Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Level of Wealth

The name of this blog evokes a feeling of pioneers seeing a new landscape for the first time. This is appropriate because the currency landscape that is coming into view from over the horizon is indeed completely new, but a big part of pioneering is not just about discovering the new, but also in discovering that the familiar itself is also subject to being re-seen. The light of such re-seeing yields much of the newness the new currency frontier.

Wealth, is one of these familiar concepts that I've been re-seeing over and over again and have recently seen yet another part of that I'd like to share in this post.

A few years back, Jean-Francois Noubel introduced me to the idea that there are three levels of wealth: tradable wealth, which is a subset of measurable wealth, which is itself a subset of acknowledgeable wealth. If you assume the simple definition that wealth is well-being, then these levels are readily apparent: 1) There is tradable stuff I need to maintain my well-being, things like food & shelter. 2) There is non-tradable stuff (which is however objectively measurable) which accounts for a large part of my well-being, things like health, and education, productive capacity, etc. 3) There is non-tradable and non-measurable stuff (which is however subjectively acknowledgeable) which also accounts for equally large portions of my well-being: my friendships, the beauty I experience, civil society and culture, etc.

In thinking about what's behind these level, what makes it so that they exist, what occurred to me is that these levels arise out of some very simple truths about systems. This understanding, this re-seeing of wealth, from a systemic perspective, was crucial for me to be able to put together and actually understand what I was seeing in the emerging currency landscape. I first wrote of this here: but I'll summarize it again:

Systems have boundaries through which inputs to the system and outputs from the system must pass in order for the system to be able to maintain itself. Systemic well-being depends on maintaining a flow these inputs and outputs. Tradable wealth corresponds with this aspect of systems. In living biological systems, the food and water are two of the most essential inputs to the system. For cities as systems, the inputs include raw resources for building it's structures. For corporations as a system, humans are part of the inputs necessary for survival.

Systems also have emergent patterns that are properties of the system as a whole. In biological systems one of the most familiar such emergent patterns is health. Health is not something you put into a system, it's something that emerges as a property of the whole. We can objectively measure health in many ways, i.e. how well can the system perform certain functions (can you run 1 or 10 miles), how much abuse of certain types can the system withstand (how often do you get colds, i.e. how often do you fail to repel invading viruses), etc. For cities and corporations as systems we can measure things like productive capacity. These systemic properties are one of the major indicators of the well-being of the system. All systems work very hard to do things that help maintain and strengthen these patterns, in fact you can think of the inputs and outputs to systems all being in service of maintaining these emergent patterns.

Systems never exist in a vacuum. They are always part of an environment and they exist in relation to other systems in that environment. The pattern of those relationships is also part of the well-being of any particular system. The quality and beneficiality of those relationship to a system will vary from system to system. There is no objective measurement of the well-being of the pattern of relationships, rather it is system specific, or we could say that it is a subjective experience of a given system. But systems can certainly acknowledge, and in many cases even rank the qualities of these relationships from their point of view. We are intuitively familiar with this: we can acknowledge and even rank our friendships, our experiences of beauty, etc.

So, the levels of wealth correspond with these basics of systemics. Tradable wealth is about system's inputs and outputs. Measurable wealth is about the properties of systems as a whole. Acknowledgeable (and rank-able) wealth is about relationships between systems. True wealth exists when all of these levels of systems are in harmony. None is primary over the other. It is interesting to note out have direct experiences of systems that have differing wealth at each of the levels. Many well "wealthy" people who travel to poor countries to do service projects come back astounded having learned of their own poverty of relationships after experiencing levels and qualities of community richness. This a case of a deep mismatch between tradable and acknowledgeable wealth.

This re-seeing of wealth allowed me to more deeply understand the currency landscape. Currency is the primary tool we use to facilitate wealth building in general. Whereas money is a specific version of this tool we invented to facility tradable wealth-building. But we've been trying to apply it to building measurable and acknowledgeable wealth. There are deep problems in trying to do so. The properties of money as we know it now, are keyed (more or less successfully) to the properties of inputs and outputs to systems. What ever you want to say about debt issuance of money, and the Federal Reserve, at least it is intelligible to think that it makes sense to match the scarcity of the information tokens to the scarcity of the stuff that the tokens facilitate in exchanging (inflation is a marker of a mismatch between them). But it is entirely unintelligible to think that you should use the same scarce information tokens to facility the building of non-scarce systemic properties like health and education. And the fact that we try to do so sheds light on why there is never enough money for health-care and education, to say nothing of the arts, and civic-society and all those other parts of our society that are about inter-systemic relationships themselves, rather than systemic inputs or outputs.

