The Altruistic Wallet
A gift economy for the global village
The Altruistic Wallet is a digital wallet that works like any other wallet except that it cannot be spent on one’s self. The contents on the wallet can only be released by supporting an individual changemaker or a specific project that has been vetted by the network. Though wallets can be used to receive donations on any website their funds can only be released through the network authorised channels of Cropwdpol.
The point of giving
What if society was based on a financial system that supported democracy and sustained the commons instead of limiting the former and extracting the latter? What might an economic system look like where monetary profit was not the goal of the game but instead sharing, wellbeing, personal empowerment and sustainability were the goals? An impossible fantasy according to many a student of economics under the impression that it is a naturally evolved system. A result of human nature rather than a game designed with the purpose of amassing more symbolic wealth. But our global economy has indeed been designed by a very few, very influential and very undemocratic institutions, albeit so gradually that it might appear as evolution. It is very much a game with a set of rules designed with a winner takes all objective leading to large imbalances and cyclical crashes when the instability gets too great. Something the game of monopoly demonstrates quite clearly. Indeed, the game was originally designed to demonstrate this very purpose, a fact that ironically seems to have been completely lost in translation.
The point is, we can redesign our economy with entirely different parameters, and we are arriving at a point in our technological evolution where this is quite possible. Perhaps more importantly, it is also culturally possible as we seem to be on the verge of a global financial crash and the dawning insight even among the defenders of the current system that things don’t quite add up.
The theory of homo-economicus, the equal parts rational and mythical individual basing actions entirely on perceived personal gain seems to be rapidly falling out of fashion for the best of purposes — its entire lack of a foundation in empirical studies. Scant research into the nature of choices tick off rationality as being humans’ main driver and our psychology seems to be significantly geared up towards various forms of altruistic behaviour. Naturally, one could argue that what is good for my neighbour is good for me is ultimately rooted in personal gain, but as long as this gain is achieved through cooperation and sharing, it makes little operational difference. As Yuval Noah Harari points out, it is our exceptional ability to cooperate that made us the apex predator. And this ability seems to be evolutionarily linked to our socialising ability, a survival of the friendliest rather than the fittest, as Rutger Bregman explores in his latest book. The question then is if we had a different economic system, one geared towards network cooperation rather than exploitative competition, would it be possible for us to transcend the role of predator and become the apex custodian?
Research tells us that giving feels good. Rationality, when calmly applied, suggests it feels good for a reason, the reason being that is that it makes us safer, more likely to survive in our perpetually unpredictable and often hostile environment. Because despite all of our individual achievements, the world remains a hostile place for most humans. The threats might not be sabre-toothed tigers or giant sloths, but threats of imminent mortgage foreclosure due to the unfathomable turbulence of the larger economy are indiscernible on a biological level to the soon to be foreclosed individual. Safety is, by and large, an illusion to all but a select few.
This general insecurity comes with externalized costs that are difficult or even impossible to measure. Who knows how many civilization-changing inventions and adventures are never embarked upon because the human in question is too busy trying to survive on three jobs at minimum wage, how many potential geniuses are biologically prohibited from attaining their intellectual summit due to malnutrition, how many of the over three million children who die from starvation each and every year might have become great leaders of industry or civil society, had industry or society only been able to nurture them? We cannot answer this, but such statistics at the very least tell us that we are failing quite badly at providing the basic requirements for our extended family to survive, let alone thrive, on the global scale. And like it or not, that is the scale we must deal with.
How to give
Enter one of the key features of Crowdpol, the Altruistic Wallet. It works pretty much as any other wallet with one key modified feature. You can’t use it on yourself. You can only pay it forward, so to speak.
Within the Crowdpol Ecosystem, the contents of the wallet can be used to fund change in two ways. You can support an individual changemaker or fund a project with a clearly defined and deliverable goal in support of our commons.
The former case works much like a Patreon account except that there is a limit to how much an individual changemaker can receive, which will be based on the cost of living in their part of the globe. This in order to fund as many changemakers as possible rather than overfund a few more famous or popular ones. Naturally, it is up to the individual if they want to send additional funds as direct donations to the changemaker in question, but Crowdpol will apply certain limits to recurrent funding. Besides, if the changemaker is looking for additional resources in order to fund a specific project, they can simply create a project eligible for funding.
For a project to be eligible for funding using the Altruistic Wallet, it needs to tick a few boxes. It needs to have a clear and objectively measurable goal with an equally clear budget and step by step plan of arriving there. It also needs to have longer-term metrics to measure aspects of its impact down the line. And most importantly, it needs to have at least one verified individual taking on the role of a project manager who accepts personal responsibility for the project. In other words, organisations cannot apply for funds from the Altruistic Wallet in order to cover running costs, but they can apply for funds in order to run a specific project.
