I appreciated how David Graeber in his chapter on exchange elaborates on the logic of the market and the ideals, behaviour and relations that are shaped by it.
The idea of personal relations as the foundations of exchange resonates strongly through the chapter. On the history of currencies, Grabber mentions: “in just about every case, they were used primarily not to acquire wealth but to rearrange relations among people.”
How the particularities of this currency, from objects thatt were otherwise used mainly as forms of personal adornment (gold, silver, beads, shell necklaces) to coinage, to “imaginary” or virtual money such as the example of the tally sticks (notched pieces of wood that were broken in two as records of debt). This last example, from a time were coinage was only sporadically and unevenly available, spoke to me as an example of the resourcefulness in repurposing the logic of the market. Another example of this creative repurposing can be found in the 1932-1933 Wörgl Experiment in Austria. In the midst of the great depression, new major Michael Unterguggenberger introduced a system of stamp scrips to enable a long list of projects he wanted to accomplish.
“Instead of spending the 40,000 schillings on starting the first of his long list of projects, he decided to put the money on deposit with a local savings bank as a guarantee for issuing Wörgl’s own 40,000 schilling’s worth of stamp scrip. He then used the stamp scrip to pay for his first project. Because a stamp needed to be applied each month (at 1% of face value), everybody who was paid with the stamp scrip made sure he or she was spending it quickly, automatically providing work for others. When peoople had run out of ideas of what to spend their stamp scrip on, they even decided to pay their taxes, early.”
This brings me to the speculative design project Recipotciti Bank that was inspired by the Wörgl example. “It was a way to stimulate spending,” the designer said. “I thought that was fascinating, that the actual design of the bank note itself could influence peoples’ spending behaviors. That was the seed of a lot of the ideas.”
The project includes variations on the bank card, an ATM that requires the user to manually dispense fake currency with a lever and a machine displaying the user’s balance in the account in proportion to an inflated balloon. Recipotrciti Bank imagines how we might use the banking process to re-shape our understanding of ‘value’ in society. Can we design a new relationship to money?