Posts Tagged ‘Gift Economy’

An Open Letter to Pope Francis on the Ethical Economy

April 21, 2014
unMonastery, Matera, Italy

unMonastery, Matera, Italy

Dear Pope Francis,

I write to you as a cultural Catholic moved by admiration for the Christian values and how they have been embodied by social change activists such as Ivan Illich, E.F. Schumacher, Paulo Freire, and profound and provocative thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan and Bruno Latour.

I write to you as someone who has been honoured twice by invitations from the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, where I learned about the beautiful and balanced set of ideas that are the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church and could interact with many interesting Catholic-inspired thinkers, from different sides of the political spectrum, yet open to each other’s ideas in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I write to you as well as an admirer of the cooperativism that is inspired by the social doctrine, such as the cooperative network of Mondragon, the ideas of Stefano Zamagni and many others.

I write to you as the founder of the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives, and one of the founding partners of the Commons Strategies group, as someone who is deeply connected with emerging new productive practices based on peer to peer relationships, the creation of common pools of knowledge for the benefit of the whole of humanity, and of sharing economy practices that are based on the re-use of many idle resources that could benefit more citizens while lightening the load of humanity on our planet.

FLOK Society

FLOK Society

Finally, I write to you as the research coordinator of an ambitious transition project in Ecuador, FLOK Society, which is advising the public authorities on moving towards a society and economy that is fully based on shared knowledge.

In this context, I am of course very, very heartened by the recent statements of your Holiness about the need to care for the poor and weak, and to be mindful of the excesses of capitalism, but also from authoritarian collectivism.

I am aware of the key role that the Catholic Church has played in the moral economy of the Middle Ages, and how many Catholics, individually or collectively as members of Congregations and Catholic social movements, are engaged for the Common Good. I am inspired by historical examples such as the Banks of Piety of the Dominicans, which lend money without interest to the poor, and drove out usury-driven banking from their territories.

Yet, as many humans, I am also concerned about our human future. We presently live in a system which believes natural resources are infinite, and we are destroying the very eco-systems on which we depend; and the same system believes that knowledge that could benefit humanity should be restricted and kept artificially scarce, through Intellectual Property restrictions that slow down innovation, hide solutions until they are believed to be profitable, and sell vital medicines at inflated prices, amongst many other issues.

But I am also heartened by the emergence of new modes of creating and distributing value, and on the many peer-based and commons-oriented communities that are mutualizing knowledge, so that it can benefit all; and mutualizing physical infrastructures and resources, so that we may step lighter on the planet. These emergent movements and practices are vital for the future of our planet, and I strongly believe they need Your help! At the end of the era of the Roman Empire, it was the Catholic monks, who mutualized both material infrastructure and knowledge, and functioned as European-wide open design communities, and were crucial in reviving European societies.

The Catholic Church, despite the difficulties due to secularization in Western countries, still has many vital resources. Sometimes, these resources are sold to the marketplace, which may use these in inappropriate ways, such as for examples using abandoned Churches and Monasteries for commercial purposes, for hotels and entertainment venues, but also including sometimes directly related to real-estate speculation.

At the same time, the younger generations of people, and I believe we have a beautiful generation that is concerned and engaged with the Common Good, are willing to create a new type of community, where work and resources are mutualized, and where they use their personal skills and resources, to work for the Common Good, through projects associated with social entrepreneurship, fair trade, peer production and the creation of vital commons of knowledge, code and design which are made universally available for all who need them. There are already quite a number of makerspaces, hackerspaces, co-working spaces and open manufacturing centers for open and sustainable technologies, but we need many more of them, and the reality of real-estate speculation makes many projects unnecessarily difficult to realize.

Indeed, this vital movement of humanity’s young (and not so young) is in search of common places where they can engage in meaningful activities for the common good, yet, the reality of the current economy often means they are precarious, they cannot afford urban rents that are driven by real estate speculation, and often real estate prices make the mutualization of the workplace a very difficult endeavour.

Some of our friends want to go further and have already taken on monastery projects to revitalize our world with ecumenical projects such as the ‘unMonastery’ project in Matera, Italy.

Gorton Monastery, Manchester

Gorton Monastery, Manchester

The Gorton Monastery, previously a Franciscan church and friary, in a deprived neighbourhood of Manchester, England. Deconsecrated and left by the Church, it was abandoned and devastated by the weather, theft and vandalism. It has since been restored by the Monastery of St. Francis and Gorton Trust, and once again brings Franciscan values to its community. The recently established Monastery Foundation is leading in thought and action to support personal and organisational transition: the move from old ways of working and living to those required for today and tomorrow.”