The purpose of these requirements is to use the resources we have in the most efficient way possible, along with providing the most reliable and transparent follow-up on projects the network can facilitate. It is also worth noting that a project will not automatically be deemed a failure if it does not achieve its goals or long term impact. Provided it feeds useful feedback back into the network that will improve the likelihood of future projects being successful, it can be considered a partial success. Evolution is a process of trial and error after all. The only failed project would be if the project manager offers no feedback or absconds with the funds, something we hope to avoid through verifications of identity and the staking of reputation.
In practical terms, if I wish to take on a larger project than my own experience and track record might warrant in the eyes of the potential donors, other members might put their reputation behind mine. Should I take the money and run or mess up badly in any other way, the reputation of my backers will suffer. In this way, reputation itself can become a form of currency, social or political capital as it were, but that is a topic for another article. As are the implications of Crowdpol becoming a training ground for project managers in social and environmental fields who might later rise to take on more traditional roles in a democratic society. The trajectory civilisation might take is likely to be quite different to the one we are currently on, with politicians at the helm having little to no practical experience.
Finally, the development of the network itself will be funded by the Altruistic Wallets. If our members want to design specific features they can simply put these forward with a price tag, and if a sufficient amount of funds are raised, these features will be built and will become available to all.
How to receive
A feature of the current Altruistic Wallet prototype is that it allows micropayments between wallets. This process is partially automated, every time a user upvotes or “likes” the content created by another user, a small transfer is made between wallets. This gives “likes” a tangible, monetary value but also helps fund the Altruistic Wallets of content creators who, in turn, can offer more funds to the people and projects they support. Widely popular content creators could potentially make large sums on Crowdpol, but would not be able to remove these funds other than by funding the change they want to see happen. Naturally, they will be able to fund their own projects which they might receive compensation for, but provided they reach their goals and do not extract more funds than necessary to pay their own salary there is no foul in this. Should they do so, this information will be public and will most likely lessen their support in the future creating a self-regulatory feedback loop within the ecosystem. Taking more than you need with little to no personal consequence, going against the grain and purpose of the altruistic economy as it does, might prove quite tricky given these parameters. Also, the ecosystem does not foster that mindset.
It will also be possible to tip other members through the Altruistic Wallet system. Users can set an arbitrary sum as a base tip which is released when the user shows appreciation, much like the handclap here on Medium, or send a direct donation at any time. Giving a small but real monetary value to social signalling will add a degree of scarcity to such signalling which will, in turn, add value to the signals themselves. Social signals will become more thoughtful or intentional, thus adding more value as tools for discerning value, as it were, adding more signal to the noisy space of social platforms on the internet.
As the Altruistic Wallet can be deployed as a standalone feature, content creators could conceivably also use it as a plugin on any website. This would allow tipping outside the domain of Crowdpol but the deployment of funds would still have to happen through Crowdpol and be subject to the rules of the platform and the scrutiny of the network.
It is also fully conceivable that an “altruistic marketplace” might evolve, where strangers do each other favours that are compensated not through direct reciprocity, as is usually the case in a more contained social context such as a local community, but via donations. For instance, person A might ask the network for assistance with task B, and person C will offer to perform it for payment D into their Altruistic Wallet, or possibly directly into a project they manage or support. An entire economy based on altruism could take shape, an actual sharing economy that supports the commons rather than exploits the commoners by focussing on a very limited aspect of the sharing concept. In stark contrast to the so-called sharing economy of today, in effect a gig economy based on exploitation, minimal social benefit and little voluntary sharing going on at all.
Altruistic Venture Investing
Taking the concept further, Altruistic Wallets could do more than merely fund projects with albeit clear, deliverable and broadly beneficial goals, but projects that might actually be revenue-producing in the future. In other words, Altruistic Wallets could be used to fund pro-social businesses that would not only improve people’s lives or restore the environment through their practices but actually return profits in the form of dividends into the Altruistic Wallets of their investors. Dividends that could be used to fund new projects or beneficial businesses in a positive feedback loop of societal and environmental improvement.
There are of course a number of issues that would have to be worked out before we can implement this investment option. Such as what types of business proposals would be eligible, would they provide Altruistic Wallet holders with actual shares making them eligible to vote or just dividends, could they accept an outside investment with different parameters et cetera. But once these issues are resolved, the path will open up for a new type of altruistic business investment that in turn could provide a far more sustainable and beneficial marketplace. Instead of using private providers of goods and services that remove funds from the restorative financial ecosystem, the Altruistic Wallets could usher in a new era of businesses that support the commons by this being a base requirement to become eligible for funding at all.
