Most modern people assume that a money system has to be established and regulated by the government. Those who reject this view tend to assume that money must be based on a precious metal like gold. Both these views are wrong. A money system can emerge in any community where people trust each other. All that is needed is a few people that are trusted by everyone in the community. Christians need to understand this. The money systems of the world are shaking and may eventually collapse. Christian communities should be strong on trust, so they will be well placed to develop to stable money systems to replace the ones that have failed. This article describes how a community-based money and banking process could emerge and grow.
A community-based banking service would most likely start when a trustworthy person starts supplying goods and services to other people in exchange for things that they need. The trustworthy person might begin recording their economic transactions. The process would not need to be sophisticated. A slate or exercise book would suffice. If the trustworthy person trusts some of the people being supplied, they might be given them credit by allowing to buy goods without paying for them straight away. The trustworthy person would keep a slate recording the amounts that various people owe. Keeping records in this way would enable the trustworthy person to become an active trader in the community.
Provided they trust the person keeping it, a person clearing their slate might provide more goods and services than they owe. Their record on the slate would be changed from a negative to positive. By recording negative and positive values, the slate would develop into a record of debits and credits. The trustworthy trader would owe things to some people and be owed something by others. These economic transactions would be recorded on the slate or exercise book.
The next step in the development would be for person who has received something from another to settle their debt by asking the trustworthy person to reflect this transaction on the slate by changing their balance to negative and changing the record for the person supplying the goods to a positive value. The trustworthy person would facilitate trade within the community by recording debits and credits and shifting them between people as they exchange goods and services.
The trustworthy trader could extend their business by providing the same recording service for other producers and traders. Many of these would not have sufficient trust in the community to be able to do this for themselves. People could then start bringing their surplus goods to the market and sell them to any other trader in return for a credit with the record-keeping trader. They could then use the credit to purchase goods from the traders who had what they wanted.
Once their service is widely accepted, the record-keeping trader might start recording the purchases and sales for everyone living within the community. Some might leave some of their credit with the record-keeper until they needed fresh goods later in the week. More people would use this record-keeping service when they see that many people trust the record-keeper trader and this way of doing business offer greater flexibility than barter.
If the recording business grows, the trustworthy person might need to charge a small fee for the service, but this specialisation would allow other people to focussing on doing what they did best. They would eventually give up trading and make their living from record-keeping. The trusted person could only specialise in this way, if they were scrupulous about maintaining the trust of the community. If the record-keeper were to start making mistakes, or was to shift credits onto their own account, people would quickly stop trusting them, and their business would die very fast.
Money emerged this way in many traditional communities. Most people would be self-sufficient for food. If they wanted to buy shoes from a local cobbler or clothing from a local garment maker, they would often buy it on credit, because, they might not be able to pay for it until the harvest had come. The cobbler would know his neighbours, so he would only give credit to those he knew to be creditworthy, ie those he trusted. The garment maker might buy some shoes by swapping some debts with the cobbler. Trade emerged with local traders keeping a slate of those who owed payment to them. Banking emerged when responsibility for recording uncompleted exchanges was taken over by a specialist.
In some communities, several people will operate this transaction recording service. The next step in the development of community banking would be the cancelling out of countervailing debts and credits between different recorders. If a person had a credit with one record-keeper, that person could get them to another pass the credit to another record-keeper to assign to another person that has supplied the first person with for goods or services.
The record-keeper would be happy to pass a positive balance to another recorder, because it does not belong to them, but to the person they recorded it for. They would not mind if the person who was previously positive went negative in the records, because it is not a debt owed to the record-keeper, but to the rest of the community. The debt would only fall to the record-keeper, if the person owing it cheated by keeping on taking, but refusing to give anything to anyone else. This would be a risky course to take, because once the record-keeper alerted the rest of the community to what is going on, that cheat would either be ostracised or intimidated into settling their debt.
