Disaster Communalism

I. January 1, 2015. Balmorhea, Texas.


The first night is cold. We wake, bodies stiff and kinked like discarded dolls. The windows of the car reveal nothing but ice, and when we finally crack open the doors to let some air in, the outside world is much the same. Terrible and beautiful, this is the kind of ice that shuts down highways, transforms roadsides to tractor trailer junkyards, turns West Texas prairies into gleaming mirrors of the sky, silences the surrounding world.

The people of Balmorhea, Texas – this four-block town of 491 people rising unexpectedly from the desolate West Texas flatlands – haven’t seen this kind of ice in a generation. A frozen tumbleweed staggers across the road like an early morning drunk. Continue reading

On the Transition to a Commons-Based Economy

An interview with Commons Transition first published at CommonsTransition.org and republished under a Peer Production, P2P Attribution-ConditionalNonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense.

Can you define Commons Transition, tell us what it means to you?

Chris: To me, a commons transition speaks to the process of communities progressively controlling and self-governing more and more of their collective resources, by and for themselves and future generations. The “transition” implies that we are moving from one system of organizing society – in this case, global capitalism – to a wholly distinct socio-ecological paradigm rooted in age-old practices referred to as “the commons.” What’s particularly interesting about this transition is that, in many ways, it’s a return to principles of managing our homes that evolved over millennia before the onslaught of industrial capitalism. Our contemporary context is obviously much different from the indigenous and peasant cultures that sustained commons-based societies for thousands of years, but we have much to learn from them in how to undertake this transition.

I think this Commons Transition involves both a confrontation with the forces of neoliberalism – the ideology of privatization and commodification of common resources – and a flourishing of economic and political practices deeply rooted in the diverse cultures and ecologies of communities around the world. It’s ultimately about a movement toward the collective management of our common wealth, and ensuring that everyone shares access to and decision-making about the resources they depend on to thrive.

Can you share with us some examples of Commons transitions? Continue reading

Toward a True Sharing Economy

Commentary on Juliet Schor’s “Debating the Sharing Economy”

Chris’s Commentary, and Juliet Schor’s full article “Debating the Sharing Economy,” first published at Great Transition Initiative.

Juliet Schor offers us one of the most lucid, insightful, and well-researched analyses of the so-called “sharing economy,” examining the self-proclaimed social and environmental transformations that for-profit companies have claimed, and concluding, rightly I think, that the capacity of sharing economy users to organize themselves is a central factor in truly unlocking the potential of the sharing model.

Indeed, the very diversity of projects and enterprises that might fall under the “sharing economy” umbrella begets a certain potential for more socially inclusive and ecologically responsible economies. However, given the urgency of our planetary situation right now—cascading social, ecological, economic, and climatic crises unfolding around the world – it seems imperative to ask whether more profound transformations are required than what the current “sharing economy” promises. As Schor’s initial research suggests, the social and ecological impacts of many “sharing economy” enterprises are ambiguous at best, and in some cases, they are demonstrably furthering the very ills of social segregation and increased carbon emissions they purport to solve.

It’s time to deeply question whether the economic practices that comprise the mainstream sharing economy—including the recirculation of goods, peer-to-peer service exchanges, and co-production of assets—can be meaningful catalysts for a just and sustainable transition without fundamentally changing the ownership and governance structures of our entire economy. After all, accumulation (of wealth, power, decision-making) is the antithesis of sharing, and that is precisely how many sharing economy companies are structurally designed to function.

Read the full article at Great Transition Initiate

Governance Matters: Replicable Rules for an Accountable Economy

Re-posted from the New Economy Coalitions’ New Economy Week 2014, 10/15/2014

nonprofitA new economy must do more than distribute goods and services. It must also more equitably distribute meaningful opportunities for participation and wellbeing to the communities – human and ecological – so long exploited by our dominant political economy. A clue to how this can be achieved may lie in the very word “economy” itself. Derived from the Ancient Greek word οἰκονόμος, meaning “management of the home,” oἶκος is, of course, the same root found in “ecology,” meaning “study or knowledge of home.”

So how can the management or governance of our shared home – this one fragile yet resilient planet – be more deeply rooted in knowledge of that home?

The entities that provide for our most fundamental needs – food producers, grocery stores, energy utilities, water utilities, banks, housing providers, hospitals, schools – can be far more accountable to the people and communities that use them. Around the world, a multitude of projects are adopting more democratic, fluid, and purpose-driven governance models that are meeting our needs in more socially just and ecologically regenerative ways: worker cooperatives, community-supported farms, renewable energy cooperatives, cohousing communities, seed saving collectives, community land trusts, local currencies, credit unions, healthcare collectives, child-care cooperatives, community-controlled water districts, and more.

An insight emerging from these democratic projects and our understanding of ecosystem functioning is that “system structure is the source of system behavior,” as Marjorie Kelly of the Democracy Collaborative has said. Governance matters. Our governance structures must both reflect the diversity of our communities and embody the values of the growing new economies movement through democracy, justice, and appropriate scale. At the Sustainable Economies Law Center, we are working with a diverse range of new economy entrepreneurs to create replicable governance models for a wide range of projects that generate and keep wealth circulating locally: Spanish-language bylaws for an immigrant-owned catering cooperative, a distributed governance system for a freelancer-owned tech platform, and our own publicly-available organizational policies for democratically-run non-profits, to name a few.

A new economy demands new operating systems for the entities that make it up. The operating system of the status quo economy – highly centralized and multinational corporations accountable only to wealthy shareholders – has proven inadequate for the depth and breadth of change our economy requires. To the extent that new economy organizational structures empower communities to decide and co-create their own economic future, replicable innovations in governance can be a catalyst for deep transformation at scale.

As the study of our home has shown us, ecosystems are only as resilient as the health of their component parts. A more resilient economic future calls for more accountable and democratic ways of governing our home that ensure the health and fulfillment of all members of our communities.

Read more on building power and bringing a new economy to scale.

(image courtesy NEC)