At a closed meeting about African telecoms investment held here in London a few years ago, I learned about goat herders using pre-paid mobile phone credit as a form of money.
It was a three day walk from one country into another to reach the market, and currency oscillations often meant the herders could lose money by the time they reached it as either the goats would have gained in price in the local money or their own currency would have depreciated so that taking supplies home became cost prohibitive.
But cell phone minutes are cell phone minutes. They never decay, they are only used or transferred. And they could be delivered to another handset via text message. This meant the goat herders could be paid before setting off to the market, and paid in a form of money that could be used in their local area. Clever, no?
For about 11,000 years—since the beginning of agriculture—the relationship between money and money magic did not change much. Probably because "money" did not change all that much, not really.
Sure, what constitutes "money" has been many different things over time. Gold, bags of rice, shells, enormous carved stones, printed bark pieces, humans, heads of cattle…really anything the authorities were willing to accept as payments for their taxes. Money was thus an "officially recognized" container for "value in transit;" it was a physical object that may or may not have had any intrinsic value of its own, but was certainly a "coupon" for things that you would want or value.
This world is ending and we are moving to a new form of money: a completely digital one. Most people will not currently believe it, but such a world is almost here. Think of it as the final piece of our total surveillance state and it should become clearer.
Already the cash ban is well under way, particularly in Europe. Italy has made it illegal to pay cash for anything worth more than €1,000, while France cut its limit from €3,000 down to €1,000 in 2015, with a daily ATM withdrawal limit of €200. In fact, French officials can seize cash amounts of €10,000 or more, even if you are just passing through the country on a train. Greeks will soon need to declare the location of any safe deposit boxes they own and will be required to declare cash exceeding €15,000, or jewelery and precious stones valued at over €30,000…even if they are family heirlooms. The assault on valuables in safety deposit boxes has arrived in the United States as well. JP Morgan Chase—the recipient of a multibillion dollar bailout—has changed its deposit boxes rules so that customers must no longer store cash or gold and silver coins in them "other than those found to have collectible value."
It sounds like a rich person problem, doesn't it? Who is going to shed any tears for the Athenian with the dragon-sized jewel hoard? It isn't. An assault on cash is also an assault on the poorest members of society, such as the millions of Americans who do not have and cannot afford bank accounts and digital banking. It is also very destructive for small, independent businesses—the engines of job growth in an economy. Cash allows for speedy business transactions with no additional cost incurred by using a payment system (as any businessperson out there who has had to accept American Express understands all too well). What do you suppose will happen to those transaction costs when there is no choice but to use digital payment systems? Will they go up or down?
Around 20% of European economic activity is conducted "cash only," which the authorities would love to tax and regulate. But it is the oppressive regulatory regime that caused the proliferation of the "grey markets" in the first place! The World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" index rates Italy below Georgia, Kazakhstan or Belarus…all former Soviet countries. The Italian economy would likely seize up following a cash ban.
So futurism has betrayed us. Right now the field seems little more than an echo chamber of fan fiction written about bitcoin. A digital currency is not the exciting opportunity to "stick it to the man" that these PowerPoint jockeys think it is. The reality facing us is that the world's first truly global digital currencies will be foisted upon us, against our will, as a tax and power grab. It will be the Euro first, and then the dollar.
We see this in the flight patterns of trial balloons over the last five or so year, flights that have increased dramatically in the first months of 2016. First a few academics suggested it might be a good idea. Then there were isolated European trials. Then there was the suggestion a digital currency would "prevent terrorism" (ha!). Now an avalanche of establishment voices are calling for it. The head of the European Central Bank said he would like to ban the €500 note. The CEO of Deutsche Bank announces that cash will not exist in the decade. The Washington Post, the New York Times editorial board, Larry Summers, Harvard academics…all are now calling for an end to the $100 bill.
The Need for a Digital Currency
These ratios concern those at the top of the pyramid because it means they and their friends might actually lose out on money. When consumers become concerned about the economy, they reduce their spending, pay down their debts, and save cash. This is the opposite of the behavior our central planners want to force you into. If only they had a way to force you out into the mall to spend your money!
Actually, they do have a way. It is called negative interest rates, already making their appearance around the world. This is effectively a tax on your savings. The thinking is that you would rather go out and spend it than have it drained away. What you would rather do is withdraw your physical currency from the bank. This is the reason why the sale of personal safes has skyrocketed in Japan this year. Those Japanese pensioners are no fools.
The whole "problem" goes away with a ban on cash. So, under the guise of "protecting us from terrorism," they will abolish physical cash, which means there will be no bank runs as there are no physical objects for you to run to the bank and take out. Unfortunately, it will not stop there.
