Money as fairy dust

occasional links & commentary


The most common theory of the role of banks, to judge by what my students have been taught, is financial intermediation. The idea is that banks collect the savings of many individuals and then, after keeping some of the money in reserve (to satisfy demands for withdrawals), make loans to socially useful projects. On this view, there is little difference between banks and other, nonbank financial institutions, mostly due to specific government regulations on banks (such as reserve requirements). This view serves to justify both the existence of commercial banks as financial intermediaries (between small savers and large investors) and the failure to explicitly include banks in constructing mainstream models of the macroeconomy.

We saw the consequences of both in the spectacular crash of the financial system in 2008. And we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.

So, we need to go back to square one: do banks create money?

That’s where Richard A. Werner [ht:

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Protest of the day

occasional links & commentary


The folks at Adbusters are calling on rebel economists to join them at the annual American Economics Association meetings in Boston in January.

After smothering progress for decades, the mainstream stranglehold on economic thought is finally slipping. With the recent rise of student protest movements like the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE), the demand for real-real world economics is at an all-time high, and a strategic spark may be all it takes for this growing discontent to explode into a global campus revolution.

This January, the rebel economists at Adbusters will head to the American Economic Association conference in Boston to throw off some much-needed sparks. As the largest annual gathering of economists in the U.S., and a magnet for media attention, the AEA conference is the perfect location to light brush fires in people’s minds, stoke debate, and inspire new flare ups of campus activism. From the…

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2013 IMTFI Annual Conference

I am happy to be back in Irvine for the fifth annual conference for researchers funded by IMTFI, the Institute for Money, Technology, and Fiinancial Inclusion.  Please join us on campus, or through live streaming over the web.

As you can read on the conference website:

This conference brings together the institute’s fifth-year award recipients who will present their preliminary findings. As more and more philanthropic, industry and development actors ask whether mobile technology can help provide access to needed financial services like savings and money transfer, these projects look to the experience on the ground of existing, traditional money systems and financial practices, as well as the potential and real impact of new technology in providing access to finance for the world’s poor.

Center for Social Computing Launched!

Intel announced on June 26th a new Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing, the 7th in a series of partnerships between the corporation and leading US universities.  The University of California, Irvine will be the main site for this distributed research organization, in collaboration with research groups at Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Indiana University, and New York University.  The center is co-lead by principal investigators Paul Dourish (Professor of Informatics, UC Irvine) and Scott Mainwaring (senior research scientist, Interaction and Experience Research, Intel Labs — that’s me).  Bill Maurer (Professor of Anthropology and Associate Dean of the School of Social Sciences, UC Irvine) serves as academic co-PI.

Social Computing is the study of information technologies and digital media as social and cultural phenomena.  While this has always been the case since the beginnings of the computing industry, the rise of social networking systems, Web 2.0, cloud and embedded computing, and the proliferation of ways and places to access digital media, this value, indeed necessity, of this perspective is increasingly clear.  For example, the tremendous success of Facebook and Twitter can only be understood as much the result of social processes as technological ones.  This and many other cases point to the pervasive entanglement of the social and technical worlds, and a pressing need for new paradigms for the design and analysis of technologies, paradigms that are rooted in the theories and methods of the social sciences and humanities as much as they are in engineering and the hard sciences.

For too long, social scientists and technologists have worked as if their domains were essentially independent.  In certain special cases the two communities have come together, productively, to understand and build devices, products, and services that could not be realized without such collaboration.  In the 70s and 80s, as time-sharing and PCs brought computing power to mass audiences, we saw the rise of human-computer interaction, and new or newly prominent professions like “human factors engineer” and “interaction designer”.  Likewise in the 90s and 00s, the rise of the consumer-based internet economy required and built upon different kinds of dialogs between technologists and people-focused disciplines like “ethnographic consumer research” and “experience design”.

Technology is now instrumental in defining who we are, how we think about ourselves and our lives, and how we act individually and collectively.  With sensors, clouds, and pervasive possibilities of access, we no longer have to actually use technology to be affected by it.  Can you really remain unaffected by Facebook even if you opt out of it, if your friends, relatives, and future employers increasingly rely on it?  As a culture can we afford to accept as given the trending topics algorithm on Twitter or the search algorithms of Google, if these substantially shape what gets noticed and what gets bypassed by our attention and interests, individually and collectively.

