Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slow Money Quickly Gaining Momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With deep gratitude,

Ari, Woody, Michael, and David

The Broad Tent at Shelburne Farms

The Next Generation of Food Entrepreneurs

Slow Money Progress Report
November 2010

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

-Kerry Trueman, Huffington Post

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

Some of this year's highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Barry Hollister, Pittsfield, MA

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Start a Housing Coop

By Mira Luna
From Shareable.net

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

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

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

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

There are several different kinds of coops:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Community Currency Mag is Out!


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

Mira Luna

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Abundance of Food Vs. the Abundance of Recipes

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

Brian Davey:

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

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

Commons as lifeboats ....

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

or as a new mode of production.

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

Limits versus abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See: http://www.iea.org/work/2004/eewp/ayres-paper1.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michel Bauwens:

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

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

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

Yes, internet infrastructure is itself a costly material infrastructure.

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

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

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

A few obvious points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More On the Eco Pesa

From the Eco Pesa website:

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

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

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

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

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

How did it start?

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

How are they printed?

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

How does it effect the national currency and economy?

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

Has this been done before?

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

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

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

Where are you now?

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

How you can help?

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

Email eco.pesa.kenya@gmail.com for more information.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Truth About Unemployment

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s it really like to deal in regional currency?

(A Day in the Life of a BerkShare)
from Yes Magazine
by Bill McKibben
posted Oct 18, 2010

Want to encourage the local economy? Try printing your own regional money.

In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I gave the nice man in the Mr. Ding a Ling truck a W.E.B. Du Bois for my fudgesicle, and he gave me four Mohicans back in change. I walked over to the food co-op and broke a 50—the one with Norman Rockwell on the face—and my excellent sandwich came with four Robyn Van Ens in change. If I hadn't been so hungry, I could have spent my BerkShares on website design, some septic work, a game of billiards, snowplowing, or a horseback-riding lesson. Hell, if the horse got sick, I could have taken her to the vet. But I was still hungry, so I wandered north to Stockbridge and headed over to the tavern at the Red Lion Inn, the quintessential Berkshires hostelry. And there I found waiting for me a nice glass of Berkshire Blonde ale and a burger, only a Melville all together.

Also waiting was Susan Witt, the force behind America's most successful alternative currency. "Oh," she said when I told her about my day, "the midwife takes BerkShares, and so does the undertaker. You can get a will done; you can build an addition to your home, fix your car... I like shoes," she added, wiggling her toes. "These weren't cheap."
The sheer power of money—the fact that you can use it to command someone in China to do something for you—can create problems just as it solves them.

Money, when you think about it, is hard to explain. Where it comes from, who decides how much is in circulation, where you get a spare trillion to bail out your banking system—it's all kind of mysterious. How can I take paper out of my wallet and use it to persuade someone in China to make me something? But most of the time we don't think much about it, any more than we ponder the mysteries of gravity. If gravity stopped working from time to time, however, we might start wondering a little more—which may explain why the BerkShares website got 3.5 million hits in the year after our financial crisis erupted.

In fact, the regional currency for Massachusetts' westernmost county is just the most prominent of many experiments with money now taking place across New England, from New Haven, Connecticut; to Portland, Maine; to the entire state of Vermont. None of these schemes aims to supplant the greenback, but all try to mend some of its very real defects—and to serve as a laboratory for what comes next. Call it "Currency 3.0": lean, local, and maybe very logical indeed.

Not that the idea is brand-new—just the opposite. Some of the first money that circulated around New England was local: Next door to the Red Lion Inn is a Berkshire Bank branch; the building's original occupant, the Housatonic Bank, printed its own money in the 1800s. You can still see some of those notes hanging on the wall.

But as the nation prospered and consolidated, the federal currency became the thing we meant when we said "money." It's always come with drawbacks, however: the bust-and-boom cycle, for instance, that saw many communities issuing scrip during the Depression. Beyond that, the sheer power of money—the fact that you can use it to command someone in China to do something for you—can create problems just as it solves them: The folks in China, or at Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas, may take away the jobs your community depends on, for instance. Through the 20th century, as consumers transacted more and more of their business at a distance, local food systems waned; then big-box stores reduced the civic engagement that came with Main Street.

It's not an experiment anymore: The 2.5-millionth BerkShare went into circulation last fall.

It's probably no wonder, then, that the impetus for BerkShares came from the E. F. Schumacher Society, a Great Barrington foundation formed to promote the legacy of the British author of Small Is Beautiful. The Berkshires were an early hotbed of the local-food movement: Robyn Van En, whose face graces the 10 BerkShare note, founded one of the first two CSA (community-supported agriculture) projects in the country in the mid-1980s at her Indian Line Farm in South Egremont. When the famous economic historian Jane Jacobs called for regional currencies in a talk in 1983 at the Society's annual meeting, her plea fell on receptive ears.

"We'd started with a microloan program [in 1982]," Witt explains. "We got people to open savings accounts at local banks and pooled that money to collateralize loans for useful things. Mostly they went to women, and for products that weren't really understood by traditional bankers." Then a favorite local deli came looking for money so it could move. "We said, No, you have your customers; borrow from them." And thus was born "Deli Dollars," which let people loan money that could be redeemed in pastrami, say, once the expansion was complete.

