This is an opinion editorial by Frank Nuessle, previously a T.V. executive, university professor and publishing entrepreneur.
As the Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Booth has opined - Bitcoin is the “bridge to the other side.”
In this article I argue that to cross that bridge, the American Bitcoin Economy would best be structured as a network of interconnected city-centered economies, all using Bitcoin and all competing with each other.
The complexity of designing such a decentralized, highly networked money system to operate alongside the current highly centralized fiat money system is mind-boggling, almost overwhelming. Thinking about it makes my head hurt. It is like trying to change all four tires on a Land Rover racing along at 80 miles an hour. Yet that is the task at hand.
As a guy from the hinterlands, I have been ruminating on fiat money since Nixon took America off the gold standard in 1971, and I’ve been studying money systems seriously for 20 years — not long ago as a professor in the organizational dynamics department at the University of Pennsylvania, where I taught graduate courses in sustainability. Today I consider myself a social system architect and a Bitcoin maximalist. But I digress.
Cities have been at the center of America's economic progress starting not long after Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan in 1609.
By 1641 Manhattan had become America’s economic hub around which the circle of Atlantic trade turned.
At first Manhattan was controlled by the Dutch who were tolerant of all people, which is why Manhattan developed an intensively active merchant class — everyone wanting to buy, sell, grow and spend, while also becoming one of the most multicultural places on earth.
Because it was founded on the principles of free-market capitalism, Manhattan offered an unprecedented opportunity for advancement. Upward mobility became an inherent part of American culture, while at the same time, planting the dream of economic freedom throughout the world.
Today that American dream of a free and fair chance for all has been severely tarnished.
American cities are no longer the center of a vibrant, free-market economy but instead are plagued with escalating violence, congested gridlock, unmanageable homelessness, essential worker displacement, housing shortages, rent escalation and deteriorating infrastructure.
The root problem is that America’s current corporate-capitalist economy is being run as a corporate oligarchy, supported by a fiat money cartel that funnels money to the already rich, instead of as a critically-thinking free-enterprise democracy.
George Santayana once observed that America doesn’t solve its problems; it leaves them behind.
America needs to leave behind the futile attempts to resurrect an industrial/consumer economy of perpetual growth fueled by fiat money.
Our current economic narrative pits jobs and the ability of the middle class to earn a living against the environment. This mind-set of perpetuating infinite economic growth to feed an already rich elite, a shrinking middle class and a desperate citizen under-class will only produce mutually assured destruction.
As Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan,” stated in Bloomberg Businessweek:
“We’re not living in capitalism. We’re not living in socialism. We’re living in some weird economic situation with the banks controlling more of their share. It’s like we’re serving them rather than them serving us.”
America needs to evolve a new form of sound money capitalism that values social equity along with human and planetary well-being because oligarchic capitalism does not recognize these as critical components of long-term societal and economic health.
In short, what America needs is a coherent new economic narrative that paints a picture of a viable and prosperous future, an economic model I call "distributed capitalism,” a term coined by Jeremy Rifkin.
Rifkin sees distributed capitalism as the centerpiece of a third Industrial Revolution in which a new social vision unfolds with power broadly distributed, “encouraging unprecedented new levels of collaboration among peoples”.
A distributed free-enterprise economy consists of many interconnected free-enterprise networks and is the most complex and creatively dynamic system on the planet.
No other economic operating system comes close to providing the shared societal benefits of a truly competitive marketplace.
Here are five reasons why centering the evolution of the American Bitcoin Economy around a network of interconnected city-centered economies (all using BTC, and all competing with each other) will allow for the fulfillment of Rifkin’s vision of a third Industrial Revolution. Think of it as the flowering of Web 3.0.
Cities Have Historically Driven Economic Prosperity
It was the cities of Italy, Florence, Milan and particularly Venice that initiated the economic renaissance of Europe in the 13th century after the profound decline in trade which began in the eighth century with the abandonment of gold coinage.
As Allen Farrington has written about in his book “Venice is Bitcoin” that city, like Manhattan in the 17th century, developed a system of justice providing impartial protection for both the rich and the poor where the mercantile class were treated fairly. “Even the word ‘bank,’ in the financial sense, originates in Venice, from the banca or ‘benches’ of moneychangers by the Rialto Bridge.”
This was the beginning of a new social and political order, labeled as the Renaissance, that emerged out of centuries of feudalism, all created out of trade and capital formation based on sound money.
As the centuries rolled by, the dominant city trade centers changed from empire to empire — Barcelona for the Spanish, Amsterdam for the Dutch, London for the English and then Manhattan for America.
