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The Ute Currency - Scott Adams' Blog

The Ute Currency

It’s easy to forget that the concept of money was an important invention at some point in history. With the advantage of hindsight we know it was a great idea, but one can imagine the how hard it was for the inventor of money to sell the idea to his friends.

Inventor: I have a great idea. Let’s assign arbitrary value to shiny rocks. We’ll call it money.

Friend: Why would we do that?

Inventor: Well, for starters, I could trade my shiny rocks for your cow and we’d both be happy.

Friend: Can I get milk from those shiny rocks?

Inventor: No, no. You’d use the money to buy goods from other people who think small shiny objects are worth as much as a cow.

Friend: How many idiots like that are there in the world?

Inventor: I’m hoping you’ll be the first.

Somehow, despite all odds, the concept of money went on to be a big success. And because money exists, so does the modern economy.

But the problem with money is that every system devised by humans eventually results in the top 1% having most of the money. No one has figured out how to fix income equality without making something else worse.

My solution to income inequality is to invent a new type of money called the “ute” which is short for “utility.” There will be no physical bills or coins involved. It’s just a digital store of value. You can only earn utes by being useful to your fellow humans. And unlike regular wealth, your ute value would be public.

The hard part of the ute system is assigning objective values to subjective things such as usefulness. But regular money has the same problem and that is solved by the marketplace, supply and demand, and some government control. I think the same could be true of utes.

Utes would not replace regular money and would not be used for direct purchasing. Utes would only be a way of knowing who is contributing to the well-being of others and who is not. Utes would be a measure of prestige, respect, and general worthiness. And I could imagine society providing special privileges and rights to people who have high ute value.

Perhaps the high ute folks get preferred parking spots. Maybe they board airplanes first. Maybe they can use the carpool lanes all by themselves. Maybe they get two votes instead of one. Maybe every business starts treating high ute folks as priority customers. Perhaps employers would start checking the ute value of job applicants. One could imagine lots of privileges that don’t directly involve purchasing goods and services. And the best privilege of all might be the respect of your peers.

The benefit of the ute system is that it grants respect to the folks who are doing the right things for society. But more importantly it gives the rich a more useful purpose for their money. If you’re a billionaire with low ute, and everyone knows it, eventually that will make you uncomfortable. It’s not as much fun to be a billionaire if everyone thinks you’re a selfish tool and they have the ute statistics to prove it. The media would report your ute value with every story. It would never go away.

So I can see the ute system encouraging the rich to focus their excess wealth in areas that generate high ute return. For some that might mean investing in ways that create lots of employment. If you create a job for someone, you get a lot of utes. And if you go full-Bill-Gates-charity you get more utes than anyone. But a standard rich person would have to try hard to beat the ute value of a nurse, for example.

One need not have a paying job to accrue utes. A stay-at-home parent would have plenty of utes. Charity volunteers would have plenty too.

We humans tend to focus on whatever can be measured. As things stand, we can measure traditional wealth but we can’t measure an individual’s total contribution to the world. By creating a more general measure of a person’s contribution -inaccuracies and all – it will cause people to think harder about their value to the world. And that will change how people act.

I think the ute system would contribute to social mobility. Under our current system a poor person with a sub-standard education has a huge challenge. But if that person could build a high ute value by being of service to others, employers would take notice. That person is a team player, a person of character, and a person of action. And perhaps you can earn utes by mentoring someone, so it’s a win-win.

Humans act on the things they can measure. If we want people to do more useful and respectable things, we need to measure their progress.

You will be tempted to quibble about how hard it would be to compare the ute value of, for example, a lawyer versus a plastic surgeon. But keep in mind that we have lots of useful systems with the same degree of flaws and inaccuracies. Case in point, my credit score is bad because some of my minor bills once went to an old address and I didn’t know of them until a collections agency called me. So in my case, credit reporting is totally broken, yet the world is better because of credit reporting. It’s a terribly inaccurate system that is still better than none. The ute system would be similarly full of terrible inaccuracies while still being useful overall.

Or not. How much do you hate this idea?

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.