Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 3 of 3) — toward a U.S. Chamber of Commons

My December 2012 post about the concept of the commons (here) proposed that it might be a good idea to create a series of Chambers of Commons, including a U.S. Chamber of Commons, and network them together. This would be in keeping with TIMN’s implication that a +N sector will eventually take shape, as discussed in the first two posts in this set of three.

My TIMN-inspired forecast was that a U.S. Chamber of Commons could operate as a wedge organization plying wedge issues. This could help provide organizational impetus to pro-commons and other +N actors and ideas, while also counter-balancing negative aspects of the +M influence of the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates and allies.

My proposal gained some traction, I’m pleased to say, because the 2012 post was noticed by P2P activists Michel Bauwens and David Bollier, among others. Today’s post offers an update, prompted by news in 2015 that Chicago-area activists started working to organize a Chicago Chamber of Commons, along with a US Chamber of Commons.

Today’s post draws on my 2012 post, as well as on updates I added during 2013-2015. But for the most part, today’s post reports on new materials and other observations about the idea to create chambers of commons. The first sections are mostly reportage. I refrain from offering much TIMN analysis (or my own personal views) until the final section.

Overall, I am upbeat about people’s efforts on behalf of the chamber-of-commons idea. But I have a key concern as well: efforts to date seem aimed more at reforming +M than evolving +N. That may make sense for some anti- and post-capitalism perspectives on the Left; but from a TIMN perspective, I’d wish for a greater and sharper focus on creating +N.

Initial interest in the chamber-of-commons idea in 2013

In remarks about my 2012 post, David Bollier focused just on the chamber-of-commons idea, while Michel Bauwens emphasized its potential as one of various initiatives within a broader plan he was formulating.

Bollier greeted the proposal warmly as “a timely idea” — a way to “advance the commons paradigm” and “span the cultural barriers that divide digital and natural resource commoners”:
“Scholar of networked behavior Ronfeldt has proposed an idea whose time may have arrived: let’s create a new federated network of commons enterprises called the “Chamber of Commons.” The term is a wonderful wordplay on the more familiar group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the notoriously reactionary business lobby.
“A federation to help advance the commons paradigm and projects is a timely idea, especially in international circles and localities that enjoy a critical mass of commons projects. …
“... It would be especially exciting if a chamber of commons could begin to span the cultural barriers that divide digital and natural resource commoners, not to mention international political boundaries.” (source)
Bollier also wisely noted some organizational and membership challenges that might be faced:
“I would respectfully suggest that any parties that enter into a Chamber of Commons have a focused commitment on the commons paradigm and philosophy. It’s imperative that a group of this sort take the commons seriously, and not see the Chamber as an opportunity to wrap themselves in feel-good PR terms. …
“As this little thought-exercise suggests, clarifying the criteria for membership in a Chamber of Commons could be one of the biggest but most important challenges. ...
“... The best solution, I think, lies in having serious commoners, as members, decide the criteria on an ongoing basis, and pass judgment on any new members. After all, any participants in such a project would have a big stake in protecting the integrity of the commons concept and its reputation. ...
“... It’s time for various commons and commons-based businesses (coops, CSAs, etc.) to find ways to band together. We need to create a new focal point for making commoning more visible in an organized way. The mutual support, dialogue and new initiatives could only be enlivening.” (source)
Meanwhile, beginning to formulate a broad P2P-inspired plan that he and his colleagues would call the Commons Transition Plan (here), Bauwens embedded the chamber-of-commons idea in a “powerful triad” of “next steps” for “constructing three institutional coalitions”:
“The civic/political institution: The Alliance of the Commons ...
“The economic institution: the P2P/Commons Globa-local Phyle ...
“The political-economy institution: The Chamber of the Commons”
Of the three, Bauwens viewed the chamber-of-commons proposal as a way for “emergent coalitions of commons-friendly ethical enterprises” to form counterparts to the business-oriented chambers of commerce:
“In analogy with the well-known chambers of commerce which work on the infrastructure for for-profit enterprise, the Commons chamber exclusively coordinates for the needs of the emergent coalitions of commons-friendly ethical enterprises (the phyles), but with a territorial focus. Their aim is to uncover the convergent needs of the new commons enterprises and to interface with territorial powers to express and obtain their infrastructural, policy and legal needs.” (source)
Together, Bauwens said, these three “institutional coalitions” would provide a “powerful triad for the necessary phase transition” to a commons-oriented economy and society:
“In short, we need a alliance of the commons to project civil and political power and influence at every level of society; we need phyles to strengthen our economic autonomy from the profit-maximizing dominant system; and we need [a] Chamber of the Commons to achieve territorial policy; legal and infrastructural conditions for the alternative, human and nature-friendly political economy to thrive. Neither alone is sufficient, but together they could be a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition.” (source; also here)
And that’s how the chamber-of-commons idea began to take root in pro-commons and P2P circles.

