Introducing the Commons Engine
Let’s face it: reflecting on the substantial patterns of the last twenty years of digital economic culture returns a bleak assessment. That promise to connect us that we call the “sharing economy” has turned out to be the perfect set of business practices to extract corporate profits while remaining indifferent to the well-being of participants and public infrastructure. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency players, who ostensibly set out to level the playing field of the digital economy, ended up delivering a hyper-capitalist gambling ring with precious few useful or usable apps — not to mention the fact that migrating away from petro-dollars doesn’t mean so much when your new accounting engine incentivizes the use of frankly obscene amounts of energy.
Crises of governance seem to belie both of these curiously blended public/private domains of activity. Where platforms like Uber and AirBnB govern hundreds of thousands without their input, decentralized networks have been repeatedly called out for putting too much faith in the infrastructure’s governance capacity itself, which has proven inadequate for mediating disputes and flagrant power inequities. What a great irony, as commentators have joined the promise of democracy to the potential of the Internet since its inception! All in all, burn-out from unstable “gigs”, exhaustion from the bipolarity of the volatile crypto-economy, and perhaps even anger with the stark injustices baked into both of these techno-capitalist parties weigh heavily on those of us paying (and giving ;) attention.
What Comes Next?
Recognizing these indignities feels surprisingly relieving. Perhaps “calling it” on the current versions of the sharing economy and the crypto-economy will embolden us to suss out, beyond this disillusionment, glimmers of what comes next. As we’re wont to build on the ashes of our dreams, we ask: what can we build now? The Commons Engine envisions healthy financial exchange that lends the power of networks to values and goals that serve its participants rather than just platform owners, designers, and first-comers (without compromising our glossy, refined computing experience!) Above all, we want the structures that come to replace centralized systems to better account for how we interact, and therefore, to better hold us to account.
In this way, we envision countering rising monetary inequality with systems of deeper wealth, and redirecting social power away from profiteering institutions that do not honor deeply enough our relationships to the planet and to each other. The following convictions ground the Commons Engine. They focus its activities jointly on the problems of these trends, and on the affordances of Holochain’s post-blockchain digital ledger technology.
We actually want to coordinate action.
The sharing economy has taught us that peer-to-peer social engagement is its own virtue. For its part, the wild world of crypto shows us, with even greater vibrato than the stock market, that viral patterns of affect truly have the power to activate coordination among actors all around the globe. The excess capacity unleashed by social cooperation is not only necessary from a strategic perspective, but from the perspective of the good life. We understand rationally that we need each other, but we also want to relate to each other for its intrinsic value. We believe it’s possible to take the notion of a sharing economy much farther, into a realm where extractive platforms are replaced by open cooperatives, and digital commons can use sophisticated value accounting tools to create reciprocal relationships that more adequately honor contributors.
Massive accounting engines can help create new commons.
Imagine replacing extractive sharing economy platforms with a new type of cooperative model that uses crypto-accounting methods to create distributed networks of providers…of energy, food, housing, transportation…who knows what else? Holochain’s architecture is lightweight enough to process tens of thousands of transactions a minute. What’s more, a federation of exchangeable asset-backed currencies using the Holo/Holochain pattern could have sufficient force to propel mainstream economic activity into directly peer-to-peer means. Generally speaking, we imagine marketplaces that do not depend on high interest-bearing fiat currencies, but whose actors lend each other credit — thanks to trustworthy, nuanced reputation and accounting systems with relatively low overhead.
There are forms of wealth more valuable than financial capital.
Economic relations are relations between peers, but also reflect the collective’s relationship with the natural world. Could the rules of the game by which networks play take root in shared goals, like, say, reducing dependence on transported goods, preservation of natural capital, or livable conditions for all participants? We’d really like to know what happens on our planet when we change our mindset from growth, based in competition, to sufficiency based in cooperation. This could involve, say, spreading practice-oriented knowledge and the accounting tools for regenerative action; our first cohort of regenerative agriculturalists encourages farmers to work with their soil to together transform farmland into practice grounds for more deeply responsive land stewardship. A community solar-energy network would operate on similar principles, holding sustainable forms of energy as a key priority toward which to deploy increased technological efficiency.
Software governance can go beyond “trustless” consensus.
Commons Engine wants to greet our potential to agree to, and collectively set our sights on, enacting values that we hold in common. On that note, a vision of enhanced coordination clearly does amplify the need to rethink governance of emerging commons. One could even say governance is a constituent factor of turning more resource pools into commons! If software mediates and thus engineers our collective action, their governance is like an ongoing experiment in calling forth and implementing agreements that reflect a general will.
Holochain applications, run by its participants, make it easy to integrate models that govern code changes and versioning. The Commons Engine means to foster markets that honor the perspective of all stakeholders. This means, on the one hand, dropping the naive idea that the architecture of decentralized tech can foster relationships of trust on its own, and on the other, pursuing forms of crowdfunding that explicitly refuse the shady practices that have given ICOs a bad reputation.
An invitation to “next economy” forerunners
Think of the Commons Engine as a Holochain project incubator that specializes in bootstrapping all sorts of hApps (HC apps): asset-backed currencies, complex open value flow designs for the material and knowledge commons, and tools for democratic governance of organizations and common-pool resources.
The Commons Engine will aid in growing out the hApps ecosystem in a meaningful way — by spreading the meme of asset-backed and mutual-credit currencies where they are most needed. Among other monetary rebels, Holochain was cited by Brett Scott as one of a few initiatives poised to combine cryptocurrency with mutual credit — in reality a cross between the cryptocurrency crusaders, monetary theorists, and localists also represented on his list. Taking advantage of the full interoperability of Holochain-based currencies and applications, creators of regional, complementary, and cooperative currencies (and the media they rely on), can greatly expand and enhance the resilience and usability of the instruments they create.
We would be honored to receive your support.
Check out our website here, and follow along with our progress on Twitter as we gather the knowledge, tools, and relational practices to support a network of partners and projects that aim to see this vision through!