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Thread: Repairing the economy from the bottom up

  1. #1
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    Repairing the economy from the bottom up

    I am about to present this proposal to church folk involved in economic/social developent in poor areas close to where I live. My first meeting is in two weeks. This is the opening pitch, more or less. I'd like any feedback or comment you have.

    Proposed: let us use a new, combined domestics/production cooperative business model derived from social experiments conducted over the past century to solidify the bottom of our economy, reduce government entitlement payouts and bring small-medium manufacturing back home where it belongs.

    I’ve been a believer in cooperative solutions for 40+ years. I’ve lived on worker-owned cooperative communities in Israel (kibbutz) and in the US (rural commune). Both were built as attempts to marry economics to social change. Both failed with the social change which has tended to obscure the fact that both achieved substantial successes with the economics.

    Both required almost no skilled labor. Both allow for turnover in population—the American ones in particular. Both relied on cooperative organization to reduce costs. Both permitted members to live significantly more plentiful lives than they could have on the same money as non-members. This is the major advantage of using the structure as a business model. It supports people well at significantly less cost.

    And that is the idea: seed this structure as a residential manufacturing company in an economically disenfranchised section of the city-region. Offer struggling people the chance to join the company to own and work their own business cooperatively. Let people keep off or get off welfare. Let them contribute something important by building small business and returning a manufacturing base to the economy. And let them create their own secure futures.

    Unlike living on a commune in deep, rural isolation under the pressure of “creating a new society” while interacting with the same people always, day in, day out, working/owning the urban company should be like holding a very flexible job doing something you like (or at least doesn’t nauseate you) or would have to do anyway while you live in a friendly neighborhood with people you happen to work with, some of whom help you out by doing your laundry, cooking for you, doing shopping for you, and helping take care of your kids. Part of your work for the company is to return this help in kind or equivalent as set by company policy (which you have a vote in setting). It all begins with the structure.


    Then follows a detailed description of the structure. If there is interest, I would be happy to share it.

  2. #2
    I would like to know more about the structure.

    And did the commune or kibbutz that you worked on ever fill up and have to turn people away? Did you ever have a shortage of anything such as not enough cars for people to run errands, that sort of thing?

  3. #3
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    Hi!

    To answer the shortage question: very few shortage conflicts. In the years I spent on kibbutz and commune, if I wanted to use a car there was usually one available. It was not an issue in daily life.

    Thanks for asking about the structure. Here’s a description. I’m sorry this is so long. Every time I write this description I make it a little shorter. If it’s any help, you can be glad you’re not reading the first draft, which measured in acreage. I broke it into sections in an attempt to make it easier manage. Let me know if it worked.

    The Company plan below (still evolving) draws a lot from the structure of East Wind Community, Tecumseh, Missouri which itself is consciously modeled after kibbutz with some very cool, American adaptations. The Company is an urban commune which freely permits its members to maintain private funds and property.

    general ownership
    The Company owns everything necessary for its members to live and work in reasonable comfort. The Company owns the manufacturing shop and all its equipment and supplies, the residential space assigned as private space to individual members, the shared spaces, recreation spaces, and domestic service spaces and all related equipment and supplies. The Company further provides members with clothes and food to taste (like choosing clothes from a and food from a buffet). The Company owns everything. And the members own the company.

    democracy
    The Company is democratic, one member, one vote. The final decision-making body on all Company matters is the weekly Company Meeting. The Company Meeting is empowered to decide on any and all Company matters and may consider anything brought to it properly by any member. It is required to determine things like:
    • the number of hours in the weekly labor quota
    • the monthly amount paid to members’ as discretionary funds
    • the number and nature of vehicles, televisions, computers and other amenities required to conduct life in a reasonable fashion.
    • the annual spending and labor budgets submitted by domestic and production branches.
    • changes to Company structure and procedures
    • all pressing matters of company operation not resolved elsewhere

    work quota
    Company members agree to fill a weekly quota of work hours set by Company Meeting by performing Company work. Since the Company delivers cooperative domestic services as well as commercial products, Company work includes domestic chores such as cooking, laundry, cleaning common spaces and childcare. And production work includes all sides of the commercial operation from floor worker to sales manager.

