I’ve been doing these interviews at Moos as part of my residency—here are some of our conversations about Circles.
Hey @rosano - thank you for sharing!
These were such fascinating usage reports and thoughtful criticism, and interesting conversations. I cleaned up the youtube generated transcripts as best I could, and thought it might help others if I just pasted it below. The highlighting is just some of my favorite parts.
Rosano > Do you have any thoughts on circles?
Cassie Thornton > I think there’s still a ton of potential for it in this residency and in general. Particularly I’m very interested in economic experiments and I think the potential that I hope we don’t miss in this residency is to use a researcher to really look at the effects of using an alternative economic system to pay rent. Because it’s sort of the dream of most alternative currencies is to create a situation where people would be able to use an alternative currency to pay for hardcore resources in their lives because then that means that they would be able to also put more value into the system. If you’re paying circles for rent that means that there would be an excuse for you to um maybe like produce podcasts for Circles for other people or something. Because you would be able to put your labor into the Circle’s economy, because you have to pay rent with it. So i think there’s a lot of potential to really making that a structured experiment and a focus of a community, and sort of following and seeing what happens. So I’m really curious about that, and I’m very curious about an alternative economic model that is run by awesome people because many of the people that are working at the cooperative that supports Circles in Berlin are like, you know, decolonial theorists, economic anthropologists, like people that are really smart that are really trying to do this well. With a really great liberatory set of politics that believes that capitalism is [bad] and racism and colonialism are [bad] and so building an economy that is aware of that that for me is like very captivating. Because most alternative economic models that actually make it as far as Circles has made it made it, couldn’t engage with that type of thought.
Manuela Bosch > I like Circles. Part of Circles is I’m using this contemporary currency that’s based on a blockchain, that is also providing me with a sort of a basic income. I love how it also brings people together. For example, I’m working with this camera person, videographer, at the moment in some of my projects, and they have come to me through Circles because they could see, “oh you can participate in this Workshop through paying with circles” and they brought so much value too. But, I’m not so actively using it at the moment because the technology is still quite challenging and it needs quite some interest and dedication to use it and not everybody I’m working with is so dedicated to this nerdy nerdy stuff. I would say I’m still grateful of, last Thursday I facilitated a workshop session and some people paid with Circles and I will use it to buy food at the zero waste shop that I really want to support. It works for me on a small scale*. It also requires a lot of engagement and willingness to onboard people to the system and promote the system. And it’s not my main focus at the moment. It might come back again, and I’m very happy to observe what is happening in the field around Circles, how people are engaged and to be part of something so exciting.
Rosano > It’s interesting that we talked a lot about platform cooperativism before, and just so you have this Tech angle in addition to your more, let’s say, physical world grounded stuff, analog stuff. I just feel you would look at circles in a different way than someone who’s, maybe, just using it to maybe get their basic income, and they don’t understand how the system works, or don’t want to, and they’re just a bit more detached. So even though you’re saying it’s not a strong part of what you’re doing now, I think just to have someone like you involved in it in some way is valuable, because it brings this wider perspective. And also goes more towards this integration with normal life, or how do we integrate this in various aspects of our lives? How do we get people in this kind of thing, even if it might not be happening now? I think in the future it could happen if more people like you are involved in it. so I just think it’s cool that you’re into it. Thank you.
MB > There has been really a strong connection also with Circles and Moos, and I’m really grateful for the projects it brought together. And also incubated, that was kind of a symbiosis between circles and Moos in my perspective. The projects have to speak for themselves, but some startup projects around, for example, zero waste, or other offerings. They should get bigger, they should get sustainable businesses. I feel Circles and Moos together have enabled that in my perspective, or at least inspired it. So yeah, it’s been also really great what has been happening around that having this other form of funding and having a community platform.
