How new currencies can change the world

Excerpts from an interview by the Integral Leadership Review, where Jordan MacLeod talks about his book: New Currency: How Money Changes the World as We Know It:

JM: New Currency establishes money as a leverage point for economic and broader social transformation. It examines the historical evolution of money and economic systems and their interdependent co-emergence with novel subjective stages of development. The evolution of our values, or of what Robert Kegan calls subject-object relations, is constantly altering our capacity to relate with the external world. And at the heart of this relationship—at least for civilized society—is our relationship with money. So what’s key to understand here is that how we hold money sets in motion the properties and propensities of our whole economic system and what’s possible in the broader social system. We are not in some final end state in monetary theory that is perfectly objective and scientific in nature. There is an indispensable subjective dynamic that means money is fully in our power to change in accordance with our evolving values, life conditions and aspirations. But I cannot emphasize enough that this change is not at all arbitrary.

ILR: Why is that so important?

JM: Because each economic stage transcends and includes what preceded it. Therefore, the currencies we create must reflect not only our values, but provide very tangible solutions to preceding problems. It is very tempting to take one part of the problem—say inflation or arbitrary, centralized power–we’re facing and design a currency that addresses that specific part. Yet, unless the monetary design addresses the whole of our problems and opportunities, it is necessarily going to lead to pre/trans fallacies. Or to say it another way, we’ll solve one problem only to suffer unintended consequences that make the overall problem worse!

So, as we take into account the evolutionary patterns of money and economic systems, we notice a couple of critical trends. First, there’s the dematerialization of money—which is well documented. What this means is that we’ve gone from our first currencies being cows (yes cows!) and found objects such as shells, stones and so on to increasingly abstract currencies such as coins and paper money and now to digital currencies.

The second trend is the dematerialization of value. The earliest currencies were the most dense, with cows being the most obvious example and then later we see the emergence of coins made out of precious metal. Over time, we see a clear process of money increasingly relying less on material stuff (such as gold) to guarantee its value and more on its function as a medium of exchange to ensure its value. These processes have been what have enabled money to become increasingly relevant, standardized and accessible to an increasing depth and span of humanity over time. Money, imperfections notwithstanding, has evolved to become compatible with more value systems from more parts of the world than at any point in human history. And there is no question that this has helped align international interests and co-operation to an unprecedented degree, as we’ve seen with the global response to the financial crisis and emergence of the G20. Money is increasingly becoming a universal language.

Today, it is the very fact that a dollar is needed to buy commodities that primarily ensures its value stays in tact. So it is this dematerialization of form and value that has enabled it to function, albeit imperfectly, as a global reserve currency for most of humanity.

ILR: … You speak of the connection between narcissism and money?

JM: Yes. The book shows this connection and how money is essentially designed to represent an idealized self, fundamentally separated from nature. This manifests in the economic sphere as a devaluing of nature and an absence of limits on economic activity and production. Quite literally, I propose that the antidote for cultural narcissism is realizing humility in our collective relationships with money and economic processes. There are very specific tools that make this possible and they are discussed in detail.

ILR: How do you think these tools might gain currency in our contentious societies?

JM: That’s a great question. I think they’re only likely to be valued when we collectively realize that this economic system is failing on so many levels—despite the enormous and unprecedented contributions it has made. Money and finance happens to be where we collectively have the most ego-investment and resistance to change so I don’t see it happening any other way. Yet, we see already on Main Street that people are actively looking for alternatives to leaving their money with those they perceive as having acted irresponsibly. As the system fails to solve problems and meet our needs, there’s no doubt that we’ll all have an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, if you will. There will be a tremendous need to restore trust and to get money flowing again into the hands of entrepreneurs and small businesses and we now have the tools at hand capable of making this happen.”