With Sound Money, Cities Will Drive Sustainability
In her 1969 book, “The Economy of Cities” Jane Jacobs argued that the primary driver of economic development was cities. Her main point was that explosive economic growth derives from urban import replacement or the process of producing goods locally that formally were imported. Jacobs believed that population density was necessary for entrepreneurial discovery and subsequent improvements in the division of labor.
With the increasing level of global warming disruptions coupled with the critical need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, it should be obvious that producing goods locally and accelerating import replacement will be important objectives of the bitcoin economy.
Why would a sound money, distributed free-enterprise economy drive import replacement?
The term "distributed free-enterprise" is really just a vast network of cities, rural outposts and communities of all sizes where business and government work together for the betterment of all citizens, fueled by the creative energies of citizens who exchange value and culture in an open, transparent way.
This economic model fosters more individual creativity and innovation, and more ways of doing things than in an economy with the uniformity and rigidity of a command-and-control corporate structure.
If cities were able to control their own money systems, one outcome would be a notable shift in the configuration of power. Local residents would be less subject to the will of far-off centers of power. Local businesses would be able through import substitution to produce goods and services locally and then sell them wherever they wanted.
The end result would be a wider diversity of locally produced products and services with greater resilience and adaptability to change in our unpredictable future of potential economic and severe climate change disruptions.
Place-Based Sound Money Aligns With Human Nature
As Curtis White in his book, “Living in a World that Cannot be Fixed,” writes, “Human cultures are about place: where to live, and home: how to live and with whom.” With social media, place has increasingly become an abstraction with confusing effects on human nature. A new grounding can occur in cities with place-based sound money.
One of the most unsung heroes in the study of honest money and human nature was the author E.C. Riegel, an independent scholar who dedicated himself in the 1930s to understanding the exchange of value. His belief was that a simple, honest system for the exchange of value would do more to enhance the dignity and wellbeing of the common man than any political reform.
Riegel was a genius at understanding human nature and the functioning of money as a social system. He identified two important principles of human nature — self-preservation and self-advancement, along with a derivative third principle — the three-part free enterprise system.
Self-preservation is the first principle of human nature. Riegel believed that selfishness is “the sublime law of being.” But to be intelligently selfish, a person must win the respect and cooperation of his/her fellows which leads to the second principle — self advancement through cooperation.
Before a person can win cooperation, he/she must be able and willing to give it. Until a person has obtained a selfish level of cooperation with his/her fellows, no social order exists. Cooperation finds its expression in the free exchange of value. Fostering the free exchange of value is the engine for social and economic progress.
Riegel’s third principle was the three-part free enterprise system of specialization of labor, exchange of value, and competition. He saw honest competition as the sublime law of nature and the basis for a truly high functioning economic operating system fostered by sound money.
This system cannot be improved upon. Every human is the servant of every other human. This is the law of life. Either you serve life or its opposite.
Out of these principles, human civilization began its evolution in the early cities and continued throughout history in the world’s city centers.
Competition Within Cities And Between Cities Creates Resilience
Honest competition is the evolutionary search engine for humans, seeking fact-based truth at all costs.
As the evolutionary economist, Eric Beinhocker has shown, evolution is an algorithm; it is an all-purpose formula for innovation. It is a simple but profound three-step process: differentiate, select, amplify. Evolution is a search algorithm that finds needles of good design in haystacks of possibility.
In a sound money environment, the most intelligently selfish individual is the most socially minded, productive and creative. When transparency rules, those who will not deal fairly are defeated by competitors.
A centralized fiat money monoculture creates monopolies which destroy competition. Competition is indispensable to the successful operation of a monetary system.
Honest competition contains corruption and incentivizes innovation.
In nature there is a constant push–pull tension between two emergent properties: efficiency and resilience.
Efficiency requires scale — bigness. Today’s monetary monoculture has skewed the balance too much to efficiency, for example, forcing small local banks serving one city region to sell out to national conglomerates.
Resilience requires a network of relatively independent self-reliant cities, so that the failure of one does not imperil the entire system. Those cities best able to withstand future crises — whether pandemics, climate disruptions or financial meltdown — will be the ones that thrive economically by fostering internal prosperity and competing fairly with other cities.
Such resilient markets will also be the best place for investors to park their money. Such cities will attract the best and the brightest people. They will be the places where residents feel secure enough to innovate.
A City Economy Is A Local Living System
As the late Belgian physical chemist and Nobel laureate Ila Prigogine observed, all living systems are dissipative structures ruled by the second law of thermodynamics. Living systems maintain their structure by the continuous flow of energy throughout the system.
This flow of energy keeps the system in a constant state of flux. Fluctuations feed off themselves. Amplification can easily overwhelm the whole system. That’s exactly what’s occurring today as civilization encounters global peak oil and ever increasing, disastrous, real-time climate change disasters.
