It's easy to forget that the concept of money was an important invention at some point in history. With the advantage of hindsight we know it was a great idea, but one can imagine the how hard it was for the inventor of money to sell the idea to his friends.

Inventor: I have a great idea. Let's assign arbitrary value to shiny rocks. We'll call it money.

Friend: Why would we do that?

Inventor: Well, for starters, I could trade my shiny rocks for your cow and we'd both be happy.

Friend: Can I get milk from those shiny rocks?

Inventor: No, no. You'd use the money to buy goods from other people who think small shiny objects are worth as much as a cow.

Friend: How many idiots like that are there in the world?

Inventor: I'm hoping you'll be the first.

Somehow, despite all odds, the concept of money went on to be a big success. And because money exists, so does the modern economy.

But the problem with money is that every system devised by humans eventually results in the top 1% having most of the money. No one has figured out how to fix income equality without making something else worse.

My solution to income inequality is to invent a new type of money called the "ute" which is short for "utility." There will be no physical bills or coins involved. It's just a digital store of value. You can only earn utes by being useful to your fellow humans. And unlike regular wealth, your ute value would be public.

The hard part of the ute system is assigning objective values to subjective things such as usefulness. But regular money has the same problem and that is solved by the marketplace, supply and demand, and some government control. I think the same could be true of utes.

Utes would not replace regular money and would not be used for direct purchasing. Utes would only be a way of knowing who is contributing to the well-being of others and who is not. Utes would be a measure of prestige, respect, and general worthiness. And I could imagine society providing special privileges and rights to people who have high ute value.

Perhaps the high ute folks get preferred parking spots. Maybe they board airplanes first. Maybe they can use the carpool lanes all by themselves. Maybe they get two votes instead of one. Maybe every business starts treating high ute folks as priority customers. Perhaps employers would start checking the ute value of job applicants. One could imagine lots of privileges that don't directly involve purchasing goods and services. And the best privilege of all might be the respect of your peers.

The benefit of the ute system is that it grants respect to the folks who are doing the right things for society. But more importantly it gives the rich a more useful purpose for their money. If you're a billionaire with low ute, and everyone knows it, eventually that will make you uncomfortable. It's not as much fun to be a billionaire if everyone thinks you're a selfish tool and they have the ute statistics to prove it. The media would report your ute value with every story. It would never go away.

So I can see the ute system encouraging the rich to focus their excess wealth in areas that generate high ute return. For some that might mean investing in ways that create lots of employment. If you create a job for someone, you get a lot of utes. And if you go full-Bill-Gates-charity you get more utes than anyone. But a standard rich person would have to try hard to beat the ute value of a nurse, for example.

One need not have a paying job to accrue utes. A stay-at-home parent would have plenty of utes. Charity volunteers would have plenty too.

We humans tend to focus on whatever can be measured. As things stand, we can measure traditional wealth but we can't measure an individual's total contribution to the world. By creating a more general measure of a person's contribution -inaccuracies and all - it will cause people to think harder about their value to the world. And that will change how people act.

I think the ute system would contribute to social mobility. Under our current system a poor person with a sub-standard education has a huge challenge. But if that person could build a high ute value by being of service to others, employers would take notice. That person is a team player, a person of character, and a person of action. And perhaps you can earn utes by mentoring someone, so it's a win-win.

Humans act on the things they can measure. If we want people to do more useful and respectable things, we need to measure their progress.

You will be tempted to quibble about how hard it would be to compare the ute value of, for example, a lawyer versus a plastic surgeon. But keep in mind that we have lots of useful systems with the same degree of flaws and inaccuracies. Case in point, my credit score is bad because some of my minor bills once went to an old address and I didn't know of them until a collections agency called me. So in my case, credit reporting is totally broken, yet the world is better because of credit reporting. It's a terribly inaccurate system that is still better than none. The ute system would be similarly full of terrible inaccuracies while still being useful overall.

Or not. How much do you hate this idea?

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.



