New Community Networks

Wired for Change

Addison-Wesley, 1996

Douglas Schuler



Chapter 6



If I had the choice of being rich or poor, I'd choose being rich ... I'm not stupid.[1]

  Dottie Stevens, Welfare Rights League

In the future there will be a classless society, no one will be richer than anyone else.

  David Byrne, "In the Future"



Human existence is a complex tapestry of activity, so distributed yet so densely interwoven that it might be considered as a single organism or giant brain. In an organism or brain, however, the smallest units are usually considered reflexive and nonthinking. Humans — the smallest unit of the social sphere — are sentient beings capable of independent thought. For that reason, the actions of individuals or communities are somewhat autonomous and somewhat subservient to the collective: Every person plays a role in the ongoing evolution of the entire system.

The complex rhythm of human life has dramatic differences between it and that of other organisms. For one thing, our adaptation is largely in reaction to social changes —not in reaction to environmental changes. Thus people are both master and slave to the social conditions they create. Another difference is humankind's domination over the environment of the earth itself which dramatically dwarfs the effects of all other animal species. While the ever-increasing numbers of people and their habits of consumption coupled with their disposition towards travel, agriculture, and war may not be catastrophic in the short run, the effects in the longer run may be so sudden, profound, and unanticipated that humankind may be unable to adapt quickly enough. Even though humankind has the power to make substantial changes to its own social sphere and to the physical environment within which people live, many changes are occurring at rates higher than at any other time in humankind's existence. It is possible to create conditions under which humans cannot survive.

The case of the automobile is particularly relevant here, for it shows the way in which a technology can completely, and unexpectedly, come to dominate the social, economic, and environmental patterns of communities and nations if not ultimately the entire world. The world has been essentially redesigned for the convenience and pleasure of the automobile with little or no conscious citizen participation in this process. The case of the automobile also illustrates the naive faith that some elements of humankind —particularly in the American sector— have when it comes to technology. People have been guinea pigs, often willingly, in a massive global experiment. Almost the entire fabric of American life has been modified for the automobile. It has dictated where people live, work, and shop. Neighborhoods have been destroyed, replaced to a large degree by highways and strip malls. But can the car last? Geologists believe that there may be fewer than 50 years of oil in the earth from which to refine gasoline. The average American, however, believes that a new fuel source will be found. A technological deus ex machina will arrive just in time to enable the suburban family of the future to drive to the shopping mall. People aren't quite sure what this new fuel will consist of. Perhaps it will be an elixir concocted from moonbeams and cucumbers.

Looking back on the impact of the automobile over the last 70 years should provide ample reasons for somber reflection. It's conceivable that people might learn the biggest and most lamentable lesson last, however. That's the possibility that we can create problems that are too big for us to solve. Humankind might be like the paradoxical God that was so powerful that He could create a rock that He couldn't lift.

The Need for a Sustainable Future

The effect that humankind's collective patterns of production, distribution, and consumption will likely have on the physical environment and the associated social relations are difficult to understand and perhaps more difficult to avoid. Many scenarios are grim. As Thomas Homer-Dixon and his colleagues have reported in their ominous Scientific American article, "Environmental Change and Violent Conflict" (1993), scarcities of renewable resources are already contributing to violent conflicts in many parts of the developing world. Unfortunately, they foresee much more of this in coming years: "Renewable-resource scarcities of the next 50 years will probably occur with a speed, complexity, and magnitude unprecedented in history. Entire countries can now be deforested in a few decades, most of the region's topsoil can disappear in a generation, and acute ozone depletion may take place in as few as 20 years."

Economic systems and conditions that allow, or promote, such catastrophic events require immediate scrutiny. Developing an economic system that is sustainable and responsive to human needs is a long-term goal that can provide the impetus for a number of actions in the short term. Furthermore, there are options open at all levels, from those that a person acting individually can explore to those that a nation or family of nations can accomplish. These actions in most cases will be incremental. They need, however, to be progressive and principled, and their effects need to be continually reevaluated for possible redesign. The inertia of current economic systems and their ideological infrastructure is incredibly massive and seemingly irresistible, but shackling humankind and the physical environment to its imperatives may be suicidal. Hopefully it is not too late to begin exploring alternative options for equitable and sustainable economics.



Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.

  Wendall Berry

"Economics" is the broad term for the systematic attempt to understand how goods and services are produced, and consumed, and how people make transactions to acquire what they need or want. Economics is the perspective that attempts to explain who "owns" what and what ownership means. Of the six community "core values" under consideration, economics is the most controversial. While many people would agree that the other five core values have critical associated problems that need addressing, they may feel that this core value should be specifically off-limits, and not a valid area of discussion — especially not a discussion that questions some of its basic assumptions.

The belief in the ultimate sanctity of capitalism and the "free market" is apparently part of the conceptual fallout from the recently ended 50-year cold war that also helped spawn the simplistic economic worldview in which economic concepts were either capitalistic (good) or socialistic (bad). Since the American free-market vision has effectively attained sacred status (as both a religion and a science) people who question it are often demonized or marginalized in other ways — they're misguided, malicious, or perhaps both — and should not be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this view prevents and pollutes the conversations and proposals about economics for people and communities that we need to be putting forward.

Economics (sometimes referred to as the "dismal science") may be dismal, but it isn't science. Instead, it often attempts to rationalize those "systems" that determine who has access to goods and services and who has little or no access to them. Currently there are profound divisions between those two groups. As Ivan Illich explains, "The present world is divided into those who do not have enough and those who have more than enough, those who are pushed off the road by cars and those who drive them" (1973). Conventional economic academics and other apologists spend much of their time rationalizing this phenomenon, explaining why this is as it should be, either through God's will, nature's law, economic equations, or scientific principles. A century or two ago, slavery and child labor may have been defended using similar techniques.

