7: Freeing Monies: Remaking Money for Inclusive Economies

Having understood money as an instrument to organise towards a different economy, many a monetary entrepreneur have a particular vision of what economy they want to bring forward. The chapter unfolds three complementary monies, all created to advance a more inclusive economy through the implementation of a universal basic income paid in the new money. The principle organising the three monetary arrangements differs though, alongside the nature of the actor designing and governing it. In Demos, the chapter finds a group of citizens remaking money along a commons organising principle. In Mumbuca, the chapter finds a local government remaking money along a state organising principle. In GoodDollar, the chapter finds a crypto-entrepreneur remaking money along a market principle. Comparison of the three complementary monies shows that money organises society to its own image. As money is made, it makes society. This has direct implications for the socioeconomic dynamics in the community, the role of markets and the quality of democracy.

Universal basic income (UBI) is an idea whose time has come. Or so it would seem from the multitude of voices clamouring for it. Major tech-industry figures are converging with popular movement activists in demanding this particular form of progressive politics. From the likes of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to more anarchist crusaders Yiannis Varoufakis and David Graeber, from politicians of the establishment such as Richard Nixon to political reformers such as Martin Luther King, from economists on the right such as Milton Friedman to those on the left such as Guy Standing, UBI is increasingly heralded as a form of welfare that is to project us into a more economically, socially and politically sustainable future. Their arguments differ along with their ideological inclinations: to address the rise in unemployment brought about by enlarged automation contend the techies; to take aim at the politically dangerous levels of inequality reason the moderates; to democratise the economy advance the activists. The common mantra, to give everyone the possibility to live a dignified and fulfilling life.

The general idea of a UBI – that the government should make a regular payment to every citizen sufficient to guarantee her material existence as a right with no strings attached – directly addresses some of the most pressing aspects of precarity and inequality that so trouble many observers today. The regularity and unconditionality of payments take immediate aim at the uncertainty that so limits the precariat. The level of payment – high enough to cover basic needs – is meant to guarantee the right to subsistence so as to grant a dignified life. For scholars and activists, like for an increasing number of renowned supporters,1 the certainty of having one’s material needs covered is a fundamental requirement for deepening democracy. The Greeks realised this already, when they instituted rewards to citizens to enable their participation in political and cultural life.2 A basic income detaches income from employment and thus enables people to have more control over their time so that, if they so wish, they can engage in work that is not remunerated but that nonetheless builds the polity: from participating in political debate to caring for family, friends and neighbours; from volunteering for one’s community to enrolling in education and retraining. In liberating the individual of the need to endure excruciating labour conditions and to perform jobs that go against one’s ethical principles to be able to barely survive, and in freeing citizens from the constraints that determine reception of welfare benefits, a UBI becomes an essential component in efforts to build societies where people enjoy the moral freedom to act as they think is right, and the republican freedom to speak back to power. A more egalitarian, democratic and emancipatory system, it is argued, requires that everyone has their subsistence secured.3

While pilot studies show the promises UBI in national currency offers for recipients,4 and while UBI ideas are slowly infiltrating the programmes of political candidates in several national and local elections,5 the objections to move from pilot studies to institutionalised UBI programmes are still many. One set of concerns refers to its financing. A regular basic income paid to everyone in a country would simply be unaffordable, this objection goes. The second set of concerns relates to cultural and ideological assumptions of worth and human nature. Providing ‘something for nothing’, basic income is said to promote laziness, reducing the supply of labour; scarcity is needed to make people work. The gigantic stimulus packages governments put together to confront the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the first set of objections is a matter of political will, not of lack of funding. The second set of objections has been proven wrong in many UBI pilot studies, which show recipients resolve to keep jobs that give them an occupational identity or to retrain for future participation in the labour market.6 That is, both objections have more to do with politics and our assumptions about human nature than with the technical and economic merits of the proposals. And so, while UBI is increasingly defended as a necessary intervention to change the politico-economic system and bring about a more inclusive future, because its approval requires of the established institutions, UBI advocates are rendered powerless by the very system they aim to transform.

Instead of waiting for change to come from established institutions, a variety of actors are taking the lead by creating complementary monies through which to implement their UBI vision. From grassroots groups anchored in local communities to digital entrepreneurs with global ambitions and regional public authorities in partnership with civil society organisations, UBI has become a policy ideal mobilising shifting interest groups in what Polanyi may have called a countermovement. United by a recognition of the need to protect themselves and others from the destructive sociopolitical effects of intense inequality, and infused with the sense of real possibility new technologies have awakened, these groups varyingly call on the commons, the state or the market to design, organise and realise a different socioeconomic order. Each following its own organisational principle, grassroots groups, local public authorities and the private sector are, independently of each other, assembling their own monetary arrangement to put their UBI utopias into practice.

The actors behind Demos, Mumbuca and GoodDollar all share a dream for a different economy, for an economy that is more equal, caring and fair, an economy inclusive of the most fragile. They all conceive UBI as the policy tool that would allow society to realise that dream. They all take a hands-on learning-by-doing approach to the concrete realisation of the UBI utopia. Yet they advance different practical answers to the twin questions of money’s architectural design and governance. Informed by distinct cultural and ideological imaginaries and standing on distinct power structures, Demos, Mumbuca and GoodDollar follow distinct organisational principles to remake money. The chapter asks the book’s two analytical questions – how does this [X] money work, and how is it made to work – to unfold the three complementary monies. The answers found show that though these monetary experiments may be presented under the same UBI story-line, though they may cater to the most fragile in our societies, the different set of relations they assemble into the new monies has far-reaching consequences for the form of the economy and the depth of democracy these monies enact in the communities using them. This lesson holds beyond the particular experiments studied. Attending to how the relationship between money creation, economic interests and sociopolitical groups is designed and organised into the monetary assemblage can help us appreciate the extent to which that particular money truly has a chance to align individual interests towards inclusion of the many in the common good.