Subsequent idea to create parallel assemblies and chambers of the commons

In early 2015 (at least that’s when I first read about it), Bauwens added the idea of creating “Assemblies of the Commons” alongside “Chambers of the Commons”:
“At the local level, we propose the creation of Assemblies of the Commons, institutions that bring together all those that are creating or maintaining commons, immaterial or material, but we propose to restrict membership to civic organizations and not-for-profit oriented projects.
“At the same time, we propose the creation of local Chamber of the Commons, the equivalent for the ethical economy and ‘generative’ capital, the what the Chamber of Commerce is for the for-profit economy. Our aim is to reconstruct commons-oriented social forces at the local level, and to give them voice. These assemblies and chambers could produce a social charter, that would be open for political and social forces to support, which in turn would guarantee some forms of support from these new institutions.” (source)]
Acting in parallel, the Assemblies and Chamber would reinforce each other. Yet each would have different roles, purposes, and participants; and they would operate independently:
“I am proposing the creation of two new institutions:
“1. Assembly of the Commons. This will be a place or an institution where people who actually co-create common goods can meet, create a shared culture and create social charters and demands towards the policy world.
“2. Chambers of the Commons. – Which is for all ethical entrepreneurs. People who create commons and who create livelihoods for the commons. They would also create their own institution.
“The reason why they need to be separated is a bit like the separation of church and state. When you are in business you have certain priorities, when you are a citizen you have other priorities. I think it is better not to contaminate these two institutions and let them operate independently.” (source)
As trends have developed, it appears that the assembly idea may be proving more popular in Europe, the chamber idea in America.

Elaboration in P2P and pro-commons plans throughout 2013-2015

Bauwens and his colleagues steadily reiterated these ideas in numerous additional writings and talks during 2014 and 2015 (e.g., including those cited below, plus here and here).

As I understand it — though I’m not sure how best to summarize it — their goal is a new type of post-capitalist economy (and society), organized around the commons and P2P principles. This economy (and society) would rest on “network-based peer production” and “commons-based peer production” — particularly, “open cooperativism” and “platform cooperativism”, pursuant to fostering an “ethical entrepreneurial coalition” and an “ethical market economy”. This new economy would be oriented toward benefitting civil society, and be served by a new type of state (the “Partner State”). The chambers and assemblies of the commons would be constructed as “meta-economic networks to bridge these fields of action.” (sources: writings by Bauwens and Bollier).

In Bauwens words, “The Commons transition plan is based on a simultaneous transition of civil society, the market and the state forms.” Moreover,
“In the Commons Transition Plan, we are making also very specific organizational proposals, to advance the cause of a commons-oriented politics and a ‘peer production of politics and policy’.” (source)
The organizational structures and interactions he proposes are very elaborate — more than I can convey here, but including the following points regarding the chamber-of-commons idea:
“As an alternative, we propose that we move to a commons-centric society in which a post-capitalist market and state are at the service of the citizens as commoners. …
“• Ethical market players create a territorial and sectoral network of Chamber of Commons associations to define their common needs and goals and interface with civil society, commoners and the partner state …
“• Local and sectoral commons create civil alliances of the commons to interface with the Chamber of the Commons and the Partner State …
“• Solidarity Coops form public-commons partnerships in alliance with the Partner State and the Ethical Economy sector represented by the Chamber of Commons …” (source)
Overall, then, Bauwens urged anew in 2015 what he originally urged in 2013 — a “Chamber of the Commons” as part of “a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition”:
“In short, we need an alliance of the commons to project civil and political power and influence at every level of society; we need phyles to strengthen our economic autonomy from the profit-maximizing dominant system; and we need a Chamber of the Commons to achieve territorial policy; legal and infrastructural conditions for the alternative, human and nature-friendly political economy to thrive. Neither alone is sufficient, but together they could be a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition.” (source)
Quite an ambitious ideological and organizational agenda.

Optimistic global outlook for P2P efforts at the end of 2015

As a result, 2015 closed with two optimistic wrap-up assessments. In the first — The Top Ten P2P Trends of 2015 — Bauwens noted that “It is therefore particularly heartening to see the simultaneous creation this year of several local commons groups, such as Assemblies and Chambers of the Commons.” He thus lauded:
“5. The launch of independent, commons-centric civic organisations
“I called for this about three years ago, but they are finally emerging.
“A proto-Assembly of the Commons has been operating in Ghent, Belgium, and on the occasion of a big francophone city festival on the commons (Villes en Commun), Toulouse and a few other French cities launched Assemblies of the Commons. A Europe-wide Assembly meeting is planned at the EU-level. In Chicago, a Chamber of the Commons was launched and, just this month, a Commons Transition Coalition for Melbourne and other places in Australia. This means that commoners will increasingly learn to have a political and social voice.” (source)
A related document — What the P2P Foundation did in 2015 — adds further promising details:
“Our proposals to create an independent political and social voice for commoners gained traction in 2015. Chambers of the Commons and similar were created in Chicago (USA) and several cities in France, and a local Commons Transition Coalition in Australia was formed, all following Michel’s visits.” (source)
All quite impressive and purposeful, despite some TIMN-related misgivings I have that I will raise in a concluding section (or follow-up post)

Organizational progress in Chicago

The place where activists committed to pro-commons and P2P principles have seized on the chamber-of-commons idea the most (and prospectively the best) is Chicago. In May 2015, a gathering of Chicago-area activists began to rally around Creating a Chamber of Commons (source), which raised the question Could Chicago be the first city to create a Chamber of Commons? (source), partly on grounds that a Chicago Chamber of Commons Points Way to Thrivability for All (source).

