Meta-currency: a step towards the Rheonomy By Eric Harris-Braun

In her beautifully insightful book, The Nature of Economies, Jane Jacobs suggests that we must broaden our understanding of economics in the context of the flow processes of the natural world. Near the end of the book one of her characters asks the question, “What are economies for?” One of the other characters answers:

“… To enable us to partake, in our own fashion, in a great universal flow”

Another character answers with “Economies have a lot in common with language… like language, economic life permits us to develop cultures and multitudes of purposes… that’s its function which is most meaningful for us.”

What do we mean by economy when we say “the economy is strong/weak/growing/shrinking/healthy/in crisis.” We mean something social, an aggregate of many people interacting. But it’s not just individuals, it’s groups of people in the form of businesses, governments, unions, non-profits, etc. also interacting with each other and with individual people. We know, however, that we aren’t necessarily talking about the entire social organism for when the economy falters, other aspects of the social organism, i.e. its arts-culture may thrive. Or, the economy may flourish while we experience a marked drop in “civility” or an increase in other so called “social problems”. “Economy”, it seems, specifically refers to the body of the social organism — its “corporeal” aspect. This includes moving stuff around, building houses, growing food, transforming nature to its bodily needs, etc. Using this analogy, we might say that the mind of the social organism is everything else — its cultures, religions, arts, politics, and so on.

However, it would be a mistake to project this mind/body dualism onto our nascent understanding of the social organism, thereby forming a dis-integrative framework from the start. So it’s not just that the economy is disintegrating around us, it’s that the very word and concept of economy is disintegrative! Here, the two answers given by Jacob’s characters are so powerful. First, they help us shift our imaginations toward thinking from the point of view of the social organism; toward seeing that the “us” that partakes in the great universal flow, and the “us” that develops cultures and multitudes of purposes is not the individuals of the social organism, but rather the social organism itself. Second, they suggest a perspective from which to perceive the organism as a unity: as a participant in the “great universal flow.” Third, they suggest to how this participation is achieved: through language and expressive capacity.

Here are the two answers restated:

1) What we think of as economic life is actually the ability of the social organism as a whole to perceive and interact with the flows in which it is embedded.

2) This ability of the social organism depends on a coordinative expressive capacity

So what is this “coordinative expressive capacity?” We are very familiar with its current form: money. Without money and its context in currencies, most of what we call the economy would collapse. However, with money in its current form, the economy also seems to be collapsing! Money, as a medium of exchange, a unit of measure, and a store of value is the primary information system that coordinates the flows of goods and services through the economy. If it cannot also properly coordinate the participation of the social organism in the greater flows of nature in which it is embedded, then the organism will not survive. Currently humanity is failing to coordinate the basic flows of inputs (fresh water, food, etc) it needs and outputs it produces (CO2, waste, etc) in a way that will ensure its survival. But perhaps more importantly, seen from the perspective of coordinating flows, the social organism is failing miserably to allocate resources and human effort within itself in a way that yields a healthy harmonious entity. Money as an information carrying “life-blood” does not rise to the challenges posed by the social organism that humanity has become.

So where do we go from here? What is needed is the development of a new expressive capacity, what could be called a meta-currency language that allows the social organism to organically develop and express formal information systems tailored to enabling and interacting with all the different types of flows that comprise it. We can still call these information systems currencies because they are about shaping flows, or currents. However, these currencies will take on a huge variety of new forms tailored to the kind of value that they are helping to build. Note that this is not a call to “monetize” social well-being. Quite the opposite, it’s a call to understanding that money as currently practiced, inherently destroys many forms of social well being. But formal information systems can, in fact, build social well being, and we are actually quite familiar with them: reputation tokens, formal achievement markers like grades/credits & degrees, certification markers like USDA Organic, and many more. But as things stand, we haven’t recognized that all of these formal information systems are related families in a larger coherent pattern. We don’t see this, because we don’t yet have the necessary expressive infrastructure, the language, and grammars that unify the structure and forms these information systems take.

The word economy comes from the Greek roots oikos (home) and nomy (management) = home management. Since what we really need is flow management, we can use the Greek root for flow “rheo” to declare that when we gain this new expressive capacity of a meta-currency language, then perhaps we can start talking about the Rheonomy instead of the Economy.

Eric Harris-Braun is a co-founder of the meta-currency project which will provide a smart-edged network for distributed currency creation and deployment. He has been a core participant in the open money project, he sits on the board of the E. F. Schumacher Society, and lives in rural New York. Eric Harris-Braun believes we need new systems of wealth acknowledgement that account not only for tradable wealth, but also for wealth in realms that are only measurable and only acknowledgeable.

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2 Responses to “Meta-currency: a step towards the Rheonomy By Eric Harris-Braun”

  1. […] core participant in the open money project, and board member of the E. F. Schumacher Society posted to the Berkman Center Law Lab: Eric Harris BraunMoney, as a medium of exchange, a unit of measure, and a store of value is the […]

  2. Eric Harris Braun is right on and I can’t believe our paths haven’t crossed yet ! We wissed Eric here at Ethical Markets back in February 2009 with Susan Witt of the Schumacher Society . We are now cataloging our Library to share with Schumacher’s in Great Barrington , with a huge shelf on complementary currencies , alternatives to economics and the wealth of networks …all ways to bypass Wall Street.