    A very cool thing is that, although a member is free to work quota nine-to-five on the production floor if she chooses, the work quota does not have to be filled performing a single labor. A member can cook one day, clean bathrooms the next, and manage inventory on the third. All Company labor hours are equal in Company value, and a member is free to fill the quota doing the labor she chooses. Further, if the work has no inherent time component, i.e. cooking breakfast needs to be done at breakfast time, the work may be done at the member’s convenience as long as it does not interfere with another member’s functioning.

    why it works
    Consider a city block of row homes in a residential area. There are a hundred residences on the block. Let’s say those hundred residences house 320 people including 62 children. Each residence has eight usable rooms—3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a basement for a total of 800 rooms on the block. So 320 people maintain 800 rooms on the normal city block.

    In the Company model, those 320 people would use around 500 rooms. Take the saving in maintenance, climate control, and property tax and put it aside for other use.

    On the city block 100 people spend a total of 60 hours every day making breakfast and/or deciding they don’t have time for it.

    In the Company model, 8 people spend a total of 24 hours making breakfast for the same money, and the breakfast is, generally, better. Put the saved labor hours to other use.

    On the city block, 100 residences operate 132 passenger cars, 3 pickups and a panel van.

    In the Company model, those same people operate 36 vehicles including 17 sub-compacts, 8 mid-sized, 5 mini vans and 6 panel vans/work trucks. Take the savings in purchase money, upkeep costs and labor hours spent in shopping and upkeep and put them to ther use.

    On the city block 216 people spend 270 hours daily in 93 cars and 12 buses commuting to and from work.

    In the Company model, 216 people spend 36 hours a day strolling to and from work in 0 cars and 0 buses. Take the saved in money and labor hours and put them to another use.

    The same thing holds for shopping trips, laundry chores and childcare. It is possible to provide these services using less time and money in the Company model than on the city block. The total time and money saved by using the Company model is substantial. It allows a lot more to get done with a lot less. That’s why the model works.

    the big difference between the Company and the commune
    Private property is not allowed on the kibbutz or commune. Private property is freely allowed in the Company. The shared profit distributed to members monthly is private money. A Company member may hold a second job elsewhere (while filling Company work quota) and earn private money. The Company is structured so that it is possible for members to live comfortably on 40 hours of labor per week but to allow more to be available at the individual member’s discretion and through her own initiative.

  4. #4
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    I had my meeting with a Pastor and two congregants. Smaller that I thought, but very useful.

    The Pastor is convinced that the poorest area in our immediate region is Camden, New Jersey. He gets no argument from me. I live on the Camden/Pennsauken boundary line. He had information and a contact for me, a community-oriented Priest in Camden. The Pastor wants to meet with me, his Assistant Pastor, and the Priest in three weeks (after Vacation Bible School is finished). In the meantime, he gave me some stats on Camden:

    --The annual, municipal budget of Camden is $120M. Tax revenue is $40M. This means Camden’s tax income pays for the health benefits of municipal workers only without a penny left to put towards salaries or light bulbs. Every year Camden has to find the difference. The State of New Jersey has provided Camden the money in the past in return for what little assets remain—waterfront property along the Delaware River, for example.

    -- Of the 20K children in Camden, 12K are under the age of 8 years old. 50% of Camden adults do not have a high school education. Camden is a place in South Jersey where things no one else wants get dumped, including prison, sewage plants, scrap metal dealers, trash-burning plants, and homeless people. It is not uncommon for police from surrounding municipalities to drop off the homeless, drug-addicted, and mentally ill stragglers in their towns at the transportation center in Camden “where they can get help”.

    That is where I propose to begin strengthening the bottom of the economy by growing a cooperative residential manufacturing company.

