Networking a Sustainable Future
at the Presidio in San Francisco
A Planetwork Conference
June 6-8, 2003
©Hazel Henderson June, 2003
When Jim Fournier asked me to come and speak at this conference, I soon realized that I had been waiting to be here and play with a group like this for 40 years! Some of you may even remember my electronic democracy scenario from my 1978 book Creating Alternative Futures: The End of Economics, which was an underground best seller before many of you were born. My scenario of electronic democracy was based on an article I did for an early computer magazine FORUM70 in, yes, 1970! My article was titled “Citizens + Computers + Communications = Community” – very similar to the vision we are all sharing today as we consider the work of the Link Tank and The Augmented Social Network. Naturally, I’m psyched to be here
My scenario back in 1970 was for enhancing the machinery of democracy by linking the power of computers to simulate social conditions and map dynamic complex interactive problems and issues and include feedback from citizens (later examples include SIM CITY, DAISY WORLD and later, SUGARSCAPE, which was a perversion – captured by economists, mathematicians and mis-guided foundations). My scenario included voting in elections using telephony and smart-cards (there was no internet, no PCs, no windows, no worldwide web).
Neither was globalization an issue then – even though the world impinged on everyone’s lives – in the cold war threats of nuclear annihilation. What I tried to envision was how US national politics – still based on 18th Century conditions – could be augmented to accommodate a vastly larger electorate with exploding information requirements to help manage regional issues, watersheds and whole ecosystems undreamed of by our country’s founding fathers and mothers. I updated these scenarios in Building a Win-Win World, Chapter 10 “Perfecting the Machinery of Democracy (1996).How the world has changed in the intervening 40 years!
The cold war superpower rivalry has given way to mostly guerilla and civil warfare, distributed terrorism by non-state actors, global mafia, cyber attacks and hacker crime. The world now must deal with a single neurotic military superpower waging global war on evil, while teetering on a failing democracy, a tanking economy and a rapidly falling currency.
Regional environmental problems and local crises have morphed into worldwide issues of ecological sustainability, human-caused climate change, desertification, species extinction and ozone depletion.
Globalization of technology, markets and $1.5 trillion of daily currency trading has eroded the sovereignty of nation states. Driven by laissez faire market fundamentalism, these unregulated markets have become the flywheels of ecological, social and cultural disruption.
Democracies are both spreading and being corrupted by money. The governance gap is becoming critical in every part of the world. The machinery channeling feedback from citizens lags behind accelerating social and technological change. Both of the key feedback mechanisms from individuals to decision-makers – votes and prices are failing. Votes and elections must be undistorted by money and prices must include all social and environmental costs. Thus, both governments and markets are steered perversely in unsustainable directions.
Oligopolies and special interests have hijacked our politics. Corporations dominate our market choices and, together with five commercial conglomerates, own all our media, shape our choices and culture – increasingly even on the Internet. A corrupt Federal Communications Commission oversees the giveaway of more of the electromagnetic spectrum – a public commons – to these media giants. And, now Microsoft, by agreeing to license SCO’s UNIX technology, seems to be trying another sabotage attack on LINUX!
Moore’s Law is colliding with Murphy’s Law as heat becomes the problem of ever more transistors on a single chip. Even if Intel can continue doubling transistor density for another decade, does it still matter? Or is The Economist right in saying that the IT industry has entered its “post-technological period”? (May 10, 2003)
Now the Good News:
As my dear sister Barbara Marx Hubbard has been reminding us for many years – all these crises are forcing functions driving us toward conscious evolution. This is the birth time of planetary human awareness and global citizenship. The planet is our vast programmed learning environment – which faithfully mirrors back to us all our errors and behavioral shortcomings. As we’ve learned – planetary citizenship as part of the 6-billion member human family is a cooperative affair.
Sharing, bartering and cooperating are much better ways for exploiting, Metcalfe’s Law and Reed’s Law than going head-to-head in competition with money-based corporate players.
Information, the World’s New Currency, Isn’t Scarce, as I proclaimed in Chapter 9 of Building a Win-Win World (1996). This is the deep paradigm shift we can act on. Money and money-based institutions and incentives hypnotize most people and institutions. Money was necessary in the Industrial Age of material goods production. All traditional economics is based on this material view of scarcity: goods are often exclusionary – giving rise to ownership and property rights, land tenure – as many of these items are scarce. As we move deeper into the Information Age – services and information, knowledge – even wisdom can be shared – because these valuable assets are not scarce – they are inclusionary.
See my Beyond Globalization (1999).The new debate is about public goods, as economists call infrastructure: road, rail and telephone networks, electricity grids that underpin all cities and industrial societies. Now a global economy needs global public goods: water, health, clean environments, peace, education and connectivity. My friend Inge Kaul, has pioneered this debate in her Global Public Goods (1999) and Providing Global Public Goods (2003).
