Capitalism 3:0: A Bright Idea!
I met Peter Barnes, co-founder of Working Assets, over five years ago, when I spent two weeks at his Mesa Refuge writer's retreat perched up on a small buff, overlooking Tomales Bay in Point Reyes Station. My stay there was more focused on personal reflecting than on saving the planet, but I came away impressed with Barnes' fresh approach to corporate social responsibility.
A few years later, I became a DJ at KWMR, West Marin Community Radio, and bumped into Jon Rowe, a former editor of The Washington Monthly magazine, a publication that I had tried to get published in decades ago. He told me that he was working for Barnes on a project dedicated to preserving "the commons."
Well, as fate would have it, Barnes will be appearing on my radio show this coming Monday, at 8:45 am PST (www.kwmr.org) and we will be discussing his new book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming The Commons.
Having just worked for several years on a book under the by-line of Bruce Piasecki about the concept of "social response product development" -- the idea that smart companies are now focused on delivering products that solve social problems instead of creating them -- this new book by Barnes intrigued me.
Because it offers a new model that can help reconcile two key trends in economic development that move in opposite directions, and which will inevitably conflict. The trend that has achieved the greater notoriety is "globalization," which is being trumpeted and condemned, depending upon whether one listens to big picture financial types or on-the-ground activities focused on local produced organic food. Barnes' solutions offers a way to reconcile these two opposing forces.
His main argument is that both government and the private sector continually fail to protect "the commons" -- a term that refers to everything from our air and water resources, to things such as small towns and local cultural institutions currently being threatened by "Big Box" stores and other global chain stores. In essence, he also includes the views of Christian fundamentals in his vision, as creating methods for preserving "God's gifts of creation" for future generations.
The key twist in Capitalism 3.0 is the creation of a parallel economy represented by "trusts" that could then manage ecosystems -- such as the sky -- for long-term benefit instead of short-term gains. He uses the language of computer speak to effectively capture how we need to change "the operating system" of capitalism to adjust it to acknowledge today's economic and environmental realities.
I won't go into the details of how these "trusts" would be managed. Buy the book if you want to learn those details. What I find refreshing in the book is that it is written free of the financial jargon that often scares the general public. Barnes is able to convey his arguments with great examples, and a sense of humor.
I believe that he is on to something. Capitalism, in its present senile and outmoded form, is not serving the public interest. In spite of all of the progress on the CSR front, we are still just nibbling on the edges, and not digging in and getting to the root of our challenges. If we employ Barnes' new approach, then issues such as global climate change can no longer be ignored by the powers that be.
I am fascinated by the notion that the economy is moving in two different directions at once. On the one hand, corporations are merging and becoming bigger and bigger and pushing their generic products all over the globe. In response, citizens are turning to local institutions for the food, such as the farmer's market. Out here in West Marin, their is the movement to eat locally to support local farmers.
I just finished a project for Zurich Financial and CNN/Time magazine in which people were asked which of these four social trends were the most important: CSR; on-line social networks; urban planning; and rural development in the developing world. To my surprise, respondents picked the last category. They apparently recognize that the commons in the developing world is the key to our planet's long-term survival.
Barnes' Capitalism 3.0 approach is worth considering. It moves beyond the debate of who is better at managing our economy, government versus business. It recognizes the efficiency of markets, while also bowing to the idea that "the commons" is worth protecting with new institutions that have worked in other arenas, such as our Society Security system at the national level and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust at the local level.
Please buy and read this book!