Hackonomics – who’s questioning cash?

18th December 2012 by

Our monthly challenge for December has already had some really interesting feedback, so thank you!  Inspired by our visits to Trade School, we asked you to let us know about what other projects out there are trying to hack the system by experimenting with ways to trade that don’t depend entirely – or in some cases at all – on money changing hands.

Your responses have taken us to some really interesting ideas.  Here are some of them:

Means of Exchange

I haven’t quite figured out quite what this is going to do, as they’re at the stage of having “some exciting plans”, but the idea appears to be to mobilise techies to make possible people’s ideas for how to exchange, promote local resource use and build resilience while avoiding the mainstream economy and its conventions – “we’ll build the tools so you can make it happen wherever you are,” they say.

In the meantime, it’s a good place to go if you want to explore some of the thinking being done around these ideas for challenging “our default relationship with money, how most of us understand so little about it, and how we might use new approaches to encourage a more healthy mix of time sharing, swapping, bartering and purchasing between one another”.

The Bristol (and Lewes, and Brixton, and Totnes…) Pound

This system does, in fact, depend on money, but it’s an entirely new kind of currency. Each Bristol (or Lewes, or Brixton, or Totnes…) Pound is worth one pound sterling, but because it is only valid in a very local area, it means that the money only circulates within the community.

Whereas a regular pound spent in the local supermarket will end up in the bank account of Tescbury’s corporate HQ, a local pound will stay in the area, helping to keep the exchange of goods and services flowing.  If it can only be spent locally, then it also means that local suppliers have an advantage over goods that might have been freighted a long way – in the end, hopefully, adding up to a stronger, more diverse and more resilient economy. If that agenda sounds familiar, then yes, you’re right – local currencies in their most recent forms sprang from the transition towns movement.

If it sounds like a cute but naive idea that can’t work in the real world, well consider this: the newly elected mayor of Bristol is being paid entirely in Bristol pounds.

Pay What You Can

This one is based on money changing hands, too, but it is a departure from the convention of ‘We set the price, you pay it’.  You may have come across this idea yourself in any number of settings.  I first heard of it many years ago: Clapham Junction’s Battersea Arts Centre would – and still does – have some productions, or some nights, where they throw caution to the wind and let their audience members stump up what they feel like paying, or what they can afford.  It’s also the principle at the People’s Kitchen, where quality food that was going to go to waste is turned into a regular communal feast – not only putting assessment of the meal’s value under your control but also tackling one of the big environmental ‘externalities’, i.e. food waste, that conventional economics woefully fails to take into account. A related idea is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – you can do this for your meals every Wednesday down my local.

The Amazings

This is brilliant.  “The Amazings was born out of a single, simple idea. Society has always learned from its elders. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection between generations – which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills. We’re on a mission to fix this.”

Unlike Trade School, this one does mean paying up with cash in return for classes, but it at least taps into a valuable idea that we’ve abandoned too hastily – listening to and learning from the experience, skills and knowledge of those who have been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Which leads me on to…

Men In Sheds

This Age UK brainwave is a win-win.  There are jobs that need doing in every community. There are not always the resources and knowledge to get them done.  But there is an army of retired blokes who have time on their hands, who have spent decades putting up shelves, laying paths, fixing wiring and plumbing and generally banging nails into wood – and who want to be useful, stay active and healthy and have a good natter with others over their workbenches.  And so Men in Sheds was born. Got a community project that needs some practical fixing up?  See if there’s a Men In Sheds group in your area, and make sure you stock up on tea and biscuits for these beezer geezers.

I’ve a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of hackonomics that is developing out there, creatively filling the cracks in the crumbling mainstream economics – so do use the comments section below to let us know about others, or about ways you get by without the traditional exchange of cold hard cash.


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