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Currency Space Race: PayPal Fires the First Shot

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Today, PayPal announced its PayPal Galactic initiative, an effort to open up awareness and discussion of issues related to finance, commerce and currency in an interplanetary economy. The initiative is a partnership with the SETI Institute and “others in the scientific community.”

According to the press release, PayPal Galactic “aims to bring together leaders in the space industry to work on the big questions around the commercialization of space. These include:

• What will our standard currency look like in a truly cash-free interplanetary society?
• How will the banking systems have to adapt?
• How will risk and fraud management systems need to evolve?
• What regulations will we have to conform with?
• How will our customer support need to develop?”

Here’s the video of the launch event.

A future of space travel, tourism, commerce and colonization needs a currency, sure. PayPal’s assumption is that this interplanetary future will likely be cash-free and unified into one society. While everything is forecastable, nothing is foregone. All kinds of futures are possible, however, right?

At present, on Earth, our monetary systems are tied to the global network of sovereign states and financial institutions, and space finance may be extended from this framework, but it may not necessarily be so. Like the seasteading movement, where parties seek out international waters in order to liberate themselves from the laws and regulations of sovereign states, humans in space may have their own ideas.

Personally, I have always imagined that we might see something like corporate scrip in space. Space ventures, especially private ones, are likely to be focused entities unto themselves, and historically on Earth, many self-contained corporate entities such as mining camps or factory complexes (even in such places as the Soviet Union) have issued their own currency/scrip for purchases in a self-contained company economy.

Maybe it won’t happen that way. Or maybe it will in some instances, but not for long. You could argue that eventually the need to exchange will standardize a fragmented currency situation, yet Earth itself does not have one currency. Perhaps space will offer currency exchange opportunities that we cannot at present predict.

But other configurations are possible. Look at recent alternative money movements (such as Bitcoin). Could there be space currency or currencies that are stateless, unpegged, freed from any corresponding collateral or institution? Could it be wild and fragmented and disconnected from nation states and other terrestrial economic constructs? If so, what would be the basis of value? I think there’s innovation space here, worth billions of dollars.

Anyway, space finance is wide open at this point (which makes it fun to speculate, pun intended).

It’s great that PayPal would like to get in front of the situation, and I salute PayPal Galactic for their effort.

[Full disclosure: I am an eBay employee. eBay owns PayPal. But I have no involvement whatsoever in PayPal Galactic. Unfortunately.]

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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