Demos

‘Este sistema no nos representa’ [‘This system does not represent us’]. On 15 May 2011, tens of thousands of young citizens took to the streets all over Spain to denounce a political system that, they felt, did not represent their economic realities. The economic crisis that followed the financial crash of 2008 had left many in unstable, insecure jobs with declining real wages and no clear occupational narrative. The austerity policies governments were implementing worsened the situation, leaving this ‘new dangerous class’ with little or no benefits, with poor public welfare services and in a situation of chronic debt.7 A generation better educated than any previous in history, they faced however a future of precarious, badly paid jobs for which they were overqualified. A few days previous to regional elections, the manifestations quickly grew into a movement – known as ‘the Spanish revolution’ or the ‘movement of the outraged’8 – demanding ‘real democracy now!’ Thousands of ‘youth without future, no home, no job, no pension, no fear’ camped in the squares of cities across the country, resisting official calls to empty those public spaces and enduring police violence. Under cries such as ‘we are not merchandise of politicians or bankers’ and ‘traitor politicians, culpable bankers’, the outraged voiced their discontent with the traditional political powers seen by the many as supportive of an economic system – global capitalism – that took their future away from them. They condemned a financial system of ‘economic terrorism’, in which established political parties promulgated the interests of capital – ‘State = Capital’ – condemning citizens to ‘give [their] souls for a mortgage’ and to ‘become slaves for a roof and a job’.9 The Spanish revolution had been inspired by the Arab Spring and would soon inspire similar outraged movements in various countries of the North Atlantic in what became known as the Occupy movement.10

Campsites on city squares developed into small urban laboratories for the kind of direct democracy and economy of solidarity and mutual care the young activists were clamouring for. They self-organised in groups that attended the children, collected, cooked and distributed food, gathered books and lent them freely, educated for non-violent struggle, informed new arrivals, continuously updated media communication, and organised shifts to guarantee sanitation and security in the camp. For all the febrile activity, for all the lack of sleep, they lavished time and energy in various forms of horizontal decision-making processes. They held daily general assemblies to discuss technical issues of organising the camps, developed hand-signals to conduct consensus-based direct democracy, and collectively studied the latest labour market reform. The intense months of experimentation with direct participatory democracy and horizontal social coordination created both a community organised without market or state, and an enraptured sense of boundless possibility. The experience opened the horizons to a more exciting world. It catalysed a ‘transformative outbreak of imagination’11 that not only projected a vision of another organisation of society but that had also realised that vision in the relatively small heterogeneous and inclusive communities that coalesced in the squares.

Aware that ‘nobody is going to come to save us’, tired of ‘feeling like the donkey forever chasing the carrot’, yet armed with a new sense of possibility, activists from La Isleta, a mixed neighbourhood of the capital city of the island of Gran Canaria, went on to try to realise their collective utopia. They took their demands for a caring economy and dreams of a deepened democracy forward into action by designing an ‘economic system along different rules which radically change how the economy works’. At the heart of the economic system they were engineering they put a new monetary system; and at the core of that new money they put UBI. They aimed to organise an alternative monetary arrangement that not only implemented a UBI but whose rules for the creation and governance of money also followed the values of mutual care, equality and direct democracy they had experienced in the square.

The form and reason of their community currency was made clear from its very name. ‘Demos’ was chosen for its triple signification. First, it makes direct reference to the Greek demos – the common people, plebeians with civic status and rights, commoners – to foreground those ‘who give money its value’ and ‘who money should really serve’. The double reference to the demos as both the basis of value and the purpose of money encapsulated some of the lessons the outraged of La Isleta had learnt as they contributed to organise the camp on the square: one, the extent to which individual contributions constituted the communities shaping up on the square; and, two, the centrality of the relationship between rights and obligations for a community to work. Thereof the second signification, a collective exhortation to give explicit through the collective imperative form of the verb ‘dar’ (Spanish for ‘to give’), ‘demos’ (literally ‘let us give’), as in ‘let us give a monthly payment in complementary currency [so as to] guarantee everyone can satisfy one’s most basic needs’, as well as in ‘the need for every one to give’ if the community economy is to work.12 Finally, ‘Demos’ made for the acronym of what the grassroots group stood for, ‘Democracia Económica en MOneda Social’ or ‘Economic Democracy in Community Currency’.13 Two pillars of Demos were, from its very start, key to the sort of deep economic democracy the group was intent to realise: the universality of a basic income in the local currency and the governance of the monetary arrangement through a general assembly.

How does Demos work? Or, the initial design features of Demos’ internal architecture:

  1. 1.the quantity of money issued is proportional to the number of users;
  2. 2.released at a monthly rhythm through the payment of a UBI to all active individual members; and
  3. 3.a fixed proportion of each member’s account balance is automatically withdrawn monthly and transferred to the Common Fund.

