Towards a money for the common(s): a conference report

Reprinted, almost in full, from Effimera:

“Here is the report of the workshop on ““Alternative Money and Financial Institutions of the Commons”. This is the 3rd meeting on the the proposal of a Money of the Common, after London, Amsterdam and Stuttgart. The first organized in Italy by Effimera with the collaboration of Macao. A first step for further discussions and developments.

* * *

Open, exciting, direct and to the point, deep and above all qualified: we can describe in such a way the workshop which took place in Milan, at the social centre Macao, on the 21first and 22nd of June, under the title ‘Money of the Common’ which was attended by some of the best researchers on the subject: Christian Marazzi, Carlo Vercellone, Massimo Amato, Stefano Lucarelli, Tiziana Terranova, Andrea Fumagalli, Giorgio Griziotti Marco Giustini, Emanuele Braga, Jaromil, Marco Sachy, Diego Weisz, …..

We started from the real aspects of the problem and the practical experience, that is, from praxis, outlining a series of experiences which could contribute to the construction of a money of the Common. About the term “Common”, our approach to the notion of common is based on a critique to the naturalistic approach typical of the economic theory of common goods, inspired by the work of Elinor Omstrom. We define the Common (with capital letter) as the potential of expanding social cooperation which attends the paradigmatic transformation of productive forces (living labour) and the prominence of new forms of labour in contemporary capitalism such as the increasingly socialized production of knowledge (general intellect).

Massimo Amato for example started by presenting a model of “clearing houses from below.” This experiment, launched in Nantes, France, through the creation of a local complementary Keynesian currency “Sonantes”. It tried to make it a viable currency, but encountered significant difficulties for political reasons until its failure. The intention of the experiment was to prevent and discourage the accumulation of currency: money was designed in such a way as to facilitate its circulation until the end of the cycle when it finished its life by going back to nothing. This was a mechanism which included then both the creation and destruction of money.

Jaromil and Marco Sachy presented the project D-cent, highlighting how important it is to discuss the architecture and design of a possible new money of the Common, starting from the assumption that there is no pure technical solution which does not refer to or involve some kind of social meaning or a political project: the story of Bitcoin confirms and proves it. In particular, their intervention highlighted positive innovations introduced by crypto-moneys, ie: proof of work, authentication, data movement. Of these three aspects, the ‘proof of work’ is deemed as the part that could be changed to ground a money of the Common in social cooperation, while the last two innovations which rely on algorithms could be adopted and integrated.

Giorgio Griziotti, starting with the non-neutrality of technology, warned that the experiments of alternative moneys in France (for example, Toulouse) are not able to represent a real alternative to the capitalist financial-monetary circuits. Not only: the evolution of some types of crypto-moneys which are born inside the “anarcho-capitalist” hacker movement (as the Darkcoin) have high levels of ambiguity which cannot be overlooked.

Marco Giustini recalled the model of the FAZ with reference to the writings of Domenico De Simone and stressed the need to introduce negative interest rates in the design of a money of the Common so as to avoid accumulation. In addition, it is necessary that the alternative money contributes to the construction of a basic income for those who are part of the network that constitutes it.

Emanuele Braga and Diego Weisz introduced what will become the topic of the following day: the concrete implementation of a money/currency that is based on the model of the clearing houses aiming to facilitate the growth of forms of autonomous cultural production.

Tiziana Terranova, who chaired and moderated the first part of the discussion reported on the debate that has developed in the last few months in Europe: the MoneyLab conference in Amsterdam in April 2014 and a recent meeting in Stuttgart, where she was exposed to the Finnish project Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative. The MoneyLab conference discussed the wide range of reflection and research about money, the critique of crowdfunding and bitcoin, and social experimentation with alternative currency. Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative is the first hedge fund of the precariat, which successfully uses an algorithm that “parasitizes” the stock market by imitating the choices of successful traders. Foregrounding the power of money to materialize the future, the project exposes the imitative nature of the stock market at the same time re-capturing part of financial surplus value. Shareholders who are equal participants regardless of the number of shares they own (starting with a minimum of 60 euros) choose to reinvest part of the returns in experiments aiming to institute and support social cooperation and new forms of commonfare. The project aims to incorporate post-workerist and philosophical critiques of capitalism and new ways of thinking about the economy in developing a financial institution of the common.

The debate focused mainly on the suggestions by Massimo Amato relating to clearing houses with the participation of Stefano Lucarelli, Tiziana Terranova, Marco Giustini and others.

The second part of the debate (moderated and chaired by Stefano Lucarelli) addressed the issue of the ‘money of the Common’ from a more theoretical point of view, trying to take into account the problematic nodes and critical experiences mentioned in the first part(clearing houses, commercial alternative circuits, crypto-currencies, Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative, SCEC, Sardex, Wir, Toulouse, Catalunja …).

Christian Marazzi, Vercellone Carlo, Andrea Fumagalli presented their perspective on the question of the money of the common in this part.

Christian Marazzi reminded us that money is crucially a means of financing and not only exchange. Capitalist money – the “bad money” against which we struggle to replace with a new form of money” (the money of the Common) – is the expression of the exploitation of labour by capital. It should be remembered that currencies which operate only in the phase of circulation have been around for a few decades, with strong elements of ambiguity and manipulation also by the Right. Secondly, if we speak of “the money of the Common”, it is necessary to define what is “the common” (a theme that will be taken up by Carlo Vercellone when he states that the concept of “Common” is singular and should not be confused with the “commons”). Marazzi invited us to better “contextualize” the problem of the form of money, to avoid falling in love too much with monetary forms that are likely to be exercises of localism and to practice exodus from the empire of the official currency. Third, he also argued that in order to define a money of the Common able to open to a post-capitalist perspective, it is necessary to recover from feminist practices the concept of “reproduction” (health, education, care, …). The aim of the money of the Common, in fact, should be to recognize and reward what was once called reproduction and which is now the basis of the valorisation process, and hence expropriated by the capital. It is a question of formulating the problem of the common starting from the point of view of the subjectivities which animate it. Here Marazzi has suggested the possible articulation of a “Manifesto of the money of the Common”.

