Economics of Abundance Workshop Notes

Last Thursday,  I led a workshop on the Economics of Abundance (based on my book by the same name) for Shareable and co-hosts Independent Arts & Media and Abundance League. Below are notes from the meeting, including the work of participants.

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I opened the workshop by introducing the participants to the idea that our present economy is based on the generation of scarcity, and talking about how we can promote individual freedom, social equity, and environmental sustainability by fostering abundance: the condition when all people, now and in the future, are enabled to live life as art.  For an explanation of these ideas, please see my earlier contribution to Shareable here.

Participants then volunteered to form working groups to discuss how to promote abundance in different contexts.  Three working groups were formed, to discuss 1) education and respect, 2) health care, and 3) resource sharing in information technology and media.  The working groups addressed the following questions:

1. In which ways does this activity/organization already promote abundance (enabling everybody concerned, now and in the future, to live life as art)?

2. In which ways does this activity/organization undermine abundance (e.g., by constraining people’s choices), or fail to generate abundance (by serving fewer people than it might)? How is its ability to generate abundance undermined by outside scarcity-generating institutions (e.g., the travel infrastructure may limit individuals’ choices about how to get around)?

3. How could this activity/organization become better at generating abundance – either by doing the things listed under point 1 more effectively, or by finding ways of getting around the constraints listed under point 2?

The workshop concluded by members of the working groups reporting the outcomes of their discussions back to the entire group. Following are summaries of the working groups’ discussions.

Working Group 1: Education and Respect

Kelci M. Kelci, Connor Cook, and Jeremy Smith, with some inputs by Wolfgang Hoeschele

The working group considered education and respect to be closely related because very often we respect people, and their claims to knowledge, based on the educational degrees that they have obtained. So, formal education is a means to obtaining respect, and that respect can be a scarce resource.

1. Creating abundance now.

Education is intended to increase knowledge and share ideas among a large public. Particularly in the liberal arts type of institutions, it aims to promote critical thinking. For those who have access to education, it provides opportunities for economic advancement.

Schools and universities connect people with similar passions so that they can learn from each other and perfect their practice – fundamental to their life as art.

In universities, there are many shared facilities such as dorms, cafeterias, the library, and sports facilities which are a form of socialism, where people learn to share resources in such a way that everyone gains.

2. Undermining abundance

Access to education is very uneven. At the elementary to high-school stage, schools in the United States are funded on the basis of local property taxes, meaning that schools in low-income school districts are underfunded, of correspondingly low quality, and therefore do not serve as a route to social advancement, or to attending a good university.

At the university level, there is a hierarchy of institutions with varying amounts of resources, and it is very difficult to get into the better ones. Within the university system, one has to fit in terms of being able to take standardized tests, be good at writing and so forth in order to get access to the content of higher education. Furthermore, there are important gateways that one has to pass in order to get to those classes where critical thinking is encouraged – for example, students have to take introductory courses that socialize them into the basic assumptions of a discipline before taking advanced courses where some of these assumptions are discussed more critically. If critical thinking is kept as a kind of privilege for the middle class and the elite it loses much of its value.

3. Creating greater abundance

At the K-12 level, funding for schools should be based on need (for example, number of students) rather than on local property taxes, offering equal educational opportunity to everyone.

In higher education, there could be more different types of degrees (beyond, for example, BA, BS, and BFA degrees at 4-year colleges), fostering different kinds of skill sets for people with different interests and backgrounds.

Working Group 2: Health Care

Vidhya Murthy, Chaya Grossberg, Neal Gorenflo, and Ishita Ghosh

1. Creating abundance now

The group had trouble thinking of what is abundant in the present health care system! However, there is abundant information on health issues available on the internet. Also, emergency care is abundant in the sense that nobody is turned away when they come to the emergency room (even if they are billed later…).

2. Undermining abundance

Health care itself is not abundant at all – it’s expensive, and what is kept particularly scarce is the perspective of “experts” that discredits or marginalizes other views. It also tends to foreclose community-based resources such as enhancing the health-value of relationships.

Getting insurance is not only expensive, it’s also tied to employment – that makes it much more difficult to change jobs or to become self-employed, closing opportunities to abundant life.

The drugs industry chooses not to pursue research in those drugs they do not see as sufficiently profitable. Meanwhile, patented drugs are very expensive.

3. Creating more abundance

Insurance needs to be decoupled from employment, and should cover holistic and preventative approaches to health.

Many of our health problems result from the ways we live and work. Reducing the hours we work, or subsidizing walking, bicycling and public transit would promote greater health (for example, creating safe bike paths).

Loosening intellectual property rights on drugs would make them available more cheaply.

Working Group 3: Sharing resources in information technology and media

Lucci, Brandon Nash, and Josh Wilson

Participants in this group work at a cable TV show showcasing information resources, and at creating networks among artists and media, and discussed abundance in this context.

1. Creating abundance now

Finding more organizations and people that can network with each other increases the resources available to all participants in the network.

There is an existing framework for identifying, creating, and sharing resources among different groups and individuals. This creates greater social capital.

3. Creating greater abundance

The group skipped ahead to the last question, how to create greater abundance. First, create alternative currencies. By keeping records of what one group or person does for another, one can create a barter exchange network that circumvents the need for monetary exchange.

Such a system requires the evaluation of services, establishing some sort of equivalencies, involving changes of how we evaluate social capital. A question is how the exchange of services among organizations and individuals may translate into obtaining more funding.

Measuring the impact of a project or model on social audiences, or promoting feedback from the audience, can better support media projects.

Less speaking and more listening.

Identify the value of social capital outside the current system, and change the tax system that is stacked against labor.

Conclusion

The summaries above do not reflect the entire discussions in the groups, which were wide-ranging and very animated! Here are a few comments from participants:

"It was very nice to meet you and everyone else last night. I really enjoyed the evening, our discussions, and the new thoughts that came out of them." -Kelci. M Kelci.

"I felt very comfortable in the group and appreciate the opportunities I had to exchange thoughts with everyone. I hope that one day you awaken, refreshed from good sleep, to a world where the scarcity of scarcity enriches everyone. May all of the best things happen from us." -Brandon Nash

"The workshop helped me to better understand how my experiences are constrained and enabled by collective arrangements. This is a rare and helpful perspective. It raises awareness about how our world works and uncovers opportunities for positive change." -Neal Gorenflo

Teaser image courtesy of Gwen Meharg.

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