Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten Things to Consider When Designing A Peer-to-Peer Reputation System

From Collaborative Consumption
How can the trust we form face-to-face be replicated in our online systems?
By Rachel Botsman on November 29, 2010

The success of many organizations in the Collaborative Consumption space relies on the strength of the peer-to-peer network they build for their community. The key ingredient in these online networks is their ability to replicate the trust we are able to build in our real-world exchanges in the online environment. Here are 10 key factors that help build an effective peer-to-peer reputation system.

1. Unforgivable behaviour: Identify the single most important good behaviour that the reputation mechanisms need to encourage. This will simultaneously act as a strong disincentive for bad behaviour.

2. Decipher: There is a gap between what people actually care about and what they think they care about. Test your system to clarify the difference.

3. Competition: We are innately wired to love being top of the table. Present your user rankings to create healthy competition among peers.


4. Quality: Celebrate and reward users who take the time to contribute quality feedback; they should become the benchmark for others.

5. Signal: People need to be crystal clear on what they are rating. Identify the main behaviour signal you want users to be able to share, eg like/dislike; satisfied/dissatisfied; trust/distrust; reliable/unreliable, etc.

6. Sticky ratings: Pick a primary scoring system (stars, ticks, tiers, thumbs, badges, numerical ratings) and give the ratings sticky names, such as “Power Seller”.


7. Trust dimensions: People build trust in different ways. Scoring systems are great but they are often binary. Build in qualitative feedback systems based on open-ended questions that anyone can answer and that will prompt people to share something revealing and meaningful about themselves.

8. People like me: We like to know, and tend to value, what our friends and people like us think of other people. Integrate “inner-circle” vouching mechanisms (for example, went to the same school, work in the same office) into your reputation system.

9. Peer police: An open reputation system must be peer-policed but if things do go wrong, your organisation needs to be on hand quickly to offer support, resolve disputes and weed out the vandals and abusers.

10. Mirror reality: The ultimate goal of your system is to virtually replicate the trust we form face to face. Mirror the questions and dynamics we use in physical reality.

“10 things” are from Rachel’s “The Reputation Economy” article that appeared in AFR BOSS Magazine. Read the full article here.

The First Day of Kwanzaa: Umoja and Time Banks

Dec 26, 2010
by Rhonda Winter
On Ecolocalizer

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, when we celebrate Umoja, a Kiswahili term meaning unity and togetherness. This includes the unity we share as members of an extended family and community, as well as our collective connections that we have with all life on the planet.

In honor of Kwanzaa, we spent part of today helping our friend Tara put a green roof on her chicken coop, baked cookies to share, and also made a delicious vegan lunch from the backyard garden. The spirit of togetherness and unity is always better with snacks.

While thinking about how to build community unity, I have also been pondering various creative ways that people have been investing their time, now that so many of our fellow citizens and neighbors are unemployed. Innovative locally based solutions and informal economies, like food carts, community farms, barter, regional currency and time banks, are becoming increasingly popular.
Bay Area Community Exchange

In addition to growing her own food, harvesting rainwater, composting and raising chickens, my friend Tara also participates in a local time bank. The time barter group is called Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE); and though it is just a couple of years old, the time bank is helping individuals to strengthen their communities by sharing their own unique gifts and skills with one another.

SF BACE Currency

The time exchange works like a local bank, but it keeps track of actual hours invested in the community, instead of paper money. The currency is time, and everyone’s time is equal. For every hour that you spend doing something for someone in your neighborhood, you earn one hour in exchange labor.

My friend Tara sometimes exchanges a dozen of her chickens’ organic eggs, recycled rain barrels, banana nut bread, locally made honey or a home made Sunday brunch, for other people’s traded labor or goods. On their website, BACE explains a little about how the time exchange works:

” A community timebank is like having an extended family to help out. Whether you give a music lesson, take care of someone’s pet, or take someone to a doctor’s appointment, one hour given equals one hour you can then use. The BACE Timebank honors the unique gifts, talents and resources that each of us has to share, regardless of age, employment or ethnic background, such as tutoring, yard work, repairs, running errands, and storytelling. Timebanks also help enrich our lives with things we may not normally be able to afford, like language lessons or massage. Spending time dollars instead of cash, can help you save money for expenses like rent, medicine, and food.

The formal economy is unstable and currently in a recession, but we can create community resiliency through the informal economy, providing a different kind of security based on relationships, trust, caring, and reciprocity. Many other countries have large informal economies that help people meet their basic needs through local connections, as did this country earlier on. By participating in the timebank, you are creating a more caring culture and healthy community to live in that will help take better care of all of us in the long run.

Timebanks have been helping to rebuild the informal, village economy for over twenty years. There are now over 300 communities in 22 countries that are using this (pay it forward) system to help their communities grow and thrive.”

For more information on how to get involved with the time bank, please visit their website:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves: Further Adventures in the Territories of Hope

Published on
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
by Rebecca Solnit

After the Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was easy enough (on your choice of screen) to see a flaming oil platform, the very sea itself set afire with huge plumes of black smoke rising, and the dark smear of what would become five million barrels of oil beginning to soak birds and beaches. Infinitely harder to see and less dramatic was the vast counterforce soon at work: the mobilizing of tens of thousands of volunteers, including passionate locals from fishermen in the Louisiana Oystermen's Association to an outraged tattoo-artist-turned-organizer, from visiting scientists, activist groups, and Catholic Charities reaching out to Vietnamese fishing families to the journalist and oil-policy expert Antonia Juhasz, and Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe in Grand Bayou. And don't forget the ceaseless toil of the Sierra Club's local environmental justice organizer, the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the New Orleans-born poet-turned-investigator Abe Louise Young, and so many more than I can list here.

I think of one ornithologist I met in Grand Bayou who had been dispatched to the Gulf by an organization, but had decided to stay on even if his funding ran out. This mild-mannered man with a giant pair of binoculars seemed to have some form of pneumonia, possibly induced by oil-fume inhalation, but that didn't stop him. He was among the thousands whose purpose in the Gulf had nothing to do with profit, unless you're talking about profiting the planet.

The force he represented mattered there, as it does everywhere -- a force that has become ever more visible to me as I live and journey among those who dedicate themselves to their ideals and act on their solidarities. Only now, though, am I really beginning to understand the full scope of its power.
Long ago, Adam Smith wrote about the "invisible hand" of the free market, a phrase which always brings to my mind horror movies and Gothic novels in which detached and phantasmagorical limbs go about their work crawling and clawing away. The idea was that the economy would somehow self-regulate and so didn't need to be interfered with further -- or so still go the justifications for capitalism, even though it took an enormous armature of government interventions to create the current mix of wealth and poverty in our world. Your tax dollars pay for wars that make the world safe for giant oil corporations, and those corporations hand over huge sums of money to their favorite politicians (and they have so many favorites!) to regulate the political system to continue to protect, reward, and enrich themselves. But you know that story well.

As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren't the corrosions and failures of this system, but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand -- the one that gives rather than takes -- is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.

The Iceberg Economy

Who wouldn't agree that our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness? As it happens, however, huge areas of our lives are also based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return (principles that have little or nothing to do with competition, selfishness, or scarcity economics). Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

Think of the acts of those -- from daycare worker to nursing home aide or the editor of -- who do more, and do it more passionately, than they are paid to do; think of the armies of the unpaid who are at "work" counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand and making every effort to loosen its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline.

Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it, and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness. Behind the system we all know, in other words, is a shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand. Much of its work now lies in simply undoing the depredations of the official system. Its achievements are often hard to see or grasp. How can you add up the foreclosures and evictions that don't happen, the forests that aren't leveled, the species that don't go extinct, the discriminations that don't occur?

The official economic arrangements and the laws that enforce them ensure that hungry and homeless people will be plentiful amid plenty. The shadow system provides soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support. In the meantime, others seek to reform or transform the system from the inside and out, and in this way, inch by inch, inroads have been made on many fronts over the past half century.

The terrible things done, often in our name and thanks in part to the complicity of our silence or ignorance, matter. They are what wells up daily in the news and attracts our attention. In estimating the true make-up of the world, however, gauging the depth and breadth of this other force is no less important. What actually sustains life is far closer to home and more essential, even if deeper in the shadows, than market forces and much more interesting than selfishness.

Most of the real work on this planet is not done for profit: it's done at home, for each other, for affection, out of idealism, and it starts with the heroic effort to sustain each helpless human being for all those years before fending for yourself becomes feasible. Years ago, when my friends started having babies I finally began to grasp just what kind of labor goes into sustaining one baby from birth just to toddlerhood.

If you do the math, with nearly seven billion of us on Earth right now, that means seven billion years of near-constant tending only to get children upright and walking, a labor of love that adds up to more than the age of this planet. That's not a small force, even if it is only a force of maintenance. Still, the same fierce affection and determination pushes back everywhere at the forces of destruction.

