Sunday, November 29, 2009

Psychology of the New Economy

I have come across many people in working on the new economy, mostly in currency work, that bring to the work both lots of hope and just as much fear.

The timebank is probably the most idealist currency project I have been working on, second only to the Really Really Free Market. The Really Really Free Market requires gestures of unreciprocated generosity, but in a way the risk is low for most people. They put in usually only a small amount that they feel comfortable giving away without asking anything in return. The rules of the game are pretty clear and expectations of conviviality are high, but most people don’t come and expect to get lots of high quality services and goods. Though sometimes they are pleasantly surprised by a nice wool jacket or a professional massage or some organic vegan soup. Trust actually doesn’t need to be that high since the risks are low. If someone comes and takes half the stuff being given away, well it needed a home and people wanted to get rid of it anyway. The disproportionate take is not too big of a deal and we all might think to ourselves, “this person probably needed this stuff badly, probably to sell.” Let us not judge too harshly. Though even at the RRFM, I’ve had a few fear-based, distrusting interactions, usually around people having to clean up other people’s junk or accidental theft (people taking things that thought were free but were personal belongings). However, it seems the event builds trust over the long term through positive interactions and generous exchanges.

A significant amount of fear came up when the timebank, still in pilot phase, had its first beta launch party and orientation for testers for the online system. The timebank is a somewhere between an organized gift economy system and a more rigid accounting reciprocity system. We keep score with everyone’s hour of service being equal, but we don’t enforce balance limits on accounts. We only flag high or low balances so we can contact these members and help them spend or earn if they are able. People are putting in anywhere from very low (pet sitting) to very high (plumbing) skilled services and they don’t know for sure how or when they will be reciprocated. The members on the system don’t all know each other and no certifications for performing any services are required to post, as with craigslist, although we ask people to be clear about their qualifications.

During the timebank launch party all kinds of fear-based questions came up. How do we know we will be able to get things we want out of the system if we put a lot in? How do we know people are qualified, certified, experienced, etc? How do we know people on the system are safe? How do know if they are Muslim- or eco-friendly? At the Money Fix screen and alternative currency presentation similar questions came up about counterfeiting (a very common question), legal problems, corruption, etc. People immediately jump to questions about potential problems, usually around breeches of trust, rather that the hopeful possibilities of using the system. You could feel all their past economic and other related traumas bubbling up to the surface and they needed to be urgently heard. While their concerns are useful to hear, I am concerned that we will get stuck in the old paradigm of fear, distrust and alienation.

We can create systems that offer some reassurances that facilitate some trust through integrating reputation systems (ratings, reviews, thankyous, references, certification requirements, etc.) Although sometimes this can provide a false sense of security or undermine the use of other interpersonal, individual assessments of safety, quality and trustworthiness. I think part of where we want to be going is towards a more village or tribal model, where people know each other well enough to make their own judgments in addition to or instead of these abstracted online reputations, though they can be helpful in metropolitan areas. There is really no good substitute for real life interpersonal relationships with trust, compassion, and love. Although creating online reputations systems can help build a bridge from extreme alienation and lack of trust to building caring community, but we need more.

I’ve been talking with some investors who might want to donate or invest in alternative currency projects and they wonder “what’s in it for me" an "what will my return be?" I usually answer, you will be helping your community, then your community will be healthier and help you, directly or indirectly. Usually when people invest in the stock market, they expect high risk and also high returns. There is quite a lot of risk in investing in community projects, unless you known your community well enough to know on a personal basis who to trust (this seems less risky than an abstract stock rating), and also high returns, but they are long-term, slow and ten d to be indirect. But in slow money or local investing, the trust does not usually come from ratings, it comes from first-hand knowledge of the businesses or community projects they are investing in. And the desire to invest comes out of love and compassion and other personal values, like justice and sustainability.

Trust, love and compassion, can be built through interpersonal interactions. Sharing food, conversation and touch can create these feelings. Sharing goods and service can, too. It seems at least as important in these new exchange systems that people pay as much attention if not more to the quality of the interactions with people – being as nice, generous, reliable, etc – as with the quality or quantity of things exchanged. This is how we can shift the real economy.

However, we also need healing from the trauma of the old economy - prenuptial agreements, aggressive telemarketing and credit card company calls, “rip-offs”,divorce settlements, ruthless market competition, manipulative advertising, thefts, commodified relationships, commodified life. People can continue to act in these new systems, even in worker cooperatives, in the old pattern of maximizing individual gain, competition, feelings of economic fear and scarcity. We need to retrain people to legitimately trust each other and care about each other. Every call, every trade, every economic interaction is an opportunity for creating a new economy and healing from the old.

To some extent, we do need opportunities for people to recognize and express and address their legitimate fears around the economy and lack of community. We also need to create many opportunities for people to connect in positive ways that are less commodity based and take care of each others’ needs through activities like: potlucks, community gardens, yard sharing, childcare clubs, tool sharing libraries, community healing centers, swap parties, gift markets, timebanks, and other forms of direct community service. Focusing on sharing food and healing and meditation could be especially helpful for people coming from a very wounded place.

We need to pay more attention to all of our interactions and focus on listening, caring, compassion, rather the person we are serving or who is serving us as just a client or just a service provider in a role. We are all human beings deserving of love and until we jump out of our alienated roles, we will never have this new economy or strong community bonds. We just won’t feel that motivated or even know how to take care of each other. Ask people how they are doing, what their dreams are, if they need help or a hug. The world is transformed greatly by people who care and people who feel sincerely cared for. It helps people get out of the mindset that they have to earn money until they can’t any longer at any cost in order to have a safe and happy life. It helps shift people from the me to the we consciousness.

