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  • Posted July 24th, 2022

    New tools and ideas for building the commons economy

    New tools and ideas for building the commons economy

    In last week’s article I talked about the need for an economy that doesn’t funnel wealth and power to a tiny minority, but lamented the fact that whatever we do, we don’t seem to get any closer to it. This week I’m going to look more at what I think is the most promising approach – the Commons economy, and the tools and ideas that are being developed to help build it. I’ll also talk about how Lowimpact proposes to help build the Commons economy, what new things are coming up over the coming weeks and months, and how you can join in.

    The commons economy: and the tools and ideas to build it

    The Commons economy is not, like capitalism, built around the private ownership of the means of production – but neither is it, like socialism, built on the state ownership of those means. It’s about reinstating the commons, that have been gradually enclosed over the centuries, first by the state and more recently by capitalists.

    The Commons economy is hard to build. How do we bring essential infrastructure and resources into common ownership without going into debt or giving away equity – both of which would eventually erode the commons and deliver the infrastructure and resources back to capitalists?

    Some tools and ideas are currently being developed that will, I believe, make it much easier to build the Commons economy. For example:

    • Mutual credit – moneyless trading that could allow us to take control of the money system from banks, and to replace fiat / bank credit with credit we create amongst ourselves. More information here.
    • Credit Commons – a protocol that can link mutual credit and other trading networks around the world into a new global trading system. More information here.
    • Use-credit obligations (UCOs) – a way to build commons infrastructure without going into debt or giving away equity. They are future resource vouchers sold at a discount. So for example, a community energy scheme could issue energy credit obligations and sell them at a discount to raise the money to put up a wind turbine. When the turbine is built and generating electricity, purchasers of ECOs can redeem them for electricity. Purchasers of ECOs save money on electricity, and can use them as a savings instrument that can be redeemed or sold, and that is inflation-proof (ECOs are denominated in kWh not the national currency, and a kWh now is still a kWh in ten years’ time). Issuers of ECOs receive investment without having to go into debt or give away equity. The concept also works for housing, land, care, food, transport or any other sector of the economy. More information here.
    • Nondominium – a means of owning commons resources that can achieve the scale and longevity that other attempts at collective ownership find difficult (the Co-op Bank and most building societies are now owned by a hedge fund and the banking sector respectively). More information here.

    There are projects springing up all over the world using these concepts, which we’ll be reporting on as they develop. But even if none of these projects work, it’s the concepts that are world-changing, in ways that nothing else seems to be – not party politics, not crypto or other tech ‘solutions’, not co-ops or mutuals, not protest, not petitioning etc. It’s the most interesting corner of the political / economic universe, imho. These solutions are completely community-based, and as each community is different, they’ll need different approaches in different places – but based on the core ideas.

    Our role

    We’d like to work with three main groups of people:

    1. ‘Builders’, already involved in developing the infrastructure of the new system.
    2. ‘Switched on’ people, interested in system change via the Commons.
    3. The mainstream.

    1. ‘Builders’

    This may well be you. The type of people we’ve been interviewing and will continue to interview, to help spread the word about what they’re doing.

    Networking is key. No good is going to come from lone (usually male) individuals working in their bedrooms on ‘grand narratives’. Let it go. It has to be collaborative.

    In 2019 we brought together CEOs and national co-ordinators of community energy, community-supported agriculture, tech co-ops, social care co-ops, land co-ops, housing and worker co-ops, transport co-ops, the Permaculture Association, plus representatives from Preston council (cf. ‘the Preston Model’), as well as the builders of Commons tools. We aim to host more of these meetings, as well as opening other channels of communication, to talk about: barriers to the development of the Commons in each sector, and how to overcome them; how to connect the Commons-building work in each sector to help build an overall Commons economy.

    There’s ambition to launch a ‘Commons Society’, and to produce books, online courses and documentaries.

    We need to build successful working networks, to demonstrate as examples to replicate. Then we can build ‘Commons towns’. I’ve recently moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire, which is a great candidate – initially for a Housing Commons – the ‘rock’ on which the Commons can be built. We’ll blog about it as things develop.