Though I'm not sure I could bring myself to watch yet again that Christmas (and banking) classic It's a Wonderful Life, its premise -- that the effects of what we do might best be gauged by considering what the world would be like without us -- is still useful. For the American environment, this last year was, at best, a mixed one. Nonetheless, polar bears got some protection and the building of at least one nuclear power plant was prevented; the work of groups like the Sierra Club continued to keep new coal-fired power plants at bay; and Californians defeated a sinister oil-company-sponsored initiative, to name just a few of the more positive developments. Erase all the groups at work on the environment, hardly noticed by the rest of us, and it would have been a massacre.

The Alternatives to "There Is No Alternative"

We not only have a largely capitalist economy but an ideological system that justifies this as inevitable. "There is no alternative," as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to like to say. Many still argue that this is simply the best human nature, nasty to the core, can possibly hope to manage.

Fortunately, it's not true. Not only is there an alternative, but it's here and always has been. Recently, I had dinner with Renato Redentor Constantino, a climate and social justice activist from the Philippines, and he mentioned that he never cared for the slogan, "Another world is possible." That other world is not just possible, he pointed out, it's always been here.

We tend to think revolution has to mean a big in-the-streets, winner-take-all battle that culminates with regime change, but in the past half century it has far more often involved a trillion tiny acts of resistance that sometimes cumulatively change a society so much that the laws have no choice but to follow after. Certainly, American society has changed profoundly over the past half century for those among us who are not male, or straight, or white, or Christian, becoming far less discriminatory and exclusionary.

Radicals often speak as though we live in a bleak landscape in which the good has yet to be born, the revolution yet to begin. As Constantino points out, both of them are here, right now, and they always have been. They are represented in countless acts of solidarity and resistance, and sometimes they even triumph. When they don't -- and that's often enough -- they still do a great deal to counterbalance the official organization of our country and economy. That organization ensures oil spills, while the revolutionaries, if you want to call them that, head for the birds and the beaches, and maybe, while they're at it, change the official order a little, too.

Of course, nothing's quite as simple as that. After all, there are saints in government and monsters in the progressive movement; there's petroleum in my gas tank and money in my name in banks. To suggest that the world is so easily divided into one hand and the other, selfish and altruistic, is impossibly reductive, but talking in binaries has an advantage: it lets you focus on what is seldom acknowledged.

To say there is no alternative dismisses both the desire for and the possibility of alternative arrangements of power. For example, how do you square a Republican Party hell-bent on preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans with a new poll by two university economists suggesting that nearly all of us want something quite different? The pollsters showed a cross-section of Americans pie charts depicting three degrees of wealth distribution in three societies, and asked them what their ideal distribution of wealth might be. The unidentified charts ranged from our colossal disparity to absolute equality, with Swedish moderation in-between.

Most chose Sweden as the closest to their ideal. According to the pollsters, the choice suggested that "Americans prefer some inequality to perfect equality, but not to the degree currently present in the United States."

It might help to remember how close we had come to Sweden by the late 1970s, when income disparity was at its low ebb and the Reagan revolution was yet to launch. Of course, these days we in the U.S. aren't offered Swedish wealth distribution, since the system set up to represent us actually spends much of its time representing self-interest and moneyed interests instead. The Republicans are now being offered even larger bribes than the Democrats to vote in the interests of the ultra-affluent, whether corporate or individual. Both parties, however, helped produce the Supreme Court that, in January, gave corporations and the wealthy unprecedented power in our political system, power that it will take all our energy to counteract and maybe, someday, force into retreat.

By the way, in searching for that Thatcher no-alternative quote, I found myself on a page at Wikipedia that included the following fundraising plea from a Russian woman scientist: "Almost every day I come home from work and spend several hours improving Wikipedia! Why would I donate so much of my free time? Because I believe that by giving my time and effort -- along with thousands of other people of different nationalities, religion, ages -- we will one day have shared and free knowledge for all people."

Imperfect as it may be, ad-free, nonprofit Wikipedia's sheer scope -- 3.5 million entries in English alone, to say nothing of smaller Norwegian, Vietnamese, Persian, and Waray-Waray versions with more than 100,000 articles each -- is an astonishing testimony to a human urge to work without recompense when the cause matters.

Butterfly Spotting

The novelist and avid lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov once asked someone coming down a trail in the Rockies whether he'd seen any butterflies. The answer was negative; there were no butterflies. Nabokov, of course, went up that same trail and saw butterflies galore.

You see what you're looking for. Most of us are constantly urged to see the world as, at best, a competitive place and, at worst, a constant war of each against each, and you can see just that without even bothering to look too hard. But that's not all you can see.

Writing my recent book about disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell, led me to look at the extraordinary way people behave when faced with catastrophes and crises. From news coverage to Hollywood movies, the media suggest that, in these moments of turbulence when institutions often cease to function, we revert to our original nature in a Hobbesian wilderness where people fend for themselves.

Here's the surprise though: in such situations, most of us fend for each other most of the time -- and beautifully at that. Perhaps this, rather than (human) nature red in tooth and claw, is our original nature. At least, the evidence is clear that people not only behave well, but take deep pleasure in doing so, a pleasure so intense it suggests that an unspoken, unmet appetite for meaningful work and vibrant solidarities lives powerfully within us. Those appetites can be found reflected almost nowhere in the mainstream media, and we are normally told that the world in which such appetites might be satisfied is "utopian," impossible to reach because of our savage competitiveness, and so should be left to the most hopeless of dreamers.

Even reports meant to be sympathetic to the possibility that another better world could exist in us right now accept our Social-Darwinian essence as a given. Consider a November New York Times piece on empathy and bullying in which David Bornstein wrote,

"We know that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that there is also a biological basis for human compassion. Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up. Research by Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months behave altruistically."

Are we really hardwired to be aggressive and selfish, as Bornstein says at the outset? Are you? No evidence for such a statement need be given, even in an essay that provides plenty of evidence to the contrary, as it's supposed to be a fact universally acknowledged, rather than an opinion.

The Compassion Boom

If I were to use the normal language of the marketplace right now, I'd say that compassion and altruism are hot. It might, however, be more useful to say that the question of the nature of human nature is being reconsidered at the moment by scientists, economists, and social theorists in all sorts of curious combinations and coalitions. Take, for example, the University of California's Greater Good Science Center, which describes itself as studying "the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society." Founding director Dacher Keltner writes, "Recent studies of compassion argue persuasively for a different take on human nature, one that rejects the preeminence of self-interest."

A few dozen miles away is Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which likewise draws on researchers in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to Buddhist ethics. Bornstein's essay mentions another organization, Roots of Empathy in Toronto, that reduces violence and increases empathy among children. Experiments, programs, and activities like this proliferate.

Independent scholars and writers are looking at the same underlying question, and stories in the news this year -- such as those on school bullying -- address questions of how our society gets organized, and for whose benefit. The suicides of several queer young people generated a groundswell of anti-bullying organizing and soul-searching, notably the largely online "It Gets Better" attempt to reach out to queer youth.

In a very different arena, neoliberalism -- the economic system that lets the invisible hand throttle what it might -- has finally come into question in the mainstream (whereas if you questioned it in 1999, you were a troglodyte and a flat-Earther). Hillary Clinton lied her way through the 2008 primary, claiming she never supported NAFTA, and her husband, who brought it to us, publicly apologized for the way his policies eliminated Haiti's rice tariffs. "It was a mistake," Bill Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10th. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did."

Think of those doing the research on altruism and compassion as a radical scholarly movement, one that could undermine the philosophical and political assumptions behind our current economic system, which is also our political system. These individuals and organizations are putting together the proof that not only is another world possible, but it's been here all along, as visible, should we care to look, as Nabokov's butterflies.

Do not underestimate the power of this force. The world could be much better if more of us were more active on behalf of what we believe in and love; it would be much worse if countless activists weren't already at work from Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and the climate activists in Tuvalu to the homeless activists around the corner from me. When I studied disasters past, what amazed me was not just that people behaved so beautifully, but that, in doing so, they found such joy. It seems that something in their natures, starved in ordinary times, was fed by the opportunity, under the worst of conditions, to be generous, brave, idealistic, and connected; and when this appetite was fulfilled, the joy shone out, even amid the ruins.

Don't think of this as simply a description of my hopes for 2011, but of what was going on right under our noses in 2010; it's a force we would do well to name, recognize, celebrate, and enlarge upon now. It is who we are, if only we knew it.

Rebecca Solnit hangs out with climate-change activists, homeless advocates, booksellers, civil libertarians, anti-war veterans, moms, urbanists, Zen monks, and investigative journalists and she sure didn't write this piece for the money. She is the author of 13 books, including last year's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, and this year's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Timebank Movement Level Research Survey

We need your help in collecting information that can inform our collective efforts to improve the accessibility of timebanking to all who can benefit from it. As you know from earlier correspondence, we (Marc Brakken, UW; Preston Austin, Dane Co. TimeBank; and Stephanie Rearick, DCTB and TimeBanks USA) have been accepted to present a paper at an upcoming conference in Lyon, France. The topic is “30 years of Complementary Currencies: What next?” and our paper is titled “Deploying Timebanking for Human-Scaled Economic Development“

As part of our research for the paper and, more importantly, for future development of cooperative and collaborative tools and infrastructure for this movement, we need to learn what’s already happening and what’s in the works at a movement level around the world.

