Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Borrower and a Lender Be

by Nikhil SwaminathanNikhil Swaminathan
April 12, 2010
From Good Cities

Could the threat of a peaking oil supply lead to a hyperlocal revolution? A group of Portlanders thinks so.
Normally, when you need compost for your garden, you drive to the nearest Home Depot and pick up a couple of bags. It seems straightforward enough, but for some back-to-basics Portlanders, that would be a foolish way to accomplish such an errand. Instead, they log onto an online social network called Bright Neighbor to locate someone in their neighborhood who might have some compost on offer. If everything works out, they will walk their wheelbarrow down the street and return with it piled high with fertilizer. At what cost? It could be free. Or it might cost a few tomatoes from their garden. Or a complimentary kayaking lesson.

Bright Neighbor began in early 2008 as a “virtual commune,” allowing Portland, Oregon, residents to connect with their neighbors to set up ride shares, learn about community events, and barter goods and services—anything from astrological readings to chicken feed to household items. Its mission was never quite so simple, however. According to Tod Sloan, a Bright Neighbor member and a faculty member in the Department of Counseling Psychology at Lewis & Clark College, the site is facilitating the teaching of “real skills that are still intact in much of the world that we’re having to relearn, such as gardening and sharing tools.”

But why would those of us in the developed world need the skills obviated by modern conveniences? In February, a group of British businessmen led by the Virgin Group CEO Sir Richard Branson sounded the alarm for peak oil—the point at which the world’s oil supply will begin dwindling, bringing about economic calamities like soaring energy and food prices. If we take seriously the forecasts that it will occur in 2015, then our reliance on those modern conveniences needs to be rethought.

“We needed an all-in-one system that educated people, that taught them living skills, that is a resurgence of what people used to know how to do—which is everything from growing food to trying to build the idealism of a Beaver Cleaver world,” says Randy White, Bright Neighbor’s founder. “Peak oil will either lead to a complete social breakdown or the mother of all local opportunities.”

The effects of peak oil remain to be seen, and the predicted economic shocks may never come. If they do, however, the Bright Neighbor community will be ready.

A little over a year since its launch, the site has 5,000 members, who discover it via word of mouth or from the several write-ups it has garnered in The Oregonian, Portland’s Pulitzer Prize–winning newspaper. Tamara Staton, a 35-year-old language tutor who lives in the Cathedral Park neighborhood, discovered Bright Neighbor in late January when her husband read an article about Worm Island, the group’s new community-supported-agriculture venture based on worm farming. Staton, a self-professed Craigslist junkie, says that Bright Neighbor offers “a deeper option for connection,” a computerized version of knocking on your neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of sugar.

“I think people at this point seem to still be testing the waters, putting in their profile but not engaging as much,” says Jonathan (who asked that his last name not be used), a 33-year-old who just returned to Portland after a year of traveling. “There doesn’t seem to be the critical mass of users who are ready to barter.” There are other shortcomings to the system: For instance, users can affiliate with multiple neighborhoods, making it difficult to tell who is actually your neighbor, and the site lacks a robust mapping feature, making it difficult for users to see where they are in relation to other members.

White admits that he hasn’t yet seen the surge in membership that he wanted. Regardless, he is busy extending the Bright Neighbor brand. He has begun setting up community-wide rallies, where skills such as tree pruning are taught. Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, bought one of the first $250 shares in the Worm Island CSA. Meanwhile, with, White has produced a series of web videos that feature sustainable-minded local businesses and offer how-tos on creating home-based ecosystems.

If early interest is any indication, one of Bright Neighbor’s more promising ventures will be in the carbon-offsets business, using what White calls “an open accounting system.” A business looking to neutralize its footprint can buy fruit- or nut-bearing trees through Bright Neighbor, which plants them in the “food forest” (or yard) of a Portland resident. A picture of each tree will be displayed on the Bright Neighbor website with the logo of the business that sponsored it. Tom Dwyer Automotive Services, a local carbon-neutral shop, has bought 40 soon-to-be planted trees. The shop already offsets its carbon usage through an accredited foundation, but its outreach coordinator, Charles Letherwood notes that if White’s system becomes more official, “that would be probably the basis of our offset system.” White is also in talks with the Portland Trail Blazers to offset its carbon footprint from the operation of the Rose Garden Arena and its fans’ travel to and from games.

"Peak oil will either lead to a complete social breakdown or the mother of all local opportunities."

From its sports teams to its people, Portland’s progressive bona fides are the city’s primary calling card. A major city of 600,000 with a community-based, neighborhoody feel of Portland is the ideal venue for the Bright Neighbor social experiment, says Damin Tarlow, the director of asset management at the sustainable development company Gerding Edlen, another potential future participant in Bright Neighbor’s carbon-offsetting program. “In Portland, everyone is Kevin Bacon,” he says. “Our foundations lie in a very interpersonal, interactive environment.”

At a Bright Neighbor rally in late January, the roughly 150 people assembled ranged from people living entirely off the grid to small business leaders, Pakistani immigrants, and Oregon Institute of Technology grad students studying sustainability. According to Sam Drevo, an early Bright Neighbor adopter, the crowds at such events are steadily growing. Drevo has used the site for everything from finding a bookkeeper for his kayak-instruction business to buying compost and seeds for his garden to organizing carpools for river cleanups. “Bright Neighbor has been something that I’ve met a lot of knowledgeable people through,” he says. “If you were to take a cross section of the people using it right now, you’d probably be surprised by the expertise in different sorts of sustainability.”

Ultimately, that’s what White’s entire enterprise is about: crowd-sourcing information. He hopes to export the knowledge base he builds to other cities, employing people nationwide as worm farmers or administrators of other Bright Neighbor sites. And while he admits that he doesn’t know if there’s a demand for the platform outside Portland, he knows that serious threats to our way of life may be looming.

“Cheap energy has allowed us to increase our population exponentially, and not everybody will be able to evolve fast enough to keep up,” he says. “There’s a comic that I think about: You see these two dinosaurs sitting on the edge of the shore and in the distance you see a boat with two elephants and two giraffes. And one of the dinosaurs turns to the other and says, ‘Ah shit, was that today?’

“If you can’t evolve and realize that we’re going to have to help ourselves, then you might be sitting around waiting for someone to rescue you who never comes.”

Illustration by Scott Barry.

This article first appeared in GOOD Issue 19: The Neighborhoods Issue. You can read more from the issue here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Participatory Budgeting: Sharing Power Over Public Resources

By Mira Luna

With city governments now declaring bankruptcy and cutting vital services, local officials may be wise to take the lead from Brazil and get their constituents directly involved in tough budgetary decisions. Politicians can be pressured to fund bank bailouts over health care by their campaign contributors, but their constituents won’t.

Long before the global finance crisis, residents of Porto Alegre, Brazil were having trouble getting essential services from their government. The city was bankrupt and residents were lacking proper sewage, clean water, and other necessary infrastructure due to rampant corruption. In order to more equitably and efficiently distribute scarce public funds, Porto Alegre became the first town to formally adopt a process called participatory budgeting. This process allows its residents to directly decide how public funds will be spent though open deliberation in budget assemblies and voting. Since 1989, when the program started, city-wide participation in budgetary decision-making increased from 1,000 to over 50,000, while doubling the town’s access to many essential services.

Now over 1200 local governments across the world use participatory budgeting, including most municipalities in Brazil, several other Latin American countries, Europe, and a smattering of towns in Canada, Africa, and Asia. Peru, the U.K. and the Dominican Republic have national participatory budgeting laws that apply to all their local governments, and the UN acknowledges participatory budgeting as a core component of good democratic governance.

Yet this process remained largely unheard of in the U.S. until last year when it sprouted up in an unlikely place, Chicago’s 49th Ward, a community which speaks over 80 different languages within two square miles. Last year, residents of the ward, invited by their city representative Joe Moore, made proposals and voted on its $1.3 million discretionary budget for capital infrastructure. At a series of neighborhood assemblies, residents brainstormed project ideas and selected representatives who would transform those ideas into concrete proposals. Representatives split into six thematic issue committees to spend four months meeting with experts, conducting research, and developing budget proposals before the big vote. As Moore wrote in a letter to his constituents, it "exceeded even my wildest dreams. It was more than an election. It was a community celebration and an affirmation that people will participate in the civic affairs of their community if given real power to make real decisions." Now some candidates in Chicago’s other wards are running on a participatory budgeting platform.

Participatory budgeting as a model usually allows residents to propose, discuss, and vote on public spending projects. It is frequently initiated to address resource inequalities, as well as corruption in the budget allocation process and lack of transparency and accountability. It can also have the potent side effect of creating a more engaged and empowered citizenry through a taste of direct democracy.

Most participatory budgeting processes involve these steps:

-A government and/or nonprofit develops the 1st year participatory budgeting process.

-The government approves the amount of the budget to be turned over to the voters.

-Neighborhood assemblies are organized and meet to determine budget categories (public safety, education, health, environment, sanitation, etc.) and who will be making project proposals to the community, either on a city-wide or district/neighborhood basis.

-Proposals are developed in collaboration with nonprofits, technical experts and government officials.

