Open Money as a necessary next step for democracy

To me it is crystal clear that a single form of currency, debt-issue federal currency, cannot represent the varieties of wealth that we must be able to acknowledge to thereby guide our activities as a global civilization.

Just below is a brilliant argument by open money designer Eric Harris-Braun, summarized in a graph:

Open Money for Democracy

To understand a little more about the remarkable link between the evolution of language and money that is picture here above, recommended readings are here and here).

But here it is in a nutshell:

The beauty of the fourth step in the evolution of writing (i.e. the invention of the alphabet) is that it is the step that allows universal literacy. By simplifying the system down to a handful of symbols readily learnable by anybody that match sounds the already know (as opposed to a massive dictionary of pictographs only memorizable after long training), we enter the age of literacy. Observe the similarity with money. The social compact of the wealth acknowledgment statements likewise gives us the power to transmit across time and distance, but it’s not meaning, rather it’s value that we transmit. This we already experience with modern money, but what is the equivalent of the fourth step for money? It’s the simplification, and democratization of the forms of our wealth acknowledgment statements.”

Eric also gives a very good explanation of his personal motivation for working on the development of a meta-currency platform.

Eric Harris-Braun:

“The short version: the open money approach focuses on providing a globally scalable meta-currency platform that can hold a plurality of interoperable wealth-acknowledgment systems for all types of wealth, especially for those forms of wealth that are non-tradable. Furthermore the systemics of the software and the human processes behind the open money approach are designed to yield both a platform that is held in the commons, just like writing (the alphabet) is held in the commons and is likely to spread virally.

The long version: As a geek, I am deeply influenced by two concepts:

1. David Reed’s concept of the value of Group Forming Networks which is a formalization of what is often quoted as “pushing the intelligence to the edges” and is the deep value proposition for p2p and a fundamental motivation behind the “smart edges-dumb center” design of the Internet that Reed was a part of as a co-creator of TCP/IP.

2. Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety, which implies, among other things, that the controller has to encode as much variety as exists in the system it wants to control. To me it is crystal clear that a single form of currency, debt-issue federal currency, cannot represent the varieties of wealth that we must be able to acknowledge to thereby guide our activities as a global civilization.

These concepts, along with a programmers propensity to refactor and go meta in designing any system, had me convinced early on that a multi-currency platform was absolutely essential, also this platform not only had to be multi-currency, but that the forms of the multi-currencies themselves had to be able to widely tunable so that they could be acknowledgments of non-tradable forms of wealth. So far so good for requisite variety, but to achieve the pattern implied by Reed’s GFNs, the platform had to be a network platform, a platform that fundamentally provides a surface area on which currencies themselves, and the accounts that trade those currencies, can grow and form groups.

In essence I felt that what was necessary was to create the TCP/IP of money. That we had to strip away as much as possible from the ideas of what money is down to some bare primitives analogous to “packet transfer” and “routing” and from that build up all of “money” again.

This is the systemics of the open money approach, both explicitly multi-currency and network oriented. The systemics of this approach feel to me to be most likely to spread virally (i.e. without the need for huge launch effort) of all the approaches I’ve seen. And I think the open money mesh & churn and the currency specification language, actually live up to these systemic considerations, at least in principle.

Next… for me personally, the open source nature of this kind of fundamental social platform is absolutely essential. It is essential for a number of reasons:

1. Transparency. Wealth acknowledgment is so fundamental to society that if it is hidden, it can’t be trusted. I’m not talking about at all about making the content of all individuals acknowledgments public, nor making any claim that all clients and all servers that run the open money protocols have to be open source. That’s silly. I’m simply saying that the base protocol, the alphabet itself of wealth-literacy, the capacity to create currencies (not the currencies themselves) must be fully in the commons.

2. Security/Integrity. Everything I’ve ever read or experienced of software security is that open source is the way to go. It’s not that OSS is a guarantee of security, its just that its better than closed source. In my experience open source software is way less buggy that closed source software.

3. “Virality”. It seems to me that open source efforts have a much higher likely-hood of spreading virally than closed source efforts.

4. Fun/Community. I personally have experienced that writing code in the open source mode to be drastically more pleasurable. It’s where I want to spend my time. The kinds of relationships that arise, the speed with which things can happen, and just the spirit of it. It’s where I want to be.”

1 Comment Open Money as a necessary next step for democracy

  1. AvatarPaul B. Hartzog

    When I wrote “The Future of Money” ( in February 2005, I was hoping for something like this.

    There are two significant challenges and realizations here:

    1) the idea of stripping currency down to a TCP/IP packet-like routable object
    2) the idea that “freedom of currency” should be equivalent to a “freedom of speech”

    I think that #2 could be the next significant growth in our definition of democracy. Democratic theorists should take note.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.