    Strategy—

    1. gather clerical and community support to form a group willing to sponsor the project.
    2. petition Camden for help in the group’s name
    3. petition the NJ legislature for help in the group’s name
    4. petition the federal gov't for help in the group's name
    5. find 50-75 people living in and around Camden who will commit to forming the company
    6. organize start-up loans
    7. Incorporate

    I foresee the need for 2-3 years’ funding as the group
    1. forms and sets its own parameters
    2. decides on a product
    3. finds a suitable site
    4. renovates space to suit company needs
    5. acquires production equipment and establishes production and inventory routines
    6. begins marketing

    Your thinking welcomed.

    SJF

  5. #5
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    Intrigueing Concept

    I am intrigued by your concept, SJFals. I found myself wondering if you gave any scriptural references to the church groups. Maybe you couldn't share them here because of some rules on not sharing that sort of thing. I read an article from US News and World Report back in 2008 about changes that had been coming to the kibbutzes in Israel. Are you familiar with that article? If not, here's a link: http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/...-comeback.html

    I have recently been corresponding with a very old friend of my mother. She has lived in a kibbutz since 1958, I believe. As I get to know her better, I plan to ask her questions about her life in a kibbutz. In these difficult times we live in, I think we all need to look at other options like the kibbutz you mentioned...and sooner than later.

    By the way, I was googling Kibbutz and Missouri today and found your post along with this forum, of course. I joined so I could respond to your post. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    You might want to contact the Capuchin Monks in Detroit. They have started several industries that help them raise money, feed, and employ people. Among thier recent accomplishments is a bakery to teach the disenfranchised life skills and an evergrowing urban farm.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally posted by MrsRogers View post
    I am intrigued by your concept, SJFals. I found myself wondering if you gave any scriptural references to the church groups. Maybe you couldn't share them here because of some rules on not sharing that sort of thing. I read an article from US News and World Report back in 2008 about changes that had been coming to the kibbutzes in Israel. Are you familiar with that article? If not, here's a link: http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/...-comeback.html
    I had not seen that article. Thanks very much for pointing it out. The new kibbutz sounds very similar to the business model I'm proposing. Eliminate waste and duplication inherent in single household neighborhoods, take advantage of the savings to live well for much less, form a manufacturing company whose product, as a result, may be sold for less, and keep the operation in terms of enlightened self-interest: the more you want to work and the more successfully you work, the more wealth you own and the stronger your company and your companions will be.

    I have not given scriptural support at these meetings, primarily because I assume the people at the meetings will know more scripture than I. So I ask them if they can think of scriptural support. So far I have gotten "That which you do for the least of my brothers. . .", the story of the couple who died when they lied about their contribution to the group, and a whole lot of the book of Amos. I find it engaging and instructive, although I'm not always sure how the citations support the proposal. I'm very pleased they're involving themselves in the process and glad the proposal seems to make spiritual as well as capital sense.

    sjf

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    You might want to contact the Capuchin Monks in Detroit. They have started several industries that help them raise money, feed, and employ people. Among thier recent accomplishments is a bakery to teach the disenfranchised life skills and an evergrowing urban farm.

    A fine suggestion. Many thanks.

    sjf

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    This is a very interesting idea. In American history, there have been several examples of religiously based "communes", most notably, the Shakers, the Oneida communities, and the Amana community. I'm sure there were others.

    I believe that the Hutterites, a religious group somewhat related to the Amish and Mennonites, and located out West (Montana, I think), have established very successful modern day farming enterprises based on a very similar communal model. I think that the time might be right for something like this to get started in urban settings because a lot of people are thinking more and more about "local" enterprises.

    Best of luck with this -- and keep us posted.

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    I have put a version of the plan for cooperatively-owned residential manufacturing industry online at http://home.comcast.net/~thstern/complan.html

    I’ve made initial contacts with the Camden Redevelopment Agency and the NJ Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Now I am beginning to send out contact email to clergy in Camden. Next I intend to make follow-up calls and then start going to lots of churches a lot.

