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<nettime> re: Open Source and Open Money
Brian Holmes on Wed, 16 Jan 2002 19:35:41 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> re: Open Source and Open Money


Felix Stalder writes, about trust and fiduciary systems:

"Cash solves the reputation problem elegantly, by transferring the trust
from the person to the token. Credit cards solve the problem horribly with
an incredible invasive global authenticating infrastructure which is
queried virtually every time one uses the card."

This is extremely well put. Cash shows how a specific institutional mix
was required to uphold the private/public distinction on which liberal
democracy was based. To be able to transact freely, without having to
establish trust by giving any account of one's personal history - that is,
without having to drag the private laundry out into public - required a
national bank system with a near-monopoly on the issuing of legal tender.

Today, credit money - i.e. checks and cards managed by private banks - has
outstripped cash in terms of volume of circulation. This means that fully
capitalist systems of money, based on making profit out of money itself,
have outstripped the currency instituted by the state for purposes of
facilitating exchange. In my daily life, cash is only accessed through the
card, and is therefore subordinated to credit money. The "invasive global
authenticating infrastructure" goes along with it, and is one of the
powerful manipulating forces in the world today, as I tried to show in my
paper on the flexible personality. However, I also think that David Lyon
in his book _Surveillance Society_ has shown pretty well that much of
surveillance infrastructure is an attempt to recreate trust in the face of
modern international mobility and what he calls "disappearing bodies." How
to be sure of strangers' promises?

It's a real problem. In the face of the answers that society is currently
offering us, it seems to me that two little questions arise, for
individuals, plus one big one, which is collective. The first little
question is, how to get out of surveilled relations? Just to breathe a
little. There, the gift economy aspects of open source and knowledge
potlatch have been extremely interesting, these last years, as a way to
open up spaces of transaction without arithmetic. Spaces that really work,
in my experience: I always want to contribute more to networks like
nettime itself, or the antiglobalization movements, where the relations
are at once very casual and in vast excess of satisfaction over what can
be obtained through authenticating systems of knowledge exchange, like the
university or official art criticism, or even voting and taking part in
party politics, for that matter. (Kermit can rake me over the coals for
this bit of political naivete, but whatever.)

The second question for individuals is how to build exchange communities
of lasting, instituted trust that actually work under conditions of modern
mobility, where the spatial embrace of the village or neighborhood or
commune is not available. Keith Hart's proposals are interesting in that
regard, particularly on the urban scale, or perhaps within certain
occupational universes extending over larger distances. I'm not sure the
difficulty of translating them to the large scale of complete
impersonality, international validity and so on, is really pertinent. I
suspect the problem is finding the right scale on which each proposal can
work, then sticking more or less to it. The same observation applies to
all mutualist or "third-sector" arrangements, where an element of
solidarity is made part of a functioning exchange arrangement.

The big, collective question remains: how to trust strangers for
transactions that go beyond the risks that individuals are willing to
manage for themselves? Cash does solve the problem, but look: we have
basically a world currency, the dollar, and the kind of person who goes
around with suitcases full of them is not particularly trustworthy. We
also have global networks of credit money, but today those networks
(banks, stock markets) are big factors encouraging "turbo-capitalism" as
Luttwak calls it, which is itself producing huge risks of systemic crisis,
among others by lending too much in hopes of getting too much back in
interest (or in Enron's case, by "backing up" commodity exchange with pure
speculation). The only viable solutions are to return to some degree of
collective control over the economy at the national scale (i.e. some
effective central planning, Keynesian policies and so on), while at the
same time regulating the credit-money infrastructure much better on a
world scale, because at this point it's pretty much ad hoc, and that
encourages abberations in the whole surveillance architecture (not to
mention making planning impossible, and creating huge systemic risks of
krachs and deflationary spirals).

But as soon as you say what I just did, you realize how important the two
little answers are in terms of critique and counter-power (or
"sub-politics" as Ulrich Beck says). That's why I'm a member of Attac (the
would-be regulators) and prefer to hang out with anarchists. In the face
of the coherent state and world-government functions that we need to
protect ourselves from turbo-capitalism, modes of private association that
are either outside money, or potentially, rest on non-capitalist moneys of
one's choosing, are vital in the literal sense of the word. Because
large-scale, rationalized trust-producing systems have the inconvenience
of crushing the life out of the people who are supposed to trust each
other.

Brian




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