Digital Social Credits
There are many things that we want to see happen as a society that the market doesn’t recognize or reward. We need to create a new way of both measuring and rewarding positive behaviors that spurs people to give to and ask more of their neighbors. We could create an entire parallel economy around social good that spurs incredible levels of activity and reconstitutes the fabric of our society.
Problems to be Solved
- Americans spend less time interacting with their community
- Americans feel disconnected from their neighbors
- American rates of volunteering have steadily declined over the past decade
- For “soft” policy initiatives such as fighting obesity, there’s no individual incentive to engage with the initiative
As President, I will…
- Create a new app and currency system that awards points for helping your community and neighbors
- Empower local communities to define what activities they’d like to promote through the use of DSCs
- Donate all my DSCs to the top-earning high school students in each state.
- Set DSC prizes for a visit to the White House and a meeting with me and/or fun civic-minded local celebrities
An Excerpt from The War on Normal People
Maybe you smiled in disbelief at my concept of “Social Credits,” but this scenario is based on a system currently in use in about 200 communities around the United States called Time Banking. Time Banking is a system through which people trade time and build credits within communities by performing various helpful tasks – transporting an item, walking a dog, cleaning up a yard, cooking a meal, providing a ride to the doctor, etc. The idea was championed in the U.S. by Edgar Cahn, a law professor and anti-poverty activist in the mid-1990s as a way to strengthen communities.
For example, in Brattleboro Vermont today, there are 315 members of the Time Bank who have exchanged 64,000 hours of mutual work over the past 8 years. The Brattleboro Time Bank was started by two graduate students with 30 members in 2009 and has grown each year. Amanda Witman, a 40-year old single mother, wrote about her experience: “Three years ago, I was in a tough spot. My husband and I had separated, and I was in a large house that needed lots of repairs. I was home-schooling my kids and working part-time from home doing website customer service. I had a huge financial challenge. My friends knew I was overwhelmed, and more than one said I should join the Brattleboro Time Trade. At first, I thought, Who has time to trade? Then I learned that you can run a deficit—get help immediately and pay back the time when you’re able. So I posted requests on the website to fix up my house. I’d hoped one or two members would respond, but a bunch of people ended up offering assistance. Randy Bright fixed holes in the wall and replaced my water-pressure tank. Other people hauled a bunch of stuff to the dump, replaced ancient wiring and helped me plant a vegetable garden. Before joining the group, I never would have been comfortable requesting all that help. But you don’t feel like you’re pestering anyone because people happily volunteer for the jobs and they always show up with a smile. And even though I’m so tight on time, I’ve always been able to find jobs that fit my schedule, like babysitting or making someone a meal. In fact, my whole family pitches in. I’ll tell my kids—Everest, 15, Alden, 14, Ellery, 11, and Avery, 9—that we’re stacking wood for our neighbor in order to get our light fixture fixed. It makes them feel useful. In fact, we’ve come to realize the value of some of our hobbies, like making music. Once, we earned four time-trade hours by playing together as a family at a local garden party: two fiddles, a guitar and a pennywhistle!”
Said Randy Bright, the 49-year old handyman on the other end of the exchange, “When I joined, it was clear that handy people were in high demand. And, since I am divorced, I thought, Great, I’ll meet single women! That hasn’t panned out yet, but I have expanded my circle of friends. I’ve used some of my time-trade hours for home-cooked meals. It has aided me financially, too: I’ve developed a referral network that has helped get my own energy-efficiency business off the ground. My private business keeps me busy, but I still do time trades, and I often donate the hours I earn. The trades give me something intangible that just makes me feel good. I especially like showing my daughter, Nora (who’s 14 and often comes along to help out) that not every exchange is about money.”
Edgar Cahn, the founder of Time Banking, was the former speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy who was looking for new ways to fight poverty at a time when “money for social programs [had] dried up.” He wrote, “Americans face at least three interlocking sets of problems: growing inequality in access by those at the bottom to the most basic goods and services; increasing social problems stemming from the need to rebuild family, neighborhood and community; and a growing disillusion with public programs designed to address these problems.” He proposed that time banking could “[rebuild] the infrastructure of trust and caring that can strengthen families and communities.”
