My gut feeling is that one thing we really need in order to start building something is a means of exchanging value, and of converting between that and the more conventional units of exchange required to pay our bills (and in which we sometimes get paid by others).
It looks like the economic crash has inspired a lot of work along these lines -- here are a couple that I ran across just today:
- About Money: see especially the section about Demurrage
- The Ripple Project: peer-to-peer credit management
Here are some things which I think would be necessary for a system that is usable, durable, and corruption-resistant:
- De-centralized, peer-to-peer -- there can be nodes with multiple users, but there should be no central node upon which the entire system depends
- Not tied to any existing currency -- the value of units in the system should be effectively tied to the economic value of the system. If more mainstream currencies crash (and they all seem to be heavily corrupted and prone to such crashes), the value of units stored in this system should be maintained.
- De-centralized exchange rates with other currencies -- the exchange rate should be set by bidding, i.e. people could offer to buy or sell a certain number of units at a preset maximum or minimum price; rather than posting a single exchange rate, or the rate being offered by a few large exchangers, recent sales statistics would be posted (mean price, standard deviation, mean time between sales at a given price, etc.) so buyers and sellers would have a good sense of how to set their bid prices.
- Backed by something concrete and measurable, at least initially; perhaps there should be two tiers: backed currency and fiat currency. There is much discussion to be had on this topic.
- Individually issued -- individuals should be able to issue units of exchange backed by goods or services they have to offer.
The Ripple Project is a good start, but there needs to be a way for multiple Ripple servers (and servers running Ripple-like software, such as ShireHours and MultiSwap) to interoperate so the system isn't centralized (maybe that's part of the design, but they don't mention it... unless that's what this is).
It looks like what we need is a multi-layer design -- sort of the way networking works:
+------------------+ | other currencies | +------------------+ ^ | V +----------+ | person A | +----------+ ^ | V +-----------+ | p2p money | +-----------+ ^ | /-------+-------\ | | V V +--------------+ +--------------------+ | transactions | | credit negotiation | +--------------+ +--------------------+ ^ ^ | | \--------+---------/ | V +-----------+ | p2p money | +-----------+ ^ | V +----------+ | person B | +----------+ ^ | V +------------------+ | other currencies | +------------------+
We need a list of problems any given system should solve (bugs it should fix). Here are a few:
- Hoarding of units of exchange (hoarding material wealth essentially isn't a problem -- it has inherent value and requires economic activity in order to not lose value)
- Monetary musical chairs, where debt is paid back with interest -- so either some people lose out or else you have to continually create more money with which to pay the interest
- The need to tax non-liquid assets in order to pay for infrastructure
- Unemployment, where people have debts but "can't find work": there should always be some value for one's work, even if all you can do is menial labor (and if you are not capable of doing work that is sufficiently valued for you to survive on at a basic level, then there should be a social safety net to take care of the difference -- which is a form of infrastructure)
This is slightly off-topic, but does kind of relate to the way that the idea of money as being the only true value distorts our system:
It seems to me rather unconscionable, even if one completely accepts the need for taxation of personal property, that one cannot satisfy such tax debt by surrendering ownership of an appropriate fraction of the property. ...or am I showing my ignorance, and this is effectively what a "lien" is? Is a lien more like a secured loan (of a fraction of the property), or more like a sale (selling part of the property to the tax office to settle the debt)? Is a lien considered adequate settlement, or is it more like a hook to get you to really settle the debt (by paying cash, possibly with penalties for late payment)? The question can only be resolved by knowning the details of how liens work, which I don't.