Lift12: David Birch, The Future of Money [en]

[fr] Je suis à la conférence Lift12 à Genève. Voici mes notes de sessions.

Live-blogging from Lift12 conference in Geneva. These are my notes and interpretations of David Birch’s session — best effort, but might be imprecise or even wrong!

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Backdrop: the future is already here, just unevenly distributed. To figure out what the future of something is, you need to look around. Technology is already here.

Let’s make a 2×2 matrix that’ll make for an interesting conversation:

Long finance: Scenarios for 2050.

  • axis 1: is geography still important?
  • axis 2: will the Washington Consensus hold? Democracy, Human Rights, the IMF — or are they replaced by consensuses coming from different communities?

We’re going to look at each of these scenarios.

Long hand. The virtual world dominates, community consensus. Virtual currencies dominate. Balkanisation. A lot like London today. Virtual currencies centered on those communities.

Visible Hand. We don’t change anything but continue current trends towards collapse. National currencies collapse and are replaced by barter, private currency, gold and cigarettes. It’s possible to be too homogenous to survive.

Second Hand. Washington consensus prevails, and the mundane. Sooner or later someone will pass stupid laws restricting what we can do on the internet, and geography counts in ways which are quite hard to explain. Institutional banking is a dematerialized business and yet still a very clustered business, even though it could be digital. There are other things going on.

Many Hands. Mundane and community consensus. Lots of different economies based on different consensuses and communities. The G20 is replaced by the C50 — the 50 richest cities. City-state replaces nation-state. This is what David sees as the most plausible scenario. Competition between different moneys plays a very important role.

People will fight for

  • personal identity
  • credit rating
  • parking spaces

A world in which cities dominate. They are the key economic unit, and their hinterlands become the economies they manage.

Euro: there isn’t a “national” economy. Economy of Greece is not the same as that of Germany. The economy of London is not the same as the economy as Scotland. It’s not the same economy. So, regionalisation of economies.

So, lots of different currencies. A world currency (or even a european one) is a ridiculous idea. It doesn’t work for Germany and Greece, won’t work for Mercury and Pluto. There is no future of one world money.

Regional moneys. We’re all in multiple communities. Now, the cost of creating new moneys has collapsed! M-PESA, Google Wallet…

France is a historical accident. Maybe Burgundy makes more sense as an economic unit than France. (“How long is this England experiment going to last?”)

Regions, cities. Some historical regions make more sense as economic regions than modern countries. Aragon makes more sense than France. And these regions would be responsible for these new currencies.

In England, in 1688, the dawn of an industrial economy, held back by pre-industrial money (silver coins: clipped, mint coins below their value in silver). Nobody would have predicted the Bank of England in 1694 in 1688. Out of the blue, central bank and paper money. By the time Newton died, 1727, there was a completely different money.

We are at the dawn of a post-industrial revolution, and its efficiency is being undermined because we’re still trying to use industrial money.

  • 1971 End of the gold standard
  • 2012 Collapse of the euro

Payments will not be a banking service anymore, they’ll be a utility service. Banks still needed to agree on an exchange rate.