Could you please take a few minutes in the next week to reply to the following questions? We appreciate your help and plan to use the information we gather to work with timebanking organizations and individual movement-level thinkers to help all of us be better equipped for success.

The form is online here:

If you have other questions you think we’ve missed please let us know! There is a separate set of questions we intend to ask (or work with others doing similar research) of individual timebanks. The list above is geared toward developing a better understanding of the state of the movement.

For questions/comments on the survey, please contact Stephanie Rearick at steph (at)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cash, Check or BNotes- Weighing a new city currency option

From the Baltimore Guide
October, 13, 2010

European nations have the Euro. Would that make Baltimore’s projected new currency the Balto? The Crustacean? The Hon?

How about the BNote?

If the organizers of the Baltimore Green Currency Association have their way, the city’s new alternative money system will launch next spring.

Jeff Dicken of Canton and Michael Tew of Greektown are spearheading the effort to create an alternative economy, one that would, if all goes according to plan, pump money straight into local businesses and keep commerce local.

The B-note is a genre of money known as “complementary currency” that is designed to be used in a specific and limited area. Dicken says such currency is in use “in dozens of cities in the U.S.”

The Berkshires, he notes, are home to BerkShares, and Ithaca to Ithaca Hours. Pittsburgh has the Pittsburgh Plenty.

The idea is that the currency is used in small independent businesses that are based in the city.B-Notes would not be used in large chain stores or other organizations with out-of-town, or out-of-state, headquarters.

Local currency, notes Dicken, helps strengthen the relationship of local supply and demand, plus “it re-introduces a social aspect to commerce. Buying things locally reduces the need to bring things in from otuside the community.”

In addition, he notes, local currency “provides economic opportunity — we can provide very small loans, create jobs, etc. These would be for loans that conventional banks won’t touch.”

And while there’s a name for the currency so far, the look of the note is still being decided upon. In fact, there’s a contest for local artists interested in contributing; information is available on the website, Ideally, it sould be more colorful than standard U.S. currency, and of a slightly different size.

At the moment, the association’s efforts are devoted to marketing the idea to local businesses who might be willing to work with the new currency.

“Right now we’re in the education phase because there are quite a few people who don’t know exactly what money is. We want to raise people’s consciousness,” says Dicken.

“Complementary currencies have been shown to circulate within their region many times faster than the national currency, which increases everyone’s sales,” says a statement on the organization’s website.

“This is one reason local currencies became popular in the 1930s – they were an effective way to build business and create jobs as the effects of the Great Depression continued to be felt across the country.”

The initial rollout of BNotes is planned for Hampden. Dicken says thast several businesses have expressed interest, including Breathe Books and Alpha Graphics. If the rollout is successful in Hampden, it may move to other neighborhoods. “One avenue we may use to expand the area where the BNote is in use, is to coordinate the expansion with an organization such as Baltimore Main Streets,” he says, and mentions Fells Point and Highlandtown.

Chris Ryer of Southeast CDC in Highlandtown says that in general, he thinks local currency is a good idea. He thinks Highlandtown would be a better rollout point than Hampden, being well-balanced with a number of small local merchants, and filled with a population that likes to use those businesses, such as the thrift stores, hair salons, groceries and more. In particularly, he adds, the Latino population would be a strong factor in the acceptance of another form of currency.

The BNote would have a value equivalent to a dollar; in other words, one Bnote for $1, and so forth. However, in exchanging currency, there are incentives. $10 would be worth 11 Bnotes. If changing money back to U.S. dollars, $10 would be worth 9 BNotes.

Rob Santoni, controller of Santoni’s Supermarket, says that if the BNotes roll out as described, “I can see us looking at it. Any program that can link city patrons to city business is a good thing. It puts a wall around the city and makes it our own national with our own dollars that we don’t leak to the suburbs.”

However, he acknowledges, there’s a big difference between a great theory and a working financial system, since “I just see the logistics and the banking regulations as steep hurdles to overcome.”

Dicken knows that there are skeptics out there, but describes alternative currency as “a hybrid barter system,” and believes that it will gain acceptance much the same way frequent flyer miles, Nintendo points and credit card rebates have.

“Ultimately,” he notes, “if there were some kind of a dollar crisis, the BNote could emerge as a stable source of value.”

According to Dicken, the Baltimore Green Currency Association is working with the Patapsco Bank to provide services, and expects some stores to act as cambios, or exchange offices, for BNotes.

Fells Point resident Laura L. Gamble, former president of Bank of America-Maryland and a founding member of Skipjack Partners, a business consultancy, is a little more reserved.

“To me, it looks like a clever merchant discount program since you get 11 local dollars for $10 U.S. I think the difficulty in programs like this is keeping the local currency circulating because people may use it once to try it, but if there is not a lot of outlets for it, people’s interest may wane. The question will be whether the discount and the desire to support local merchants will be enough of an incentive to keep it going.

“That’s my two cents – in U.S. Currency, legal tender for all debts public and private,” she jokes.

Can You Live Without Money for a Year?

Mark Boyle did—and he says you can, too. (If you don't mind making paper out of mushrooms and brushing your teeth with cuttlefish bones.)

From Mother Jones

By Emily Loftis
Fri Oct. 15, 2010

By choice, Mark Boyle basically doesn't have a cent—or, more accurately, a pence—to his name. Boyle lives in rural England in a trailer he spotted on He feeds himself by growing everything from barley to potatoes, foraging wild edibles like berries and nettles, and occasionally dumpster-diving for luxuries like margarine and bread. He cooks with a wood stove fashioned from large restaurant olive cans; brushes his teeth with his own mixture of cuttlefish bones and fennel seed; and makes paper and ink from mushrooms. He barters labor for rent, Internet service, and whatever else he can't find, grow, or make.

This experiment in currency-free living started in 2008 after Boyle, an Irishman who worked in the organic food industry, saw Gandhi and was inspired by the Indian nationalist's legendary asceticism. Boyle's experience became the basis for his book, Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living, which has just been released in the states. By the end of his year without dough, he'd decided that the life he'd gained by shedding currency was worth continuing. When I recently spoke with Boyle, he was making plans to buy land with the royalties from the book—his only cash transaction in the last two years—to start a moneyless community. He talked about the insights that drove him to make his new lifestyle more permanent.

Mother Jones: It seems pretty ironic that you were a student of economics and now you're moneyless.

Mark Boyle: You're right, it's a bit ironic. But I think it's wrong to think of economics as money. The actual word itself actually revolves around meeting one's needs. Money is one way of meeting our needs, but it's only one way. I think I couldn't do what I do today without studying economics, because you need to understand the system first—how it currently works—in order to change it.

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MJ: Do you ever feel like you should be more engaged in the political process in order to promote sustainability?

MB: I feel like what I'm doing is a political process, to be honest. I think every single thing we do is political. Even if you go to the shops and buy a packet of biscuits, then you're buying into the system, willingly or not. I think we're conditioned into thinking political systems as being either communism or capitalism. I think there are a lot more options available. We just haven't explored them. My statement is really a message to the environmental movement more than anything else.

MJ: Whom do you think your book will have more of an impact on, serious environmentalists or people who were never interested in ecological issues?

MB: I've tried to write it in a language that is accessible for more people. When talking to an environmentalist, [I try] to really push the boundaries of that environmentalist. But I also try to communicate with the general public. I think that's the key—to not use one method of communication for all.

MJ: How has living without cash changed the way you interact with the wider community?

MB: In current society, your security is cash, and that has huge repercussions. But when you take that out of the equation, you have to have relationships with people and you have to have relationships with the environment to survive. I have more friends than almost ever. We're convinced we need money to have friends and partners, but actually I've found the opposite to be true.

MJ: You write that a lot of your interviews are comprised of repetitive questions. So, what is a question that nobody's asked you?

MB: I find that really striking that at the start, nobody was ever really asking me about what it's like choosing to be a person without a penny in a world that's striving for more and more.

MJ: Well, what is it like?

MB: At the start, it was quite difficult. I grew up in Ireland and part of the culture is that you almost fight to be the first person who buys a drink at the bar. It's quite a giving culture. Going out to a bar and not even being able to buy myself a drink, let alone for my friends—that totally brought up the whole male ego stuff and wanting to be the provider. And then I learned one of the most beautiful ways you can give is giving of yourself and your time. I feel like I've worked through a lot of that and it doesn't bother me anymore. But it definitely wasn't easy at the beginning.

MJ: Can you elaborate more on your concept of not putting more energy into getting food than what you'll get out of it?