A wise record-keeper would stop recording their own debts and credits and get another trusted recorder to do it. That would reduce the temptation to cheat and add extra transparency to their operation.
Once several people have entered the record-keeping business, the negative and positive balances recorded by particular record keepers would no longer balance. One might have negative exceeding positives. Another might have positives exceeding negatives. However, the negatives and balances would balance out across the entire community. For everyone in the community who is owed something, there would be another person in the community who owned the same amount. If all the records were put together, the balances should net to zero.
The various record-keepers in a community would be competing with each other to have the most trust. If one lost a bit of trust, people would quickly shift their business to another recorder. To maintain trust, record-keepers would need to allow anyone who wanted to examine their records to do it. Most would not have time to do it, so someone with spare time might regularly go round and check the records of everyone undertaking this business in the community. These record-auditors could would regularly add up the net balance on each record keepers books and check that they netted to zero. This would quickly expose any fraud. The auditors would support the community by publishing their findings.
At first, record communicated would be very simple an manual. As the economy expanded, the record keepers would develop electronic systems. They would eventually develop distributed and mobile systems that would record transactions anywhere in the community. The result would be a fully functioning money system.
The task of the record-keeper is to keep a record of who in the community is owed something and who owes something to the community.
In an act of charity, one person gives and another receives. There are no outstanding debts.
In barter, both people give and receive at the same time. The transactions are reciprocal, so there is no outstanding obligation.
In a market transaction, giving and receiving are not reciprocal.
After a sales transaction, the seller has given, but has not received.
The buyer has received, but has not given.
The record-keepers will record that the buyer has received, but not yet given. The buyer has taken on an obligation to give something to someone in the community. More likely, they will have had a previous obligation from the community wiped out. The seller has given, but has not yet received. The community now has an obligation to give something to them. More likely, he will have had a previous obligation to give someone to the community wiped out.
If someone has a positive record, they have given things to other people in their community without receiving anything equivalent in return. They are not someone wanting something for nothing, so people in the community should be willing to supply them.
The person who has given but not received will be recorded as plus x. The community has an obligation to that person. The person who has received, but not given will be recorded as negative x. They will have the agreed to the price of the purchase that they have deducted from their account. They have an obligation to the community that can only be settled by giving something of similar value to someone else in their community.
Units of Account
The unit that debts are recorded in does not matter, provided everyone understands it and uses it. It can relate to a particular commodity or to a currency that has existed in the past. People can look around and see goods and services priced in the units adopted, so they can see what the unit is worth.
Historians record that pounds, shillings and pence were used as units of account in Western Europe hundreds of years after these coins had stopped circulating. Coins in these denominations did not exist, but people still used these units for recording debts and other market valuations. When I was growing up, guineas were used at stock auctions even though these coins have not existed here for more than a hundred years.
Initially people would try to minimise their risk by quickly making a purchase to eliminate their credit balance. Once they learnt to trust the record-keepers, some might leave some of their credit with the record-keeper until they needed fresh goods later in the week. Over time, they might leave their positive balances longer and longer, as they match the timing of their purchases to their needs. If they trusted the record-keeper and their community, they might build up their credit balance over a couple of years, to save up for a big purchase.
Other members of the community could set up as loan brokers. They would offer those with positive balances a monthly interest rate, if they would lend it to someone with a more immediate need. The loan broker would need to establish the trustworthiness of the person borrowing. They might need to guarantee compensation, if the borrower defaulted.
Record-keepers would not become loan brokers, as they would lose their independence and people would stop trusting them. Trust would be so important to their business that they would need to avoid any activity that would put it at risk. A record keeper who lost trust would have lost their business, before they could recover their trust.
Created by the Community
Money is not created by the government. Money created by the trust of the people in the community in which it is issued and accepted. The value of a currency only extends as far as the authority and reliability of the group that accepts it is trusted.