Jo Vavra > Circles was one of the things that brought my interest towards this project, yes, but I know that we aligned on that. I thought like, “wow, how amazing,” that finally there is a test run of a project to create an alternative economy that is more based on the gift economy and exchange, we can create different kind of value moving away from capitalism, which is exactly what I’m passionate about. So I was very very curious and excited to do this. Coming also from a little bit of a lay woman perspective, in terms of crypto, or in terms of, you know how things work on blockchain and how that can be connected to the Universal Basic Income, however I kind of demystified it. And then thought, “Okay, well, this is a graspable distance.” What I realized with Circles is, that how difficult it is to drive any kind of systemic change and how much dedication and motivation, education, in time it needs from multiple people engaged to actually do this kind of experiment. I would be curious to hear what are your thoughts on why it didn’t work out?
Rosano > And what you’re implying, I think I do agree with that, There’s different barriers, let’s call it, this way one of them is maybe forcing people to understand crypto. Things like secret phrases and protecting it, and people end up losing their keys because they don’t understand what it means to protect us, and then they lose their money or whatever. So that’s one barrier. And then another one, is just the errors… if you can’t use the system to transfer money then you’re kind of not fulfilling the objective as a currency, so that gets in the way of a lot of people. Yes and then errors, part two, which is just getting an account. I mean it’s just all of this stuff in terms of how the system is built. I think if those three things were fixed like it would have been a very different result, yes for sure. And there’s probably other reasons. And also I don’t want to be super critical about the team, because they’re from my understanding and they’re not necessarily technology people, I think. I understand even maybe they consider themselves as, let’s say, political people doing technology or doing crypto, so this brings a different perspective and a different set of priorities. I think despite that the functioning thing should be a priority, nonetheless there’s different dynamics at play, and so they obviously did very well in terms of getting people excited about it and getting a community together that somehow is still, even after all of this stuff has been broken, they’re still trying to make things work. so that’s something that’s really important to recognize I think. I guess also there is this mechanism of, or let’s say the lack of, exchange. I think atmosphere, let’s say, in this residency where the concept was we get people to send them out Circles…. this isn’t really facilitating an exchange, where we’re creating value by being able to get things for Circles or by offering things for Circles. So therefore the value of the Circles are not going to augment what’s in the residency, but then outside of the residency, I think there’s just a tendency for people to think “what can I buy with my Circles?” Which is totally natural, but at some point people need to start offering things. And I’m not saying this as a way to blame people for not offering it, but it’s just there has to be thought into how do you create these feedback loops, where people get something, and then they put something back into the system and then we’re exchanging with each other? Or how do we find ways to give and take? This kind of thing. So I think that part wasn’t really conceived, and so we’re all just kind of figuring it out on the fly. And that’s also fine, but it’s not easy, and even in a situation like this residency, we had very favorable conditions to be generous, because everything is kind of resolved for us and we can just focus on our art or on our community or whatever. And like even then we weren’t using the currency to facilitate any kind of value exchanges, so it just required some work to like figure that out. I think Richard was somebody who was really like exploring this: he figured out how to, say, exchange his time for some Zoom calls, and then facilitate exchange conversations or lectures or like sell NFTs, or I don’t know… All kinds of ideas. He was really experimenting with that. But there was a lot of deliberate effort on his part to do that. So I don’t know if it’s naive for me to think about this, but it would would have been nice if the teams that were conceiving of the software – or at least trying to propagate it through the different communities – if they had a concept or some like sort of ready-made ideas that people could just take and apply in terms of how to trade things there are I mean there would be suggestions like you can convince your local bakery to accept circles for um saved for things that they were going to throw away but they can give it to you for circles and then they have something so this is good but you kind of have to like dig and make a lot of effort to like make this connection so I’m not sure what the best solution is there but um yeah for me that’s some idea yep
JV > Yeah, yeah. When you were speaking I also realized again is this danger of falling into the same kind of pattern or narrative, while having this new tool as Circles, but using it exactly in the same way. And I think that on top of what you just said about the technical difficulties, which I also agreed that was the first thing that made it impossible to flourish, but then there is also this proximity of the way we relate with money that exactly that the way we would then relate it to Circles in terms of… It felt like we’re just collecting circles to pay rent, which is not a criticism towards the people who are running this, because I knew that it was a sort of a necessity, but we were still trapped in the exactly same system of just collecting capital to be able to buy off the rent. Which is not facilitating any exchange, just collecting.