I helped with some Food Not Bombs servings at different locations with different cooks and servers (different chapters). Some provided food with much conviviality, care and conversation and some provided food with a no conversation and a snarly face - servers very separated from people being served. I don't see how the latter is changing the world. People knowing that there is one more place they can get vegan soup once a week will not have nearly as much impact as group that engages and tries to understand and help in other ways the people that they are supposedly helping. (Of course I also understand it's a form of protest.) Reproducing an alientaed charity service doesn't seem very transformative to me.

On another front, if we are going to have some large scale currency systems like the Fureai Kippu time exchange elderhcare system in Japan or possibly for healthcare here in the US, perhaps we do need a reputation system built in. In a large scale state, national or international systems with high stakes like a persons’ health, reputation could be extremely important. I think it’s great to know that that our food is most likely organic through reputation systems like quality assurance international, although it’s better to know your farmer and know how s/he treats the animals, soil, and whether s/he needs help also. And it’s better to know the person who is taking care of your elderly mother or at least a friend who knows that person. They will also probably feel more responsibility of being a good helper if they are connected in some way other than online.

At some point though, you have to have to let go and hope enough to trust people (you can often do this by getting to know them in low risk situations). And if they don’t completely meet your expectations, you have an opportunity talk to them about it and try again. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and realize that they are coming from a wounded place and we need to try to understand that. If an exchange doesn’t work out with one person, that doesn’t mean it won’t work out with everyone. If there are repeated systemic problems (like here in the Bay Area people are notoriously flaky), then we need to address this issue repeatedly in our work so that problems are reduced and people can start to sincerely trust each other again. And we need to be conscious to not repeat these patterns ourselves. Every new pattern you create has the potential for the butterfly effect. Be kind and generous to one person and they make be inclined to reciprocate indirectly to three more people and so on.

It is a long road to change our consciousness and cultural patterns. New systems of exchange other forms of economy can go a long way, but we need to deliberately create ways of thinking and being together, to heal, and to make that great leap of faith that we could build a new economy based on love, trust and compassion. Every day and every interaction is a precious opportunity to make the shift. Have block parties, share food, share healing, offer to help those in need, help build a garden for a neighborhood park, school or clinic, lend someone your car or a ride or a spare room when they need it. All these things help build the new economy one small step at a time.

It's not just about how many organic apples you trade or give away it's also about how you give them away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Locals have 4x economic impact over nationals

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Reposted from MainStreet Cash

How much of a greater impact do local retailers have on nationals? The Urban Conservancy recently completed a study with Civic Economics to answer just that, called Thinking Outside the Box: A Report on Independent Merchants and the New Orleans Economy. Keep in mind this is just economics, and not considering the cultural impact on the local neighborhood.

According to the study, when compared to leading chain competitors on a per square foot basis, local retailers:
- generate twice the annual sales;
- recirculate revenue within the local economy at twice the rate;
- have four times the economic impact in terms of wages, profits, procurement of goods and services, and charitable giving.

The study was actually a result of looking at two popular approaches to redevelopment for New Orleans:
1. The urban model involves the restoration and rejuvenation of existing commercial corridors.
2. The suburban model requires the development of large-format retail on large parcels, anchored by general merchandise and home improvement warehouses augmented by a mix of junior anchor and small in-line spaces.
See the urban and suburban development types here.

Another conclusion of the study: If New Orleans consumers were to shift 10% of all retail activity from chains to locals, the result would be the equivalent of injecting an additional $60 million annually into the local economy in the form of recirculated dollars that would otherwise have left the area, and $235 million regionally.

Source: CoolTown Studios

The Vow of Wealth

Reposted from Jean-François Noubel's blog

By taking the Vow of Wealth,

I decide to welcome and embrace all the Wealth that is given to us, be it in material or immaterial form.

I welcome Wealth as what brings us closer to what is True, Good and Beautiful.

I welcome Wealth as life giving life, and life evolving life, for the great alliance between matter and light.

I commit to build meaningful, generative agreements that lead to harmonious and joyful relationships with my human brothers and sisters and with other living beings.

I commit to offer others what they need for the fulfillment of their life.

I commit to welcome what others offer me for the fulfillment of my life.

I commit to be naked and vulnerable, and to welcome my incompleteness, so I can open myself to receiving from others.

I commit to welcome others’ nakedness and vulnerability, and to welcome their incompleteness. There I find the joy of proposing my gifts.

I will not support whatever keeps living beings separated from Wealth.

I will not support ideologies and acts that degrade abundance into artificial scarcity, for that triggers greed and war.

But rather than fighting against these ideologies and acts, I will tap into the infinite creativity that is given to us at birth. I will be an artist, I will co-create with my fellow brothers and sisters, and new paths will be revealed. The future will not come from my reaction, future will come from my creation. Future is pure art, it springs up from my presence to the present.

I will invent and master every tool, technology and practice that allow the strict application of this Vow, in the context of our epoch and culture.

~ ~ ~

Given this epoch, given the person I am, here are some practical actions that I am going to take in order to honor this Vow:

* I leave the current monetary system. I will not acquire or sell anything with conventional money anymore.

* I leave every asset that I acquired in the past via this system. I will only keep what was offered to me as a gift.

* I commit to use free currencies that liberate and catalyze wealth everywhere, in any community, for every being, in a universal manner.

* Whatever I need to exchange with my fellow brothers and sisters will be done by means of these free currencies.