As with literally every other swingeing legal change foisted upon us as "protecting our freedom from terrorism," these changes will have the opposite effect on freedom and liberty.
All our predictive economic systems—"invisible hand" capitalism, communism, Keynesianism, etc.—are almost a hundred years old or older. So while our politicians are viewing the world with models that existed prior to World War II, there are private companies making plans to mine asteroids and live permanently on Mars. (A digital currency is a prerequisite for becoming a multi-planetary civilization. This may partially explain the sudden rush to roll them out.) It is not only occultists who are failing to understand this "once in a civilization" event. We have an in-built capacity to assume the recent future will be much like the recent past. As Timothy Leary once said, "The caterpillar cannot begin to comprehend the butterfly."
What Happens When We Go Digital
In economics, there is a concept known as Gresham's Law, which states that "bad money drives out good." This means that during times of official currency switchover, the populace hoards the higher quality money and conducts reduced transactions with the "bad money." Even simply the risk of a currency switch is enough to trigger Gresham's Law. The mattresses of Greece are already stuffed with Euro notes, for instance.
Something similar will take place in the US when physical currencies—beginning with the highest denominations—are phased out. Paper money will take on a different value than what is printed on it; the lower denominations will be worth more and the higher denominations (those likely to have a "carry tax" imposed) may be worth less than their face value. (Variances in the value of physical versus bank money emerged in the 14th century, and even had their own exchange rates.) And, as with the African goat herders, additional payment systems will proliferate. You may end up micro-gifting your waitress's tip to her via Facebook Messenger.
The whole point of official currencies is to prevent the rise of alternate payment systems. A dollar should represent identical "value in transit" if you earn it in Georgia and spend it in North Dakota. So, we are heading into unpredictable weather here. But, unpredictability has its upsides if you know it is coming.
Value always flows to what is scarce and in demand. In the days of physical currency it flowed to that. In the coming days of digital currency—which will be firehosed on and off depending on what suits the top of the pyramid at the time—scarcity will not be located in a "dollar" (or credit or labor, for that matter). It will be located in clean water, healthy food, unique experiences, unpolluted land, art with the capacity to move you, and any number of individualized means of production (3D printers, etc.).
Black markets proliferate under oppressive regimes and a system of total global surveillance ratchets up the oppression of this regime to eleven. We are looking at a medium term future of a permanently bubbling soup of multiple "black" markets, many of which will be non-monetary. You can consider the various house/car/pet/food sharing apps proliferating around us as scouts sent from this brave new world.
So step one is determining what it is you value, what is too scarce in your life. Is it homecooked food? Time with your children? Secure and enriching employment? Step two is understanding the difference between money as a means of exchange and wealth or money as a store of value, as these two concepts are likely to be separated for the foreseeable future.
Step three is to adjust your spellcasting accordingly.
Where the Magic Comes In
It also gave rise to the form of western magic we would recognize today. Translations of classical texts, of varying quality and scholarship, combined with half-remembered local customs passed from hand to hand and from mouth to ear…the grimoire tradition coalescing from the philosophical hybridity of fallen Alexandria. Magic provides us with the opportunity to be fully in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is a remaking, an adaptive process.
Sounds like hard work? Well, you can always choose feudalism instead. In the funny way of history, these two roads are diverging in our yellow wood once again. Magic on one side and serfdom on the other. Those looking to take the road less feudal are advised to observe the following suggestions.
Building a World
There is the very real possibility of having globally decentralized "intentional economies" where "farm-to-table" can be a (literally) seed-funded butternut squash harvest on a Malawian farm, that has an offset carbon journey to Paris, where it becomes part of a weekly vegetable delivery delivered by a neighbourhood robot courier that is owned by the people living in that particular arrondissement. But only if you take the time to really get your head around what is happening.
There is also the further potential to not only survive these "once in a civilization" changes, but also to profit from them, particularly as space investment opportunities reach a satisfactory level of reliability, and equity ownership is made easier via platforms such as Motif Investing.
In the end, money magic is really "meaning magic." We have had a few centuries off never having to learn much about how money "works." All we had to do was work out how to make some. Not anymore. While the rabid pursuit of money itself ranks fairly low as a life goal among spiritual types, we can no longer ignore the role monetary systems will have in our pursuit of "meaning." They are the field upon which we all play our individual games of the meaning and experience.
So then. Be optimistic in the long term, be very concerned in the medium term, but above all, be as informed as possible in the short term.
Gordon White (London) runs one of the leading chaos magic blogs, Rune Soup. He has worked nationally and internationally for some of the world's largest digital and social media companies, including BBC Worldwide, Discovery ...