-Proposals are presented, publicized, discussed and voted on by everyone eligible in the community (usually more inclusive criteria for voting than electoral voting).

-The process is refined to achieve greater budget inclusion, transparency, diversity, participation, and quality of proposals.

There are wide variations on this process, and each community defines its own rules, which may be more or less participatory. Where corruption is high and civic participation is low, participatory budgeting should start with small initiatives and work towards greater transparency and accountability as the process develops. Comparing the most with the least successful participatory budgeting projects, a well developed participatory budgeting organization with adequate structure and rules is imperative to residents’ willingness to participate and trust in the process. Loosely developed participatory budgeting programs that simply provide a rubber stamp to corrupt local government or cheat the process can be even more disempowering.

In most cities, residents are allowed to decide on no more than 20% of the budget, and often it is only the discretionary portion of the budget (non-necessities) that is voted on. This limits the damage of uninformed mistakes, but the public may actually become more informed and make wise decisions about services that their lives depend on. As the community becomes more involved and the process refined, additional portions of the budgets may be included. A larger pot can encourage more participation. One town in Brazil puts 100% of its budget up for public discussion and vote after positive experiences.

Photo by Alan Cleaver on Flickr

While participatory budgeting can cost cash-strapped municipalities extra money to hold assemblies, publicize, vote and add staff to deal with the requests, residents often end up more motivated to fulfill their tax obligations, because they feel their money is better spent with less money going to pork barrel projects. Some participatory budgeting processes have also led to increased local employment through local hiring prioritization as selected projects are implemented, improving the overall local economy.

Another side effect of a good participatory budgeting process is greater social harmony. Government officials can less be blamed for corruption, and unequal allocation, and so community-government relations may be improved. And as residents of all walks of life come together to listen to each others’ needs and be heard in a fair venue, trust, understanding, and collective wisdom may blossom. The process is not about winning, but as a one participant mentioned, “It's more about being happy for someone else to be able to live a better life."

Participatory budgeting is not just for city-wide budgets, some nonprofit agencies are adopting it, too. Toronto Community Housing has given its capital budget ($9 million currently) up to its tenants since 2001. Tenants are encouraged to propose ideas for improving their community and democratically decide their priorities. The top ideas are pitched at voting events, where tenants from different buildings come together to listen to each other and view display boards that each buildings creates as part of their proposal. Using “dot-mocracy”, every building selects a delegate who gets sticker dots with which they vote for the best ideas. Listening to active tenants talk about their experience, you get the impression that this is a fun community bonding event and less of a democratic chore. Many of them being marginalized and low income, this is also one of the more empowering things they’ve done.

In New York, City Representative Joe Moore from Chicago is promoting the idea of participatory budgeting to universities such as CUNY (City University of New York), as they experience cuts from decreased public funding. Even in good times, budgets are often a source of conflict between college administrations and students. Students might be less frustrated and dissatisfied with their education if there was more transparency and they had some say over how their tuition is being spent, increasing student retention.

Think about how participatory budgeting could democratize your world. How can you incorporate participatory budgeting into your government, university, business, nonprofit, community, or family? If we put our heads and our hearts together, we just might make better decisions that our collective future depends on.

For more information see the Participatory Budgeting Project website.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The New CC Mag and Map Wants You!

Dear Community Currency Practitioners,

You may have heard already there is a new website for the Community Currency Magazine Mark Herpel started. Matt Slater, of Community Forge, and I are shepherding it through this new phase of development. We hope it will be better than ever, but can only be useful with your active participation and collaboration.

Please bookmark these sites to help us add content: is the main page is where you can add your stories to the feed. Some of these articles will be chosen for the PDF/print version. is where you put yourself and other community currency projects on the map.

Please pass this info onto your friends in the currency world and help us build a collaborative currency movement!


Keys to Successful Community Currencies

by Mira Luna

Last night seven currency practitioners and theoreticians got together to share our strategies for success. Here are some key ideas:

-Be willing to change direction. Don't get stuck on one particular idea of exactly what the currency should look like. Your target community may push for changes and you should be willing to listen and respond or find a new target. Learn from your mistakes.

-Find a good match for your currency project. The target community must actually need currency to provide a solution to a problem, like local governments going into bankruptcy. It is often helpful that this community is already a community with some existing network of relationships and trust, like a local business network, a group of parents that need low cost childcare and already share babysitting or senior centers.

-Utilize unused capacity. Until the dollar crashes, community currencies need to open a flow of untapped resources in new ways that the dollar has not been able to do. However, these systems may serve as models for life support when the dollar does crash.

-Some ways currencies can provide usefulness that the dollar doesn't is to: make people feel good, reward good behavior and the creation of real value, build community resiliency, provide needed information that the transfer of numbers does not convey such as reputation.

-Take small steps first, don't try to take over the whole economy at once. It won't work. You need to get people used to the idea of using these systems at a low risk level and then increase scope as the system proves itself and trust builds. Think training wheels.

-Make something easy to use, fun and understandable by the general public like rewards/loyalty programs, unlike mutual credit. Even if it is mutual credit, you can pitch it as something more familiar, popular and up to date. Utilize the idea of a game to draw people in and get them hooked on using it.

-If you are not a good marketer or salesperson, find a partner who can fill this role. Often currency designers are not the best salespeople, even for free projects.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Green Free-enterprise

From P2P Foundation, Poor Richard's Trilogy (Part 3)
Oct 28, 2010

There are two broad ways for progressives to view economic issues:

1. Through a political/legal regulatory reform lens.
2. Through a grassroots economic development lens.

The two views are entirely complementary, assuming that progressives can both walk and chew gum at the same time. But because of the increasing corruption of our broken political system, the bottom-up, grassroots development of direct economic democracy (I’ll call it “green free-enterprise“) may turn out to be more effective in the long run than a never-ending boxing match with the time-wasting, money-robbing, and energy-sapping Tar-baby of political reform, re-reform, and re-re-reform.

In “The Wonderful Tar-baby Story“, the classic “Uncle Remus” story by Joel Chandler Harris, the Tar-baby (a life-like form concocted of sticky pitch and tar by the wiley Br’er Fox) seemingly refuses to answer Br’er Rabbit’s friendly greetings; and every time the indignant Br’er Rabbit takes an angry swipe at the Tar-baby , “His fis’ stuck, en he can’t pull loose. De tar hilt ’im”.

‘Tu’n me loose, fo’ I kick de natchul stuffin’ outen you,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, but de Tar-Baby, she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’. She des hilt on, en de Brer Rabbit lose de use er his feet in de same way…”

In a similar fashion progressive activists may get all tangled up in the political system’s recalcitrance, filibustering, and perpetual resistance to reform.

Hard-fought legislative reforms could even theoretically become counter-productive if they imposed redundant regulatory compliance burdens on green, worker-owned cooperatives whose charters, bylaws, and worker enfranchisement begat enlightened self-management in the first place.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” – Buckminster Fuller

Green free-enterprise is an exercise in the progressive framing of economic issues.

The Right wants to label progressive economic ideas as socialism, government take-overs, totalitarianism, communism, Marxism, and worse. At the same time, our opponents characterize themselves as libertarians and free-market, free-enterprise capitalists. But in fact, they actually hate competition and attempt to dominate markets by any means possible. This includes monopoly power and capturing the political process with concentrated wealth and influence. The paleo-corporate world does not believe in sporting competition using Marquess of Queensberry rules. In reality they believe only in economic warfare in which the competition is literally or figuratively murdered. They also falsely claim to support “family values” while they actually seek to enslave workers and strip them of their civil rights, their human dignity, and of all protections of health, safety, and financial security.

At the same time, classical top-down, command-and-control versions of socialism have rightly been abandoned by the left in favor of democratic and participatory forms of economic development. What has been slower in capturing the imaginations of many progressives is the importance of radical diversity and localization in economic democracy.

Economic democracy is at its core a grassroots movement. That grassroots movement may include a national reform agenda, but even more fundamentally it MUST include a reverence for local and individual self-determination. Forward thinking progressives must not join their right-wing corporate foes in asking modern, liberal societies to surrender their freedoms in exchange for security and prosperity. On the contrary, the progressive community must step up to the modern challenge of finding methods to increase prosperity, freedom, civil rights, and human dignity, all at the same time. And it CAN be done. The appropriate ideas and methods DO exist. One framework for reconciling these values and methods, the peer-to-peer (P2P) framework, was recently shared by Michel Bauwens at the TEDx conference in Brussels.
TEDxBrussels – Michel Bauwens – 11/23/09

Trying to bridge the language

Much of the language of politics, economics, and sociology that I grew up with my be outliving its usefulness. Words like capitalism, socialism, anarchy, liberalism, etc. (and all their “neo” versions) may have been beaten to death in the public imagination and/or may conjure up too much historical baggage to sort out, even within the center-to-left, progressive community.

