Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 9 Aug 09 13:34
Your book is timely in that it gets into root causes of the economic meltdown we've been experiencing, which was tied to practices in banking and in the mortgage industry that you discuss at length. When the money hit the fan, we heard that we were in the worst recession since the great depression, and that it could take years to recover. To many of us, there seemed to be systemic issues from which recovery would require economic rethinking and a commitment to sustainability rather than persistent growth. Now we're seeing news pieces about "signs of economic cheer" (http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14177443 ) and cautious optimism within the administration (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/business/03econ.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=recovery& st=cse). Can we really expect to recover and get back to business as usual? Or should we be conceiving new ways of doing business?
Pendeo, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Tue 11 Aug 09 21:00
Any benefit to complementary currencies with regard to counterfeiting? Is leveraging possible with such currencies?
William Pauly (almedia) Tue 11 Aug 09 21:35
I think I'm going to have to get this book. Um, can anyone explain the term "leveraging" in this context, preferably in simple terms a non-economist might understand. I might guess at a meaning, but can't count on it being accurate. Counterfeiting would seem to be a problem for any system in which anonymously exchanged tokens were employed. It might be easier to detect in a general sense if they were tagged to a balance of credit which was quite personal. But, then, it is usually obvious if someone has stolen your credit card details and is ripping you off.
Douglas Rushkoff (rushkoff) Wed 12 Aug 09 04:59
Local currencies don't use anonymous tokens. Counterfeiting is impossible since no money is actually required. (Unless it's a currency that decides to use tokens for some reason, in which case I guess counterfeit is as easy as anything.) But if you're going to simply have everyone start at zero in a transparent and public database, and then make the only way for someone to go up from zero be that they did something for someone else whose number goes *down* from zero, then you have no faking. Someone's credits are dependent on someone else's debits. Really, there are so many great books on complementary currency systems, which ones to use in which kinds of communities and circumstances, you're better off just going to the source. I've got the best websites listed on my resources page (if the 4chan attack is over). Read Greco. He's probably the easiest and most straightforward. As for "leverage," I just meant that banks are allowed to lend out ten times more money than they actually have. Then, through various other instruments, they leverage it even more. So they can effectively lend dozens of times more money than they have. Or bet with more money than they have.
Douglas Rushkoff (rushkoff) Wed 12 Aug 09 05:22
As to Jon's bigger question, I agree. The financial crisis was more than just the exposure of a single industry, like the dotcom boom and bust. It was a boom and bust of finance itself. Even if it was merely a turn of the "cyclical" market, people were horrified by the cycle itself. You mean the economy is a perpetual ponzie scheme? It crashes and takes losers with it? And that's how it's supposed to work? Bankers and investors just extract capital from workers? Like, Marx was right? People also saw that bankers had no idea what they were doing. That was scary. And exposed the whole game as essentially fraudulent. A fix.
Cogito? (robertflink) Wed 12 Aug 09 06:32
Isn't any medium of exchange susceptible to manipulation like other abstractions such as language? Some people I know get frustrated when the dictionary provides little help but the dictionary is merely a compilation of usage and not normative. We also live immersed in political rhetoric where the medium is in play as much as the "facts" and the ideas. In the midst of turbulence we yearn for stability.
John Payne (satyr) Wed 12 Aug 09 08:17
I'd like to point out that Mr. Rushkoff has a link to a video of his appearance on Colbert at... http://rushkoff.com/2009/07/16/life-inc-dispatch-09-colbert-report/
pardon my amygdala (murffy) Wed 12 Aug 09 09:47
>make the only way for someone to go up from zero be >that they did something for someone else whose number >goes *down* from zero This sounds zero-summish. If everybody starts at zero, how does the ball get rolling on this? If I'm the first person to produce something in the new system, who is able to give me credits?
John Payne (satyr) Wed 12 Aug 09 10:58
Back in my teens, forty-some years ago, I attended a weekend church camp put on by another protestant denomination, during which we were all pressed into participation in a trading game, with a small set of tokens having a spread of values, and a few rules that made the trading itself not quite straightforward, so the art of salesmanship factored in. The game played out over several rounds of a few minutes each, and at the end a few players had managed to acquire most of the value that had begun equally distributed, while the rest of us were left paupers. This was very much a zero-sum result, and a stark lesson I've never forgotten, although the lesson I took away from it seemed rather different from that which the 'winners' seemingly learned. To judge by what I overheard in the few minutes following the end of the game, their belief in its nature representing the way things unavoidably are in the real world had been reinforced, with overtones of justification.
