I spent the last couple of days at a conference on Digital Money in London, coincidentally sitting opposite a Bank of England employee at lunch yesterday as protesters were protesting at the BoE.
That all formed a nice juxtaposition, a conference on the future of money with a bunch of people protesting down the road about… whatever it was that they were protesting about. (As far as I can tell, there are too many issues being protested about to characterise the protests under one label.)
As well as the predictable technological talks on Near Field Communication, mobile phones and contactless pre-pay cards, there was a strong non-technical thread. I heard an American economics academic espouse privately created and operated money over government money, there was somebody talking about a local complementary currency to encourage local community, a Belgian academic arguing for the abolition of cash on grounds of a high social cost, a talk on the social effects of the M-Pesa system in Kenya, an argument for a global exchange currency, another for myriad micro-currencies… and so on.
I think I was in the right place. I'm not happy about everything the financial institutions have done, but they're the present, the future is still up for grabs. The ability to shape and change that future by waving placards and complaining is nearly zero, besides which, I get the impression the protesters are more united by what they're against than what they're in favour of. Technology is moving faster than the lumbering institutions can cope with; there's lower barriers to entry, less required infrastructure and lower transaction costs than ever before. If you're unhappy with traditional financial institutions, there's never been a better time to be part of something new and make them obsolete (or at least force then to adapt).