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RE: <nettime> Open Source and Open Money
Keith Hart on Thu, 17 Jan 2002 17:51:32 +0100 (CET)


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RE: <nettime> Open Source and Open Money



Kermit Snelson has it right on all analytical counts and he is entitled to
his opinion about the likely consequences. The version of LETS we propose
has detached itself from some of the scaled-down features of a
pseudo-national currency by going infinitely multiple; and the social norms
that once gave LETS a feel-good factor (also oppressive to some) have been
left out of the design in favour of promoting a system that sustains
confidence, but does not require trust.

LETS in this guise should increase democracy, but it may not reduce
inequality by itself. As he says, the rich and corporations may be able to
take advantage of the method more easily than the poor. This applies with
force to methods relying on advanced machines. We know that the reduced
power of nation-states has open up space for corporate capitalism and that
this constitutes a global political crisis. The LETS model is a potential
tool in the hands of progressives everywhere, but if the powerful are
faster to organize than their opponents, it will not help the latter much.
Kermit cites Lessig as saying that the social consequences of the internet
are potentially neutral, which is true. But the internet remains one of the
most powerful means at our disposal for making a better world and that is
what resistence to enclosure of the internet commons is about. 

Engels wrote an essay, Socialism -- utopian and scientific, in which he
argued that a socialism which understood the forces at work in the
contemporary world was more likely to succeed that one that appealed to an
impule to 'Stop the world, I want to get off. But he warned that society
was being organized rapidly at the top, using these same forces, and this
might outstrip the socialist movement from below. His fears were justified,
as it turned out. But was that a good reason for abandoning the socialist
cause then or now? Engels made it clear that socialism meant economic
democracy for him and that suits me too.

If we are talking about the privatisation of money (which we are), the
relevant liberal economist is Hayek, not Friedman. The Chicago school
favoured absolute control of the money supply by the central bank in order
to let a quantity theory of money govern the markets. Hayek was inspired by
the pioneering efforts of Scottish banks in the 18th century to advocate a
system with no control by states whatsoever. Talk of abolishing the state
through LETS is going bring the Fed (or the Bank of Japan or The European
Central Bank) down on our heads quick. In practice LETS is likely to get
going at first as a 'mice in the basement' strategy that does not threaten
the establishment. But, when corporations and ultimately the banks take it
up, it will obviously be in a poltiically diluted form, but also one that
stands a chance of reaching more people, to do what they want with it. We
therefore minimise talk of th eincompatibility of national and community
currencies, stressing their comlementarity. We also support alliance across
the social spectrum, such as the Japan Open Money Project. Even so, there
is more than just a sense of little furry mammals among the dinosaurs.

Again, we know that we face a political crisis concerning the forms of
assocaition that would allow us to resist domination by big capital and
achieve our public ends effectively. There is no reason why the existing
nation-states should not take their place among these. But it is likely
that we will also need to associate more and less inclusively than that.
LETS is compatible with that vision. I repeat the message of an earlier
post. Open money could be a means of making certain forms of political
association more objective and it is a method of political education. It is
not a one-horse recipe for everything and it should not be judged on the
basis of a zero sum exchange with the status quo.

>By the way, this modular design for flexibility reminds me a lot
of best practices in computer science, such as "separation of concerns" in
object-oriented analysis, normalization in database schemas and
orthogonality in microprocessor instruction sets.<

This exchange is a two-way street. Michael Linton was trained as an
engineer, whereas Ernie Yacub and I are, as he confessed, extremely
low-tech. Yet we all recognise the importance of learning from 'best
practice' in computer science. If Kermit noticed some apparent
correspondence between LETS design and free software/open source/computing
best practice that was intentional. We would certainly like to hear from
others who could help us to develop the comparison.

Keith Hart

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