Twentieth Century Education
Those of us educated in the 20th century know that there are two economies: capitalism - private ownership and enterprise, and socialism/ communism -- public ownership and controlled enterprise. While there are great divides between those on one side or the other, and some who are on one side are accused of being on the other, what both of these have in common is that in practice, they concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few.
What if I told you that while capitalism under a representative republic used to represent the best freedom had to offer, and opportunities for the greatest number of citizens, that the problem is it's extracted too much?
When is the last time this economy served customers instead of extracting maximum profits from them? When is the last time this economy seemed connected with our everyday lives, instead of controlled by a few suits hundreds of miles away?
Every age comes to a close. Maybe it's time the Industrial Age of extraction did just that.
A third economy?
It's hard to detect, because it's not yet in concert. A horn plays a tune over here, a pipe over there, and there's a drummer off in the distance pounding out a catchy beat. Disconnected experiments, including cooperative economies, commons ownership, employee ownership, open source models, time dollars and barter systems, are all part of it.
Some of you are already part of it, if you're a member of a coop or a credit union, or if your company is meaningfully employee owned. Does it make you feel more free or empowered?
It's not socialism, because nothing is forcibly redistributed. It's not even extractive capitalism, because there's no small clique at the top deciding when you'll be parted with more of your money and how much it will be this time.
If capitalism extracts, and socialism spreads it around, let's call this third economy a generative economy.
Generative design relies on everyone's contribution, and generates wealth in our common life. It isn't about the domination of a few; it's about the common whole.
But, but, but...I work harder than that person over there. I want a bigger share!
You want to extract, however painfully, the most you can from your labor. I get it. This is not about your earnings being taken away from you to serve anyone else, really. It's not about some idiot occupying your building without paying; it's not about someone squatting on your American dream.
Will you agree with me that the American Dream of our parents is gone?
This is not about a few smelly Occupy protesters having some new idea in the haze of tear gas. The scale of generative economic activity is much larger than I realized.
More than 130 million Americans are members of a coop or credit union. More Americans hold membership in a coop than in the stock market. Across the nations, more than a billion people belong to a coop. Revenues from the largest coops worldwide top 2 trillion (remember the good old days when the U.S. national debt was 2 trillion under Ronald Reagan?)
If you added up these revenues as a gross national product of a nation, it would be the 9th largest national economy on earth.
It's about making profit, but not selling our souls to maximize profits.
How do I know a company is generative?
They're not a part of the extractive, suicide economy that's kicking us in the rump at the gas pump, grocery store and bank.
Like the Patagonia company, and many others, whose companies' profits go to causes of environmental solutions and anti-poverty, many of these companies are social enterprises -- making products for sale, but also serving the common good.
Because of their generative model, these places stay steady in crisis. Credit unions, because they declined to give toxic mortgages, tend not to sell off your mortgage for its part the second you sign for it, and don't get into a lot of fancy speculative investments, also don't require major bailouts when a crisis hits.
A generative company meets human needs, and creates conditions in which life can thrive. The heads of these companies make a living by serving the community. You need food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and some recreation and entertainment. You don't need a lot of inflating money on paper that doesn't do anything. You don't need junk and schemes and b.s.
92% of this economy is in consumer cooperatives. REI is the largest -- it's owned by its customers. Credit unions also fall under this category, and Navy Federal is the nation's largest. Your electric coop is also one of these.
5% are producer cooperatives. Organic Valley and Land O'Lakes are food producers banding together to market their products.
2% are purchasing cooperatives -- the biggies are Best Western Hotels and Ace Hardware Stores which are small businesses pooling resources to be competitive with big box stores. Buy Rite is another -- joining with other Affiliated stores to bring us competitive prices in a small-town store.
1% are worker cooperatives -- they are owned and democratically governed by employees. Rainbow Grocery and Arizmendi Bakery are two in the U.S.
*National Cooperative Business Association and Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives 2010 by U of WIsconsin
The UN Named 2012 the Year of the Cooperative
The generative economy is growing. It's not come from government action (in fact, the government may oppose such a thing, connected to big corporations as it is these days) or from street protest, but from the joining of genius minds and a desire for something better for everyone.
The Industrial Age turned our labor, the land, and the social order into commodities to be bought and sold. It's little wonder that our society tolerates or turns a blind eye to a situation like human trafficking. Corporations have bought and sold our time, our minds, our bodies and our health for centuries and we've let them. Why not just sell humans?
Sorry, I digress. The generative economy is about finally deciding not to squeeze any penny from things we imagine we own and dominate. Instead, it's about community.
Elements of the generative economy have been around for years -- they predate the Industrial Age. Bring it back will mean workers could take back their factory if its owners decide to abandon it. It's more freedom over our own destinies. It's more for us, more for everyone, and less want in our society.