The fundamental truth is that economic systems are not machines, nor do they necessarily behave according to a set of equations. They are human systems that are created and shaped through unconscious human habits as well as explicit policies. Furthermore, they have profound consequences now and for the future. Currently, they often act to sort people into two basic levels of economic existence — the oft-mentioned haves and the have-nots — a commonplace, yet fundamentally unfair, distinction that impoverishes the human race materially as well as spiritually. There is nothing necessarily permanent about the extreme disparities of this two-tiered system, however. Human beings can modify human systems, including economic systems, to better meet human needs and to adapt them to changing circumstances.

Dominance of Economic Thinking

Economic thinking — seeing everything in purely economic terms — is beginning to dominate public discourse. This perspective debases the notion of democratic decision-making and the idea of public or community institutions, services, and spaces. Democratic systems were not conceived of in economic terms — generating income is not their raison d'être. Nor were public education, public safety, public parks, or other public manifestations. If people distort their priorities by measuring all activities according to economic yardsticks, they restrict humankind's capacity for creativity while denying its convivial instincts and values. Benjamin Barber, whose thoughts figured prominently in Chapter 4, believes that the main problem with focusing on economic thinking, "is not that it asks men to be greedy or competitive, but that it asks them to be unimaginative."

The reduction of all human action to economic transactions is apparently aesthetically and psychologically satisfying to some people. It allows the messy "flesh and blood" aspects of the human experience — life, death, unemployment, poverty, etc. — to be represented abstractly as numbers and equations. Searching for the elusive and accurate numbers becomes a game that takes precedence over addressing real problems. It provides a set of prepackaged rationales for the status quo. Thus a "natural rate" of unemployment, poverty, or malnutrition, for example, can be hypothesized from statistical data and become a part of the conceptual infrastructure that shapes the way that people view economic reality.

While the desire to simplify and therefore "understand"a complex phenomenon like an economic system with equations and/or platitudes is very strong and altogether human, there are several dangers to this approach. The first danger is that people believe the simplifications and act as though they accurately and comprehensively reflect reality. The second danger is that people defend the simplifications and act as though they cogently and compellingly reflect a reality that ought to be. The latter danger is demonstrated by the strong forces that strive to keep the slogans and ideological perspectives of American free-market capitalism as sacrosanct. Thus the wealthiest classes who feel they have the most to lose generally strive (and usually succeed) in shielding the system from scrutiny, analysis, and democratic adjustment. To accomplish this, the system must appear scientifically derived, harmoniously self-regulating, morally correct, technically incomprehensible, and so perfectly tuned as to defy adjustment. Furthermore, it must be dominant —all the popular notions of equity, democracy, and freedom must be subservient to it.

The dominance of economic thinking also helps to place a focus on money itself rather than its uses. Thus the millionaires and billionaires of the world generally have few ideas what to do with their money except to buy more things. While the media scoffed at Imelda Marcos's shoe-buying mania, the money-spending habits of many of the world's wealthy citizens are no less self-indulgent. While Andrew Carnegie may have amassed his fortune in nefarious ways, his funding of hundreds of libraries in the United States has gone unmatched by the newly minted megarich whose public contribution is generally limited to optimistic prognostications. Undoubtedly their entourage of lawyers and accountants would prevent them from expansive public investment even if they were inclined in this direction.



The animal spirits of business are being released. Risk will bring its own rewards.

  Business Week, October 17, 1994

Mellon pulled the whistle

Hoover rang the bell

Wall Street gave the signal

And the country went to hell.

  Song sung at march on Washington by the
unemployed,1932 (Piven and Cloward, 1979)


Current economic practices are so widespread and pervasive that neither their fundamental assumptions nor the consequences of their actions are challenged in a meaningful way. As we shall see in the sections ahead, ignoring this ubiquitous force in the vague hope that everything will come out OK may be a very big mistake.

The Inherent Bias of the "Free Market"

With the demise of planned economies in the former Soviet Union and other places, it is clear to some that the capitalistic system has won, and with that, its obvious economic — and moral — superiority has been established, much in the same way that a football match determines the superiority of one team over another. Of course, the idea that exactly two possible economic systems exist is a fantastically constraining and simplistic belief. In truth, there are any number of ways in which economic systems could be established. Given all these possibilities, the challenge is to establish an economic system (and to modify existing ones) in such a way that it creates and distributes goods and services in an equitable and sustainable manner. Unfortunately, the current system falls short in both equity and sustainability.

People seem quite willing to ascribe a mechanistic or autonomous power to the "hidden hand" of capitalism. Yet a universe of focus groups, marketeers, advertising firms, real estate agents, trade associations, stock brokers, tax lawyers, corporate lobbyists, business reporters, regulatory bodies, chambers of commerce, banks and other individuals, organizations, and business-oriented periodicals (like Forbes, Business Week, and Fortune to name just three) is devoted nearly full-time to maintenance and manipulation of the system itself. The "invisible" and nonmanipulated hand that Adam Smith described two centuries ago is largely irrelevant today in the face of the vast capitalistic machine.

The most obvious shortcoming of this vast system — so staunchly and absolutely defended against all breaches — is its profound and unrelenting bias toward the wealthy. Unbelievably, this obvious fact is somehow controversial and is not as readily acknowledged as the fact that humans need air, food, and water to survive. This intrinsic bias shows itself in two ways — both absolutely and fundamentally obvious. The first such bias follows naturally from the rules of the capitalist imperative alone: "There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits." (Friedman, 1962) People with little or no money have no existence in such a system. Without the tokens, they cannot play. Moreover, if the profit is greater on a luxury item than on a staple like food, the "logic" of capitalism decrees that the luxury item should be produced, satisfying the "needs" of the wealthy before the needs of the poor. "Commerce between master and slave," as Thomas Jefferson pointed out, "is despotism." Interestingly, the idea that extreme differences between economic classes may be inimical to democracy is shared by many thinkers on the right as well as those on the left.

