Cory’s first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), postulated a world “in which all society’s scarcities, even death and energy have been overcome, and where conflicts over resources – notably, who gets to run Walt Disney World and what they get to do there – are apportioned using a virtual currency called ‘Whuffie,’” Doctorow explains. It’s a form of reputation economy – people who are respected have more Whuffie and therefore more wealth.
The characters in the novel generally love Whuffie, even though it’s destroying them.
Whuffie has all the problems of money, and then a bunch more that are unique to it. In Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, we see how Whuffie – despite its claims to being ‘‘meritocratic’’ – ends up pooling up around sociopathic jerks who know how to flatter, cajole, or terrorize their way to the top. Once you have a lot of Whuffie – once a lot of people hold you to be reputable – other people bend over backwards to give you opportunities to do things that make you even more reputable, putting you in a position where you can speechify, lead, drive the golden spike, and generally take credit for everything that goes well, while blaming all the screw-ups on lesser mortals.
Doesn’t sound a lot different from money in the real world, particular on the upper tier of the economy, where people can fail their way from one lucrative catastrophe to another.