I’ve long thought about community + business, but I’ve never really used the term economics. Infact, I would even say that I feel very intimidated by the word. It makes me feel inferior and perhaps somewhat dim.
I was reading this post which has triggered something in me to dive into further. David Bollier has done some great work around ‘The Commons’ which very much overlaps with community building thinking.
Some highlights for me:
the narratives of free-market economics work much better as abstract theories and political cover-stories than as realistic accounts of everyday market life. Put more bluntly, by focusing so obsessively on market transactions, economic analysis tends to ignore social, ecological, and intergenerational realities. It tends to marginalize and dismiss them as “externalities.” The misguided presumption is that free markets are self-regulating and don’t really need governance (“market interventions”) – until, of course, the next oil spill, deadly drug, or speculative financial bubble intrudes to show otherwise
Are economists prepared to deal with such impending traumas? It’s clear to me that political economy – and the underlying cultural life that informs it – must increasingly be part of an economics education.
Outside of its narrow, asocial, and transaction-focused way of seeing the world, there is actually a pluriverse of life that intimately conjoins the human with the more-than-human and the individual with social collectives.
It would help, therefore, for economists to open up deeper conversations with the social sciences, especially anthropology and sociology, and with political economy, complexity sciences, and evolutionary sciences. Economists may also want to acknowledge the limits of intellectual inquiry itself. A significant amount of what we know is embodied in our bones, viscera, and flesh, and not necessarily part of anyone’s canon. It is tacit, situated, local, and embodied knowledge.
Future economists should also reflect deeply on their field. If human societies are not simply aggregations of isolated individuals who come together to truck and barter, how then shall we conceptualize society?
Collective social structures profoundly influence and constrain our individuality.
Biologically speaking, it is even a bit difficult to talk about “individuals” as if they were separate from “nature.” Human beings could not function without millions of bacteria living in their guts, or without being immersed within a biodiverse ecosystem of living organisms. Yet much of economics remains locked into the mindset of atomistic, acquisitiveness individuals engaged in mechanical, cause-and-effect transactions in the service of capital accumulation. There is relatively little attention to the holistic, dynamic, non-linear dimensions of living systems. The notions of human aliveness and nonmarket values are scanted.
If we are to understand the cooperation that has animated human affairs for millennia, we must see people’s lives as relational, and not merely transactional.
I love David Bollier and his work, and his podcast is also fantastic.
Regarding your headline question, I am working with the french agency responsible for the ecological transition, and they have two interesting “community” experiments.
The first one is a Call for Commons. Instead of putting companies in competition to respond to an RFP, the idea is to look for open source solutions that help foster more territorial resiliency, and fund the development of the commons, its community and its promotion.
The second one is called the Extrême Défi (Extreme Challenge). The goal is to launch a challenge to create light vehicles that are safe, affordable, repairable and durable. But since only designing a prototype is not enough to get these vehicles adopted, the project is also intentionally gathering a community of component manufacturers, insurers, beta testers, local governments who can influence the local infrastructure, and public and private funders to industrialise the solutions once they are ready.
Both projects are in their very early days and have a huge improvement margin, but they are gaining a lot of traction and interest from other communities and regions.
In the same vein as David Bollier, there are other “economists” who might interest you if you don’t know them already, like Michel Bauwens, Kate Raworth or Mariana Mazzucato.
PS: I bought your MVC course a few months ago, and finally went through it, and I completely loved it.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the intersection of community and economics. Some interesting insights there. As you mentioned, the field of economics can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with its terminology and concepts. However, it is important to understand the economic forces that shape our world, particularly as we consider how they impact our communities and the environment.
I would like to add that there are many valuable resources available for those interested in exploring the intersection of economics and community. In fact, I recently published a very basic article on LinkedIn (just to get my thoughts out) about “Harnessing the Collective Genius: Intrapreneurs Igniting Circular Communities,” which explores how intrapreneurs can drive positive change within their organisations and communities by adopting a circular economy model. I also included a list of recommended resources and tools for those interested in learning more about circular communities - which is something I’ve been exploring recently…
So, I’m very keen to hear what other peeps are thinking on this one.