The time is ripe, for Intel and for our industry, for new ways of thinking about, managing, and creating technology.  The technology-infused worlds we live in, and our children will live in, demand different, more productive conversations between engineers, architects, producers, and regulators of the technologies that will underlie tomorrow’s organizations, societies, and cultures, on one hand; and the anthropologists, cultural theorists, science and technology studies scholars, and critical design researchers who are centrally concerned with the nature, origins, and futures of these organizations, societies, and cultures, on the other.

The mission of the Social Computing center is to help create these new dialogs and collaborations.  It is organized around five research themes:

  • Materialities of Information:  re-thinking “information” as grounded in materials and physical objects.
  • Subjectivities of Information:  moving beyond “the user” as the center of user-experience and user-centered design.
  • Information Ecosystems:  How we relate to each other in, around, and through data.
  • Creativity and Collectivity:  Group-embedded technical creativity and how it can change the world.
  • Algorithmic Living:  Digital representations and algorithms that change how we understand ourselves.

Research activities will span across one or more of these themes.  For example, as part of a project looking at food security and cyberinfrastructure, center researchers will be conducting a case study of Benefits CalWin, an e-government initiative of the State of California to provide services to the state’s food-insecure populations.  By evaluating the design of the online application portal, ethnographically engaging with the practices of outreach workers, and designing and building technologies to support these workers in helping their clients, this project will contribute to the Materiality, Ecosystems, and Creativity and Collectivity themes.  And beyond the question of food and responsibilities of states, it may also produce insights applicable to Intel’s efforts to reach out and provide service to different stakeholder communities.

We look forward to engaging with stakeholders across Intel who are planning for and building tomorrow’s products, services, and infrastructures.  For more information, please contact us or consult our website,

IMTFI First Annual Conference

UC Irvine’s Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion will be holding their first annual conference November 4th and 5th:

Please join IMTFI for the First Annual Conference for Funded Research. This conference brings together the Institute’s inaugural set of award recipients who will present their preliminary findings based on research in 14 developing world countries. As more and more philanthropic, industry and development actors ask whether mobile technology can help provide access to needed financial services like savings and money transfer, these projects look to the experience on the ground of existing, traditional money systems and financial practices, as well as the potential and real impact of new technology in providing access to finance for the world’s poor.

The conference is open to the public November 4-5, 2009 at the University of California, Irvine in the Doheny Beach Conference Room, first floor of the UCI Student Center. Parking is $7. Registration is free, but space is limited. To register, please email or call (949) 824-2284 by Oct. 26.

For hotel accommodations you may contact Ayres Hotel & Suites of Costa Mesa and ask for IMTFI First Annual Conference rates. The nearest airport is John Wayne (SNA), but you may also fly into Long Beach (LGB) and Los Angeles International (LAX).

To read more about IMTFI’s currently funded projects, see Funded Research.

*photo courtesy of Melissa Cliver

The Bottom of the Pyramid in Practice

I’ll be a discussant next month at a workshop co-sponsored by PaPR and IMTFI:   The Bottom of the Pyramid in Practice (Doheny Beach conference room, UC Irvine Student Center, June 1&2, 2009;

The term “bottom of the pyramid” (BoP) refers to the four billion people who live on less than $2 per day in developing countries who have been recognized as comprising a large market for productivity-enhancing goods and services.
In recent years, interest this group has grown substantially, with the understanding that increasing the well-being of the poor while increasing the profits of the private sector can simultaneously be a sound development and business strategy. However, while much has been written on the BoP, the claims and assumptions behind variations on this model and the pathways through which it works on the ground remain unclear. There is surprisingly little research on how, and for whom, the principles of development-through-entrepreneurship work “in practice”.
This workshop will bring together leading social scientists and scholars from academia and industry in order to provide a more informed understanding of the bottom of the pyramid as a development and business strategy, particularly through the lens of information and communication technologies. It will explore BoP opportunities, practice, and criticism by looking at a variety of services including: the implementation of financial services, education, health and governance services for the poor. In particular the mobile phone and ICT telecenters have taken a prominent role in delivery strategies.
The event is free and open to the public, but please email or call (949) 824-2284 by May 27, 2009 to register.
Industrial Workers of the World poster, 1911
An Industrial Workers of the World poster, 1911

Everyday Digital Money

Everyday Digital Money

Anthropologist Bill Maurer at UC Irvine and I are holding a workshop on how information and communication technologies are changing everyday experience and practice of money. It’s titled Everyday Digital Money: Innovation in Money Cultures and Technologies, and we are pleased to have Keith Hart and Jonathan Donner as plenary speakers.

The workshop is at UC Irvine on September 18 and 19, 2008.  Please see the workshop website at and interactive program/blog at for more information.