Intro to Currency Design

Ferananda

What if there was a currency that could be used to enslave you, without you even realizing it? Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to learn to see how it works? How it does that?

Guess what? That’s how the existing monetary system works because of rules that are invisible to most of us.

All currencies operate at two levels. There the level of the tokens – how they’re earned or exchanged, and then level of the currency system itself – what patterns are forged by its rules… rules on both levels. Some of the rules are visible to everybody, and some of them are hidden.

Monopoly game example: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, enlightened people… the same outcome. One of them takes everything from everyone else.

How is that outcome written into the rules? Each person just takes their turn, rolls the dice, lands on a square, buys properties, charges people to stay at their property…

These are the rules at the level of tokens and players, but what are “social physics” they create? The forces, as reliable as gravity, that are at play… In this video, we want to: 1) show you the two levels that currencies operate on, 2) how to see the rules and patterns on each level, and hopefully, 3) awaken the currency designer in you with the capability to build currencies that help build a world we all want to live in.

Arthur

We’re going to start by expanding our understanding of “CURRENCY” to be something much bigger and more powerful than “money.” We already know money is powerful, but if you truly understand how we’re using the word currency, you’ll have access to something even bigger.

Yes…. I know that in everyday English those two words are used pretty interchangeably, but even if just for this video, I invite you to try on a new perspective.

I need to warn you. This is one of those Red Pill / Blue Pill moments that once you’ve been able to see the matrix, you may not easily be able to go back from.

For now, lets say currencies are symbol systems we create to manage currents or flows.– Money, which we use to manage flows of goods and services is just a small part of the landscape of currencies. Of course, we also use other kinds of currencies… Reputation currencies like credit ratings or college degrees, Measurement currencies like grades in school, certified Organic, or Fair trade. And a wide range of niche currencies for shaping specific flows like even. This may sound like I’m mixing together a lot of different things, but that’s because there truly are lots of different currencies. Hopefully it will soon be clear what is and what isn’t a currency.

Let’s look more carefully at some of examples of currencies which are not money.

College degrees are a reputation currency which we’re led to believe you need to get good job. But let’s closer at how you get a college degree? Well, you need to fulfill the degree requirements which means 12 credits of this thing, 15 credits of that thing, and 25 credits in another category. The Credits are a unit of account currency just counting the number of course hours you have in different categories. But the credits only count if you get good enough grades. Grades are a performance metric currency… designed to measure how well you’re learning the content of the course.

Together, these three non-monetary currencies shape the behavior of millions of students. These currencies are even used to divide up power within the school, with the university issuing the degree, departments issuing credits and professors issuing grades.

There’s an interesting little example in here… Tutors: Why would you pay for a tutor to teach you something when you’re already paying a university to teach it to you? Grades. Grades create the market for tutors.

Olympic medals shape behavior of millions of athletes all over the world competing to be recognized as the best. And its certainly not because of the monetary value of the gold or silver or bronze plating on the medal.

Ratings: Ebay beat out other online auctions sites because it created a reputation currency. The reputation currency started being necessary to sell big ticket items. People turn to Amazon for product ratings, Yelp for restaurant ratings, and so on.

Pedigrees: Purebred Dogs with a pedigree sell for more in the marketplace. In some places, humans with the right pedigree are called royalty, get immense power and/or wealth.

Whoa! It seems even NON-monetary currencies effect monetary power, control, and create markets. What other kinds of power might they have?

As individuals, unsurprisingly we tend to focus a lot on the level of individuals and how we’re doing in the game compared to other individuals. This can make it hard to see how currencies shape patterns at much larger levels.

For example, we tell a story about evolution that places us at the top of an evolutionary ladder as the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement.

This story fails to recognize how evolution builds new levels of complexity out of prior successes. The green algae that mastered photosynthesis is now built into the DNA of every plant, and is exactly what makes them have green leaves.

Just like that algae got built into the cells of plants, we have become cells in larger social organisms like corporations, governments, and institutions…

Yes.. organisms… with their own patterns of behavior and intelligence distinct from our own as individuals. They seek self-preservation, can spin off offspring, and have a pattern of existence that continues even as cells(people) within it are replaced.

This is hard for us to see for a few reasons. 1) We don’t like to think of ourselves as cells in an organism. and 2) because we’re not used to differentiating between the aggregate behavior of individuals, and individuals whose behavior has become organ-ized by a larger organ-ism. But this is definitely organized behavior.