MB: It's kind of compared to a tiger or a lion; if they feel like they're running after their prey and using too much energy, they won't do it because there's no point in expending so much energy to gain less than they're going to spend. We don't think in those terms because we've got all the fossil fuels and we basically have an insect-free, risk-free energy source. Our food has got way more energy embodied in it than we actually gain from it. But it's just because we've got access to fossil fuel. Once that goes, we're going to have to go back to a whole different way of growing our food again.

MJ: A lot of people's survival is built into the current system, like urban populations or people who can't access land. Assuming that a lot of people adopted the money-free lifestyle, wouldn't everything collapse?

MB: This is about transition. We couldn't move from what we are today to—even in 10 years' time—living completely moneyless. It's about moving away from complete dependency on money, which is a very insecure position to be in, anyway. You can't have all your eggs in one basket. As more and more people move away from one economic model to another economic model, then the market reacts to that in certain ways and people produce less. It's more about slow evolutionary process than a revolutionary process. And that's quite key to the whole thing. Our whole agricultural system is based on fossil fuels. Each gallon of fossil fuel is the same as 40 man-hours per week. That's a lot of extra man hours. And so if we're going to get back to a way of agriculture that doesn't involve oil, then people are going to have to transition away from some of the jobs that aren't necessary.

MJ: Tell me about the moneyless community you've formed since writing your book.

MB: All the proceeds of the book are going into a trust to buy land for the first community and hopefully subsequent communities as well. In a kind of similar way, back in the day, slaves would buy their way out of slavery so the kids could be free. We're buying pockets of land out of the money economy and then using that land for workshops and courses for free for people who will come along and experience moneyless living and learn all the skills of moneyless living.

MJ: How many people intend to live there?

MB: We get about 100 emails a week from people wanting to stay. I'm starting with a core group of those people whom I know and whom I've built up a relationship with for the last few years. So it's about 14 who are bringing the project forward. We're going to build capacity for 20 people and roughly 8 of those people are going to be permanent, and probably another 8 will be kind of transient. We're trying to build in an entry level for people who want to experience it. So if people aren't ready to make the whole step, they can come for a weekend or come for a month, or come for two months.

MJ: You write that self-discipline is made to liberate and not to constrain the soul. After your experiment, do you still find this to be true?

MB: Yeah. I think greatest thing I've gained from the last two years has been a massive sense of liberation. There's a really good quote from Epicurus; he says, "If you want to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his wants but subtract from his desires." When you reduce what you need in life to the bare minimum, then that's when you achieve true freedom. It's kind of like an alcoholic: You have to keep drinking more and more alcohol to sustain a certain level of drunkenness. In a way, I think we're like that. We've never got enough. So the more we consume, the more we want. And the more we want, the more we have to work to pay for all these things and insure them and then get stressed about them and protect them and get bigger houses. I think true freedom comes with letting go of them.

Emily Loftis is an editorial intern at Mother Jones.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slow Money Quickly Gaining Momentum

Thank you! Since we reached out to you last month asking for you to share the Slow Money Principles, you have responded and the total number of signers of the Slow Money Principles have grown more than 5%! In addition, 200 people have supported our call for end of year donations and joined Slow Money as members. This month, Utne Reader named Woody Tasch and Slow Money among their "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing The World." Slow Money Maine was featured on the evening news for their work supporting local food and farming. Slow Money members in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts have launched their own loan fund. They gave their first loan to an enterprise helping local farmers get their products onto local shelves. To top that all off, investments committed to the small food entrepreneurs who presented at the 2010 Slow Money National Gathering have more than doubled this month, to $4 million.

Over the holidays, with time to reflect, please keep up the momentum and take the opportunity to share what is important to you about Slow Money with family and friends. As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving and the harvest, please take a moment now to forward this message and ask two more friends to sign the Slow Money principles.

One of the most heartening aspects of the launch of Slow Money has been the emergence of the Slow Money Principles. In this day of financial razzmatazz and uncertainty, more than 12,000 of us have taken the time to consider and affirm a new vision of money and the soil.

Now, Slow Money is ready to move from launch to full-scale implementation. Slow Money initiatives are emerging around the country. Money is starting to flow into local food systems, and our momentum is building.

"The Slow Money Principles are the path to a new, healthy food system. Sign them and be counted!"
- Greg Steltenpohl, Founder, Odwalla

We couldn’t agree more with our friend Greg. It’s not just about transactions. It’s about relationships and values. It’s about a new way of thinking that will catalyze a major cultural and economic shift towards preservation and restoration.

PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO FORWARD THIS MESSAGE TO TWO MORE FRIENDS, so that they can read the Principles, and, we hope, join you and the rest of us who share abiding concerns about the fertility of our soil, the vitality of our culture and the health of our economy.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the simple act of signing the Slow Money Principles:

NPR calls us a movement. ACRES USA calls us a revolution. Business Week cited us as “one of the big ideas for 2010.”

We are still at the beginning. But what a promising beginning it is!

Of course, if you are also moved to give an end of year donation and become a member of the Slow Money Alliance, we’d love to welcome you. Our Fall membership drive has seen over 200 members give anywhere from $25 to $17,000 this month. To join that effort, click here to make a financial contribution of $25 or more, supporting our work convening national and regional gatherings and incubating the new products and services that will enable a million people to invest their 1% in local food systems within a decade.

With deep gratitude,

Ari, Woody, Michael, and David

The Broad Tent at Shelburne Farms

The Next Generation of Food Entrepreneurs

Slow Money Progress Report
November 2010

"Slow Money gets right to the heart of everything that's ailing our economy and corroding our culture. . . It offers a formula for a new kind of capitalism in which farmers' markets and stock markets both flourish.''

-Kerry Trueman, Huffington Post

The buzz surrounding Slow Money has been enormous and in 2010 we moved from vision to action. This year affirmed that Slow Money is a powerful movement that will rebuild our economy both literally and metaphorically from the ground up, by catalyzing the flow of billions of dollars into small food enterprises.

Some of this year's highlights include:

* 600 people from 30 US states and 6 countries attended our 2nd Annual National Gathering in Shelburne Farms, VT. The energy at the Gathering was inspiring.
o $4M has been invested in twelve of the small food enterprises that presented at Shelburne Farms
o countless relationships were developed among investors, entrepreneurs, foundations, and everyday people committed to addressing many of the pressing cultural, ecological and economic challenges of our time
* Slow Money has caught the attention of the mainstream media and we have been covered by The LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, ACRES USA, NPR's All Things Considered, The Sun, the Huffington Post, and more. In addition, the successes and challenges of food and farming enterprises aligned with Slow Money have been chronicled in local papers throughout North America.
* Slow Money placed 13th out of 2,500 entrants in's competition for the Top Ten Ideas for change in 2010.
* Slow Money groups are meeting regularly in many regions. In Pittsboro, NC, small loans are being made to food enterprises with help from a local foundation. In Austin, TX a steering committee meets weekly and an inaugural event drew a standing room crowd to City Hall. In Madison, WI, a series of workshops are leading to the design of a local fund. Slow Money Northwest has secured investors for its Microloan Development Fund and is collaborating with BALLE on the Northwest Washington Community Capital Project. Initiatives in the Bay Area, Maine, Santa Fe, Boulder, Santa Barbara and Hudson Valley are all moving forward.
* We formed the Soil Trust, a groundbreaking non-profit "mission-related investment" fund that will provide guarantees, seed capital and co-investment capital to slow money enterprises
* We are working with Portfolio 21, RSF Social Finance, Calvert Foundation and Mission Markets to design for-profit Slow Money products and services that will allow wide scale popular participation.
* Our incubation of Slow Munis (municipal bonds dedicated to local food investing) is progressing in collaboration with a premier group of investors and land trust professionals from around the country.
* We named our first Executive Director, Ari Derfel, this summer. Ari is a nationally recognized leader and co-founder of the critically acclaimed Gather Restaurant in Berkeley, CA
* 1200 people have joined the Slow Money Alliance, including 180 Founding Members, each of whom has contributed from $1,000 to $50,000
* More than 12,000 people have signed the Slow Money Principles
* 11,000 people have become Facebook fans. You can share the Slow Money Principles on Facebook too:
* Sales of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, Woody Tasch's literary work of art that started this movement, surpassed 12,000 copies. It has now been printed in Italian and Korean, the paperback version was just released, and a Japanese edition is coming soon

"We're in the business of shaping messages that promote a vision of sustainability in powerful, creative ways. Slow Money has extraordinary potential."

- Jonah Sachs, co-founder, Free Range Studios, Berkeley, CA

"I've been involved with a lot of movements over the last 40 years and this one has a real chance to make a difference. I can't tell you how excited I am to be part of it."