First, the issuance of demos. Every time a new member registers, an amount equal ten times the basic income is created and placed in the Common Fund. The purpose is to ‘mirror the human value of participants in the monetary system by making this human value equivalent to the existing quantity of money’.14 There is a direct relationship between the amount of demos and the size of the community, an implementation of the designers’ twin premises that money is to serve the community and that money derives its value from the community. In a second step, demos is automatically introduced into the community at the beginning of every month through the transfer of basic income from the Common Fund to each member account. Concerned about the ‘sustainability of the basic income over time’, the third step consists of automatically charging to every member at the end of the month a ‘cooperative tax’ equal to 10 per cent of the member’s account balance. It is, that is, a time-based tax similar to the demurrage we saw accelerated Wörgl’s money in Chapter 5. In the words of one of demos’ co-designers:

‘[T]he basic formula of incomes and taxes is really simple. In the end, you have money circling around. It feels like the easy trick of a street magician but it results in many positive effects. It allows you to distribute money [as well as] to discourage its accumulation in individual accounts for, why would you contribute [sell] too much? You would end up paying more taxes than the income given to you. So you end up being more interested not in contributing yourself but in teaching someone else to do what you contribute with.’15

From the outset, it seems, Demos was engineered so as to encourage individual users to balance their economic activity with their level of consumption; to provoke a behaviour in line with the collective vision of a caring and more equal economy. The call to align individual behaviour to the requirements of the real utopia they were building was condensed in the maxim ‘Give as much as you can receive’, a direct call for individual members to balance their contributions to and appropriations from the community, their obligation to give with their right to take. In its form and reason, the Demos monetary arrangement combines the perpetuum mobile mechanism of ‘tax it forward’ we saw in Chapter 5 with the form and reasoning of the gift we saw in Chapter 4 – to recall, an obligation to give, an obligation to take and, most crucially, an obligation to give back.

Demos’ demurrage tax mechanism soon proved inadequate to induce reciprocate giving to the community (‘give it forward’). The first basic incomes in demos were paid in June 2012. Though a small amount, initially fixed to 50đ per month (equivalent to 50 euros), Demos’ commoners soon observed some users – ‘ninja users’ – were taking from the community without contributing to it. On receipt of the Demos basic income at the beginning of the month, they would go to the Demos markets – ‘mercademos’ – spend it all on products commoners readily offered in the local currency, and leave with an untroubled ‘I don’t have any more demos left, so I’ll come next month once I’ve received my basic income’. For an economy that was being organised from scratch by the grassroots, the monetary arrangement needed to incite members to contribute with their goods and services, to provide for the community-in-the-making, to produce for there to be a real economy outside of the established euro. Yet dependent as individual members were on euros, some of them were producing in the conventional economy alone and consuming in the emerging complementary economy; they were taking from the local community without giving back to it. The tragedy of the commons was playing out from the very start of the local currency. True, a cooperative tax was withdrawn from the accounts of ninja users, but this made no productive contribution to the community economy. For monetary tokens alone do not make an economy – an insight ignored by many a crypto-entrepreneur and that we will see happen again in GoodDollar’s UBI. The pendulum mobile of the tax mechanism that had been built into Demos was not triggering the obligation to reciprocate with real goods and services that so builds community and economy.

By January 2013 the General Assembly was discussing changes to the rules that governed the monetary arrangement. And they decided to deal with their own version of the tragedy of the commons the same way communities around the world have dealt with similar tragedies for centuries: with a graduated system of sanctions and rewards.16 The basic income was to remain universal, yet the level of payment was conditioned in two ways. First, the basic income to be paid each month was to vary with the total volume of trade in the community two months previous – a monetary design that strengthened the relationship between the amount of demos in circulation and the size and activity of the community. The more members in a community, and the more active these members were, the higher the monthly basic income. Second, the basic income paid to each individual member was to vary with the degree that member had contributed to, relative to taken from the community. Those members that had taken more than they had contributed received a basic income somewhat lower than the average. Those members that had contributed more than taken received a basic income somewhat higher than the average. A universal basic income whose level is conditioned to one’s contribution to the community, they hoped, would remind users of the importance of giving for both building community and developing the economy. The two design features aimed at aligning individual interests to the interests of the collective.

Once such system of sanctions and rewards was decided in the General Assembly, the calculations were automated through the code, whereupon individual behaviour adjusted swiftly, promptly strengthening the community economy. Members who had not found members interested in the products they offered quickly set to learn about other members’ interests and adapted their offerings accordingly. Goods most in demand – mainly local food, lodging and transportation – were readily offered. “We started to see ourselves under the key of ‘what can I give’.” As they gave, earned, spent and took, members became aware of the value others granted to skills and competencies they had themselves been blind towards. The middle-aged unemployed woman whose bakery unfailingly sold out as did the elder woman’s marmalades. In realising the value of their offerings, some members found a springboard to imagine their lives differently and to start up their own small businesses. Today, the middle-aged woman sells home-made cakes to local cafés who pay her in euros, the elder woman runs a marmalade business that sells, in euros, to grocery stores on the island, and Lali has dared to realise the dream of her youth, “earn a living as a herbalist”. As one member proudly assessed, “[I]t is the dream outcome of any labour-market programme”.

Most notably, the experience taught the community the enormous infrastructural capacity well-arranged money can have – even such a local and young money as Demos was. As a Demos user phrased it, “[I]t started as a response to government inaction but that soon was forgotten in favour of what we were observing. Demos was organising us!” Or, “[T]he rules you implement change behaviour.” Among those rules, Demos’ General Assembly identifies those related to taxes, rewards and sanctions as the most determinant. Connecting taxes to the level of one’s wealth – one’s account balance in the Demos economy – ‘makes selfishness unprofitable’. As for rewards and sanctions, they concede, they help educate members about the reciprocal obligation to take and give back, about the relationality of this money; it teaches members to move away from an imaginary of money as property – a commodity to dispose with at will – and onto an imaginary of money as a relation of credit and debt towards one’s community; it teaches them to relate back, to give forward, thus contributing to co-develop commoners and commons in the process.

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, Demos markets are being spontaneously organised. “We have missed each other” – an indication of the enduring sense of community and of individual responsibility towards each other Demos-money has contributed to develop.

