One of the things with the highest long term potential that I am working on is what I am calling the Literacies Engine. It will produce a tiny perpetual innovation fund of $5k investments in college students startups focused in the circular economy; reducing waste, carbon foot print, toxic effluent, while also reducing long term cost savings and short term waste handling costs. It should reasonably produce $1.5 million a year through the cost savings of those same entrepreneur cohorts using village capital’s innovative peer due diligence to decide who wins. The hook is that it’s replicable; we can give out $5k to the top startup, selected by the students, every six weeks at each college. And they will also be in a learning network, of other students using the same funds from sorting books for Better World Books and only sending on the ones that will sell.That cost saving will be shared. One fourth of it will go to the Tiny Perpetual Innovation Fund; the $5k to the students for a circular economy selected by peer due diligence. One fourth of the potential $6 million annual savings, to be administered by literacy non profit Reach out and Read for literacies, including indigenous language literacy, entrepreneurial literacy, multicultural literacy, adolescent girls digital literacy as a way to help them find their both and other kinds of literacie. The other half of the savings goes to Better World Books, dropping almost $3 million to the bottom line.
The startups have BWB’s real world supply chain to use as their jungle gym as they try to figure out how to upcycle batteries, phones, mattresses, or who knows what?
We are going to map power and influence and money in a town or city, and find the silos where we could imagine a bridge, discover the valuable stranger, the unlikely ally, in your own bioregion. Our goal is to change the dominant narrative from one of empire, with the market the ravenous dog sent out by empire, to one where we bring the market to heel, tame her and turn her into a working dog, like a border collie, marshaling the sheep, at the shepherd’s design. We want to change the narrative from empire, served by a ravenous market, to one of community. Neighborhood Economics, Nov 12-13, in Louisville KY. We want to tell a new story to our grandchildren by what we do today.
As I head off to the Balle conference, I have one thought in my head. How does Neighborhood Economics fit into the localist world? What do they have that we can learn from as we put on an event with that title the day after the Slow Money conference and the day before the Biodynamic Farming conference, all in Louisville, Ky the week of November 10.
Our fall event is deeply speculative; it’s asking a simple, but complex question: how can you tame the market, grand tool that it is, and make it serve all of us fairly? We suspect that change can best be implemented systemically on a densely connected, socially constructed local level, so we are in agreement with where Balle has been for years. So we are coming (there are two of us, me and I think Tim Soerens) is going to make it, as part of an inquiry into how can you make the market serve the commons, and not reward a few at the expense of the rest?
We think by changing the grander narrative, going from a story that is about an empire that has morphed into the market as empire to a narrative that is about the community. Our current economic system is not making us happy or safe, regardless of how much we have. The need to hold onto systems that preserve wealth for the few paralyzes the ones on top; stuck in rictus and just as trapped as the oppressed. That is something I learned from long time civil rights for all crusader and author Will Campbell, with whom i spent some time when I lived in Mississippi for 20 long years. He had an epiphany that the racist redneck was just as trapped as the black people he was oppressing. So both needed to be set free. Maybe something like that could be applied as a strategy to the brittle, threatened haves holding on to what they have, because it is great stuff, yet fearing they are living on borrowed time, that things will not always go their way. Boomers looking back and beginning to count the cost of their privilege is an interesting area to explore as we try to create an economy that works for all.
We will be keying everything at Neighborhood Economics off of Walter Brueggeman and Peter Block, talking together. Brueggeman is perhaps the best known and most widely respected Christian theologian, but his work on the Jewish scriptures is appealing to many Jewish people as well. Block started as a corporate organizational consultant, but evolved to become an expert and author on building communities. It was Block who said what I think is maybe the clearest explanation of why this topic of Neighborhood Economics needs to be explored now: “Our current system is not making us happy or safe.” This system is not working for anybody, the haves and the have nots. As we look at changing the system and impacting the people who have a vested stake in the current system, we need to remember that; this system is not working for them, either. Here are Block and Brueggeman are talking together about data versus narrative.