Time Exchanges: Share Your Life Energy

Reposted from and edited by Matt Gonzalez's Blog, As It Ought to Be

Time exchanges have been around for over a 100 years, presumably much longer in various forms, many undocumented. During the last two great depressions in the US, hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people organized to meet their basic needs when the mainstream economy and centralized monetary system failed them. Unemployed poor folks got together to create time dollar stores, cooperative mills, farms, healthcare systems, foundries, repair and recycling facilities, distribution warehouses, health care systems, and a myriad of other service exchanges. Many of these were based on the hour as a unit of account, and often everyone’s hour was equal and could either be exchanged for another hour of service or the equivalent in goods. Now with unemployment topping 10 percent (likely twice that given recording problems), time exchanges are making a come-back, though modern forms branded as Timebanks and LETS (Local Employment Trading Systems) have been around since the 1980’s.

Timebanks USA, a system of over 120 timebanks in the US and many other countries, was developed by activist lawyer Edgar Cahn as a way to help the underprivileged and underserved help each other through an organized system of reciprocity. Official Timebanks purchase software that provides a ready-made, standardized directory and accounting system of individuals, and sometimes nonprofits or government agencies, that are willing to provide services to their communities and receive help in return. Timebank coordinators help create matches between people who need things and others who can help meet those needs locally and enter completed transactions into the system. No money is involved and everyone’s hour is equal in this system, which is one of the features that enabled Timebanks to receive an official IRS income tax exemption declaration so people on disability, social security, unemployment and other government benefits can participate without penalty. The egalitarian nature of the system ensures that people will be able to purchase the services that they need without toiling endlessly for high priced services like in the market economy. People can also trade goods with the stipulation that their price be based on the amount of time involved in producing the goods and not their market value. Timebanks’ most successful application has been to provide a means for at-risk youth who have gone to court to do service for their community.

LETS systems, of which there are hundreds across the world, also operate without money (except for fixed costs like gas or paper copies), but the value of time or goods may be linked to its market value. Every community determines its own rules so every LETS is a little different. LETS are now mostly online accounting and directory systems just like Timebanks, but they have also taken the form of paper ledgers, checkbooks, paper currencies, and time-based stores. When one person provides service or goods to another, the giver receives credit in her account and the receiver gets a debit to his account so the system is always in balance. People manage their own accounts and make payment over the internet by logging into their personal account. Businesses, nonprofits and government may also have accounts if they are involved in reciprocal community exchange. Some systems have account balance limits, others don’t or merely flag high or low balances and then contact members to help them figure out how to spend or earn their credits.

Other similar time exchange projects exist, going by other names like Fourth Corner Exchange, Village Networks, Richmond Hours, and Austin Time Exchange. Probably the largest time exchange in the world is the Furai Kippu in Japan. Fureai kippu (meaning “Caring Relationship Tickets”) was created in 1995 to help families who had migrated to other parts of Japan care for their elder family members that they became separated from. Seniors can help each other and earn the hour credits, family members can earn credits and transfer them to their parents who live elsewhere, or users may keep credits for when they become sick or elderly themselves. Free open source software is now available for any community to tailor a time exchange to its own needs and to reflect the local culture. Many of these projects also have regular in person meetings, swaps, potlucks, etc. to help facilitate exchange, trust and community building.

While we may not have many dollars these days, most people do have some time. Instead of paying professionals who we may never see again to provide services, we can use time exchanges to find neighbors who might provide service in exchange for hour credits, thereby saving scarce US dollars for things like rent and medicine. In the process, people get to know and trust their neighbors, establishing caring relationships that can help reweave the fabric of our communities and reduce our culture’s over-reliance on individual financial security.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hope Lives in Detroit

Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier
by Aaron M. Renn 11/04/2009 (reposted from

The troubles of Detroit are well-publicized. Its economy is in free fall, people are streaming for the exits, it has the worst racial polarization and city-suburb divide in America, its government is feckless and corrupt (though I should hasten to add that new Mayor Bing seems like a basically good guy and we ought to give him a chance), and its civic boosters, even ones that are extremely knowledgeable, refuse to acknowledge the depth of the problems, instead ginning up stats and anecdotes to prove all is not so bad.

But as with Youngstown, one thing this massive failure has made possible is ability to come up with radical ideas for the city, and potentially to even implement some of them. Places like Flint and Youngstown might be attracting new ideas and moving forward, but it is big cities that inspire the big, audacious dreams. And that is Detroit. Its size, scale, and powerful brand image are attracting not just the region’s but the world’s attention. It may just be that some of the most important urban innovations in 21st century America end up coming not from Portland or New York, but places like Youngstown and, yes, Detroit.

Let’s refresh with this image showing the scale of the challenge in the city of Detroit proper:

There are zillions of pictures to illustrate the vast emptiness in Detroit. Kaid Benfield at NRDC posted these:

This phenomenon prompted someone to coin the term “urban prairie” to capture the idea of vast tracts of formerly urbanized land returning to nature. The folks at Detroit’s best discussion site, DetroitYES, posted this before and after of the St. Cyril neighborhood. Before:


A site named “Sweet Juniper” recently had a fantastic photo of the spontaneous creation of “desire line” paths across all this vacant land. You should click to enlarge this photo.

One natural response is the “shrinking cities” movement. While this has gotten traction in Youngstown and Flint, as well as in places like Germany, it is Detroit that provides the most large scale canvas on which to see this play out, as well as the place where some of the most comprehensive and radical thinking is taking place. For example, the American Institute of Architects produced a study that called for Detroit to shrink back to its urban core and a selection of urban villages, surrounded by greenbelts and banked land. Here’s a picture of their concept:

It seems likely that this will get some form of traction from officialdom, as this article suggests, though implementation is likely to be difficult.

Detroit is also attracting dreams of large scale renewal through agriculture, as Mark Dowie writes in Guernica (hat tip @archizoo).