Carlo Vercellone drew on Marxian categories about money as capital or basis of accumulation, and money as a commodity, instrument of circulation. On this point (assuming Marazzi’s criticism of some orthodox readings of Marx that do not make this distinction), we measure the ambiguity of the crypto or complementary moneys. Often such complementary currencies are confined to a circuit “commodity-money-commodity” (C-M-C) (eg, Wir, SCEC, Sardex, despite the differences). Crypto-moneys/currencies seem to perform the function of store of value, since they can be accumulated and hoarded. If you want to instead to think of “money of the Common” as a “means of financing”, or as “credit money”, then you are arguing for a money disconnected from the movement of goods (be it consumer or between businesses). To this goal, this money must directly, without intermediation, finance forms of guaranteed social income (RSG) (or Unconditional Basic Income), which is a form of investment into social cooperation which acts as the constituent ground of an economy of the common. The RSG must be understood as primary income, direct remuneration of the “common” which is the basis of capitalist accumulation today and what we think is expropriated by the command of financialised capital. It follows that the money of the Common must meet the following minimum requirements: individual, not cumulative (with negative interest), direct payment of RSG (UBI) and not aimed to further the stages of circulation and realization of surplus value.

Andrea Fumagalli pointed out that money is a tool, and, therefore, the techno-political aspects involved in the design of an alternative money should be subordinated to the political objectives. The development of alternative moneys over the last century (from Germany in the 1930s to Argentina crisis of 2000) show that they are often passive forms of reaction to a situation of crisis (see Weimar or Argentina in the ’20s of the century ) or depend on illegal trade (Bitcoin and Darkcoin). Instead, we must think of the money of the Common as a tactical tool of action able to propose and develop forms of ” financial counter-power.” A money of the Common must then be connected to the existence of an alternative social cooperation. There are already some examples of the production of “Common”, although fragmented. The “Common” pre-exists the production of “common goods”. In line with Vercellone, these two terms should not be confused. A money of the Common plays therefore the role of “finance”, that is the remuneration of living labour which is the basis of cooperation and of the same “Common”. It confirms that RSG (UBI) is “primary” income. But for this purpose, it is necessary to define an alternative financial circuit/system, including a financial institution of the common, able to issue the “money of the Common”, as money “ex nihilo”. It represents power purchase to spend first of all in social services (transport card, health services and education, for example), within a circuit of valorisation that is aimed at the production of use and not exchange values, anthropogenic production, not commoditified and not subsumed by capital. This issue raises the question of the relationship with the dominant institutions, as counter-institution. As the experiences of self-organization (Macao, Re-Maflow, Società di Mutuo Soccorso, and other experiences in Milan, the list is long …) are already in themselves forms of institutions of the Common.

Stefano Lucarelli stressed the need to rethink the concept of finance and the concept of money outside of a capitalist context. The credit-money that operates as form of monetary command generalises relations of debt and credit that are potentially infinite. In this sense – as confirmed by Massimo Amato – capitalism is characterized by a confusion between what is money and what is credit. The principle of clearing houses is not intended to establish a circuit C-M-C, but to ensure that money is spent, stored, and when it is not used for investment activity is explicitly geared to collective needs. In this sense, the RSG can be conceived as an investment (a perspective on which between Carlo Vercellone Carlo and Massimo Amato find a possible convergence).

The debate has taken the themes of the ratio of credit-money and commodity money, or money that finances “alternative” production” and money aimed to “commercial” exchange. There is, however, a convergence on the fact that it is unthinkable that a a money of the Common should function as a means of accumulating wealth detached from a basic income as remuneration of production activity. Such activity which is not recognized as labour currently takes the form of slave (sorry, volunteer) labour. In this context, we must also rethink how to combine a circuit with the instruments of monetary clearing houses.

On Sunday morning, the third session of discussion was focused on the analysis of how to make, actually, an experiment in the creation of a money of the common, starting with a production of “common” which already exists. Emanuele Braga and Diego Weisz presented a project, defining the testing ground: it refers to the network of autonomous cultural theatres in Italy (from Milan to Venice to Sicily, via Rome and Naples and a possible “new entry” in Turin). Each node of this local chain could expand beyond their own specific reality up to involve other experiences of self-organization existing in their territory. In this way it’s possible to bind trans-local experiences (to use an expression by Marazzi) along the vertical axis of a production chain with local experiences that extend horizontally at the same time. We deal with some problematic issues: the existence of a basis of social cooperation, processes of subjectivation, method of payment with the new money, the timing and manner of the issue.”

1 Comment Towards a money for the common(s): a conference report

  1. AvatarMike Riddell

    All systems need to be paid for, including money systems or systems that operate just like money.

    The commons needs to be paid for.

    Who will do the paying, and what’s in it for them to pay.

    Until the incentives that are needed to fund this system to protect the commons are clearly identified and made available, I suspect that the utopian dream envisaged by such systems will remain theoretical.

    Sorry to sound like a boo-hiss chipping in from the side lines but i’ve just read the lengthy D-Cent report which was clearly written by Nesta’s technobabble crowd and whilst it’s a great essay on the alternatives that exist right now, it doesn’t give me any confidence that a business model exists to support the desire for a sustainable alternative to money.

    I’m afraid my view is that a market-led solution is what’s needed here but don’t panic, business has an big incentive to become more sustainable – the unmet demand of its customers.

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