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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Open Capitalist Network

Microlending has received a great deal of attention in the alternative economy movement. Grameen is the first and most notable of these projects. In the West, social lending services include Prosper.Com: The P2P Lending Marketplace, and Zopa: Loans from People, Not Banks.

Zopa describes itself this way:

Zopa loans – unsecured and very personal
Personal Loans and Car Loans are amongst the most popular uses for our lenders' money. Our interest rates are set by our lenders - ordinary people, just like you. The typical rate is 7.6%APR on a £5,000 loan over 3 years in the A* market.
Top 5 loan types
Personal Loan
Car Loan
Consolidation Loan
Home Improvement Loan
Short Term Loan

What the countereconomy needs, especially, is social lending of the type that Grameen pioneered: the provision of capital for production in the household, subsistence, self-employment and cooperative sectors.

In the peer-to-peer field, a major topic of discussion is the organizational forms necessary to organize physical production on a peer basis. There are a number of proposals for peer governance models, for example, at the P2P Foundation.

In this light, Darren Vandervort's Open Capitalist Project seems quite promising. It's a networking project to put potential contributors in contact with those who need startup capital. Here's the general idea of how it works:

The goal of Open Capitalist is to provide a framework for the creation of socially responsible companies. Furthermore, we want to provide a place where individuals can contribute to projects they believe in and earn a profit doing what they enjoy.

Traditionally someone starting a company would require a substantial capital investment to pay for the services and equipment that the start-up requires. We want to drastically reduce this start-up capital requirement by providing a way for contributors to supply the required services in exchange for compensation. Due to the nature of these companies, compensation will vary greatly, and can be provided in various ways. But the form of compensation will be clearly stated. The purpose of this is to make it very visible if someone is merely trying to make a huge profit based on the labor of others.

In the interest of full disclosure, the projects will also clearly state the intended distribution of profits. There is not a set limitation on where these profits can go. You can state that you will take all profits, and offer zero compensation to the contributors that help get your start-up going. What would be expected though, is that you would not receive much help from contributors; therefore, this would be the regulating factor. The end result is that the community determines what is a fair amount of profit taking.

In order to create a self-sufficient system, some consideration should be given back to other projects that are in the formative development stages. For example, I have posted a project describing a web-based remote machining company. This company makes a profit by charging an hourly fee for the use of the machines to prototype their designs. One of the stated distributions of profit is back to other Open Capitalist Projects in the form of free prototyping services. If there is a Project that is designing a mechanical product, free prototyping would be a huge benefit, making them all the more likely to succeed.

Possible methods of contribution include not only the donation of money, but participation in the projects, and bartering of one's own services. As an example of the latter, one of Vandervort's proposals is a web-based prototyping and machining project, which offers its services free to contributors. Some of the other projects can be found here.


Blogger Bert said...

Promising indeed. Another with potential would seem to be beerbankroll.com. Although it seems as though their spokesbot (http://www.beerbankroll.com/faq.html) could stand a bit of cogent anti-defamation rhetoric. They seem otherwise like they might even be receptive (except for the "we're basically hoping to get rich off this on your collective dimes" vibe my ladyfriend gets off the "ultimate dream"-level hype). I wanna do it. I just don't want to do it and have it be a huge scam and thereby not only be out 50 bucks but also have been cheated out of my "ultimate dream" as step one, ya know?

May 22, 2008 9:17 PM  
Blogger Joel Schlosberg said...

I haven't heard much recent discussion of Grameen-type stuff, at least in the blogs I read (maybe I'm just not reading the right ones) ... there was a bit of libertarian discussion, like this, after Yunus's Nobel (and FEE has plugged Grameen before), but it died down pretty quickly. And I also haven't read too much about integrating microlending into the larger left agenda, in fact a good deal of the left is critical of it, for example Left Business Observer's critiques of Grameen like this one.

Interestingly, in Chomsky's recent book What We Say Goes, he not only praises Grameen, but says that it's an example of capitalism as a good thing:

"So giving microcredit loans to women is a very smart thing to do. It's not the end of everything, but it has paid off. It's a good capitalist approach. This is pure capitalism, actually, much purer than the U.S. economy. It's real capitalism. The U.S. economy is state-based to a large extent." (p. 84)

May 24, 2008 11:15 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

The worst (vulgar) libertarian commentary I ever saw on Grameen was the NYT piece by Michael Strong, arguing that the Third World poor needed jobs in big factories, not microcredit in a "thatched ceiling" economy, and that we should therefore shop at Wal-Mart.

May 27, 2008 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Darren Vandervort said...

Thanks Mr. Carson for highlighting opencapitalist.org on your blog.

I would like to take beerbankroll.com that Bert mentioned and explain how Open Capitalist is different. They are seeking $50 donations. We would rather they solicit for contributions from others, the skill sets they require. This would greatly lower the amount of money required for start-up. For example, they would have to use some of those donated funds to pay for lawyers and accountants. Why not solicit lawyers and accountants to donate their skills directly, and use the funds that have been gathered to pay for the things that can't be directly contributed(brewery equipment, insurance, facilities, etc.)

There has to be a mechanism that can be employed to attract contributions. I don't think many people would give money to someone else so that they can become rich. Though I do believe people are willing to contribute if that contribution benefits a cause they believe in. beerbankroll.com states that a third of the profits go to charity. If they also included limits on how much money the founders were going to take from this company I would gladly contribute.

From a higher view point- beerbankroll, opencapitalist.org, microcredit; none of these are the end all answer. Though I do believe in pure capitalism and market forces being able to find the fittest solution for a given situation. In this instance choice is good, and more is better.

June 04, 2008 1:05 PM  

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