Rosano > Did you have your own ideas about how to facilitate this kind of exchange between people, things that let’s say we in the residency could have done? Or people in the larger Circles community could have done, or can do today, regarding Circles? Like how to actually use it in this more exchange-oriented circular economy?
JV > Yeah I think ideally it would be this kind of exchange, that we could offer our services or consultations, or a massage, or any kind of exchange, that means it’s for real. No I’m not sure if we can do more than that to be honest. I kind of have a feeling that you know, this tool is also sort of limited to that. I don’t know if we can do more, you know -
Rosano > because it’s money
JV > Exactly, we can do more as as humans exchanging and in terms of gift economy, of course we can do more. But if we want to operate with a currency, whether this is Circles or Euros, it’s still a principle of money, and I’m not sure if we can go further than this kind of exchange.
Rosano > Yeah I mean in all of the projects that you’ve done in your life, have you come close to something like this, where you’re able to facilitate this kind of exchange in a little ecosystem?
JV > Yeah, I mean that’s what we’re doing with Leos, when we do residencies in the desert. The Residency is based on the program that is offered by all the agents that come signing up to this temporary community. So for example we have 60 people for 10 days in a camp in the desert. Before the residency, we gather their ideas of workshops, offerings, performances, art pieces, talks that they would like to facilitate, or projects that they want to invite other people to join. And then there’s a team that kind of organizes it to some sort of daily structure, which we also experimented with different ways of doing that, from, let’s say, more of a linear day-to-day hourly structure, to very holistic – no time structure — of just when the point where the sun is at the sky. We tried different things. But I think this is the closest to what I got from this kind of exchange, because yes people do pay a fee for a residency, which is a very minimum fee that covers the food and the rental of the space, and it’s still subsidized by fundings that we receive. But after paying this fee throughout the period of the residency which is 10 days 20 days or a month there’s no monetary exchange because the food and the like accommodation is covered and then people just offer different practices and it works but it’s also like very externalized from society or life that’s why I like the poetic space of a desert because it’s somehow easy to create this bubble of Utopia or Apocaltopia.
Rosano > People that are exchanging in this space are not doing this in the sense of an economy, and it feels more like they’re just like friends or they’re just people that are living together so uh I mean I don’t think you’re trying to tell you’re not you’re certainly not telling them like okay you guys can do whatever you want in exchange like I think people are just living there and they’re just naturally like collaborating it just seems very different from again using money to exchange things or even the kinds of things that you would do in exchange for money like in a space like this like bunch of people some of them know each other some of them don’t they come to the desert for like three weeks a month or whatever they’re living together they’ve paid in advance for food and and then everything else is just based on their intentions or desires. It seems like they’re all effectively roommates in the desert. Like you might just do something nice to help out your roommate, just because they’re… let’s say you might help your neighbor without needing to exchange something, just because this is where you live. It’s like an extension of you, because it’s your space, and we’re all sharing the space together. So I feel like there’s a natural reflex to just do things and not necessarily exchange, although maybe even then an exchange will happen, but it just feels like a different mentality to me.
JV > I’m not really sure if I see a difference. I mean it’s way easier to do it in this kind of close bubble of 50 people in the micro community, but the idea with this is to actually create an alternative that could be replicated in terms of how we would live, because I don’t think personally that we need money into in order to live, in the ideal world where we could have food that we grow and access to water.