Mr. Progressive (my old-school persona) says: “Grassroots economic development, economic democracy, peer-to-peer, open everything, diversity, localization, self-determination, etc. are all consistent with an old liberal idea: the idea of free-enterprise. Not the fake, bait-and-switch kind of “free-enterprise” of monopoly capitalists which is only a euphemism for market deregulation, anarchy, and corporate take-overs. The free-enterprise I’m talking about is the real deal–open, local, diverse, human-centered, worker-centered, democratic, socially just, and sustainable. That’s why I call it GREEN .


I think the green meme and the free-enterprise meme still have value and meaning in the public imagination, at least in the US. The protection of both workers and consumers from corporate exploitation is the core principle of green free-enterprise: cooperative worker ownership and consumer ownership of local, national, and multinational businesses. This requires no legal reforms and we need not borrow from any “foreign” political or economic theories. The US has a rich tradition of employee ownership, worker-ownership, and consumer ownership of economic enterprises.

As long as any given legal framework protects the freedom of paleo-corporate enterprise to act as it wishes, that same framework will confer the same latitude to green free-enterprise at the same time. No differential treatment is required. No tax exempt status is required. Co-operative businesses that redistribute income to the members and book no net profit are tax-free under for-profit rules because ordinary businesses are taxed only on net income, not gross revenue. Therefore efforts to reform the status quo do not need to sap so much of the time and resource base of the progressive community. More emphasis can be shifted to our creative, pro-active efforts to organize and grow a green economy under the existing legal regime. This is a key point.

I believe in pragmatic, experimental diversity, not in ideological purity.

The modern intellectual context is empirical, pragmatic, eclectic, and interdisciplinary. All the old stovepipes and sandboxes of scholarship and science have to be merged. The old jargon in each specialty is similar to the incompatible database structures across different institutions. Thinking and acting outside the boxes may be retarded by old categorical cliches like “public” and “private”.

Look what The Nature Conservancy accomplished by doing something new under existing laws. It just so happens that our legal framework in the US is open to all kinds of business structures (including non-profit) and forms of ownership (including worker-owned and consumer-owned). Our biggest problem is not some bias in the law, real or imagined, against progressive values and ideals. The biggest problem is our habitual cognitive bias and our voluntary dependence on paychecks and benefits from the state or from private authoritarian institutions. I’m not criticizing those whose circumstances throw them into the social safety net, but those of us who carry the great bulk of the economy on our shoulders. In voluntary servitude we lay our labors at the feet of various masters in return for a few scraps from the table. They have us convinced that if we want change, it can only come through political struggle. But the truth, hidden in plain sight, is that we can build any kind of workplaces and institutions we might envision in our dreams, entirely outside of the political process and outside of the corporate stables. As twenty percent of the population progressives have far more potential power in our skills, our imaginations, and in our wallets that in our votes.

Tragically, instead of seizing the natural birthright of the fruits of our own productivity, we huddle like feudal serfs and wave our pitchforks and torches at ancient castle walls, demanding justice and fair play from the Money Moguls, Robber Barons, High Sheriffs, dark-robed Judges and Evil Lords holding court in the high towers above us as well-armed convoys and fleets of Black Knights Templar transport fabulous treasures to and from undisclosed off-shore bank vaults.

By working for the bad guys and then turning around and spending most of our pay at what amounts to the corporate company store, progressives are enabling the enemy. Most white and blue collar workers are mindlessly participating in a share-cropper economy. As Walt Kelly’s character Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We need to stop enabling the enemy and start empowering ourselves.

The progressive community (perhaps 15 to 20 per cent of the US population) can, as I like to say, “circle the wagons”–that is we can invest more time and resources within the progressive community to build all the kinds of fair, safe, sustainable, right-sized, co-operative and synergistic social and economic infrastructure(s) that people of reason and good faith can conceive. (Of course much of the inventing was already done for us back in the old rural co-operative days–the days of farmers’ co-ops, rural electric co-ops, telephone co-ops, and such, and in the early urban America where exploited workers formed the first trade unions, credit unions, and other mutual-support societies).

Some Co-op Facts:

* About 30 percent of farmers’ products are marketed through co-ops and there are more than 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives in the U.S.
* Almost 10,000 credit unions provide financial services to approximately 84 million members.
* Nearly 1,000 rural electric co-ops operate more than half of the nation’s electric distribution lines and provide electricity to more than 37 million people.
* More than 50 million people are served by insurance companies owned by or closely affiliated with co-ops.
* Food co-ops have been innovators in the areas of unit pricing, consumer protection, organic and bulk foods, and nutritional labeling.
* In total, 47,000 co-ops in the United States serve 130 million people — 43 percent of the U.S. population.
* More than 50,000 families in the U.S. use cooperative day care centers, giving co-ops a crucial role in the care of our children.
* Two million U.S. households receive telephone service from telephone cooperatives across the country.
* More than 6,400 housing cooperatives exist in the U.S., providing 1.5 million homes.


By taking the direct economic self-development path, as many Argentine workers did after the economic collapse of that nation, and as many of our other South American neighbors are doing, we can help to insure the future security of our country, reinforce our progressive social values, and offer a dignified way of life with the greatest measure of liberty, equality, opportunity, and security for all. Why wait for an economic collapse when by a simple shift of of our collective social and economic weight to the “other foot” we might preempt the kind of economic collapse that many nations have experienced and which many more still fear? The progressive community is large enough to accomplish this on our own if we collectively marshal our resources to that end. We can build suspension bridges and global internets one-handed if we are working under the watchful gaze of “the man”, so why do we seem to slump into a veritable productive stupor when we stray outside the time-clock-punching, florescent-light-flickering, cellular-ring-tone-bleating structure of the corporate environment? Could it be the constant media drone, the educational mesmerism, and the non-stop cultural monotone that’s been fed us from early childhood that has put the warrior in us to sleep? What kind of pots and pans banging will it take to bring us back to our senses and into the streets?

In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, many Argentinian workers occupied the premises of bankrupt businesses and began to run them as worker-owned cooperatives. As of 2005, there were roughly 200 worker-owned businesses in Argentina, most of which were started in response to this crisis.

In the documentary The Take director and journalist Avi Lewis and writer Naomi Klein (author of the international bestsellers No Logo and Disaster Capitalism), champion a radical economic manifesto for the 21st century with examples from Argentina.

The Chávez government in Venezuela has a policy of financing worker cooperatives, resulting in a growing number in that country.

In the article Building Socialism from Below: The Role of the Communes in Venezuela, Jeffery R. Webber and Susan Spronk interview Antenea Jimenez, “a former militant with the student movement who is now working with a national network of activists who are trying to build and strengthen the comunas. The comunas are community organizations promoted since 2006 by the Chávez government as a way to consolidate a new form of state based upon production at the local level. She told us about the important advances in the process, as well as the significant challenges that remain in the struggle to build a new form of popular power from below.”

Antenea explains:

Historically there were diverse organizations that came together to resolve the problems of the neighborhoods. Our idea was to bring these organizations together to start to participate with concrete issues. We organize workshops. Let’s say that a community does not have water. We will organize a meeting about water. The people say, “Ah see! We can solve our own problems.”

Working first from the basic needs of the people will inspire them to participate. We also work with them to think more about the future, how we can improve things over the long term.

Step by step we work together towards solving simple things, like living together. Things that just require norms, a little bit of effort that helps us live together better. The community might decide that “We can’t drink in the streets,” for example. Other people see these small changes and then join the struggle when they see the results. They see that collective organization is possible.

There is a network of promoters of the comunas that coordinates, but the participation of the people is fundamental. There are people of all kinds that participate in the comuna: people from the left, people from the right, people that don’t care about anything. The people get involved with a problem that touches their family, the school for example because it involves their children.

Not everyone is socialist. Actually, a minority of participants in the comunas are socialists. We have to attend to the issues that matter to them. This can only be done through practice, and this is the way people get involved.

Without waiting for the old economy or the political state to be reformed we can start to shift the weight of our progressive labor, creativity, and capital resources towards the development of small cooperatives and cottage industries in renewable energy, organic food, green manufacturing, transportation and construction, ethical banking, humane and affordable insurance, and any other area where there is a niche amidst the social needs and market demands that our worker-owned enterprises can fill.

Another example–Mondragon

“The MONDRAGON Corporation is a federation of worker cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain. Founded in the town of Mondragón in 1956, its origin is linked to the activity of a modest technical college and a small workshop producing paraffin heaters. Currently it is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of turnover and the leading business group in the Basque Country. At the end of 2009 it was providing employment for 85.066 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge. The MONDRAGON Co-operatives operate in accordance with a business model based on People and the Sovereignty of Labour, which has made it possible to develop highly participative companies rooted in solidarity, with a strong social dimension but without neglecting business excellence. The Co-operatives are owned by their worker-members and power is based on the principle of one person, one vote. (Wikipedia)

Incubating Green Free-Enterprise

The corporate state will put up obstacles to green free-enterprise, of course, (they are quietly doing that all the time via the convoluted and anti-competitive laws that industry lobbyists ghost-write for Congress), but every profit-driven small businesses and right-wing entrepreneur will scream bloody murder if the bar is raised too high for them. If those turkeys can jump through the hoops, we can, too, with the right kind of progressive organization and support.