"It got huge press," Witt says. "People were really interested." The local Chamber of Commerce asked the Schumacher Society to help with a summertime promotion: Whenever shoppers spent $10 at any of 70 local stores, they got a $1 certificate that they could redeem over three days in September. "People came all the way back from Cape Cod to spend $20 worth of these certificates," Witt recalls. "Merchants loved it. And since we had an Excel spreadsheet going, they could see how interconnected they actually were."

The leap from gift certificate to currency came in the fall of 2006, when several community banks offered to issue the money. "You have to remember," Witt says, "local bankers are just local guys, their customers are local businesses; they're thinking of what will work for these local businesses. They'll stretch for them."

Here's how it works: You walk into any branch of the five banks that offer the notes and hand the teller $95 in U.S. dollars. She hands you 100 BerkShares. You spend them at the deli, the bar, or the bookstore. The bar owner then takes her BerkShares from the till and spends them at the deli, the bookstore, or Jakob Kent Jewelry. Or, if she has to pay for something that nobody local is producing, she takes her BerkShares back to the bank and reconverts them into dollars, at the same 95 percent exchange rate.

Some people get paid partly in BerkShares; some towns are considering taking them for certain fees and taxes. It's not an experiment anymore: The 2.5-millionth BerkShare went into circulation last fall.

It's also not the only new approach to money under way in New England. In Greater New Haven, for instance, SHARE Haven Time Bank is busy converting spare hours into spending power. You offer something you're good at; at press time, the website listed a variety of services, from cat sitting to architectural design. If you spend an hour helping someone in the network, you've earned an hour of someone else's time; you can get someone to shovel your drive, or give you a massage afterward.

Hour Exchange Portland is larger and more established. Current projects include making sure the homes of all 600 active members get weatherized with the donated labor the network can mobilize; you get spray foam insulation, caulking, and weatherstripping, and you pay it back to the system in baking, or midwifery, or whatever it is you do.

Time-dollar programs derive from old-fashioned bartering, of course, but with an egalitarian twist: Every hour is worth the same thing. Portland's credo states it simply: "Everyone has value, everyone's time is equal, everyone has something to offer. The real economy is people. We value work. We value the work it takes to make healthy children, a healthy community, a sustainable future." It sounds positively Scandinavian.

If you're a little more hard-nosed, then consider the new Marketplace program launched this past spring by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and Vermont Sustainable Exchange. It's kind of like barter, too, but highly computerized, and filled with excitingly business-like buzzwords. "We think of it as a recession beater—a cash-flow management tool," says VBSR executive director Will Patten. "Every business has extra capacity, or products it's overstocked on," he explains. "Everyone has extra capacity." Now other member businesses can buy that extra capacity with their own excess, no money involved.

"Say I need to buy some compost," says Will Rapp, who often needs to buy compost because he's the founder and chairman of Gardener's Supply Company, an enormous mail-order house based in Burlington. "I may be short of cash, and the compost guy may have a glut at the moment. So I can transact that in the online exchange system, and the compost company can take the credits I give it and use them to buy fuel for the truck to load the compost onto. The fuel company says, 'I need accounting services,' and finds someone in the network to provide them."
The currency is literally teaching people to think more carefully about how their habits build or erode community. It's about creating trust in a world where economists have taught us that we're self-interested individuals and nothing more.

It works like money, but it lets you pay for what you have too little of (fuel) with what you have too much of (compost). If you had to barter point-by-point, not only would you have to find a fuel dealer who needed compost, but you'd have to find him at just the moment when he also had extra fuel he needed to get rid of. "Barter requires the incidence of coincidence," says VSE founder Amy Kirschner, who runs the Marketplace software under a license from the Scottish inventors. "Instead, we're a little bit Amazon, a little bit Craigslist, a little bit eBay."

Kirschner started work on Marketplace's business-to-business electronic exchange after her attempt to start a BerkShares-like local currency in Burlington had foundered. "Having a piece of paper go around is a bit of a logistical nightmare," she says. "Burlington Bread didn't fit into cash-register drawers, it was hard to make change, employees weren't trained to deal with it." She's happier with the electronic model, in part because she's dealing directly with businesses that are used to thinking in hard economic terms.

"We finally nailed the economic argument—it's spare capacity," she adds. "Would you rather pay a bill with a gift certificate to your business or with cash? There's already trust within our network of businesses; these are the kinds of people who want to work with one another."

Susan Witt wouldn't argue with any of those logistical challenges, but for her they're part of the rationale for BerkShares: The currency is literally teaching people to think more carefully about how their habits build or erode community. It's about creating trust in a world where economists have taught us that we're self-interested individuals and nothing more. "I'll be in line behind someone at a store, someone who's supported us," she says. "And yet she's whipping out a credit card to pay. I ask her, 'Where are your BerkShares?' And she'll say, 'It's inconvenient. And I get airline miles with this card.' We're so entranced by the ease of this economic exchange."