Mumbuca

Located some 40 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro, along the Brazilian Atlantic coast, Maricá is home to over 160,000 inhabitants. A satellite city to Rio, a mere 23 per cent of Maricá’s working-age population work in the municipality. With no industrial or productive capacity within its territory, the largest majority of Maricá’s working population commutes to Rio and other neighbouring cities to earn a living. Maricá’s economy is further characterised by a large number of families living under the poverty line, an extensive informal economy, and a youth with little hope in the future.17

The City of Maricá receives a large sum of royalties from the oil fields in Bacia de Santos. In an effort to support the most vulnerable families, in 2011, the mayor of the city decided to distribute part of these royalties as a social benefit added to the federal government’s welfare programme, ‘Bolsa Família’ – a national income transfer programme conditioned on keeping children vaccinated and in school. The mayor was however aware that the royalties transferred as welfare to citizens in the form of Brazilian reals soon leaked out of Maricá as residents and merchants used it to buy from outside the city or to pay debts owed elsewhere. That is, paid in Brazilian reals, the extended welfare programme was strengthening Maricá’s economy and its families only to a very limited extent.

Determined ‘to develop the city’s economy … trade in particular’,18 in December 2013, Maricá introduced a local currency, mumbuca, through the Mumbuca Community Bank.19 Oil royalties backed the new currency on a one-to-one basis. Mumbucas were injected into the city’s economy as welfare benefits – again, on top of the regular benefits in the national currency – to the city’s low-income families. Introduced as a strategy for local development, merchants had no obligation to accept the currency in payment of their goods. To attract them to the city currency network, however, merchants were given the possibility to convert their earned mumbucas into Brazilian reals, these coming from the royalties backing the currency. To keep it local and constrain money leaking out of the municipality, convertibility was restricted to merchants that were registered in the municipality. Conversion was also charged at 2 per cent, which went to fund the operations of the Mumbuca Community Bank.

From its inception, the Mumbuca monetary arrangement developed organically, following a trial-and-error process of sorts through which the local public authority and the community bank learnt together. Starting small at first, the city gradually increased the size of the welfare benefits paid in mumbucas, enlarged the range of beneficiaries and developed the underlying technology. In late 2014, one year after its inception, 14,000 families received a complementary family benefit of 85 mumbucas/month – equal to 85 reals – which eventually grew to 130 mumbucas per family and month, and later transformed into 130 mumbucas per family member and month – a family of four thus seeing its total allowance increased from 130 to 520 mumbucas. New welfare programmes, catering to other precarious citizens, were added in 2015: a ‘youth solidarity minimum income’ – 100 mumbucas monthly for young persons aged 14 to 29 – and a ‘pregnancy minimum income’ – 85 mumbucas per month paid to mothers during pregnancy up to the child’s first birthday.

Distrusting yet ‘another political initiative’, merchants were initially reticent to accept mumbucas, the number of merchants in the Mumbuca network barely growing beyond the 100+ that first registered in 2014. To promote acceptance, the city cancelled the 2 per cent redemption fee for those merchants converting mumbucas into Brazilian reals before the 5th of the month. Another key development during these initial years was the city’s decision to support the digitalisation of the infrastructure. In 2018, mumbuca went from a paper- and card-based currency onto a digital currency supported by the e-Dinheiro payment platform alongside a Mumbuca plastic card.20 The e-Dinheiro platform allowed beneficiaries not only to receive and spend their mumbucas, it also gave them access to regular banking services, including a savings account, a checking account, or the possibility to obtain a smaller line of credit. A previously unbanked and vulnerable population could now pay their bills, make P2P transfers, or buy a phone on credit. In this way, the expansion enabled by a monetary technology driven by a community bank embedded Mumbuca deeper into Maricá’s economy.

The continuous tinkering with Mumbuca’s monetary arrangement – from its rules and beneficiaries to its technology and partners – meant that by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maricá, the city was well prepared to quickly roll out an encompassing UBI programme.21 First, it enlarged, simplified and unified its various welfare benefits under two programmes: a ‘renda básica e cidadania’, literally ‘citizen’s basic income’, handing 300 mumbucas per person per month to all registered citizens unconditional of their means, and a ‘renda minima’ or ‘minimum income’ of about 1,000 mumbucas handed to precarious micro-entrepreneurs in the gig economy as well as to employees companies retained despite the economic downturn brought by the lockdowns. Second, the fact that the technology was already in place and citizens were versed in its use enabled the immediate implementation of the UBI-like emergency benefit programmes.

Indeed, while implementation of the emergency basic income approved by the Brazilian Congress on the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic faced challenges in outreach, in April 2022, the Mumbuca-based UBI successfully reached to 42 per cent of Maricá’s population.22 With a large informal economy, many Brazilian citizens are not registered in the federal government’s registry, and even if registered, many of them do not have a bank account. During a time of increased health risk, agglomerations formed at the entrances of government agencies and bank offices across the country as citizens queued to register, renew their national identity cards, and start a bank account through which to receive the emergency basic income they were eligible to. In Maricá, instead, registered citizens eagerly downloaded the Mumbuca app to claim their rightful basic income, the city easily transferring the Mumbuca basic income to its citizens.23 The number of Mumbuca bank accounts grew from 37,550 in December 2019 to 65,374 in September 2021 – a 74 per cent increase. Most tellingly, the volume of trade in mumbucas in local businesses grew from 36 to 254 million mumbucas in 2021 – a 603 per cent growth in local trade, guaranteeing money served the local economy.24 The results of the last municipal elections in November 2020 are telling of the satisfaction of Maricá’s population with the outreach of the municipal welfare programmes: 94 per cent of citizens renewed their confidence in the Workers’ Party that governs the city.

