Thursday, March 26, 2015

Releasing Potential

We like, and think in, stories. When things get complicated, it is useful to understand them in terms of things we already know. These models and stories are useful because they give us the courage to act when we are most likely wrong. Money is one of those interesting stories and is actually quite an abstract idea. The reason 'money' can be made up of 1s and 0s or gold is that it isn't actually a thing. Money is an attempt to get things moving. It is a way of trying to co-ordinate activity. It is a measure of potential.

We are getting better at co-ordination problems. Information flows freely. All this should enable us to get better forms of money which basically means better forms of releasing potential. Knowing I was going to be in Christchurch, an artist buddy of mine from Wimbledon Art Studios suggested I meet her sister in law, Ceci, who has a home and studio in Christchurch. She is very much into the 'Sharing Economy' that I have been thinking about recently. She opens her studio up to the community regularly providing a creative space for people. She mentioned how lots of adults get time warped back to their childhood when they come in touch with clay.

Ceci's Christchurch flowers growing from the rubble of the Quake

She also talk about the idea of time banking. The idea of selling time sends shivers down my spine. I have always avoided jobs with billable hours like the plague. I would rather be able to have a cup of tea without worrying whether it will reduce my income by a 6 minute time slot of moola. Time banking is a different concept though. It relates more to the areas that don't get priced well by the market (child care, respite care, language lessons, tutoring, odd jobs etc.).

I am a fan of the disruption being caused by companies like ZipCar and Uber. They aren't really 'sharing companies' though. They are just better at co-ordination of unused stuff. The reason efforts like Time Banking have struggled in the past is that they tend to require someone to do the coordination effort. It requires dedicated staff and this starts creating real costs. This is similar to other charity work where a much of a donation may get chowed by admin. Technology is coming to the party with charities like GiveDirectly allowing you to transfer cash straight to the extremely poor without any fingers in the pie.

Normally altruism works better in small, closed communities. Ceci pointed to the great community work being done in Sumner and Lyttelton. Both are fairly cut off as a beach and port town respectively. I think this is just a case of us growing up and of removing anonymity. We used to only care about people that looked like us. Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Washington, Shaka and Rhodes were not nice men if you didn't look right. It wasn't just our leaders. We weren't nice either. But we are nicer now and we know that where we born and what we look like is a lottery. Technology can help build trust networks.

Old school money is good at releasing old school potential. That is a fraction of the good stuff. We can do better. I think technology is going to help us really get the party started.
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