Strategist and educator Jem Bendell discusses The Money Myth at TEDxTransmedia2011 event (Transcript)
Jem Bendell – Professor of Sustainability Leadership
I’m here to rip apart your assumptions about money. I’m going to show you that behind the financial crisis and the environmental crisis, lies a hidden crisis, in our monetary system, the very way our money is created.
And I’m also going to show you that there is this community of people growing around the world that are using the latest technologies to create new currencies that will serve us and not the banks. And I’m going to call for media, old and new, to tell this new stories of money.
Now, although we use money everyday often many of us don’t really know the first thing about it in terms of how it’s created and how that affects us.
So what I would like to do is a little thought experiment with you. I’d like you to imagine that you are living in a village way back in time, let’s say 3,000 years ago. Some of you bake bread, some of you look after chickens, some of you fix clothes, so you all swap stuff amongst yourselves. It’s a barter economy.
But then one day, a knight comes to your village, and he looks at what you’re doing and he says: “Why don’t you use my tokens? It will be so much easier for you, you can swap them.”
So you decide to give it a go, and he lends each of you ten tokens. So you start using this and you find it’s great! You no longer have to swap your bread for eggs. You don’t have to remember who owes who what, you can just swap the tokens. So you find suddenly you have a lot more free time. It’s great for you.
So you ask the knight to keep the tokens and he agrees on one condition: that at the end of the year, when he returns, he can see that you’ve got 11 tokens; otherwise, you will forfeit your assets to him.
Now, because they become so useful to you, you agree and you’ll try this out. So time goes by and everything is fine, but then you realize the knight is returning soon. So you start to ask more for your bread, you start to ask more to fix people’s clothes, and you realize actually that your neighbors have done the same thing. So suddenly there is a lot less tokens circulating in your village.
The knight returns, and not everyone has 11 tokens, it’s impossible. And so some of you lose your homes, lose your farms.
In this situation, might this technology of tokens meant that you changed the way you relate, and what you value, and how you even feel? Do you think in this situation you might come to see the tokens as the wealth, and not yourself, your neighbors, your village or your environment?
Fast forward 3,000 years and our money system today is quite like that, just now is on cocaine. Literally, if some reports are to be believed. Now, this is not to be joked about, it is so important to whatever you are working on, we have to really address these issues.
I’ve worked for 16 years helping large companies, UN agencies and charities team up to address global challenges, like climate change, overfishing, forced labor, HIV/AIDS, and we’ve created some cool correlations that are changing business practices worldwide.
But some of us have come to realize that if we want to change business in really widespread and lasting ways, if we want to change the way business does business, we must now change the way money makes money. Unfortunately, there aren’t many people funding work in this area as I found out.
So to work on it more, I had to outsource myself to India, so I ended up working with an NGO called Community Forge and they create free open source software for communities to run their own currencies. And through working with them, I had my eyes open to this whole world of innovation and complementary currencies, where some of them are using units of hours work, some of them are even looking at using “kilowatt hours,” as a measurement, some pegged to a national currency.
And I also realized that advances in social networks and mobile payment systems means we are on the verge of a revolution in the scale and uptick in use of such currencies. Soon you will be up to walk into your local store, ask for the bill in a local currency and pay with your mobile phone through an SMS or near field communication.
Just yesterday in Brixton, in London, they launched just such a scheme. So I will return to this issue of innovation in this field later, but one of the most important things I got from beginning to work on this, is that I realize I, like many people, have so many completely unfounded assumptions about what money is.