William Pauly (almedia) Wed 12 Aug 09 17:16
There are winners and losers in any game. I like the idea that other money games are possible, and should be legal. Fixing relative value amongst a range of money types might be a bit of a trick, though.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Aug 09 20:51
The question of relative value makes me think of the Austin Time Exchange, where the exchanges are hour for hour. I've talked to friends who are part of the Time Exchange about the question of asymmetrical perception of time value. Where the exchange is hour for hour, an attorney who charges $300 per hour might be hesitant to sign up in a context that could involve exchanges with others whose time value per hour is considerably less. However I learned that a core value of the time exchange and other time banking systems is equal exchange. "Putting a price on people's time separates us by making some people more valuable than others. Time Dollars excel in building relationships because they place an equal value on everyones time." - http://www.timebanks.org/faqs.htm#oneequalsone New question for Doug: you say in the book how individuality was "invented" and the concept of the "brand" followed. Many people think that individualism is a good thing. How should we think of ourselves, if not as autonomous individuals? What new social constructs might you envision for the individual and society - what revisions to the social context? Are evolving online social technologies potential solutions, or do they lead us farther down the path we were already on?
John Payne (satyr) Thu 13 Aug 09 06:46
Besides the ban on competing currencies, what other legal barriers are there to alternative approaches to organizing work and life? I'm fond of the idea of cooperatives, which I suppose might be organized as corporations which exist to support the well-being of their stakeholders, which might include, for example, everyone living within a particular township, but I wonder how far that model can be bent before it running into a legal wall. Is it reasonable that the first step should be to identify and dismantle legal barriers, or can that only happen as friction between old rules and older/new ways of doing things develops?
Dubito??? (robertflink) Thu 13 Aug 09 07:08
Regarding cooperatives and "it takes a village", remember Salem. BTW, individual rights and protecting, to some degree, the individual from the will of the group is a fairly recent development in history, at least for common folk. Where to strike the balance between the interests of the individual and the group (which group?) is challenging, shifting and messy. The "better" way today could well be the problem of tomorrow.
John Payne (satyr) Thu 13 Aug 09 08:08
Douglas's Edge article is up at... http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/rushkoff09/rushkoff09_index.html Also, there's much more than the Colbert video on his website. I spent two or three hours, yesterday, watching the videos he has available on... http://rushkoff.com/
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 13 Aug 09 16:04
Doug, your career has certainly taken you in some interesting directions! I haven't followed it very closely, but I'm curious about how you went from writing and consulting about Generation X to an in-depth look at a topic that is seemingly at the opposite end of that spectrum of interest.
(dana) Thu 13 Aug 09 16:48
I've just started reading the book, and the history of the corporation is a real eye opener. It dovetails rather cleanly with the artificial way the leaders of the industrial revolution convinced people to become consumers rather than have more free time (as diagrammed in Jeremy Rifkin's "The End of Work", for example). I'm totally with you on the artificiality of our current economic system, yet I can't imagine opting out in middle age -- but won't I be propping up the system if I continue investing my retirement funds in traditional ways? I imagine you address this question later in the book, but can you summarize how you see change happening beyond kicking the centralized currency habit? Your recent essay compares this struggle to the battle between religion and science, but that fight has been going on for hundreds of years, and isn't finished yet. Is it realistic to think we can change this system while anyone reading here is still alive? I'd like to think so, yet watching one industry battle change in the health care fight makes me pessimistic about our chances of seeing much improvement with the entire system fighting for its life.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 14 Aug 09 00:02
Northern Brooklyn artists encourage local spending with unique currency http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/brooklyn/2009/08/12/2009-08-12_northern_br ooklyn_artists_encourgage_local_spending_with_.html
Bob (bob) Fri 14 Aug 09 00:20
I liked the brief bit about trying to raise a kid (and have one in the first place) without drowning in consumerism. That there is such a thing as Lactation Consultants (and that, for lack of other options, our two appointments with them were totally worth it, as annoyed as we were about having to shell out for it) really says a lot about what's happened to our culture. Though you might find that a stroller with big wheels and shock absorbers (no, not a ridiculous Bugaboo) have their place if you'd rather hang out and nap the kid under a tree by a dirt road than by a park bench. Meanwhile we try to do our best with hand-me-down stuff from and for our friends. Another interesting aspect is how babies are programmed for consumerism from an early age. Jane Healy has a good book that talks about how TV (and not just the ads), "educational" videos, and many toys (active toys -> passive baby, as opposed to passive toys -> active baby) lead to a kind of developmental crippling. It's not a stretch of her work to suggest that these products don't just sell well, but are gateway drugs to the cultural problems that you address.