The second bias is only slightly less obvious, though its truth and power generally do not escape those on the lower economic rungs. The bias is succinctly captured in the populist rewording of the "Golden Rule," which states that "the ones with the gold rule." Companies and individuals with ample resources to draw from are better equipped to exert their influence than those who aren't. Lobbyists from corporations don't need to take a day off from work to convince senators that additional corporate tax breaks are necessary. That is their work! Again, a short survey of the educational opportunities, health care, quality of life, safety, economic opportunity, democratic participation, and representation in governmental decisions, that are available to the poor versus those available to the rich, confirms this simple yet critical fact. This overarching bias must factor into any discussion of community networks if the new medium is to promote economic equity and opportunity, rather than reflecting or even accelerating the built-in biases of the current system. Computer networks —including community computer networks— will probably come to be dominated by the rich, as are almost all other aspects of society. Strong activism, solidarity, and perseverance will be necessary if this trend is to be checked even slightly.

Fundamental Economic Inequities

In the United States and elsewhere, children learn the beauty and the truth about capitalism from a variety of sources. Parker Brothers, the American game manufacturer that sells the "Monopoly"board game in which players buy, sell, and improve properties in an effort to drive the other players to bankruptcy, is one such source. In this game, each player begins the game with the same amount of money ($2000) and with equal holdings of property (none). No property is "inherited" from previous games. This "monopoly"is quite "fair" since everyone has an equal chance at the beginning of the game. A new revision of Monopoly —a reality-infused edition— could be easily devised to portray a more accurate situation. Only two changes are necessary. In the revised game, all the properties are owned before the game begins but not in a random distribution: 90 percent of the properties will be owned by 5 percent of the players. In the obsolete, inaccurate version, each player received $200 each time their marker moved across the space marked "Go." In our updated version, those without property must pay $200 when they pass "Go,"and those with property receive a share commensurate with the property they own. To make the new game even more realistic, property-owning players would be able to change the rules as they deemed necessary to ensure their continued good fortune. If this change were made, it would boost the reality quotient still further. But why bother? Why not just play the real game? Although the revised game hasn't been test-marketed, my sense is that some players might find the game very satisfying while the majority would somehow feel that the odds are staked against them. Of course, if the winners can dominate the press ...

Some hard facts: In 1973, one out of nine Americans was classified as poor by the U.S. Census Bureau, and by 1991, one out of every seven Americans was considered poor. One of every five children was considered poor. (Poverty is closely linked to educational and health problems, and the United States has one of the highest degrees of inequality in distribution in the developed world.) The United States also has the highest proportion of single-parent families (mostly female-headed) in the world, and the poverty rate among the children in female-headed households was 55 percent in 1991. While food, housing, and energy costs rise, jobs are becoming scarcer and the wages of the jobs that are left are dropping. New York City lost nearly a half million jobs between 1970 and 1984 (Schwartz, 1994a), while Philadelphia is currently losing about 1,000 jobs a month (Schwartz, 1994b). These staggering job losses may also have more ominous implications for the future. South Central Los Angeles, the scene of the 1992 riots that left 51 people dead and over a billion dollars in property damage, lost 75,000 blue-collar jobs between 1978 and 1982. The devastation of virtually all community safety nets, in employment, education, and recreation, as well as the "government betrayal" of the community is brilliantly portrayed by Mike Davis in City of Quartz (1992), his social and political history of Los Angeles.

"Downsizing," corporate newspeak for reducing the workforce through large layoffs, is currently taking its toll. In 1994, record job losses were tallied up in the telecommunications industry (itself a high-tech industry that is still touted as an engine of employment). The irony of this was not lost on 5,000 Bell-Atlantic workers who were slated to be sacked: 1200 employees came to work sporting "Road Kill of the Information Superhighway" T-shirts, much to the annoyance of their supervisors who told them to remove the shirts. Much to the displeasure of the company, this face-off over the road-kill T-shirts was prominently featured on the local television news that evening.

There is compelling evidence that economic inequities of alarming proportions, already commonplace throughout the world, are becoming increasingly unbalanced. We can get a broad understanding of this in both relative and absolute terms. In relative terms, we need to examine the differences between some fraction (say one-half, one-third, one fourth, or one-fifth) of the families at the economic top and that same fraction of families at the economic bottom, according to various economic indicators. In absolute terms, we need to look carefully at the lives of those at the bottom in terms of their health, amenities, living conditions, and overall outlook.

As Republican political analyst Kevin Philips has comprehensively documented, a profound upward transfer of wealth from the economic lower classes to the upper classes has occurred in the United States since the 1980s. From 1977 to 1988, the bottom four-fifths of families experienced income losses while the upper one-fifth's income increased. The changes at the extremes were the most pronounced. While the average family in the lowest one-tenth lost approximately $610 a year of income, for a drop of minus 14.8 percent, the upper one percent saw their average family income rise $134,513, for a gain of nearly 50 percent! The tax code in the United States has also undergone fundamental changes, mostly to favor corporations and wealthy Americans. As William Greider has pointed out (1993), leaving the tax code unchanged since 1977 would have resulted in a simpler and less expensive tax burden for nine out of ten American families. Tireless tinkering by corporations through their Washington lobbyists (now numbering over 90,000) coupled with steady congressional compliance has steadily shifted the tax burden from corporations to individuals. Based on this evidence, it is easy to conclude that corporate lobbyists are far more numerous and successful than people's lobbyists, an asymmetry that was clearly unforeseen by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Not only is there vast inequity in terms of economic well-being, there is increasing evidence that suggests that joblessness, homelessness, poverty, and other current signs of a dysfunctional economic system may become a permanent feature of global international capitalism. Robert Reich in The Work of Nations (1992) suggests that the economic fate of the "fortunate fifth" and the "unfortunate fifth" are becoming decreasingly co-dependent: "As the economic fates of Americans diverge, the top may be losing the long-held sense of connectedness with the bottom fifth, or even the bottom four-fifths." This economic segregation makes it increasingly difficult to use resources controlled by the "fortunate fifth" in any program, including community networks, that is designed to aid the "unfortunate fifth."

