Suddenly, life sucks. You lost your job, and it may never come back. Or maybe the government is forcing you to close your small business; the effect is similar. Businesses are failing everywhere, and everything you rely on is mutating. It’s time to adapt, or bury your dreams and hang on for dear life. Adapt! Win!
In the big picture, losing your livelihood wasn’t the worst that could happen. Even in the boom time before the Covid-19 Depression, a lot of people were being left behind, working hard in dead-end jobs just to stay ahead of a mountain of debt, watching their dreams wither away with age. Living paycheck-to-paycheck and borrowing for an essentially worthless degree were not so great. Our problems run deeper than a virus we were unprepared for.
Something is off. Society doesn’t have to work this way. The Earth and its human tribes can make everything needed many times over, without forcing oppressive working conditions on anyone. Even assuming that utopia is impossible, living without hope of new and better possibilities for the human race is a choice. Instead of living without hope, we can take responsibility for doing what we can.
Losing your job has given you the gift of time. Use it wisely. Just complaining is a waste of time. Better to focus on what you can do to change your environment more to your liking. Maybe you’d like to be secure in a web of independent, mutually supportive relationships. Maybe you’d like to own your own successful business while doing what you love.
Working for yourself is not easy. Your boss is a real prick, and the work is never ending. But as your own boss, you have a chance to invest in your own future, instead of just paying the bills. Over time, with a little luck and common prudence, all those investments in yourself can pay off, bringing you a form of social security that can’t be stolen or taxed away from you: membership in a community of interpersonal trust and mutual support.
If you want that kind of security, you’ve got to start with the essentials, and invest in your own skills and networks over time.
First step: pick some activity that fulfills you, that if done well creates something that others need or want, that you can learn to do better in your spare time. Just about anything will do. Find your purpose by searching with your mind, heart and intuition. Knock on doors and ask for help. If you have to take a job that is not aligned with your purpose, arrange you lifestyle and work habits so you can pursue your passion in your spare time.
Step two: find others interested in the same activity. Start making friends and learning how to meet the wants and needs of others while participating in the activity. Practice, practice, practice. Ask for feedback and accept setbacks, but keep at it. Build trusted relationships by practicing giving and receiving over time. Make yourself useful to those who can help you achieve your goals, sometimes even if only by providing you with opportunities to develop your skills.
Step three: build products and services you can exchange for things that are more valuable than your cost of production. That’s the simple economic formula for building wealth: make investments that pay back more than you put into them, over time. If you’ve invested in yourself during steps one and two, you’ll have the skills and help you’ll need to succeed.
Suppose, for example, you have a business idea, an idea that doesn’t need a enormous capital investment up front. You’re not looking to drill oil wells or build factories. It’s something simpler, like making a computer game, publishing a series of graphic novels, or running a business matchmaking service. Maybe it’s a content channel for people who are interested in a special topic, like organic gardening or fine wine. Whatever the business plan, most of what you need to make it work are things your team can do from home. It’s big enough to need a team and small enough for you to start without needing a lot of money to hire expensive attorneys and consultants, or pay salaries and rent. The type of work required allows everyone to work from home, so you don’t need office or industrial space.
You have two main options, which are not mutually exclusive: raise capital until you can afford to hire the team you need to carry out your plan (hard to do when you’re out of work and struggling to pay your bills), or convince your team to work for a piece of the action. To do these things, you can organize as a corporation or partnership. There is also the LLC (limited liability company), which pays income taxes like a partnership while limiting the liability of shareholders like a corporation.
Both of these traditional ways of organizing a business — corporations and partnerships — have their advantages and disadvantages. But neither will help you start a successful business without money, or build a team slowly as opportunity permits. Neither are designed to grow a community of shared interest, as if from a seed.
A cooperative cross-license is an attractive alternative for creative enterprises and other enterprises. Done right, the license can provide many of the benefits of a corporate form without requiring financial capital to build a team, and the advantages of a partnership without the risks that partnership entails. And it can also let small teams start small with unlimited potential for growth and stability over time.
Here’s how it works: A license is a grant of rights to property, subject to a set of conditions. For a creative project, the licensed property is intangible: copyrights, trade secrets, know-how, inventions, and the like. Instead of forming a company, members of the creative team grant each other cross-licenses to the work product they create, a sort of limited “commons.” Each contributor retains ownership of their own creations. Each team member controls their own investment of time and value, and earns a commensurate share of benefits. Risk is limited to the value of contributed labor, and is mitigated by the presence of the durable, intangible assets that are the subject of the license. If the enterprise fails, each contributor still owns what they put in. A built-in conflict resolution process lets participants work out disagreements fairly, without lawyers and lawsuits.
This “Mutual Press” licensing arrangement is perfectly feasible, but it’s not the norm. It’s not in use yet, so far as I know. Mutual Press pioneers must take risks and invest for the long term. There may never be a better time to invest in something new, than this great global disruption and social re-invention we are going through now. The single most important element is in abundant supply: lots of talented people with time on their hands, looking for something productive to do.
Actual licenses will vary in the details depending on the legal context and goals. That said, here are some salient features: Creators grant conditional licenses in exchange for a revenue share negotiated with a publisher, or several different publishers. The license defines a market process by which publishers can organize assets into blocks, in return for a share of the revenue or other benefits that the assets in the block generate.
A mandatory arbitration clause prevents use of litigation as a coercive tool. Instead of litigation, participants settle disagreements by interpersonal neutral arbitration, as explained in the 2018 book “ Blockchain Faith.” All participants in the license are natural persons subject to the arbitration clause, or entities wholly composed of such natural persons. No corporate entity has “standing” to use the arbitration procedure. This means that all participants take personal responsibility for their conduct, and the playing field is level. The neutral arbitration agreement enables growth of a trust community of people committed to conflict resolution for mutual benefit.
The goal is to provide a fair allocation of revenue proportional to contributed value, in an environment that incentivizes contribution and value growth by continued investment over time. The license is designed such that most of the contributed capital is in the form of intangible property resulting from labor of the licensors. Publishers can be sued by those who are not parties to the license, and bearing such exposure is part of the value that publishers add. Everyone else is protected from being dragged into court via the license terms, without being deprived of the ability to resolve internal disagreements on a level playing field. The licensing model should be able to compete with corporations or partnerships, especially for relatively small groups of creative, innovative people. We might call such a group a “Mutual Press.”
These licenses can be used to organize various kinds of projects. Eggseed Press is currently organizing a Mutual Press for people interested in cooperative asset development, including publishing a journal and associated channels. Quality content and revenue generation will be a focus, but so will building up fluid teams that can increase in value over time, aiming for the most durable social security of all: solid trust in friends and associates, independent of the vagaries of finance and economic cycles.
To learn more or participate, check out my profile. If you would like to organize your own Mutual Press, hit me up. You might convince me to help you with drafting a license, pro bono. By working together for mutual benefit and building trust communities, we can secure our futures and, just maybe, never fear losing a “job” again.