Every week I take the tunnel from Brussels to London where they use different money and somehow the same mass produced goods are all cheaper, but rent and dinner is more expensive. I can't work it out. I have to keep separate wallets for different notes to buy the same stuff in a city two hours away. There's no sense to it, especially when you realise the value of money is the result of a massive global casino with all the odds stacked hugely in favour of the house. Money is a consensual illusion. Its entire reason for being relies on the value we collectively agree to give it. That's why banks fail and currencies collapse, we lose confidence in them and rush to withdraw our savings (or there's a war or an earthquake or a corrupt government or any number of other unmeasurable effects). Now of course there're some incredibly complex instruments around (hello quantitative easing and collateral debt obligations) that let banks and credit card companies try and persuade us that it's not an illusion and they know what they're doing, late stage capitalism depends on this trick… But hey, who believes them anymore?
The doors to the safe are wide open right now. It's time to storm the vaults. One way this is happening is through people issuing their own currency for circulation in small cooperative circles of exchange. Ithaca Hours is the most well known of these today and has inspired many others, freecycle, Barter Business and BixXchange are just three. They're barter micro economies and people have realised we don't need central banks or the debt economy or the sacrifices necessary for unsustainable growth. Could be time for a rethink?
Paypal isn't virtual money but does give us a better deal than Visa (major own goal by blocking Wikileaks donations however) . Twitpay ties credit card payments to Twitter, Square enables anyone with a smartphone to send or receive a payment and Obopay is all about mobile money so with smartphone activation outnumbering PC acquisition for the first time this year (2011) phones and mobile are where it's at. Second life has cracked this with its Linden dollars - virtual money for a virtual environment. The recent fiasco at Bitcoin highlights some problems with technical banking systems vulnerable to malicious hacking but our current money system has evolved over many centuries with counterfeiting and theft being major issues all along.
The future of money is abstract. The future of money is social. The future of money is mobile. You can tinker all you want with the current system by making transactions cheaper and faster but ultimately credit cards and their model of abstraction is old hat. The information revolution is chasing down traditional banking as you read this. Be there at the kill.
Photo: Monegros Desert Festival 2010.