localised systems – currency

June 5, 2007

I first heard of people just starting up their own currencies when I read about the Ithaca Hour in a newspaper a few years back. (official page link, Wikipedia link) Now it seems that Totnes in Devon is following similar lines, according to this article on BBC News.

A south Devon town has taken a step towards having its own currency after a month-long experiment.

Three hundred Totnes pounds were printed in March for circulation only in local outlets.

Eighteen shops joined Transition Town Totnes (TTT), a new group campaigning for a more self-sufficient community.

Marjana Kos, of TTT, said: “It’s keeping wealth here. It’s keeping local trade alive and supporting local businesses.”

Louise King, manager of the Riverford farm shop in Totnes, said: “We like our own products, so it just seems right to have our own currency.”

What I consistently find myself being surprised by is that people don’t just create bottom up systems of production and distribution for their own little crafty creations – food, art and so on – they are quite happy to take on such massively important systems as currencies and education.

20th century thinking would suggest that a tiny currency only accepted in a few stores in a single town is a bad, or at least fairly useless, idea. Evidently this is not the case, though, as many towns around the world are creating their own versions of these systems. Once again, the ease with which information about such systems can be shared between people keen on implementing them is paramount – step forward the internet. Take a bow, sir – good work.

What’s also interesting to me is that so many of these activities are not done in direct competition with the existing status quo. The Pound Sterling is still legal in Totnes, and they are doing nothing illegal in creating their own currency. The two systems work perfectly happily side by side, and any complications in configuring exchange rates are sorted out not by top-down decree from Westminster, but at the point of sale by those involved in the upkeep of the system – The administrators, directors, and end users are all the same person. And people don’t chose to use the Ithaca Hour because the US Dollar has failed; they chose to do so because the Hour has its own value quite independent of the Dollar – the warm, fuzzy, and personal value of supporting your local economy and of membership in a community. These things aren’t worth much in 20th century terms of monetary value, but it’s been shown time and time again that money really can’t buy you happiness.

It’s barely a step from bartering and exchanges of services, really, and these transactions are also very popular in the online world. I myself have designed and printed Tshirts for people in exchange for them writing me a css file or renting me an online domain. We could have worked out specific monetary values of these goods, but because the element of personal friendship already existed, it was easier to make the transition without resorting to currency – a middle man defined by a top-down institution from without.

And you know what? That kind of transaction, one which relies so much on human aspects of inter-personal relation, not only feels good, but it can actually be more efficient. And a look the music distribution industry will tell you what happens when a more efficient system comes along…

All this bartering and local systems with no hope of understaning or control from without: It’s frankly medieval, but it might well be positively medieval.

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Another growth animation

March 14, 2007

…This time showing how the growth of a suburban shared space begins along the existing boundaries of the suburban property system. As these ‘fault-lines’ expand the grid of property itself breaks up and changes with the sharing space.

Link straight to the 700k mov file
…Or you can view a nasty flash video version on the Vimeo page where it is hosted, here.


Idea explained

February 22, 2007

I made an animation to try to explain this week’s idea.

Shared suburban space

Annoyingly, and after a lot of frutrated attempts, it seems I can’t embed quicktime *.mov files or vimeo flash movies on this WordPress blog.

Ahhh well, you can see it here.


Internet access as a right

February 6, 2007

An article on the BBC News website today covers a story about the Indian President last year outlining his future hopes for free Internet access for everyone in India. Ambitious, non? Not only is the sheer logistical challenge of such a dream almost insurmountable, but any capitalists out there will be turning into enraged beetroots as we speak. Just think of all the lost revenue!

To start, let’s look at the first complaint. Doubters are right to point out the mountains of difficulty anyone attempting such a technological feat wouild encounter. But the Indians have done it before. In 2004 the state of Gujarat announced that they intended to have electricity in all their villages within two years. All the other Indian states had a good laugh at this claim, as did much of the world, but by golly they actually managed it in the end. With electricity now piped to all Gujarati villages, businesses and economic growth has flourished in previously declining rural areas. This growth means an increased likelihood of better health care and living standards, and of course gives the villagers of Gujarat a good reason to be smug.

…But can it be done with internet connections, and is it fair to deprive telecons of a business that some might say is rightly theres? Lawrence Lessig, copyfighter extraordinaire and founder of the Creative Commons, wrote about similar arguments a few years ago in Philadelphia:

“In September, I reported that Philadelphia was considering funding a WiFi service for the city. Sixty percent of the citizens have no access to broadband. The city elders believe that’s no way to enter the 21st century.

But as Public Knowledge now reports, a bill on the Governor’s desk would now make it impossible for Philadelphia to offer such a service, because it “competes” with private businesses offering the same service.

So, let’s see: If I open a private street light company, selling the photons my lights give off, can Philadelphia offer “free” street lights? Or does the fact that Guards To Go offers services in Philadelphia mean we need to disband the Philly police department?”

If governments and councils are there to fundamentally ensure the enrichment of the lives of those people who elect them, how can they not at least consider something so useful as internet access for all? In suburban London, unlike rural India, there are plenty of businesses out there who can supply you with broadband access, but that shouldn’t mean that democratic organisations can’t.


Piracy rampant and blatant in Romania – cheers, Bill!

February 6, 2007

From this EnGadget article…

Romanian president Traian Basescu has a bigger reason than most to owe the Microsoft founder a debt of gratitude: he claims that rampant software piracy in the Eastern European nation was the single biggest factor in developing a healthy IT industry. Yes, believe it or not, a head-of-state actually stood up in public – at a press conference to celebrate the launch of a Microsoft global technical center – and told Gates face-to-face how illegal copies of Windows “helped the young generation discover computers…set off the development of the IT industry…[and] helped Romanians improve their creative capacity…” Indeed, nearly 70% of all software used in Romania today is pirated, according to some experts (pirates even peddle their wares to legitimate businesses, reportedly), despite the anti-piracy legislation passed some ten years ago. Amusingly, Basescu justified his countrymen’s ridiculous levels of IP theft by claiming that “it was an investment in Romania’s friendship with Microsoft and Bill Gates.”

What a wally. Nevertheless, it’s a clear- if far from shining – example of how sharing things is great for growth. Just maybe not the growth of Microsoft. I wonder what the future president of Freenation might say if he ever gets to meet Gates…