Despite the success of Time Banks in communities like Brattleboro, they have not caught hold that widely around the U.S. in part because they require a certain level of administration and resources to operate.
Now imagine a supercharged version of Time Banking backed by the U.S. government where in addition to providing social value, there’s real monetary value underlying it. This new currency – Digital Social Credits (“DSCs” or “Social Credits”) – would reward people for doing things that serve the community. The government would seed each market with an initial investment but administrators would be local. DSCs would be targeted toward regions and communities that demonstrate a need for increased cohesion. You would earn a number of Social Credits anytime you do something for a neighbor – babysit a child, staff a garage sale, fix an appliance, play music at a party, etc. You would also get Social Credits anytime you volunteer at the local shelter, participate in a town fair, coach the little league, take a new course, paint a mural, play in a local band, mentor a young person and so on. Existing organizations could award and earn Social Credits based on how many people they assist.
The government could put up significant levels of DSCs as prizes and incentives for major initiatives. E.g. “100 million DSCs to reduce obesity levels in Mississippi” or “1 billion DSCs to improve high school graduation rates in Illinois” and then let people take various actions to collect it. Companies could help meet goals and create and sponsor campaigns around various causes. Non-profits and NGOs would generate DSCs based on how much good they do and then distribute it back to volunteers and employees. New organizations and initiatives could be crowdfunded by DSCs instead of money, as people ‘vote’ by sending points in. Events and media that draw crowds would receive DSCs based on the number of people that attend or upvote it; the currency would become a new way to support journalism, creativity and local events.
Some might ask, “Why create a new digital currency instead of just using dollars?” First, people will respond to points in a different way than they would if they were paid very low monetary amounts. If you tell me I’m getting 2 dollars to do something, I may ignore it. But if it’s two hundred points I’ll find it strangely compelling. People right now spend countless hours becoming Yelp Elite, King Wazers, Mayors on Foursquare, Google Local Guides and other online equivalents based upon points and social rewards.
Second, everyone will feel much more open and comfortable sharing balances if it’s a new social currency. You want people to advertise and reinforce their behavior. Behavior is much more likely to be reinforced if it’s social and recognized. That’s one reason why people, for example, are more likely to lose weight or achieve fitness goals when they are part of a group effort.
Third, by creating a new currency, the government could essentially induce billions of dollars of positive social activity without having to spend nearly that amount.
As individuals rack up DSCs, they would have both a permanent balance they’ve earned over their lifetime and a current balance. They could cash the points in for experiences, purchases with participating vendors, support for causes, and transfer points to others for special occasions. As their permanent balance gets higher, they might qualify for various perks like throwing a pitch at a local ballgame, an audience with their local Congressperson or meeting their state’s most civic-minded athlete or celebrity. Maybe the community’s leading DSC earner would even get a special trip to the White House. People and companies could use cash to buy DSCs – this would help fund the system – but these DSCs would appear as a different color and be clearly purchased not earned.
We could create an entirely new parallel economy around social good.
The most socially detached would be the most likely to ignore all of this. But many people love rewards and feeling valued. I get obsessed with completing the 10-punch card for a free sandwich at my local deli. We could spur unprecedented levels of social activity without spending that much. Heck, DSCs could become cooler than dollars, because you could advertise how much you have and it’s socially acceptable. If you wanted to spur adoption, you could target various rewards and campaigns toward particular demographics and areas; things done for people with lower levels of DSCs could count for extra.
The Digital Social Credit system would be an example of harnessing market dynamics to spur social good. The federal government would help set up and fund the platform but it would be up to local governments, non-profits, individuals and companies to figure out the best ways to achieve various goals. The overall goal would be to improve social cohesion and maintain high levels of engagement for people as they take various actions to improve their community, and also provide new structures in the wake of automation.