Trust fosters trade. If trust in is limited to immediate neighbours and friends trade will be almost impossible. If trust extends to larger communities, trade and specialisation will increase. If trust spreads across many communities, trade will expand.
State money only has value within the boundary of the state. Most coins have a picture of the king on them. People assume that the king's coins have value anywhere that the king has control. This is an illusion. A coin is only of value as far as the king is trusted and most kings are not trusted, because they have frequently debased their coins.
A king cannot make money valuable. A king cannot force a people to trust his money. All he can do is demand that people pay taxes using their coins. This creates some demand for the king's coins, but it does not establish trust in the king's money. A king's money will only be used throughout a nation if the people know that other people within the community will accept in exchange for goods and services. If that trust disappears then the money will stop being used as people find safer ways to trade. A king cannot stop this from happening.
The fiat money that we currently use is backed by the government. Most people assume that it can be trusted because the laws require everyone to accept it for the settlement of debt and for the payment of taxes. Trust in fiat money is really trust in the government. Unfortunately, governments cannot be trusted. Throughout history, they have debased their currencies and their people have suffered terribly.
The truth is that money only has value, if people of the community accept it as having value. It will only be trusted, if the people of the community trust it. They will only trust it, if the key traders in their accept it. If people stop honouring the obligation it represents, its value disappears, regardless of whose picture is on it or the laws behind it. If traders stop accepting money, then its value will disappear, regardless of who has issued the money?
When I have a hundred dollar note in my pocket, I feel confident, but what am I trusting? I am not assuming that the paper has value. I am not trusting the bureaucrat who signature is on it. I am trusting the people in my community. I am relying on some in the community to exchange the note for something that I need.
Money is a debt obligation of the entire community, not a particular individual, so there is no formal contract as is the case with a debt owed by one person or business to another.. Money records are a commitment by a community. The right to receive goods in return for money is personal, residing with the person who holds it, but the obligation to provide goods in return for the money is not belong to a specific person, but rests with the entire community.
A particular person will supply goods in exchange for money, if they are confident that other people in the community will give do the same for them. At the time when they give up something in return for money, they probably do not know who in the community has the goods or service that they want to buy with it. They rely on the fact that most people in their community are willing to accept money and presume that someone one will be willing to receive money for goods or services, when they are ready to buy something. If individuals stop trusting their community, they will be unwilling to give up for goods and services in return for the money that circulates in the community.
Record-keepers will initially record transactions on a slate or in a notebook. As their business grows, they might transfer their records onto a laptop or iPad. Eventually, a networked system that links up all the record-keepers might be built by one of the Thousands and leased to other record-keepers.
Money is really portable information technology. A coin is a token recording the obligation of the community to the person holding it. A banknote is a paper record of the same obligation. Notes and coins are a record of the obligation of the community to the person holding them. When that person receives goods or services from someone in the community, the obligation is cancelled, so the notes and coins are handed over. They are handed over to the person who supplied the goods of the service, as a record the obligation of the community to provide goods and services to them.
When a purchase is made using EFTPOS, the obligation is recorded using electronic information technology. Efficient electronic information technology is better for recording this type of information than notes and coins, provided it is accessible wherever people want to buy and sell.
Money requires trust to function effectively. Gold is not real money. It is actually a form of barter. When a person makes a purchase with gold coins, they have exchanged one good for another. Gold is easier to barter than most other goods, because most people will accept it. Gold works well in in a society where trust has broken down, as it does not require any trust. People do not have to hand over the things they are selling until they have seen the coins they will receive exchange. Carrying round gold coins is quite inefficient, but it allows free exchange of goods to take place in a society where trust is gone.
During times of war or social tumult, trust naturally declines. Gold become more important for trade, because no one knows who can be trusted. Someone accepting gold or silver in exchange for goods trusts nothing but the accuracy of the scales and the quality of the metal.
