Cool, on TheAbsentPositionIWasArguingAgainst Oli invites me to put up all my half baked ideas for you all to take pot-shots at. :-)
OK, I don't think any radical political renewal is going to come from government as currently understood. It has to come from us and the institutions we renew and build.
Here's a list (in progress) of places I think things are happening (and could be pushed to happen further.)
(Labor unions for US readers)
I think Unions are due for a resurgence to take the lead in post-NationState rebalancing of power between labour and capital. And they need to embrace a whole range of SocialSoftware tools for this.
- Weblogs (of course ;-) from every union representative on every shop-floor, with real ClueTrain style voice, will help build a sense of community among the members. And keep them informed what's going on in their work-place. Weblogs also to exchange warnings : "here's how management tried to break us in Guatamala" and tactics : "here's how we succesfully resisted in Sri Lanka". As the connections and sharing of information grows it should be possible to co-ordinate actions, introducing the possiblilty of world-wide strikes against companies. Attacking all alternative suppliers at once. Or surgical actions : "we refuse to handle parts from factory X today because the manager is abusive"
- Unions can then use this increased power to push for the right to build their own information system (what I call TheWebCamInTheFactory) to monitor the conditions at work. Officials should have CorporateDashboards with little-red-lights that go on, warning that employees in Manilla have been asked to work unpaid overtime for three weeks in a row. Basically, the one group companies can't hide their bad habits from are their own employees. Those employees need to become sensors in a global nervous system protecting worker's rights.
- Then, unions should also strive to become trusted (and trustworthy) sources of information about companies for outsiders. As a consumer I want to visit a union site and know, not just that brand X is responsible for river pollution, but that model TXH1138 from brand X is made in the factory that polluted the river, but I can buy THX1139 which is almost equivalent and is made in a more modern, more environmentally friendly factory. I want to be able to accurately target my purchases to reward the parts of companies that do good and punish the parts that do bad.
- Wall-street analysts and investors should be reading the union website, and union's own analyses and forecasts for the company. And share-prices will depend on keeping the unions onside.
Essentially unions need to pick up what NationState government has fumbled : the policing of corporates. (And remember CorporationsArePsychopaths who need a lot of policing.)
This doesn't mean unions try to kill corporates. Or even where labour becomes so powerfull it basically exploits capital. But it means re-establishing a balance of power where labour is a roughly equally empowered stake-holder in the company, and in partnership with capital in making corporations work for everybody. Unions won't be given that as a right so now they have to win this capacity back; and to do so, their strength is that they are networks rather than hierarchies. And they should learn to think like GlobalGuerrillas. (Non violent ones, of course.)
(Interestingly, I think this should be perfectly acceptable to Libertarians, who don't see any problem with oligarchies. A union is basically just an agreement of workers to act as a cartel, and negotiate as a block.)
2) Wider public understanding of economic systems
This is basically the Optimaes vision.
There are thousand of kids out there writing FreeSoftware in all kinds of complex, technical domains : operating system kernels, computer graphics, social software, evolutionary simulations etc. I just want a couple of hundred of them, passionate about and writing simulations to explore populations of economic agents. I want them to apply these simulations to answering whatever questions they're curious about : how much taxation is too much? what happens when we suddenly remove trade barriers between two previously disconnected populations? Does a demurrage currency stimulate longer term thinking? etc.
In addition, I want a few thousand more, politically motivated, bloggers (of all political persuasions) to look at, and comment on, and criticise, the results of these simulations. I want the results to trickle into the popular understanding, the way "six degrees of separation" or "cutting taxes stimulates the economy" does.
All of which sets the scene for ...
I think we need to disperse our economic activity across a number of currencies at different scales.
What's the advantage from a world-saving perspective? I think there are two :
- It allows communities to create and control the money supply to suit their particular needs. (BernardLietaer talks about them as a gearbox : FourLevelMonetaryGearbox). One community might choose to give gifts. Another to allow people to issue personal credit. In another, a local authority may issue a currency and tax it to support community services.
- A second, and I think more radical virtue which will become apparent in the long term, is that multiple currencies will prevent the concentration of wealth and power in any place or group. Small towns who carry out half their internal trade in a local currency, won't be losing any of the value generated by that trade to external lenders as interest repayments on loans. Now, the obvious downside of this, is that this will also mean a lack of investment from the outside. My hunch is that this loss is less important than the benefit. But public understanding through simulation should produce a lot more knowledge about this, which will inform people's decisions about whether to start or join a local AltMoney initiative.
