Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bazungu Bucks Aren't Heavy

In the comments Prettyobvious asks: And exactly how many Bazungu Bucks can I get for 363 tons of $100 bills?

One hour of your time is equal to one Bazungu Buck. Since the 363 tons of $100 bills represents about four billion dollars, one dollar exchange per Bazungu Buck would make for an honest days work of five hundred million people. A more generous $8 per hour wage would mean that 363 tons of $100 bills could be exchanged for five hundred million hours of work.

Bazungu Bucks, however are not convertible to real money, they are a form of Time Dollar. Time dollars are not the only kind of alternative currency. There are a wide array of alternative currencies. One model is LETS or Local Exchange Trading Systems. Phil at Blahsploitation linked to a recent BBC article about a local currency, the Urstomtaler used in Magdeburg Germany. I was surprised to learn in the article that there are 16 regional currencies in Germany. The surprise comes because such currencies are officially illegal. Time dollars in the USA have legal precedents which suggest their legality, but perhaps the best known alternative currency in the USA, Ithaca Hours bear more resemblance to the local currency of the Urstomtaler than Time Dollars. The BBC article explains the Bundesbank view the regional currencies as in a "grey area" and a form of social money. Ithaca Hours also fall into a gray area, but the scheme has been left alone so far as I can tell.

I printed about 100 Bazungu Bucks, and I've tried giving them away and still have plenty left. I think the difficulty in spreading them around isn't just people can't imagine what a Bazungu Buck is good for, I think it's because they understand the idea of an hour in service to African people. It's not that they don't want to serve so much as not knowing what to do. So the currency has built into it an unintended "guilty feeling" factor, a very serious problem. I think I'd have much better luck saying: "Do this that and the other and I'll give you X number of Bazungu Bucks." Alas, I'm not organized enough, so Bazungu Bucks are stalled.

Nonetheless, social money is a sticky idea, and I'm sure we'll see various systems and instruments tried in the future. One quite handy Web site is BillMonk. I'll admit to not using it and that has to do with my lack of friends. It's a great idea, and the developers are right, I think, in their expectation that social money will become rather large business.

I don't recall where I first saw the link to a YouTube video made by Michael Wesch but I do know that Christian Long posted it in a post, A Delightful Re-Think and encourage you to follow the link to his blog, think:lab to watch it and then look around Christian's blog. Education is something we all care about and think:lab never ceases to delight and inform. One of the great points in Wesch's video is: The Web is linking people. Traditional money links people well in some ways but fails to connect in other important ways and these failings are made more obvious by the social Web.

Perhaps money is exactly the wrong sort of metaphor needed for peer production. But one reason alternative money schemes emerge is we're used to doing things with money. It's the intersection of peer-production and traditional money that's so interesting. It's a subset of social entrepreneurship and business that's changing our ideas about money and business. These surely are "interesting times" and the need for inventiveness has never been greater. A bedrock observation of conventional economics is: "People respond to incentives." Social money fits neatly with my ideas about incentives, so the various experiments along this vein seem worth paying attention to.

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