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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > Smart MONEY


Instead of corrupting everything it touches, the currency of the future will come with a conscience— and a mind of its own

What would it be like if money had a mind of its own? What if instead of notes in your wallet, guaranteed by the Bank of England, you had digital “coins” that prohibited you from buying cigarettes? What if this intelligent money could tell you whether the shop you were spending it in was paying its taxes, or reveal the working conditions in the factory that made the clothes you are about to buy? What if the pound in your pocket regulated itself, by multiplying during a recession, to increase your spending power?

We use our existing money to pay for our essential needs, for schools, hospitals, charities and the arts. But the same money finances pollution, crime, human trafficking, even violence and warfare. If money could think for itself, if it could decide what it wanted to be spent on, it might well conclude that it didn’t want to get its hands dirty.

In the distant past, different mints and different banks would vie with each other in issuing forms of money. And with the advance of technology this is happening again, as we have seen with Bitcoin. My contention, however, is that whereas in the past it could be said that the bad money would drive out the good, we are entering an era of real smart money, where the good just might be able to win out. Instead of corrupting everything it touched in the time-honoured fashion of money of old, a new generation of currency could, I believe, enable us to clean society up.

Is the idea of money as a tool of social policy absurd? Assuredly not. After all, money is, and always has been, a social construct. For the philosopher David Hume, the nearest thing to it was language. Why? Because like language the value of money depends on how many people use it. There are far simpler and more consistent languages than English, but we use it because everyone else does. Money is social in the same way—we’re all prepared to accept it to settle accounts because so is everyone else.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.