Navigating the Past, Present & Future of Money: A Recap

What we've covered in this newsletter so far, and where we're going

I launched this newsletter in August last year, and since then over 1100 people have signed up, which is a great encouragement to me. I’d like to make sure new readers are on the same page as older readers, so this is a quick recap of everything covered so far.

To help us with that, I’d like to introduce the Altered States of Money Airtable. You can visit it at any point to see what’s been covered, and what’s lined up, along with links to get you to wherever you wish to go on the monetary map. If you’re a new reader, the airtable offers four recommended articles to get you up to speed.

A reminder of our mission

For those of you who are new, think of this newsletter as being like a living sculpture of monetary exploration, in which new visualizations, thought experiments and meditations get added whilst previous ones get refined and sanded down. If you continue to follow along with me, you’ll become familiar with how I - and people from my schools of monetary thought - see money, whilst learning techniques to see vast systems that remain invisible to 99% of people.

That’s why I call this Altered States of Monetary Consciousness: it will in due course - change your vision and senses when it comes to money systems. There’s also a second reason why I use that title, but that will only become apparent over time.

In the mean time, I’m crafting individual articles like puzzle pieces that can slowly be arranged within three dimensions: the present, past, and future of money. Let me take you through a recap of each.

1) Grounding ourselves in the Present of Money

We only experience the present of money, and very often the way we imagine the past and future of money are based off our interpretations of this present. Unfortunately, many of us struggle to see beyond the shallow surface appearance of our present monetary systems, which - in turn - doesn’t bode well for our ability to make assertions about where money has been and where it’s going.

The first few introductory pieces I wrote concerned this problem of ‘seeing’ money, and introduced our mission, which is to experiment with monetary visualizations that show a more holistic picture. The first piece I recommend for any new readers, however, is my Money in Orbit article, which introduces my ‘Hovering Banks Model’, which is my initial attempt to show the various central issuers of money ‘hovering’ above us. This provides us with an institutional focal point to begin thinking about money, and I’m currently working with illustrator Miguel Guerra to make it look beautiful.

We are on the ‘receiving end’ of money, in the sense that we use money units issued by money-issuers, rather than issuing it ourselves. Indeed, the world of a money issuer is very different to that of a money user. To start to explore that difference, I produced two supplementary pieces that focus on two different institutional money-issuers. The first is my piece about Ents & Squirrels, which focuses on the state money system, and the second is my piece called An Emotional Guide to Fractional Reserve Banking, which focuses on the commercial bank money system. Both pieces, in their own way, show how money emanates outwards from money-issuers, and how the power of money issuance comes from this ability to push out, rather than grab in.

Our imagination of money is often infused with hidden ideologies. One of the biggest tasks will be to learn to see these ideologies, and how they play out in one-sided versus two-sided conceptions of money. We’ll also explore the related concept of how to see ‘money shadows’, as well as how to see money in 3D. Right now only my paying subscribers have received videos about these topics, but don’t worry, I’ll be releasing free pieces about those over time too.

Learning these concepts is a monetary superpower, like having X-ray vision, and having this X-ray vision can be lonely - because many will not understand what you begin to see - but luckily there’s a community of us building.

(On that note, if you’re a student, or someone who is financially precarious, feel free to respond to this email requesting a reduced price subscription. I’m happy to consider it - and yes, replying to the Substack email address does reach me).

2) Vision-questing into the Past of Money

Given that we often carry hazy stories about the present monetary system, it’s easy to fall into shallow narratives about money’s past and future. In particular, many people are susceptible to what I call the ‘barter-to-binary-code’ story, in which they imagine a ‘past of money’ characterised by barter and commodity money, and a ‘future of money’ as characterised by immaterial data. Escaping this intellectual trap is crucial, and so far I have produced three pieces that begin to address this.

The core piece I recommend for any new readers is How to Write a Flintstones History of Money. It helps to destabilise the traditional narrative that permeates much mainstream thinking on money, and training yourself to pierce through that narrative is a great step towards bolstering the X-ray vision we seek. Another key piece that complements this is my tribute to David Graeber, called The Anthropologist in an Economist World, which will orientate you to how anthropologists see money, which - I argue - is a much better starting point than that used by economists.

The past of money is not a mere intellectual curiosity. It’s a major ideological battleground in which people who wish to make claims about the present and future of money fight a messy proxy war with confusing frontlines. For example, many claims about the ‘future of money’ made by members of the Bitcoin community are predicated upon you believing a series of stories about the past of money, particulary concerning gold and other forms of so-called ‘commodity money’, but commodity money is often nothing like we - and the Bitcoin community - imagine it to be. One core piece that I’ve produced in this regard is called Cere-money vs. Money in Papua New Guinea, which is about ‘shell money’. These shell trickets are often invoked as an example of ancient ‘commodity money’, but they are in fact a pre-capitalist phenomenon with an entirely different meaning and practice to capitalist money. Learning to see this is crucial.

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3) Projecting into the Future of Money

Being grounded in the contradictions and ambiguities of past and present money will help us project our minds forward into the future (or, perhaps, ‘back to the future’). Right now, my ‘future of money’ pieces are reserved for my paying subscribers, who get my new ‘Unboxing' series, in which they can nominate new money projects that they wish to see ‘unboxed’ and reviewed. This is where you want to be if you wish to catch glimpses of new directions in monetary systems, whilst also learning about how they relate to the present and past of money. Check out the Unboxing schedule to see where we’re going.

As an example, the last unboxing was GoodDollar, a project that claims to be a ‘global UBI on the blockchain’. It sounds good on the surface but has serious shortcomings when we dig deeper. The next project scheduled to be ‘unboxed’ is Duniter, which is a French initiative attempting to create money based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity - it’s interesting, but has some real issues in how it communicates what it’s doing. Of special interest to me are ‘mesh credit’ or ‘rippling credit’ systems, so expect to see a lot more about that.

I will release visualizations of these systems to everyone in due course, and I do love putting pieces out for free (especially for all those broke students and precarious workers out in the world wanting to grapple with money), but if you’d like to join the Subscriber community to help financially support this ongoing exploration, click ‘Subscribe now’ below.

Let me know what you’d most like to see visualized!

That’s the basic recap. Check out the Airtable for a sense of what I’ve got lined up going forward, but I’d also love to know what you’d most like to see visualized or explained. I’ll take your comments into account when deciding upon the order of forthcoming pieces. Click on the ‘Leave a comment’ box below, and let me know.

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