An Unbusiness Model
Article — November 24, 2017 — organization, home, language
This is a continuation of thoughts from an earlier article, specifically an exploration of two terms: “gift economics” and “vertical integration”. I’ll go over these as a foundation, and then describe a concept based on them that I’ll call an unbusiness model.
By “gift economics” I mean the study of gift economies, and the application of natural principles discovered there.
One such principle, for example, is non-reciprocity. Seen from a local perspective, most transactions in a gift economy are one-way: value flows purely from the giver to the receiver. There is no exchange. This allows large cycles of value flow to emerge, whereby individual economic actors are constantly well-supplied through chains of giving that may be far too large for human beings to be conscious of in daily awareness.
Other, more obvious principles include generosity and gratitude. To these we can also add integrity, as the quality of respecting boundaries, and surrender, as the quality of allowing boundaries to be crossed.I borrow the names of these four from the Wheel of Consent, which, although it has nothing directly to do with money, taught me more about gift economics than any other source of knowledge I’ve encountered up until now. The health of a gift economy ultimately derives from the quality of communication and trustI might define “consent” as “communication of trust (or lack thereof)”. within it, which might show how important boundaries are.
This is a whole realm of study that countless lifetimes can be, and already have been, dedicated to. It encompasses the greater part of the principles underlying the concept I’ll describe. The lesser part comes from what we’ve learned as a species in the relatively much shorter evolutionary experiment of market economics, which is where we come to the idea of vertical integration.
By “vertical integration” I mean something similar to the conventional definition. I define it as the extent to which an economic producer is in ownership of its supply chain. I use the term “economic autonomy” interchangeably.
The image of vertical integration that always comes to my mind is a restaurant with a rooftop garden. Here, the supply of vegetables has been vertically integrated in a literal sense: the garden that grows the vegetables is physically above the kitchen that cooks them, and both are parts of an integrated whole.
However, that’s vertical integration in the context of a business. In the context of an unbusiness, with different fundamental assumptions, the concept changes. What does it mean to be in ownership of one’s own supply chain, for example, in a context where “ownership” means something entirely different from the usual? This is where we come to an idea that I want to propose we adopt in my own unbusiness, Veda Cooperative.
The unbusiness model I have in mind begins with the premise that economics is about home, where home is taken to mean the quality of security, comfort, familiarity, safety, stability and predictability that all of us need access to in our lives in order to face challenges and grow. We are happy to leave home, if we have it – and if we don’t, we may be challenged, but we will not learn from the challenge, or, worse, we’ll only learn fear. Gaining knowledge, developing and becoming empowered requires going out into the unknown, and we learn best when we go willingly, secure in the knowledge that we are always able to return to what we know – our home.
In this perspective, the quality of an economy is measured by how well it provides access to home. Here I use the term “economy” to refer to the fundamental unit under consideration, in the unbusiness model. An economy is a system that provides home, at any scale. The precise line dividing one economy from another is chosen arbitrarily. A household is an economy, as is a town, a city, a region, or a planet. Individual people are economies in this sense, as well. Like any economy, we can be analyzed in terms of our production and consumption.
I imagine a map of economies, represented as circles.I would draw this now, except I’ve been overdue to write this article for more than a month, and now I’m attempting to just get the thoughts out by any means. Each economy produces and consumes various things; here we’ll consider only food and money.
We can represent the flows of production by arrows going from producer to consumer. In a market economy, we expect to see a repeating pattern of food flowing in one direction, and money flowing in the opposite direction, representing a relationship of buyer and seller. In a gift economy, more complexity appears: sometimes only one arrow, sometimes two flowing in opposite directions, sometimes two flowing in the same direction, all in unpredictable proportions, according to what’s asked and offered between economies.
The type of economy that has the most potential to provide home is a gift economy, where gifts and services on which home can be based are offered freely and unconditionally. This leads to two interrelated questions: how do market economies transform into gift economies, and how do gift economies develop into their full potential?
The unbusiness model I propose answers these questions as follows.
Imagine three economies: a grocery, a farm, and a village. We assume market economics to dominate at the beginning, so we see food flowing from farm to grocery to village, and money flowing from village to grocery to farm. Then we add a fourth economy, a cooperative based on this unbusiness model, which I’ll now give a cute name: “cover and call”.
The cooperative covers the consumption of other economies, unconditionally, and it calls for production from other economies, unconditionally.
In this picture, we can imagine events proceeding like this: first the cooperative covers the expenses of its neighbors. This removes the money flows from grocery to farm and from village to grocery, and creates money flows from cooperative to farm and from cooperative to grocery.Now, if I were really good, I would make a video here. Then, the cooperative makes requests that call out the greatest potential of the other economies. The cooperative calls for the farm to become the best farm it can possibly be, and the same for the grocery, the village, and any other economies it meets.
When all this is successful, in a map of many economies, the qualities of a gift economy emerge. Life becomes simple and powerful. The farm’s expenses are covered, so all of its energy is dedicated to being a farm, none to marketing. As a result, it becomes a truly excellent farm, producing food in high quality and in great quantity. With no need to make profit, the farm is generous in giving its production away. The grocery, which excels in distribution, takes the food from the farm and offers it freely to the village, having no need to make a profit either. The village is then provided a vastly improved food supply, unconditionally, and all the people in it are liberated to do whatever it is that life calls them to do.
What happens when people who were formerly trapped in cultures of fear are freed to follow their callings, in my experience, is this: they will misbehave for some time, roughly proportional to the duration and misery of their imprisonment, but much shorter in length.
Simultaneously, a natural desire to give will emerge. If this desire is met with requests to do meaningful work – truly meaningful work, where the sense of it is both real and transparently obvious – it will blossom immediately into spontaneous gifts and services. This rapidly generates self-esteem, and the desire to improve, through which misbehavior dissolves of its own accord, and natural excellence emerges.
To complete the cycle, we look at one more flow: work. In the next stage, the village spontaneously and voluntarily gives work to the cooperative. Work flows from the cooperative to the farm and the grocery, eliminating the monetary cost of hiring workers, by providing highly motivated and happy volunteers. The quality of the work rises further, because the workers are free people, interested in learning and improving because surviving is a given. Meanwhile, the expenses radically decrease, allowing the money flowing from the cooperative to flow somewhere else.
As we build this picture with more economies, considering other flows of resources going in or out of the economies named so far, we see further opportunities for the cooperative to cover and call. The cooperative calls vehicles and their maintenance to flow from the factories and mechanics, to cover the transportation needs of other economies.
This map of economies is, itself, a representation of an economy, and that whole economy, with every unconditional covering of needs, and every unconditional answer to a calling, becomes exponentially healthier, more resilient, more creative, and better able to provide home. As more resources come into play, money becomes increasingly irrelevant, and information becomes increasingly important.
Veda Cooperative will succeed to the extent that it develops into a culture where information flows easily, between whoever can offer it and whoever is asking for it. All other resources follow the flow of information.
In a gift economy, the question is not whether we can afford it. The question is whether we know who to ask, and how.