Mr. Progressive says: There are so many millions of people turning progressive that there is probably already a critical mass in half the counties in the country if there were just some existing organization(s) that could serve as a clearing house for expertise on starting a wide range of worker owned coops–a national clearinghouse with a coop “incubator” approach. The critical kickoff play is finding or recruiting a good-sized organization like the Sierra Club, let’s say, that can dedicate some resources to serve as the nucleus of a clearinghouse/incubator for all kinds of worker-owned start-ups and strategic buy-outs of existing business that may be struggling to keep above water in the current economy. The incubator needs to combine cooperative financing, insurance, and technical assistance.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” –Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

There are already some worker-owned coop support efforts in the US. One is the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives headquartered in San Francisco. There are numerous other links to organizations that promote worker-owned enterprises in the Wikipedia article on worker cooperatives. What we still lack is an adequate national umbrella and a flagship organization to head the networking effort. In Venezuela the national government has provided that infrastructure. In the US progressives can not afford to wait for the government. We can pressure our political representatives on this issue, but that is not enough. We need to pressure all our progressive organizations to adopt the green free-enterprise agenda and to actively join the networking and incubating efforts for progressive green free-enterprise in the private sector. That is really what direct economic democracy and participatory economics is all about.

United Nations Declares 2012 International Year of Cooperatives

According to Melissa Hoover and Beadsie Woo writing in the Christian Science Monitor:

To jumpstart US job market, turn workers into owners

Many Americans build wealth through their home. Why not through work?

(January 11, 2010, San Francisco and Baltimore)

Seldom do the United Steelworkers, the United Nations, and film director Michael Moore express the same idea at the same time. But all have, in their own way, promoted the benefits of cooperative businesses in recent months.

The Steelworkers Union, North America’s largest industrial union, has signed an agreement with a 100,000-member European co-op to help workers here gain an ownership stake in their workplace.

Just last month, the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. It’s urging governments worldwide to collaborate with the co-op movement to reduce poverty and create more productive societies.

And Michael Moore sent a valentine to the co-op movement in his latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” As a form of economic democracy, he said in an interview, co-ops are “the patriotic thing to do.”

Many people think of co-ops as the hippie-dippy grocery store that sells organic goods. In fact, a 2009 study by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives found more than 29,000 cooperatives in the US, which make $500 billion in annual revenue, support 83,000 people, and pay $25 billion in wages and benefits.

(Melissa Hoover is executive director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Lillian “Beadsie” Woo is a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.)

Through our P2P lens (at the technical level) and our green free-enterprise lens (at the popular culture level) we can see ahead to a time when conventional government is shrinking (just as many conservatives and libertarians hope it will, thinking that will mean greater freedom from taxation and regulation for them) and the paleo-corporate dinosaurs are also gradually fading into history. At the same time, we will have a diverse, P2P, green free-enterprise system growing up beneath the old corporate state’s thinning branches, slowly and organically from the grass roots.

Unlike the old corporate state, the progressive community doesn’t see less government as more net freedom from rigorous regulation because the progressive community is eager to regulate itself rigorously from within, in a decentralized way full of organic checks and balances, according to ever-higher standards of design, social justice, and environmental stewardship.

If we take a long view, the progressive community can overcome the paleo-corporate regime almost without politics–by slowly but steadily attracting workers and consumers to our green, free enterprises. All we have to do is to get on about our own business…

Progressives, lets start to circle the wagons now, start investing more time, energy and capital inside our own green, progressive, p2p circles, ease off on some of our struggles with the old corporate-state Tar-baby , pull out the 24-hour-a-day intravenous news feeds, and for the time being, completely ignore the fake Tea Party Indians running around out there in the weeds!

Poor Richard

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Start a Gift Circle

What is a gift circle?

A gift circle is an open circle where people come to help each other, and share their needs and services. People share their services and help as a gift, without expectation of anything in return.

What is the purpose of a gift circle?

To allow people to help each other and to create a sense of community. And to further the gift economy.

What is a gift economy?

A gift economy as we define it is where people give something without the expectation of anything in return.

What are examples of gift economies?

Burning Man, Rainbow gatherings, Wikipedia, open source software.

What is the format of a gift circle?

The format we use is a work in progress, and an open source adventure. We are still experimenting.

The form we have been using is with everyone sitting in a circle, and then the order goes:

1. Check-in – where people say their names and a little bit about their recent or current experience(s).This helps everyone get to know each other better and get comfortable.

2. Sharing of needs. People share what their needs are. This could be a ride to the city, finding a housemate, someone to walk the dog, editing services, etc., etc.

3. Service offering. People offer something to the group, just “putting it out there” for whoever might need that service or object. Alternatively an offering can be made to the group as a whole. One way this can be done is to write on a slip of paper the services you have to offer and then put that in the middle of the circle. Then anyone who wants can pick up that slip of paper up. (Although we have not found this format necessary.)

4. Giving thanks. People express gratitude for services and things they have received from previous circles.

5. Scheduling. People get together and share when they can get together to give/receive their services.

Is the circle open or closed?

The circle seems to work better when it is open, because new people allow new services to be offered.

What the time frame for a gift circle?

The circle can be anywhere in length from half an hour to a couple of hours.

What is the motivation for people to give?

Sometimes people give because they genuinely care about others and want to help them. Sometimes it is because they have a gift they would really like to share with others. Sometimes it is because they want to build community. Sometimes it may be because they want to get to know others better.

What is the role of gratitude?

Gratitude changes the mood in the circle. The circle can be guided to access their sense of gratitude.

Is there barter in the gift circle?

For the most part we are focusing on pure gifting without the expectation of anything in return. So it is not barter that occurs in our circle. However participants can of course choose to do a little barter on the side.

What is role of non-attachment?
When we give, we give from a place of wanting to share. There is no expectation of getting anything in return. We may also give from a place of wanting something in return. There is an attachment to an expectation. Letting go of this attachment creates a whole new energetic. A group may not start with this level of non-attachment, but it can evolve to this level.

What if people have a hard time expressing their needs?

It can be a new experience for people to express their needs directly, especially to a group. But it is part of the empowerment process. Many of us may have learnt not to ask or expect for our needs to be met. There can be gentle encouragement from the group for people to express their needs, and others can gently prompt a person to find and express their needs. Sometimes it just takes a little time to realize what your needs are, and that you can ask for them to be met. There can also be discussion time for circle members to discuss how they feel expressing their needs.

Is there a facilitator?

Yes, we have found it useful to have a facilitator for the meeting. Sometimes different people may chime in and suggest ways to lead. As more people become adept at facilitating the meeting, the meeting can become more ‘multi-facilitator facilitated.’

What is role of facilitator?

To think about overall time needs – approximately how long should each person speak in order for the process to finish on time; does the group need to break into smaller circles to enable each person to have time to talk? To guide the group to listen more deeply to each other. To sense the mood the circle and allow things to flow in order to allow the best experience for the group as a whole.

How often do you meet?

We meet once a week.

Should you have the same facilitator every week?

We have found it useful to have different people facilitating. This allows many people to gain the understanding of how to facilitate the circle, and for the circle to benefit from the personality of many different people, and for members to understand the role of the facilitator as an equal. Facilitation can give people a different sense of the circle, that they have to be aware of many things at the same time. By introducing different people to facilitating it builds a sense of awareness in more members. Multiple facilitators gives the circle more resilience. If ‘founding facilitators’ are not there or drop out, the circle will still go on.

What happens if people are not following up to get their services?

We found initially that it was a strange experience for some people to call up someone to see if they could access the service offered. People can give encouragement to each other to follow through on calling up people to get the service. It can take a little time to learn to do things in this new way.

If the circle gets big how do you have time for everyone to say their needs?

We have sometimes been splitting the group into smaller subgroups. In those subgroups people get a chance to share with each other their needs. The subgroups can then share back to the larger groups, relating the needs of the people in the subgroups.
Should the format be the same each week? How does the circle evolve?
Experimentation is welcome in the circle. People can try different formats and ways of expression. Play with different exercises to get people to come from different motivations, to listen, to have games to build community. We suggest that people at the end of each meeting consider what worked and what did not. Then this develops a feedback process to adjust and adapt. Different group composition creates different dynamics. The circle needs to be adaptive to these different conditions.

What happens if things are not working properly?
The group holds within it the seeds of how to figure out for itself how to solve problems within the circle. There can be meetings outside the circle to figure out how to orient and adjust so that the circle works.
What if a circle doesn’t have people who give?
A culture of giving needs to be grown. It can be useful to start off with people who already care about each other, and are more willing to give. Then as new people come in that culture can be shared. A sense of community and caring about each other creates the atmosphere for giving. If people are a little hesistant to give, the circle can orient itself a little more to building community, and a sense of shared identity. Improvisational exercises, games or icebreakers represent one way for people to relax and get to know each other more.
What is the role of higher consciousness in the gift circle?
A higher consciousness field allows people to become more connected, intuitive and open. There is an intuition of when to help someone out, what needs to express. The consciousness field can allow people to be heard, and that itself is transformative. The field guides the unfolding of the circle.
How does a circle get into higher consciousness states?
Listening, opening the heart, being vulnerable, silence after people express.
Where can I go to get in the discussion loop, find out more?