The use of gold coins usually leads to a gold standard where bankers store the gold and their notes circulate as money. People trust the bankers issuing the money, but they do not need to trust the rest of their community, because they can always go and withdraw their gold and use it for trade, if people stop trusting the banker's notes. The gold standard is not based on trust, so it is a money system for communities with no trust.
When trade and exchange take place between people in different communities and nations, the transactors do know each other, so they will not usually be able to trust each other sufficiently to give credit. Gold and silver were always important for people travelling to different countries, because it enabled them to make payment for purchases from people who did not trust them. Coins were not much use in this situation, because even if their genuineness was authenticated by the mark of a banker or king, they would be trusted outside their own territory. In the traditional world, travellers would use scales to measure the gold or silver they used to make purchases while on their journeys.
When the time is right, many churches will need to start a recording-keeping services as an alternative to failing banks. A banking system is just a network of information systems that record debts and obligations between people. These debts and obligations change as people buy and sell goods and services. The church is a network of relationships, so it would be well-placed to establish a transaction-recording network. A banking system is a network of networks. A network of churches established by true apostolic leadership could fulfil the same role.
When the Kingdom of God advances, human society will naturally form into in Tens, Hundreds and Thousands. A network of honest banks could develop within these communities. All that is needed is a few record-keepers who are trusted by the other people in their community. A trusted trader within a Hundred could start keeping records on behalf of the people that belong to their community. Alternatively, a Ten might take responsibility for maintaining records on behalf of the Hundred in which they participate.
A Ten would probably not need to keep money records, because its relationships will be governed by love. Most transactions will be gifts with nothing expected in return. This works fine in a small community, but it is not practical for a larger social group.
The trader who kept records for their Hundred could establish links with other Hundreds, as traders with a reputation for honesty replicate this role within their own community. Apostles will help them establish links with other record-keepers. Provided trust exists between the leaders of these communities, trade between Hundreds and Thousands should flow easily.
The various record-keepers will maintain good relationships with the record-keepers in other Thousands. They will be able to transfer debits and credits to other record-keepers, because they are not shifting money, but simply transferring the record of a debts and credits.
Trust and Obligation
A Christian community should be full of trust. This is a huge advantage, as money functions best when people trust the other people in their community. When people accept money, they are trusting other people in their community to accept it in exchange for goods or services. They do not have to trust everyone in the community, but they will need to know there are enough trustworthy people in the community to give credibility to the community-based money. They also need to know that the record-keepers in the community can be trusted.
Money represents a debt of the community. The value of money depends on the people of the community honouring its obligation. There is a strong biblical basis for honouring community-based money. Paul said,
Give to everyone what you owe them Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another (Rom 13:7-8).
These are commands to the Christians community to honour its obligations. They are the basis for a money recording system.
The transactions recorded by record-keepers are the obligations of the community. They are not the obligations of the record-keeper, or the bank. The record-keeper just records the debts and obligations of people in the community. If the community breaks down and ceases to honour its obligations, or fobs them off to someone else, the obligations that have been recorded may prove to be worthless.
The leaders of a community will want to protect the reputation of their community. They will ensure that all debts of their community are met. The stronger the community, the greater will be the trust in money records of the community.
Notes and coins are a very portable form of information technology. Having information so distributed allows great flexibility, as people can use it anywhere in their community at a time and place that suits them.
A dispersed money system will be essential for survival during a time of persecution. If Christian individuals and churches hold their money in the world's banking system, the government can easily confiscate it. Money dispersed within communities will be much safer. A record of an obligation to the community cannot be stolen, as it has no value outside the community. If the government steal the money, the community would refuse to acknowledge the obligation.
If money records are stored on a computer network, these records could be dispersed across many computers. If computers are unsafe, the records could be kept on paper or in a notebook.
Dealing with the World System
Christian record-keepers in a community-based financial system would need to deal with the financial system of the world. People would only be able to buy outside the community, if someone from the community selling stuff out. If a trader sells stuff for any other currency, they would bring it to a record keeper in their community and exchange it for a positive balance in their communities money system. The record-keeper would hold the other money some other person in their community wants to buy something that has to be paid for with that currency.