Were I an aspiring farmer in search of fertile land to buy and plow, I would seriously consider moving to Detroit. There is open land, fertile soil, ample water, willing labor, and a desperate demand for decent food. And there is plenty of community will behind the idea of turning the capital of American industry into an agrarian paradise. In fact, of all the cities in the world, Detroit may be best positioned to become the world’s first one hundred percent food self-sufficient city.

This isn’t just a crazy idea from some guy who lives in California. He documents several examples of people right now, today growing food in Detroit. It wouldn’t surprise me, frankly, if Detroit produces more food inside its borders today than any other traditional American city.

About five hundred small plots have been created by an international organization called Urban Farming, founded by acclaimed songwriter Taja Sevelle. Realizing that Detroit was the most agriculturally promising of the fourteen cities in five countries where Urban Farming now exists, Sevelle moved herself and her organization’s headquarters there last year. Her goal is to triple the amount of land under cultivation in Detroit every year. All food grown by Urban Farming is given free to the poor. According to Urban Farming’s Detroit manager, Michael Travis, that won’t change.

The fact that Urban Farming moved to Detroit is exactly the effect I’m talking about. To anyone with aspirations in this area, it is Detroit that offers the greatest opportunity to make your mark. It is the ultimate blank canvas. For urban agriculture and many other alternative urban dreams, it is Detroit, not New York City that is the ultimate arena in which to prove yourself.

It’s not just farmers; intellectuals and artists of various types are drawn to Detroit, both to study it and pursue ideas about the remaking of the city:

Detroit has achieved something unique. It has become the test case for all sorts of theories on urban decay and all sorts of promising ideas about reviving shrinking cities.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Sue Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association, who has been interviewed recently by two separate PBS crews and an Austrian journalist writing about Detroit.

“All of us have been inundated with all of these people who somehow think that because we’re so bottomed out and so weak-market, that this is this incredible opportunity,” Mosey said.

Robin Boyle, a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University who has been interviewed by numerous visitors, echoed that sentiment.

“They realize that there is an interesting story to tell, that has real characters, but even more, they discover a place that is simply not like everywhere else,” he said.

Toby Barlow wrote in the New York Times about out of towners buying up $100 houses, moving to Detroit, and doing all sorts of interesting things with them:

Recently, at a dinner party, a friend mentioned that he’d never seen so many outsiders moving into town…Two other guests that night, a couple in from Chicago, had also just invested in some Detroit real estate. That weekend Jon and Sara Brumit bought a house for $100.
A local couple, Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, started the ball rolling. An artist and an architect, they recently became the proud owners of a one-bedroom house in East Detroit for just $1,900. Buying it wasn’t the craziest idea. The neighborhood is almost, sort of, half-decent. Yes, the occasional crack addict still commutes in from the suburbs but a large, stable Bangladeshi community has also been moving in.

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.

In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline. The good news is that, almost magically, dreamers are already showing up. Mitch and Gina have already been approached by some Germans who want to build a giant two-story-tall beehive. Mitch thinks he knows just the spot for it.

It’s what Jim Russell likes to call “Rust Belt chic”, and Detroit has it in spades.

This piece also highlights the absolutely crucial advantage of Detroit. It’s possible to do things there. In Detroit, the incapacity of the government is actually an advantage in many cases. There’s not much chance a strong city government could really turn the place around, but it could stop the grass roots revival in its tracks.

Can you imagine a two-story beehive in Chicago? In many cities where strong city government still functions effectively, citizens are tied down by an array of regulations and permits that are actually enforced in most cases. Much of the South Side of Chicago has Detroit like characteristics, but the techniques of renewal in Detroit won’t work because they are likely against code and would be shut down the minute someone complained. Just as one quick example, my corner ice cream stand dared to put out a few chairs for patrons to sit on while enjoying a frozen treat on a hot day. The city cited them for not having a license. So they took them away and put up a “bring your own chair” sign. The city then cited them for that too. You can’t do anything in Chicago without a Byzantine array of licenses, permits, and inspections.

In central Indianapolis, which is in desperate need of investment, where the city can’t fill the potholes in the street, etc., the minute a few yuppies buy houses in an area and fix them up, they immediately petition for a historic district, a request that has never been refused, ensuring that anyone who ever wants to do anything will be forced to run a costly and grueling gauntlet of variances, permits, hearings, etc. Only the most determined are willing to put up with that.

In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out. Not in Detroit. In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it. Maybe someone will eventually get around to shutting you down, or maybe not. It’s a sort of anarchy in a good way as well as a bad one. Perhaps that overstates the case. You can’t do anything, but it is certainly easier to make things happen there than in most places because the hand of government weighs less heavily.

What’s more, the fact that government is so weak has provoked some amazing reactions from the people who live there. In Chicago, every day there is some protest at City Hall by a group from some area of the city demanding something. Not in Detroit. The people in Detroit know that they are on their own, and if they want something done they have to do it themselves. Nobody from the city is coming to help them. And they’ve found some very creative ways to deal with the challenges that result. Consider this from the Dowie piece:

About 80 percent of the residents of Detroit buy their food at the one thousand convenience stores, party stores, liquor stores, and gas stations in the city. There is such a dire shortage of protein in the city that Glemie Dean Beasley, a seventy-year-old retired truck driver, is able to augment his Social Security by selling raccoon carcasses (twelve dollars a piece, serves a family of four) from animals he has treed and shot at undisclosed hunting grounds around the city. Pelts are ten dollars each. Pheasants are also abundant in the city and are occasionally harvested for dinner.

