Aligning Incentives For Our Planet

  • Feb. 8, 2022

"Money is a social design, which then designs the social"

It is easy to assume that money is neutral. We go out to work to earn it; we spend it on goods and services. If you need more than you have, you can borrow some for a while. If you have more than you need, you can lend it out.
From this perspective, the great ecological challenges humanity faces are not caused by money itself, but rather by how money is used. When a hedge fund invests money in coal mining you don’t blame the money, you blame the hedge fund. When a large restaurant chain buys their fish cheaply from ocean trawlers you don’t blame the money, you blame the restaurant chain and the trawlers.
But money and its issuance is not neutral. Money is designed. And the way it is designed has profound implications for our relationships with each other and with the planet that we live on. Or to borrow Professor Jem Bendell’s phrase, who taught me on a Sustainable Exchange Masters module at Cumbria University: “Money is a social design, which then designs the social.”
Consider our national fiat currencies — our pounds and dollars — as familiar examples. Not many people are aware of this, but our national currency is created when private banks make loans with interest.[1] And the interest on the loans, which is the condition under which the money is issued, constrains what that money can and can’t do. It makes certain kinds of actions very easy and others very difficult. For example:
Person no. 1 walks into a bank and says “I’d like to take out a £1M loan to buy a tract of pristine rainforest and conserve it. The rainforest won’t go anywhere so if you ever need your £1M back I can sell it and you’ll have your money back.” But the banker asks: “How will you pay the interest?”
Person no. 2 walks in and says “I’d like to take out a loan of £1M to buy the rainforest and an extra £200,000 to hire chainsaws and a workforce to log it. From the profits I make I can pay you 3% interest a year.”
Which person do you think gets the loan?
By the simple mechanism of issuing money with debt and interest rates, №1’s ambition to preserve the rainforest is virtually impossible, and No 2’s ambition to log it is actively encouraged.
"There is a dangerous mismatch between what we want, and what money wants."
The radical potential of decentralized blockchain technology to revolutionize everything from inventory stocking to systems of governance has been written about to death and back again. But I would argue that the shift in public consciousness that bitcoin and its little brothers and sisters have seeded will prove to be more significant than their practical applications. Because everyone, from billionaires to taxi drivers, is now startlingly aware that money is not a law of nature that has fallen out of the sky, but rather a tool that at one stage or another has been designed. And if it has been designed, it can be redesigned.
At $BEACH we believe that money design should be open for critical discussion and innovation to promote social and environmental outcomes. We like to think big and to ask big questions. Questions like, “What is money for?”
If you look in most economic textbooks, they’ll give you a convincing and logical-sounding story about a time before money existed when small tribes relied on bartering to swap yams for chickens, until eventually someone realized that they needed to have something in the middle in case the other person doesn’t want your yams but you still need a chicken.
Ignoring for a moment that the story is anthropologically baseless, as the recently deceased David Graeber famously argued, the story does point to an important function of money which we would do well to keep in mind. Money, when it works properly, makes it easier for us to match what we can offer to our fellow man, with what we need or want in return. To take it a step further, money codifies the things we value into an incentive system so that people can earn money for the kinds of actions and behaviors we would like to see more of, whether it’s serving up a delicious meal in a restaurant or caring for my elderly relative.
The problem is that, at present, it’s not doing that job very well. The average salary of a care giver is £24,000. The average salary of a Goldman Sachs banker is £304k. Try explaining to your granny that pushing numbers around on a screen creates 12x more social value than caring for the elderly. It’s hard to imagine even the most ardent free-market capitalist keeping a straight face.
And then there’s the environmental issue. You can make plenty of money by selling plastic bottles, but if you want to pick them up, you’re expected to do it for free. The global plastics market was worth something like $550bn in 2019, while the global plastic recycling market was worth a mere $34bn.[2][3]
In other words, our national money is broken to a point where there is a dangerous mismatch between what we want, and what money wants.
“The definition of a good society is one in which virtue pays” — Abraham Maslow
Now we know unequivocally that money is something that we design, we are no longer forced to accept these mismatches as “just the way things are.” There is no “way things are”, only a constantly evolving topology of incentives which we are simultaneously both subject to and creators of. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can start designing our money to align incentives and address these mismatches. We can start creating and using money which works for the planet rather than against it.
Cue $BEACH. $BEACH is an innovative DeFi token which funds ocean conservation around the world. With every transaction it creates an incentive for anyone, anywhere to engage in direct climate action, whether it’s picking up some plastic bottles from the beach or planting a mangrove tree. It incentivizes the ocean friendly behaviors that our national currency fails to.
But you don’t have to be a passionate ocean conservationist to participate in $BEACH. $BEACH manages to be both deflationary, meaning that it will go up in value, and a solution to some of our biggest environmental problems. Its burn rate combined with a finite supply creates a steady deflationary spiral. The power of the currency ratchets up the more it is used.
But these design features are just a means to an end. Far more important are $BEACH’s Clean Oceans and Blue Carbon funds. Between 1-2% of every transaction funds direct ocean conservation around the world including beach clean ups in Sri LankaPhilippinesGhanaLebanonBrazilKenya and others, and blue carbon projects such as mangrove regeneration, coral restoration, and seaweed farms.
What's more, we've piloted $BEACH as a real world currency with practical use cases with a shop in the Philippines and a shop which we built out of recycled plastic in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Local communities are paid in $BEACH to pick up plastic which they can then spend in the shop in return for goods and necessities.
The holy grail that $BEACH has cracked is that it manages to be a fully functional means of exchange, while baking the health of our oceans into every transaction. Not only does this mean direct impact via our worldwide partners, it also reminds us with every purchase of the responsibility we have towards the planet we live on. Rather than a cancerous national currency which creates an endless treadmill of growth for the sake of growth, $BEACH operates debt and interest free — the pristine rainforest can be preserved, the coral can be restored. Once adopted at scale, the effect that will have on our collective choice-making will be subtle, but profound.
While we have the utmost respect for those who volunteer their time for environmental causes, if we expect the vital work of protecting our planet to be done only by those who can afford to do it for nothing, we’ll never mobilize at anything like the scale and speed necessary to avoid catastrophe. That’s why none of our beach clean ups depend on volunteers — we pay teams around the world to pick up litter and we make sure to pay them well — sometimes 2–3x the local salary.
As the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out: “The definition of a good society is one in which virtue pays.”
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