The "Logic" of Global Capitalism

When the worldwide depression hit in the late twenties, there was no shortage of factories, workers, or natural resources. As reflected in the 1932 song lyrics at the beginning of this section, the average person on the street appreciated that fact and realized that it was the system itself that had collapsed. Today communities are even more dependent on the "system" whose connection to community life is increasingly mysterious. U.S. currencies, for example, have had to be propped by emergency interventions involving billions of dollars, while banks and multinational corporations transfer trillions of dollars every day electronically.

In the years since the Great Depression, recessions of varying severity have cropped up regularly. Some were expected — many were not. Some had classic symptoms and many did not. Communities bore the brunt of these economic traumas unequally: Some prospered while others floundered. Many communities have been unable to get back on their feet from economic hard times that hit several years ago. High unemployment has often led to decreasing investment in education and health care, and to increasing social ills — street crime and drug use, for example.

The Great Depression is the most jarring and violent demonstration of an economic system that self-destructed, leaving communities and individuals without opportunities or the means to support themselves and their families. Unfortunately, global depressions on the same order of magnitude as the Great Depression are still possible in the future. Just as the Great Depression resulted from conditions that the economics of the time forced into being, society could be plunged into another worldwide economic catastrophe. Yet conventional wisdom insists that we accept this situation as a given.

As these depressions and recessions underscore, modern capitalism shows a capricious, unmerciful, and unwavering disregard for community and individual life. We should be surprised (as Thorstein Veblen was) at the everyday sanctity of capitalism. However, if we use the concept of sanctity as our point of departure, it is easy to see capitalism as a new force of nature that people can neither comprehend nor influence, in other words like a new God. With this perspective we begin to see a gigantic network of priests extending from Wall Street (the Vatican?) down to local talk radio show personalities and chambers of commerce (parish priests?). While the argument that portrays capitalism as a new God may be farfetched, the argument that says it is perceived as a "force of nature" is not. The average person sees capitalism as a natural force that exerts constant pressure, but can also cause sudden dislocations, like lightning or earthquakes, that strike suddenly and without warning. In general, capitalism to the average person is something that can be suffered through by keeping one's head down, not rocking the boat, and "looking out for number one" —not questioning the precepts, altering the conditions, or designing alternative systems. To continuously and unquestionably subject ourselves, however, to the potentially jarring and seemingly immutable "logic" of present day capitalism may be a formula for disaster.


The Death of the Job

Jobs —when they exist at all— are increasingly seen in one of two ways: as those for symbol pushers who intellectualize and work with abstractions (stock brokers, computer programmers, and lawyers, for example) and those for other pushers (hamburger pushers, cart pushers, automobile accelerator pushers, data input pushers, and assembly line pushers, for example). Symbol pushers get paid more than other pushers and the number of symbol-pushing jobs is growing slowly. The number of nonsymbol-pushing jobs, on the other hand, is declining rapidly and the wages are dropping just as quickly. It's getting more difficult to support a family on a nonsymbolic job wage. As corporate strategists have made perfectly clear, any job that can be automated should be. And any job that can be made simpler through automation should be. De-skilling —the process of simplifying jobswill result in fewer jobs and less well educated —and therefore cheaper— employees to do the jobs that remain. Unfortunately, attempting to make individual companies more profitable in this way impoverishes the rest of society in many ways.

Apostles of the information age in general, and the electronic networked age in particular, are ballyhooing many of these trends. Thus they champion libraries without librarians, education without educators, and factories without factory workers. Indeed, as the cover story of the September 1994 issue of Forbes magazine proclaims, "The job itself is now 'dead' — jobs are being replaced with job searches." Downsizing all of these institutions so that they no longer need anybody to run them will likely result in increased numbers of "surplus" people, human beings for whom the system has no immediate need. In line with their general faith and trust in machines and systems over people, some of these information-age apostles are arguing that society should no longer attempt to educate these "surplus" people — for doesn't that just follow "logically" from economic principles?




New people coming from many places. Settle in little neighborhoods with people of their kind. They stick together and name those areas, "uptown," Chinatown, skid row, Pilsen, "Little Italy," . . .


People are still coming to settle but they are more scattered, more mixing, mixing names, ancestors, colors, but sharing the same problems.

  Down the road people begin to understand that time brings a change.

  Change comes in stages and struggle and each stage brings on a new way of life.

  Kay Strauther (written during Chicago "Jobtech" conference)

Information can help people in communities. People who have need of goods or services or have something to offer may place a "want ad" in a newspaper, neighborhood message-board, or community computer network. People may need information related to employment, such as job listings, job counseling, and training, information on job searches, and information about unemployment benefits and other programs. This information could easily be made available electronically; applying for unemployment assistance or other programs could also be handled electronically. Richard Civille, for example, in his study on "The Internet and the Poor" (1995) believes that civic and community networks could provide valuable "job bank" services.

Unemployed people may also need training or access to other educational opportunities. They may want or need to meet with other unemployed people to discuss their feelings, job-seeking strategies, or even ideas about starting their own businesses. When there are large layoffs in the community, workers, their families, and other people in the community need a forum for discussing these issues or for raising concerns with the management of the company doing the layoffs. Workers, whether employed or not, are often isolated and powerless, and community networks could help provide a new platform for a public voice, organization, and solidarity.

Community members also need information and support on other economic issues such as how to start small businesses. They need information on available programs, legal requirements and regulations, banking and loans, marketing ideas, model business plans, and on alternative organizations like cooperatives. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Small Business Association all have useful information on these topics that they can make available electronically. Kretzmann's and McKnight's book Building Communities from the Inside Out (1993) contains an invaluable section on "Rebuilding the Community Economy" and the Center for Neighborhood Technology also offers a useful guide (CNT, 1992).

