Wisdom from a $1,000 Book

I’ve been reading a fascinating book lent to me by a long-time friend, Brad Richardson, entitled The Future of Money. It was written in 2001 by Bernard Lietaer, who the “About the Author” section describes as, among other things, a former senior central bank executive in Belgium who “was closely involved in the design and implementation of the ECU, the convergence mechanism which led to the European single currency.”

Brad first mentioned The Future of Money to me probably four or five years ago at lunch when we were trading our usual local market business intel, along with other more esoteric subjects catching our fancy. We’re both avid readers and share similar tastes in systems-related subjects, so I made a mental note of the book title for a future read.

Years passed and then, at a recent happy hour, he brought up some ideas from the book in conversation again, so I asked him where I could get it. He suggested that he lend me his copy because, coincidentally, Brad had just been looking it up on Amazon.com recently, perhaps to see if the author had published something new, and that the book’s sales price was $500!

I accepted the loaner offer and picked up the book shortly thereafter, at which point Brad said he had just checked the price and it had gone up to $,1000 for a paperback copy!! See for yourself…

Now, being an undergraduate Economics major, I was fully prepared as I cracked open the black-covered book to begin slogging through macroeconomic, formulaic, arcana from the get-go. After all, I’d delivered my senior orals exam presentation on the global economic upside of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

So, I can personally attest to the authentic intent of a witticism like former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s, when he said “If you have understood me, then I must not have made myself clear.”

But, pleasant surprise, The Future of Money has turned out to be one of the most readable, straightforward explanations of money and its past, present, and future that one could ever hope to encounter. What I especially love about the book is that – from the very beginning – it sets the tone about its intention to demystify the subject for a layperson.

Here is a perfect example, excerpted from the Preface:

Fish do not comprehend the nature of the water in which they live. Similarly, people have trouble understanding the nature of money. We allocate a great portion of our physical, emotional, and mental energy to getting, keeping, and spending money – but how many of us really know what money is or where it comes from?

While I’m not finished with it, the key concept of the book is clear: that money is a major force for human, social transformation. Having entered the digital age we now occupy, author Lietaer argues that there is every reason (and opportunity!) to form new micro money systems, using complementary currencies (as opposed to alternative ones) alongside the conventional currencies, validating the potential of a model he refers to as “sustainable abundance.”

The essence of sustainable abundance can best be captured by understanding that it is a compensating response to today’s prevailing system. And what is today’s prevailing system? Lietaer describes it this way, in his best central banker language possible:

Our prevailing system is an unconscious product of the modern Industrial Age world view, and it remains the most powerful and persistent designer and enforcer of the values and dominant emotions of that age. For instance, all our national currencies make it easier to interact economically with our fellow citizens than with “foreigners,” and therefore encourages national consciousness.

Similarly, these currencies were designed to foster competition among their users, rather than cooperation. Money is also the hidden engine of the perpetual growth treadmill that has become the hallmark of industrial societies. Finally, the current system encourages individual accumulation, and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t follow that injunction.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating read. And, no doubt, I expect several of the book’s assertions and proposals to be further explored in Tapscott’s & Williams’ book MacroWikinomics when it comes out later this year.

In the meantime, if you are curious about the subject, you can either buy a personal copy of the book (trust me, you’ll be the only person on your block with a copy!) or browse some of the position papers Prof. Lietaer has made available on his website.

Adventures in E-reading

I’ll admit it: I’m a PC user…as in a Pragmatic Computer-user. I’m also a PEA, as in Post-Early Adopter. Meaning, I’m rarely the first one out of the gate on the newest gizmo. For example, you’ll never find me standing in the line at Best Buy at 3am waiting for the doors to open for Day 1 sales of the newest gadget.

However, I do love my tech and, thus, my PEAbrain frequently compels me to try the new software or purchase a copy of that newest gadget anywhere from a week to six months later.

Amazon's KindleAnd, so, it was with interest when I read a recent article in the New York Times about Best Buy and Verizon Jump[ing] Into E-Reader Fray.” In particular, two early quotes in the article leaped out at me:

“By all accounts, e-readers are set to have a breakout year. Slightly more than one million of them were sold globally in 2008, according to the market research firm iSuppli. The firm predicts that 5.2 million will be sold this year, more than half of them in North America, driven by the popularity and promotion of the Kindle, which is available only through Amazon’s Web site.”

…and…

One challenge for the entire digital reading market is the price of these new devices. A recent report from Forrester Research suggests most consumers will buy a digital reading device only when they cost less than $100.

No kidding!

However, I’d add a few personal observations from having purchased (and returned) the Kindle DX. The response time is slow (screen refresh, navigation, etc.), the plain black & white display is dreary, the lack of graphics is sad, and the built-in browser is horribly difficult to use.

Sure, all of the cool things you’ve heard or read about the Kindle are there as well: e-ink technology provides a really read-able display in just about any lighting situation (full sun outdoors to low lighting indoors), the wireless download of reading material is cool (although you have to take care not to accidentally purchase a book you didn’t intend to order…I did and it was impossible to get a refund), and the Kindle form factor is super-sleek.

Unfortunately, after 30 days, the coolest thing my family and I were unanimous about regarding our DX was the lovely, intricate drawings of various great classics authors that the display left on the screen when it was in sleep state. In fact, we got a little wire picture/plate holder and set our Kindle in it when it wasn’t being used – which was most of the time – so it could add a little artistic accent to our breakfast table.

But, for the several hundred dollar price, I could get a lot of Kodak e-picture frames!

All that said, I remain an Amazon fan and customer and, true to their word, the return process of the Kindle DX was mostly effortless, with the purchase price credited in full. Thank you, Amazon.

For my money (meaning “free” download), the Kindle reader app on my iPhone does the job just fine with the little bit of content I purchased while I had the DX. (Plus, I can read the books in sepia tone if I want!)

So, take it from this PEAbrained, PC user, if you have been thinking about it, but haven’t yet purchased a Kindle or a comparable book reader, think really hard about how much you would use it versus all of the other alternative forms of reading you have that are either free (like books from your public library) or more convenient, like using your smart phone, laptop, or that new Net book you may have just bought.

Speaking of which, next time I’ll share my Net book experience. Meanwhile, let me hear from you E-book users!