When was the last time you were hanging out with some friends and said: “Hey, I know what we should do this evening. Let’s go dig for coal!” (said nobody ever). The behavior of digging for coal, and many more, happen not so much from individual choice, but from operating in the “body” of a social organism.

The nervous system, feedback loops, and “intelligence” of these corporate bodies… all run on currencies.

If you want to change the behavior of a corporation and all the people in it, all you have to do is change its currencies. It will immediately start to optimize itself to new incentives. Everything else ripples out from there.

Let’s see what this looks like…

Ferananda

You go to the DMV to get a drivers license. Even though you might be able to prove to a person behind the counter that you can drive, they won’t give you a license without a special kind of currency. You need a birth certificate, passport, or license from another state. Even though the human your interacting with can obviously see you, the state cannot. The State “sees” your existence by virtue of those forms identifying currencies.

We know humans are born and that they die, but as far as the nervous system of the social organisms of the State is concerned, humans are issued through birth certificates, and expired through death certs. Sounds crazy? Try to get someone at a bank or IRS to interact with you without your Tax ID# / SSN…!! Maybe now you can understand how we’re using the word currency. Think of it as “Current-See.” A symbol system for making particular currents or flows visible.

We can’t really interact with something if we can’t “see” it. Social organisms can only “see” the world through current-sees. Decisions are made based on these. Just think of the government, if they can’t measure it, they can’t see it.

So how do these currencies work?

Arthur

Let’s go back to the two levels. 1) The currency tokens or symbols themselves. 2) The system which establishes and maintains the rules for the curreny tokens. Each of these levels follow a specific pattern. Knowing what’s involved with these patterns is one of your tickets in to SEE forces controlling the players and plays.

  1. Currency Token Life Cycle: Rules for a) Issuance b) Transaction c) Interplay with other currencies d) Expiration, Redemption, Retiremernt Issuance: Who gets to create the tokens and how? Are they fiat (spoken into being from nothing .. like dollars and bitcoins)? Are they created as they are backed by something of value? Are they mutual credit (created via extending credit to each other via double-entry accounting)? Transaction: Can be be traded? How are transactions structured? Who can transact? Special triggers? Limits? Are there tax conseqeunces? What accounting methods? Transaction fees… interest-bearing Interplay: Are there dependencies on other currencies? (grades and credits to get a degree. HS to get into College) Dependent on others? Other dependent on this? Conversions? Thresholds? Retirement: How are units of the currency retired/redeemed/expired? Expiration of flyer miles. Revokation of college credits, gades or degrees. Redemptoin in backed currencies When you know the life cycle of currency tokens you can identify the rules that govern each phase to grasp the dynamics of the whole cycle. Everyone can create value, but if you make it illegal for any but a small group to create money (counterfeiting), you can use that ability to issue money, to control the everyone’s value Take dollars for example, most people only know the rules for the transaction phase. They don’t know who issues them (bankers) or how (as loans and accounting for deposits as asset not lability). Or realize when you pay back principle on a loan, those dollars are being retired. Or that the cash sitting in a bank’s vault is actually not in circulation… It is parked in limbo, under the bank’s guardianship, but not under their ownership. Credit ratings effecting cost and avalability of money, etc.

Ferananda

Obviously the currency token rules establish certain patterns of power by saying how they are created, used, and destroyed, but there’s hidden power behind all that.

  1. Currency SYSTEM Life Cycle: Who decides the rules of the game? How are they reviewed, changed, or perpetuated? See diagram Roots: What are the origins of the system? Who conceived, designed, or built it? All currencies have historical and political origins. What agenda was it designed to serve? For whom? Operation: Who manages the system? Oversees its changes? Evaluates its success? How do they do these things? Through what entities or mechanisms? Evolution: Who decides what needs to change? Implements those changes? Enforces adoption or compliance? Through what entities or mechanisms? Governance: Is there a group who exerts signicant control or influence over the Managers, Change-makers, Enforcers, or Evaluators even if they are not actively in those roles? Closure: Is there a plan for end-of-life of the currency system? Winding it down? You may have already figured this out, but it is worth making explicit, the people in the role of governance at the system level, essentially control the dynamics on both levels. Given most people aren’t aware of much beyond the transaction domain on the token level, most folks need to dig a lot deeper to see the full spectrum of currency dynamics

Art

Before we go even deeper, let’s look at some currency innovations, and their blind spots, to see why this matters so much. Community Currencies: Most community currencies express an economic ideology of a small group in the governance role. They may object to centralized issuance and opt for mutual credit. Or they don’t like debt, and do a value backed scheme. Or they don’t like the growth imperative which comes from issuing all money as debt which bears interest. Occasionally, someone will swing way out there and set a value reference to hours and maybe even remove pricing (1 hr = 1 hr).

