Whuffie as a Complimentary Currency

Co-Published on Unbillable Hours

Steven Coffman wrote, in response to my post on whuffie and subjectivity, the following:

Hey, outside of sci-fi, people are already using something like Whuffie in the real world. One of the main people behind the Euro, an economist by the name of Bernard Lietaer has been researching "complimentary currencies" which include sorts of "favor cash", (some of which are completely different than whuffie, like frequent flyer miles). There's an interview you might want to check out:


I think Whuffie works better as a complimentary currency, rather than as a complete replacement, in a world w[h]ere scarcity does still exist.

I think Steven's definitely on the right track, that Whuffie represents a great tool to supplement an objective, hard cash economy. One question he had asked, and that I don't have the answer to, is whether, in barter economies (which takes us back to the days of the pre-Colombian Native Americans and the Fertile Crescent-era Mediterraneans), such as Potlatch and such, would there be something that would supplement trade when dealing with scarce resources. I'm not sure of the answer, myself, and I think that someone would have to be into anthropological economics to know it, but it's a good question. If you have the answer, please comment.

I think Steven points to another, presently relevant manner in which whuffie could be used in our society. In my day-to-day life, I'm a lawyer. Most of my cases involve divorce or disputes over wills, but I do some contract law as well (and, in fact, contract law figures into matrimonial and estate law quite often). Whuffie could be a great asset in contract negotiations. When dealing with someone who has a low reputation for honesty or fair dealing, I know - or should know - to have a lot of safety measures in the contract in order to protect against the negative effects of a breach of contract. Similarly, a low "whuffie" for honesty would alter with whom I would agree to enter into a contract. I'm risk adverse. I'm not going to encourage a breach.

I think the supplemental value of whuffie is, like Nick was pointing out with regard to epinions, in the way it encourages or discourages people to commit to risk, whether financial or romantic or otherwise. I know lawyers, in fact, have been working on a way to make it relevant when dealing with judges (i.e., judges with low reputations for courtesy, fair interpretation of the law, and the like are not recommended for tenure {a life appointment} in my state by the Bar Association). What would be interesting is if whuffie takes off as a concept for evaluating contractual partners, and moves into other areas. Imagine my reputation - my whuffie - as an element considered when I seek out employment. Imagine it as a factor for college applications. The honorable get into Harvard and the dishonorable go to East Newark Vo-Tech? It, initially, doesn't seem fair, until I consider the fact that I had to work - to interact with others - to get my reputation.

What other supplemental uses of reputation economics exist? Should we expect developments that point to their use, beyond rating books and movies on Epinions and Amazon?

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