I checked today, and it’s been almost five years since I wrote a comment on Larry Mason’s table of contents, here on Gather, for his book Invisible Hand. I made a commitment to reading it, and I finally got started today, not by reading, but by listening to the recorded version which, like the text, he makes available free to anyone interested.
I’m only beginning to grasp the totality of the idea, and I’m putting aside my doubts and questions for the moment. I’ve only made it through the first six chapters on this sleet/freezing rain day off from school, and who knows when I’ll get back to it, but I’m intrigued. I’m going to share some random ideas rather than a true review.
Larry takes my universal doubts and incorporates them into the story, and it’s a thriller. There are two story lines so far, in the present and in the future, and the future hero is returning to the USA after being out of touch for a long time. While he was away they got rid of POM—Physical-Object Money, a marvel that comes about because of the sophistication of computer systems. This is not a comfortable thing to come home to.
Larry points out that so many of the bad things that happen in the world are only possible because money is a physical thing that can be given from one person to another, and he is very convincing. It’s not a comfortable idea for me either, after a lifetime of working to get my hands on the stuff. But there were 50 people killed today in Damascus by a bombing, far more no doubt in world-wide incidents of violence.
Can computer systems be good enough to make Larry’s vision possible? Would we really grow comfortable with a computer watchdog that is constantly around us but is not connected to a strong, coercive government? How could we keep it from being hacked? I’m guessing that Larry would say that the reputation information stored by the computer is more important than how much computer-based money you have. His ideas about reputation are also attractive, and comforting.
The proposed system rewards good deeds, but not until they achieve a benefit. In the case of teachers, that comes when students reach into the world to do good work themselves. That’s a challenge for a teacher to think through!
That’s probably enough teasers; here is my final point, and it may be the most important to me. How many of us who interact with Larry here on Gather have tried to understand his work? I’ve wondered vaguely for years why I haven’t seriously tried to read Larry’s thesis. I’ve always admired him for his respectful diligence. He has said it over and over: we have to change the nature of money to fix the problems we spend so much time discussing. What if he’s right? Are we growing too cynical to recognize great ideas?