Jobs and Computer Technology

Coincidentally, on March 2­4, 1995, in Chicago and in New York City, two conferences on nearly identical themes were convened. People at both conferences —"The Midwest Conference on Technology, Employment, and Community," (Alkalimat et al., 1995) and "The Wages of Cybernation —A Working Conference on the Future of Work" —discussed the ruptures that global capitalism and technology are causing in many local communities and appropriate ways to respond. By the time the conference organizers discovered the double booking of the weekend, it was too late to reschedule either event, to avoid competing for attendees. Each conference, however, was successful and had several hundred attendees. Each conference maintained a regional focus while simultaneously addressing the global issues that were intertwined with the local ones. Electronic network communication played an interesting role, however, in enabling both groups to overcome some of the barriers that the venues of the same time and different place had created.

Network technology has already helped various conference organizers to extend the reach of a conference beyond the conference adjournment and beyond the number of actual conference attendees by making papers, abstracts, and notes available electronically through ftp, gopher, or the World Wide Web (see Morgan, 1995, and SFC, 1995, for example). Both the Chicago and the New York City conference organizers did this also, by making the program, workshop notes, plenary speeches, reading lists, and relevant essays available on the Web (Jobtech, 1995). Beyond this, however, the new networking technology allowed the organizers of the conferences to exploit the simultaneity of the two conferences by facilitating active sharing of information and communication between the participants during the two conferences. This "virtual attendance" took several forms. For one thing, workshop notes were posted during or immediately after the workshop. For another thing, participants could electronically make comments on events or start conversations on other issues that concerned them (Fig. 6.1). Finally, Chicago organizers, Robin Burke and Kate Williams recorded scenes from the Chicago Conference with a digital camera which were also "published" on the Web sites. (Fig. 6.2).

Both conferences explored "work" in its present and emerging forms. The treatment of that subject was turned on its head from the conventional treatment offered by the news media. Instead of examining work from the corporate perspective — markets, data, downsizing, investments, and mergers — the view was from the individual and community perspective. Instead of viewing the current trends as being inevitable, pre-ordained, and "natural," the future of work and future economic systems were conceived of as mutable, human systems in which people could make a difference.

The "Let Us Proclaim!" workshop, conducted by Anne Schultz (Jobtech, 1995) at the Midwest Conference on Technology, Employment, and Community in Chicago, provides an excellent example of the future as a canvas or medium in which we can actively design and develop. The workshop used Carl Sandburg's poem about Chicago that begins, "Hog butcher for the world, tool maker, stacker of wheat, player with railroads and the nation's freight handler" to open the workshop, encouraging people to envision and write about a future of Chicago. Like the workshop attendees (some of whose poems are now on the Web site), we as a society need to envision a future that is compelling to us as individuals, families, and communities. Without vision — and planning — society is reactive, never creative.

Liberty Net

Liberty Net, the Web-based system in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has one of the most comprehensive economic development sections of any community network (Fig. 6.3). It contains information on businesses and organizations, opportunities and economic programs. The Philadelphia programs include the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the University City Science Center, and the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. The University City Science Center (UCSC), a consortium of 28 academic and scientific institutions in the Northeast United States, is a self-described "business incubator" that has launched more than 215 start-up organizations, which now employ more than 4,500 people. UCSC provides office and laboratory space, business development services, and research management assistance to science and technology-based companies and is linked to similar enterprises in Europe, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. At the lower-tech end of the scale, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP), also has a presence on Liberty Net. According to the online information PUP is dedicated to "educating and organizing unemployed and low-wage people around services, issues and policies affecting their lives," and offers job readiness, resume´ building, and client representation services. Access to these services is increasingly possible electronically, and all PUP staff project coordinators have Liberty Net e-mail addresses.

The local government (anywhere, not just in Philadelphia) can also involve the community in local economic decisions to a greater extent. Thus local tax, fees, income, expenditures, and budget information could be made available. Unfortunately, this could easily provide the catalyst for a "taxpayer's revolt" in which the goal of reducing the government takes ideological priority over improving the government or serving the community. In addition to engaging the community in discussions about the government's use of public money, the government can be proactive on other community economic issues. The local government could sponsor local forums on employment issues in the community, for example. The local government could also work with community members to design programs to retrain laid-off workers and hone their job-searching skills.

Community Voice Mail

People without access to communication technology — including telephones — are disconnected from the rest of society in many ways. Sometimes the implications are quite profound. Imagine a homeless parent whose child is ill, calling a clinic or information service for medical advice from a pay phone. In many cases, he or she may be told that somebody will call them back. But they have no telephone! Another common situation might involve a prospective employer who'd like to ask an additional question or even offer a job to a homeless person. In either case, the person without access to a telephone could find himself or herself seriously inconvenienced.

It has been noted that when people lose their residence, they often lose other connections with the rest of the community. Family, neighbors, friends, and social service agencies lose the ability to easily and reliably communicate with them. It has also been shown that without social links, shared physical spaces, and other accessible and dependable relationships, it is common for a homeless person to feel adrift and rootless, thus compounding the problem.

In Seattle, community activists, Pat Barry and Rich Feldman developed the Community Voice Mail (CVM) program which takes advantage of the fact that a person can "own" a phone number without owning a residence. Barry's colleague, David Harrison, asks, "Why should we tolerate human suffering that is easily avoidable?" The Community Voice Mail project provides free voice mail accounts to those in need, particularly homeless people, to help reduce human suffering. Barry suggests that we think of the project as a giant telephone answering machine for the homeless community. Working with dozens of social service agencies and a custom voice mail system (including computer, modems, special hardware and software that is made available at cost by the system vendors), CVM works towards providing a "stepping stone out of poverty." When a social service agency provides a client with voice mail, he or she is not given a physical telephone but a voice-mail account. When a person has a voice-mail account, he or she has a telephone number that potential employers, health-care providers, landlords, family members, or friends can call and leave messages. When the client dials the telephone number (from any telephone) of the voice-mail system and enters the password, he or she can listen to the recorded messages.