Barter is no longer primitive and inconvenient (which over 3000 years ago led to the invention of money tokens). Today barter is high-tech. Check out VIA3.net, which I co-founded with CEO, John Theaker, in London and ManyOne.net, founded by Joe Firmage, on whose foundation board I serve – both with us here! Move over AOL! E-Bay is getting into barter – with its announcement recently of accepting frequent flyer miles in exchange for its own “Anything Points” (worth one penny), which can be used to buy items on e-Bay.
I have been ridiculed by mainstream economists for recommending barter, local scrip and credit-based exchange for as long as I can remember. Now I’m having the last laugh as they are scrambling to understand money-free, electronic, global and local exchanges that can match needs, resources and productive people to fully employ communities – whenever central banks’ policies are too restrictive. Developing countries can barter their commodities directly with each other – without needing to earn hard foreign exchange. For instance, Venezuela exchanges its oil by concessionary agreement with Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors helping build public health clinics in rural Venezuela. Very efficient for all concerned!
To meet the needs of the world’s 2 billion people still largely outside money-economies, barter is the best immediate answer – as Argentines have found. Many survive this way (See Figure 1, Two Ways of Transacting) – at local second hand markets – trusting their own local scrip more than official pesos. I have always used the extent of barter systems as a leading indicator of dysfunctional central banks and national economic polices. Today, we know the truth: money-systems are about scarcity, competition and centralized control. Barter and all forms of pure information-based exchange are about abundance, sharing and cooperation.
This is how we can succeed in end-running the complete commercialization and corporate exploitation of the Internet and free up other video, radio, cable and broadcast media. Bartering of media time, programming, bandwidth advertising and telephony is already well established. Corporations and governments barter over $1 trillion in goods and services annually. These modes can undergird all our public-interest non-profit, civic society communities, while avoiding greedy vulture capital and economic-returns obsessed Wall Street analysts and their clients. It’s good to see my friends here who are also promoting public-interest TV and radio!
Now let me turn to the Augmented Social Network (ASN) and the comments I have shared with the Link Tank and the wonderful authors. I applaud this initiative – as do my partners at VIA3.net, and our fellow board member, e-commerce pioneer, Alan Kay, my life-partner and founder in 1969 of Autex, Inc., the first electronic marketplace. I strongly agree with the goals, purpose and rationale for building the ASN.
Civic society organizations cannot afford to continue being marginalized as big corporate players continue commercializing the Internet, balkanizing it for profit and control. They are promoting self-serving protocols like “opt-out” (requiring consumers to spend precious time filling out proliferating forms) rather than “opt-in”; onerous intellectual property and copyright rules, while forcing us to do the beta-testing of their sloppy, virus-prone software. All these industry practices are eroding our choices, civil liberties and access to vital information.
The IT industry grew up based on the citizen’s tax dollars that subsidized electricity and telephone lines and created the Internet – clearly a public good, a commons, which now also underpins the global financial system. Even traditional neoclassical economics recognized that network-based infrastructure industries are prone to monopoly and need public-interest regulation. The disastrous de-regulation of electric utilities in California was a triumph of ideology over common sense.
We are learning the same lessons with privatization of water systems. In an early tech journal, OMNI, I predicted the same lesson would be learned with the now 30-year experiment in airline deregulation. These vital network industries are generally too capital and labor intensive to be profitable without myriad subsidies and government concessions. Today, we are back to a few large airlines – most of them in bankruptcy – surviving on over $15 billion of taxpayer handouts – while squeezing their employees. Smaller latecomers pick up market share by cost and service-cutting – subsidized by the existing infrastructure. All this while some half of our citizens has never flown in a plane and Congress is running down our affordable, energy-efficient rail networks, which receive a fraction of the subsidies airlines are given.
Neoclassical economists with their static myopic forms of equilibrium analysis still warn against industrial policies – used by many developing countries to subsidize vital or infant industries. Yet all the early industrializer countries, including the UK and the USA, used such policies to build their infrastructure and key industries. The issue is rather, which networks and infrastructures to subsidize. Today, education is a key public investment, as is health – since healthy, knowledgeable citizens are the wealth of nations in an Information Age. Yet, these two vital investments in human capital are still “expensed” in our GNP rather than being carried as investments in the new asset accounts I have advocated for GNP. All this is also why connectivity and media are public goods – indispensable for democracy – as our Founders knew. I have long advocated corrections to these GNP/GDP national accounts (See Figure 2 “GNP Problems” and Figure 3 “Total Production” Cake). This is why I co-created with the Calvert Group, the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators (see Figure 4) (updated at www.calvert-henderson.com, click on FOREWORD for my May update).
