Big Little Things

Innovating trade: What comes after money and commerce?

Ok, so a long long time ago, our genius monkey-human ancestors developed bartering, the simplest form of trade: I’ll give you three bananas in exchange for that yummy hallucinogenic mushroom of yours.

Then, some slightly less monkey-like human types created money and commerce, a more complicated form of trade: I’ll give you three materially worthless tokens that have fluctuating and subjective symbolic value in exchange for that yummy hallucinogenic mushroom of yours.

And that’s pretty much where we left off. Yah, we’ve had small innovations—credit is a good example—but it seems like we should be doing a lot more thinking about what comes next. What is the future of trade?

I ask because the economic system we are using now has some serious limitations. Right now, lots of people and companies profit at everyone’s greater loss. For example, a company could make a bunch of lawnmowers, make a profit and sell them at a price that seems like a bargain to the buyer. Everyone wins, right?


Because those lawnmowers now exist. They will eventually sit in a landfill, leaching yuckiness into the water supply, and the matter that comprises the lawnmowers will be hard to reform into something else. All those molecules will be trapped in a form that’s no good for anyone. The money saved by the producer and purchaser of the lawnmower will be paid (tenfold? a hundredfold?) by the rest of us as we deal with the monster sitting in the landfill.

And right now, with commerce and money as we know it, things are set up to encourage people to make those lawnmowers. If we use our monkey-human-mushroom minds for a minute, it becomes obvious that this SUCKS.

We need an economic framework that’s more holistic in its vision. We need to create a system that doesn’t encourage people to profit at everyone’s greater loss. Better yet, we need a system that rewards people for creating a greater good.

I have no idea what that system would look like. And would that system use money, or something else? The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said that “Money is a congealed form of labor.” Well I propose that we need a congealed form of Karma and/or energy. (By energy I mean the resource, not the hippie concept; by Karma I mean the hippie concept.)

Lots of questions, no answers. Anyone out there got something to add? Is anyone doing good work in this area? Somebody please tell me that a team of genius monkey-humans is working on this right now in some secret underwater think-tank filled with bananas and yummy hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Better yet, someone please invite me and Josh to that think-tank.

3 Responses to “Innovating trade: What comes after money and commerce?”

  1. shawn Says:

    Nice one, Axel. I started writing and it got kind of too long. So I put the response on our blog… I quote myself: “I don’t have that big of a problem with the progress of our trading system. The system is just this abstract thing without morality, it’s us humans who are doing the good or damage. I have a much bigger problem with the evolution of our morality standards…”

    Read the whole damn thing here.

  2. richard Says:

    Axel, you might find Abe Burmeister’s Nomadic Economics a useful space to think through some of this stuff – you can get to it through:

  3. John Says:

    I don’t know if you knew already or whatever, but Adbusters has been talking about some new type of economics, but real cryptically. I guess because there are more questions than answers now. Also, I don’t know where y’all stand on that mag. It’s kind of divisive.

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