Douglas Rushkoff (rushkoff) Sun 16 Aug 09 09:24
@33: "This sounds zero-summish. If everybody starts at zero, how does the ball get rolling on this? If I'm the first person to produce something in the new system, who is able to give me credits?" In the system I am describing - the simplest form of Lets currency (again - so much more and totally easy descriptions of this answering all these very questions at http://www.gmlets.u-net.com/ and the other resources I listed at http://rushkoff.com resources page) it is a zero sum game exactly. The reason you accept a gift of someone mowing your lawn (and the debits to your account) is that you intend to make it up later by doing something for someone else. @36 "How should we think of ourselves, if not as autonomous individuals? " Well, I don't think we have much of a problem with our individuality at this point. It's not a matter of erasing individuality as much as celebrating other possible notions of identity - and looking at how to do so in a non-racist/tribal fashion. The notion of the individual was invented during the renaissance, and then celebrated at the expense of all other identities. Even when people joined clubs and associations in the early 20th century, this was seen as a problem by corporations looking to promote consumerism and competition between individuals (read Bowling Alone). So we celebrate a "you you're the one" individuality at the expense of collective forms. We look down on collectivism as something for the poor. Big land, big lawns, individual homes, very separated. I'd also suggest that not only the individual is capable of autonomy. But I'm talking about something different than fascism. More of a fractal, systems thing. Probably another conversation. @37 "what other legal barriers are there to alternative approaches to organizing work and life?" You come up against them when you try to do anything. So I've come to believe that it's best to start by doing and then seeing who/what tries to stop you. The farm I buy from - the CSA - is not allowed to grow chard on land that they bought (in order to meet new demand) because it turns out the land was set aside by the corn lobby for corn subsidy. Oops. The folks I know in Ohio are not allowed to install solar panels on their roofs because of some arcane electricity monopoly rules. Currency won't be a problem until the banks decide they're losing too much money, and then new laws will be drafted to shut it down. But by current law, they're legal. Because they are actually worthless. They are not an exchange of goods for services, but goods and services are given as "gifts" in an asynchronous exchange. Again, more about this at the great Lets and TimeDollars resources. @38: "Where to strike the balance between the interests of the individual and the group (which group?) is challenging, shifting and messy." That's exactly the conclusion I came to in my first book, Cyberia, in 1992. I figured the Internet presented us with opportunities for new collectivism, but that this would challenge people's notion of the "personal" and "identity." But I also saw this as the challenge for humans since the beginnings of humans: how to promote one's self while also participating in the collective. How to get along. @Linda - Hey Linda! "writing and consulting about Generation X to an in-depth look at a topic that is seemingly at the opposite end of that spectrum of interest." I actually never consulted about GenerationX. NYTimes is not really to be believed. I collected an anthology of GenX writings, as a way to prove that the marketers' contextualization of GenX as lazy people was wrong. We were simply resistant to marketing. Of course, by GenY the "problem" had been solved. And we GenX people are not even acknowledged as the real GenX As I see it, I've been writing about the same thing, from the same perspective, since the beginning: how to extend the cyberpunk, open source ethos to social engineering. How to help people see that the circumstances under which they are living are not entirely God-made, but social constructions, the results of decisions made by people. When you look at it that way, everything from Cyberia to Coercion to Media Virus to Nothing Sacred to Life Inc are about the very same thing. The world, however, has changed over the past 20 years. I don't think the net is as nice a place as it was. @41 - My real answer to that is we have to start SLOW. Not through big top-down reorganizations of society based on some new idea. But rather through very small actions taken in consonance with our values as human beings. And those very small actions will end up have big ripple cascading effects. It's the only way to keep it "real," so to speak, and not screw things up yet again. And yeah, that can be as real or big as thinking about ways to invest locally rather than outsourcing retirement to Wall Street. What about owning a piece of a local business that you believe in? @43. Totally. I'm struggling with that myself.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 16 Aug 09 18:12