The USA still has three major industrial policies subsidizing: (1) the military defense industry (2) the fossil fuel and energy sectors and (3) the IT and Internet-based industry. Agriculture is also subsidized in the most inefficient way possible. The US State Department reinforces the prevailing US policy of not taxing e-commerce by urging other governments to keep their regulatory and tax authorities off this sector. In fact, the whole pattern of perverse subsidies, including those to medical intervention rather than disease prevention, reflects the obsolete structures of early-stage industrialism.
We know now that this favored tax-free treatment together with government subsidies also helped fuel the “dot com” bubble. This additional subsidy may well have been justified initially. But, it also contributed to huge tax losses that led a majority of our states into the huge budget deficits they face today. While many states suffer from the wave of tax-cutting fervor still gripping our country – many revenue shortfalls were caused by the competition to local “bricks and mortar” companies from untaxed e-commerce. Today, state governors are still trying to figure out how to pay for schools, police, fire-fighters and social services once adequately-funded by local sales taxes.
All this is why I often teased those early arrogant cyber-libertarians about their actual reliance on the government they despised! Another point I and others made in the late 1990s was that the “new economy” bubble was built on $10 a barrel oil – a short-lived anomaly. Much “new economy” hype was based on a misunderstanding that cyberspace industries could be “resource lite” (as Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling proclaimed). We now relearned that you can’t divorce industries from their base in real world natural resources. Paper and virtual asset-shuffling, like other pyramid schemes, fall to earth sooner or later. And just try filling up your car with a tank-full of virtual gasoline!
This background understanding is the rationale for a properly regulated and taxed IT sector – with much greater effort to break up monopolies, whether Microsoft or the cross-owning corporate monopolies like NBC, Clear Channel, VIACOM, Disney, News Corp and AOL Time Warner now dominating our mass media. Today, we all live in “mediocracies.” Some may be democracies, some still feudal, some dictatorships or even failed states – but all are mediocracies. The race to capture all of humanity’s eyeballs continues unabated – leading to what I named in “Building a Win-Win World (1996) the new “Attention Economies.”
Emerging Attention Economies are post-industrial and part of the information age. As corporations, politicians, advertisers, academia and other institutions vie for our attention with increasing information-overload, our time, attention and privacy become more precious – as valuable as money (see Figure 5 “New Attention Economy”). Twenty-eight percent of US adults now value their time more highly than additional money income. They have moved out of “the rat-race” and into less-pressure jobs and rural towns where community life is still valued, the air and water are cleaner so as to improve their overall quality of life. They and their local officials belong to the International Conference of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), based in Toronto and promote local quality of life indicators. (www.iclei.org).
These trendsetters are reminiscent of Paul Ray’s “cultural creatives.” They reject the corporate and advertisers’ view of consumer lifestyles. They seek deeper purpose, values and spirituality. They join civic society causes and groups trying to create a better future for all humanity. They have created the $2.3 trillion market of socially responsible investors, asset managers and cleaner, greener, more ethical companies. They pioneered the open-source movement, the copyleft initiative now being adopted by anti-TRIPS campaigners against GM foods and pharmaceutical patent protocols of the WTO. They are environmentalists, feminists, solar and renewable energy pioneers, fitness buffs and organic farmers, health foods store owners, vegetarians, human rights activists and of course – all of you – working to decentralize mass media and keep the internet an open public commons for connecting global civic society. I have created a new TV series for us, “Ethical Marketplace” and its website – so we can all watch a regular financial show that reflects our values, the LOHAS marketplace – and follows all the new “triple-bottom-line” and quality of life indicators as well. Our promo video is here.
As the IT sector matures, it continues to morph from hardware to software and services and is being absorbed by other older sectors and the whole society. Just as the automobile industry shook out from 274 companies in 1909 to today’s few giants, we are seeing the IT sector consolidate. The Gartner Group tells us that by 2004 half the vendors in 2000 will have disappeared. Even industry optimist Larry Ellison says that there are at least 1000 Silicon Valley companies that need to go bankrupt.
Where does this continuing restructuring provide niches for civic society providers? How can we all align our community-building service enterprises synergistically – without blurring our diverse “cultural DNA” and still serve our special constituencies? How can we share and barter our intellectual assets, human resources and enterprise models to best take advantage of Reed’s Law? I believe it is utopian – and a misreading of human nature to imagine that we can take down all our walls. I am a pretty good networker – but I cringe at the idea of too many people and too much interactivity – even among those I trust, admire and know I can cooperate with to create great new ideas, strategies and win-win planetary initiatives.
