Group Currency: What if you could only transact as a community?

Sufficiency Currency: What Communities Want

Starting out with some assumptions, I returned from 11 weeks of travel including visits to 7 intentional communities (ecovillages) with a more solidified idea of what the “sufficiency currency” might look like. Before I go into that, it’s useful for me to distinguish the major differences between the Sufficiency Currency project and other projects.

By the way, we aren’t even sure that “Currency” is the right name for the project, and you can check out this blog for a discussion of different names for the project.

Sufficiency Currency Inquiry

The Sufficiency Currency project is looking at non-monetary currency solutions and the two major inquiries are:

  • How can we create “group” measures and currencies. Production is a group activity, but money is an individual measure. What if we could only transact as a group or community? What would that type of communications would represent the complexity of interactions among communities?
  • If the purpose of an economy is to provide people’s basic survival needs (food, shelter, energy, health), what would we measure such that we can support everyone and increase the capacity of a society to grow to support more people?

We assert that market economies are not appropriate for support systems, and that we should use a system of pooling for essential services. The idea of pooling asserts that when there is a visible shared pool, people don’t let other people starve, and that if there isn’t enough to go around, the group will be inclined towards group problem-solving.

Goals and Hypothesis

We assert that market economies are not appropriate for support systems, and that we should use a system of pooling for essential services. The idea of pooling asserts that when there is a visible shared pool, people don’t let other people starve, and that if there isn’t enough to go around, the group will be inclined towards group problem-solving.

The fundamental goals of the project are:

  • Create a form of economy that looks directly at the sustainability of life in the economy, rather than a proxy measure (money).
  • Create local self-sufficiency for communities, and in particular, encourage local regenerative and healthy forms of food and energy production.
  • Specifically for the regenerative/intentional/ecovillage/permaculture movements, support three outcomes:
  • Make it easy to transact within the network as well as with bodies outside of the network.
  • Make it easy to expand the movement and better share the resources coming into the network.
  • For people who want to join or create regenerative communities, make it easier to do so through this unified economic structure.

The initial hypothesis for the Sufficiency Currency is that there are three important measures that a group of communities would want to look at in order to meet the

Market Research: How Does It Really Look?

In September-November of 2020, I traveled to a number of Ecovillages in Italy, Slovenia and Spain, to discuss my vision and understand what they really need in terms of their interactions among themselves and with their neighboring communities who may or may not be ecovillages.

The first thing I realized was that there are quite a few community currency and cryptocurrency projects trying to push their ideas into ecovillages. There are some isolated examples of successful community currency attempts within the intentional community movement, and dozens, if not hundreds of failure stories. The communities themselves are quite aware that they don’t need an alternative monetary currency to function. They are also aware that using monetary and trade based currency doesn’t reflect their values. Finally, these people are busy and they don’t have a lot of spare time for currency experiments. Usually there are one or two people who are responsible for anything that would require a computer. Others have computers and phones, but they are highly disinterested in activities that would require any serious amount of time in front of a screen.

The most gratifying find was that the kind of pooling proposed in the Sufficiency Currency project does appeal to the ecovillages. It would have to be very easy to manage, but they are already managing multiple interactions in their vicinity, and systematizing that is of interest. In fact, the same kind of thinking process has come from some of the national ecovillage support networks, but it hasn’t been a priority, nor is it really within the core competencies of the coordination networks for intentional communities.

All of the communities have some form of trade with the other communities in the area. Depending on the location, they might be interacting with local farms and businesses, cooperatives, or other ecovillages. The agreements look different among different entities, but in general there is a looser type of trade than you would see between businesses. For example, at one ecovillage the nearby town flooded and they went down to help out, taking the volunteers with them and neglecting their harvesting work for a couple of days. There was no formal trade — it was just helping people out — and at the same time, they know that this will be helpful for them when it comes to their needs vis-à-vis the municipal government. Similarly, they had an informal agreement with a local agricultural cooperative, where they were helping with the farm work in return for some produce, but they were giving it a try for a year before they came to any formal agreement. The assumption of cooperation and reciprocation was more important than the specifics of the deal.

Designing the Currency

Designing the “representables”, or currency, for the communities is like designing any product. The first step is to get clear on the problems the community wants to solve. The way they described their problems were mostly in terms of overwhelm:

  • Every contract needs to be negotiated separately and the documentation is scattered.
  • The negotiation takes a lot of time.
  • Different parties have different ideas of fairness, and fairness isn’t necessarily expressed in monetary value.
  • Some items are truly scarce, while some are abundant, and monetary exchange doesn’t help them identify that type of value or seek solutions.
  • Depending on the type of organization, the terms of business are different. If it’s another ecovillage, it’s a very different type of relationship than if it’s just a nearby village that doesn’t belong to the regenerative agriculture movement.

When translated into measurable currencies that can be represented in software, the Sufficiency Currency would aim, firstly, to create an easy-to-use interface for putting together contacts between two entities. Secondly, the dashboard would include the following measures:

  • Fairness. Although fairness is subjective, it’s probably the most important measure to maintain for long-term relationships. For a sustainable network of ecovillages, it’s important for the members to feel the other group is dealing fairly with them.
  • Scarcity and abundance. Some items are scarce, for example, the number of trucks that are available. A good representation might be dark or light colors, or thickness of a line. Others are abundance, for example, squash in the summer. Even if the trade is fair, some things might wear out over time while others are easily replenished. Representing the scarcity or abundance of something in the communities allows people to identify joint problems to solve. For example, if there aren’t enough trucks, perhaps they would train some community members to repair and assemble trucks from spare parts. One of the main functions of the currency is to help the communities take joint action.
  • Reputation. Reputation would be a multi-dimensional measure that allows communities to get information about one another, such as how ecologically conscious one community is, whether they have traded fairly in the past, etc. The reputation measures need to be developed over time.

The three measures above are a start for creating an alternative to monetary trading. The goal over time will be to have the communities simply share both their resources and their challenges to grow over time as a movement.

Founder, and Author: "So you've got a DAO: Leadership for the 21st century"

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