Get a copy of Alpha Lo’s and Alden Bevington’s book Open Collaborations, available at:

Is there a network of gift circles?
Yes there is, and they learn from each other different best practices, share knowledge, and help co-evolve the gift circle movement. There is beginning to be gatherings, workshops, and teleconferences that bring together people from different gift circles.

What are pods?
Pods are where two to four people get together from the gift circle and work on clarifying what their deeper intentions and goals are for life. From there they can make a strategy to achieve these goals, and figure what their needs are in relationship to these strategy. Fellow pod members commit to helping each other with these needs for a certain length of time which can be anywhere from 3 weeks to much longer. They also bring their needs to the larger regular gift circle. In this way over time people can keep track of how their needs are fitting into a longer range goal.

How does gift circles relate to neighborhood development projects?

Starting a gift circle in an area is a great way to begin the process to develop the social capital – networks of trust, people willing to help each other, with which you can then open-source community projects. So for instance if you wanted to start an urban farming/network of community gardens in your area, or you want to start a bike coop, or gift economy holistic health clinic, tapping into the power of a network of gift circles in your area for help with the project can get the project rapidly happening.

How can gift circles help with social justice issues?

Gift circles create a model where the people being helped also help others. So its more empowering than traditional welfare models. Gift circles have helped homeless people get housing whilst they are also helping others. Gift circles allow the rich to help the poor and the poor to help the rich.

What is an organizational gift circle?

This is a gift circle which brings together many different organizations. The organizations share their needs and gifts. This allows different organizations to begin synergizing, working together and sharing resources.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dibspace Merges With BizXchange

From Dibspace

I am absolutely thrilled to announce Dibspace has now officially merged with BizXchange - one of the biggest and best barter exchanges in the country.

What does this mean for you?
Simply put, it means you will have vastly more offers to spend your Dibits on. And when I say new offers, I mean astounding new offers from big, well-established brands.

But we're not stopping there. You'll see more and more incredible offers appearing at a rapid-fire pace as we aggressively expand our marketplace throughout the region and to locations around the country.

As for costs, have no fear. Dibspace will remain FREE. In the future we may add a paid membership option but for now everything will stay the same (except for the addition of all those awesome new offers).

What's next?
This is your chance to get an "unfair" advantage on everybody else.

We have an astounding amount of goods and services lined up for you, and once we start stocking up the marketplace, people will be fighting over Dibits, so start earning as many as you can as quickly as you can.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Santa Cruz Goes Local 2, Who Is Next?

by Mira Luna
Oct 19, 2010

Modeling their currency project primarily after the Sonoma Go Local project, Santa Cruz’s New Earth Exchange is set to go. A presentation by Derek Huntington of Sonoma Go Local last week attracted 75 people interested in boosting and transforming their local economy.

Think Local First, a partnering organization, is laying the foundation for the project, by promoting buying local through “Shop Local Week”, a website promoting local businesses, and gift certificates donated by local banks and raffled off that must be spent at local businesses within 24 hours, turning over for a total of 30 days.

The next stage is a paper currency that acts as a reward coupon earned by shopping at member local businesses and redeemed only at other member businesses. Subsequently, the Santa Cruz project will import the Sonoma Go Local rewards card system, point of sale devices included. The rewards card allows businesses to set their reward rates or amounts individually. Here’s how it works. I go into buy a book from a member local business. I get a 10% rebate on a $10 book, equaling $1. I go to the local grocery store and buy my groceries, and $1 is automatically deducted from my bill. Whatever reward is left is automatically rolled over to the next transaction and then must be deducted. Though it is called a reward system, it can function just like a local currency, while simultaneously attracting US dollars to local businesses strapped for cash as well. The rewards points can also be used to pay employees who willingly enroll or as bonuses.

The next two steps are key: business to business credit clearing and local business investment mechanisms. Both of these allow local businesses access to resources they don’t have enough of in the conventional economy. Credit clearing allows businesses to barter amongst each other and get a better deal using their underutilized resources to get what they need and help out other businesses. Creating more local business capacity in which the currency can flow is at least as important as the currency itself. Credit clearing may also be used to distribute the burden of the rewards system more equitably, making sure one business doesn’t end up backing most of the rewards.

The investment structure dreamed up by Derek Huntington, though not entirely clear, would ideally move local money away from foreign investment and into local businesses where the results can be seen and felt and investments may actually be more secure. Part of this initiative aims to help start cooperative businesses (Sonoma Go Local is itself a coop of local businesses). Investment also helps support the development of import replacement businesses that can fill in missing pieces of the local supply chain, giving businesses useful options for spending their local currency and helping the currency flow without frustrating bottlenecks.

The program will be funded by individual and business memberships. Membership fees may be temporarily waived and paid back as people use the system, deducted from their accounts over time.

The pitch to businesses is that they will simply get more customers as consciousness is raised and rewards shift shopping behavior away from Amazon, Walmart and Safeway and into local business where it can circulate to support new jobs, expanded business capacity, taxes to support local government services, and so on. Studies indicate that money spent at local businesses create 3 times the wealth in the community that shopping at chain stores does. With the grand plan the Go Local project has dreamed up, this factor could increase significantly.

While the Sonoma still needs to prove that their plan will work, they are nonetheless very inspiring. I wish them luck and look forward to a Go Local craze.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning to Trust Each Other, Online and Off

By Jeremy Adam Smith

The results of The New Sharing Economy study, released last week by Latitude Research and Shareable magazine, point to a possible solution to one of America’s most troubling trends: the decline in social trust.

This trend is documented in a variety of national surveys. The General Social Survey, a periodic assessment of Americans’ moods and values, shows a 10-point decline from 1976 to 2008 in the number of Americans who believe other people can generally be trusted. The General Social Survey also shows trust in all US institutions declining (with the exception of the military, which, after a post-Vietnam stumble, saw a 10-point jump in confidence from 2000 to 2008).

Why are these declines bad for all of us? Largely because trust is very highly correlated with quality of life. Numerous studies show that where social trust is high, crime is low. Trust is also very good for democracy—why bother to vote if you don’t trust politicians or the results? Not to mention the economy: Studies by Stephen Knack, Philip Keefer, Armin Falk, and Michael Kosfeld, among others, have found strong links between trust and economic performance.

Why has trust been declining? In his 2000 book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam drew on a vast data set to argue that people were simply participating less and less in the community activities and civic organization that create the kind of reciprocal relationships that allow social trust to flourish—largely because television was consuming leisure time. When the Harvard University GoodWork Project ran a series of surveys in 2004, researchers “found that individuals typically blame the media for loss of trust.” Right or wrong, the effect appeared to be generational. “Most of the young people we interviewed have a default stance of distrust towards the media,” says Carrie James, research director of GoodWork.

Of course, the media landscape of 2004 was totally different from the one we have in 2010. The intervening period has seen the emergence and phenomenal growth of new mobile technologies and social media like Twitter, Faceboook, and countless other services. It’s much too early to declare that social media will save our communities, democracy, and economy by rebuilding trust—some believe that it’s doing the opposite—but our New Sharing Economy Study does suggest that social media provide new opportunities for people to re-learn to trust each other.

For starters, 78 percent of the study participants felt that interacting with people online made them more open to the idea of sharing offline resources, even with strangers. This is very consistent with a huge amount of research: Laboratory experiments show that when individuals successfully engage in an exchange that involves trust, it creates more trust and positive emotions. People are more likely to engage in additional exchanges that require trust.

Many of the 537 participants in the New Sharing Economy survey expressed similar ideas. As a 44-year-old woman in Helsinki, Finland, put it: “[If I designed a sharing service], it would work on network based on recommendations: I know you and you know someone, so you build trust—sort of ‘get introduced.’ Based on trust and community relationships, it’s easier to broaden one’s perspective towards sharing almost anything.”

This is why reputation is becoming an important form of currency; communities that offer transparency (such as through open ratings and reviews) encourage good behavior and trust amongst members.

Some participants embraced the notion of that sharing networks might complement or replace social institutions that have declined in power and importance. “What I'd want to set up is free sharing of services and stuff amongst a community of people in the way that a small town might once have functioned,” said one 38-year-old woman in Providence, RI. “I think this kind of interaction is part of community ties and support networks that used to develop naturally and spontaneously and need some encouragement now.”

Kim Gaskins of Latitude Research argues this creates “a huge opportunity for businesses to create the technological and community infrastructure that will help people to share in new ways, locally and across much broader distances, than was ever possible before.” And the really interesting thing is that this business activity may actually build social trust. In fact, as we’ve discovered through our interviews at, many sharing economy entrepreneurs explicitly see building trust as essential to their business models.

“There was a day when it would have seemed like a crazy idea to send your goods to people you had never met,” CouchSurfing founder Casey Fenton told us. “But [businesses like eBay] implemented different trust systems and it worked really well. And when you say it like that, people realize we have overcome the trust barrier through the CouchSurfing system. In fact, we are in the businesses of helping people understand just how trustworthy someone they have never met is. It is not our mission, but it is core to why we exist.”

