Friday, May 10, 2013

Cake as Currency

Why are we so passionate about our tea and cakes in Britain? Some recent tweets have verged on the edge of zealotry, and led me to jokingly suggest cake as the next grass-roots currency.

But what if I wasn’t joking? Or rather, why has cake succeeded in capturing the hearts and bellies of communities where alternative and supportive economies have failed? I set out to turn cake into a gooey financial bake-off. Possibly with semi-soggy results - but then I'm neither a banker nor a baker.

To explain...

l. Anyone can make cake

...or at least try to make it. The lady downstairs from me, who half-inspired this post, can apparently make eight cakes in a day. Eight?! It generally takes me a couple of weeks just to work out what I need to buy for a Victoria Sponge. But we can both make cakes. We cannot both create money. Baking makes us equal, but some bakers are more equal than others.

2. Everyone likes cake

Unlike traditional fiat money, cake definitely has an inherent value of its own, ie, it's yummy.

Too many "local" currencies are concerned with building a more restrictive version of mainstream money without providing a real incentive to switch to them.

Cake gets around this problem by being yummy, and therefore desirable. But at the same time, not all cake is yummy to all people. Coconut cake, for example, can be a deal-breaker. Within cake, there is variety, and this variety leads to a form of network-dependent semi-fungibility - that is, the value of your cake becomes relative to who you know.

This is vital to remember when trying to encourage a diverse (and therefore resilient) group: "a good selection of cakes is a must."

(One can imagine tastes within a group converging and emerging over time-an evolutionary model of local cake currency, maybe. Let the coconut wars commence.)

3. Cakes are too big to eat by yourself

There are stories of cakes being eaten entirely by a single person - but even then, such a feat is often seen as a punishment rather than a reward (see, for instance, Bruce Bogtrotter in Dahl's Matilda).

Cakes are inherently a currency for the networked community, one which values and thrives on sharing instead of hoarding. Each cake represents a collective memory, a group taste preceding groupthink. And the extent of that network depends only on the effectively-infinitely divisible nature of the cake. Even one "crumb" (once thought of as the smallest unit of cake possible) has been seen to be chopped and chopped, in a vain tempt to avoid the social stigma of being "the finisher".

Indeed, the cake and the network are one and the same.

4. Cake goes off

The world is riddled with looming economic questions. As production fails to kickstart, lower and lower interest rates have been offered, to the inevitable point of major institutions mulling negative rates. Bitcoin, an emerging digital money, is built on a deflationary model over many years.

But cake beats them all, with rapidly-deflationary value - a couple of days at best, maybe a week of you're lucky/careful. Cake demands to be either eaten or given away now. Like a mayfly, it must go all out to attract someone, its soul mate, in order to fulfil its very-raison d'etre. "Time and cake wait for no man."

This is absolutely vital. Weak connections (which cake runs through, cementing as it goes) are unstable and uncertain, but there's a good chance you may re-encounter a fellow caker not immediately, but in a week, a fortnight, or a month.

This limited but definite gap in time - not instant, not eternal - is where cake comes in. You have enough time to eat the cake, and you still remember it next time you meet someone again. As cake expires, it becomes a short-term memory, and short-term memories are what bind weak connections together.

5. We learn to make more

So at the end of the (long) day, the cake is gone. We had our cake and we ate it - or we gave it away. Or it went off.

Either way, no more cake.

But we want more. We have fallen in love not with cake, but with the very essence, the "Network Cake". We have been drawn into #bigcakesociety.

And so we become inspired. We flick through cooking books, buy utensils, we ask so-and-so for their recipes, and so on. We become bakers where we would never want bankers to tread.

And the cycle of cakonomics begins again. A fresh round of flavours and memories is introduced to the network. More tea is made. Words come out of our mouths and into others' ears. People listen and
understand. Choices are made. Action happens.

The cake is a life.

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