This is all a fascinating, fresh, and unique point of view, at least in my limited experience. I haven't read the book, I'm afraid, so the questions I have might be addressed there, but I'm wondering how you see your own life reflect what you are writing about here. What kinds of changes have you seen, or made, based on "..extend[ing] the cyberpunk, open source ethos to social engineering?" I'm also curious about how the problem of how Gen X was contextualized by marketers was solved when Gen Y showed up. And, on a more personal note, I noticed a wedding ring on your finger when I saw you on Colbert. Do you have a Gen Y or two of your own these days? If you do, how does your experience of being at the forefront of cyberpunk, and your point of view about the evolution of the net and social engineering inform your parenting experience? As far as the net not being as nice a place as it used to be: I became acutely aware of this the other day when I was looking at a topic here on the WELL in g Words and noticed that it had been started in 1995. I went back to response 0 and started reading from there, and it really struck me how different the tone of the conversation was then, at the dawn of online community, from how it later became among those same people. At the beginning, it was entirely an exciting new way for people to connect, people were generally respectful and bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Membership was limited to those who had the technical chops to know how to connect. Gen Y has never lived in a time when there wasn't that connection and the barrier to connecting no longer exists, so the idea of cybercommunity is no longer novel, and so much of a given that it seems like a birthright. Is that how the problem has been solved by the arrival of Gen Y? In the last 20 years, we have observed exactly this "big top-down reorganizations of society based on some new idea." But it didn't seem like it was slow at all, did it?
Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Sun 16 Aug 09 19:12
Collectives of the past (early Christianity?) have eventually been hijacked by political powers. More recent collectives (supposedly non-religious) have been more quickly hijacked by ideologues (or the personally ambitious posing as ideologues) who "broke a few eggs" to perfect their vision. BTW, perhaps we currently suffer from some types of "collectives" such as boards of directors of large corporations or the US Senate or the AMA or the bar association or professional sports. These seem to be working quite well for their members. Can we model a larger collective on such examples say the whole US of A as compared to the rest of the world? Come to think of it, the rest of the world has been voting with their feet in this regard.
Douglas Rushkoff (rushkoff) Mon 17 Aug 09 07:55
As far as my own life, well, I'm just trying to keep my head above water. You don't make nearly as money writing books about how media viruses promote an organism culture as you do writing about "social contagion" as a marketing ploy. So I have been trying - pretty successfully - to get conferences and corps to pay to get me to speak about all this. They'll get four or five real business speakers, and then me as the social conscience guy. But I've gotten too direct in my critique, which has really cost me income. So for me, the question becomes how to survive in the current landscape while trying to change it to something better. And so far, it's been little things. When I have extra money, I put someone I know through graduate school or college, rather than donating to a charity. I've done that twice. Or I invest in the local restaurant rather than Wall Street. I source food through the CSA, walk to work, make sure to support the public school through direct labor and advice and stuff - and will be sending my 4-year-old daughter there. (I don't think she's y or even z. More like c or d from the new deck.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 17 Aug 09 13:55
Those things may sound little to you, but they sound big, and admirable to me. I hope that you eventually write about your daughter. What's the new deck, exactly, and what would A and B be? Or am I getting too far off-topic for this discussion?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Aug 09 16:44
No, that's a good question, Linda. It's important to think about what the future can be. And predicting the future is old school; cooler to come up with a set of scenarios, pick the ones that feel right, and figure out how to make them happen. What would the future be like, for instance, if we stopped building corporations and started working through smaller organizations that could form ad hoc alliances to do larger projects, rather than growing bigger companies? And how would an economy look that was based on sustainability? Where costs were never externalized and all economic activity assumed a livable future?
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Tue 18 Aug 09 00:47
Joining the discussion a little late, but reading through the posts the question that comes to my mind - and Jon alludes to it referring to "smaller organizations" - is how alternative currencies and alternative economic/financial paradigms scale: barter is fine for a neighborhood or a town, and there are means of forming capital to raise a barn or a schoolhouse. But what about a 747? Or a laptop computer? Or an office or apartment complex? Or, in a different direction, a solar or wind-power plant large enough to achieve economies of scale? We know that financial capital (centralized currency) can support these applications. We know that command economies based on State monopoly capital (e.g., the Soviet system) can also support large-scale applications, although less flexibly and with less innovation. What evidence is there that alternative methods could support projects like these as well?
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