This might sound awful, and indeed it is. But it is also an inspiration and a testament to the human spirit and defiant self-reliance of the American people. I grew up in a poor rural area where, while hunting is primarily recreational, there are still many people supplementing their family diet with wild game. Many a freezer is full of deer meat, for example. And of course, rural residents have long gardened, freezing and canning the results to help get them through the winter. So this doesn’t sound quite so strange to me as it might to you. The fate of the urban poor and the rural poor are more similar than is often credited. And contrary to stereotypes the urban poor often display amazing grit and ingenuity, and perform amazing feats to sustain themselves, their families and communities.

As the focus on agriculture and even hunting show, in Detroit people are almost literally hearkening back to the formative days of the Midwest frontier, when pioneer settlers faced horrible conditions, tough odds, and often severe deprivation, but nevertheless built the foundation of the Midwest we know, and the culture that powered the industrial age. No doubt in the 19th century many of those sitting secure in their eastern citadels thought these homesteaders, hustlers, and fortune seekers crazy for leaving the comforts of civilization to head to places like Iowa and Chicago. But some saw the possibilities of what could be and heeded the call to “Go West, young man.” We’ve come full circle.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Four Degrees of Sharing

By Janelle Orsi
09.16.09, reposted from

Sharing is a big deal these days. Sharing is a growth industry, a new field of study and of practice; it presents a realm of career opportunities, a new way of life, and a concept around which we are restructuring our world. Sharing is the answer to some of today’s biggest questions: How will we meet the needs of the world’s enormous population? How do we reduce our impact on the planet and cope with the destruction already inflicted? How can we each be healthy, enjoy life, and create thriving communities?

You might be asking: “What’s so complicated or special about sharing? Isn’t sharing just sharing—something we are all supposed to know how to do as civilized humans and kindergarten graduates?”

It’s true that sharing is a relatively simple concept and a basic part of human life. What’s new is that people are applying sharing in innovative and far-reaching ways, many of which require complex planning, new ways of thinking and organizing, and new technologies. In short, people are taking sharing to new levels, ranging from relatively simple applications of sharing to community-wide sharing initiatives — and beyond.

Taking sharing to new levels will require stepping outside of our usual boxes and acquiring new tools and skills. Many of us were raised in a world of tract housing, packaged foods, mass production, and cheap goods. We enjoyed our ability to buy everything we could ever possibly need, and fill our homes full of every “convenience.” It worked beautifully, until many of us woke up and smelled the carbon.Or we just couldn’t afford our lifestyles anymore—financially, socially, or emotionally.

Over the past five years, I started to pry myself out of my “convenient” and “self-sufficient” lifestyle. I moved into shared housing, started sharing meals and growing food with neighbors, dabbled in carsharing, started sharing an office space, and joined a cooperative grocery. Now I’m starting to think that the secret to the good life lies in sharing and community-building. I have connected with people in new ways, saved a lot of money, found new hobbies, and I eat great food.And I’m not the only person to realize these benefits. Sharing and community activity are on the rise.

I’ve discovered that as we progress into higher and higher degrees of sharing, the time and resources needed are greater. At the same time, we get much more use and value out of each shared object, and we meet the needs of a much larger group of people. As a result, the benefits of the whole are increasingly greater than the sum of its parts. Here is a closer look at other kinds of sharing that can happen at each level.

Sharing to the First Degree:
Requires Cooperation + Minimal Planning
At the most basic level, sharing arrangements require little planning, time, or money. They can start or stop almost any time, sometimes quite spontaneously. Take carpooling to work, for example--that’s something you can start doing tomorrow with one other person. Many of us already do share at this level. And as sharing increasingly becomes the societal norm, we will all probably share more in these ways:

* Potlucks or meal exchanges with neighbors or co-workers
* Borrowing and lending goods
* Babysitting exchange
* Dog walking exchange
* Harvesting and sharing fruit from neighborhood trees
* Sharing computer code or content

Sharing to the Second Degree:
Requires Cooperation + More Extensive Planning
Compared to sharing at the first degree, these sharing arrangements generally involve a larger number of people and/or sharing things with more value. They entail a higher degree of cooperation, more planning, a greater investment of time or money, a certain amount of administrative detail-work, and likely a written agreement among sharers. Sharing ownership of a car with a neighbor, for example, takes shared transportation to this second level. Other examples:

* Sharing an in-home care provider for children, elders, or people with disabilities
* Sharing rental housing or ownership of a single family home
* Sharing yard space for food cultivation
* Babysitting co-op with multiple families
* Neighborhood tool lending “library” (which could be a shared shed where neighbors store their tools, or a list of tools each neighbor owns and is willing to lend)
* Food-buying club
* Neighborhood home repair group

Sharing to the Third Degree:
Requires Cooperation + Extensive Planning + Infrastructure
What’s next after carpooling and co-owning a car? How about a carsharing club? At the third degree of sharing, you might have ten neighbors sharing three cars. These neighbors will probably adopt systems for communicating, making decisions, managing money, keeping records, and so on. They will likely create a small non-profit or limited liability company (LLC) that will hold title and insurance to the cars. They’d probably adopt some technologies, like an online calendar for scheduling and numerical keypads that open and start the cars.
As a result of creating such infrastructure, third degree sharing arrangements often have an identity independent of their individual members. In other words, even as members come and go, and even when there is complete turnover, the sharing arrangement remains and becomes a lasting community institution. Here are some examples:

* Cohousing communities and housing cooperatives
* Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs
* Cooperative groceries
* Parent-run cooperative preschools
* Offices, studios, commercial kitchens, and other workspaces shared among multiple entrepreneurs
* Community-wide tool lending libraries
* Cooperatives that facilitate sharing of resources and collective bargaining by businesses (such as an alpaca fiber cooperative that processes and sells fur from hundreds of small alpaca farms)