If you think about it, it is not at all surprising. A monetary system anchored in local government brings the infrastructural capacities of money to empower public development policies at the city level. And conversely, anchoring the monetary architecture on a centralised, if local, authority, enhances the infrastructural capacity of money by amplifying its reach and speeding up the rate at which city-dwellers embrace it. We saw this in the case of Wörgl in Chapter 5; we see it again in Maricá. A welfare policy that benefits the population at large directly addresses the concerns for inequality, precarity and poverty that dominate the day. When delivered in a currency organised to work for the region a little longer – by constraining its use to the local territory – the public welfare policy not only supports low-income citizens but has the potential to further strengthen local businesses and the local economy. As money remains circulating in the territory, it remains working for the territory. The local nature of the monetary architecture and its articulation through local public policies are both key features to understand the rapid change the currency effected on the economic dynamics of the local business community.

Mumbuca’s monetary architecture includes however a design feature that weakens its ability to work for the territory, its economy and its people. The possibility for local businesses to redeem mumbucas in Brazil’s national currency opens up a gate for money to leak out of Maricá. What’s more, convertibility risks the long-term sustainability of any local currency. Such dynamics were readily observable in the complementary-currency-based UBI-like programme implemented in Barcelona between 2018 and 2019. After 13 months, once the backing in euros was exhausted, the programme necessarily ceased.25 In Maricá, in 2018, businesses redeemed 85.5 per cent of the mumbucas injected into the economy, big businesses redeeming to a much larger extent than small businesses. Had Maricá not had a stable and secured source of national money in oil royalties, the possibility to redeem would have consumed the backing of the local currency and, with it, mumbucas would have ceased to exist. Such a high conversion rate was a sign of the, then, limited trust – or use, or both – local businesses had for the local currency.

Yet, as local businesses gained trust in the commitment of public authorities and as the mumbuca economy developed, conversion ratios went down. In 2019, 67.88 per cent of mumbucas were converted into Brazilian reals, and 60 per cent in 2021.26 Over 12,600 businesses accept the local currency in payment for their goods and services, 67 per cent of which trade at least once a month in the local currency, and 26 per cent of which pay for all their supplies exclusively in mumbucas.27 With mumbucas not being accepted for payment of taxes (the ‘tax it forward’ strategy of a monetary architecture anchored in a city government, as we saw in Chapter 5) and with mumbucas distributed as a right with no required counter-obligation (the ‘give it forward’ strategy we saw in the community-based monies of Chapter 4), there is no clear perpetuum mobile mechanism built into Maricá’s local monetary arrangement.28 As the number of merchants not converting mumbucas into reals grows, the answer to the question ‘how is mumbuca made to work’ – or ‘why would merchants accept mumbucas in payment of their goods and services’ – necessarily hinges on the size and variety of the real economy that gradually articulates into the monetary arrangement. The larger and more varied possibilities merchants have to spend their mumbucas, the more willing they are to accept them in payment for their goods. The so-called ‘network effect’ as it plays out in monetary arrangements – the more and more varied the merchants associated to the local money, the more valuable the monetary tokens. Or, in a formulation more attuned to the commons perspective of the book, the value of a currency for an economy rests on the community of users behind it. Mumbuca is evidence of the key role local governments play in catalysing the network effect, even in the absence of a perpetuum mobile designed into the monetary assemblage.

GoodDollar

The ‘flagship CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] of eToro’29 – a multi-asset investment platform – GoodDollar is a cryptocurrency designed to channel impact investment into a UBI of global reach. The premise of the GoodDollar UBI experiment is uncontested: wealth inequality is ‘one of the biggest problems in the world today’, leading to ‘populist movements, instability and violence’,30 a problem the founders of GoodDollar argue is bound to get worse as artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation result in the further disappearance of jobs. GoodDollar team’s discontent with the mainstream solution to inequality is widely shared:

[T]rickle-down economics has proved a failure. The wealthiest 10% of the globe’s population now earns 52% of its income, whereas the poorest 50% takes home just 8% of that total. The gap is even more pronounced when it comes to wealth. Of the world’s total assets, the poorest half of the population owns just 2%, while the top 10% hold three-quarters.31

GoodDollar’s suggested solution: ‘[UBI as a] new approach to capital and liquidity distribution’; ‘get one GoodDollar a day and keep the banker away’.32 GoodDollar’s drive for change is inserted within the seemingly attractive trend to incentivise investors to put private money to work for people and planet: ‘[W]e have a fundamental belief that there are enough people who care not just about doing well for themselves, but also about doing good for others … there is a large and growing appetite to invest in impact-driven initiatives that seek human and/or environmental wins alongside financial gains.’33 An appeal ‘to do well while doing good’ that underscores a form of reasoning that juxtaposes finance with the common good. GoodDollar’s technical infrastructure and organisational arrangement is professedly apolitical: ‘take blockchain technology and create a non-profit’, dodge the ‘political discussion’ that comes with UBI when conceived at a national scale and when implemented through ‘government-led currencies’, and write UBI scheme into ‘computer code that cannot be manipulated or changed’ thus making it ‘independent of one’s specific politics or government’.34

Fundamentally, GoodDollar’s ambition to ‘righting the balance of economic equality’35 through a global UBI distributed by means of the GoodDollar cryptocurrency builds simultaneously on the logics of financial rewards and social good. These otherwise contradictory forms of reasoning36 are brought together through a perceived apolitical arrangement that is ‘much a part of laissez-faire, of market structure. … It’s really about just changing mechanics to create something that’s fairer but could be as free and as open’.37 In short, GoodDollar’s efforts to build a UBI utopia are simultaneously grounded on the profit motive that drives actors in financial markets and the notion of monetary automation enabled by the code.

