The Flavour of Money

What do we mean by the "flavour of money"? Surely money is neutral? An abstraction with which we can express our wishes and aspirations - at least within the "economic" sphere? This article argues against this simplistic view, and presents an experiment we are engaged in with the creative community here in Vienna. In this experiment we are looking at currency systems which elicit a different attitude and behaviour in its use (when compared with our conventional cash currency). We are looking to capture different values.

Most people think that money is the only type of money. Economics is the study of this single monetary system and it is commonly regarded that the attempt to create an alternative is futile. The short term arguments for this "One Money Hypothesis" are weak, although they may well prove stronger in the long term.

Many ideologies, many organisations that set out with an ambition to make a difference, tend to adopt the same structures and organisational methods. They ossify, reproducing the same behaviour they were designed to replace. It is only through engineering a different form of organisational DNA, different forms of resource and skill sharing and new forms of decision making, that we can hope to immunise the social structure from this long term ossification. We concentrate here on the use and design of alternative forms of "money", because these systems are both practical tools for small groups and networks, and offer a form of fundamental structural change.

Money has been termed "frozen desire". It is not neutral in value. The financial system that we have has its own emergent properties - it effects us, and is not simply a passive vehicle for the full richness of human expression. It is an efficient and highly evolved information system for creating material wealth. There is little point in trying to reinvent this system with a "complementary" system, unless you have a clear focus on the sort of values you wish to capture.

The project we are engaged in aims to create new forms of "money". Token systems, games and experiments which allow us to really see that a different "game" is possible. We are designing experiments that aim to create new forms of emergent behaviour, yet retain the flexible, bottom up creative potential of monetary systems.

There is a long history to this subject. It is an interdisciplinary area involving economics, sociology, mathematics, psychology and information science. It is an area of experimental sociology, it is about possible futures. This is uncomfortable intellectually and ethically, and it is therefore not surprising that until recently, complementary currency research and design has been largely ignored by academic and government institutions.

The majority of real world experiments are relatively recent, starting with Local Economic Trading Systems (LETS), to Time Banks in the 1990s.  You can find more information, including a set of links and references to this subject on the Open Partnerhip web site.

Why are renowned economists and bankers such as Bernard Lietaer (one of the original designers of the Euro), and Alan Greenspan (Chairman of the Federal Reserve since 1992) fans of complementary money systems? What does the future hold for our children in a world where the full power and ability to create a functional banking system, using secure digital currencies, is available on a recycled computer using free open source software? What sort of new future will we create with these tools?

We are interested in exploring this potential and their creative applications in our society. We have chosen to start a value exchange system backed by pressed flowers. We have chosen carefully to distance this project from anything to do with real money. The project is about creative exchanges between artists. It is framed with a view to the future and focusses on issues and stories that will effect the world in whch our children will grow up in. In this new field digital currencies can become decision making systems, acting somewhat like votes. They can be used in inventive ways in education and science. What we understand by the term "money" will change out of all recognition in the next 50 years.

What is vital is that we as individuals, and as a society, understand these possibilities, and are not yet again a passive victim of the effects of these technological and social changes. We are not talking
about money as we know it, we are talking about the future basis on which we collaborate, reach decisions and share resources. What are the values we wish to express with these new systems?


David Bovill, Stefan Lutschinger, Günther Friesinger, Johannes Grenzfurthner, Ian Grigg and EVE