Sharing to the Fourth Degree:
Requires Cooperation + Extensive Planning + Infrastructure + Community-Wide Restructuring and Mobilization
Now we’re getting really ambitious: Picture a community where there are shared cars parked on every block. You reserve a car using your cell phone, punch in a code on the car door, get in, and go! Whether this is publicly or privately managed, launching such a program involves significant investment of time and resources and a rather complex system of administration. Taking sharing to the fourth degree can require getting government buy-in, mobilizing multiple players (legislators, investors, banks, developers, planners, etc.), or even restructuring our communities. While a shared car on every block is a dream yet to be realized, organizations like Zipcar (a business) and City Car Share (a nonprofit) are taking steps in the right direction. Other examples of fourth degree sharing include:

* Dedication of public land to community gardening plots
* Expansion of public library systems to include lending of tools, equipment, and other goods
* City-wide bikesharing programs
* Official designation of casual carpooling parking lots and pick-up spots
* Planning of neighborhoods and design of housing to facilitate extensive common areas and community interaction
* City-wide wifi programs

Developing Our Sharing Toolkits
Getting to the second, third, and fourth degrees takes work—but it’s work that people do every day. One part of this work is cultivating the personal and communication skills useful in sharing, such as the ability to say what we need and how we feel (not as easy as it sounds), and to hear the same from others. As we begin cooperating to higher degrees, we’ll develop skills to sort through diverse needs, feelings, beliefs, and communication styles and find sharing arrangements that work for everyone involved.

Beyond personal development, there’s the need to design our sharing arrangements in ways that balance everyone’s needs for personal space, solitude, predictability, security, spontaneity, and our old favorite, convenience. At first glance, sharing might seem to threaten each of these needs, but a well-designed sharing system could actually enhance them. Some cohousing communities have achieved this beautifully, through a careful balancing of personal living spaces and well-managed community areas.

Then, in addition to protecting our individual needs, there is the challenge of preserving and nurturing that which is shared. This means grappling with the “tragedy of the commons” --the theory that individuals, acting in self-interest, will make choices that result in the eventual depletion or degradation of shared resources. It’s a challenge, and our resource-depleted planet is the poster child for such a tragedy. Thus, as we design systems for sharing, we will incorporate values, standards, and management that ensure the sustainability of what we share. At the same time, in a more sharing world, the way individuals make choices will likely change. To the extent that we see our personal wellbeing enhanced by sharing and cooperation, we will look more often at the bigger picture, and make choices that help the commons to thrive.

Finally, there are technical, logistical, and structural tasks required in order to take sharing to new levels. Sharing is a growth industry because so many people will participate in these tasks: the software engineers who are creating the web platforms for sharing, the architects who design community-oriented housing, the city planners who design cities around sharing, and the lawyers who help community groups adopt legal structures and agreements for sharing. They will work alongside mediators, facilitators, educators, realtors, developers, accountants, entrepreneurs, scholars, and others who can contribute to the creation of a more sharing world.

Together we will develop the strategies, structures, ideas, and technologies that will usher sharing into every realm of life and take it to the nth degree.
--Written with Emily Doskow

Town to get its say on council's money

Sunday 1st November 2009

The people of Winsford, UK are to be given a say in what the town council spends its money on.

Winsford Town Council plans to place 2,000 questionnaires in shops around the town in a bid to find out where tax payers think their money should be going.

The results will then influen, ce discussions for the annual council budget, which will come into force in April 2010.

The groundbreaking scheme was revealed at the town council’s meeting on Monday, October 19, where Clr Don Beckett said it was about time that residents helped shape the town.

He said: “I think we have to get out there and ask the residents what they want to see from the town council.

“A lot of the main councils assume what people want them to do. However, we will need to make them aware that some of the priorities they set may cost more in the precept.”

Clr Malcolm Gaskill suggested making residents aware of how much money they spent in each area, such as school milk, but the other councillors agreed it would be an overload of information.

Residents will be asked about how much they think should be spent on things such as play area improvements, crime prevention, war memorials and traffic calming measures.

It will also seek public opinion on possible plans too launch a ‘Participatory Budget’ whereby local organisations could make a project bid in front of a public audience which would decide who gets the money.

At present, the councils owns and runs Over and Wharton Recreation Grounds; maintains areas of open space including Rilshaw Meadows, the Verdin Fields and play areas at Meadow Bank, Stanthorne, Wharton Road and Station Road, and is responsible for Over allotments.

It provides free mid-morning milk to nursery and infant children; provides the High Street Christmas lights; funds a police community support officer and provides more than £50,000 a year in grant aid to local voluntary organisations.

Its revenue budget for 2009/10 was £336,000, to which the council contributed £20,000 meaning the average band D property paid £34.16 for town council services provided during 2009/10.

reposted from

Slow Money Gains Momentum

Former venture capitalist Woody Tasch believes it's time to create a market that values the environment, local communities and the natural world as much as it does financial growth.

First there was slow food, then slow cities and slow design. Now there is Woody Tasch, the catalyst behind a new movement touting "slow money" — the name the former venture capitalist-turned-revolutionary gives to his philosophy that combines a passion for social enterprise with the benefits of locally grown food.

Tasch is spearheading a national campaign to persuade at least 1 million Americans to donate between $25 and $1,000 each to help create a grassroots, nonprofit seed fund to support and grow local food businesses and family farms.

But it's much more than healthier food that Tasch is after. He is traveling the country this fall, warning that money moves way too quickly. Billions and trillions of dollars zip around the globe, he says, as if disembodied from the people who invest it. "Investors don't know anymore where their money goes and more and more, they want to see an impact for what they give in their own lives and own communities," Tasch recently told a capacity crowd at New York University.