    An acquaintance, a Pastor in nearby Collingswood, tells me that a busy clergyman probably won’t read my message and that those who do are likely to think I’m trying to exploit the poor. He says he gets too many sales pitches cloaked as charity.

    I asked him if he would suggest anything, and he said to have a web site, that a web site looks professional (as though a talented 16-year-old with a computer half her age and a phone line couldn’t hang up a decent page). So I hung up the above essay and tried to make it look “substantial”. I’ll let you know if anyone responds.

    sjf

  11. #11
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    Update on the cooperatively-owned, residential/manufacturing company I’m assembling in Camden:

    The longer I work at this, the more preliminary my work becomes. That is, since what I am assembling is new and there are no exact working models to copy from, I had no idea how long it might take and optimistically saw things coming together quickly in my mind. The more time I spend, the more I can see that all the work I’ve been doing, as necessary as it’s been, has barely scratched the beginning of the ante-preliminary prep needing to be done.

    I did not want to do this thing in the usual way which, in Camden, involves getting partners, writing grant proposals, getting money, then being unable to follow through for reasons which have nothing to do with good intent or labor applied. That’s the five-cent tour of Camden economics for the past 30 years.

    The main difference I see between what has been done before and what I am proposing is that previously all attempts have been built from the top down. The specifics of the plans were in place before the beneficiaries of the project were identified. In my proposal, only the most general plan exists until the group of people the plan will serve is assembled. This plan is democratic from the start. It is a group of a hundred people organizing to help themselves. The Company decides where it will live, what it will make and where it will make it. I’m hoping the social force and the voting block of this sized group will help overcome some of the inertia and resistance which have impeded projects in the past.

    The most which can be done in advance is that information about possibilities can be gathered.

    I identified two tasks:
    1) gather community support and
    2) find a group of non-alcoholic, non-drug addicted poor people in Camden to pitch the idea to.

    A little reading confirmed what I already knew. The most developed social/economic network in impoverished areas of the Philadelphia regional economy exists through the churches. I sent contact email and made phone calls to dozens of churches in Camden.

    I hoped to find three or four people—clergy or lay—who would think the idea interesting and want to know more about it. I was willing to settle for one who might grudgingly be convinced. I didn’t expect to be shut out. But, so far, that’s what’s happened. Of course, it’s not over.

    Of the two people who spoke with me, one a clergyman, one a city official, both hinted darkly at forces inside Camden which did not want projects like this one to succeed. The pastor said I should remember that nothing stays the way it is unless someone is profiting from it. Neither of them has taken my calls or answered my emails since those single conversations.

    And that brought me to a wistful understanding of the depths of the legacy of 30 year’s disappointment and failure in Camden. The social network is so choked with suspicion and blame that it cannot respond to a straightforward request to assist its neediest. It cannot even express cautious interest. This is not in the least outrageous given what’s been going on in Camden. But I was hoping for just a little more.

    That makes the challenge a little more interesting. The tasks are still the same, but I’m starting other approaches from a couple of different directions. And I haven’t finished with the churches. I’m going to figure out how to get to church. Can they turn me away if I show up on a Sunday?

    sjf

  12. #12
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Just what do you have against alcoholic poor people?

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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Just what do you have against alcoholic poor people?
    Certainly not more than they've got against themselves. I was going to toss off flippantly that some of my best friends are alcoholic poor people when I realized that one of my best friends is actually poor and alcoholic. Of course, I don't rely on him for my fiscal wellbeing, and I would not invite him to be a member of this group. The straight answer to the question is that addicts are often though not always shoddy and unreliable workers. The people required, particularly for the startup of a thing like this, need to function well in ways with which alcohol and drug addiction would predictably interfere. That's all I have against alcoholic poor people.

    sjf

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    SJF, did you get my private message?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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