Rosano > You know maybe this is the thing, because it is kind of an apocalypse scenario where there’s like there’s no I mean it’s a desert, there’s no water, whatever. And so I think in this scenario, you wouldn’t think about “I gave you some food the other day, so now you have to do something in exchange.” I mean you’re not going to let somebody starve or something, because it’s the apocalypse! So maybe in that sense like it’s less about exchange and just about helping one another, which somehow it seems different to me
JV > Yeah I see that. I see that you can see it differently. But I think it has the same root, because I think exchange comes from the point of helping one another originally. Because for me exchange is not trying to exchange for the same value as you give, that becomes capitalistic. Then I think exchange is an exchange of energy, it’s basically any kind of relation is an exchange. And if we see it like this, then we’re getting out of this idea of measuring time, whether I spend you know like now one hour on cooking your dinner, and you’re gonna have to give me a massage for an hour, I don’t know. Because this seems very superficial to me. This is like a way of thinking that we get from being conditioned by capitalism, that everything needs to have a value of exchange. I think ideally we can exchange whatever we want to exchange after we are satisfied and sorted with our own needs, and the surplus of that time or this resource that I have I can give. And this is more a gift economy, not an exchange economy. So I think what is actually important in creating these kinds of prototypes and projects, it’s this kind of very personal work of having these basic needs — whatever it means to different people, because that can be very different — what are your basic needs, but having those needs covered. And then the rest, it’s kind of a gift, which I think is also the core idea of like Universal Basic Income. It stems from that as well. Yeah, so in that sense I think Universal basic income is kind of a step moving away from capitalism through the means of capitalism. Still using money, using the something that we’re actually, at the deep heart of it, are trying to get away from. So for me it’s like a middle step from which potentially we could fully move into a non-monetary system but it’s a kind of a necessary step to bridge.
Max Heiven > I really like the Circles team, and I like the way that they talk and the way that they think about Circles as a currency that might help us build towards a basic income, unlike a lot of cryptocurrencies. You can’t really speculate on it, you can’t really make money from it, it’s not a investment vehicle, it’s really more like a Local Economic Trading System or what they call used to call LETS, like a local currency. Except it can be traded globally, has a really weird and interesting technological architecture. But I think the most significant thing about it, other than the fact that it’s built to facilitate local exchanges, is that it provides every consistent user with I think 200 at this point 240 Circles a month. So the idea is that we, as a community, or an economy, are providing ourselves with a basic income, rather than waiting for the government to give us a basic income. And I think it’s a really interesting experiment. I’m generally in favor of economic and monetary experiments. I’m also generally in favor of rebuilding a non-capitalist economy from the bottom up, rather than saying like, “Okay, well the government needs to change a bunch of things and then things will be better,” to say like “actually we produce value together” and “we can find ways to exchange that value that doesn’t require mediation of capitalist markets or some sort of nation-state planned economy.” So i really like that about the Circles experiment, and I really like that Circles has put resources towards hiring community organizers who actually go out into the community, teach people how to use the system, encourage them to sell the things that they make, or exchange it with Circles. And so it’s being used as a form of community building. That’s why I really like all of those things about it. I generally believe that Basic Income’s not a bad idea, I’m not sure it solves every problem, but it’s a good one for now. Especially there’s a lot of debates around whether it is a good thing or not, I tend to fall inside the “I think it liberates people to do more and to contribute more.”
That all said, I’m also a bit skeptical that it can level up to be more than an interesting experiment. I think there’s some technological limitations to that question of, “are we gonna live on a planet where we all have disposable smartphones?” That is ecologically destructive. All smartphones are disposable they’re only meant to last like 16 months, they’re built with planned obsolescence. So, we do our circles exchange mostly on smartphones, but we’re building an economy based on an infrastructure of exploitation and unless we’re all going to build our own smartphones,
Rosano > You’re talking about - It’s just the thing that we’re using to interact with all of these things.
