A new culture for economy – what’s next? Redux

What follows is the very first post to The Blog of the Ancient Mariner. It was posted on April 5, 2013 at 2:AM. He could write the same post today. These thoughts seem more urgent, more dire than when this post was published.

The topic is what next? It’s mostly about us – the masses, the common citizens, the disenfranchised, the young who have no yardstick for the future because there is no means by which to measure the future; the jobless who have lost pride and station in life because automation and the global economy have dropped them by the wayside, the seniors who are hale, hearty, living extended lives but are pushed aside and left with little purpose. Wrapping all these demographics into a bundle, what is their purpose? What binds them? What makes them equal and whole individuals? What is the common social fabric?

The mariner is reminded of the Vietnamese immigration after the Viet Nam War. That was a set of people with no extra resources; all they had was hard work and imagination. Many had higher education, even postgraduate degrees that were of little use in the in the United States. The Vietnamese took labor jobs, families helped families, somehow saved a significant percentage of income, opened small, low overhead businesses like dry cleaning, beauty parlors, finger nail shops and small soup kitchens. Now, their children are going to college or growing the businesses of their parents.

What is the next purpose for the American masses? There must be one; there must be a value that is created by many millions of living people; There must be a unity – that is a natural law inherent in the homo sapiens species. The new hardship is that no one will invent it for us or do it for us; we have to invent it and do it ourselves.

The future is still in darkness but a light, a very, very, very faint light is sitting in the corner. It is, for want of a word unknown at this time, ‘sharing’. Sharing can be a purpose. Sharing can be an economy. Sharing has growth potential. Ah, but the light is so faint. What will common sharing look like? Can it draw from wasteful economies that no longer serve the masses efficiently? Can it invent new businesses – profitable businesses – that are based on sharing? Can local government become a protector of a sharing culture?  Does sharing mean we, the masses, must share ourselves in some way for the common good? The US citizen may be better off than the Vietnamese immigrant but the creativity they have for generating a small economy under the larger profit-intensive US economy seems a good model.

Can those who know share knowledge with those who don’t know without the overhead of educational corporations? Leading edge electronics and upstart businesses have no correlation to formal education. The same can be said for liberal arts, religion, and equal distribution of resources like food, water, manufactured goods – all of which possess extreme inefficiencies and waste when delivering a profit-only product.

Dare we dream that the cultural mandate for hoarding profit be converted to a cultural mandate for sharing profit? There are fragile signs: Habitat for Humanity; zero balance loans to indigent women in Africa; Americorps and the international version Peace Corps; Salman Khan (www.khanacademy.org), Project Hope, the floating hospital, even the woman interviewed on CBS News who shares her sofa by leasing it overnight. All are based on sharing – surviving off the excesses of the profit-only model. Remember Victory Gardens?

The mariner has a friend in Maryland who owns a 40 foot boat. He uses it occasionally but is concerned about the overhead. As a model for profit by sharing, he could lease the boat well below the rate of a profit-only charter service and still make enough to maintain the boat, keep a few dollars and share the rest of the income with another ‘share’ business that may provide a few jobs. The light is still too faint to imagine what an entire culture of sharing will look like but this seems a good example: use what you have to generate income.

The common citizens will have the burden of finding a way to survive financially. Giant corporations are just getting started as a global market emerges. The mariner suspects there will be economic room beneath the global markets. Twenty years ago an American steel manufacturer stayed in business by making specialty steel – something large volume steel corporations that moved overseas couldn’t afford to sustain. Genuinely organic farming still defies the ‘legislatively defined’ organic products produced by large scale producers. Organic growing is time and labor intensive – something that doesn’t fit the profit-only model.

Detroit, Michigan is about to go bankrupt. Population has dropped by a third and there are no jobs. A few years ago, the City had to come up with something to provide food for vast neighborhoods that had no grocery stores. Detroit leveraged the many vacant blocks by turning them into gardens and small livestock operations (sheep, goats). It is a fine effort but doesn’t generate the taxes the missing profit-only corporations provided before they left Detroit. Nevertheless, many common citizens have something to eat that otherwise would have nothing.

The profit-only culture has become so excessive that it can be undercut and still deliver services and provide jobs that profit-only business cannot afford. In Colorado, a one owner bakery thrives near a Dunkin Donuts shop.

For the conservatives among the readers, sharing is not socialism, it is personal profit by sharing what one can invest of his or her own resources; for the liberals, it is not communal living, it is profit through sharing outward – not dividing inward. The Vietnamese immigrants didn’t care what they were called; They were in the business of surviving.

Ancient Mariner

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