CVM is showing dramatic results. For one thing, the time that it took for clients to achieve their goals went from more than 30 days in over 75 percent of the cases, to under 30 days in over 50 percent of the cases. CVM also serves an integrating function. Generally one social service agency specializes in providing one type of service, yet homeless people rarely have just one problem. The voice-mail system provides a convenient way to coordinate information from multiple agencies as well as providing a tool to the homeless person for managing his or her own life in his or her own voice and language. The cost is now less than $2.50 per month per client, and economies of scale could drive this cost down even further.

Barry and Feldman started the Community Technology Institute (CTI) to promote the use of technology to help solve human problems and improve delivery of social services. To this end CTI promotes "in-house" technologies that are owned and operated by the community. The institute has articulated a "best practices manifesto"that includes (1) interagency collaboration; (2) accessibility; (3) ethics (including dignity, self-esteem, and privacy of the client) and (4) maximal use of technological resources. CTI's core work is replicating the Seattle experience in other locations. San Diego and San Jose, California; Portland, Oregon; Waltham, Massachusetts; and Raleigh, North Carolina; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota; New York City and Schenectady, New York; and Aberdeen, Washington are among these sites, with some 10 — 20 others in operation or planned. The Institute offers a variety of useful publications, and Barry has been traveling across the United States to set up programs and the actual voice-mail systems. There are many possibilities for collaboration between voice-mail service providers and other types of "community technology" providers.


Organized Labor and Community Development

Organized labor has long acknowledged the global scope of its issues and is organized into "international brotherhoods." Of course, "international capital" is stronger in nearly every way than "international labor," and its worldwide influence is broader and more powerful. This asymmetry of power has become more profound in recent years with treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Interestingly, this loosening of bounds on international corporations may help to usher in a new age of labor activism that is truly international (Alexander and Gilmore, 1994; Browne and Sims, 1993). Certainly, international networks will make it easier for la bor activists to keep in touch with others and share information and ideas. Also, using computer networks could enable the coordination of global labor responses to global corporate actions at employers' sites around the world. (Recently a strike was held in South Africa in support of a strike in New Jersey.) There is some evidence that organized labor is learning to use new telecommunications technology. There was widespread labor opposition to the NAFTA treaty, for example, and computer networks were used to a greater extent than ever before (Frederick, 1993a).

Organized labor —at least in the United States— has been losing strength steadily for several decades. This is due to some degree to the media that portrays it unsympathetically by concentrating generally on negatives: scandals or people inconvenienced by strikes, for example. Since 1947 when the U.S. Congress made many of labor's most effective weapons —including "secondary boycotts"— illegal, the law has been turned against labor in significant ways. (In Washington State, for example, it is illegal for any public employee —including school teachers— to strike.) The negative view of the majority of Americans toward organized labor is important to consider. Labor has been used in many ways as a scapegoat for batches of economic bad news in recent years, notably a downturn in American competitiveness. This downturn has played well into the hands of the owners of large corporations who would enjoy nothing more than unburdening themselves from the constraints that organized labor attempts to place on them. The "average man —or woman— on the street" who is becoming increasingly less likely to be employed in a union job is generally inclined —with persistent nudges from the press (with its probusiness bias) and politicians (whose main source of campaign contributions is from corporate interests)— to be turned off by organized labor. Ironically, spurning labor in the name of "independence" and "rugged individualism" has isolated the worker, leaving him or her powerless to resist the aggregated forces of government and corporate capital who feel no similar desire for "rugged individualism."

With labor on the defensive —or "flat on its back," according to some (Geoghegan, 1992)— it is difficult to conceive of an overarching strategy or organizing tactic to revive it. It is necessary, however, to revive the solidarity of working people as a critical element of the new community, because the overwhelming proportion of people in the United States and in the world are working people —or unemployed people who want to work. The labor community must strive to become more inclusive and to reach out to the rest of the community and to workers internationally. This is being explored in many ways, often tentative and experimental. Organizing has always been the by-word of the labor movement and the new information and communication technologies have the potential to play a significant role in the reorganization of workers and others. Labor today faces massive challenges as corporations reduce the number of employees by downsizing and by relocating plants and offices to places with lower wages, worker protections, and environmental standards. While dialogue about work and work-related issues must be carried on in the community, this dialogue also needs to cross community and national borders. Spurred on in part by organizing against the NAFTA agreement, there has been an increase in "cross-border organizing"; indeed Jesse Drew at the University of Texas has started a Web page on that topic (Drew, 1995). Large software programming projects have taken place over the Internet. Why not distributed organizing projects? By the same token the rest of the community should reach out to those in organized labor. Community networks should include information on unions and union events, labor laws (and which ones were being violated in which country by what companies) and historical information and recommendations for the future. Labor activists could also greatly benefit from knowing the positions that multinational corporations take at the bargaining table in North America and around the world. Economic justice is unlikely if working people are not organized and community networks and new communities are essential to the organizing of the future.

Recently there have been some notable examples of organized labor becoming involved with related issues including community and environmentalism. These include the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles that links labor issues, environmentalism, and social justice together, and has issued reports on "Reconstructing Los Angeles from the Bottom UP" (1992), "LA's Lethal Air" (Mann, 1991), and projects of the Center for Community Economic Research in Berkeley (See Appendix A).


There are many labor related resources available electronically. LaborNet, a rich source of information and a forum for discussion on labor issues, is one of the services provided by The Institute for Global Communication (IGC) which also runs PeaceNet and EcoNet. According to IGC's on-line description, "LaborNet is a community of labor unions, activists and organizations using computer networks for information sharing and collaboration on a global basis with the intent of increasing the human rights and economic justice of workers."[2] To this end LaborNet offers a wide variety of electronic conferences on topics relating to worker issues in Asia and in the Commonwealth of Independent States, worker education issues, articles in the labor press, hazards in the workplace, and many others.

