lunedì 7 ottobre 2013

Brett Scott: Riches beyond belief If you want to know what money is, don’t ask a banker. Take a leap of faith and start your own currency @ Aeon mag, 28 August 2013

Brett Scott: 
Riches beyond belief If you want to know what money is, don’t ask a banker. Take a leap of faith and start your own currency 
@ Aeon mag, 28 August 2013

"I don’t have much money. Then again, I couldn’t say exactly how much I do have. In the Co‑operative Bank’s IT system is a database entry that says I have £97 in electronic money. In my wallet I have three £10 notes, pieces of paper with pictures of the Queen on them, issued by the Bank of England, promising me £30. I have six pieces of metal, too — copper-nickel alloy and nickel-plated steel, to be exact — valued at 59 pence in total. So that’s £127.59.
My wallet also contains a £5 Brixton Pound note — a local currency found only in the south London neighbourhood where I live — which I got as change from a local bar called Kaff. On my mobile phone is a series of text messages telling me that I have B£39.61 on my online Brixton Pound account. This is electronic money stored in a database, sent to me by local residents to pay for copies of a book I wrote. If I open my computer, there is a programme called MultiBit that connects to a distributed computer file called the blockchain. It contains a record that says I have 3.8462 BTC — or bitcoins: I earned them selling the book to people in Israel, the USA, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand via an exchange called BitPay.
That’s not all. I have a Totnes Pound, 20 South African rand, and a couple of hours saved up on a timebanking platform. It’s possible that I have other money, too — but that depends on what you mean by ‘money’. The authorities have their own view of what counts as legal tender, or ‘real’ money but, even so, the definition has been controversial since antiquity. One of the most interesting sections in the British Museum is a display of counterfeit coins — not ‘real’ according to the powers that be, but frequently real enough to the people who used them.
I, too, was once a counterfeit of sorts. A left-wing chancer with a background in anthropology, I immersed myself for two years in the financial sector, styling myself as whatever a derivatives broker is supposed to be. I wanted to uncover what exactly goes on in networks of power, to experience those dynamics first-hand, like a kind of gonzo journalist. For the most part, the work involved trying to peddle giant bets — known as swaps and options contracts — to various investors, banks and corporations. In the process of doing it, though, I stopped being a counterfeit and started becoming a real broker, internalising the cultural codes of high finance. I was thrown out in 2010, and ever since then I’ve been fascinated with developing other ways in which one might go about exploring, rewiring and playing with the financial system.
How can a piece of paper store 10 pounds of value? What are pounds anyway?
The trouble is, while my experiences in mainstream finance taught me a lot about what the industry does, they only gave me glimpses into the nature of the mysterious stuff it does it with. The financial system exists, above all, to mediate flows of money, not to question what money is. Investment banks create financial instruments that steer money from one place to another, with built-in sub-conduits to siphon it back — extractive devices used by investors. To draw an analogy with computer coding, we might say that financial instruments are analogous to ‘high-level’ programming languages such as Java or Ruby: they let you string commands together in order to perform certain actions. You want to get resources from A to B over time? Well, we can program a financial instrument to do that for you.
By contrast, money itself is more like a low-level programming language, very hard to see or to understand but closer to gritty reality. It’s like your computer’s machine code, interfacing with the hardware: even the experts take it for granted. You might need to explain to someone what a bond is, but nobody is ever ‘taught’ what money is. We just see it in action and learn how to use it. Indeed, the only way you ever tend to get a glimpse of it is in relief, by contrast with another programming language — or when you’re forced to build it again from scratch." (.....)

Pic: Ruben Sprich.
Members of CHF 2,500 Monthly for Everyone open rolls of 5 cent coins in the vault of the old Schweizerische Volksbank. The committee dumped 8 million 5c coins in Basel's Federal Square to launch their campaign for all adults to receive an unconditional state income of CHF 2,500 a month

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