Will launching new product service systems—whether for-profits like Zipcar or non-profits like Kiva—help us to cut crime, improve democracy, and increase prosperity? Will building a new business model help build a new kind of society? No one knows for sure, but the participants in the New Sharing Economy Study say it’s worth a try.

This piece was partially adapted (and updated) from a 2008 essay I wrote with Ohio State University sociologist Pamela Paxton—worth a read if you’re interested in the issues and research surrounding social trust. Some of the language from this piece was also borrowed directly from The New Sharing Economy study, which will be presented and discussed at the next SXSW.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Community Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff

By Paul M. Davis

Following last week's excerpt of Douglas Rushkoff's new book Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for the Digital Age, we follow with a Q&A with the author, featuring questions from Shareable's community of contributors and advisors. On Wednesday, October 13 and Thursday, October 14, we invite our wider community of readers to engage with Rushkoff in the comments, as he responds to your questions and thoughts.

Michel Bauwens: If we indeed take control of our technology, how do you see the balance between individual control, relationships between peers, and the power of any new collectives that may arise in this networked world? Do you see the balance between individuality and collectivity changing?

Rushkoff: Well, if we take control of our tech, as you put it, then we get to decide how that dynamic changes. I don't think we get to fully take charge of it, though. I think we get to partner with it, and with our various biological and evolutionary imperatives. I feel like the best we can hope for is conscious participation in all this.

There is almost certainly an evolutionary drive toward increasing complexity in the face of entropy. That's practically a definition of life. Technology is so powerful and attractive to us because it holds the promise of greater complexity and greater connectedness. Atoms to molecules to cells to organelles to organisms. What's next? No one knows for sure, but it sure ain't Facebook.

I have been saying from the beginning—the early '90s anyway—that we are looking at collective organism. But unlike some kind of fascist Borg, we don't have to lose our individuality. It is actually enhanced as more people become aware of everyone else. Not a hive, but more of a coral reef.

Some of these rather invasive technologies are really just preparation for a world where everyone will know what you are thinking anyway.

Yelizavetta Kofman: On the one hand, being a Gen Y:er I like to think that I'm more on the programming than programmed side of the Digital Age. And I believe in the spontaneous, magical, democratic power of the Internet. On the other hand, as someone who one day hopes to make a living, I wonder if the Internet has to 'go corporate' for my generation to be able to build careers from all the creative 'programming' things we do? Can we really keep providing resources, ideas, writing, and art for free online without devaluing these things?

Rushkoff: Well, I think you have it backwards. The reason you have to work for free is because this stuff IS corporate. The way to make a living in this space for real would be to establish a genuine means for peer to peer exchange. YouTube and Facebook and Google are making plenty of money off your labor.

Making money, or earning a living, is not anathema to freedom and democracy. They are the same thing. That's what democracy came out of:people fighting for the right to make a living instead of having to work for the feudal lords.

Mira Luna: Online media facilitates an abundance of superficial relationships and broad, but again superficial, depth of collective wisdom. If the new economy is one based on closer relationships and deeper knowledge of context and place, instead of abstract numbers in accounts, then how do we get to a deep economy through a primarily superficial form of communication? Is a local economy desirable or possible as the web of consciousness spreads around the world? Is real accountability, transparency, and responsibility still possible while creating a more a sustainable and just global economy?

Rushkoff: Well, I'm not sure that any economy goes deep. Economics may be essentially superficial. After all, what is it really but a way for people to keep track of the value others have created, in order to make sure some people don't exploit the work of a few. (Well, actually, the economic system we know and love today was created explicitly for the purposes of monarchs and their cohorts extracting value from laborers—but that's beside the point.)

If any economy is really just a ledger to prevent freeloading, then we can't expect it to reflect the deeper values and relationships and place. You're talking about an ecology of interactions and transmissions. That ecology—at least right now—is much more complex and multifaceted when it occurs in real life, among people who know each other as creatures and not just usernames. But there are ways in which we need to interact as a species on greater scales, and the net allows for a lot of this. We simply can't forget that such engagements are necessarily simplified. They aren't bad, they're just limited.

I think that transparency and accountability are possible, sure. I'm not as sure that people really care about them as much as they should, though. I feel as if most people would rather be lied to, so long as they don't have to think too much. I don't see new media changing this, yet. It may in many cases be making it worse—especially as people so steadfastly refuse to accept responsibility for what they're doing with these tools.

Rachel Botsman: How do you think the concept of 'money' will have changed by say 2030? How do you think will we trade and exchange?

Rushkoff: The money we use now is basically a thirteenth century operating system trying to serve as a platform for a twenty-first century digital economy. That's why banks are under such stress. Centralized moneylending was invented to keep monarchs wealthy, and it depended on chartered monopolies and other strict topdown control.

I think we will see the emergence of a number of digital alternatives to centralized money. They may look something like time dollars or lets systems, in that people will maintain a balance closer to zero rather than trying to accumulate savings. But they won't have to be local, because identity and history can be verified online.

The next step, of course, will be for us to contend with the fact that we have enough stuff to go around even if people don't work that much. Then, currency will look very different.

Paul M. Davis: As the online world enables many more opportunities for collaboration, how do we ensure that the contributions and benefits are distributed in an equitable way? How do we avoid the inequities between the haves and have-nots that are inherent within the current media labor market? And how do we make sure that the benefits are as freely-accessible to all, as the process and means of production are?

Rushkoff: Well, first we have to make sure that any benefits at all are available to those who actually create value. So far, it looks like the net is being used by the largest of corporations to extract value from creators for no compensation at all. YouTube and blogs and everything else are supposed to serving as publicity for some other aspect of our careers, but what other aspects are there?

So it doesn't look simply inequitable to me; it looks like exploitation.

The way out, and the way to guarantee that the benefits, once generated, are equitably distributed is to develop peer to peer models of value exchange. Disintermediate the corporations, really. That's what I've done with this book. People get my book for close to half of what it would cost through a traditional big publisher, yet I still get more profit per book. They have more money left to buy a book someone other than me. I have more to donate to Wikimedia and, which is where I'm putting the 20% I don't have to share with Bertelsmann.

Neal Gorenflo: Life, Inc. and Program or Be Programmed seem to be much more strident calls to action than prior work. And while Life, Inc. is about corporate capitalism and your new book is on media, I sense they may have more in common than what’s on the surface. What are the parallels between your last two books, and what kind of change do they mark for you personally and intellectually?

Rushkoff: Both of them are about people coming to recognize the way their world works. In Life Inc, I wanted people to see that the economy isn't just this way because of nature; it was designed by people at a particular moment in history to do a very particular thing. It's not commerce; it's a scheme to prevent peer to peer commerce and extract value from colonies. We still use it today because we forgot that there were many different ways for an economy to be run (or allowed to operate). They were all outlawed by kings in the 1200's, is all.

The new book removes the metaphor. I realized that telling people money was an obsolete operating system made no sense because people don't know what an operating system is. We are painfully illiterate in all things digital. We accept each Steve Jobs device and each Facebook iteration as if they were created to make our lives better. We don't know what this stuff is really for, because we can't even imagine that digital devices have agendas.

Jonah Sachs: We assumed that taking power away from the gatekeepers of information by ushering in the viral age would make us instantly smarter and more authentic. A decade later, is it happening? Or the opposite?

Rushkoff: It's not happening because we didn't take the power away. We gave it away. The only people who cared deeply about the new memetic potentials of this stuff were marketers.

But the technology itself has impacted those gatekeepers. They can't lie without being discovered, they can't hide behind their brands, and whatever they do eventually comes to our attention. The problem is that most of us simply don't care. Along with the increase in our potential to know has come an abhorrence for knowledge. As if using your head means denying your gut.

And those of us who *do* know rarely take action. All the knowledge is paralyzing. That's part of why I am advising people to set more local goals.

Paul M. Davis: If the traditional publishing industry is dead, as you stated in your Arthur Magazine piece, does this not only upend the production and distribution model, but also the entire notion of what the form of the “book” can and should be? How do you see the form evolving in the years to come?

Rushkoff: I don't think I said it's dead. It just doesn't serve all of our needs. It needs to change. It is currently keeping too many people employed at jobs that don't create value or increase the quality of the literature. And those jobs are there to cater to other corporations in the obsolete distribution scheme. As we move to more peer-to-peer models of distribution, we can pass more value directly from the consumer to the writers and editors.

People just have to be willing to buy directly from publishers, rather than to use the current aggregators (Amazon and Barnes & Noble). All we need to do is aggregate on a higher level. Someone (maybe I'll just try to do it, actually) needs to create a big searchable index of all the books for sale. And it just links directly to the publishers, who can use any fulfillment scheme they like. The site can make its money with ads and book reviews, but not take any money from the publishers to connect readers to consumers. Of course, Google Books is more than willing to do this right now. People would simply have to change their habits.

Neal Gorenflo: You've played keyboard with Psychic TV, taught college, produced acclaimed books and TV, made an impassioned critique of corporate capitalism in Life, Inc., and have gone against techno-utopian grain with your new book Program or Be Programed. What connects these projects? What is driving you? And what is the most important thing you've learned in all of this?

