Medium: Your book is a
speculative proposal for a future global economy based on
matching, rather than money. What is matching?
Stefan Heidenreich: Matching is at the core of any
things, and abilities with each other is a daily, simple,
constant economic task. People need places to live, so people
have to be matched with houses. The economy is the way they get
In the current,
money-based, market economy, money determines a match, and under
this system the matching is often incomplete.
There are plenty of
empty houses where nobody lives because they're being used
merely as investment vehicles. Houses are being matched with
money instead of with people.
Most of the distribution problems we have can be mapped onto
How we choose
to solve them is a political decision: do we want to
have a housing system that mainly serves to provide
everybody a place to stay?
Or do we want
one that mainly serves to provide investment goods?
economy's bias towards wealth is not presented to us as a
political choice with alternatives.
Going back to the
matching function is to liberate our understanding of economy
from money and payment, which allows us to imagine other
What other ways can
matches be made without money?
There are lots of other ways it could be done, and is already
combines monetary and nonmonetary matching operations. The cost
of a home plays a part in making the match, but another part is
the reputation economy, and another is who is searching for a
house at a given time of day or year.
The factors could and
should become much more diverse.
Airbnb is not a
particularly positive example, because it shows what can happen
if matching is not regulated properly. The rules of matching, as
with any economy, would have to be political decisions.
More and more decisions are already made by algorithms according
to considerations other than monetary ones. It's almost like a
whole level of distribution technologies exists underneath the
possible that the mapping of transactions on the monetary level
is going to recede to such a degree that we don't think in
monetary terms any longer.
The whole idea that
we have to assign numbers and a numerical value to the things we
want will appear as an absurdity of the early 21st century.
Rather than a radical
change happening at once, it's more likely that the transition
will go unnoticed for a long time, by hollowing out the money
system until it lingers as a shadow.
An ancient religion
whose roots we no longer know.
So rather than having
price as a mediating device to indicate how much something is
worth, a matching system would connect two things of equal value
No. The very idea of value is derived from the money fantasy.
universal idea of value is one of the big mental roadblocks to
imagining alternatives. We are so accustomed to dealing with
money that we internalize all those calculations.
Matching could be a
negotiating procedure that takes into account personal history,
urgency, utility, and a lot of other factors. We don't need a
value, we need a match, a decision, and a transaction.
You can see this on the level of daily life. You probably want a
coffee in the morning, not in the evening. You might
consistently want a car - but if you see it as a mobility
provider rather than a constant asset, your desire for a ride
On a personal level,
there isn't monolithic value, there's a variety of changing
desires and decisions. That's where a matching system could most
obviously come in.
Price also leaves out other markers of value, like ecological
include both momentaneous individual needs and long-term
consequences much more swiftly and accurately than a single
How is matching different
Barter is a transaction where one person brings one thing and
another person brings something else and they trade.
It is a symmetrical
transaction. Matching is asymmetrical. On one occasion you give,
and on another you get. Both transactions form part of each
one's history. There is no equal exchange.
It is just that all
transactions are noted down.
David Graeber, it's clear that barter societies have
never existed. The barter society is fantasy created from the
vantage point of our system of monetary exchange.
Before money, there
were systems of credit and notation. My speculative proposal for
this future matching system is a scalable revival of those early
As soon as you have
memory systems that can track and store every transaction, there
could be a system to mediate transactions without money.
Does that mean the
distributed ledger enabled by blockchain is fundamental for a
widespread matching system?
It's not necessary, but it could be used to facilitate lots of
exchanges that would otherwise require centralized institutions.
Blockchain and the
advent of nonmonetary systems are independent developments that
are not contingent, but it makes sense to think of them
So far, most people
have associated blockchain with bitcoin and forgotten that it
makes possible all sorts of nonmonetary exchanges.
If we want to have our data private, and we want to own it
ourselves, a blockchain ledger would be useful. If we had a
trusted state-run entity, the state could also perform notation
and matching tasks, which would be way more efficient than a
distributed blockchain architecture.
But given that
centralized actors tend to corrupt themselves or be taken over
by rogue entities,
blockchain is an alternative one has to keep
in mind, in the hope that the future may bring better, less
energy-consuming, and more scalable peer-to-peer solutions.
What's the closest thing
to a matching system already in use?
The closest example to a non-money economy today can be found in
games, you have a notation system with things like health
status, the tools you're carrying with you, and your abilities.
You have a complex ranking system that records what you can do
and what you can get for it.
And you're operating
according to those measures; if your health rating isn't good,
you can't go to a dangerous place. It's an environment that
transcends the monetary but still creates incentives and gives
This relies on a system that keeps a lot of data, communicates
the data with you, and allows you to make decisions according to
economic health status is red, you should take a job.
If you want
something, you apply for it or go get it. But there's no
You give and you get
at different times, and in the long run this more or less equals
But in computer games, you
often do have some kind of aggregate score combining all those
factors. How would a matching system avoid becoming like that
Black Mirror episode where everyone is ranked on social behavior
and ends up with a single score that doubles as purchasing
I like that episode because it shows what can go wrong.
But it doesn't show
what can go right. Given that so many things go wrong with the
money economy, there's a chance that things might go better with
a non-money economy.
For now, given the
political and economic powers in charge, the most likely outcome
is that, just like the Black Mirror episode, we'll get a
data-rich control environment.
China is preparing
for that kind of system of data-driven social control already.
Matching is already embedded, negatively, there - in some
cases, services like train rides are denied to people with a bad
That leads to a
situation where matching connects to judicial powers, which
becomes really frightening. There are a lot of dangerous
possibilities, but there are also good ones.
To actively avoid the
worst outcome, we should consider a non-money economy as part of
a politically desirable future.