Another one is the Uniting Church’s congregation known as the ‘Augustine Centre’, which has been active for many years in the personal development and creative expression fields; it is now known as the Habitat Centre for Spirituality and has hosted the Borderlands Cooperative for the last 12 years. Together they have created a holistic post-graduate course of education, called the ‘oases Graduate School’, offering a Master’s Degree in Sustainability and Social Change, based on the understanding that education needs to be integrative of many disciplines and that it needs to lead to the transformation of all our ways of living and being. An accompanying range of other events, short courses and activities have been created, the place now becoming known for its ecological and social engagement.

These new practices are recreating the moral economy of the future, and could learn from the moral economy of the past, when the Church played such a vital role. On the other hand, by engaging with these vital forces that are changing our society and civilization, the Church would also learn about the new spiritual needs that are co-emerging from these practices.

So the new movement would benefit from Your Assistance, and I am therefore making this proposal and appeal.

Why not think about the repurposing of unused Church property, for precisely the recreation of a moral and ethical economy? Why not create mechanisms for the creation of common hackerspaces, makerspaces, co-working spaces, where the common endeavours can take place in a meaningful and spiritualized space?

My hope is that the forces of the Catholic Church, may start thinking about using resources to assist the Great and necessary Transformation that is starting to take place today.

As my Catholic friend and ethical investor Dr. Johnny Spangenberg writes, warning of humanity’s mistaken admiration for false Gods:

We create catastrophic climate risk and trigger natural disaster by destroying the very ecosystems on which we depend — All in the name of the worldly Gods of GDP & EBITDA growth and with disregard for the needs or the poor or vulnerable ecosystems. KeyStone XL Pipeline is a recent example of such a controversial megaproject in which the long-run welfare of the human race is sacrificed for short-term economic interest. …

Dr. Spangenberg also mentions a way forward which is similar to the proposed approach of mutualized working spaces, but expanded to the scale of a village:

The Regen-Villages — an innovative collaboration between Stanford University, Danish Technical University and the University of Malaysia Pahang (amongst others) aim to rapidly create modern and comfortable integrated villages around the world that can feed and power themselves. As an urgent call to action to combat economic inequality, RV focus is on thriving rural and sub-urban villages that will run on renewable energy and high-yield organic food production, creating a surplus for thriving, self-sustaining communities. RV also brings curriculum into these villages, while fostering the export of innovation and ingenuity out of these villages.

Therefore, we believe that the transformation discussed above, which requires spaces for meaningful and sustainable work, is vital to save our planet and humanity, and vital for the future of the Church.

We are, of course, not in the position to demand anything, this is not our purpose, but we humbly suggest starting a dialogue on how the Church can support the forces for practical and moral regeneration of our failing economic system. One of our key concerns and proposals would be to find a proper purpose for the religious buildings that are presently unused, and we believe that creating meaning collective workplaces is one of these.”

We are very thankful for any attention that this letter may generate.

Michel Bauwens, Commons Strategies Group and P2P Foundation

The general idea and proposition in this letter are endorsed by the following groups and individuals:

  • David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Commons Strategies Group, co-editors of ‘The Wealth of the Commons”
  • Hasnah Ismail — Senior Consultant Fellow, Putra Business School & Director, Might-Meteor Advanced Manufacturing, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia.
  • James Ehrlich — Senior Technologist, Stanford University — Human Sciences Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR), Stanford: USA.
  • Giovanni Luchetti — Representative of Harvard Business Review — World Investment News, New York: USA.
  • Marco Fioretti — Founder of the Catholic free software / digital rights movt Eeleutheros *
  • Francois Houtart — Fundacion Indigena / IAEN — Quito, Ecuador.
  • Johnny Spangenberg — CEO & Founder, GeoSayang ClimateRiskBonds, New York: USA.

Published by P2P Foundation.

The Zero Marginal Cost Society

April 8, 2014

The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism

The Zero Marginal Society

The Zero Marginal Society

We are seeing what was looted from the Global Commons, transferred back to the Global Commons. Slowly, slowly we are moving towards a Gift Economy.

A basic tenet of The Zero Marginal Cost Society is that we are moving towards zero marginal costs.

This is certainly true of digital music and e-books. We see it implemented on sites like bandcamp (music) and leanpub (e-books).

A pity then, the message we are getting from Jeremy Rifkin is heed what I say, not heed what I do.

  • hardback — £16.19
  • e-book — £13.07

Contrast with Paulo Coelho who made his back catalogue available at a book for the price of a song. Or Steve Lawson who has made his music available at very low price.