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Apr 28, 2014
I, for one, refuse to be bullied into pretending to be useful.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
Scott, you should read Cory Doctorow's Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom. Post-Scarcity society with an entirely reputation based economy.
Apr 28, 2014
I really like this idea, but it seems to me the measurement of the ute for every single human being could be a very costly thing. Society would have to sign off on the upkeep costs of this new added value. Would they? Or we could just make a ute crowdsource app, where people voted on ute case scenarios that were presented to them throughout the day- like that old site, "Am I hot or not?"

This makes me think, though... imagine all of the factors that need to be considered for the genuine usefulness of something to be quantitized. Let's take a hypothetical situation where we are measuring the ute value of a man whose job it is to set up chairs in a large meeting hall.

Does the value of his work shift depening on what kind of meeting will be held? In respect to ute value of the company itself? Whether the company is for-profit or non-profit? Whether the chairs were made by people with high or low ute value? And if we do crowd-source the voting, what of bias? For example, I would vote a low ute value on sports related things, while giving higher value to education.

Moreover, who collects the data to provide to the ute assessor? How to they collect it? Would every company now have a new department, the ute department?

It doesn't seem to me that the assessment bit of the process for the ute could be left in the hands of commoners and survive unless somehow every person were an expert already. So, barring a bunch of experts, now we're trusting it to... what incorruptible special group?
Apr 28, 2014
Does the esteem of others matter MORE to the average American (sorry, it is the only society I know anything about) than money? My guess is no.
Apr 28, 2014
Forget all that ... eliminate money/currency system worldwide instead. The time for currency has come and GONE. With no currency ... Everybody just keeps doing what they are doing, everyone gets the basics and whatever else they think they "need" or want. Of course my system will only work if people only use what they really need. In other words 5000 sq ft houses, 3 cars, 2 boats, five off road toys, a lake place and so on ... might just be TOO much for one family to justify. Unless you can increase productivity and output to the point where all 7 billion people can get ALL that as well! Its time we realize we live on a FINITE planet at this point (space exploration MIGHT change this in 300 years or so but for now...) with finite resources and in order for those 7 billion to have anything like equality we in the first world must change and accept less. Eliminating money/currency may be difficult but its the only way. Sorry Scott, there are just not enough of you and Gates and Buffets out there, and way too many like the Koch brothers. I spent 22 plus years in the financial services industry and I learned way too much to hold out any hope for our money/currency system, there is and always will be too much greed involved. Your utes system would be interesting but have no real effect. 80% of the millionaires out there could care less if the public knows they have a low ute value and the other 20% are already nice people. Good thought though... I am glad you're thinking about it ... but I heard from my contacts in the really low income strata that they have perfected a great BBQ sauce that goes well with "rich people".
Apr 28, 2014
"[Is your doctor not more useful than your feng shui consultant? And did you think I was giving a history lesson about a guy who invented money? -- Scott]"

Personally, yes, my doctor is more useful than my (non-existent) Feng Shui consultant. Presumably, they also make a lot more on average. I suppose that's unfair though, you know, "income inequality" and all that. But to get back to your point, I'll bet you that there exists somewhere (and by somewhere I of course mean Malibu) a Feng Shui consultant who probably makes more than most doctors. Is that a problem? Should the government step in and even the playing field? Should we re-design our entire monetary system in order to more properly reflect "societal value?"

And no, you're obviously not giving a history lesson. You're obviously using a metaphor intended to be humorous. But your metaphor is entirely off-base. You are giving people the impression that money was "discovered" and intentionally introduced by one individual. This belief is what leads people to faulty premises about economics in general. Understanding the origins of how commodity-money came to replace the barter system goes a long way into helping people understand economics.

Your label of money as "a system designed by humans" may be accurate for today's fiat money printed out of thin air by the federal reserve, but it bears little in common with the true origins of commodity money historically. You'll forgive me for presuming you were ignorant of this. The alternative was to believe that you are intentionally misleading your readers.
Apr 28, 2014
Driving a car would get you negative ute (I don't count polluting the enviroment as useful) and giving car benefits based on ute devalues ute.
Bill Gates hasn't spend more money than he made, which means he is still in the negative ute wise since he got his money by criminal means (MS was convicted for their monopoly tactics (and monopolies are outlawed because of their negative ute) not to mention MS trying to undermine open standards or pushing for stricter IP laws locking out competition).