MH > Yeah i’m thinking about it in a kind of holistic sense, like all of the things that need to go into building other LETS systems, local economic trading systems, they just print, like Moos, Rosano > You’re just you’re comparing it to let’s say a paper system or something that doesn’t involve specifically smartphones
MH > Yeah, or like, even a dumb ledger… There’s smart ledgers right, but you can have a local economic trading system that’s basically just somebody walking around with a literal ledger, writing notes in it. And whole communities have run like that for decades. You don’t necessarily need a distributed ledger to have a ledger that credits people’s debts and credits. You know the whole 18th and 19th century global capitalism ran on ledger books. So you can manage a pretty complex system with a book and a pen.
MH > OK, all of that aside, I think then there’s those technological limitations, and the um like and then the kind of substrate on which that’s built the the technological and material substrate that’s one side of it the other side is just that like it’s Like the problem that i see with it as a scheme is like let’s just imagine for the sake of argument that here in berlin Like 50 of the population started using circles for all sorts of regular transactions which is like beyond everyone’s wildest dreams you know 50 of the popular, I don’t know how many people live here now, five million, so it’s two and a half million people are using it all all the time. What are we exchanging with those Circles? We’re mostly exchanging our time, so like I will sell an hour of copy editing labor to you you’ll sell an hour of audio editing labor to me we’re going to do it in circles rather than in euros so we have our time we have what we can produce with our bodies and we also might exchange sort of things that we build and then we might also exchange things that we’ve bought with euros from the global economy But even if we think about 50 a random cross-section of 50 of the brilliant population that fifty percent probably only holds between five to ten percent of all the resources in this city because the resources are also vastly disproportionately held by large institutions or corporations so like here we can pay our rent so called in Circles but that’s not going to work with Deutsche Bank the biggest landlord right, they’re not going to do that. And they have the resources and power, you know. We might be able to pay to rent a bike from someone else in most places with our Circles,… but we can’t use it for public transit yet, because the panther transit system is run by a large state organization. So in order to actually build out something that would allow us to sustain life together in a space the size of Berlin, we would need to either convince large institutions to be part of the Circle’s economy, which comes with a lot of risks because especially competitive institutions like corporations are going to try and manipulate it for their profit. And I think this is both more likely and more important, we need to also expropriate the resources from other institutions. Like we need to take all the housing back and put it into public or commons ownership you know. We need to have political social movements that would have the power to say, "we’re only paying for public transit in Circles and you have to accept that or not." Because otherwise and you know, if you need to buy a mattress, right, nobody in the community is like building mattresses. So for Circles we need to actually take back the means, what in the old school times, we used to call it, the “means of production,” because otherwise it’s basically like, “we Circles users are just circulating among ourselves the kind of dregs of a capitalist system the things that we’ve managed to accumulate in that system and our own labor rather than exchanging the whole bounty of the world that we should have access to.” And most of us are still putting most of our time and labor and energy towards earning euros in a formal exploitative economy. That’s where i see the big limit of circles and maybe circles could lead to the kind of social movements that would demand the expropriation of housing demands that the workshops and factories go back into the hands of the workers who use Circles demand re-globalization in a new way. It’s a big ask, it’s a big challenge. Let’s go back to the housing: just simply we could all exchange a lot of things that we need on Circles, but at a certain point, most of the landlords in Berlin are not going to accept Circles, because they have no incentive to do so. They’re mostly large corporations with shareholders around the world who want to earn Euros. They want to earn euros by charging rent. We might be able to convince a handful of those landlords to accept Circles basically as a form of charity, the ones who would do it would be sort of like, “oh that’s kind of cute” like “sure sure i’ll accept your made-up money cool whatever.” And maybe a couple of those landlords even will be like “I really believe we need a new non-capitalist economy and I’m going to accept Circles out of my belief” But the vast majority, like 90 to 95% aren’t, so we’re all still going to be a position where we need to continue to earn Euros in order to pay our