Money works. Every second of every hour, the world turns to the tune of 240 billion dollars of economic transactions per day. Towering through the eons upon pillars of bronze, gold, paper, and digital code, money rules us all, a force of nature as inevitable as life and gravity.
Well, it usually does, anyway. Did you have a strong urge to pay your aunt in cash for that lovely dinner last week? Have you ever walked past a group of people down on their luck and think: man, I bet I can turn a profit on that? No? That’s because you’re not a cold, calculating psychopath. Econ 101 says that money is the best mediator for all material exchanges. However, the real world shows us that introducing money into regular human interactions can often feel awkward, petty, or just plain wrong. But what if you could have your cake and eat it too? What if we could enjoy the usefulness and efficiency of money without sacrificing human decency?
In articles 2 and 3, we explored how Universal Basic Philanthropy can change the nonprofit sector for the better. Today, we take these ideas to their logical conclusion. We describe a taste of the economic impact that can arise when the world has a universally accepted charity currency to buy the things that money can’t buy. But this time, the rules are different. In place of greed and consumerism, we can build a system that values the prosperity of society as a whole: the world’s first altruistic economy.
The Limits of Money
Let’s take a look at some everyday scenarios where money doesn’t quite mesh with our delicate sensibilities.
- Paying friends to do you a favor
- Selling used belongings to friends
- Selling possessions from a deceased loved one
- Gambling at a casino
- Betting on political elections
- Ticket scalping
In all of these cases, the free flow of money is trumped by some combination of social, moral, or legal considerations. For the most part, these reservations exist for excellent reasons. Nobody wants to worry about whether your friends are after your money. Political betting can create real dangers to democracy. And so, as a society, we have decided that certain economic inefficiencies are a small price to pay for maintaining our human values. Until now, we’ve had no choice.
Token Ibis is trying to push a new way of thinking about money — one built on the principles of giving. The next time you think that spending money might be weird, immoral, or unethical, ask yourself: what if it went to charity instead?
- Owe a friend for homework help? Give her $20 to donate to her favorite nonprofit.
- Feel the itch to gamble? Bet with money earmarked for someone else’s future instead of your own.
- Caught by the wrath of Taylor Swift’s anti-ticket scalping campaign? Donate the proceeds to a good cause and make her look bad.
Money is only the root of all evil when we spend it on ourselves. When we spend it on others, the equation changes. What we once find greedy, selfish, or calculating becomes laudable when it benefits society as a whole.
Unfortunately, this strange way of thinking is not very practical right now. How do you know that your friend is going to donate that $20? How exactly can you explain your noble intentions to Taylor Swift? Until society develops the appropriate technological, financial, and cultural infrastructure, this idea is only a fun thought experiment. If only we had some universally adopted platform to manage charitable giving. If only some new Albuquerque nonprofit, perhaps one with a spiffy bird mascot, was working hard to get it started. If only.
A Greed-Free Currency
At Token Ibis, we believe there is value in giving. Through Universal Basic Philanthropy, we argued that the state should distribute it as a rightful benefit to all members of society. That’s step one.
Step two is to allow its value to be transferred freely as a new form of charity currency, which we call “ibis”. In the design of UBP, we specify that people can transfer ibis to other people. All of this happens digitally, so the process itself would be as easy as sending standard money to your friends on Venmo or using a credit card to pay Amazon. The point is that you can transfer ibis to anyone in the country and they, in turn, can transfer it to anyone else. People can save it, buy more of it, and someday, people might even be able to invest it. However, no matter what happens, every last penny will eventually go to benefit a good cause.
Ibis is not quite as useful as real money. You can’t use it to fix your car, feed your family, or buy a new yacht. But if we succeed, then ibis will be the first scalable currency in the 10,000-year history of human civilization that isn’t potentially selfish, greedy, or destructive. That changes everything.
Ibis is useful in precisely the ways that money is not. In previous sections, we saw how it could play a small role in everyday life. The purpose of this exercise was to prove two points:
- We all encounter economic interactions in everyday life where money should not be involved.
- Ibis is better at facilitating some of these interactions.
“Okay,” you might say, “but what’s the big deal?” If ibis only makes it slightly easier to trade favors or sell used furniture to friends, then it hardly seems world-changing. The critical insight is this: ibis scales. Take the intuition that greed-free money can be useful and ask yourself: what does it mean to implement it on a global scale? What does it mean to live in a world where everyone understands and participates in an economy of entirely altruistic exchanges? The potential implications are staggering, and we’ve enumerated just a few ideas below.
- New Business Models – Business models revolving around typically questionable activities like gambling or ticket scalping now made acceptable for a good cause.
- Ibis Lending – Low-interest Ibis loans for nonprofit organizations where the interest circulates back into the nonprofit sector.
- Venture Philanthropy – The ability to invest in nonprofit startups and make a profit – in Ibis – to reinvest into more good causes.
- Social Impact Bonds – High risk, high reward contracts issued by the government to solve costly social problems1.
- Awareness Markets – Prediction markets tracking social indicators like global access to electricity, child mortality, or carbon emissions.
- Social Compensation – Ibis bonuses for nonprofit workers that signal their full contributions to society.
- Obligatory Altruism – An alternative to progressive taxation that encourages wealth redistribution while protecting individual incentives.
You can find a longer description of these examples in our use cases 2. Over the coming months, we plan to add to this list and explore each possibility in greater detail. However, Token Ibis is only a small startup sustained by volunteer efforts. In a future where millions of people are working in lockstep to imagine a more connected, more decent, and more impactful altruistic economy, the possibilities are limitless.
Altruism isn’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, our instinct to balance individual accomplishment with communal prosperity must have flourished within the social dynamics of small communities. Today, these same human connections often feel small and insignificant against the unforgiving agendas of faceless corporations and governments. It’s hard to imagine that things will ever go back.
But within our complex globalizing world, maybe we can carve out a small corner for the altruistic values that we still hold dear. Perhaps we’ll apply the lessons that we’ve learned along the quest for economic profit. This time, it will be for the right reasons. Bound to these consumeristic times, at least we can build one small refuge, a place where compassion spans across economic divides and human decency endures as good as gold.