In the supposedly apolitical mechanics of GoodDollar – I apologise for the barrage of crypto-jargon – investors stake – hold forward – their assets in the GoodDollar Trust. These yield interests which are deposited – yield farming – in the form of DAI – a decentralised stablecoin38 – into the GoodReserve to back the minting – issuance – of GoodDollar tokens (G$). Users can further back the minting of GoodDollar by depositing cryptocurrency in the GoodReserve in exchange for new G$s. Finally, G$s are also minted daily as the reserve ratio – the ratio between the G$ minted relative to the value of interest locked in the GoodDollar Reserve – is set to reduce gradually. Once minted, G$s are distributed partly to investors – ‘supporters’ in the GoodDollar ecosystem – as return for their investment, and partly to UBI recipients – ‘claimers’ – as a basic income they receive when they log into their GoodDollar wallet and actively request the payment, a request they can claim daily. Though ‘no one guarantees the liquidity or market price of the G$ to any extent at any time’,39 in theory, anyone holding G$s can convert them into any of the cryptocurrencies held in the GoodReserve. The conversion rate varies according to a bonding curve – an automated market-maker mechanism that facilitates the liquidity of GoodDollar or, in lay-language, a computer programme that automatically prices cryptocurrencies against each other thus removing mediators when buying and selling G$s. This results in the total supply of G$s varying alongside the assets staked in or removed from the GoodReserve: ‘when a user buys G$s, the tokens are minted, when they sell, the tokens are burned’.40 If not through the GoodReserve, G$ holders can always try to exchange their G$s for other cryptocurrencies at decentralised exchanges (DEX) – peer-to-peer marketplaces enabling crypto-traders to exchange their crypto-holdings without the mediation of banks, brokers or any other financial intermediary.

Already here, in the rules that govern the creation and distribution of G$s, we can observe the political nature of the GoodDollar monetary arrangement. How many G$s are created and at which frequency they are created is contingent on investors and investors alone: on their willingness to put their assets to work for the GoodDollar global utopia, on how long they are willing to hold their assets in the GoodDollar Trust, and on the degree of returns they demand from their investment in GoodDollar. There is a direct relationship between the amount of G$s issued and the financial disposition of investors; the supply of G$s completely detached from the number of UBI claimers GoodDollar is supposed to serve. The level of UBI paid daily is similarly dissociated from the economic needs of recipients. Instead, daily UBIs vary alongside the interests generated by the assets of the investors and the degree of distribution of these interests back to investors relative to UBI claimers. That is to say, the rules for the creation and distribution of GoodDollar money are designed along a financial market principle that prioritises the moneyed interests of investors. Whatever trickles down to UBI claimers – in September 2022, around 105 G$/day, at a price of 0.000176 US$/G$ equivalent to 0.0185 US$/day or less than two cents a day41 – depends on the benevolence of investors to stake their assets and forgo financial returns. It is difficult to see how a monetary system that puts the profit calculations of the wealthy at the heart of its monetary rules is to free money from politics. The sanctity of financial returns gives space to a denial of responsibility on the part of the well-off for the condition of the world’s poor. In the case of GoodDollar, it reproduces wealth and power disparities at the heart of money creation. Instead of a money free of ‘changing governments’, we got a money and accompanying social welfare scheme organised around the whims and changing bets of investors, leaving the poor GoodDollar is supposed to serve exposed to the uncertainty and instability of financial market forces.

Another important component articulates into the GoodDollar monetary assemblage: markets where users can spend their G$s, thus conferring use value on G$s. To this end, GoodDollar has set up its own dedicated online marketplace in which users can advertise the goods and services they want to sell and find the goods and services they want to buy. As for the development of on-the-ground markets in G$s, the assumption of the GoodDollar team is that, as users accumulate the complementary currency, ‘local vendors and merchants will face growing pressure to accept it in exchange for goods and services’.42 The ease with which G$s can be converted into other currencies (or, as phrased in the White Paper, ‘as G$ will be liquid from day one’), it is hoped, would also attract merchants to accepting the cryptocurrency in payment for their goods. In other words, two cultural assumptions guide the articulation of the new money with the productive economy where the poor live and work: pressure from users holding commodity money (or demand exerted in G$s) and ease of conversion (or locating the value of money in money itself). Building on these assumptions, the GoodDollar team expects the free introduction of G$s into the economy will lead to the spontaneous emergence of online and on-the-ground trade relationships. As we saw in Chapter 2, such cultural beliefs are in line with the economic orthodoxy of the barter myth, which conceives markets develop spontaneously and money as a neutral intermediary that eases relationships of trade.

With barely two years in existence, it may be too early to deem whether markets do end up developing spontaneously in the GoodDollar economy. So far, transaction figures seem to point in a different direction. Twenty-two months after its inception, in June 2022, with the total number of active UBI claimers 75,800 and the total number of unique claimers 444,358, only 4,540 transactions had been conducted.43 If we assume active claimers carried those transactions – an assumption that results in the largest possible percentage of users actually conducting trade – we obtain 6 per cent of them did so – down to 1 per cent if we take the total number of unique claimers. G$ UBI claimers, the figures show, are holding (or maybe HODLing) to their G$s. And lively markets have therefore little chance to emerge spontaneously.

As we learnt through the monetary experiments in the book, the effectiveness of a currency for trade hinges not on its ease of conversion (liquidity), nor on its presumed intrinsic value. For a currency to actually serve as a medium of exchange and means of payment, it needs of a mechanism that provokes its holders to be willing to part from it, to spend it, to put it into circulation. In the crypto-space, dominated as it is by an approach to money as a commodity whose market value development brings dreams of easy capital earnings, it is however unclear what would break the preference of investors and claimers to hold to their G$s. A money imaginary that prompts users to relate to it as property to hold on to and eventually sell for a financial gain inhibits the movement of G$s into real markets. It is a money disembedded from relationships of trade in the productive economy. When, as it is the case with the GoodDollar initiative, markets for real goods and services do not exist prior to the launch of the complementary currency, the question that monetary designers need to ask is ‘Why would participants in the monetary system be willing to spend the currency?’ The ease of conversion – thanks to the ‘automated market-maker’ – alongside a cultural expectation in the crypto-space of increases in currency values, risks inclining G$ users to hold their crypto-money forward. And with no, or little spending, no emergence of a market for real goods and services where the poor receivers of UBI could put their G$ to use. A money assembled along the ‘hold it forward’ reasoning serves the speculative drive of investors and crypto-claimers without the possibility to satisfy the economic needs of the poor.

