| Last week I outlined a scenario for a post-capitalist, post-consumer economy , and suggested that the engine for this economy would be New Collaborative Enterprises (NCEs), which writer-philosopher Daniel Quinn first envisaged and called New Tribal Ventures. The purpose of this post is to lay out a blueprint for creating such enterprises. It’s very rough. This is very much a work in process, a first inarticulate attempt to spec out something potentially very important. Please write me and tell me how to make it better.
Are You Ready?
If you are retired, you should put these questions in the past tense and answer them in respect of the final few years of your ‘working’ life. If your answers would have been ‘no’ then, you’re probably ready to help others establish NCEs. The under-utilized talents of retired citizens will play a critical role in building this new economy.
Even if you answer ‘yes’ to most of the first four questions and ‘no’ to the fifth, you may be ready to at least start thinking about establishing an NCE, and knowing more about them might ultimately change your answers to the earlier questions.
What is a New Collaborative Enterprise?
Practically speaking, an NCE is limited in size by the necessity to involve all members in most decision-making, and by the need for that decision-making to be consensual, agreed to by all members without the need for voting. How is an NCE different from other types of collaborative enterprise?
The ‘agreed-upon’ principles by which NCEs operate are more like a code of conduct than a corporate charter. Although every NCE will have its own principles, the following common principles will probably be necessary both to differentiate the NCE from a commercial business enterprise (and hence attract disenchanted people away from those enterprises), and for the survival of NCEs collectively:
I am sure that many readers will see the above principles as naive and unworkable, perhaps even contrary to human nature. Families in fact operate on similar principles, and our record at keeping them together and functioning well without coercion is unimpressive. However, I believe that once several NCEs show the way, and prove that this model of making a living works well, with much happier members than the employees of traditional commercial enterprises, the tipping point at which this model begins to supplant the old economic model could be reached quite quickly.
This model is instinctively more human, more satisfying, and more sustainable than the commercial model that underpins our current economy. If a large number of people, as a matter of principle, only bought goods made domestically, this would radically refocus the economy on local job-generating production. Likewise, if a large number of people only bought goods and services from NCEs, the exploitative, acquisitive, destructive consumer-capitalist economy would quickly go the way of past ‘obsolesced’ economies. The old economy would be simply and painlessly replaced.
How to Create a New Collaborative Enterprise
That’s it. From here on, it’s just like setting up and running any other unincorporated enterprise. With the right talent, energy, and stewardship, it’s hard to go wrong. Here are the basic steps to get started, Entrepreneurialism 101 :
It is not inconceivable that the line between your members and your customers will blur or even disappear, especially if the enterprise is large and your offering is a basic need like food. Self-sufficiency, as people who live on islands know, is a good thing.
There will be failures. We’ve been conditioned to compete with those we work with, to take out more than we put in (if we can get away with it), to work at what we think we’re good at rather than what we really want to do, and to allow decisions to be made without consensus. These are hard things to unlearn. Just as there are failed marriages, it will take some time and experience to figure out exactly who we each want to make a living with, and most of us won’t get it entirely right the first time. But such failures are critical lessons and have a very low cost — you just change the membership and keep going. There are no shares, no corporations to wind up, no bankruptcies, no lawyers or accountants or bankers to have to deal with, no property to divide up.
This is very early thinking on this subject, and much more thinking needs to be done, and many lessons learned, before the launching of New Collaborative Enterprises can become an art, much less a science. As with all human ventures, we’ll figure out how to do this by trial and error, and the pioneers will pave the way. We need people to build on these ideas, to spread the word, to talk about it and tinker with the model I’ve outlined above, probably until it is unrecognizable, and until it isn’t my idea, but ours.
Next installment: What readers and others have to say, and who’s actually doing it.
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