- Michael Kanter, Owner, Cambridge Naturals, Cambridge, MA

"The Slow Money national gathering was an extraordinary event. There was brilliance about it, a brilliance of connectivity and collaboration and shared commitment to this powerful economic and cultural vision. We are on the verge of a breakthrough. Slow Money is not only planting inspiring seeds, but also creating the conditions and the relationships for fundamental change and lasting impact. I was, and am, therefore, extraordinarily pleased to have been able to make the first contribution, right there on the spot in that tent that was brimming with so many wonderful and talented folks, to the Soil Trust. In Soil We Trust."

- Barry Hollister, Pittsfield, MA

"I've attended countless conferences and seminars over the years, but it was not until I was under the Slow Money tent at Shelburne Farms that I found a community of individuals with whom I can connect and actually get something done! The quality of the attendees and their breadth of experience was remarkable, as was the obvious shared commitment to the vision of Slow Money. I cannot tell you how valuable the connections I made were. I'm doing due diligence on a possible investment and have already met with another of the attendees to explore collaboration on investing in farmland near where I live. I do trust in the soil. And I trust that the future for and with Slow Money is going to be remarkable."

- Leslie Barclay, Owner, Round The Bend Farm, South Dartmouth, MA

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Start a Housing Coop

By Mira Luna

During college, I lived at a 32-member student housing cooperative where I had more fun there than I did in all my other years of college combined and met lifelong friends. I saved money by living there so I didn’t need to work through school, as the coop was owned by a nonprofit (consequently rent would get cheaper relative to inflation). The activists, artists and thinkers who lived there brewed new ideas which planted seeds in me that sprouted years later. We seized the opportunity to use common spaces for political and arts events that as regular tenants we would have never been able to host. The house created a vessel for whatever passion we wanted to manifest.

On the downside, I found it incredibly difficult to study there. The work of being a contributing coop member was a drain on my work time and there was too much drama to focus on school. The coop had structure and rules but with little follow through, meaning chores and maintenance didn’t get done and conflict was common. We had an application process, but let everyone in regardless of their ability to cooperate, as well as people with drug and other mental health problems that needed more support than we could offer. New members weren’t trained in consensus decision-making, creating heated and way-too-long meetings over trivial issues. I learned a lot about what not to do.

Years later, volunteering for a nonprofit that develops cooperative (coop) housing, I discovered that when done properly, resident-owned coops can offer an affordable and more convivial alternative to single family housing. Coops save money by cutting out landlords’ profits, sharing common spaces, lowering operating costs, and receiving public subsidies for affordable housing. Studies show that coops provide other benefits, like greater social cohesion and support, reduced crime, increased civic engagement & sustainability, better quality and maintenance of housing, and resident stability.

Housing cooperatives are defined primarily by their legal structure: coop members own the housing collectively through shares in an organization, rather than individually, as with a condo. Residents also govern the housing democratically, either directly or through elected representatives. Not just for students, coops can be home to support groups of low income families, artists, elderly, disabled, and people with a common purpose. Over 1.5 million homes in the US are part of a cooperative housing organization.

There are several different kinds of coops:

* Rental or leasehold coops are democratically run organizations of tenants that equitably share costs of renting or leasing a building owned by someone else. Rental coops may share part of the management responsibility and often have more power collectively than single renters leasing from a conventional landlord. Nonprofits can also buy a building and rent it out to lower income folks who might not be able to afford shares. Sharing a house can offer big savings and can help people avoid foreclosure.

* Market rate coops are houses, apartment buildings or other groups of housing units that are organized under a democratically managed corporation in which residents purchase shares at a market rate. Shares cover the costs of a blanket mortgage, rainy day reserves, maintenance and other operating costs, insurance, tax, etc. Units are resold at market rate.

* Limited- or zero-equity affordable housing coops receive grants and government subsidies to make coop shares more affordable to low-income people. They keep the housing permanently affordable through legal restrictions on the amount of gain on a future sale of the coop share. Often these are organized groups of low-income tenants that agree to collectively buy the building they already rent through a nonprofit, usually a land trust that holds title to the land and takes it off the speculative market. It’s a great way to make permanent gains in the fight against gentrification.

A successful limited-equity model is Columbus United Cooperative, a 21-unit apartment building in San Francisco. The San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT) worked closely with the low-income, Chinese-American family tenants who were fighting eviction and demolition. With public subsidy, tenants purchased their units as part of a coop for little more than their controlled rent in an area where home ownership is half the national average due to cost. In Los Angeles, Comunidad Cambria went from a gang war zone and drug supermarket slum to a model of peaceful, affordable cooperative housing with the help of coop housing activist Allan Heskin and several Latina women in the complex. The community rallied to protect its new coop against threats from gangs and drug dealers to burn the building down, remediated a toxic dump in its basement, and created a vibrant community center. Sunwise Coop is a rental cooperative, owned by Solar Community Housing Association, with a mission to provide eco-friendly, low-income housing in Davis, CA. The house uses solar water heating, photovoltaic panels, passive solar design, and composting to reduce their ecological footprint. They also grow their own veggies for shared vegetarian/vegan dinners and raise chickens and bees. Monthly shares or rental costs at affordable housing coops are often half or less of the market cost.

Coop housing rentals are a relatively easy first step to implement. Coop ownership can sometimes be a long, difficult process, but with much more substantial and long-term benefits. If you are thinking about starting your own housing cooperative, here is a basic plan for coop ownership, much of which applies to rentals as well:

* Find a potentially willing community of people who want to live together long-term. Some community cohesion and individual social skills are very helpful. If there isn’t already a community, holding dinners or other regular bonding events can lay a good foundation.

* Find a mentor through another successful coop, a nonprofit that helps develop housing coops (like a local land trust or the California Center for Coop Development), and/or a coop-friendly lawyer. Read the Coop Housing Toolkit.

* Educate community members about the entire process. Do an assessment to see if your community has the motivation, finances and skills needed to follow through. (If they don’t, you may want to recruit or train people that can help, especially with accounting, legal, organizing and maintenance tasks.) Make a decision whether or not to move forward.

* Work with a nonprofit or form an independent housing corporation. Form a Board of Directors from the residents’ community with membership, finance, maintenance and operations/management committees. Create bylaws for organizational procedure, including new member selection, orientations, decision-making, Board and committee elections, regular communication/meetings and conflict resolution processes. You can use another coop’s bylaws as a model.

* Develop a realistic budget with reserves, then research financing options. If your community is low income, it may be eligible for foundation grants, public subsidies from HUD or municipal affordable housing programs, and loans from Community Development Financial Institutions. Try working with banks that have already funded coops, it will be a much easier pitch and process.

* Select the dwelling that you want to buy, convert or construct and make sure the seller is willing to sell to a coop.

* Secure a loan and buy the building with the community through a blanket mortgage. This is much easier to secure when working with a nonprofit that has a track record of successful coop development.

* Complete any rehabilitation or upgrades that are needed in advance of moving in.

* Find ways to build community feeling through shared common space, childcare, dinners, group projects or other regular events. Develop relationships with the surrounding community through volunteering programs.

Although problems can come up as in any housing situation, the issue most likely to destroy the coop is internal conflict. Finding the right people and teaching others willing to learn how to get along is key.

For more info on how to share housing and other stuff as part of a cooperative, see The Sharing Solution, a book by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow, visit the National Association of Housing Cooperatives website and any of the websites above.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Community Currency Mag is Out!

Please read, send the link to your community through listservs, twitter, facebook, etc. Then print some copies out for your offline community.

Mira Luna

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Abundance of Food Vs. the Abundance of Recipes

From P2P Foundation
Contribution from Brian Davey of Feasta, reacting to the Berlin Commons Conference tension between Abundance and Scarcity. subtitles by Franz Nahrada

Brian Davey:

"At the beginning of the final session of the international commons conference participants were invited to express their worries, criticisms and reservations. I stood up and said, roughly, the following:

The participants who make up the conference perhaps should have focused more on what kind of era we are living in. In the conference there seemed to be two general understandings and the difference between them had not been brought out enough during the discussion.

Commons as lifeboats ....

On the one hand there were those for whom the commons were lifeboat institutions for collective control over vital resources in a world in crisis, a world in which production is likely to shrink because of runaway climate change, depleting energy and water and other resources. To a large degree these were people whose main focus of attention was on natural commons - the atmosphere and climate; water and the oceans; land and ecological systems...

or as a new mode of production.

On the other hand there were those for whom the commons represented an entirely new mode of peer to peer production, which, when no longer held back by the constraints imposed by intellectual property restrictions, had the potential to usher in a world of abundance....not only in the provision of free information services like Wikipedia, created collectively and available to everyone, but eventually extending into material production processes too - through open source design of material goods and the spreading of new ideas for cultivation. In short we stood at the beginning of an age of abundance....The participants with this view tended to be those involved in knowledge and cultural commons - eg those involved in developing software etc.