The current system is broken. Scumbags become billionaires and you hope to force them to trickle down some of their money via the ute system. I don't think we need that. There are always two kinds of people, people who think about their legacy once there are on the top (e.g. Buffet, Gates, ...) and people who couldn't care less. But even those could (and do) easily spend some peanuts for a foundation or a new wing to a hospital which obviously has more ute than a nurse could ever accumulate in a lifetime.
Apr 28, 2014
usmdj said: "Income Inequality" is just another tool of the demagogue to seize power.

Sorry to lean into off-topic territory here, but if a black voter wants to vote for a sympathetic candidate, it's easy to see who is black. Same goes for finding a female candidate. But how does a poor voter find his candidate? TEETH. To help solve the income equality problem, we need only to remember to vote for candidates with bad teeth. (You're welcome)

+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
Or we could do nothing about the "problem" of income inequality.

"Income Inequality" is just another tool of the demagogue to seize power.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
The modern kings/dukes/barons/lords (ceos/phbs) will always over-interpret their contributions. This continues until a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, resets the social order.

Then the cycle continues. Just the human condition.
Apr 28, 2014
Scott is an Economist by training ...
He's messing with us consenting adults about important stuff.
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
I think most of the first money was coins of precious metals, which generally had their own inherent value due to rarity and desirability. Paper money is more a construct of the modern day, especially when it came off the gold standard. I suppose Wampum would be a good example of modern style worthless crap standing in for actual value. Those native Americans were ahead of their time, then?

Your Ute idea is basically the same thing as money. The very definition of making money is doing something that society finds useful and will pay you for. There could be no such thing as a billionaire with low ute, except for people that inherited it or won the lottery. You don't make a lot of money without having goods or services that society finds useful.

You seem to be suffering from some of the common misconceptions about wealth. For instance, "For some that might mean investing in ways that create lots of employment." The rich do nothing but create employment. Most of them got to be rich by owning a successful business. That's a lot of employment right there. They also buy fancy cars, yachts, private jets, etc., which employs the people that manufacture those items. If they invest their money it is loaned to other people who use it to operate their own businesses, including employees.

Instead of your rich person vs. nurse comparison, how about an NFL football player vs. a grade school teacher? That is an old argument on who is more valuable to society. Surely the education of students is more important than big sweaty men bashing each other's heads in for entertainment? So why do NFL players make bucketloads of money and teachers scrape by on a meager existence? NFL players are the elite, a couple hundred guys out of the entire country, and people buy tickets and merchandise, a lot of them. School teachers number in the dozens just for a medium size town.

You might think that a teacher should have more Utes than a football player, and that's fine. But who decides these things? What happens if there's a disagreement about what careers get more Utes than others? With money, it's decided by the marketplace, Adam Smith's invisible hand. (Well, with some interference from the government, minimum wage and such.)

You suggest that a poor person with a sub standard education could have high Utes by being of service, but the entire point of low-skill labor is that damn near anybody can do it. That's why it's low value. It sounds like you just want to award Utes based on how hard somebody works. That blue-collar guy on the assembly line works a lot harder than the boss up in the corner office, right? This is another common fallacy of class envy, because the jealous blue-collar worker has no idea the years of hard work that his boss put in when he was younger, the small house and cheap care his boss had when it was all he could afford. That corner office is the result of decades of hard work. If Utes is measured in effort, that Boss only has low Utes now because when he was younger he accumulated Utes at double the rate of most others, so it all balances out.

