Friday, October 18, 2013

Brett Scott Interview

Can you tell us about your background working in Finance and how did you come with the idea of writing The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance – Hacking the Future of Money book?

In 2008 I undertook a somewhat subversive anthropological adventure into the financial sector in London. I ended up working for two years as a derivatives broker. Derivatives are large financial bets, and brokers spend all their time trying to convince large corporations and banks to use them. I learned a lot about the financial system and since leaving have continued to explore various aspects of the system. In the wake of the Occupy protests I was asked by Pluto Press to write a guide for activists on how the financial sector works, and how one can go about improving it.

The book is divided in 3 parts: Exploring, Jamming and Building. Could you summarize –very briefly- what can be found in each section?

Exploring is all about helping the reader get a sense for the financial system, sketching out who the main players are, what they do, and what the main financial instruments are. It encourages an ethos of exploration – if you want to take on any system of power, you have to immerse yourself in it.
Jamming is all about how you can mess with that system. Much like a hacker can jam various pieces of technology, so the financial hacker can use various financial instruments or institutions in a rebellious way. I suggest various fun things to do in this section, like designing your own hedge funds of dissent.
Building is about creating alternatives to mainstream finance. It’s got a lot of the spirit of the do-it-yourself movement. I go into various areas of social and environmental innovation, and look at interesting areas like alternative currencies, co-operative and peer-to-peer systems.

What are the most inspiring individuals or organizations -Finance oriented- that had made a positive impact on you?

My old history lecturer Julian Cobbing was an important spark in getting me to question existing economic institutions, and also Professor Ha-Joon Chang, who was also a teacher of mine. Throughout the years I've met lots of inspiring people - too many to list here - but often they're not necessarily directly involved in the financial sector. Like there's this great guy called Seb Paquet in Canada who writes about culturehacking, and then my friend Eli who designs interesting currency experiments and generally has interesting things to say about economic systems - the people I most tend to enjoy are those who are not dogmatic, but who have a rebellious curiousity about the world. In terms of organisations there are loads of great ones - recently I've been enjoying the financial work done by, Rainforest Action Network, Shareaction, MoveYourMoneyUk, and MarketForces in Australia.

What is Culture-Hacking and how can be implemented in Finance? 

Culturehacking, to me, is the process of immersing yourself into a culture with a view to discovering its internal dynamics, but doing so with a rebellious outlook. Culturehacking in essence is activist anthropology, where the aim is to use the knowledge gained to disrupt some system of power. So, for example, you might undertake culturehacking missions into the oil industry, or the weapons industry. The culturehack may be the use of aspects of such a culture to further a radical cause.

Can you tell us how can an Activist Stockbrokerage be built?

Well it’s never been done, but I suggest in the book that an activist stockbrokerage could be built in stages. It would be much like a normal stockbrokerage – which facilitates access to shares, provides research on companies, and builds relationships with investors and companies – but would have an explicit disruptive intent. It could facilitate activist access to company shares, undertake research for them, and help to forge alliances between activists and progressive investors.

Can you give us a couple of examples of Green Finance/Environmental Finance?

Abundance Generation is a peer-to-peer platform whereby you can lend directly to renewable energy projects in the UK. It helps to steer money into projects with a positive environmental outcome, but it also empowers ordinary people to gain control their own finances and to have greater power over where their money goes.
Another example of such ‘ecological-democratic finance’ is the Brixton Energy Community Share program which was used to raise money for solar power in South London. The local community funds their own solar power through buying ownership via the shares. Again, here you have positive self-directed funding on the part of a community.

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