Complementary currencies will come from different directions :
- From traditional AltMoney people
- From companies releasing CorporateScrip like air-miles.
- From poor, recession-hit, communities needing to invent their own money to get by.
- From hacker pioneers grafting point and reputation systems onto SocialNetworkingSoftware.
- From innovations with commercial online payment systems like PayPal and MicroPayments.
- From local government support to stimulate the depressed regions
- From charities
- From buyers-clubs
I also think we need to understand PlatformWars being fought, currently over operating systems and standards like RSS or YASNS. Because types of money are platforms. And there'll be a new round of platform-wars between these different currencies. Corporates will try to persuade us that their "proprietory" scrip are the most useful and flexible. Alternative, community-based currencies will need to fight back. They'll need to understand why people switch platforms and how to persuade them, embracing and extending, NetworkExternalities and LockIn etc.
The other challenge is how AltMoney can scale to allow what's desirable about a global economy : including division of labour, countries which are specialized due to their national resources etc. I think this isn't insoluble. Lietaer's gear-box model includes an global currency for international trade. And not all local communities will be spatially locallized. Some will be focused on spatial communites, but others will be globally distributed networks. There's be planty of enterprising money changers setting themselves up as exchanges at the interfaces of these networks. But because no currency will be all powerful, these connectors will need to hold their wealth within multiple currency networks.
Another possibility is the PollutionRightBackedCurrency. This needs more global political co-ordination to police pollution and turn rights into property. However, there's lots of talk of this, and if it comes to pass, the rights should really be distributed fairly.
4) Increase in GiftEconomies and AlternativesToCompanies
Part of the rise of plurality of currencies will be an increase in gift giving and reputation economies. We're already seeing these appearing and growing in importance via the net. Now I don't honestly see the world able to switch away from paid transaction : as Oli suggests, and I'm sure, Bill agrees, there's always crap work to be done, and payment is a better way to motivate people than threats of violence. But gift and reputation based activities will flourish. And these activities give more meaning to people's lives, help build their sense of self-worth and make them more at ease with their neighbours than impersonal, alienated selling of labour and goods.
5) Increasing importance of local politics
If we succeed in 1 - 4, then it's worth looking at the machinery of state and government. With the decline of TheNationState and rise of network organizations, we should see regional parties gaining in importance. Also, green and DecentralizedLeft parties might be able to establish power-bases in sympathetic areas. (CreativeClass cities or agricultural regions.) These will be able to support some various experiments such as funding local research centres; tax breaks for environmental tech. companies; official support and backing for complementary currency schemes; barter deals with local companies such as the one in Curitiba, Brazil where the local authority gave developers planning permission in exchange for them renovating old buildings.)
More to be added when I think of them :-)
Hmm.... the complimentary currencies suggestions (3,4) are probably the most 'beyond tinkering' ... and we could have a debate about whether we a) already have quite a bit of this through national currencies and LETS schemes, and b) whether or not being paid in a non-transferable currency is a good thing (couldn't this 'lock' some people in - whereas others use 'liberated' currencies - if your money cant travel then neither can you!)
Otherwise I think .. so far .. these are mostly suggestions to campaign to imporve exisiting things a little ... which is essential to having healthy politics.
But when I look at the world today .. the culture and politics that we have ... I cannot help but notice the huge shaping effect that certain technologies have had on what is possible .. of course politics and culture have then shaped how we use and commercialise these technologies, but our global society would just instantly be soo different if we imagine it without:
telephone network (mobiles as well)
cheap personal computers + internet (as opposed to centralised mainframes)
TV and radio
I still think it's fair to take the attitude that such technologies have a dramatic effect on what's possible and that politics and culture then learn how to adapt these technologies as usefully as possible. In the process of adopting the technologies politics and culture are dramatically transformed. While we can make adjustments to how we choose to use these technologies - I suppose I just think that we are much more constrained than you guys do.
While its vitally important to always push the boundaries - campaign for better, fairer use of our technology - I think there comes a point where you are pushing at a brick wall. The only way to change where the wall is - is to change the technology itself - change the constraints. Change the context in which our economy and politics is working.
So as well as political pressue to constantly make the world a better place - I think we urgently need to find the next item that goes on the list above. The next technology that can have a transformational effect on the efficiency of our economy and/or organisation of our society. The following page is for a list of TheTechnologiesIdLikeToResearch - and briefly why I think these would be useful / important.
See also :