I wrote this for the Federal Reserve’s think tank publication, that comes out of San Francisco. Because of that entrepreneurs who can pay something like a dividend approach me. We have come up with this, which Tim Freundlich agrees needs to be created by a loose consortia of entrepreneurs and investors:
Impact Founders Fund
Creation of a holding company model to allow founders of established
ventures to put in 1-20% of their holdings to a pool that will then
provide partial liquidity to founders and a derisked cooperative, diverse
holding of long term positions in all for all. Idea would be to attract 20
entrepreneurs/managers to put in perhaps an average of 10% of their
holdings. If we assume that the average company would be valued at $15mm,
and the average entrepreneur groups hold about 40% or $6mm and put 10% in
for $600,000 of which they would get $300,000 out in cash from the fund
and $300,000 in shared holdings of the pool, it would indicate a holding
company 50% owned by entrepreneurs, 50% by investors, owning about 4% of
the companies in the pool. And we’d need a capitalization in cash of $6mm
and a total value of $12mm. We could over course increase the scale from
10% to 20% average and double the sizing.
I am just starting to make a list of some of the thinkers and doers we need to touch base with, involve and learn from as we shape and curate the content for Neighborhood Economics. There is Michael Shuman, local economy theorist and practitioner, Michelle Long, who leads Balle, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, as does the group’s founder, Judy Wicks, who I talked to for the first time at the Share conference. Michel Bauwens work on the economy that arises from the commons that uses Netarchy Capital (where the network guides the capital, not the hierarchy) is relevant. We will need to incorporate some of the ideas of David Bollier; his thinking on the commons, into Neighborhood Economics. John Fullerton and Hunter Lovins on Regenerative Capital should be included. Janell Orsi on T Corporations, or coops, as well as Gar Alperovitz on other ownership structures need a place, too. Steve Wright’s on love and money might fit in. The foundational thinkers we are teeing off of are Walter Brueggeman and Peter Block, talking together. It’s great that Slow Money’s conference is there right before us, and that the Biodynamic Farming conference is the day after us; people will be thinking deeply about place, and about economy, and how we fit within it, sandwiched between those events.
That’s only one of the questions my friend Gar Alperovitz says during a really good interview with Orion Magazine. It’s the kind of issue that we are going to talk about at our Neighborhood Economics conference in Louisville November 12-13 and it’s one we will start getting into at SOCAP14.
“The fundamental questions at the heart of our many crises, is, who controls wealth?,”Gar says.
“Throughout history, controlling wealth is a big part of controlling politics and, as a result, making decisions about the future. And the richest four hundred people in America have more wealth than the bottom 180 million. So the efforts in cities like Cleveland to change patterns of wealth ownership at small and medium scales, local and regional scales, are very important in terms of building political power. They’re doing it at the neighborhood scale, through cooperative forms, and within an ecologically intelligent context.
“In contrast to corporations, which have every interest in cutting costs wherever possible, locally rooted cooperative institutions are inherently responsible to people and place. They give local people a stake in the enterprise, which means that the health of the community comes first. Local people have good jobs, and the land, air, and water are treated with care.
He concludes with this:
“What I’m talking about is the reconstruction of a culture of community in this country. Neither simple reform of old institutions nor “revolution.” And that’s a project that depends not only on local-level work, but also on institution building and long-term cultural change. It’s not just about climate change or any other issue; it’s about re-conceiving ourselves as people who care about the country and want to move it in a different direction. I think younger people get that and understand it instinctively.
Through all of this, we should remember to think of ourselves as historical actors. We are facing systemic problems, like climate change, that are historic in scale. And you don’t change systems without thinking in terms of decades. Remember, big shifts happen all the time in world history: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, even the modern environmental movement. But all of these things were thirty or forty years in development before they exploded. That’s true of the civil rights movement: there were people in the 1930s and ’40s whose names we’ve never heard of who were developing a long-term vision that made possible what happened in the 1960s. Without that kind of a vision, there is no base for a larger change.
Developing a democratically oriented alternative to capitalism can’t be done overnight. This work requires a different sense of time and a deep sense of commitment—the bargaining chips are decades of our lives. But the shifts are already happening in places like Cleveland and Boulder. What we’re seeing is the prehistory, possibly, of the next great change, in which a movement is built from the grassroots that becomes the foundation of a new era.”