Money as Social Memory: Who Records It?

Keith Hart’s book, “Money in an Unequal World,” takes an account of where 5,000 years of agricultural civilization have brought us and comes to the conclusion that we, as a species on the brink of an unprecedented information explosion, must not allow our excess capacity to be monopolized by feudal institutions. To this end, personalized and decentralized forms of money that reflect the associations we enter into must be developed, as money is essentially a means of remembering what we owe one another.

This book was written nearly ten years ago. Looking around now, it is apparent to see that everyday exchange is increasingly digital. Will the virtualization of money be centrally controlled, leading to a more comprehensive integration of individuals into the state-corporate apparatus than ever before? Or will people develop their own platforms and resources for arranging transactions between one another, independent of centralized, unaccountable power?

The future of money will depend on how we are networked into the Web, and upon the institutions that provide access. In a future filled with Facebook and Google fiefdoms, I do not see how we can develop democratically. Jaron Lanier, in You Are Not A Gadget, distinguishes between the lords and peasants of the cloud. “The core issue is that when someone owns a key node of the network through which everyone’s information flows, the position is so advantageous that it undermines the very notion of an economy.  It is like owning everyone’s blood.”

Will we remember our debts in reference to the central landlord, who holds all the cards (and guns), or in reference to each other, and the places and times for which records of debts need to be kept?

“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the company store.

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