The Collective

An organizational model with the aim of complete freedom for its members.

Fear of scarcity drives so much of our behavior. And, as I recently learned, we don’t really have scarcity of resources, but we do have scarcity of money. There simply isn’t enough currency to go around. Banks create money through credit, but they need to be paid back the principal and interest, which they don’t create.

I’ve never objectively been in poverty, but I do know what scarcity feels like, and how it can lead to poor decisions. I experienced this while building a business and a growing a family simultaneously, with no income other than my PhD student stipend. For me, the idea of Unconditional Basic Income has more than theoretical appeal. But it will take many years before UBI becomes a reality.

It was the hope for a sort of “peer-to-peer” basic income that started my thinking in this direction. Another set of ideas comes from Benjamin Franklin’s Junto, and his invention of mutual insurance (it’s not easy to see, but this idea is its “inverse”).

  1. Scale: The Collective would be a community of no more than 100 members.
  2. Invitation-only: New members are only allowed to join by invitation from existing members.
  3. Sharing: Members are encouraged to share what can be shared without loss (ideas, information, and other non-rival goods).
  4. Trade: Members are encouraged to pay each other for scarce resources such as personal labor, time, and attention, using an internal currency.
  5. Internal currency: The internal currency is based on mutual credit.
  6. Standard currency pool: Internal currency can be bought with standard currency like USD. These dollars go into a pool.
  7. Redistribution: The pool of standard currency is redistributed equally to all members in good standing.
  8. One-way: Internal currency cannot be sold for standard currency. It’s a one-way flow.

Many of these ideas are found elsewhere in various forms (1-3 in fraternities, 4 & 5 in local currencies, etc). But it’s the addition of the last three points that give this idea its impact.

It turns this from a utopian community, into a viable alternative economic system that still functions within our current one.

This model has a number of parameters that can be tuned: rate of invitation, currency exchange rate, rate of redistribution, and solvency threshold. The details are for another time.

What’s important is that groups like this, but without the internal currency aspects, have proven their worth throughout history. And that, with appropriate tuning and enough time, the benefits of this Collective can grow beyond these intangibles, to also include unconditional basic income (in “real” currency) for all its members.

As a whole, I think something like this can serve as a bridge between the economy of today, and the so called “post-scarcity” economy of the future.

That’s the rough idea, in the abstract. I know it’s a little dry in this form, so I will make it more concrete in future posts. I want to convey both what a specific instance of a Collective might look like, and most of all how it would feel.