Alternative currencies leverage new value – lets build one for SA

bristol-pound3.jpgI’m slow to the game on this one. Alternative currencies have been experimented with for many years. Many communities are looking for local value to be the first stop for shoppers. Michael Schuman is not convinced and left it out of his book although he conceded that the Bristol Pound, supported well by local government and in widespread use across Bristol, was a good example of local currency.

My interest is in the hidden economy of unpaid labour. As you can see from my recent post on value there are many ways that value becomes paid but much of the time volunteerism is a hidden value to social progress. Kate Raworth puts it well in donut economics – we simply aren’t visualising the whole economy unless we recognise how much work is unpaid. Volunteering, for example, has been valued at $200bn to the Australian economy.

But more than that. My interest is in some of the entrepreneurial activities that some people value – particularly causes and the work of activists and changemakers. Yes, the mighty dollar is going to drive rapid change because it can shift resources and capital overnight and in enormous lumps BUT there is a social dimension too. If we can shift people en mass we can also drive change because many people = power.

If I translate that last sentence to my world of energy transition: The corporates, backed by Government, can spend $100millions overnight on renewables and market fixes (Lyon group just announced a solar array in the Riverland that is over 10% of our peak load in SA) BUT if communities demand that the same amount of power is built locally on the rooftops in their communities, we will ultimately have a cheaper and more resilient energy system and the Lyon investment will be undermined by this social movement.

So I am on the hunt for an alternative currency. It must create recognition of unpaid labour, much of which is a labour of love and therefore can include high and low value activities. I think it would be nice for the basis of the currency to be time. Intrinsic motivation can be undermined by attempting to compare it to dollars. To paraphrase Marx – each to their ability and to every ability for its effort. Marx believed that everybody’s time was valuable and it was society’s obligation to allow everyone’s abilities to grow to maximum capacity, flourish and be well used.

I do plenty of cause related effort, some of which is experimental and may or may not be worthile. I know others who believe in my cause are putting their hard earned cash into more practical efforts, much of what I do will only ever be unpaid labour.

So as I understood blockchain over time I was interested in a number of aspects.

  • The currency can be decentralised, self organising and with a publicly accessible data interface.
  • The full transaction record is included in each chain – each block of the chain could include feel good information about the valuable effort that has been made, who has made it and why.

Imagine if politicians could understand people’s care factor about different issues as measured by the number of hours spent and valued in transactions. Imagine if they could be guided by the data to contribute back to the community in the best way. Like the maxim, “put your money where your mouth is”, this system could identified where people are putting their precious hours.

I mocked one up so you too can experiment with this concept:

sample blockchain

There is a whole suite of detailed design parameters that need to be thought through but I’d be keen to hear what you think of the initial idea. I’m hoping to put something like this into the Government’s Share challenge.


hoping to include a bunch of timebanking and timetrading platforms here – I’ve been doing my research…


About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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