A key issue I raised was that of time. For example, even if ASN’s great introduction system including customized brokering – produces an exciting person that could be a win-win match for one of my key projects – I still might have to say “not now!” Perhaps I’m on a deadline for an article – or maxed out with an urgent project. I could store the intro-bot’s introduction for later – but by then – the other person might also say “not now!” We are up against the human condition of being incarnated on the material plane, where we must observe the rules of thermodynamics, the needs of our bodies and the time-spans of our lives. I need to drop out into my own spiritual space – every day. I don’t own a cell phone and can’t image anything worse than WIFI! I love my garden, the beach and the texture of daily life. Am I a Luddite? Maybe!
Another issue for me is how we create the “doors” between our e-communities – or as I prefer to call them “permeable membranes” whereby cells recognize the chemical catalysts they need and let them through. This means establishing a robust, specific, highly-differentiated cultural DNA based on the group’s core values. These must be distilled into a set of well-articulated principles, operating procedures and interaction protocols. Flying this identity flag is a community’s high-fidelity bird-call! I’ve been doing this all my life – in writing and speaking, communicating on TV, radio, my websites – or in personal conversations. These kinds of high-fidelity bird calls repel most people and attract only those soul brothers and sisters with whom I want to play or share aspects of my life.
Commercial marketers reduce this kind of deep, values-based communication of one’s highest purpose and goals as market positioning! Well, in a way they have a point! When we were designing the vision, mission, goals, principles and operating protocols for VIA3.net, all this had to be distilled into a statement of great clarity. For example, VIA3.net and ManyOne.net share a similar core mission: to serve non-profit groups who are working for a better world for all – by facilitating their barter, exchanges and information sharing to conserve their limited cash and helping steer donated resources toward their projects. Both ManyOne and VIA3 chose to sign the Earth Charter and make its 16 principles the basis of our respective enterprises (www.earthcharter.org).How do you make sure that all aspects of your operation: from its method of funding and capitalization to all of its relationships with its membership – are in integrity with your vision, mission and goals. New shareholder agreements, such as Alan Kay designed for VIA3 are helpful. How to design cooperative ways of aligning similarly designed organizations to minimize bureaucracy, while allowing synergistic division of labor and decentralized autonomy?
The ASN has grasped this nettle and moved us all toward deeper modes of cooperation and sharing. Deeper platforms based on open-source and collectively-agreed standards can help us all harvest the exponential synergies that are possible. The excitement is that we are engaged in the practice of conscious evolution – and we are learning to let go of old mental models, memes, cultural “disks” and “tapes” that served our biological needs historically – but have now become baggage. I think of aggression and territoriality, which kept species spaced out. The “baby program” running in women, also needs re-examination now there are 6 billion humans consuming 40% of the planet’s primary biomass production! Competition is essential – balanced by systemic cooperation to steer its energy – and creativity!
Some additional elements I offered to ASN’s blueprint include:
More user-inputMore socio-political thinking and strategy – for example from seasoned community organizers and political coalition-builders –whose methods of aligning groups around specific activities and campaigns are analogous to communities of practice.
More interaction with global issue networkers, which would contextualize and concretize the plan. This could also correct ASN’s gender imbalance – since women lead many of these global networks and will be prime users of ASN.A budget and business plan!
Involve more friendly UN people from ILO, UNDP, WHO and UNICEF who share our concerns – particularly on digital divide issues. I just participated in a global UN-based video conference on World Opinion – which surely is the next superpower!
Spell out likely relationships between ASN and other formal and quasi-formal technical bodies (e.g., I-CANN), as well as to governments, tax authorities and UN-affiliated agencies ITU, WIPO and the WTO’s TRIPS convention. I’ll help you make a system map of all these players.
Join with the Prep Com process for the upcoming UN World Summit on the Information Society. This is just as important as having representatives on the various technical standards bodies. Next meeting in Geneva, December 5-12, 2003. (www.geneva2003.org)
Remember that the Internet and the Worldwide Web can’t do it alone. It’s not enough for SRI and LOHAS providers to hire PR firms to get them sound bites on CNBC. We must own our own space and cooperative enterprises like Worldlink, Globalvision and Ethical Marketplace TV. We must re-capture space from all the other media: radio, TV, broadcast, cable and video conferencing. All are important – reach different audiences and work synergistically. That’s why I do radio constantly and produce TV programs – hard as it is to get carriage in the USA. Never mind, my newspaper columns reach 400 newspapers in 27 languages and I get all the coverage I need in Brasil, Europe, China and around the world. The world is more important than any superpower! In the planetary context, all our individual self-interests are identical: surviving and thriving in just, peaceful, sustainable societies. To reach these shared goals, sharing, cooperation and earth ethics have simply become pragmatic. Thank you for all your good works.