alternative to money. People think that we’ve always had money – but that’s not true. It’s only a few hundred years that most people have used money. It’s an invention, and like every invention, it will become outdated. I’d argue it already is. But it will probably take a generation or two to shift to the next thing – which is fine.
People in the alternative currency world – Matthew Slater for example – often say that we need an alternative immediately, because the situation is desperate. I say that my focus is on a generation or two in the future. And I think we need both approaches.
So you’re sowing seeds?
Yes. Seeds of something like an oak tree. Others are sowing seeds of tomatoes – and they grow at different speeds. Some things will grow faster than others.
So I’ve been working on what would be an alternative to currency / money. We’ve been taught that once upon a time, people used to barter – and I don’t think that’s accurate.
Not at all, no. Only in very marginal situations.
First in hunter-gatherer times, we all shared. An animal would be killed and brought back, and everyone would share it. There wasn’t a sense that ‘this is mine’. People who didn’t hunt, but looked after the kids, for example, still got some of the meat.
But you had to contribute to the group somehow, to get some food.
I’d say yes and no. What about the ‘village idiot’?
OK – unless you can’t contribute.
And everyone knew who couldn’t. And everyone knew who was being a jerk, or lazy. They might not get any food – or they might even be thrown out of the tribe, or killed, or there might be a shamanistic ritual, where they’re given some psychedelics. But each tribe would have a way of dealing with the ‘free rider’ problem.
Even much later than hunter-gatherers – David Graeber talked about a medieval inn where everyone got beer, but no-one had any money. There was a baker, a farmer, a thatcher, a blacksmith. Everyone knew how everyone else was valuable, and everyone knew if someone was not pulling their weight. Everyone got what they needed through some sort of informal … well, I’d call it mutual credit, tallied in people’s heads. It wasn’t barter, in that you didn’t have to swap anything – you just got credit.
It’s not mutual credit, because they’re not really keeping tabs.
In their heads?
In their heads, but this is relevant to what I’m trying to create. Think about how you keep tabs with mutual credit versus in your head. In your head, you work out if people did their best, and that’s ok. For example, with your family. It’s a very different way of keeping tabs.
Is it that different though – keeping tabs in your head, or writing them down in a notebook, or keeping tabs with software?
Not different – but what do you write down? I mentor people – not for payment. I was mentored, and now I’m paying it forward. But if people don’t do the work I set them, I stop mentoring them. I want to know that my time is being spent well, by people who use my advice. That’s very different from mutual credit, isn’t it? I’m giving my advice to people who will take it, but not to people who won’t. It’s a very different tab.
I’m working with villages. How do we know who’s being a free-rider versus who’s having a hard time, or they’re less capable, but they’re still contributing? An older person might just be contributing wisdom, which isn’t very visible.
When LETS schemes started, people kept tallies, but after a while, people got to know each other and they just did favours for each other without using the LETS scheme to keep tallies. But I think those kinds of things are very similar to mutual credit, and they could co-exist in the same community.
Oh yeah, I think they can. But you used the C-word. What do we mean by community? The word has become cheapened lately. I’m in London at the moment, because a friend needed me, so I dropped everything and came. There might be 5 people in your life that you’d do that for. Maybe 10. That’s a very different kind of community from digital community. As is a hunter-gatherer community.
I’m talking about real, physical community – which is becoming more neglected. There are a lot of tech solutions now that avoid face-to-face interaction with real people, that you trust, in physical communities. But I think it’s essential for human well-being to live in those kind of communities.
I agree. Some people will be nomadic and move between them, but yes. And those kinds of communities take care of everyone.
So tell us about your idea.
The idea is based on location-based communites, although there might also be digital communities. I’m calling them ‘mutual-vouching communities’. A mutual vouch is different from an individual vouch. A community can say anyone in their community, the community vouches for. For example, in the military, everyone watches everyone else’s back. Otherwise it doesn’t work.
And where is this happening? Where have you got to?
I’m now interviewing communities in Spain – in the Mondragon and Navarre regions. In those areas there’s a long history of co-operatives, mutual aid groups and social enterprises. For example, one of the groups I talked with is a social enterprise, partially funded by the government, partially by products that they make on-site. It’s for adults with disabilities, who live there, and they have a school, run conferences, events and workshops, a farm, and they teach children about farming. It’s a business, but a socially-oriented one. It’s in a village, and it’s a community in and of itself, and it has a shared economy.
They aim to break even each year, rather than make a profit, and so if they have a surplus from the farm, they give it away to local groups that need it.
So what’s your project doing in this village, as regards the currency?
There are a lot of these kinds of communities, groups, co-ops, ecovillages etc. in this area – I’m going to call them ‘modules’. There’s commerce between these modules. This happens using euros – or sometimes modules just help each other out, for no money. But there’s no circulatory system that would help them understand which of the other modules share their values. In today’s economy, if it’s cheaper to buy your raw materials from somewhere that’s not local or that doesn’t share your values, then that’s what most people do. What I’m trying to create is an economic system linking community with community / module to module (rather than individual to individual) that would create those pathways. I’m calling this a values system or reputation system.
We say that money is a store of value. But what value? What are our values? What if you could measure them? We might value different things. In this part of Spain, the environment is really important to people, because Spain is in danger of desertification. So I’d like to know the reputation of a community in terms of its effect on the environment – especially if I’m sourcing goods / materials from them. That’s a value that can be represented in a certain way. There are also cultural and social values. Different modules might be looking after disadvantaged people, or not looking to make profit, or doing things that match your values. You’d want to know what those values are before you share things with them.
Is this something that the groups sign up to? Is there a website? A platform? Face-to-face meetings?
Not yet. I’ll tell you where we’re at, but first let me explain what the economy is like. Let’s say I have surplus pumpkins, and I want to give them away. If I give them to community 1, they’ll make pumpkin pies, sell them, and one person will make all the profit from it. If I give them to community 2, they’ll make pumpkin pies, and share them among the people. I’ll give the pumpkins to community 2, because they share my values. No financial transaction happened, but a value transaction happened. I want to measure and record the values of these groups.
I’m at stage 1 – I’m gathering groups that would like to experiment with this new economy. It’s just a game at the moment, where groups rate each other based on their interactions. We’re going to do a 2-day simulation game in May, where I’ll bring interested people together, and for 2 days we’re going to be playing a game.
Here’s where you can join the game – https://www.voiceofhumanity.one/reputation-economy-simulation/
In Part 2: more about the game, and the importance of community in system change – whether we’re talking about a (real) sharing / gift economy or an economy based on mutual credit.
- We need to look at systemic problems, not just symptoms. Things we sometimes take for granted don’t actually have to be the way they are – the money system for example.
- Voting is another example of a system that people think is the best thing we’ve invented so far. So what? It’s not good enough for our current situation. We can invent something better.
- We don’t need an overarching blueprint – we just need to build the elements of a new system.
- ‘What I’m trying to create is an economic system linking community with community / module to module (rather than individual to individual). I’m calling this a values system or reputation system.’
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