It also makes sense that we should collectively own shares in the businesses that operate in society as it has repeatedly proven quite difficult to get most such larger entities to pay their taxes to support the societies that make their existence possible, yet they hardly ever have any issues with paying their shareholders their dividends on a regular basis. If the market deems that taxes are bad but dividends are good, then perhaps we should wise up to this and simply abandon the former in favour of the latter.
The end game
In all this talk of wallets, be they altruistic or not, it is important to remind ourselves that this is merely an intermittent system. The goal is to move away entirely from such abstract fictions as the symbolic monetary economy and towards a more direct and literal way of denominating and sharing resources. The Altruistic Wallet is merely using a familiar concept that we have tweaked into supporting a different purpose. If we are successful in the longer term, we will have provided for all our basic collective needs through the supporting systems we have built and nurtured together and will have less need for wallets.
Our food will be provided from the regenerative agricultural processes we are part of, the dividends, in this case, being actual nutrition. We will have ample access to advanced and personalized healthcare, which we will not need to the same extent we do today as our lives will be far less stressful and more connected, and our bodies far healthier due to our improved diets. We will have access to clean, reliable, abundant and sustainable energy thanks to the businesses and research we will have funded. We will have access to high quality, granular and most important, reliable information, which in turn will lay the foundation of top-quality and accessible education. Any object we could dream up will be possible to 3D print at a fraction of the energy and resource cost of even the most modern factory of today, designs being shared as freely as best practices are within our network. There will be a myriad of projects to keep us busy as the apex stewards of our world and ancestors in training. And as a result of these, we will have endless opportunity to develop and explore deep, meaningful relationships with others and with our inner selves. In such a world, would money really be necessary, or even make sense at all?
Not that we won’t have any currency, it just won’t be monetary one we are currently so dependent on. If we are successful, we will have created a host of personal metrics that could be represented as currencies based on trust and reputation gained through service to others. Currencies which can be quantified and used between strangers to avoid the inefficiency of spending large amounts of time with one another to ascertain levels of reliability and competence. And so being trustworthy and useful will again become among the most desirable traits a human can seek to develop, and, as a result, a truly nurturing altruistic economy can emerge.
Addendum: This is how we do it
Since publishing this article in early August 2020 the practical deployment of funds throughout the ecosystem has been somewhat refined. In short, the prototype we are testing will provide paying members with tokens on a monthly basis which are “spent” in the form of micropayments attached the member's activity on the platform. As noted, tokens can be transferred from one member’s wallet to another’s, but tokens will also be deducted from wallets to “pay” for services and activities on the platform. Such tokens will go to Crowdpols wallet where they will, in effect, be taken out of circulation. All unspent tokens will remain in their respective wallets.
At the end of the first fiscal year, when all costs are deducted, any and all surplus will be divided by the sum of remaining tokens in the system. Each token will now have a numerical value translatable into a local currency. At this point, all users with funds left in their Altruistic Wallets will be invited to direct these to the projects they wish to support. Once tokens are distributed into wallets associated with projects, that will be automatically converted into the corresponding amount of local currency and paid into the project or project managers bank account for immediate use.
As the system grows, such accounting events will happen on a more regular basis, perhaps as some point in the future once a month or even on a daily basis. An illustration of the process below.
To make Crowdpol as accessible as possible, and to maximize the impact of the tokens once converted to money, there are some unique and nifty additional aspects worth mentioning.
Becoming a paid member and supporting the system comes with a recommended minimum monthly fee which will be based on the IP address of the member. Members from more affluent nations such as the northern European ones will have one membership fee whereas members from less financially affluent areas will pay a smaller fee, in relative terms. The membership fee will be derived from a basket of local products so all members, in terms of available resources, will in practical terms be paying the same amount. All members will receive the same amount of tokens each month.
When tokens are converted to local currency members from less affluent communities will, from a global monetary perspective, be receiving a larger share of funds via the Altusitic Wallet ecosystem. Also, given that said funds will go further in poorer communities, there will be a natural bias towards deploying funds to projects in such communities. In this way, the surplus raised by the network is more likely to serve people in communities with greater needs.
Thus might not be perceived entirely fair, that some users should pay less than others for access to the same services, but fairness can be interpreted in many ways. Also, it is called an Altruistic Wallet, which kind of implies what we are hoping to achieve with it. And becoming a paying member will always be optional.
That said, it is an option I hope you will opt for! Because saving the world will take a lot more than mere signalling, no matter how commendably virtuous it may be.