Anyone serious about replacing traditional money will first of all have to understand its nature. How could anything so fundamentally flawed not only survive, but actually thrive for so long? Sure enough, money isn’t a natural disaster, but a human invention – and we, the human species, even use it voluntarily. Our money system collapses on a regular basis, causing death and destruction in the process, but when that happens, all we can think of is rebuilding it again – in pretty much the same way as it was and without any relevant adaptations that could keep us out of harm’s way. There have been alternative currencies for decades – on the surface of the traditional financial system, however, they have hardly left a scratch.
Taking all that into consideration, it becomes apparent that ridding us of traditional money won’t be easy. It would certainly help if money was contrary to our nature – but not even that seems to be the case. Money pretty much fits us humans like a glove, and the fact that wearing it causes so much pain and misery is by no means a contradiction. As humans, we are highly attracted to money, and it seems like our love attachment can only be troubled if the beloved one abandons us (although that is where the problems actually start as it’s for unrequited love that people do weird things).
Thinking about it, it is quite easy to see that you can’t replace something attractive and sensual with something unattractive and anemic (just like to most, you can’t pitch raw celery to replace savory junk food – regardless of whether or not that might do us good). Having money isn’t just pleasurable, it also satisfies our baser human instincts. Using money neither requires moral transcendency, nor altruism or foresight. And money is also a source of reassurance. Insofar, the history of money is a success story – at least for the money. To come up with an alternative medium of exchange that is equally successful, we would be well-advised to take a close look at this success story and learn from it. Money works in a viral, almost physiological way, and there is hardly anyone who is fully immune to it. Most likely, a full-fledged money replacement would have to attach itself to the same human receptors – it would have to beat the system at its own game.
To have any impact at all, new money must be competitive – it needs be on a par with the old money and must be attractive even to those whose hearts haven’t been broken by the old system yet. Without reaching all money users, it is hardly possible to arrive at the scale of participation that is vital for a functioning financial system. The trick isn’t getting a couple of people to use an alternative currency – it’s getting a lot of people to abandon their traditional currencies which is the hard part. The true value of a new currency can be measured as a product of innovation and proliferation – few decisive changes which find broad acceptance can go much further than extensive restructuring plans when it’s clear that implementing them on a larger scale just isn’t feasible.
To rule out future abuse once and for all, the process of issuing money needs to be democratized and the medium of exchange must be permanently removed from the control of a privileged minority. It can only be regarded as a bizarre irony of history that article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates a “right to work”, while the right to create a medium of exchange, without which the right to work can never be exercised in a meaningful and self-serving way, was simply “forgotten”. Future generations will likely look back in disbelief on these barbaric ages in which the right to issue money was the privilege of a few and which were blighted by oppression, suffering and destruction. We can only hope that this day lies in the not-too-distant future.
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