Are we witnessing an open source finance revolution?

Financial democracy requires bypassing large unaccountable institutions and reconnecting people to the reality of their money — by producing it ourselves – Published on, by Brett Scott, December 11, 2013.

In 2012, in celebration of Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I suggested that we securitize the Queen, using her as collateral for UK government borrowing. I thought she would support this modest proposal because royalty have long been financial innovators. Indeed, what were the old medieval armies but a blunt financial instrument? Monarchs invested resources into them in order to extract dividends from conquered peoples who did not want to be bludgeoned to death … //

… Open Source Finance: a slow-motion revolution:

Recently, though, small insurrections have started to occur. There was Occupy, which was an in-your-face expression of discontent, but I’m thinking of the less overt insurrections, hacking away like small axes on the big tree.

I notice it when I look at my email inbox. There’s an announcement from MoveYourMoney UK, saying 2.4 million people in the UK have shifted their money away from major banks. There are emails from friends, on the verge of successfully completing crowdfunding projects, something largely unheard of several years ago. And why is the public at large suddenly fascinated by understanding Bitcoin? A few years we might have said “A collective of people taking it upon themselves to build their own global currency? Ha, it will never work!”

These individual examples, perhaps of limited significance in themselves, point to a potential change in societal attitude. People (and perhaps especially young people) are more prepared to consider things like peer-to-peer co-operation and exchange, collaborative production and consumption technologies. The occasional Facebook post about some non-monetary sharing economy platform perhaps doesn’t register as a flashy news item to the person viewing it, but collectively these ideas are working their way into the public imagination, shifting the notion of what’s possible.

The industrial revolution was only perceptible in hindsight, and that was a technological process that broke existing social structures. Perhaps now we are seeing a slow-motion revolution in financial life. So what might we call it? I personally call it ‘Open Source Finance.’

The open source movement started with the campaign for free access to software source code, and has since expanded to include many other open production and distribution processes. Consider Wikipedia. As an individual, I can do five things with Wikipedia:

  • Firstly, I can contribute to it, essentially helping to produce Wikipedia.
  • Secondly, I can also use it as a commons, provided I have access to the internet.
  • Thirdly, I can also monitor what happens there, track and challenge changes.
  • Fourthly, I can identify myself with the Wikipedia community, and take pride at my contribution within that community.
  • Finally, I can have access to the most basic source code, and can break away and form my own versions of it.

These five elements — access to means of production, access to common resource usage, ability to monitor, ability to join the community, and ability to fork off to build an alternative — are all lacking in the current global financial system. The insurrections, though, are challenging different aspects of this.

Campaign #1: Expanding access to means of financial production: … //

… Campaign #2: expanding access to financial services: … //

… Campaign #3: expanding the ability to monitor and exert democratic accountability: … //

… Campaign #4: building an ethos of non-prescriptive DIY collaboration: … //

… Campaign #5: access to source-code and the ‘right to fork’:

The right to dissent is a crucial component of a democratic society. But for dissent to be effective, it has to be informed and constructive, rather than reactive and regressive. There is much dissent towards the current financial system, but while people are (theoretically) free to voice their displeasure, they find it very difficult to actually act on their displeasure. We may loathe the smug banking oligopoly, but we’re frequently compelled to submit ourselves to their dictates.

Furthermore, much dissent doesn’t have a clear vision of what alternative is sought. This is partially due to the fact that access to financial ‘source code’ (more on that here) — or education about how the system operates — is so limited. It’s hard to articulate ideas about what’s wrong when one cannot articulate how the current system works. Most financial knowledge is currently held in proprietary formulas wrapped in obscure jargon-laden language within the financial sector. Poor financial literacy on the part of most people is one of the foundational sources of strength for existing financial institutions.

It’s in recognition of this that I wrote a guide to global finance. Access to financial education, though, needs to be combined with the ability to act on it. A core principle of open source movements is the Right to Fork. This is the ability to take preexisting code, and to modify it or use it as the basis for your own. This is the ability to break away, which is both a check on power, and a force for diversity and creativity.

The mainstream financial system contains extensive blocks on the right to fork, many of them actively enforced by financial regulators. That’s an ongoing fight, but the right to break away needs to be instilled into the design of any alternatives too. I don’t want to replace a world where I am forced to use national fiat currencies or privately created credit money with one in which I’m forced to use Bitcoin. The point is to create meaningful options for people. And as these options emerge, the infrastructure, norms and cultural acceptance for a more connected, creative, open financial system may begin to emerge and coalesce into reality.
(full long text including many hyper-links).


Video: How the Budget Deal Perpetuates Austerity Policies, 10.56 min, on naked capitalism, by Yves Smith, Dec 15, 2013; (also on YouTube, uploaded by TRNN);

The Privatization of Water: Nestlé Denies that Water is a Fundamental Human Right, on Global (first on Activist Post, April 19, 2013), by Kevin Samson, Dec 14, 2013;

The Great American Class War, Plutocracy Versus Democracy, on naked capitalism (first on TomDispatch), by Bill Moyers, Dec 13, 2013;

France’s Aggressive Foreign Policy a Result of the Decline of US Global Power, on Toward Freedom, by Immanuel Wallerstein, December 10, 2013.

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