Contrast with Sacred Economics, covering more or less the same subject. You can buy the paperback, download an e-book and name your price or download the e-book for free.

Jeremy Rifkin would have more credibility were he to lead by example.

Reposted from Medium, where there are more notes.

Giving directions

March 25, 2014
Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life

And what greater service shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? — Kahil Gibran

A stranger stops me in the street and asks me directions to where they wish to be.

I take the trouble to show them the way, we part company, probably never to see each other again.

Why, why bother?

We may never see each other again, therefore even if I have their gratitude, I am unlikely to benefit.

Unless my act is witnessed, I have gained no social credos.

Mediaeval stonemasons building our great cathedrals put their heart and soul into their work. Often no one but God would see their work. They did so for the love and glory of God.

I trip and fall. Luckily I am badly shaken but not hurt. Three strangers rush to my aid, help me to my feet.

Why, what is in it for them?

They did not even think about it, it was an instinctive reaction, a fellow human being in need of help.

It does not even have to be a fellow human being, we do the same when we see an animal in need of our help.

Is it because we know God is watching. Are we trying to amass points on our Get Into Heaven Loyalty Card?

This is not the way it is meant to be, each and everyone one out to maximise their benefits at the expense of others.

Contrast with the corporate world, the ethos is rip off, service is an alien concept, to the corporate slave it is merely a job, going through the motions, doing as little as possible.

Lloyds Bank alone has been forced to repay £9.8 billion on one single fraudulent scam, and the figure is rising. Across Britain’s banks as a whole, compensation costs have now reached more than £22 billion, and are rising.

And yet no lessons have been learnt, banks are still screwing their customers.

If I engage in fraud or rob a bank, I would expect to end up in prison. To date, not a single banker is serving a prison sentence.

Margaret Thatcher infamously told us that there is no such thing as society.

It is everyone out for themselves, more for me, less for you. It is all mine.

The possessive, my hand, my arms, my body, has been extended to our possessions, my money, my house, my car, they have become as much as part of us as our hand or arm.

Hunter-gatherers quite happily share. When you lead a nomadic existence, possessions become a burden. When you drag an animal back to camp after a successful hunt and kill, you share it. Yes, you could keep it all to yourself, but what do you gain, you cannot eat it all by yourself, after a few days it will have gone off and gone to waste. Therefore it makes sense to share, then when someone else has a successful hunt, they will share their kill with you.

We only feel the need to hoard, when we live in scarcity, often artificial scarcity. In a world of abundance, there is no point in accumulation. In the Culture world of Ian M Banks, wealth has no meaning, as it is a world of abundance, whatever you want is readily available, as a result, there is no concept of money.

In a world of abundance, where there is no concept of money, people use their time as they please, not participate as slaves and moronic consumers.

We are bombarded every minute of the day as atomistic, individuals, we must consume, more for me is less for you.

And yet this is not the natural state of the world. The natural state of the world is the Gift Economy. Given a free choice, we quite happily help others. We quite happily give freely, of our time, of gifts, with no expectation of return. If we participate to accrue points on the Get Into Heaven Loyalty Card, we are not participating in the Gift Economy, as to do so is with no expectation of return. If there is an expectation of return or reward, then it is not a gift.

I could write this article for a magazine, charge a fee, instead, it is given freely. Anyone can read it, they can share it, indeed, they are encouraged to share it. They can even cite, reproduce, so long as due credit is given and no profit is made.

When I sit with musicians in the street or talk to musicians after a concert, and suggest they be on bandcamp, and explain the merits to them and people who may like their music, there is nothing in it for me, but they will benefit, those who like their music, who have yet to hear their music, who in turn may share their music, will all benefit.

A financial transaction, I want what someone is selling, they want some money, an exchange has been made, end of story, there is no need or requirement for any further social interaction, a cold, impersonal business transaction.

This is not true of a gift. There is an obligation, though not a mandatory obligation, else it is not a gift. The gift has added value, because of who gave it.

When two Romanian girls gave me a lovely jumper, it had a value beyond a lovely jumper, it had value because it was a gift, because of who gave it to me. When others admired the jumper, I had a story to tell, of how I came to be in possession of such a lovely jumper.

I have a Monetegrappa pen. An expensive pen. It has value beyond its monetary value, because of how I came to acquire the pen.

The St Joseph medallion that I have sitting in a black presentation box, has value because it was given to me by my good friend Paulo Coelho.

I gave the Romanian sisters a couple of books. Not because they had decided to give me a jumper, the decision had already been made. When they gave me the jumper, it was not because I had given them books, as I had yet to give them the books.

When I go away, I take books to read. I nearly always find someone to give them to.

