The Market of Ideas: a currency?

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Discussion paper from Mary Anne, in the way to a proposal:

Title of stall and word for banner:

EX-CHANGE or EXCHANGE or CHANGE

Change – as in ‘alter’, but also ‘currency’ a bit like those ‘Cambio’ booths you get around big stations.


What I’m trying to get at:

• I’m interested in making the ‘economy’ of The Market of Ideas visible. I want to ask the question: ‘according to what economic model(s) are ideas at TMI distributed?’

I think that our default position is something like ‘ideas will be freely given out’. That is: CP people / CP contacts will people stalls which advance different economic positions, or different economic concepts. The (mythic) ‘milling crowd’ will visit these stalls and be ‘given’ ideas. There is nothing wrong with this, and indeed, it can even be argued that this is more than a default position – that it’s something we actively embrace; not so much ‘free trade’ in the conventional sense as ‘trade free’, to coin a term that may be useful, as ‘trade’ means ‘buy and sell as well as ‘exchange’.

However, if this is the case, several questions follow:

• Do we need to make this (more) visible? (I think the answer is ‘yes’ because at the very least, I think we need to take charge of the fact that ‘economics’ is not just the subject of TMI (not perhaps as clear as it might be in the title), but is also the ruling conceit, or form for the event. As such, it can’t be value free, given it’s also, somewhat paradoxically but nicely so, the subject of enquiry.

The question that follows is: how do we make this gift economy visible?

• Further still: there’s a question about what this gift economy of ideas entails and implies.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the exchange of ideas cannot be the same as the exchange of material goods. For instance:

• If I give you ‘my idea’, in actual fact, I only share it with you as I still ‘have’ the idea. If I give you ‘my pot’, I no longer have it. The term ‘give’ doesn’t really capture this nuance.

• Then again, if I want to ‘sell’ you my idea, I’d really have to let you see it before you handed over any cash / whatever, by which time, you’d have probably seen enough to have got it for free. I know there’s both a practice and theory of ‘the trade in ideas’ – and I probably need to look into this. ‘Selling’ is not the same with the pot – you can see it but not have it until you’ve given me the cash / whatever.

• On the other hand, as we know very well, I can protect ‘my ideas’ with the force of law – i.e. copyright. Copyright doesn’t translate to the ownership of pots as material entities (as opposed to say ‘designs’).

So clearly, ‘ideas’ do not circulate in the same way as material goods. Lots of things follow from this, especially for our substitution of ‘material goods’ for ‘ideas’ in TMI.

I come at all this with an instinctual preference for ‘exchange’ economies over ‘gift’ economies. But crucially for me, that’s ‘exchange’ without profit. As yet, I’m not entirely sure why I have this preference, although I suspect it has something to with a working out of a version of ‘justice’…(the idea that were all things equal including, especially the distribution of wealth, exchange would be the most just form of distribution, and the idea that ‘gift economies’ are necessarily premised on the idea of social inequality. So I’m predicating a notion of economics upon an ideal of social organization). I’ll get back to you on this. I may well be wrong in all sorts of ways.

So then my question is: how does a not-for-profit exchange economy enable the ‘commerce’ of ideas? How do we swap ideas? How do we weigh up one idea against another to ensure a just exchange?

I’m aware that I may be straying towards impossible demand i.e. to ask that ideas circulate in the same way as material goods. If so, there’s some mileage I think in a demonstration of that impossibility as a recognition of the real under which we’re operating.

If not, then I’m unable to see the way forward at present, and would very much welcome some help / advice / discussion tomorrow!

I’ve had a few ideas for my stall, but they’ve all hit the buffers at some point down the line. For instance, the idea of yes, having a ‘change’ stall which would encourage people to see their ‘gains’ from the other stalls as ‘cultural capital’. (The concept of cultural capital suggests that ideas might sort of circulate in the manner of material goods – if only in the metaphor of ‘capital’. If I want you to buy my ideas, I guess that you need to take it on trust via my reputation as a stockist that my ideas will prove value for money. You won’t get to see them in advance.)

I like the idea of diffusing a currency throughout the market that people might use to mediate their encounters. However, while ideas are already there ‘for free’ I doubt that anyone would want to buy into to an exchange economy. So maybe my idea is inherently defeated by the premise of TMI…

Of course, were I to preface entry to the event with say, a distribution of ‘currency’ to attendees (either donated or exchanged) that might be a different matter altogether. I had the idea of offering visitors the chance to participate in the market only if they exchanged x (e.g. a pen, a bottle of water) for a token. But I am uncertain about how to set the value of the token. ‘Art value’ is an obvious one as is ‘cult value’ e.g. ‘token of the Critical Practice TMI / souvenir. The currency would need some sort of perceived value however ambiguous and maybe the more ambiguous the better in order for it to be exchangeable with stall holders who would have to negotiate the exchange with participants i.e. they’d have to engage in some sort of discussion along the lines of ‘what are you prepared to swap? OK for that, I can tell you about…’