All of this stems from the old class envy ideas that rich people lounge around the house all day sipping mixed drinks, and keep all their money in the Scrooge McDuck money bin in the back yard, and if only they didn't have all that money, poor people wouldn't be poor. The ultra-rich in fact worked hard to earn their wealth, and provide more usefulness to society than nearly anybody else. They didn't take their money from the poor, they took it from people they sold goods and services to. They have nothing to do with why poor people have no money. You mentioned Bill Gates and his charities, but I daresay what Microsoft has done for computers is worth more Utes than Gates could ever possibly get from making donations.
Apr 28, 2014
I think it's a fine idea. Many people have thought of this before. One group even tried to set up an exchange for a similar currency called a 'Whuffie' about 5 years ago. It didn't work. But maybe someday it will.
Apr 28, 2014
Value is subjective. This post falls into classic Marxist economic theory by insisting that somehow we can measure what activity is "useful" and what isn't.

Also, your understanding of monetary history is quite poor. See, that's the thing about money, it arises somewhat spontaneously through repeated exchanges. No one man suddenly "invented" it. Money is more of a concept than it is an invention. It's like asking who "invented" religion. The first civilizations to use gold-based money did not dismiss gold as "shiny rocks" as you say. Gold was quite valuable to them already for a number of reasons. The shininess was part of the reason why.

If you're going to post about money and economics, it would seem that you have quite a bit of research and learning to do. I'll go ahead and get you started!

http://library.mises.org/books/Ludwig von Mises/Human Action.pdf

[Is your doctor not more useful than your feng shui consultant? And did you think I was giving a history lesson about a guy who invented money? -- Scott]
Apr 28, 2014
Are you familiar with Ithaca Hours, Time Dollars, or Fureai Kippu? Tour thoughts seem to line up well with these concepts. It is an idea whose time has come.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
I like it, but you've grossed over the critical component ...How are Utes earned/awarded?

If you can solve that, you may have the key to a new "currency" that can be acquired without winning a competition in the diminishing job market and change the world.
Apr 28, 2014
So, you earn utes by being useful, as measured by... somebody else. I'm assuming that once you have your utes, they don't expire, or wax and wane with your usefulness to other people, i.e. you can accumulate as much as you want.

I'm having trouble understanding how this is different than our current monetary system. I know you said they would not replace the current money and would not be used for direct purchase, but that's not going to fly. Why would I care about utes if I can't do anything with them except get some perks, most of which are available to me via actual money anyway? I can't think of a single example you gave that I can't get with money one way or another, if I really wanted to. For example, the ability to use the HOV lane -- I can get that with money simply by paying whatever fine I am assessed the random once or twice a year I actually get caught using the HOV lane alone. Two votes? Find someone who doesn't vote -- since that's almost half of eligible people in this country, it shouldn't be too hard -- and give them $1000 to vote the way I did. I'm sorry, I mean, convince them of the correctness of my political views, and then give them a $1000 cash gift at Christmas.

And those are the hard ones. Preferred parking spots are ALREADY available via money. At my company, people who contribute the most during the annual charity drive are given prime parking. And of course, you can always pay a garage.

So, no, you're going to have to replace traditional money to make this work. But again, if you do that, it is tough to see how this is actually different. I get money from my employers by being useful to them. The very idea of money is to provide an abstract way to equate value (or usefulness) between disparate physical items.
Apr 28, 2014
In response to Raskolnikov, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho_pass#Plot
Apr 28, 2014
On the plus side, Dogbert would have a field day gaming this system.

But beware! There's got to be a rigid safeguard against people in high places who are like the late George Bernard Shaw. He and his ilk would have had no problem whatsoever with executing or starving the people with the lowest Ute values each year. Think we've been there before, a few times, and it never ended well.
Apr 28, 2014
Utes are a terrific idea and as far as I can tell, nobody has ever thought of it before. Now excuse me a moment while I click on the pop-up ad.

OK, I'm back. I think the Ute idea could be extended a bit to include negative Utes. And everyone's Ute total could be worn on an RFID necklace for easy public access.

Following Georgia's lead, U.S. citizens will soon be carrying firearms everywhere. I'm suggesting "smartguns", which would be able to sense the Ute balance of the person you're aiming at. If the person you're aiming at has a lot of Utes, the gun would not fire. If the person has negative Utes, the gun would fire, or in certain cases, even deliver an automatic 3-shot burst. There would be no legal ramifications for shooting anyone, so the courts would get clogged up.

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