In addition to LaborNet, there are also many other labor-oriented services, including the LABOR-L listserve and the LaborLine BBS. Richard Rose, a student at American University, has compiled a list of electronic resources that is intended for use by labor reporters. The list contains a wealth of information on labor issues including how to get statistics from the government and how to get resources on unemployment and downsizing, unions, worker education, compensation, part-time work, disabilities, labor law, and work and family. There are also several Usenet newsgroups such as and (see Appendix B for specifics).

Rural Community Development

On the Big Sky Telegraph ftp and BBS site, a 1994 essay by the pseudononymous author "Rough Writer" (whose prose bears a striking resemblance to Frank Odasz's) catalogs a list of economic opportunities offered by community networks. Although these are written with rural communities in mind, the ideas are also relevant to urban inner-city communities whose physical distance from "the rest of the world" is not large but whose economic and other distances are just as great.

The first benefit according to Rough Writer is derived from putting the community "in better touch with itself." If information on both goods and services that were either needed or offered were made more consistently and easily available, then the "inefficiency" or cost of making a transaction would be minimized while the number of opportunities that were lost for want of a seller or buyer would also be minimized. Rough Writer notes that informal, neighborly, social needs could be part of this system. For this strategy of improving the efficiency of the market within the community to work, a community-network system must be widely used by both buyers and sellers, and the cost (in both time and money) of using the community network must be lower than the savings it provides.

Rough Writer also describes how the educational opportunities made available by the community network could help strengthen local economies. For one thing, education — particularly education on how to use the computer — makes it easier to participate in the local marketplace. For another thing, the community networks can provide opportunities to create more sophisticated economic enterprises. "Aluminum can collectors could start a comprehensive recycling project," for example.

Rural or "placebound" residents are separated by large distances from the higher density clumps of human existence found in the cities and suburbs. Thus there is economic potential for rural people in telecommuting, that is, having a job away from your home that's accessible via "the wire" instead of being dependent upon the highway or air travel. Another aspect, telemarketing, or identifying and developing markets at-a-distance via "the wire," is also possible. Telecommuting, however, carries risks along with opportunities (Howard, 1985). Although telecommuters currently may not be exploited in what Barbara Garson might label the "Cybernetic Sweatshop" —after her Electronic Sweatshop (1989) that the computer has made possible —the possibilities clearly exist. With workers "just a modem away," some exploitive labor practices including child labor become viable, including electronic piecework. It would also become more difficult to ensure that workers did their electronic job under safe conditions. Older video-display systems can be particularly bad for users' eyes, particularly after long uninterrupted hours of use. Repetitive strain injury might also be more difficult to prevent, diagnose, and treat (Pascarelli and Quilter, 1994). Finally, although networks can provide remote work for people, they may cause additional alienation by dissolving whatever workplace community or solidarity existed before. As Craig Calhoun and others have pointed out (1986), the "edge cities" where much of this work will be (physically) done are noticeably lacking in civic and cultural amenities.

As a recent Business Week article mentioned, telecommunicating possibilities allow people who already telecommute to move into rural areas if adequate telecommunications infrastructure exists. Finally, rural community networks allow for better communication in general with "the outside world." Thus, for example, information about "little known tourism sites and experiences" (Rough Writer, 1994) could be made more widely available.


Ed Schwartz, longtime community activist and coordinator of the Liberty Net community network in Philadelphia presents two diametrically opposed visions of "economic development" — one of personal independence and one of community interdependence (1994a). To illustrate the first concept, he draws on the study of Western Eye Press of Telluride, Colorado, presented by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene in their book, Megatrends 2000 (1991) as an example of liberation that technology can bring about: "They edit and design their books on a Macintosh computer, create camera-ready art on their own laser printer, have the books printed in Seoul, Korea, and in Hong Kong, and sell to the world."

But if the Western Eye story is a "megatrend," then communities may be in deep trouble. Communities hold together and thrive through interdependence, not through independence. I am not picking on the Western Eye Press: I suspect that the Western Eye books are good and the owners are good Telluride citizens. However, the idea that "liberation" from the rest of humanity is a solution to current large-scale economic problems is misbegotten. What percentage of the population could be entrepreneurial enough to run their own publishing company? How big is the market for products produced from "home-crafted" industries? And what about the rest of Telluride? Do they benefit from Western Eye's presence? What do they owe to Western Eye, if Western Eye fell on hard times, for example?

Schwartz argues that economics —at the core— is built on relationships "between investors and managers, between managers and workers, between producers and consumers" (1994a) and he sees a greatly expanded role for telecommunications in the process of establishing and strengthening these relationships. Thus Schwartz believes that the community-interdependence model, in which economics is a web of relationships, needs more attention. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam supplies interesting corroborative information when he points to the new "network economics" in Asia and in Silicon Valley, where densely connected networks of relationships are partially responsible for the economic success of those regions (1993). He goes on to say, "These communities did not become civic because they were rich. The historical record strongly suggests precisely the opposite: They have become rich because they were civic." Focusing on the relationships —the network or web of community life— will have more impact, therefore, on improving the local economy than importing telecommuters.

The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (or ACEnet) in Southern Ohio is adapting a network-based approach to flexible manufacturing that originated and has been highly successful in Italy to suit conditions in rural southeastern Ohio. ACEnet operates in eight counties there and is "committed to the development of a healthy and viable regional economy which empowers low-income people through participation in innovative, collaborative economic development strategies" (Holley, 1993). Their primary role is assisting small firms (see Fig. 6.4) to aggregate into larger flexible manufacturing networks (FMNs) that can quickly organize together to produce a specialized product (that they couldn't produce individually) that meets an unmet or emerging need. When the product is no longer profitable, the FMN disassociates.

Ohio Manufacturers of Accessible Products

Flexible Manufacturing Project




Stirling Technology


Manufacturing and mfg process development



Product design, mech. & electronic assembly development

BJ Hardy and Associates


Stainless steel and metal fabrication

LMP Machine


Metalworking and machining

Runge Machine


Metalworking and machining

Amanda Bent Bolt Co.


