Adam Arvidsson: Value in Ethical Economy. Conclusions on Money and Esteem

Adam concludes his essay in this last part:

However the socialization of ICTs and common standards will make them easily convertible. As Paul Hartzog imagines the scenario in his ‘The future of money’ :

So, here’s a scenario for the future. You go to a rock concert, and you’ve never seen the opening band before. You like their music, so you get on your mobile device (PDA, cell phone, etc.) and hit the band’s “mobile commerce” exchange. Your software negotiates with their software to determine what currencies they accept and what currencies your various bank accounts carry, including automatically getting you the best currency exchange rate at that instant. The system discovers that because they are opening for a major musician who has his own currency based on his popularity, the opening band has agreed to accept the headliner’s currency for the duration of the show for people who are actually at the concert. You verify that you are there using some kind of brokered authentication (GPS or a ticket number); the two systems complete the transaction for you, and you have access to the music.

At any rate such esteem-based currencies can develop alongside the monetary economy. For example:

My activity as a blogger earns me esteem. That esteem is converted into a quantification pf my ethical standing. On the basis of the quantification I receive particular forms of gifts (discounts, access to certain services etc). Alternatively it is converted into a currency that I trade for certain kinds of goods.

A service allows workers, consumers, subcontractors and other kinds of ‘stakeholders’ all along the value chain to rate the performance of a brand according to their ability to live up to their own corporate values (or some other standard). Swiping my cellphone over a branded product I get an index of its ethical value. That index will affect my decision to purchase the product, or what I want to pay for it.

I subscribe to a service that calculates the environmental impact and sustainability of my consumption patterns. according to the index thus produced I receive certain kinds of discounts or access to certain services or goods.

In any case such quantifications of esteem will serve to rationalize the ethical economy that we can already see emerging, both in the ethical value logic behind intangibles., and increasingly popular blended value strategies like Ethical Consumerism and Socially Responsible Investment. Indeed the implementation of such systematic alternative value standards will give business and other actors a stronger incentive to adapt to an emerging ethical economy, or which is the same thing, to begin to act politically, with the polis in mind.

In capitalist societies value is embodied in money: we work (ideal- typically) in order to get paid. In many non capitalist societies value is rather embodied in public displays of honour, standing, hierarchy- ethical standing. Such societies generally use what Turner calls ‘concrete media of circulation’ (as opposed to money as an abstract medium of circulation) such as public rituals, to communicate and embody value. Most such value-conferring rituals unfold in societies that have elaborate and relatively static social structures. This is clearly not the case for the information society where structure is dissolving into flexible networks. On the other hand, there are examples, like the Baining of Papaua New Guinea, that have little in terms of an elaborate social structure, but still largely envision value as ethically embodied.[8] Among the Baining, the embodiment of value occurs through a continuous giving of gifts, a practice so common that it is part of virtually every social encounter. Now social media could work as platforms for such a continuous embodiment of ethical value, enabling some sort of ranking (conferral of esteem in a quantifiable way) mechanism become an integral part of most social interactions. ”


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