CommonCoin - a tool for alternative economies, new social currencies and basic income
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CommonCoin is a tool for economic empowerment and an ongoing experiment on alternative economies. The aim is to co-design a social wallet digital system to forster the cooperation within the members of the community, by sharing means of production, socialising the common profit, supporting each members’ weakness and losses.

Description of the tool

CommonCoin is a social local currency integrated with a basic income, based on social cooperation. It is a token system co-designed by the community of Macao - independent center for art, culture and research based in a former slaughterhouse in an abandoned area not far away from Milan city center, and on an open assembly of art workers, activists and citizens - which provides economies, governance management and mutual aid. CommonCoin is a new alternative currency, conceived for financing cooperative production, anti-accumulation and anti-speculative use, developed with a media and digital technology, but politically controlled by the communities that use it. This laboratory merges together skills and thoughts from marxist and post-operaist theory, clearing house, bitcoin and crypto currency experts, and communities based on self-determination, self-organization and open source culture.

Steps of application

Since 2015 Macao has been experimenting within a community of around 100 members  the CommonCoin. CommonCoin is conceived as a social local currency based on cooperation, therefore the  amount of the monthly basic income depends on the number of the participants and the general income of the organization.  The more a member participates in the governance, maintenance and management of the organization, the more he/she is part of the common value.  Basic income is self-organized:

  • There is no profit if a member works too much
  • It is better to look for a collaboration than being competitive
  • It decreases the division of labour

Macao articulates some issues:

“The fundamental and radical question in this process is: can we use a decentralized algorithm and a peer to peer technology rooted in a political decision making process? Can we build an algorithmic machine based on a community sharing political values?

The future Macao imagines is made of decentralized technological infrastructures, distributed and based upon algorithms. They are governed by democratic discussions and decisional processes, put into place by communities that share values and ideas. In other words: in a plausible future in which algorithms control our economic, relational and spatial behaviours, the real challenge is to find a way to question them without creating a democratic deficit as a collateral effect. 

This is a central question: in a future in which machines, digital and physical automation, will substitute most part of the work once performed by humans, how will it be possible to keep purchasing power? In the past, wealth was redistributed through salary and wage. Significantly, the salary was also pivotal for workers’ struggles and unions’ claims. But what will happen if redistribution through wage becomes irrelevant? What kind of struggle and organization are we able to imagine?

The Great Recession was first and foremost a crisis of trust: debts, loans, derivatives, these are all means by which capitals produce political control in neoliberalism. It is a crisis of relationships, of trust-ability. 

We aim at a new economic environment, a new ecology in which the value unit is based on a fairer infrastructure [...] An ambitious project that attempts to provide an alternative economic environment to cooperatives and grassroots independent productions on a worldwide scale.

CommonCoinis articulates around the following ideas:

  • Clearing House refers to a closed system in which the sum of credits and debts is always approaching zero. The value of this system is that the currency is conceived as ex-nihilo and always going back to nihilo.
  • Bitcoin first globalized alternative currency ever  refers to a digital coin based on an anonymous peer to peer transaction. The amount of bitcoin in circulation is limited by a system called ‘mining’. Macao is skeptical of how the bitcoin system is captured and functional to high financial speculation, and they criticize the part of the algorithm dedicated to the ‘proof of work’.
  • Proof of work, Mining, scarcity and financial speculation: In the bitcoin algorithm the way to put more money in circulation is the so-called mining. Several computers spread in the world are working, processing the network of transactions. The existing quantity of bitcoins is rooted on a work proof. The more these machines are working, more bitcoins are generated. This system has two main effects: 1) the system is based on scarcity of coins, that’s why the value floats on the financial market; 2)  the quantity of money needs a lot of energy. That’s why the generation of bitcoin is far away from an ecological prospect.
  • Authentication is how to recognize that the payment is not fake.
  • Circulation refers to how to follow every transaction in order to check how each wallet/user is operating.
  • Policy refers to the architecture of a cryptocurrency divided in three main axes: work proof, circulation and authentication. Macao decided to keep in the design of CommonCoin’s algorithm only circulation and authentication. The attempt is to take out from the machine, from the automatization of the algorithm, the work proof issue. The community of users could decide the policies inscripted in the use of the currency. Macao proposes as policies for the CommonCointhe minimum wage, the negative interest, the generative transactions and the basic income.
  • Minimum wage: If the currency is used to pay work the community of Macao can fix a minimum wage that the transactions have to respect
  • Negative Interest: the more a member doesn't spend his/her amount of money, the more his/her wallet loses value.
  • Generative transactions: Macao intends to stimulate every kind of transactions that generate others cooperative work on the same circulation system.
  • Basc Income is the way to introduce currency in circulation. Everyone that is in the community of exchange, receives a constant and basic amount of money. Everyone has to be able to have a basic amount to produce.
  • Online platform is where the community can manage the wallets’ system. It contains the discussions and it determinates every possible change and adjustments of the policy, the map of the spaces that are produced by the CommonCoin, and the display of the demand and offer.
  • Map: since CommonCoin is community based, it is important to have a real time view of who are the spaces of production as well as the  providers of work or services that recognize the CommonCoin.
  • Self-determination: the community that is defining and using this alternative currency has to self-organize in order to be the institution of the common. The online platform provides tools to organize the governance of this institution.
  • Demand and offer: the online platform has to be the main place where users can find the real time demand and offer, for every possible transaction in CommonCoin.


Rejecting the creative industry paradigm, and innovating the idea of cultural institutions, Macao considers art production as a viable process for rethinking social change, elaborating independent political critique, and as a space for innovative governance and production models. Macao started its collaboration with Freecoin and the EU project D-cent in order to design a platform allowing to share means of production and co-production in the art/creative/cultural field and as part of the network of occupied art spaces emerged during the political mobilization over the last ten years across Italy and Europe. After the financial crisis of 2007, the social movements within the art sector discussed how to self organize networks using new technologies like cryptocurrencies and blockchains, developing the next generation of open source, distributed, and privacy-aware tools for direct democracy and economic empowerment. 

The first idea for CommonCoin was born during the conference on Alternative Currency and the Institution of the Commons organized by Effimera and Macao. After that Macao decided to develop a pilot in collaboration with the European Project D-Cent. 

In November 2013 for one month, Macao hosted the most important hackers and developers of the Bitcoin community of that period (like  a.o. Amir Taaki, Vitalik Buterin, Cody Wilson). This gave Macao an opportunity to face what Bitcoin was and the ideas behind the cryptocurrency movement. After this full immersion, Macao provoked a discussion in Italy around alternative economies and radically different kinds of monetary systems. This ended up in a symposium at Macao in September 2014 entitled “Money of the Common” which led to the publication of the book La moneta del comune. La sfida dell’istituzione finanziaria del comune.  In that meeting, which was attended by an Italian community of political economists, critical theorists, and some participants in practical projects that Macao strongly supported, they agreed on two main prerequisites for any currency of the commons to work: First, the money of the common has to be anti-speculative and not scarce, and it has to promote a circular economy. Second, the technological infrastructure has to be sustainable in terms of energy expenditure and consumption. That’s why the Bitcoin architecture was problematic in terms of proof of work and mining, and because it is scarce and fluctuates in value. The high levels of energy that are consumed in processing the Bitcoin blockchain also ruled it out as a currency of the commons.

From that moment on, Macao looked for projects and collaborators in order to build alternative projects that were anti-speculative and sustainable. Faircoin, Commoncoin and Bank of the Commons are some of these. The challenge was to create collective infrastructures for the Commons with new technology, as an alternative to capitalism, as well as, locally and globally to build ecosystems for the future.

Context of origin

Visual representation


- Bank of the Commons Fair Coop


-SWAPI - Open source complementary currency toolkit

- D-cent


MACAO, Milano IT