Limits versus abundance

After the conference I think these issues are so important that I have written this follow up paper. Let me start it by observing that the environmental movement has long been involved in a debate with the political and economic mainstream that looks like this:

Environmentalists argue that we are actually approaching and overstepping material limits to growth and the "carrying capacity" of the planet's ecological systems. Meanwhile the mainstream argues that we don't need to worry about any such thing because technology and human ingenuity will see us through - so that growth can continue indefinitely into the future....

Now I was not aware of anyone in the Berlin Commons conference who was arguing for continued growth. And everyone I met in this conference seemed to be aware of climate change and peak oil and gas. Nevertheless, the "abundance" argument did seem to me to be, at least in part, a re-packaged variant of the "human ingenuity can see us through" position - with the interesting spin on it, that human ingenuity and creativity would see us through IF the corporate attempt to enclose and privatise knowledge through intellectual property (patents, copyright, royalties etc) can be lifted - so that intellectual creation can occur as a genuine collective process and anyone and everyone is free to take the ideas, designs, software and creations of others, to correct them, amend them, adapt them, further develop them, contribute to them and so on.....without having to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Now in my view you can take these ideas too far. But before I explain why I want to explain why I found this viewpoint refreshing and to isolate a few kernels of truth.

40 years ago in my Trotskyite youth I used to attend conferences which were almost the polar opposite of this one. Participants in these earlier conferences were concerned to establish and agree upon what was "the correct analysis", the correct way of interpreting the world and what should be done about it. The "correct analysis" somehow always seemed to be what the people you knew closest thought - because you had worked out the ideas with them and, if you would be uncomfortable for you to go to all the meetings and find that you were the odd person saying something different.).

But, of course, other people, often in or from other places, people who had other relationships, typically worked out a slightly different view of what was "correct". So that meant that, for them, you were wrong, and, for you, they were wrong.

The conferences that resulted from this way of relating to "the truth" were frustrating and unproductive. I remember people remarking, with frustration, how the other factions didn't budge an inch in their thinking and, no doubt, seen from their point of view, neither did we. Difference was a problem - other peoples different viewpoints were "wrong" while we were always "right".

I cannot say that everyone had the same experience at the International Commons Conference. At least some people seemed to get frustrated - but my own experience was mainly one in which the participants there were at ease with the differences and prepared to engage with people with a different viewpoint in a relaxed way - and that was very refreshing.

Indeed when you adopted this relaxed acceptance of difference my experience was that you tended to find that the people with the different view were already aware of your viewpoint - they may not have agreed with it as the best explanation but sometimes they would accept it as plausible and another possible view.

Indeed I felt as if I was in a discussion in which participants who had different views, were regarded as useful for testing out one's own views, useful for seeing a different perspective that one might not have had before. There was a sense that ideas and viewpoints are not fixed and right or wrong, but always in development and the differing ideas of other people were useful in helping one further develop one's own ideas.

Here, I think, we have an emerging idea of one dimension of "commoning" in the "knowledge commons" . I suspect it has arisen from the experience of working things through in group processes of software design or of cultural production. Here you have an open mindedness that has arisen from the experience of open source software design and the group development of ideas - where "bugs" are regarded as inevitable, where they are ironed out in collective processes, where someone else can perhaps creatively develop something that one has done and intellectual creation is an inherently collective process.

So I think that what I was experiencing was indeed a collective "mode of production" at work - where "commoning", means active participation in production, jointly with one's peers. And this is non egoistical, non competitive, and not concerned with grabbing property rights and personal advantage - which would, after all, slow down and damage the collective process.

The idea that doing things in this way is much smoother and more creative I can really accept....up to a point. I can thus also accept, up to a point, that it is possible to conceive of responses to the ecological and economic crises, being developed and designed collectively and then applied to material production. I am aware, for example, that there are processes involved in designing "eco-cars" which are open source.

This idea can be extended even further from ideas and designs into material production. Thus it would not just be software and cultural works that might be created without intellectual property in peer to peer processes but material products made of "stuff" too - vehicles, furniture, gardens. (Peer to peer here means co-production without an intermediary or an organisation, like an employer, managing the entire process and then claiming the group product as its own).

At its most developed this leads to the idea that open source designs could be taken and used by anyone in local community work places. These places of "free infrastruture" would operate like resource centres and be equipped with computer steered machinery that would be able to create real material products out of the digital designs. (So called "Fab Labs" - see )

Well....that is where the theory of an intellectual commons goes into material production..... However, at this point however I think we need to come back to Earth. For these are visions of the future that I find difficult to believe in and I want to explain why.

The Berlin Commons conference documentation used a terminology about the "generative logic of the commons" to refer to the way in which commons can be and are productive. However, as some people pointed out, even the digital commons are based on a material and energy guzzling infrastructure - and although there may be well meaning designers engaged in open source design processes trying to reduce the energy usage and material throughput in the maintenance of the internet infrastructure, the digital commons is by no means a free lunch. Thus, for example, making a personal computer costs 1800kWh of energy and thus consumes 11 times its own weight in fossil fuels before it gets into use...and that's also before we start to take into account all the other computers and much bigger servers it will need to be connected to and the energy they all take to run on...

But, for me, there are some important issues here that go way beyond the issues about the energy used to create and run the internet and its infrastructure. While it is true that a considerable part of the financial costs of many products arises out of the design process, and these costs are greater because of intellectual property impositions and the charging of rent for the intellectual property, nevertheless, the creativity that is freed up by knowledge commons operating without intellectual property restraints cannot in and of themselves lift the limits to growth which have been the core issue for ecological economists.

So it is from this standpoint that I find it difficult to go all the way with, for example, Roberto Verzola of the Philippine Greens, who wrote a paper for the Berlin Conference called "Abundance and the Generative Logic of the Commons". Yes, I agree with Roberto that the internet is producing and abundance of "information and knowledge" but information abundance is not the same as material abundance.

For one thing an abundance of knowledge and information that some people have, can remain unknown to, or ignored, or otherwise unattended to, by the people and institutions that need and ought to know about that information and knowledge so that it is actually used.

In fact there is far more information and knowledge in the world than we can all possibly devote our attention to and a whole set of institutions exist to draw attention to the agendas of powerful interests who are operating in unsustainable ways,and to draw attention away from, to slander and to try to discredit information and knowledge about things which need urgent action. Thus, for example, there has been an abundance of information and knowledge for decades about unsustainable types of economic development and about sustainable alternatives - but there has also been a political economic power structure that has felt able to ignore it, and seduce the greater bulk of the population in rich countries to devote their attention to consumption, shopping, celebrity life styles, sports, and diverting entertainment. At the same time there has been a largely successful campaign to deliberately mislead people about climate change and other issues. So while there's a lot of information there is a lot of ignorance too...... ignor - ance that is. This channelling of mass attention is based on highly sophisticated knowledge of human psychology - indeed the founder of the modern PR and marketing industry, Edward Bernays, repeatedly drew attention to his relationship to Signmund Freud, and his use of concepts that manipulate the emotional predispositions of masses of people to suit the power elite (including the bankers and the energy barons).

Secondly even if the abundance of information were to be used helpfully in the search for solutions to our problems this information abundance could only to a limited degree be converted into an abundance of material goods - or more accurately, it has a limited potential to mitigate the decline in production that is likely to arise through energy descent.

Let me be careful to note that Roberto is well aware of peak oil but I do not fully agree with his point of view when he writes in his paper that:

" The massive bulk of water, carbon, iron, silicon and other minerals on Earth as well as energy from the sun are also wellsprings of abundance.

"The Earth's mineral abundance is non renewable a\nd must be managed differently from renewable solar energy.

"As oil production peaks, for instance, cheap abundant oil will come to an end. Peak oil should teach us an unforgettable lesson in abundance management. Those who miss the lesson will go for more coal, nuclear power and agrofuels. Those who get it will shift to clean renewables, energy efficiency and planned "descent". Transition Towns are leading the way.

"Solar energy makes possible other abundant energy resources such as water, wind and wood. In 2009, renewables supplied 25% of total world energy capacity, thanks to China's surging interest in biogas, windpower and photovoltaics. Germany, too. Photovoltaics are made from semiconducting silicon, the material base of the digital revolution (Do you recall how expensive LCD projectors were ten years ago?) If photovoltaics follow similar plunging price trends as other digital goods. we can look forward to a Solar Age soon. Hydrogen from water also promises another abundant energy source.

"In passing let me cite one more wellspring of abundance: webs of positive human relationships in caring communities, which generate feelings of peace, contentment, love happiness and other psychic rewards which defy quantification"

(From "Abundance and the Generative logic of the Commons" by Roberto Verzola, Philippine Greens.Keynote speech for Stream III

Roberto's message seems to be - yes, there will be peak oil and it will be a problem but it will only be a problem if the wrong energy technologies are adopted in response. If we embrace energy efficiency, and renewable energy technologies which are falling rapidly in price, then there will not be a problem - there will still be abundance - and that's not to mention a non measurable abundance of good feelings from positive human relations. (Quite what Roberto means by the word "descent" is not clear to me).