This re-seeing is also what led me to understand the fundamental importance of the multi-currency universe. Even though there are clear discontinuities between the different levels of wealth, there are also many many shades of gray within and between them. Relational wealth goes from clearly rank-able (as in friendships) to only acknowledgeable (as in love). Tradable wealth comes in many different types, as in material stuff of varying scarcity, and time, which is scarce but all of us have the same amount of it. We need specific tools geared to building wealth at each of these shades, and more importantly in coordination with each other. I.e. related currency complexes that simultaneously allow for trade, measurement, ranking and acknowledgment so that we can build integrated wealth. Once again: understanding wealth in this new way has thus allowed me to deeply see how money is just an example of the greater pattern of currency, which are the tools we use to build wealth at all levels.

So all of this I've understood for a while, and is what led me to building the Meta-Currency project as an embodiment of a platform for creating such integrated wealth building tools. But in a conversation with Arthur Brock last week, we had yet another re-seeing of wealth. A new level of wealth became apparent as part of further thinking about what seems true about systems in our universe.

It appears that our universe is set up so that new entire types and levels of systems are continuously emergent. Systems not only have inputs and outputs, have patterns that are properties of the system as a whole, and exist in relation to each other in an environment, but also, entirely new systems constantly emerge out of smaller systems. Atoms emerge as sub-atomics complexes, molecules emerge from as atom complexes, single-celled life emerges as molecular complexes, eukaryotes emerge as procaryote complexes, all the way up to societies emerging as cultural complexes which emerged from tribal complexes which emerged etc.

At any given moment in a systemic complex, there is possibility of the upward spiral of emergent systemic newness that will be beneficial to the whole of that systemic complex. Possible Wealth is thus the next level of wealth. So what is the currency of possible wealth? What helps facilitate the building of possible wealth? Elsewhere in this blog we've defined currencies as "formal information systems that allow communities to interact with currents or flows." So a currency that facilitates possible wealth should be one that is built to interact directly with all those flows that lead to emergence. But I'm pretty sure I haven't understood the ramifications of this, and that the currencies of possibility are still over the horizon. More newness to come!


Gerry said...

Seems to me that "possible wealth" isn't necessarily a new level, but another way of seeing measurable and acknowledgeable wealth. "At any given moment", there is a potential present in the structure and capacity of those system elements present and synchronized in that possibility. The strength of that potential represents the possibility of realizing common purposes and the wealth at all levels that this represents.

Another flip on this is that making these potentials visible, can make it more likely that a possibility will "fire" thus creating actual wealth by making something happen. People are already trying to create systems where you "register" causes and support which is a step in uniting possibility into actuality, but not the full measure of what this way of thinking about social energy can produce.

Arthur Brock said...


There are a few reasons that I possible wealth possible is quite different from acknowledgeable wealth.

The central four levels of wealth describe an actual state of affairs, but the possible isn't yet actual.
- Tradable: GOOG traded for 405 dollars today.
- Measurable: Joe's blood pressure is 121 / 75
- Rankable: Bob placed 1st in the race
- Acknowledgable: I appreciate your intelligence
- Possible: I will run a 4 minute mile

Possible wealth can actualize into any of the other four levels.
- I will sell my house for X
- I am going to lose 15 pounds
- I will become the most indispensable employee
- I want to be named "Employee of the Month"

Possibility is inherently infinite, while the actualized levels of wealth are functionally finite.

Possibility becomes a form of wealth for us when we establish a relationship to a statement of possibility which calls us forth. We can be inspired, directed, moved and nourished by the possible even though it isn't yet actual.

kevin jones said...

Creating a futures contract, and then future's market on possibility wealth would be to price behavior change and its likelihood. That is worth doing.