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
"Ute" is also Aussie slang for pickup truck I believe. Not that that should automatically disqualify its use elsewhere as Aussies have crazy slang terms for just about everything under the sun.
Apr 28, 2014
"The hard part of the ute system is assigning objective values to subjective things such as usefulness."

You assume that things like goods and services have an attribute called value that can be measured objectively--and that we haven't measured it only because that's a hard thing to do.

What if you you are wrong? What if things do not have a objective value attribute? What if the only values that exist are the subjective value people feel things are worth to them.

In a monetary economy, people communicate how much they value something by the prices they pay. If you spend $10 on something then your actions communicate you value that thing as being worth no less than $10 (which you could have spent on other things). I might have valued that thing as being worth less than $10 to me, a fact which my actions communicated by my act of not buying it at that price. (The same is true if we are talking about whether we want to pay $10 to someone to have them provide a service.)

We can observe our actions and determine what they communicate about what we value. But, nowhere in that process, is there any reason for assuming that the something we value differently has a separately existing "objective value".

In other words, different people may value shiny rocks or charity to differing degrees but that doesn't suggest that shiny rocks or charity have an attribute of "objective value" which exists at all. If it doesn't exist then it is impossible--not just hard--to measure it. And without "objective value" your idea collapses.

I suggest you educate yourself on Information & Prices: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/InformationandPrices.html

Most ideas about things having value come from a religious angle: God's values define the objective value of things/actions.

+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
Awful doesn't begin to describe how bad of an idea this is. CEOs will claim that all of the 60000 employees under them are being mentored by them, along with anything else that increases their Ute (not the tribe) value. Increasing stockholder value by firing bad employees? More Utes. The rich and powerful will always find a way to game the system, or change it so they can. Always. And a significant number of them won't care what their number is. You know them, they end up in the tabloids regularly. Also, there are already online reputation sites and you're on them. I bet you didn't know, and don't care.

see this article: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970203513604577142861752228088
from 2012 for more.

The credit reporting and scoring system is horribly broken and mostly useless at this point. You could do an entire week of blog posts on why, and I hope you do. Topics could range from employers checking credit scores before hiring, to inaccurate information that is very hard to remove, to situations like the one you briefly described, to the systems inability to recognize your ability to pay for something currently. I know people who can't pay their bills because they are out of work, and can't get a job to pay them because companies check their credit score and won't hire them. They take menial jobs just to put food on the table.
Apr 28, 2014
Let me see if I understand this: you want to form some sort of bureaucracy that will assign numerical values to how much benefit weve given to our community, disallow trading of that numerical value and assign special privileges to people based on what number they come up with. Did I get all that right?
Apr 28, 2014

The man who decides how to obtain a Ute possesses all the powers that you condemn in currency manipulation.

Pinkie Rings
Apr 28, 2014
oops s.b. "governors"
Apr 28, 2014
Hi Scott - it sounds like a "rating" or "review" system, with ute's similar to number of stars (or more likely, number of high (5-star) ratings, etc). Anyway, it's a good idea, but could be subject to the same manipulations of every other on-line rating system. Now it's true that a well-regulated rating system can work (we call it "voting"), but until the results are considered as important as voting, it may be hard to put a sufficiently corruption-free system in place (and even our voting system isn't corruption free - ask people in states with Republican govenors :-) ).

Still, it's an interesting idea - we'd all be rating each other....

+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
I like it. A modern day caste system based on something more useful than what family or income level you're born into. Speaking of, utes would have to go to your grave and could not be bequeathed to your spoiled, lazy children.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 28, 2014
Good idea but completely unfeasible since the people who are already rich and powerful would be the ones who could most successfully claim Utes.

Also, Ute is a native american tribe that I believe still exists to one extent or another today. They are not well remembered because they were more inclined to trade than fight, but the state of Utah is named after them. That probably isn't relevant though.
Apr 28, 2014
Not quite sure where utes come from in the first place

but I am very surprised that you haven't embedded the system yet so that you can get utes by creating and sharing calendars. I mean, you think that's useful, right?
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