I am too removed to tell much about his innovative activity. But materials at a few sites and blogs enable me to glean the little that follows.

With support from the Chicago Community Trust, and before long a grant from the Knight Foundation, interested activists organized a steering committee, led by Steve Ediger (as head of the newly-fielded US Chamber of Commons), and set out to generate workshops and a start-up plan, much of it inspired by Michel Bauwens and his writings (see above). They also established two websites for the project:
• one for the Chamber of Commons US (here)
• the other a Facebook site for the Chicago Chamber of Commons (here)
Their objective is to create an “umbrella” organization, an “advocacy group”, and/or a “seed” for promoting pro-commons stewardship based on P2P principles. Their current focus is on Chicago — yet their hope is that it will become a “prototype” or “template” that can spread, leading to additional new chambers across the country.

The efforts in Chicago appear to reflect some of the organizational and membership challenges that Bollier anticipated in his 2013 post (see above). While my meager knowledge doesn’t tell me to what extent the Chicago-area organizers have had to face such challenges, an October 2015 event report revealed that theirs has been “a complex task”:
“It took a long time for the group to reach consensus on the Commitment and by the time we got to Coordination, looking at the calendar and tasks to identify incongruities among dependent tasks across teams, we were almost out of time. … Whether, or not, we had true consensus remains to be seen as we execute tasks.” (source)
In general, their efforts have been oriented to addressing pro-commons matters, broadly defined, but with an emphasis on emerging economic reforms:
“We advocate and bring visibility to elements of the generative economy, partly to protect endangered areas of the Commons and partly to develop the expression of new forms and practices of Commons, such as the knowledge Commons.” (source)
“The Chamber of Commons recognizes, supports and highlights the green shoots of a budding Generative Economy. As such, we see ourselves as an advocacy group for emerging models of generative-ownership designed businesses forming around the Commons.” (source)
“Forming around these Commons is an entire economy created by new types of businesses engaged in market activities, but in an ethical way. These include fair trade organizations, solidarity organizations, B corps and social entrepreneurs, Bauwens said.” (source)
This emphasis on economic matters appears to be attended by a selective focus on new kinds of business enterprises and opportunities in particular:
“The US Chamber of Commons, a startup organization dedicated to “recognizing, supporting and highlighting the “green shoots of a budding Generative Economy,” is trying to get a new form of chamber off the ground: one to connect social entrepreneurs, L3C’s, B-Corps and other enterprises focused on triple bottom line, sharing-economy approaches to commerce and community development.
“The group sees its role as advocating for the four broad categories of organizations outlined in Marjorie Kelly’s Owning our Future: (1) Commons Ownership and Governance (2) Stakeholder Ownership (3.) Social Enterprises and (4) Mission Controlled Corporations. … The discussion will address an array of Commons-relevant topics such as the environment, public land, the food supply, public education and transportation, open-source software, the internet, arts and culture and taxpayer- funded scientific research. Unclaimed realms such as the oceans, Antarctica and outer space will also be on the agenda.” (source; also here)
Against this background, the goal is to formally announce a Chicago Chamber of Commons at a grand assembly in May 2016. I wish them well, though I have some concerns I’ll raise in the next section.

A TIMN assessment of the Chamber-of-Commons idea — my thoughts at this point

Oh gosh, as I look over this draft before tackling this final section, I see that once again, in my slowed-down condition, I have written an overly long wordy post, all the while refraining from injecting much TIMN analysis until the end. Yet TIMN is what matters most.

I can tell, now that I have started to focus on this concluding section, that my ability to finish it in a succinct timely manner is somewhat in doubt. So I’m just going to go ahead and post what exists above, plus posit the following sketchy outline of what remains to be added.

In my view, there are three key points I should make about the Chamber-of-Commons idea with regard to TIMN:
  • It remains a good idea whose time is nigh, whether motivated by P2P, TIMN, or some other forward-looking framework (e.g., "cultural evolution") — but especially if/as it becomes instructed by TIMN.
  • It seems advisable to emulate historical aspects of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the better to counter-balance it — and counter-balancing it may be a key function.
  • It is important to assure that the Chamber-of-Commons idea serves the creation of the prospective +N sector, more than and apart from a potential reform of the +M sector.

Whether the full version of this concluding section — the elaboration of those three key points — ends up being appended here before long, or is issued as a new post, remains to be seen.