Witt wrote recently about another local woman, someone who had called her office to ask how to make a donation to a local nonprofit in BerkShares. She couldn't just write a check, Witt explained to her. She'd need to "walk or drive to the project's office, call the staff together, look them directly in the eye, tell them how important their work is to the community, and hand them an envelope with a big stack of BerkShares."

Those bank notes would be nice, but so would the sentiment; in the end, it's entirely about building community, and so the connection counts as much as the money. Here's Jasmine Stine, an intern at the Schumacher Society: "My housemate was in line at Guido's [an upscale produce market in Great Barrington], right in between two other people who were paying in BerkShares. It turns out that one guy was making biodiesel, and the other guy needed some. That's the kind of conversation we've got to start having."

The Schumacher Society—which is now combining forces with England's New Economics Foundation, another booster of local currencies—sees lots of room for BerkShares to grow. The currency is now spreading out of the southern half of the county—the Tanglewood Berkshires—into the grittier Pittsfield area, and even to a few towns just over the New York and Connecticut state lines. And the Society is also trying to figure out how to start making loans in the local currency, not tied to federal dollars, which would mean backing the BerkShares with something real. Not gold, but a basket of commodities—firewood, apples, wind power—the kinds of things you can produce in Western Massachusetts, where gold mines are scarce.

The loans would be designed to build local economic power: to capitalize the factories and workshops that could bring production and jobs back home. That could reduce the scale of the sprawling global economy at least a little—and trim the danger of the next crash a little, too. I'm betting a Melville it just might work.

Bill McKibben authorBill McKibben is founder of 350.org and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Earlier this year the Boston Globe called him “probably the country’s leading environmentalist” and Time described him as “the planet’s best green journalist.” He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. Bill originally wrote this article for Yankee Magazine.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Council plans 'big society' reward points

Editor's Note:
Not a bad idea except that it promotes shopping at corporations over small biz, not exactly rewarding good behavior.

Windsor and Maidenhead council hopes to join forces with commercial rewards schemes to encourage volunteers

by Rachel Williams
from guardian.co.uk
31 October 2010

David Cameron delivers a speech at The Conservative Party Big Society conference, London, March 2010 The council was one of four chosen to lead the prime minister's 'big society' vision. Photograph: Andrew Parsons for the Guardian

For critics of David Cameron's "big society" vision it has been an obvious question: what would make hordes of previously inactive citizens leap to their feet to volunteer to fish trolleys from canals or look after elderly neighbours?

Now one local authority believes it has the answer: "big society reward points" redeemable in supermarkets, high street shops and restaurants in return for good deeds.

Windsor and Maidenhead council hopes to join forces with a commercial rewards scheme such as Nectar – whose points can be redeemed in Sainsbury's, Homebase and Argos among others – or RecycleBank, whose vouchers can be spent in outlets including Marks & Spencer and McDonald's.

The council, one of four chosen by the government to lead the big society "vanguard", hopes the system could eventually be rolled out nationwide.

Officers are still working out the practicalities, but it is likely residents would get a loyalty card similar to those available in shops. Points would be added by organisers when cardholders had completed good works such as litter-picking or holding tea parties for isolated pensioners.

The council says the idea is based on "nudge theory" – the thought that people don't automatically do the right thing but will respond if the best option is highlighted. Points would be awarded according to the value given to each activity.

Users could then trade in their points for vouchers giving discounts on the internet or high street.

The points would be given free by the commercial partner in return for the publicity and marketing opportunities, with the local authority picking up the relatively small cost of administering the scheme. The scheme might be extended to reward improved behaviour in areas such as school attendance and healthy living, according to the Conservative council's leader, David Burbage.

Although he ruled out offering rewards for losing weight or quitting smoking, he said: "We're not picky really … Anything that works, we'll give it a go.

"Where people are doing stuff in the community or contributing to local public services we would see no reason why we couldn't also extend that reward approach to promoting that positive activity.

"If you found one shopping trolley and picked it out of a river you might get less points than if you spent the day planting trees.

"We think it has a lot of promise to get people involved."

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of think tank the RSA, which has
worked extensively on how the big society might be created, said the
scheme was a "great idea".

"It's very easy to take the mickey but it's good," he said. "The
question is how we get citizens to step up to the plate.

"Small economics go a long way when it comes to voluntary activity.
You don't have to choose between paying people and giving them nothing
at all."

But Rachael Maskell, national officer for the not for profit sector
with the union Unite, labelled the scheme discriminatory and gimmicky.

Only those with the time and physical ability to do good deeds would
be able to earn points, she said

"It's a kind of panicked reaction to the fact that nobody's taking up
the big society. The voluntary sector is in a desperate situation
undergoing huge cuts, and now we're seeing this fluff around the

The government welcome the initiative. Nick Hurd, the minister for
civil society, said: "Big society is about encouraging and supporting
those people who want to contribute more to help others and improve
their community.

"If we can incentivise more people into giving their time and talent
then we unleash a hidden wealth of resource to help improve a range of
social problems."