One of the tenants for building a healthy economy is the notion of commonwealth, what we share as a community together. Now this notion of commonwealth is more than simply our streets, parks and waterways. It’s also our experience, intelligence, our shared values, our innate wisdom. And while I have written previously about the idea of sharing commonwealth, I believe it requires a deeper examination. How it fits within our society. How it shifts the values of our society. How it redirects the thinking that drives our economic system. And how it rewards us for the common work we do together.
Our agent-based economy, whether that agent is an individual, group or corporation, has been built on the notion of the ascendency of the agency. How can the individual, group, or corporation personally benefit from interactions that produce more, money, influence, and power. To those who have achieved the greatest success in this win-at-all-costs marketplace, this methodology works brilliantly. To those excluded from this success zone, the prospects are not so promising. And so what we find, as report after report, and pundit after pundit proclaims, the rich are getting richer and poor poorer. And instead of finding ways to increase our commonwealth, we have gotten to the point where what was traditionally considered commonwealth is being sold off to the highest bidder… or in some cases the only bidder.
Building a healthy economy from an economic perspective focused on how much can we pull from the system, as opposed to what we can generate to create a healthier system, seems like the ultimate delusion. And in spite of our awareness about all the disparities we are creating, there seems no way to stop this particular dash for the cliff. Damn it, we’re going to go full throttle to the very end and take all we can.
Ah, but there are some saner perspectives surfacing. On a local level, we are seeing the emergence of collaborative markets and cooperative economies that as Ray Podder describes in a recent article, shows the first steps in moving from a bottom line to a full-circle economy.
When I first encountered Ray and his colleagues they were working on a software package that would address payment structures for collaborative efforts. This question of how we create a collaboration economy that recognizes the complexity of the collaborators interactions and rewards them according to their contribution is crucial. Questions arise like: How do we separate what emerges from collaborative interactions back to individual agents? How do we quantify and evaluate effort within a collaboration? And then, how do we reward the collected effort?
Podder and his colleagues believed those systems could be developed and were hard at work to do so. Is there a need? I think so. We are seeing a growth in communities like those found in Northern Italy and Southern Spain, where shared economic services are demonstrating not only great efficiency, but lowering costs for those in need of these critical services. We have seen a continual emergence of local complimentary currency schemes, from Berkshares to Brixton pounds, which with the advent of smart phones, have made these transactions even easier to calculate and circulate. And with the rapid sprouting of local, urban farm coops, on city rooftops and in once abandoned buildings, we are finding new resources for local food.
Podder believes we can actually “implement and integrate systemic efficiencies, and install intelligent peer to peer allocation systems… This creates the next opportunities for both producers and consumers to become investors in each other’s mutual prosperity. Consumers can invest in their producers by allocating resources through prepaid memberships, while producers can invest in their consumers by passing on the savings full circle.
There are certainly skeptics who would argue that mass producing this economic system is impossible. The major drivers of our economy would never allow it and surely the complexity would overwhelm it. But what if the pickings appear so small, in the estimation of these behemoths, that they simply ignore this collaborative segment of the market. Ignorance can be the great leveler, because as need replaces scales of efficiency, and appropriate environmental land use supersedes corporate bottom lines, and something looking very much like compassion for others seems to well-up from our collaborative efforts, we indeed begin to come full-circle in painting our healthy economic picture.
However, before we start printing yet another complimentary currency, or producing another Bitcoin online, let’s return to the question of quantifying and evaluating collaboration. This is truly at the heart and pocketbook of any economic direction. As my recent edited book, Creating Good Work—The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy, makes abundantly clear, we are not going to solve the social issues facing our societies without highly effective collaboration and integrated interaction. And with all our best intensions aside, we will not be able to establish these truly effective collaborations without a system for rewarding and compensating effort. Defining worth within our collaboration economics becomes a crucial step. When all of us are working interactively to solve a problem, how do we all benefit and is that distribution equal?
One traditional measure has always been time. And we pay for time based on such things as skill, need, speed of delivery, quality, craftsmanship, experience, expertise, depth of impact, entertainment value, inventiveness, and on and on. Does a brain surgeon’s time equal a school teacher’s? Does a software engineer’s time equal that of a nurse? Of course, quantity of time spent is not a significant enough measure. But evaluating time quality can be equally challenging. There is little question that evaluating value is costly and time consuming, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do something about it. Perhaps we leave the evaluation of an individual participant’s intangible worth factors to the marketplace. Or maybe we create an evaluation point system that is co-scored by the members of the collaboration as to the participation of the other members. Or perhaps we simply eliminate the individual component from the equation? By its very nature, a collaboration is a group effort and no matter the perception of the individual contribution all agree to an initial equal compensation for what transpires.
There is a great deal of talk about the need for effective collaboration, but little written that really addresses how it is compensated. We have seen that paying everyone the same rarely works.
Perhaps the answer lies in a return to commonwealth. What we share together. In the open source software arena, folks are able to utilize the open source material both for the collective benefit and their own. Perhaps the collaborative arrangement is a similar sort of alignment. What we create together we all own and can use together or independently, but always appropriately.
Those engaged in building a collaboration economy often take for granted that those who want to participate are more interested in generating enough wealth for themselves and their families as opposed to being driven by the golden lure of vast wealth. But even enough wealth requires appropriate compensation. So if collaboration is truly critical to solving the major social challenges we face today, how we learn to share what emerges when we share our wisdom together is equally as critical.