The second part of an interview on Credit Commons conducted by Bruno Chies on 29 May 2016. Find part 1 here.
“Bruno Chies: Let me go back to complementary and alternative currencies. Do you mean they are a way to empower people directly on a local level?
Matthew Slater: If they would work, they would empower people. But they don’t work when people don’t use them. If they were to be used, it would mean that communities are acting in solidarity with each other are empowering each other. The reality is that most people don’t seem to feel very much solidarity others and they certainly don’t express that by using a complementary currency. So, the tool is there but we lack the consciousness, awareness or will to use it. We the people, need to start working together, taking on responsibility, taking on leadership roles, and not relying on authority figures and governments to do it. This is difficult because we’re also paying taxes. There’s not a lot left over these days. We tend to chase the money and we do what the people with the money tell us to do. Which leads to the need to compete with each other and the wasting of resources in the process. If we want to be sovereign, we have to either find sources of money that don’t come with a value obligations, that are already aligned with what we want to do, or we’ll have to do without money.
Talking about real utopias, you envision an economy in which complementary currencies play a role but economy is not fully monetized. There are spaces in the economy for gift, barter and exchange with complementary currencies.
In this utopia what people would do would be a much closer expression of what they value, because they don’t have this top-down monetary system, expressing the values of either the tax recipient, the philanthropists, or the trillionaires. You wouldn’t need everything to be monetized. Everything is monetized now because the economy is huge and it still has to grow. More things have to be monetized so that a greater proportion of our activities can be taxed and more money has to be borrowed. If that wasn’t the case, then there would be much less need for money. It’s by no means an impossible utopia, there already are tiny societies working like that. It seems that when our societies grow bigger they become dysfunctional. We need to bring the self-determination level down to the local, small groups, because the system is less easily corrupted this way.
That makes sense, and I think this is a very good bridge to your Credit Commons project. Is this a way to connect local economies operating with complementary currencies and create more solidarity?
Yes, I think that’s exactly it. The tag line is ‘money for the solidarity economy’. Some people would argue that it’s not money, it’s merely a system of exchange. But that is a function of money, so it depends on what your definition of money is. It seems to me that what’s needed is a global protocol to help us exchange with one another. Credit Commons could be used locally or intercontinentally; it’s only a protocol.
How does it differ from other platforms, like Community Forge or Community Exchange System (CES)?
Because it’s a protocol, it is not a platform. CES is a platform with hundreds of groups in it that trade with each other and have nominal balance limits that are not harshly enforced and there isn’t really any governance about what the credit limits or the exchange rates should be. The Credit Commons seeks to formalize that arrangement as well as open it up to groups outside that platform. The only requirement becomes running software that implements the protocol. I’m also likening it to a cryptocurrency. It’s not a currency but it is a distributed ledger and that means we can all agree on what the ledger says.
Is it based on blockchain?
I haven’t gone so far as to specify the blockchain. It would be a consensus algorithm. For example, Ripple… It’s called a permission blockchain, which means you don’t need the mining. The clients trust each other, so they don’t have to fight or compete. They trust each other and the ledger stays intact, as long as they’re all good. That means an outsider cannot come in. The thing about Bitcoin is that anybody can implement the protocol and participate, but they have to do the mining to make sure it’s good. In the permission blockchains you just do it with your friends and the people you trust.
So you really build trust, not through code, but through people.
It’s trust at two levels: 1) if I give you credit, I trust that you’re going to pay it back, and 2) we’re both participating in a trust group, with protocols, and I trust that you’re not gonna hack the ledger. However, I’m not an expert in the software’s architecture, so I’m leaving that open at the moment. The aim of the Credit Commons white paper is to create discussion.
How does that apply to the issue of convenience when using money? A problem with complementary currencies is that they’re very limited in scope and are not very convenient. Do you think that the Credit Commons could change this?
Yes, it should, but not directly. At the moment each complementary currency is working pretty much with its own software or with a family of softwares, but there is no grand interoperability plan, there are no protocols that everyone agrees on. If the platforms are joined together through the Credit Commons but every group is still using their own software, those issues are still exactly the same. It becomes possible for credit to move between platforms when they use a common protocol, a backbone to the system. A platform would have a payment form that facilitates paying somebody in a different platform. But that still doesn’t help you pay for the groceries in the shop.
It might give you access to other markets…
Yes. That’s one reason why we also need to work on the advertisers’ API, in order to see what’s in other markets. There isn’t any way to do this yet.
Are you seeking software developers to this project?
I’d love to involve some developers in this, but it’s hard. We’re talking about hundreds of existing communities that are expressing a real need to go forward in radical reforms and cooperations. I thought this would be very appealing to developers, to have a chance to write some software that will be used in this way. Many activist developers are imagining what’s needed and they think ‘if we write this, we’ll save the world’, and then it doesn’t happen.
Perhaps your advice to activist developers who want to make a difference in the world is to re-learn how to cooperate and collaborate…
And to adopt an attitude of service. You can collaborate and still build something that nobody needs. Be sure that you’re serving people whose values you agree with. That might not be the way to write an app that goes viral, but it is the way to do something that really is useful. Otherwise you’re taking an all or nothing risk.
The term commons usually takes me back to the work of Elinor Ostrom and the question of governance: how can people find ways to govern these commons? How does that work in terms of money and credit in your proposal?
There’s no credit without governance. In Debt the first 5000 Years, David Graeber drew a sweeping portrait of history in which there are times of stability, which is to say times of governance and trust in systems, when we used credit money, and times of instability, when there is a lot of conflict between nations and governance wasn’t something that could be relied upon, which are times of commodity money. Governance is even more important than money. What we need is systems of governance that help us organize ourselves. Money and credit arrangements will follow. There are many people involved in monetary reform, and for many it’s a very compelling subject, but ultimately you cannot really get anywhere with money. The solutions have to be situated at a deeper level. The issue about creating a commons and governing it, is what I’d like to bring attention to with the Credit Commons. We need to think in terms of forming groups of solidarity and have those groups form groups. The Credit Commons presents this sort of nested structure of groups of trust.
Basically it’s an architecture for scaling up trust and solidarity.
Yes, I believe we could do the whole global economy that way.”