Money as Matter vs Money as Information

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Michael Linton & Les Moore:

(September 2013 in STIR magazine):

"The core of the operating system of the economy is money itself. For hundreds of years we have been running with an increasingly obsolete form of money - a scarce quantity of £ issued into circulation by financial authorities, that we get to use. But now money is breaking out, it’s going “free” and the central banking / government monopoly of money is no longer the only game in town.

While the “matter” of money has been increasingly represented as balances in accounts held by the banks - the money system still operates as if there’s only a limited amount of “stuff”, as defined by banks and governments, backed by gold or the state or “something”.

There’s no easy way to change that. Many have tried. Maybe we don’t have to.

Community currencies are also accounts of balances, but in this case balances of money created and held by users themselves.

The internet and mobile technology can easily support community currencies (cc) of our design, for our common wealth, ranging from timebanks to fully legitimate mainstream local and regional cc networks - an operating system (OS) for a money commons.

It’s no longer a question of whether, why, or when - just how? And who, and where?

In this context, we were asked by STIR ” ... to compare different new innovations in currency - local, community, digital, mobile phone - and how you see them as both successful and problematic.”

One distinction is critical. Is the new money seen as a kind of material, as “stuff” users get to have and use? Or instead seen as information recorded by users? From another angle, is the money itself presented as valuable, or is the value in how users interact and exchange?

Currency innovations based on “stuff” are doomed, by their design. Material money initiatives are typically singular and enclosing, with aggregation of users a priority, and a propensity for mergers and federations, standards and experts. To persist, moneys of a material form must always support their value exchange rate and avoid any loss of confidence. They may replicate on a small stage the same problems as national currencies do at scale, but only briefly.

In contrast, we expect “information” money systems to flourish. They offer multiple currencies, users can start their own, networking is seen as an asset, and the pattern of the overall system emergence is fractal rather than hierarchical. Many ways to participate are enabled, and propagation and persistence projected.

Some of the distinctions

material money >< information money

their money, you use it >< your money to use

when you need it, they’ve got you >< when you need it, you’ve got it

it goes and doesn’t come back >< it goes and comes back

global, national >< personal, local, regional

competitive >< collaborative

singular >< multiple

autocratic >< democratic

… ...

People who don’t understand the material / information distinction will always favour material, often without realising it." (

More information

  • October, 2016 - /