Cultures which promote cooperative economic strategies to reduce dependence on monetary systems, and provide for human need at a community level are inherently more stable and egalitarian than competitive models.
Imagine if one day you woke up to the news that a massive crisis was in the process of unfolding. You rush to the bank to withdraw cash only to realize that you were not the first person to have this idea, and the banks do not have enough money to go around. You drive to the grocery store to find lines out the door and most of the shelves already empty. You find the same kind of scene at the gas station. Imagine this is no short term crisis. The problems not only do not get fixed, but in fact get progressively worse. The monetary system is broken and there’s no putting it back together again.
Now you’re the kind of person who thinks ahead, so you’ve been working towards self sufficiency for some time now. You grow a lot of your own food already, your house is off of the grid, and you have quite a few practical skills under your belt, but there’s only do so much if you’re alone. To survive, you and your neighbors need to work together. How do you accomplish this without money?
For over 300,000 years, prior to the dawn of civilization and the advent of money, humans relied on the reciprocity instinct to facilitate cooperation and the distribution of resources.
When one wolf succeeds on a hunt, that wolf shares and the whole pack eats. The act of sharing is not altruistic. By working together the pack succeeds in situations where an isolated individual would fail. Those who give are paid back in kind. Survival rate statistically increases for all members. We can refer to this strategy as cooperative economics.
Cooperative economics requires no batteries. The most ancient of all economic strategies, it is simple and dependable like a knife. It can be engaged by individuals or families taking turns assisting each other, or working together towards a common good (a community barn raising for example). One party can initiate with a simple gesture of generosity. The instinct to repay that generosity is then channeled into a tradition of mutual assistance. Maintained over time, the cooperative effort of these exchanges build emotional bonds and the fabric of community (aka tribe). Taken to its fullest extent, it renders money obsolete.
Would you charge your mother for food? Would you charge your brother for a place to sleep? Most would reply “Of course not…” and with good reason.
Sharing is rational within the context of family, extended family, and tribe. Among social animals individual survival is tied to group survival. The real question is how far this can be extended.
Monetary and cooperative economic systems are both powered by psychology; however, the social dynamics, and secondary effects are fundamentally different.
Money utilizes the psychology of scarcity to set value, and gives rise to competitive behavior, hoarding and economic stratification. When currency is abundant prices rise. Money works best when there isn’t enough to go around. In societies which run on money, status is defined by how much one has. Wealth attracts social validation. Poverty attracts scorn.
Wealth has the tendency to accumulate. It’s much easier to make money if you are already have some to start with. The ability to purchase productive assets and obtain loans amplifies earning potential. The gap between the haves and the have nots is therefore naturally inclined to increase.
The storage and security issues inherent as wealth accumulates, give rise to banks and other economic choke points. Control of these chokepoints is a form of power in and of itself. Those who control the flow are king.
Cooperative economics, in contrast, utilizes a psychology of abundance, and is oriented towards cooperative behavior. Inequality is inherently limited. Status within such societies is defined by contribution rather than accumulation. Generosity and productivity attract social validation. Greed and hoarding attract scorn.
Cooperative economics builds socioeconomic spheres which operate independently from debt based monetary systems. The act of working together to meet shared needs builds unity. During times of hardship these bonds are strengthened by necessity. When money is scarce or unavailable, the value of reciprocal exchange becomes more pronounced.
Some will argue that the move from reciprocal to transactional economics was the price that had to be paid for technological advancement, and that this was an inevitable and irreversible step forward for our species. After all, without a profit motive, what incentive would inventors have to push the envelope? The open source research and development model demonstrates a viable alternative.
Open source is a form of cooperative economics. Code, designs and documentation are distributed without charge. Those who use these products are allowed to customize and improve them. Those improvements are in turn released back to the community. Everyone benefits, and the final product is often more stable and competitive than proprietary products.
A clear example of this can be found in Linux. Linux is an open source operating system that runs the vast majority of the servers on the internet, as well as 84% of smartphones on the market (Android runs on Linux). Linux is also installed on a growing number of devices such as TVs, drones, home automation systems, cars etc…
Similarly Wordpress, an open source content management system (used to create websites), has far outpaced commercial alternatives. It is very difficult for paid products to compete with free (especially when the free version works better).
Given the success of open source in the digital realm, one might be inclined to ask why this approach isn’t used everywhere. The answer to this question is simple: intellectual property law (aka IP) locks down proven designs and prevents them from being copied. Rather than standardizing what works and improving upon it, inventors are forced to go back to the drawing board, essentially reinventing the wheel. In the realm of physical manufacturing, the cost of setting up new factories, and designing from scratch, prevents most companies from even considering open sourcing their work.
This state of affairs protects the profits of patent holders, but wastes vast amounts of time and resources on redundant R&D, and slows technological advancement. It also makes it possible for corporations to buy out the rights for inventions which threaten their business model, thereby preventing such technologies from ever reaching the public.
Humanity’s next industrial revolution begins with a simply understanding: No one can own an idea. Technological advancements operate on the same plane as scientific breakthroughs, and should be treated as such. The free flow of information is essential to human progress and must never be restrained.
With the advent of 3D printing and automated manufacturing systems, designs for physical objects can be shared and improved upon in the same manner as software. Entire libraries of free 3D models already exist and are rapidly expanding. As automated manufacturing technologies improve, this trend can only accelerate
Cooperative economics can be used alongside barter and other forms of transactional exchange. Open source functions without profit motive, but is compatible with, and is often utilized in commercial endeavors. Developers who contribute high quality code are in high demand, and are well compensated for commercial work. This ability to form hybrid economic systems provides a roadmap for transition.