One of the disadvantages of an e-reader and e-books, nothing to give away. Though when I read Sacred Economics on a Kobo Touch, I did recommend to many people a must read, not quite the same as giving a book away, but almost.

I got Sacred Economics for free, a gift from the author Charles Eisenstein. That creates an obligation on me, if I obtain value from the book, ie enjoyment or I like his ideas, then in some way to recompense for the value I have got from the book. That does not have to necessarily be direct to the author, I may do so indirectly by recommending to others.

That is how bandcamp works. Listen on-line free, often download for free or low minimum price. If you like, tell others, pay for a download, go to a concert. A zero cost transaction has taken place, a social interaction between both parties.

How do we place a price on a piece of music or a work of art? The value we obtain far outweighs the price we pay. The value we gain is often priceless.

When we gift, when we put our love into what we create, we create a better, more beautiful world.

When I advised Steph Bradley to publish on leanpub and write on Medium, we participated in the Gift Economy. She has an outlet for her writing, she will now reach a wider audience. She has learnt new skills, knows the value of the sites for writers, and can do as I did, advise others. The gift gets passed on.

That is one feature of the Gift Economy, gifts get passed on.

When someone commented they enjoyed the Christian fellowship in a bookshop cum cafe, they completely missed the point. What was relevant was the friendship without the Christian qualifier.

When a local cat greets me, I could walk on by. I do not, I stop to say hello.

We are all interconnected. We are nodes in a network of interpersonal relationships, and these networks of interpersonal relationships form nodes in still bigger networks. We have relationships with the natural world. The networks create the conditions for the nodes to exist, the nodes interconnect to form the networks. The actors interact to create the environment, the environment creates the conditions for the actors to thrive.

Man stumbles when Man think he is apart from Nature not part of Nature. The Fool surveys all he sees and thinks all is mine, to become Master of Nature, the ultimate aim to turn all into Money.

The Gift Economy is far far older than the Money Economy.

Money is a unit of exchange, a standard of measure, a store of value. We lump all three together and there is blurring at the edges but they are not the same.

Much of what happens, occurs outside the Money Economy. Those who work in the Money Economy only do so because they are forced to do so.

Slaves have no choice, either work or die, but at least they get fed, a roof over their head.

Why do most people work? They work to earn a living, in other words to live, to put food on the plate, a roof over their head. They are working in a Slave Economy because they are forced to work, they are not willing workers.

People put their heart and soul in their work. If they are not happy, it shows in their work, that is why we get shoddy products, poor quality service.

Contrast with a craftsman who loves what he is doing. Contrast with a writer or artist or musician who loves what they are doing.

The Internet runs on the Gift Economy.

People freely write reviews on TripAdvisor.

I write using Open Office, that is when I do not write direct into a web page which is what I do most of the time.

The internet is a disruptive technology. It is worth billions of dollars, but what it has displaced, is worth ten, a hundred, maybe a thousand times more.

People may not be aware they are, but slowly slowly, they are moving out of the Money Economy and into the Gift Economy.

Why bother with a Travel Agent when I can do it all myself, helped by the internet?

The Gift Economy pre-dates the Money Economy.

The Money Economy did not evolve out of Barter. Barter is used when the Money Economy is not working. You have what I want, I have what you want, we can exchange.

If I give a gift, the recipient may feel under an obligation to me, but have no gift with which to show their appreciation and gratitude. They therefore give me a token as a measure of their appreciation. If I receive a gift, I may have nothing to give. I pass on the token as a measure of my appreciation.

The Money Economy evolved out of the Gift Economy.

There are still societies in which the measure of esteem, is what a person gives away, not the wealth they accumulate.

When we give a gift, the pleasure is as much in the giving as the receiving. If I receive something, even if not wanted, I show due humility and appreciation. I can always pass the gift on to someone else. If they do the same, the gift will eventually arrive where it is needed.

Much of what is in the Money Economy was looted from the Gift Economy, then sold back in the Money Economy.

Childcare is a classic example. Children would arrive home from school. If no one home, they would pop around to see a neighbour, who would give them something to eat. Now, parents have to go to work in the Slave Economy, to earn the money to pay for childcare.

Eating out, junk food, fast food, is another classic example. No time to prepare food or to shop, too busy working in the Slave Economy. A ready meal, a trip to a junk food outlet, a fast food takeaway. Before we know it, we have a generation with no food skills, now dependent upon the Money Economy for the very basics of life.

In Switzerland, neighbours get to together to decide who is growing what. Surpluses, that before went to waste, are now shared with neighbours in the local economy.

A garden that is too big or too much work. Someone without a garden or an allotment, works the garden and the produce is shared.

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