Rushkoff: Everything I've done is about helping people differentiate between the map and the territory. What is really here, and what has put here? What are the true given circumstances, and what are arbitrary products of our own creation? I want people to see the programs - social and otherwise - that are running our world. We participate in them as if they were accepted operating principles of reality, when they are just social constructions.

What I've learned in all of this is that—for the most part—people are happier not knowing. They would rather have a guiding mythology and believe it to be the truth, rather than to know the people who came up with that myth, or what those people may have intended to do with it.

Over the next two days, we invite our readers to engage with Rushkoff in the comments below. If you're new to Shareable, please take a look at our community guidelines to learn more about what's expected in comments. In general, be excellent to each other!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grass for Cash: Update on Common Good Finance

Common Good Finance News
democratic economics for a sustainable world

Grass for Cash
At last! After two years trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, we finally saw the light and drilled a square hole: financing the Common Good Bank system entirely from the grassroots. That means all of us! (We are the grass...)

We had tried to finance a Common Good financial institution the standard way: through a private offering. That meant accredited investors only and no publicity. That strategy was completely at odds with the democratic nature of the Common Good Bank project. But we did not see any viable alternative.

Finally this summer, one of our organizers (John Root, Jr., in Great Barrington, MA) proposed a simple fast-track membership campaign that combines and simplifies ALL of our fundraising and publicity efforts. Just like the Common Good Bank plan itself, our new funding plan is a unique new combination of well-tested methods. The wonderful thing about this new plan is that once we have enough members, we will have ALL the funding we need, for all three phases of the Common Good Bank project.

For the past month we have been testing this new membership campaign in Great Barrington MA, Salem OR, Eugene OR, Michiana, Inland Empire CA, and Gunnison CO. The results are very encouraging. In response to feedback from those test areas, we will be making small adjustments in software and publicity materials over the next couple weeks before formally launching the campaign nationwide. If you are in one of those six communities, please support your local organizers by joining now as a Founding Member (when they ask). Otherwise you can expect a newsletter announcement in a couple weeks.

Ah! At last we are at one with the grass. Many thanks to all of you for your patience.
Our new powerhouse board of directors met for the first time at 7:30 last Friday morning (10/8). With its high level of financial experience and expertise, this board will oversee the membership campaign, chartering process, and preparations to launch the Common Good Bank system late next year. Here's the new board:

William Spademan (President)
Carol Lewis (Treasurer) Former CFO, Institute for Community Economics
Chris Rawlings (Secretary) Owner, Waterhouse Pools
John Waite Executive Director, Franklin County Community Development Corporation
Karen Ribeiro Former Vice President, Bank of Western Massachusetts
David Hurwith Former Chairman, FirstCom Bankcorp
Catherine Ratté Principal Planner, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Andrew Baker Former Executive Director, Hilltown Community Development Corporation
Mary Gravel Accountant, Administrator
John White Carpenter, MBA
Java Jobs
Common Good Finance is developing open source banking software, specifically geared to the Common Good Bank project. We are seeking Java EE/SOA software engineers with experience using the Spring Framework. Before we advertise this opportunity more widely, we are looking for candidates who already support the Common Good Bank idea. If you know someone who would be interested, please feel free to forward this email to them.
By the Way
If you are not intimidated by technological complexity and registration forms, please consider voting for the Common Good Bank project on the NetSquared site. Like this:

1. Register
2. look for your password in an email from ""
3. Login
4. Go to the Common Good Bank project page,
5. vote by clicking on the check box just under the project title
6. leave a comment at the bottom of the screen (optional)
7. Browse other projects and vote for at least 2 more (required)

Voting closes Friday, 10/15 at 8pm Eastern US Time.

Thank you for reading and thank you for supporting the Common Good Bank Project.

Wishing you happiness and prosperity throughout the year,



William Spademan
Common Good Finance Corporation
democratic economics for a sustainable world
PO Box 21, Ashfield, MA 01330 USA
+1 413-628-3336

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Compensating With Soft Currencies

From Credit Suisse
Hannes Hug, Journalist

Slum dwellers in Brazil collect trash and exchange it for food, bus tickets or school books. Japanese students look after the elderly and are compensated with credits that can be saved up for their own retirement. Alternative currencies such as time or forms of barter address issues that money – as a hard currency – cannot resolve. This makes “soft currencies” a logical supplement to dollar, yen and franc.

Carefully raked gravel paths encircle an enchanting koi carp pond. A flock of barn swallows sweeps past, twittering melodiously. Surrounded by carefully pruned tea plants and bonsai trees, Ryuichi Kawai is sitting in the middle of his beloved garden, an oasis that is the pride and joy of this 92-year-old Japanese man. Mr. Kawai lives alone and has no children. In Europe, this sprightly pensioner would by now probably be an inmate of a retirement home rather than the proud owner of such a garden paradise. But not so in Japan. Over here, older people can rely on the support of volunteer helpers thanks to the “Fureai Kippu,” which translates as “caring relationship ticket” and allows the elderly to live in their traditional environment for much longer than would otherwise be the case.

23-year-old Tosho Agato is a student. He lives in the same neighborhood as Mr. Kawai, and provides him with several hours of assistance every week. As well as looking after the prized garden, Agato drops off the old man’s evening meal and helps him with his daily bathing ritual. This takes up two hours of the student’s time every day. These hours are credited to him on his own “Fureai Kippu” account. Tosho Agato can now either transfer his saved hourly credits to his own parents one day or use them for his own retirement.

A Third of Japan’s Population Soon Over 65
Even today, 15 percent of all Japanese are already over 65 years old. In just under 40 years this proportion will rise to one in three. As in most European countries, life expectancy is on the rise in the Land of the Rising Sun – the average age is advancing relentlessly. Although the Japanese ideal of a large family spanning several generations is still commonly found, the trend toward the small family is nonetheless irreversible. Just like in Europe, this means a growing number of people who will require part-time care or assistance in leading an independent life, but also a falling number of people capable of providing these services. This may be either because potential helpers are themselves struggling to maintain their standard of living and thereby preserve the overall “cash flow” of society, or because living together in an extended family or clan is no longer an option.

Insurers probably provide the most essential care services, but none of these companies would trot out the concept of time as a key sales argument. It is precisely to this area of tension between wish and reality that retired lawyer Tsutomu Hotta dedicates himself. Fifteen years ago, Hotta founded the Sawayaka Foundation that acted as the driving force behind the “Fureai Kippu” concept. There are now around 100 local agencies in Japan that work with this alternative care currency. They offer what professional carers can only offer to a limited extent: having time, being there, listening.

The idea of an alternative care currency is a smart one, on the one hand because older people age at different rates and do not need to call on the assistance of a care institution at the same time – an important factor from an economic perspective – and on the other because these people can spend the autumn of their lives independently and in the dignity of their habitual environment, even if they do not have the funds for accommodation suited to the elderly. Another additional positive is that the “Fureai Kippu” brings people from different generations together, strengthens the feeling of community, and sensitizes people to the relationship between giving and taking, as well as to the notion of exchange – the heart of all trading relationships between one person and another.

From Shells to Coins
When viewed in the sense of a national currency, money is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only in the late 19th century, as part of the drive to create modern nations, that currencies designed to underpin the character and identity of the nation in question were invented. Money in the sense of a unit of measurement – to express the ratio of value between the giving and receiving of services or goods – has been around much longer, however, and was employed around 3,500 years ago by the Chinese. Here the currencies in question were cowry shells, pearls, or stones.

It was not until 1,000 years later that King Croesus invented money in the form of coins. The one-time ruler of Lydia in Asia Minor, which is broadly where modern Turkey is today, ordered gold obtained from the River Pactolus to be minted into coins and had them embossed with his seal of a bull and a lion. The aim of Croesus was to demonstrate his wealth and make the appropriate impression on other rulers. Since time immemorial, therefore, the power associated with money has resided not only in the quantity of money available, but also in its appearance and design. At the same time as Croesus was minting his coins, the ancient Egyptians were introducing the first dual currency system. Long-distance trading relationships were maintained with gold and other precious metals. Local transactions, by contrast, were effected with wheat. The logic behind the system is clear: Wheat is ultimately perishable and therefore unsuited to long shipping voyages, whereas gold never loses its value. Moreover, local trade was also enhanced with a further innovation. To increase the “shelf life” of wheat it was stored in cool containers. Proof of ownership was demonstrated by clay shards. These shards acted as a proxy for wheat as a local currency. The interrelation between gold and shards (or wheat) illustrates just how appealing the idea of a supplementary currency can be.