Tasch said he wants to build and test the concept of something he calls "nurture capital" — a healthier and more sustainable alternative to venture capital for funding new businesses. It's time, he says, to shorten the distance between investors and their investments. It's also time, he says, to create new economic models that deliver a return but that also put community, soil fertility and the environment at the bottom line.

That's where the concept of "slow money" comes in. What if the money you invested stayed within 50 miles of where you currently live and was committed to local merchants and growers who put at least 50 percent of their profits back into the community? "What if, instead of making a double-digit return on a fast-money transaction that exploited Third World villagers and pumped up corporate profits artificially," Tasch says, "you could get a steady 2 percent to 3 percent return on money that dramatically improved the quality of life in your own neighborhood?

Which would you choose?

Adding value
More people these days are looking for ways to add value, not just generate profit. That's the basic idea behind the slow money movement: value added, sustainable growth, responsibility to a local community.

"This is really paradigm-bending stuff," says Gabriel Brodbar, the director of NYU's Reynolds Program for Social Entrepreneurship. "Even the most traditional, free-market capitalists like [philanthropist] George Soros and [National Economic Council director] Larry Summers have recently admitted in one way or another that our traditional paradigms have failed us. This is an innovative response."

Tasch is no out-of-left-field gadfly. He is chairman emeritus of Investors' Circle, the nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists, foundations and family offices that since 1992 has facilitated the flow of $130 million to 200 early-stage social enterprises dedicated to sustainability. Before that, he was the treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. Tasch's slow money movement, which was officially kicked off in September during a conference in Santa Fe, N.M., is an extension of that work.

"Right now, it's hard to believe that the Whole Foods Market down the street is still able to exist, given the damage we're doing to our soils, and it's hard to believe something bad is going to happen," Tasch told NYU students. "But [our food production system] isn't sustainable. It's time to slow down and start looking up close at what we are doing not just with industrial agriculture but what we're doing to ourselves on the planet in the name of sustaining our standard of living."

'Ultimate hedge fund'
With slow money, Tasch is taking a page from the slow food movement, the 20-year-old movement that calls on consumers to treat the act of eating less as a hurried distraction and more like a family ritual that celebrates community and takes time out to reflect upon the labor involved in growing the food that we eat. "Money should move the same way," says Tasch. "This isn't just about finance but the relationship of finance to culture." If investment decisions start to take into account what's best for local communities, he says — when small businesses borrow or get investment directly from their customers — communities become stronger and societies become more humane. "There is accountability in places where now there is none," Tasch says.

But the real dividend of slow money? Diversity — social, economic, and biological. In an era of industrial agriculture, when millions of acres are planted with the same variety of corn and when millions of pigs are bred for their yield, small local farms are "the ultimate hedge fund," he says.

"Genetically-modified plants and organisms [GMOs] are like [financial] derivatives," Tasch says. "GMOs are like finance scientists trying to trick the yield on a piece of land. Sure, people will say I don't know what I'm talking about, that these new GMO varieties of plants are crossbred for less risk because every wheat stalk planted is exactly the same genetically. But I don't know. I'm not alone when I say that we headed for a biological correction similar to the financial correction we just had. Why? You can't trick risk. The only way to mitigate risk is with diversity. Biological, cultural and economic diversity is the only answer for risk — meaning lots of small-scale, diversified things of all kinds coexisting in a healthy relationship. We're talking percolation versus circulation; diversity versus monocultures, fertility versus profitability, and relationships versus transactions."

'Bring money back down to Earth'
So far, Tasch says, his slow money movement has 700 members, including about 50 people who have sent in $1,000 checks over the Internet and small local enterprises such as Vermont's Butterworks Farm, a $1 million annual yogurt business, as well as Let's Be Frank, a Berkeley, Calif.-based hot dog company, and Sky Vegetables and Local Harvest. At the Sante Fe slow money convention in September, there were 450 attendees from 34 states and six countries, he said. "Now we're trying to get 1 million people to sign the slow money principles and from that, build capacity."

He admits that early investors may not be "big money people" but instead, small money investors who are "frustrated with the foundations system and who are frustrated as philanthropists." Says Tasch: "We must bring money back down to the Earth. It's time to restore a bit of reality back into all of our lives."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Proposal for a Time Dollar Store/Cafe/Community Center

I've been thinking of ways to get the time exchange/hour-based currencies some wings. Reading John Curl's book, the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, I found some inspiring experiments during the last great depressions in the US. Over 100,000 people in CA organized time exchanges with their own stores, warehouses, foundries, mills, farms, health care centers and so on- all based on time and many on a very egalitarian basis during the 1930's. They were able to incorporate the production and distribution of goods in a way that seems to not have been matched in recent history with LETS and Timebanks.

I believe having regular spaces to meet, facilitate exchanges of service and goods, and a place to store contributed goods is extremely important. They would provide an location for regular interactions which would facilitate community and trust building which is essential to a shift from an anonymous, alienated and decontextualized currency system and economy to a more relationship-oriented one. Having space to donate goods at no cost and in exchange for time credits and to pick up goods in exchange for time served would make goods circulation much more efficiently. Additionally, providing space where healing work, repairs and classes could be held at no cost would facilitate service exchanges. Finally, having a cafe where people could eat together in exchange for volunteering time would create potential for community bonding over food and be inclusive of those that can can not afford to hang out at restaurants and cafes. Overall, this venue would be a vivid demonstration of a completely different kind of economy and cultural consciousness shift where everyone, as long as they have some time, can participate regardless of their economic status. It would create a new space where everyone is valued equally and while there is some score-keeping as far as hours worked, there is less of an emphasis on competitive market value and more on the quality of the work and time given. More of an emphasis on mutual aid- helping each other out.