As an ecological economist I find these ideas disturbing in this kind of conference. They seem to contradict 100% the "Limits to Growth" arguments developed originally in the study commissioned by the Club of Rome in the 1970s and subsequently updated and confirmed by study after study.

I can fully accept the possibility of a non measurable abundance of good feelings arising out of positive human relationships....although whether that possibility will in any way be actualised depends on our succeess, or lack of success, in re-developing the commons and commoning as the basis of human relationships.....however the notion of an abundance in material abundance I do not find credible. This wishes away the fact that Planet Earth has a limited ecological carrying capacity and all the studies show we have already overshot it considerably.

Lets go back to basics. First of all how do we explain and measure what material production does occur? A good way of doing this is to take the amount of energy that is applied in economic processes, adjusting the measure of energy for the efficiency with which the energy is delivered in the transformation of materials and "stuff" that becomes embodied in products. Then you get a measure of the amount of "work" done in material production - where the word "work" is not a reference to human labour, but to the physics of the application of energy to the transformation and movement of materials - physical processes that are subject to the laws of thermodynamics. Thus the amount of material production in the economy is related to how much energy is applied AND how efficiently it is applied.

In fact, this way of looking at production, and production growth, does exceedingly well when it is applied to real data. Two authors Ayres and Warr - used this way of thinking to study growth in the US economy. Between 1900 and 1975 it provide an almost perfect explanation for the trend growth of material production.


Now there is still a place in this model for human ingenuity to improve the efficiency with which energy is delivered to production. And there is some place for immaterial production which might grow. But immaterial production has to be embedded and embodied in material processes and things too - even a hair cut requires, scissors, premises, a chair, lighting....

And when it comes to producing stuff you cannot keep on increasing the efficiency of energy delivery to production processes and nor can you keep on increasing energy inputs either - especially at a point in history when the concentrated power made possible by burning fossil fuel energy sources starts to dwindle because of depletion, going over the peak of oil production, gas peak and coal peak....(not to mention the atmospheric use peak which we passed some time ago).

But what about renewable energies? Can these not be the basis of "abundance" - that is the argument of Roberto and I don't agree.

We need to get a grip on the key fact that there is an absolute limit on the amount of solar and renewable energies available, no matter how ingenious and cheap we engineer an infrastructure to capture it, and no matter how good we are as gardeners and permaculture designers to capture it through plants.

The "generative logic of the commons" has to work with the fact that the power of raw sunshine at midday on a cloudless day is 1000W per square metre - but that is 1000 W per m2 of area oriented towards the sun, not per m2 of land area. To get the power per m2 of land area in Britain, where I live, we need to compensate for the tilt between the sun and the land, which reduces the intensity of midday sun to about 60% of its value at the equator. And of course it is not midday all the time. And of course in Britain, and many other places it is cloudy a lot of the time. In a typical UK location the sun shines during just 34% of daylight hours.

Globally total incoming solar radiation is 122 Petawatts which is 4 orders of magnitude greater than the total primary energy supply used by humanity - but given the low density with which it falls across the whole planet harvesting it for production processes is a costly energy intensive process. Many of the current ideas for harvesting this solar energy for human use assume that we can do this through biomass and plant based photosynthesis. Perhaps indeed permaculture has much to offer us - but it cannot resolve the fact that in Britain, after cloud cover and all the other issues there is only 100 watts falling on each meter of flat ground on average for the plants to harvest. Nor can human ingenuity and the generatice logic of the commons do much about the fact that the best plants, for example, in Europe, can only convert 2% of that solar energy into carbohydrates.

What's more its as well to remember that humans already appropriate 30-40% of Net Primary Production of the planet (biomass) as food, feed, fiber, and fuel with wood and crop residues supplying 10% of total global human energy use. Even a relatively small increase, pushing human use of biomass up to 50% of the planets biomass production would undermine and destroy many hugely important eco-system services. In fact, because of the climate crisis, we need to be using biomass to capture CO2 out of the atmosphere. The room for maneovre barely exists, if at all.

Similar things can be said about other renewable energy resources. Yes, they are part of the future. yes they are part of what is needed. Yes, ingenuity can increase their efficiency in harvesting energy. But no they cannot and will not ever be able to provide an "abundance" if, by abundance we mean material production abundance.

With current human use of energy globally at about 13 Tera watts in 2005 as a measure we need to take in the significance of the fact that, after solar energy

"No other renewable energy resource can provide more than 10 TW. Generous estimates of technically feasible maxima (economically acceptable rates would be much lower) are less than 10 TW for wind, less than 5 TW for ocean waves, less than 2 TW for hydroelectricity and less than 1 TW for geothermal and tidal energy and for ocean currents. " (Vaclav Smil "Energy in Nature and Society. General Energetics of Complex Systems." MIT Press, 2008, p382-383).

So lets review the argument. Material abundance requires an abundance of energy to do the physical work of transforming and moving around matter to turn good ideas and designs into products available to users. At the moment humanity uses about 13 TW of energy and this quantity is set to shrink quite dramatically in availability. No matter how clever we are the amount that we can replace from renewables is also strictly limited ....a renewable energy infrastructure will take considerable energy to construct and will have to concentrate natural energy fluxes dispersed over wide geographical areas. Moreover these natural energy fluxes are themselves subject to absolute limits in their availability.

My conclusion is that, to talk about abundance is a very misleading message. Commons have much to offer us - sharing ideas without intellectual property constraints will help us, sharing scarce production and energy and pooling production arrangement and infrastructures will too, sharing may bring us into human relationships with many psychological and emotional rewards. In that sense we may describe commons as "having a generative logic" - But an "abundance" is not a message that I agree with - if it taken to mean, or implied to mean, an abundance of material production. In my opinion to use the word "abundance" is a misleading picture of the future that we are heading into.

An abundance of information about how we might make things is not the same as an abundance of things - it is an abundance of recipes not an abundance of food."

Michel Bauwens: How Immaterial Abundance can assist a Steady State Economy

Response to Brian Davey of Feasta: Immaterial vs. Material Abundance

Michel Bauwens:

Brian Davey has written a very stimulating text, published here, which warns of equating the abundance of immaterial culture with the abundance of material production.

This is a very important argument, with which we basically agree. Nevertheless, I also believe that Brian Davey fails to see the importance of immaterial abundance in solving the crisis of material scarcity. Let’s quickly review the points with whom I can easily agree.

Yes, we cannot naively hope for the era of material abundance to continue unabated, without recognizing the real material scarcities that are becoming more serious by the day. A serious contraction from the industrial standard of material production is more than likely.

Yes, internet infrastructure is itself a costly material infrastructure.

Yes, we cannot naively assume that ‘abundant’ renewable energy can fully replace, or even substantially replace, the overflow of fossil fuels we got accustomed to. Renewables are not magical solutions and have both absolute limits and real concrete issues of concentration for human need.

So, in conclusion, I agree that it is very dangerous to conflate ‘immaterial abundance’ with material abundance. And this in fact an argument I have been constantly making in my own lecture. That the present system combines pseudo-abundance, a mistaken faith in the infinite abundance of the material world, believing that infinite growth is compatible with a finite planet; with a belief in the necessity of artificial scarcity in the world of immaterial innovation and culture, making it very difficult for humans to freely share and cooperate. I have argued that what I call the successor civilization, centered around the commons and peer to peer dynamics, which subsume both market and state, will overturn that erroneous operating system, into one which recognizes both the real scarcity of the material world, and the abundance of cultural exchange in a digital context.

My key point would be that a successful transition towards a steady state economy, or even de-growth, actually depends on global cooperation and the available network structure.

A few obvious points.

- The internet is a key tool of human cooperation and fast-paced innovation. Humanity will face many challenges, and while local situations are diverse, there are also substantial commonalities, which means that humans can and should learn from each other. That learning, where any potential innovation is instantly available to the rest of humanity, is what the promise of free culture (a misnomer, in the sense that it means the very broad cooperation of humans around a range of issues). Of course, stated in this particular way, there is an exaggerated optimism. Nevertheless, think of how knowledge would be transmitted without the internet, without print, and without writing even. As we face global challenges, many of which will have an urgency, do we have an alternative? Can we afford not to mobilize transnational collective intelligence? Can we afford that localities remain totally isolated? It is not necessary to worship speed, in order to understand that it does have a certain role to play and that isolation through high transaction, communication, and coordination costs, would not be a good thing in then context of urgent problem solving.