The final component in the GoodDollar monetary assemblage is its governance institution: the GoodDAO. A DAO, acronym for decentralised autonomous organisation, codes the crypto-fantasy of a money free of politics into a set of smart contracts – computer programs that execute automatically when predetermined conditions are met. Man-made as they are, those programs can be updated, recoded and continuously adjusted to the evolving needs of GoodDollar users. Monetary variables such as the reserve ratio or the expansion rate of the GoodDollar supply, the conversion rate between G$ and the collateral in the GoodReserve, the minting rate of G$s when interests are deposited in the GoodReserve, UBI spending plans or the number of G$s rewarded for marketing referrals, can be re-programmed if the team maintaining the GoodDAO so decides. Decisions are taken through participation and vote by members in the GoodDAO community. Membership in the GoodDAO governance institution and individual voting rights are determined by one’s holdings of GOOD – ‘a non-transferable token [that] therefore has no market value’44 – at the equivalence of 1 GOOD = 1 vote. GOOD governance tokens are distributed regularly to investors and UBI recipients as these ‘interact with the protocol’.45 In short, the purpose of embedding the GoodDAO into the GoodDollar arrangement is to democratise decision-making concerning the management of money. ‘DAOs are governed by the community, for the community.’46 The GoodDAO is an effort to transfer the control of money from the GoodDollar Foundation to the overall community and thus ‘safeguard against the wealthiest in the community capturing the lion’s share of power’.47 A commendable ambition if the governance of money is to attend the common interest.

Now, two aspects bear a central import on GoodDollar’s version of monetary democracy. One, how GOODs are distributed across the GoodDollar community. Two, the conditions and point of time at which the voices of the many are given entry into the decision-making process. Concerning the first dimension, the distribution of voting power across the community. The one-GOOD-one-vote rule springs from the proof-of-stake reasoning that dominates the crypto-space, where voting rights hinge on the individual proving genuine interest in the particular cryptocurrency. The more cryptocurrency an individual holds, the stronger the commitment in the currency that individual is taken to have. The larger one’s stake in the specific cryptocurrency, the more sincere the individual’s interests on the good functioning of the currency is supposed to be. Proof-of-stake democracy – one-cryptotoken-one-vote rule – is based on individual wealth; the more you own, the more voting possibilities you have. It is the amount of crypto-possessions that grant you voting power – a form of democracy that is far from the liberal democratic ideal of one-person-one-vote. In grounding the strength of individual voting rights on individual holdings of the governance token, one-GOOD-one-vote fails to recognise the equal worth of each community member. An Athenian democracy of sorts, where non-proprietors – slaves, freed slaves, foreigners, women and children then, the have-nots in GoodDollar – are excluded from voting.

Such form of democracy begs the question of how unequally GOODs are distributed across members. It also raises the question of whether UBI claimers that do succeed in spending their G$s to satisfy their economic needs do retain the GOODs that may have been granted to them. Central as they are to assess the depth of the GoodDollar democracy, those two questions remain however unclear in the White Paper. From a blogpost by GoodDollar HQ, we learn that ‘beyond the initial and ongoing annual distributions of the token’ – unclear to whom and in what proportions – there are two ways to earn more GOOD. ‘One is by staking G$ claimed through the app to the GoodDollar Trust. The other is by staking to the protocol (currently, in DAI), which will earn rewards in both G$ and GOOD.’48 That is to say, GOODs, and with them voting rights, are handed out to stakers, investors in the GoodDollar economy, putting staker-investors at the pinnacle of decision-making. This skews decision-making towards the wealthy, risking further bending the monetary arrangement towards the investors whose interests the G$ architecture already prioritises. It is all but certain that the interests of investors align to the interests of the poor the global UBI initiative aims to serve.

Let’s imagine that GOODs are distributed evenly, and that poor UBI claimers are therefore given a fair chance to voice their interests and shape the future of GoodDollar. A second vector relevant in the design of real inclusive democracy concerns the conditions and point of time at which one is allowed to raise one’s voice. Members who want to submit a proposal for change to the GoodDAO are required to have a minimum of 240,000 G$s in their wallets,49 about US$42 at the time of writing. Though the figure may seem low for today’s UBI claimers, it is a sizeable amount for those GoodDollar intends to serve, ‘populations [who] currently live on less than US$10 a day’.50 At any rate, conditioning the suggestion of ideas to one’s savings is yet another wealth constraint perverting the GoodDollar democracy.

It is also about timing. Imagine, again, that the G$s savings requirement was to be voted away, and that no other form of wealth – whether in GOODs, G$s or stakes – was to condition the strength of one’s voting rights. Inviting the community to participate in the governance of money after the monetary arrangement has been designed, organised and implemented weakens the extent to which the community can effectually influence the monetary architecture. Investors have already been placed as the anchor of money creation, their interests at the centre of money distribution. Poor members of the community are only invited ex post. Other monetary architectures, architectures that would have placed the poor at the core of money creation, are left out of the decision process opened up with the transfer of control to the GoodDAO. Designs that anchor money creation in the economic needs of users – like those we saw in the Sardex chapter or in Demos earlier in this chapter – are not possible any more. Those decisions have already been taken, coded and executed. And yet, those are the primary decisions affecting the level of UBI payment and thus the extent to which the poor will be able to cover their basic needs. Ex-post democracy is but a chimera of democracy.