So my proposal is for a cafe/community center/time dollar store (with gift/donation section). There would be a staff person who could help manage the space and store and help people log into their accounts. Also, this might be the place where people could draw down on positive timebank accounts and receive paper hour currency that could be used at other participating local stores. I am imagining a space that nurtures a new economic ethos, spiritual interconnectedness, and takes profit out of the equation allowing other values to emerge. I am thinking of calling it "Time for (a) Change" or "Quality Time Cafe".

I met someone from the socially responsible investing sector at the Green Festival this weekend that wants to pull together investors for me so I can do a presentation and pitch. I will let you know how this goes. Real estate is a huge hurdle here because of the cost (although it might help to put it in a community land trust), but there are also lots of people with lots of money. It's just a matter of finding the right ones who are ready to make a real change. I hope you will be inspired to do something similar in your community. If you are interested in investing in or otherwise helping with this project, please contact me at Thanks!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Participatory Taxation

I culled this idea from listening to a man at the tea house last night. Although taxation is not my favorite tactic- drawing funding for our collective necessities from the activities or entities we want to reduce to disappear completely seemingly would promote their continued existence indirectly. I found this idea pretty interesting because the funding would never disappear, it would only keep shifting the burden of taxation to different entities thus overcoming this contradiction.

I had never heard of participatory taxation before last night (although he didn’t call it that). His idea was to allow the public decide through voting on a local level which businesses should be taxed and how much on a regular basis. There would be a grade curve so not every business could score high and not every business could score low. It would be on a relative continuum. So if we hate Chevron, we just vote to give them a relatively bad score and tax them to death. If we think Mission Pie is the most sustainable and equitable business, maybe we give them the best score and tax them very little if at all even though they are for profit. If a business does no harm, or even better contributes to the community through its commercial goods and services or donations, then they get a similar tax break like a nonprofit. Businesses would pay taxes but the taxes would be relative to their goodness or badness. This placement on the continuum of goodness and badness would shift periodically with a public vote and so would always be shifting. This would promote a competitive race to the top rather than to the bottom.

Now public perception could be skewed, especially if companies like Chevron throw a bunch of money behind a public relations campaign in order to get a better rating and lower their taxes. So public education and investigation are key. There is no way around that. But the businesses themselves would probably fund investigation and try to rat out the businesses that were doing harm in order to climb to the top of the relative index. And they would educate the public as to all the good they were doing. There might be some voter guide with a public (hopefully objective) evaluation of all the businesses. Now there are thousands of businesses in the Bay Area so it seems best to limit the voting to the businesses within a very small geographic region, where the citizens would also have regular contact with these businesses and would have first-hand knowledge of how they operate in order to make the most educated and accurate decisions about the businesses’ performance.

While again I am not a big fan of relying heavily on taxation, I am a big fan of participatory economic decision-making. If we are going to tax business, why shouldn’t the people decide? There is so much corruption in government that often skews taxation in favor of big, multinational business over small local business. I think things would be a lot different if we let the people decide.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ten Steps Towards a New Economy

1: Envision a new Bay Area economy- facilitate community dialogues, extensive bay area wide survey and visioning conference for the new economy to discover our common goals, values, needs and resources.
2: Council for a new Bay Area economy-establish an organizational structure that facilitates participatory democratic advisory role for multi-sector collaboration to develop new the self-sufficient, sustainable Bay Area economy. Include elected representatives from geographic districts and economic sectors, as well as key “thinkers” in this area. This council will provide a decision-making body to advise government, businesses, nonprofits, banks, etc. on how to implement of the people’s vision of a new economy. Create special committee to address race, class, gender, and environmental inequities.
3: Multiple currencies- regional paper currency, plastic municipal id or discount card/currencies , Bay Area small business to business mutual credit system (with ethical criteria as a qualification for participation), community financing currencies (veggies shares, renewable kilowatts, NoBAWC Bucks), community self-help time exchange and time dollar store/café/community centers.
4: Municipal budgeting- adoption of participatory budgeting for municipalities, formation of neighborhood councils to administer community project/infrastructure budget, regular town hall meetings to debate city-wide budget, voting for categorical appropriations of city-wide budget, prioritization of contract awards to local contractors ( especially worker cooperatives) seed funding for local import replacement businesses and training programs, and transition to worker cooperative business support.
5: Better banking- evaluate and rate local banks and credit unions according to community values, support development of new banks and forms of banking as needed to address these community values, needs and goals. Encourage institutionalized public participation in decision-making of community reinvestment allocations.
6: Community investment- as part of council of new bay area economy, organize body to oversee planning for local investment (slow money) and local stock exchange to develop regional self-sufficient and sustainable real economy, transfer investment into nonmonetary community wealth that may or may not be repaid in real wealth (e.g. renewable energy kilowatt (shares?), offer credit to small businesses and individuals at no interest (administrative/insurance fees may apply) in the form of dollars or local currency.
7: Basic needs support- organize by municipal government or as nonprofit organization collectives forms of low cost health care, cooperative/cohousing situations, food growing and low income food distribution, childcare, eldercare, etc.
8: Wage equality- establish strong local living minimum wage and maximum wage laws as well as health benefit, vacation and paid time off minimums.
9: Reclaim land and businesses- government or nonprofit organization collective reclamation of land/buildings/infrastructure (including energy and public transit) through eminent domain, land trusts and other mechanisms to return to public ownership of the collectives commons and to worker cooperative and consumer cooperative businesses.
10: Rebuild the nonmonetized and real local economies- create infrastructures for community dialogues and education, community connection, local food production, rainwater catchment and recycling, home composting, community sharing (tool lending libraries, car sharing, community child care, community gardens, creative arts centers, etc.), solar thermal, passive solar, renewable energy, local recycling, repair and reuse businesses, etc.