rent. But that means that we all have to dedicate 20 to 40 hours a week of labor towards earning the Euros to pay the rent, and the rent keeps on going up, because it’s part of a speculative real estate market. So the challenge for Circles is like, if we’re truly going to use it to exit this exploitative capitalist economy, and build another parallel economy beside it, we can’t just be satisfied to exchange my kombucha for your audio editing labor. Like that’s cool, but we don’t actually need Circles necessarily to do that, because we can just barter, we could just borrow it. What we really needed circles for is managing a complex economy. But that needs to include the most important parts of the economy which is not kombucha and audio editing it’s things like housing, food, the necessities of life, the tools that we use in order to do our work and work together, public infrastructure, transportation. And as long as those things are sequestered within the capitalist economy, no matter how much we do in the circles economy, we’re all going to be forced to continue to participate in the capitalist economy. We’re never going to actually get to that horizon of a basic income, which we want. Which is to say, we would like to live in a world where we didn’t have to engage with kind of capitalist currencies and capitalist economies at all. As a professor I would rather just teach classes for Circles and then use my Circles to pay for my rent to get my groceries, and go on the train, and go on a vacation, and you know do all sorts of things…. I’d buy a smartphone. But that’s not really going to happen, very unlikely to happen. So somehow the dream of Circles to work, and which is also my dream, that we could use it to exit a capitalist economy, we also need to collectively reclaim some of the wealth that right now has been essentially stolen or sequestered by capitalist institutions and corporations. That requires something a little more feisty than “let’s get together every once in a while and make exchanges.” I think everyone involved in Circles knows this as well. We talk about it, it’s not a secret, but it does present a bit of a threshold on the horizon. I think the view is that if you can get people to start using Circles, they realize that it reconnects us, that it’s dis-alienating. Like we meet the people that we’re exchanging when we have a meaningful exchange, and that allows us to build a solidarity that then we could use to make more radical demands. But yeah, getting from like trading kombucha for audio editing labor to you know uh repossessing all of the assets of this huge corporation that produces a bunch of stuff we need all the time from appliances to chemicals, like that there’s a big gulf between those things.
Julia Hayden > If we want to make the world a better place, we can think about – and this is what my first idea was with circles — creating a value that gets rid of value. So getting rid of the value so when I work with my clients, I like to say, I would rather like to pay you because you are working on yourselves on behalf of the world. Right, so with these Circles, I don’t have an amount that people pay me for the sessions, I just say, whatever you have, send it, and not even to me send it to Moos. Because i’m working here on behalf of this community, so I want to create somewhere, some value. Which is not the value of my session costs this and that, I just want it to be something like, “I’m very grateful for you taking time for me” or something, and “I serve you by serving someone else” you know. It’s like pay it forward, yes.
Beatrixe > I definitely see a future in projects like Circles where people exchange their time and where people exchange things with another currency. And I think this is the way to go. And with Circles… as much as I know, it enables many things already here to be impossible to support people to experience. It’s kind of a playground … another kind of laboratory, which goes hand in hand with the project of Moos. I have this criticism, that the hierarchy is, as much as I know,… that [there is] one person that is enabling this playground. So everyone playing is dependent on this person. But there has to be someone who opens the space for playing. The intention is nice, as much as I’ve experienced, and I would be happy if Circles gets bigger and more serious, mixes into everyday life and more adoption.
Hey @amiller that’s amazing! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I also have machine-generated transcripts from Descript (my video editor) but they might have required cleanup anyway. Perhaps in the future I’ll post them along with the video here.
I know of a community in Africa with historical tradition of decentralized community economic empowerment.
EX: their tradition among others was something called OGBO. when a young man is of age his family/community will give him a portion of land.
His mate’s, with their elders guiding them will construct a home for him and prepare him for marriage as an independent family Man.
they also have the same tradition in education where a young teenager will move in with his/her mentor who will become responsible for the education, housing, feeding, health and protection of the child until the child is attains maturity, knowledgeable, and