Crypto-dreams of autopilot money free from politics, governments and bankers are rooted in a laissez-faire market principle that re-embeds money in a different set of political and cultural arrangements. Given money’s capacity to infrastructure economic and social life, we cannot escape the need to arrange and continuously manage money. As GoodDollar shows, efforts to end politics in money are likely to end up shifting money’s constituencies and displacing politics to spheres where fewer have the possibility to effectively raise their voice.51

Rearticulating money, markets and democracy

‘What should the relationship between economics and politics be like to ensure that everyone has what is necessary to live a fulfilling life?’ Pope Francis’ question to young progressive scholars resonates with those raised by UBI advocates. Independently of background and ideological inclination – from the right and the left, from tech entrepreneurs and political candidates, from activists and scholars – UBI demands are refocusing the discussion of the economy on reaching the most fragile, on including those living on under US$10 a day, on providing stability to present and future precarious workers. Not for the sake of charity; not because of a suddenly woke philanthropic generosity. But because of a profound insight that the future of all, later generations included, hangs on the future of the weakest. Recent political and social instability has obviated that a sustainable future requires an economy oriented towards the common good, an economy that ensures ‘everyone has what is necessary to live a fulfilling life’. UBI demands conjure up a diverse Polanyian countermovement calling for an economy that provides for the welfare of all.

Driven by a sense of urgency and an action-oriented attitude, some dreamers-doers have taken digital technologies into their hands to start experimenting with monies to build new inclusive economies. A UBI that reaches all is ultimately their collective goal. The understanding of ‘inclusive economy’ they code into their monetary rules is however differently framed depending on the social, economic and political position they act from. For the community grassroots group, an inclusive economy is about economic democracy; for the local public authority, it is about regional economic development; for the fintech entrepreneur, it is about doing well while doing good. Different framings lead to different monetary designs, to different organisation of economic relations and to different governance arrangements. They result in monetary assemblages that piece together the economy–society twosome differently. Such difference manifests most obviously in the role given to markets and the depth granted to democracy.

Markets play a pivotal role in all three complementary monies. They are however differently embedded into the monetary architecture. In Demos, the market is the place where members give and take, where participants exercise their right to appropriate and execute their obligation to give. It is a place of reciprocity, a place where debts and credits are cleared out, a place in which to ‘give forward’ and make community. Markets are simultaneously economy and community. Recognising the intense work required to set up markets that work effectively, Demos’ monetary rules anchor the creation and distribution of money into the activity members carry out to develop community markets. In Mumbuca, markets are equal to the economy. The state is the institutional setting within which markets function. Traders, markets, economy are made synonymous; local state policies to strengthen the economy thus directed to traders and the markets they work in. Markets are the object of local government’s economic development policies. Rules concerning the creation and distribution of money are contingent on local government, its budget and its assessment of citizens’ economic need. In GoodDollar, markets of a particular type constitute the very rules coded into algorithmic money. Through the interests they generate, financial markets determine the rhythm at which money is created; through the price they accord, financial markets determine the value of the new money. Neither a community, nor an object of policy, in GoodDollar financial markets are the very principle organising money. The other markets, markets where the poor can attend their real needs, are assumed to emerge spontaneously; no need to embed the monetary arrangement into them.

The three complementary-currency-based-UBI schemes epitomise, as it were, three distinct principles for the design and organisation of economic and social relations – community-centred, state-centred, market-centred. Decision-making in monetary governance similarly follows the distinct principles. In Demos, the monthly General Assembly, open to all community members, makes monetary decisions through direct vote. In Mumbuca, the local government, elected every fourth year, makes those decisions in association with the local community bank. In GoodDollar, monetary decisions have been made by the developers and automated through smart contracts. The rules of Demos democracy and of its money are co-designed with users from before its implementation – ex-ante direct participatory democracy. In Mumbuca, citizens elect those that decide and re-elect them, or not, every four years – representative democracy as we know it. In GoodDollar, developers decide, code and launch before users are invited to any decision-making process. Having put the interests of one group at the core of the money creation and distribution rules, the possibility to make decisions that radically change the system are limited for the other group – ex-post democracy skewed towards the moneyed interests of financial actors. In both Demos and Mumbuca, money and the economy are subordinated to democratic politics, direct and continuous democracy the first, and indirect and intermittent democracy the latter. In GoodDollar, democracy and the economy are subordinated to the financial market organisational principle coded into the monetary algorithm.

Apart from eliciting the wide range of architectures and governance institutions welfare programmes under the same scheme may follow, Demos, Mumbuca and GoodDollar offer lessons that go beyond themselves. One, money is necessarily political in at least two senses: whose interests it serves; and how social groups with varying economic interests are included into its design and governance. Two, if money is to reach the most fragile, it needs to be articulated into state institutions that confer it legitimacy, scale and trustworthiness. Three, if it is to put the economy at the service of society, money needs to be embedded in communal relations of reciprocal rights and obligations. In other words, we need to make sure the design and governance of money are subsumed to democratic control, and directed to meet our individual and collective needs.

Money is a phenomenon with the capacity to infrastructure the economy and the polity. If we aim beyond giving the poor a means of subsistence, if we aim towards everybody having the means to live a free and fulfilling life, if we aim towards building an inclusive, just and equitable future, then we need to make sure the relationships we articulate into the money assemblage are just, inclusive and impartial. We need to subsume money and the economy under a renewed vision of democratic politics. Markets are to be embedded as forums where community is made, the state as the partner that leverages community, investors as yet another component on equal footing to the have-nots. From the recognition that real value is created together follows the need to include, on equal terms, the voices of the many into the making of money. As we reclaim, reimagine and reorganise money to build an inclusive and sustainable future, we can take the opportunity to insert its constitutive relations in a deepened form of democracy.

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