    2. ‘Switched on’ people

    The people I talk with most. I’m assuming that as you’re reading this, you’re in this group – you can see the danger of the direction we’re moving in, and know that we’re not going to change direction with this economic system, but you maybe can’t see a route to system change. We’d like to invite you in to use and help build the elements of the Commons economy. We know that we’ve helped several ‘switched on’ people become ‘builders’ – including a nuclear physicist now helping build mutual credit schemes, and someone who co-founded a social care co-op with an internal mutual credit trading system – so we know it works, and we hope we can attract many more.

    For this group, we’ll be interviewing specialists and adding new topics to the site:

    • Pattern language – done
    • Use-credit obligations – interview done, coming soon
    • Sociocracy – interviewing Ted Rau of Sociocracy For All next week
    • Nondominium
    • Credit clearing
    • Credit Commons
    • Housing commons
    • Energy commons
    • Land commons
    • Care commons
    • Food commons
    • the Commons economy
    • Mutual credit clubs
    • Trade credit clubs

    We’ll also be re-writing various topics, including New economy, Low-impact living and Mutual credit.

    And we’ll be producing articles to provide accessible introductions to the work of ‘builders’ (and to allow you to ask them questions directly):

    • Introducing the Credit Commons Society.
    • Outline of new book about the Commons economy, built around a core of housing, energy and credit commons.
    • News from mutual credit groups in Lancashire, London, India and Sweden.
    • Introducing Island Power and their energy credit obligations (ECOs)
    • New developments with the Credit Commons.
    • The establishment of Housing Commons and Energy Commons groups.
    • How existing co-ops and mutuals can engage with the Commons.

    We need your help. At the very least:

    • Promotion – word of mouth, blog, social media.
    • Tell us how to get people’s attention and to get across the Commons idea.
    • Find people in your community who might be interested in setting up and maintaining Commons infrastructure.
    • Become a member – we’ll be launching a membership scheme soon, with a £2 per month subscription; please consider joining, to help fund the work outlined here.

    But also:

    • Work – we’re looking for people – coders, marketers, fundraisers, networkers, housing, energy, food, finance or community development specialists, or anyone who’d like to talk with other local people about building commons institutions in their communities. Let us know if you’re interested.

    Let’s build Commons towns and network them together.

    3. The mainstream

    When the Commons sector is growing, we need to provide the mainstream with tools that will bring them immediate benefits – in terms of cost, but also of security, including housing and job security, or even fun. We don’t need any persuasion or appeals to altruism – and this is crucial to the spread of new ideas and practices; only a minority will act due to altruism.

    The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's


    • 1Malcolm purvis July 24th, 2022

      Hi Dave,

      Sounds excellent. Keep up the good work!!

    • 2Dave Darby July 24th, 2022

      Thanks Malcolm. D

    • 3lin scrannage July 25th, 2022

      I’m really pleased to see that you are talking to Ted Rau. Bridport Cohousing has been using Sociocracy as its governance tool for many years now and it is an excellent way of making policy, selecting individuals to do specific tasks, and to reach an agreement which is good enough and safe enough to try, without any individual being able to block a decision that is trying to be made. It positively enables collective wisdom to bring forward creativity and the guys from SoFA are really experienced.

    • 4Dave Darby July 25th, 2022

      Hi Lin

      Yes, we’ve been using it with the Credit Commons Society. It’s great. I mean, it’s just a tool – it’s not something in and of itself that can move us in the right direction I don’t think, in that it can be used by Unilever just as well as it can be used by a co-operative or commons group. But if people get used to the idea of collective rather than top-down decision-making, they might also question the ownership of an organisation, and which way the money moves within it. But yes, I’m looking forward to interviewing Ted.

    • 5Chik April 9th, 2023

      I'd love to see Education commons as a concept including. Open Educational Resource is more and more established, and the best content should be available under a creative commons license, accessible to all.

    • 6Dave Darby April 9th, 2023

      Chik - definitely. We're looking to introduce people interested in all sectors, with a view to 'commoning' them. And we'll be adding new topics as ideas emerge and develop.

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