When the fluctuations overwhelm a living system, it either collapses or reorganizes itself. A successful living system reorganization will exhibit a higher order of complexity and integration.
A city economy that is open and adaptive with interlocking networks that change organically can make sudden, creative leaps into novelty thus reorganizing itself into a higher order of complexity and integration.
The localization of the systems for the creation and distribution of sound money would foster free market capitalism on Main Street, where local, shared ownership and local decision-making bring to life economic activity in service of the whole community.
As Michael Saylor preaches, “Money is economic energy.”
The great economic revolutions in history have occurred when new energy regimes converge with communications revolutions. This convergence offers the opportunity to restructure, organize and help maintain the energy flow through the American economic system.
Bitcoin is the technological gift that can make this local economic living system transformation possible.
Saylor also believes that economic energy, like any energy, be it electricity or electromagnetic waves, must travel in a medium as a frequency. With Bitcoin as the monetary systems unit of account, when money flows into an asset, like real estate, its frequency slows and it becomes a store of value.
If money is to move rapidly it must maintain a higher frequency and become a currency. Currency is the medium used to move economic energy around.
Thus, the challenge becomes how to design a monetary social system, anchored on bitcoin, so that a network of city centered cryptocurrencies can maintain that higher circulatory frequency and stimulate local economic health and well-being.
The Challenge Ahead
In 1971, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen proposed the fundamental insight that economic activity is about order creation, and that evolution is the mechanism by which order is created.
Building on that work, Eric Beinhocker in his book, “The Origin of Wealth,” proposed that economic evolution is not a single process but rather the result of three interlinked processes — physical technology, social system technologies and business or system fitness.
Physical technology is what we are accustomed to think of as technology, things such as bronze making techniques, steam engines, microchips and more recently Bitcoin.
As Saifedean Ammous has written, “Bitcoin is a technology that will survive for the same reason the wheel, knife, phone or any type of technology survives. It offers its users benefits from using it. Bitcoin is a spontaneously emergent and autonomous system.”
The two technologies that I think most apply to the design of locally controlled, highly networked systems for the exchange of value are Bitcoin and AI information systems. Merge these two technologies into a transparent, city centered, highly networked information system and let this honest money exchange of value system loose into a city-centered free enterprise marketplace.
I believe Big Magic will happen.
Yet physical technologies are not enough without the other two legs of the stool — social system technologies and the right business/system design.
Social System Technologies
Social technologies are ways of organizing people to get work done that takes into account cultural norms. Physical technologies and social technologies co-evolve with each other. The relatively new organizational structure, Holacracy, is a social technology as is social media and tools like Slack and Zoom.
What are the important social system technologies that need to be integrated into a sound money, city centered, highly networked and transparent system for the exchange of value? This is one of the central challenges in designing a local money system.
As Charles Eisenstein has written, “The technical challenges of transaction time, scaling and energy use have largely been solved. The socio-political questions have not, and here is the fertile soil for the cultivation of new forms of social accountability and new ways to infuse values into money.”
Eisenstein goes on, “The true nature of the human being — indeed, of being itself — is relationship. Only a system built upon that metaphysical understanding can hope to durably fulfill the hopes that we invest in it.”
To establish a money system by rational processes and through the voluntary cooperation of its users is without precedent. People do not want to understand money; they merely want to use it. This is consistent with their attitude toward all utilities.
For the physical and social technologies to have an impact on the world, someone must turn these technologies from concepts into reality, a working social system on Main Street.
Business design is how physical and social technologies are expressed in the world in the form of products and services.
Businesses are themselves a form of design, and the same can be said for a social system. The design of both encompasses its purpose, its strategy, its ownership, organizational structure, management processes, culture and a host of other factors. Business designs all go through a process of differentiation, selection and amplification, with the market as the ultimate arbiter of fitness.
This three-way evolution of physical technologies, social technologies and business/system design account for the patterns of change and growth in any economy.
Business/system fitness answers the question, “Can this system self-sustain?” A social system like money must be designed to pay its own way or be subsidized in some fashion.
The challenge we all face is how to reinvent America’s economic operating system so that the current version of “take make waste” capitalism doesn’t go down in flames and take the rest of us with it.
The American bitcoin revolution becomes a force when we allow ourselves to imagine that a new social system design might one day become a collective reality.
Said another way — perhaps the virtues of sound money may inspire a whole new, yet unseen world. Big Magic can happen!
As Arthur M. Young, the inventor of the helicopter, writes in his opus, “The Reflexive Universe”, ”Like the clam, man is buried in the sand with only a dim consciousness of the worlds beyond. Yet potentially he can evolve far beyond his present state; his destiny is unlimited.”
This journey has just begun.
This is a guest post by Frank Nuessle. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.