The trader would have to specify an exchange rate between the community money and the world's currency. The best way to arrive at this would be to sell any world money they receive to the highest bidder in their community to determine the rate of exchange rate that should prevail. This means that the community would only be able buy from outside their community, if others are selling stuff outside of the community.
Record-keepers who manage currency exchange may need to hold some reserves of the world's, so that dollars would be available when people in the community wanting to make a purchase from someone in the world system. Managing these reserves would be a challenge. The exchange rate between the community and the world would have to adjusted to ensure that demand for these reserves did not become too great.
The best way to handle reserves of other currencies might be to establish a company or trust to hold them. This would provide more security for record-keepers in times of persecution, as the reserves could not be traced to one person. The company might hold some cash and it could operate a credit card. This would allow them to do business in the world when people wanted to undertake these transactions.
In really troubled times, it might not be possible to trade with the world, so people might have to limit themselves to trading with the wider Christian community (Hundreds and Thousands). This would reduce the division of labour and could decrease wealth.
Long Distance Transactions
Apostles will have links with apostles in other nations. They will also be receiving funding from their sending churches. This will be enable them to arrange transfers between people living in different nations. The money will not be sent across boarders using the traditional methods. Apostles will use a method, more akin to the transfer (halawa) systems that have widespread use in the Middle East and Asia. When someone want to make a payment in their home country, the apostle will take their local money. They will not send it to the desired recipient, but keep it for themselves. Instead, they will get someone in their sending church to credit the desired amount with the record-keeper account used by the specified recipient.
This process enables the a person in the apostles country to make a payment to someone in the apostles home country. At the same time, the home church transfers support funding to the apostle in the country they have been sent to. These two transfers take place without any money or gold having to cross the border. This is a more secure process, because the money cannot be stolen on the way. In times of persecution, it will allow transfers to take place, without a totalitarian being able to prevent the transfer or steal the money.
The amounts going each way would not need to be equal. Different amounts could go each way. The apostle and the person in the sending country would keep a record of amounts transferred each way. Frome time to time, the person in the home country would visit the apostle or the apostle would Return to their home country for a break, or to encourage the people left behind. The two people would use their times together to settle the differences between the transfers one way and transfers the other way.
This process requires trust between the person in each country. Apostles will have a network of people that they trust in various countries. This network could arrange a wide variety of transfers need to support international trade and international giving. If trust broke down, this process would become unworkable. The only alternative in time of turmoil would recourse to transfers of gold or other precious metals. Gold money function when trust has broken down, but is very risky, as anything that stores value can be stolen while it is being moved from place to place.
An apostle might charge a small fee for providing this service. This would contribute to the support of their ministry. When the business grew in side, they apostle would arrange for one of the deacons in the new church to take responsibility for managing the money transfer work. The deacon would have proved that they can be trusted with money during their work with the poor. However, although the deacon would be managing the business, it would still be relying on the trust being the apostles and colleagues in their sending church.
Under the threat of competition from sound community-based banks, the existing commercial banks might be forced to change their way of operating. They would have to shift from holding assets and liabilities to keeping records of debts and payments. Their system already has an electronic system for recording transactions. They just need to get the deposits off their balance sheets.
These banks would begin operating like a share registry. The operator of the registry does not record the shares as assets or liabilities on their balance sheet. They simply record changes of ownership of shares.
In the same way, a warehouse owner keeps a list of things stored and who owns them. This will change over time. In some cases, the things stored will be the same, but the owner will change. A key role of a warehouse operator is to keep reliable records. This is the best model for banking. If customers demand this type of banking service, all banks would have to provide it.
On the other hand, if the reliability of Christian record-keepers is accepted throughout their society, other currencies will gradually be squeezed out and the world system will gradually become redundant. Transactions with the world system would become less frequent.