- Global open knowledge, code and design communities follow a different logic than capitalist firms. While capitalist innovation designs for large capital intakes (to weed out competition), for centralized production and international value chains, for consumption through planned obsolescence; open design communities design for distributed manufacturing (not just fablabs, but a general re-orientation of production around appropriate technology using open and distributed manufacturing); without planned obsolescence

- Internet is a tool for peer to peer and non-hierarchical socialization. Brian remarks how different the Berlin Commons Conference was, in its open dialogue and tolerance for diversity of opinion, from the old leftist battle for truth he was accustomed to in his youth. But there is a reason for this, namely that the process of socialization amongst peers, in a context of cultural abundance, trains for this kind of cooperation

- Sharing infrastructures, access to common resources, such as say transportation, only work with ubiquitous knowledge sharing at low coordination costs. For example, bike-sharing systematically failed before the advent of digital media, but are now pretty much routine in many cities. There are huge possibilities for building down the need for material production (for individual property), through sharing infrastructures which depend on the internet infrastructure.

- Isolated local communities are dwarfish forms, which, even if they are ecologically lighter, would face the pressure of transnational corporations and competitive nation-states. This is a guarantee for social strife, i.e. possibly violent confrontation over scarce resources. On the other hand, local production that is coupled with open design communities and global knowledge sharing, can easily outcooperate the coordination capabilities of transnational companies, while transnational phyles, i.e. coordinated value networks that are responsible for their own livelihoods, can offer fraternity and solidarity in an era of declining welfare states. Global ‘digitally-enabled’ cooperation opens the possibilities for new global governance networks that can tackle global challenges, in ways that neither local communities or nation-states can.

So, the conclusion is: immaterial abundance is not opposed to sustainable material economies, but a condition for a smoother transition towards such a state of affairs. While we have to acknowledge that such infrastructure is costly, and may not survive a ecological meltdown, it is not something to wish for, but something that should be avoided if possible. Amongst the investment choices of humanity, the possibility of global cooperation and mobilizing transnational collective intelligence, should not be discounted, but would be one of the better choices. This of course doesn’t mean that computing itself could not become a whole deal greener than it is now. It is hard to imagine how a steady-state, degrowth, or cradle to cradle economy could be achieved without blood and tears, without the use of collective intelligence.

The crux of the matter is this: we are undoubtedly facing an end to material abundance through fossil fuels. But this transformation can happen the hard way, i.e. as a terrible and costly reduction leading to new kinds of pathological neotribalism and neofeudalism. This is likely the path if we choose isolated localism, without access to global mutual coordination that is now achievable. It is no use having local organic farming, if one is faced with roving bands of armed men demanding your production .. Or, our society can transform to a higher level of complexity, by achieving a synthesis between a steady state economy, and a very rich global social and cultural life of global mutual coordination on a planetary scale, and a rich relocalized production setting.

The peer to peer vision at least, if achievable, promises this new synthesis, a marriage of the local material and the global immaterial, instead of a return to regressive localism in a context of civil, corporate, and nation-state based strife for scarce material resources.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More On the Eco Pesa

From the Eco Pesa website:

How does it work?
In the preparatory phase the voucher concept was introduced and localized by stakeholders, such as youth and village elders. The vouchers were designed with the community and introduced to the Kongowea business community and youth groups. In the first phase registered businesses are able to buy the vouchers at a 20% discount to the Kenyan shilling and use them in the community to facilitate local barter and pay youth for services like trash collection. The vouchers can be redeemed for Kenyan Shillings at a service fee of 20%.

In the second phase the discount and fee to return was removed and the vouchers were introduced to the wider community through activities such as:

* Trash collection: where residents are paid in Eco-Pesa vouchers for waste they bring to a collection area. Waste sorted at home will be given more value to encourage sorting at source.
* Community beautification: where residents are paid in vouchers to take part in cleaning and tree planting.
* Community service: where residents are paid in vouchers for manual labour such as ditch digging, land management and renovation in public areas.

After receiving vouchers residents can use them at local businesses where they will be used again in business exchanges and to pay youth for additional services.

In the third phase of the programme, the vouchers are given as loans to local groups and businesses. Low interest rates will be given on these loans with an emphasis on environmentally-minded businesses.

How did it start?

The Eco-Pesa programme started in May 2010 through a series of meetings between the Eco-Ethics team and various community groups and leaders. These meetings helped us design the voucher system, an Eco-Business network and the notes themselves. On 11 August 2010 we held a launch event and training workshop for 75 registered Eco-Businesses to begin using Eco-Pesa within Kongowea.

How are they printed?

The vouchers are security printed using special paper, UV ink, a watermark and unique numbering.

How does it effect the national currency and economy?

Since for each of the vouchers in circulation there is an equivalent amount of national currency (Kenyan Shillings) being kept, the vouchers simply act as a temporary way to keep the national currency flowing within a community. The more Eco-Pesa vouchers are in use, the more Kenyan Shillings are kept in reserve. This actually helps the national economy as well as the local economy. The local value of the vouchers is also pegged directly to the Shillings (1 Eco-Pesa = 1 Kenyan Shillings), ensuring that there will be no price adjusting or devaluing of the national currency.

Has this been done before?

The current conecept was developed and implemented by Will Ruddick in 2010. Will took his insiration from three similar programs:

* Brazil: Bancos Palmas
* US: Bershares
* London: Brixton Pound

While each of three programmes addresses a different socio-economic situation, they have all had a positive impact on their target communities in terms of increasing local purchasing power, stimulating small business activity and creating a sense of civic pride.

Where are you now?

We are currently in phase two - aproaching phase three. The community has started using the vouchers, which are are circulating primarily in the business community but are starting to reach general residents. We held an community awarness event on 20 August 2010, and two trash clean-up events in September and October. We continue to be present in the community through our local kiosk, where residents can find more information on Eco-Pesa, purchase vouchers and redeem them for Shillings.
Between our two trash collection events and tree planting. We have collected over 20 Tonnes of waste and started 3 tree nurseries.

How you can help?

* Sponsor us. To make this programme grow we need help with funding for printing and community outreach.
* Volunteer. Interested in coming to help out and seeing Kenya? Eco-Ethics has a strong and successful volunteer programme.
* Support a specific activity or business - perhaps garbage collection, environmental businesses or a football tournaments.
* Help us start an Eco-Pesa programme in another village or slum area.

Email for more information.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Truth About Unemployment

(If you are in the 25%+ who are looking for a job, you already know the bad news...)
November 8, 2010
Big Lies, Little Lies
Phantom Jobs
From Counterpunch


If we cannot trust what the government tells us about weapons of mass destruction, terrorist events, and the reasons for its wars and bailouts, can we trust the government’s statement last Friday that the US economy gained 151,000 payroll jobs during October?

Apparently not. After examining the government’s report, statistician John Williams ( reported that the jobs were “phantom jobs” created by “concurrent seasonal factor adjustments.” In other words, the 151,000 jobs cannot be found in the unadjusted underlying data. The jobs were the product of seasonal adjustments concocted by the BLS.

As usual, the financial press did no investigation and simply reported the number handed to the media by the government.

The relevant information, the information that you need to know, is that the level of payroll employment today is below the level of 10 years ago. A smaller number of Americans are employed right now than were employed a decade ago.

Think about what that means. We have had a decade of work force growth from youngsters reaching working age and from immigration, legal and illegal, but there are fewer jobs available to accommodate a decade of work force entrants than before the decade began.

During two years from December 2007 - December 2009, the US economy lost 8,363,000 jobs, according to the payroll jobs data. As of October 2010, payroll jobs purportedly have increased by 874,000, an insufficient amount to keep up with labor force growth. However, John Williams reports that 874,000 is an overestimate of jobs as a result of the faulty “birth-death model,” which overestimates new business start-ups during recessions and underestimates business failures. Williams says that the next benchmark revision due out next February will show a reduction in current employment by almost 600,000 jobs. This assumes, of course, that the BLS does not gimmick the benchmark revision. If Williams is correct, it is more evidence that the hyped recovery is non-existent.

Discounting the war production shutdown at the end of World War II, which was not a recession in the usual sense, Williams reports that “the current annual decline [in employment] remains the worst since the Great Depression, and should deepen further.”

In short, there is no employment data, and none in the works, unless gimmicked, that supports the recovery myth. The US rate of unemployment, if measured according to the methodology used in 1980, is 22.5%. Even the government’s broader measure of unemployment stands at 17%. The 9.6% reported rate is a concocted measure that does not include discouraged workers who have been unable to find a job after 6 months and workers who who want full time jobs but can only find part-time work.

Another fact that is seldom, if ever, reported, is that the payroll jobs data reports the number of jobs, not the number of people with jobs. Some people hold two jobs; thus, the payroll report does not give the number of employed people.

The BLS household survey measures the number of people with jobs. The same October that reported 151,000 new payroll jobs reported, according to the household survey, a loss of 330,000 jobs.

The American working class has been destroyed. The American middle class is in its final stages of destruction. Soon the bottom rungs of the rich themselves will be destroyed.

The entire way through this process the government will lie and the media will lie.

The United States of America has become the country of the Big Lie. Those who facilitate government and corporate lies are well rewarded, but anyone who tells any truth or expresses an impermissible opinion is excoriated and driven away.

But we “have freedom and democracy.” We are the virtuous, indispensable nation, the salt of the earth, the light unto the world.

Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: