re: Take 4 – Ch 4, plus ‘co-ops’

2010-07-06

Richard Moore

Bcc: contributors, reviewers, & FYI
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Greetings, 

Not many people have responded to the ‘Take 4’ posting, but there have been a few interesting comments and questions. I’ll take the lack of response as a sign that I’ve done a reasonable job of incorporating people’s suggestions.

At the bottom is the latest section of the book, co-ops, the final section of ‘Revitalizing the local economy‘. 
rkm
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Hazel Ashton wrote:
Dear Richard,
 

Just read your chapter – the emergence of localism – sent out via Project Lyttelton newsletter http://www.lyttelton.net.nz – I think it an excellent summation. I am writing to ask if I could have permission to publish on my website http://www.village-connections.com

   

Look forward to hearing from you

Best wishes
Hazel Ashton


It’s good to see the synapses working in the people’s neural Internet.

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Vera B wrote:

Hi Richard, a few bits of feedback re your latest. I like the section on local money… I had an uneasy feeling that maybe a system that demands voluntary “fiscal prudence” has a fatal flaw… then I remembered the Guernsey pound. 🙂 What is the track record there? 150 or so years of fiscal prudence? 
Would local money be allowed to persist if it become successful, sweeping into the mainstream? That is the big question. In Wörgl, they had to employ the army to crush local money… but crush it they did.
 Best —
 Vera


Hi Vera,

I like your process, first doubting the likelihood of fiscal prudence, and then thinking of your own counter-example. Learning by re-examining your own assumptions. Not a big deal, but you’d be surprised at how many dialogs I’ve had with people who never seem to take that step back, and take the initiative to question their own assumptions. I also like the fact that empiricism won out over theory, as it always should and seldom does.
In some sense you are rediscovering that “The Tragedy of the Commons” is a myth. People do a good job of dealing with the commons, when they have the power to do so and it is in their mutual interest to do so. A local currency is part of the commons. The real tragedy of the commons is that it has been stolen everywhere by private interests, as it was in 

Guernsey —
 not the inability of the community to manage it. That’s what privatization is, the ongoing, systematized, theft of the commons.

Here in Wexford we have a fleet of trawlers, and each owner is struggling to make a profit. And yet they have no problem dividing up the fishing rights. They are more a collaborating fraternity of fishermen than they are competitors. A community can deal well with a commons, and the existence of a commons helps build community consciousness.
You raise the possibility of opposition, if we undertake initiatives that actually empower us, in a way that our rulers consider threatening. Yes that is a possibility, indeed more than a possibility. Local money, for example, is a direct assault on the masters of the universe – the central bankers themselves – by undermining their primary lever of control, the power to manage the money and credit supply.
If we pursue any effective path toward improving our situation, we cannot avoid undermining elite power in the process. Elite power is in fact the problem, particularly now that they have embarked on a course of intentional societal destruction, along the lines of ‘

Prognosis 2012′. 


Our problem, unless we want to passively await the destruction of our societies, is to find a path to popular empowerment that

 minimizes confrontation at all stages, and maximizes our grassroots advantages, while minimizing our adversary’s centralized advantages. Not only that, our way of pursuing empowerment must lead us to a better system, not ‘a new boss, just like the old boss’. 


From my own analysis of the broad canvas of history, politics, etc, I’ve come to the conclusion that community empowerment is such a path, or can be such a path. The increasing activist focus on localization shows that many others are looking in that direction as well. When we are focusing inward on our communities, the influence of media, politicians, and other centralized forces is minimized, and our grassroots potential is maximized. Local communication loops are the people’s communication loops, relatively secure, at least potentially, from propagandistic jamming. 
The anticipation of opposition cannot be allowed to deter us from doing what needs to be done. Rather we need to be aware of what might confront us, and take that into account. In some sense, we are in a race. We need somehow to awaken a sense of empowerment at the grassroots, before the noose has been tightened around our necks.
rkm
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Sue Stubenvoll wrote:
Hi Richard
What happens when ‘the common good’ isn’t seen as common by the whole community? The vocal minority are great for initiating change but it may not reflect either the majority or even best practice. In some ways it’s a pity that the most active people are those who don’t ‘work’. For example, I’m retired so my intellect is less sharp than when I worked daily with a wide range of intelligent people. But, if I vote across a large population, not just local, there is a greater chance of finding intellectually qualified people to articulate a more inclusive ‘common good’ and a better chance of ending up with a wider balance. Size has its uses.
How can members of a local community best balance working for the group with working for the nation and world on which they are equally (or more) reliant (eg for scarce skills: doctors and teachers, or scarce resources: cat scanners, road maintenance, telecoms, trade offices, disarmament initiatives)? Some seem to expect to get these services for free ‘on the dole’.
How do you tell a local tradesman his quality is poor if you don’t know what outside suppliers can offer? We have some great local providers but a couple are pretty poor. On the other hand they need to live too and someone has to support them. Could we persuade outside suppliers to improve our local skills if it will reduce their market?
How do local community members keep up to date with world ideas, changes and standards if the extra time they work locally (maybe doing things they believe in but may not be good at, eg growing local food) reduces their time available to understand the world and other people’s experiences and ideas? Our local activists are in contact with some really forward thinking on the things that interest them but aren’t as current with things outside their focus – eg nutritional value of foreign foods, need of developing countries to sell their products to survive, what we’re finding in Antarctic ice cores.
How do we limit the risks of local money (like our time bank)? It’s good for bartering locally available skills but a contributor may find nothing locally that (s)he needs so they get nothing in return. Like sovereign debt and currency markets, a local currency’s value is either limited to local goods and services or dependent on outsiders’ perceptions for combating risk and bartering non local goods and services (Greeks want to buy fish but can’t buy oil to catch it).
I would welcome your views.  Sue

Hi Sue,
These are very interesting questions, emerging from a systems perspective on society and social change. As I said in my personal response to you, I will be exploring these problems and how they might be dealt with as the book continues to unfold. For now, I think the most useful response I can offer is to suggest that we try to imagine what the world would look like, if the vision of community empowerment were realized. Close your eyes for a second, and get into the dreamlike space of Lennon’s, Imagine… It’s easy if you try…
Imagine that every community is managing its own affairs, all over the globe, and is doing so sensibly. 

Imagine that in every community we have found ways to participate in community governance, so that all voices are heard and common sense prevails. Imagine that the ongoing operation and improvement of our communities is seen by everyone as a common project, to which we contribute by our economic activity, and by sharing our ideas and talents and energies in other ways, and from which we benefit in a variety of ways.


We would then be living in a quite different culture than the one we have now. Our whole attitude toward working with other people, our expectations regarding our ability to influence our destiny, our sense of responsibility toward shaping our shared destiny – these things would all be shifted in fundamental ways. We’d be actors in society instead of spectators, consumers, and armchair critics. 
And most important, in our imagining, we need to think of our neighboring communities, and communities all over the world, as also being in this same culture. Far from being isolated in our communities, we would be collaborating and exchanging, both goods and ideas, on a mutual-benefit cooperative basis.
Communities won’t be self-sufficient, and they needn’t be, but at the level of bioregions and watersheds, it makes sense for the communities involved to work together to establish sustainable practices, that provide regional self-sufficiency in essential needs, as far as is practical. Of course there will still be long-distance trade in certain kinds of items, but it wouldn’t dominate our essential economics as it does now under globalization.
In such a world many of your questions fade into irrelevance. It isn’t true in such a world that the third world needs to export products in order to survive. The third world is rich in resources, and could take care of itself quite nicely, in such a global culture, where they are left alone to take charge of their own destinies. 
Such a world would not be an impoverished world, quite the contrary. And as regards best practices, those would propagate better in such a world, just as useful articles propagate on the Internet. Every community a synapse in our evolving 

species
consciousness. Quite different than a world where corporations decide which practices propagate.

I think I’ll stop there, probably having raised more questions than I’ve answered. The new questions, however, are likely to be interesting ones.
rkm
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FYI: Chapter 2:
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Co-ops
There are several kinds of co-ops, including worker-owned co-ops, consumer-owned co-ops, and co-ops whose members are other enterprises, such as a marketing co-op for local farmers. Co-ops provide both economic and cultural benefits to the community, and to co-op members.

Culturally, co-ops bring local people into a collaborative relationship, and they give them experience in managing their own ‘community affairs’, within the microcosm of the co-op. In these ways co-ops help build a sense of community, and a sense of empowerment, among community residents.

The initial funding for co-ops typically comes at least in part from the members themselves, which minimizes start-up indebtedness, and motivates the owner-members to make a success of the venture. And without non-participating investors, a co-op has the flexibility to operate on a break-even basis if that best serves the interests of the members and the nature of the co-op. In these ways, the co-op form is complementary to the goals of local self-sufficiency and community empowerment.

Consumer co-ops are a means of leveraging buying power, getting goods at wholesale prices, being able to control the quality of the goods, and being able to choose the suppliers. When people shop at a local co-op, wealth isn’t being drained from the community, as it is when they shop at corporate outlets. And the co-op can give preference to local suppliers. Unfortunately, while cheap foreign imports are still so readily available through corporate outlets, consumer co-ops can have a hard time competing in the local marketplace.

Co-ops whose members are enterprises can be leveraging either buying power or marketing budgets, depending on which side of the supply chain the co-op is operating on. These kinds of co-ops can be of considerable benefit to small local businesses, increasing their competitiveness by reducing their costs, while at the same time providing them with broader access to suppliers and markets.

Local worker-owned co-ops can be very beneficial to both the workers and the community, particularly if the members were formerly unemployed or under-employed. In these cases, the worker benefits significantly, and the community economy also gains from the productive contribution of formerly wasted local talent. Local talent is a local resource, and as with all local resources, if it can become more productive, that contributes to both community prosperity and community self-sufficiency.

Mondragon provides not only a successful model of local funding, but also a very successful and highly evolved model for worker co-ops, as described in the documentary video referenced above. They have developed a set of guidelines, and organizational mechanisms, that make for a very healthy enterprise. 

Under their system, the management team is empowered to do its job on a day-to-day basis, while at the same time the owner-workers are effectively represented at every level of the organization, ensuring that the co-op is managed in the best interests of all concerned. Ongoing communication across the levels of the organization is maintained, by means of various councils. 

A participatory spirit of ‘being on the same team’ is very important to the sound functioning of a worker-owned co-op, and at Mondragon they have learned that this spirit becomes difficult to maintain if a co-op grows too large. Rather than adding a new division to an existing co-op, for example, it often makes more sense to spin off a new autonomous co-op. 

A sense of team participation not only makes for productive and efficient operation, but it makes it easier for members to work out an equitable arrangement in bad economic times as well: Mondragón Worker-Cooperatives Decide How to Ride Out a Downturn.

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Next:
• Harmonizing community concerns
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