Complementary currencies and the basic income

This is a reprint of an editorial in issue 87 of P2P News.
Editorial: the complementary nature of the universal wage and alternative currencies

I received an interesting commentary from Lyon Albaugh, on how the proposals for a universal wage intersect with the alternative currency movement. He also expressed the belief that complementary currencies are more likely to be implemented, i.e. more realistic, than the introduction of the basic income.

My preliminary view is the following. I strongly distinguish, P2P, as a form of communal shareholding from any gift economy scheme, and of course from market pricing, all different types of intersubjective relationships (according to Alan Page Fiske). Promoting a P2P-centered (or Commons-centered) society requires reforms in the different areas, and they are complementary, since any dominating institutional framework forces adaptation in all others. As a reminder, the tribal economy was based on reciprocity, i.e. the gift economy; agrarian societies on authority ranking, and industrial societies on market pricing, but in all of them a mix existed with the subaltern modes being changed by the dominant institution. In a P2P-society the other modes will be similarly adapted to the domination of Commons-based relationships.

In P2P people work voluntarily to create use value for the common good. It is not based on reciprocity, in other words, you give when you can or want, you take when you need. To make this kind of free flow activity possible, you need a surplus of distributed resources, that are free from survival worries. There is only one durable solution to create such a P2P-conducive environment, and that is the universal wage or the basic income. Once you start reciprocity schemes, albeit with complementary currencies, you get tit for tat, and you change its very nature. The same goes for many free software programmers now getting private salaries. It on the one hand supports the projects, but also risks changing the nature of the projects. That’s why a neutral universal wage is the best solution, though it is some time away. Now, is there some kind of currency scheme that would reward P2P producers without undermining the non-reciprocal ethos, I am doubtful but open to the possibility.

The other field is the gift economy. Outside the market ,there is a lot of room for people helping each other out, secure in the knowledge that somehow or other, they will be helped as well. That is the sphere of reciprocity. It is here that the time dollars, the Japanese system for the elderly, the Bali scheme come in. I think that here you need currency schemes that do not create market pricing, it is one hour’s work is one hour’s work. But you create community and mutual obligation. Though I know as yet little of the alternative money schemes but in my opinion, they should definitely be distinguished alongs these terms: reciprocity-based schemes and reformed market-pricing schemes.

Thus, finally, there is the market, which needs to be reformed away from scarce competitive money, away from the growth and accumulation imperative, the abuse of natural resources etc… I think that’s where Lietaer’s scrip money scheme comes in (see one of the next issues for details). Here you have the neutral sphere of exchange, following market pricing, but not creating obligation and reciprocity.

So in my view, depending on the sphere of activity, you will need different solutions, different types of complementary currencies. I do not necessarily agree with you that generalized complementary currencies are easier to adopt than the universal wage. It is of course easier to adopt them on a small scale, but just as difficult to generalise them.

Both will be jumpstarted only in crisis time and I see them becoming realistic in pretty much the same timescale.