The Credit Commons or a credit commons?
Is the Credit Commons one big thing like Facebook or the Catholic Church, or is every IOU be a tiny manifestation of credit in a common form? Is it like the Bitcoin protocol defining Bitcoin, or more like the English language protocol describing a mode of speech? Should we write it with a capital letter or in lower case?
There is a growing movement which talks about commons resources and commons economics, and the need to reclaim various commons after centuries of their enclosure by political elites. Confusingly, while a 'common' is a piece of land, most of the time the plural form is used to refer to a specific resource whose stakeholders have an equal interest, and the institution by which that resource is managed. It follows that most commons are specific to places and communities although some resources might be best managed by the global community, like carbon emissions rights or international fish stocks;
For credit to be a commons, it has to be framed as a resource, but what a strange resource! The entity that has the power to create it, cannot own it; it has an ephemeral nature, being constantly being created and destroyed; the more it is used, the more valuable it is; the further it travels from its issuer, the less valuable it becomes. Nonetheless credit can work well as a commons. The stakeholders are everyone who accepts a particular form or credit. The boundaries of that commons are also definable. Anyone who accepts credit, including the issuer, is a member. In a typical mutual credit agreement, all members are both issuers and accepters.
Thomas Greco originated the term credit commons and defined it (in correspondance with me) as: "the collective credit of those economic actors who are obliged, either by law or by contract, to accept a particular form of payment (money, currency, or other medium of exchange) for the goods or services that they sell." elsewhere he gives an example of
"the US dollar credit commons, in which all producers and sellers who accept US dollars as payment share in the benefits and losses associated with the issuance and management of US dollars."
Reclaiming the Credit Commons: Towards a Butterfly Society, in The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, Levellers Press, Amherst, MA, 2012. pp. 230-235
By this definition it seems that every credit currency is by its very nature a commons, with stakeholders, a membrane, and rules of participation. The people and institutions which hold that currency are both beneficiaries of the trade that that currency made possible, but they also bear the credit risk. If most people regard money as something which is provided and backed by a megalithic body called the state, then this commons view is very radical because it emphasises that we are all stakeholders in a national money system, even if we have no say over its governance. And this is why Greco talks about 'reclaiming the credit commons'. He told me that the appropriation and enclosure of a commons did not cause it to be no longer a commons. There are credit commons everywhere, but the most important ones are controlled by, and milked by private interests.
Back to our protocol. A credit commons is really just a name for any currency or mutual credit system not 100% backed by a commodity. The protocol supports those institutions by providing a way that they can do their accounting. However by working recursively it also invites those institutions and any others which perform the same function but by different means (i.e. commodity currencies) into new credit commons relationships so that they can trade with each other. It leads one to imagine a single emergent global trading structure which could be called the 'Credit Commons'.
An analogy is cyberspace and the Internet. Cyberspace is conceptual, it exists 'in' any computer or perhaps in any computer network. But the Internet, (which is officially capitalised), is a single global entity consisting of all the connected computers. A large computer network not connected to 'The Internet' might be considered an internet.
To conclude, credit commons have existed as long as credit has been a transferrable instrument. The Credit Commons Protocol aims to support standardise and ultimately connect them. Perhaps one day when the currency systems hijacked by private interests have been re-commonified, we'll be able to speak of The Credit Commons like we speak of the Internet now.