As money essentially represents nothing more than the agreement of a society to use a designated object as a means of exchange, it does not necessarily need to take the form of a coin or a note. Money therefore expresses a relationship between people. It has a “normative” character and thereby shapes our culture. Money in the form of paper or metal may be what regulates modern global trade, and the expression “hard currency” further underpins this notion. But how is it possible to regulate phenomena that result from the fact that man – and all his doings – cannot be reduced to supply and demand alone? Bernard A. Lietaer, former consultant to the Belgian central bank and one of the figures responsible for the introduction of the ECU (the forerunner of the euro), is convinced that the future challenges confronting mankind – such as demographic change, increasingly scarce resources and the changeover to a multipolar world – will have to be addressed by a model with a more sustainable basis than one regulated by the traditional flows of funds alone. Lietaer speaks of “yin and yang” currencies in this context. The yang currencies denote the standard national currencies, with the dollar as lead currency. The yin currency represents the concept of exchange, which contains a social component and regulates our coexistence as a “soft” currency. For a good example of how a “yin” currency can help socially disadvantaged people with no prospects participate in an affluent economy, one needs look no further than the experiment of Curitiba.

Curitiba – The Fourth Dimension of Recycling
Curitiba is the seventh largest city in Brazil. This metropolis is located in the south of the country, and today occupies third place in the league table of the 15 greenest cities of the world. The person who should be given most of the credit for this state of affairs is the former mayor of Curitiba, Jaime Lerner. Over the course of three legislative periods, the last coming at the beginning of the 1990s, Lerner tackled the problem of waste disposal in the slums or “favelas” – in addition to pushing through sustainable urban planning programs in architecture, infrastructure, and education. As in all developing countries, much of the rural population of Brazil migrates to the country’s cities in search of work. In this respect, Curitiba and its current population of some 3.5 million residents is no exception. As a consequence of this migration process, “favelas” proliferate on the edges of the metropolis, consisting of ramshackle dwellings thrown up in no apparent order and with no architectural logic.

In these chaotically organized favelas, Jaime Lerner found himself confronted with the problem of garbage mountains building up – waste that posed a serious threat to the health of slum dwellers who were in any case living in desperate poverty. Garbage trucks simply weren’t capable of negotiating the erratic paths of these favelas, and the money required to tear the huts down and build new streets simply wasn’t there. And so Mayor Lerner thought up a simple but ingenious solution: Containers of different colors were set up at the edge of the settlements to help sort out the different types of garbage. Anyone bringing a bag with correctly sorted rubbish was rewarded with a bus ticket. These tickets in turn could be exchanged for schoolbooks or groceries. Soon enough, thousands of children were busy collecting garbage so as to exchange it for bus tickets, thereby keeping their living environment clean.

Complementary Currency Strengthens Self-Confidence
Within the space of one year, 11,000 tons of refuse were exchanged for one million bus tickets and 1,200 tons of food. Today the average income in Curitiba is around three times as high as in the rest of Brazil. The “Curitiba solution” illustrates how people without money can become economically active through the creation of a local currency and thereby improve their living situation. Indeed, many people have for the first time become participants in this urban microeconomy rather than the recipients of alms. Viewed in this light, the creation of a complementary currency means more than just latching on to the regular money regime or establishing a well-meaning charity project – it actually creates genuine prospects and strengthens the self-confidence of the favela residents who stand quite literally at the fringes of society.

Complementary currencies bring new perspectives to regions that are structurally weak and ensure that locally created value does not move away. Alternative currency systems are springing up in any number of different guises. Some of them are characterized by ideology, others have a more pragmatic stamp. But in all cases they act as a supplement to the regular flow of money, attempt to improve troubling social problems, and offer people who cannot participate in the regular money-go-round an alternative currency.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Currency Project A Potential Boon for Think Local, Buy Local Movement

From Santa Cruz Patch
By Niko Kyriakou
September 30, 2010

Project A Potential Boon for Think Local, Buy Local Movement

New Earth Exchange could change the way people spend money in Santa Cruz.

A tourist from Reno, Nev., recently told me what an impression his visit to Santa Cruz had made on him.

"So many people are out enjoying their community, down to the street musicians. It felt very nostalgic like an old-fashioned American town, but filled with a very eclectic, modern crowd. In Reno, you kind of get scared and don't want to go downtown anymore."

These comments were a good reminder as I start this first column on Santa Cruz's work to support local, buy local and think local. The fruits of those efforts are all around us – the friendly folk, the heterogeneous storefronts, treelined streets, First Night, Boardwalk summer concerts, Volunteer Centers of Santa Cruz County, Free Skool, homeless services and too many others to name. But people who love this town often don't realize that localism is the secret sauce.

With county unemployment at 11 percent and the Great Recession not far behind, some of the most practical work being done to support local involves extending financial lifelines to homegrown businesses, the under-employed, and the unemployed.

One of the newest phenomena in this arena is New Earth Exchange. Comprised of some 20 volunteers, the organization plans to launch a cash, card, and online currency for Santa Cruz County this February.

The currency will be exchangeable only among county residents and locally owned or controlled businesses – preventing it from draining out of the area. Annual transactions could add one million dollars in to county business, according to organizers, who also envision making grants and loans. Two hundred businesses and residents are already interested in signing up when it's ready, and New Earth aims to persuade more at a public talk about the currency on Oct. 12 at 6:15pm, in Room 301 of the Louden Nelson Community Center.

Julie Kellman, 37, owner of Seascape Foods in Aptos, plans to join the cooperative that will manage Cruz dough. Membership will cost around $10 per person and $150 per small businesses. The money will initially enter the economy when businesses hand it out to customers as discounts – not unlike a rewards system.

"I think it allows the consumer to make easier choices to support local by doing the point system and giving them discounts. The consumer will benefit as well as the small business. It's a two way street," Kellman says of the currency.

The Santa Cruz money is based on a 3-year-old alternative currency running in Sonoma County, called Sonoma Dollars. Both those systems mimic the Wir Bank in Switzerland, founded in 1934. Twenty percent of Swiss businesses use the bank's e-currency for some $1.65 billion worth of transactions a year.

County government is also taking steps to revive the economy. Santa Cruz County will soon provide more low interest loans through the Grow Santa Cruz project, and county planners have put together an 834-page document detailing which of the county's purchases can be made locally.

The County has also made the bold step of joining the Move Your Money Campaign. The movement calls on communities around the country to move their money out of mega-banks and into community banks which received far less bailout money yet do more than their share of lending.

Early this year, local banks and credit unions saw an upsurge in new accounts as a result of the Move Your Money movement. Now the County is shifting $600 million to $800 million worth of liquid assets to local banks and unions.

Storing money locally protects the county's access to loans, says Peter Beckmann, cofounder of Think Local First and owner of Beckmann's Old World Bakery.

"If Wall Street gets into trouble, our little credit union doesn't care because they have member money and they don't speculate in highly volatile financial instruments. They will keep giving loans — Beckmann's Bakery never had a credit crunch."

This may not be in Reno, but as in the casino-filled, 'biggest little city', we still need money. Lucky for us, some forward looking, community-minded Santa Cruzans are working to localize money — to recycle it here, and soon, to create it here as well.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

California's P2P Carsharing Bill Signed Into Law

Editor's Note: A major breakthrough in affirming a sharing culture. Also, a great use case for alternative currencies. Instead of paying your neighbor with scarce dollars for borrowing a car, why not pay in timebank hours (plus a little gas)?

By Neal Gorenflo

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1871 into law today enabling Californians to share cars in carsharing pools without invalidating their insurance policies. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2011.

Currently, Californians can't exchange money for sharing cars without invalidating their car insurance.

The new law could accelerate the growth of an already fast growing carsharing industry, at first in California and later across the US as the legislation is adopted in other states. Existing carsharing services could expand their fleets by allowing car owners to share their cars through their services.

The new law will also remove the biggest barrier to the growth of next generation carsharing services like Spride Share, RelayRides, and Getaround that enable neighbors to rent cars directly to and from each other.

While a significant advance in the carsharing industry, Shareable agrees with Alex Steffen of Worldchanging that we need to think beyond the car in re-patterning society for health and sustainability. Below is Assemblymember Dave Jones' press release about the new law.


(SACRAMENTO) – First-in-the-nation legislation allowing Californians to share their personal cars in carsharing pools without risking the loss of their personal auto insurance coverage was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s on September 29, 2010.

Assemblymember Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) authored Assembly Bill 1871 to allow personal car sharing by ensuring that individuals who allow their cars to be used in vehicle sharing pools do not risk losing their own automobile insurance coverage. Currently, receiving even a small amount of money for the use of one’s vehicle is treated by insurance companies as a commercial use of the vehicle, thereby invalidating the individual’s personal insurance coverage.

The new law makes clear that personal vehicle sharing does not constitute a commercial use of the vehicle. The law also makes sure that the individual car owner is not held liable for losses that arise when the vehicle is used for personal vehicle sharing.

”Owning a car can be expensive and vehicle sharing programs are a great way to help connect people with cars when they need them,” said Assemblymember Dave Jones. “The new law will help car owners shrink the cost of owing their vehicles, reduce the need for some people to buy cars, improving parking and traffic congestion, and help the environment.”

AB 1871 enjoyed widespread support from environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club of California, transit districts like BART, and car sharing and personal vehicle sharing organizations across the nation such as City CarShare, Spride, Gettaround, RelayRides, Go-op Inc. and

The new law received unanimous support in the legislature, and takes effect Jan. 1, 2011.