Cryptocurrencies: Most cryptocurrencies encode a monetary function as envisioned by an individual or small group in the governance role. They typically object to centralized issuance by fiat, choosing instead to implement semi-randomized issuance by fiat using a PoW or PoS. They also implement transparent accounting on a blockchain, which they consider decentralized because there is not one master copy, everyone that can afford the cost of the hardware has a full copy of the whole economy. If you look at a large scope of hundreds of design choices, most of these currencies are stuck on just a few variables (mostly about issuance) at the Token level.

They duplicate the artificial scarcity of interest with requiring massive compute power for PoW. They duplicate the currency being locked into a growth trajectory, of pre-ordained design. and Without decentralized governance of the rules of the currency (or the versioning of software in a digital currency), is a currency actually decentralized? These systems are stuck in a monetary frame, completely missing the boat on Current-Sees as nervous systems of social organisms. So… how do we go beyond the monetary frame?

Fer

To open our vision a little wider let’s look a “wealth.” Just as we expanded our perception of currency, we need to expand our understanding of wealth. We typically think of wealth as accumulating lots of riches. But Wealth is not about accumulation – any more than health is about maximizing your weight Wealth is about capacity: To move things to where they’re needed. To solve problems. To provide for a quality of life or experience. The resilience to adapt to change. Wealth isn’t an individual bank balance, it is the collective configuration which enables healthy patterns of flow. It is truly COMMONwealth. Think about it as economic health. Your health is not about having massive stockpiles of calories, but strength, speed, flexibility, resilience to adverse circumstances.

Art

Every living system, whether a cell, a human, an ecosystem, a corporation, or an economy has particular dimensions thru which we can see patterns of flow. These different dimensions use different type of currencies as signaling systems for maintaining healthy patterns of flow. Separate from the living system is the speculative economy… the gambling market about the living systems. We’ve mistaken those gambling chips, like dollars, for real wealth. Let’s look at currencies which connect in with the feedback loops in each dimension… like commodities, goods, or services in the parts and products layer. Various measurements and metrics in the properties layer. … Rankings at the performance layer, and Names, Titles, Certifications at the relational layer. We’re not going to dive in too deep in this video. We’ll get into that in our currency design webinar.

I want to share a few last things to clear up some common sources of confusion. When people first try to expand their vision of currencies and wealth they start to think we’re saying: “Everything is a currency!” Flows of value, love, time, attention, sharing, caring, etc… No! Those are flows. We use currencies to help shape healthy patterns of those flows. It’s a map vs. territory thing. Currencies are symbols. they are information about flows. Your college degree is just an indication about some learning, it is not the learning itself. You might use page hits to measure attention, but page hits are not attention. You might use Olympic medals to rank athletes, but they just point to athletic skill, they are not the skills. The title “President of the US” points to a bunch of relationships and power dynamics, but it is not those relationships. Money flows in the opposite direction of value, it is not the value itself, just a marker of the value that moves the opposite direction. Maps are extremely useful ! Especially when we want to arrange or coordinate collective behavior. But they are not the territory. But unlike a paper map which is an object, currency tokens also flow, so they create living maps that we are always responding to and interacting with. So what kind of wealth or capacites are you trying to create? And what kind of living map will enable people to orchestrate themselves into that healthy pattern?

Ferananda

My hope is that this has cracked open new possibilities and perspectives on the power of currencies… …and specifically how currencies shape the capacities of social organisms like corporations and economies, because the patterns we’ve been using are wreaking some havoc

You can check our web site for more helpful resources. In particular, we are offering some online webinars to dive deep into this stuff. There are three different series or tracks: One for monetary design and cryptocurrencies. Another for going beyond sustainability into deisigning for thrivability. The third is for building community, doing culture-hacking, designing social flows. Speak about us been open to different possibilities for investment - 50% money - 50% open to other forms of contribution that can be measured Check it out at MetaCurrency.org

Thanks for listening. And here’s to your wealth.