Bolt manufacturing to specifications

Industrial Technology Services


Electronic control and design

Alchemical Electronics


Electronic control and design

Harry Dewar


Graphic design, illustrations, renderings

Figure 6.4

Currently ACEnet has two major project areas —an accessible products FMN and a food ventures FMN. The accessible products project is based on the emerging needs of a population that is living longer but is also more likely to be confined to a wheelchair or be disabled in some way. This FMN has initially focused on manufacturing housing components that promote accessibility, including adjustable counters and cabinets, but it also produces tools that make other aspects of everyday life easier for people with disabilities, such as The Appalachian Easy Weeder, whose handle makes gardening easier for those with limited gripping strength. The food ventures FMN has identified niche markets in the food industry such as reaching people with severe allergies or people with specific ethnic or gourmet food needs. Since these FMNs are both community-oriented and collaborative, the enterprises can expand in interesting ways. The food ventures FMN can work with farmers' markets, buying clubs, restaurants, community colleges, agricultural extensions, and so on.

In her essay "Growing Sustainable Communities," (1994) ACEnet director June Holley lists seven network features which, although they ostensibly describe the noncomputer variety, are pertinent to computer networks as well. Networks, for example, "provide forums for discussions of mutual interest" and "provide the opportunity to 'map' people, resources, and ideas in order to better access them when needed." The ACEnet organizers are well aware of the potential of community telecommunications technology and are already working within The Southeastern Ohio Regional Free-Net (SEORF) on joint projects.



At the very core of the building challenge is the effort to revitalize the community's economic life.

  John Kretzmann and John McKnight (1993)

Money —or property— often loses the taint of its sometimes unsavory origins as time goes on. Much of the land in the United States was taken by force from the native peoples that lived there, for example. Yesterday's drug lord or robber baron may become today's philanthropist or respected art collector. This process is also reflected in the everyday transformation of raw material into commodity. The bottle of wine, pair of sneakers, or child's toy doesn't betray its ancestry, which could include unsafe working conditions, environmental destruction, political corruption, or other ills. A network of community networks, however, could make this previously invisible information visible. If a company in one community is exploiting workers in order to lower the price of their goods in another community, the citizens in the consuming community are linked —generally unwillingly and unknowingly— to the hardship in the producing community. And since all communities produce and consume, the cultural and economic impacts of a given product have the potential to do harm to everybody. The new community can acknowledge this fact by acting in solidarity with other communities by judging products and services on more than the amount that appears on a price tag.

Information is the key to this type of accountability, because information forges the link from the raw material to the manufacturing and discussion as well as to the quality of the finished product. And this information can move quickly — faster than the product itself can be moved — and to several locations at once. As I write this, two prominent Seattle companies are under fire for conducting business with companies outside the United States that exploit their workers or have unsafe working conditions. After this type of public controversy, those two companies, and others, are more likely to be concerned about questionable practices that occur as a result of their business.

If there were no downside to corporate engagement, most businesses would strive to be good citizens in the community and in the world. Competitive pressures, however, and the lack of accountability linking corporate actions to public review can prod even the most public-minded company into engaging in unsavory practices. By citizens exposing the worst offenders, those companies that are acting responsively are protected and encouraged. Thus this type of information belongs on community networks, and individuals in the community have the responsibility to develop and disseminate this type of information.

Reinventing the Corporation

Corporations, as the dominant economic force in the world, play a significant role in the social web. For that reason they could also play a significant role in helping to alleviate some of society's problems —poverty, illiteracy, drug use, or violence, for example. Rather than acknowledge that they are part of the social web, corporations often assume that they are independent from the rest of the world, implicitly assuming that the world exists for them to profit from. A set of accountability principles (Fig. 6.5) that corporations could adopt would help integrate them into the new community. Corporations have historically been a major source of creativity, bringing new products, technology, and services to the world. These same corporations could also be agents for change. Corporations could, presumably, harness this creative energy to help develop projects (working with the community at large and within the business community) that could strengthen the core values of the community. Community networks could help provide valuable support for the design, implementation, and evaluation of these corporate-community programs.


Community Accountability Principles

A company should consider its social responsibilities in addition to its profit-making responsibilities.

A company should support the community and support employee involvement in community life.

A company should provide safe working conditions for its employees.

A company should treat employees fairly.

A company should engage its employees in decision-making and other important aspects of the company: employees should be as much a part of this process as stockholders.

A company should strive to keep the ratio of highest salary to lowest salary as low as possible.

A company should promote social justice and not lend support to repressive regimes.

A company should not pollute the physical, moral, or intellectual environment.

A company should make prudent financial decisions and make money for stockholders.

A company should make its "community accountability" information readily available to the public via community networks and other means.

Figure 6.5


Democratizing the Workplace

For a society to be democratic, its institutions must be democratic. In this regard the United States falls short in a fundamental way. Although many Americans hold democratic principles like free speech in high regard, these same Americans quite passively shed them every morning at the beginning of the workday and adopt them again when the whistle blows at day's end. Interestingly, the modern corporation turns out to be surprisingly feudal when inspected more closely than browsing its annual reports. In the U.S. fiefdoms, the CEO may earn from a hundred to a thousand times the wage of the lowest paid worker. And as if to make the situation even more distasteful, management routinely uses computers to monitor employee's work and to snoop on them in other ways (Piller, 1993).

A democratic workplace is a far cry from the majority of today's workplaces. In a democratic workplace, employees are more like partners, peers, and collaborators. Employees would also be able to place issues on the agenda, instead of just sleepwalking through management's agenda. They would also participate in decision-making, where their votes counted equally with those of other employees. Needless to say, employees would be more likely to be working in a decent and healthy work setting with dignity, respect, and privacy under such an arrangement. Management would be less likely to spy on them or use computers to monitor their activities.

Frank Adams and Gary Hansen present the wide range that workplace democracy could encompass in their book Putting Democracy to Work (1992). Their presentation starts at the smallest unit with "shop floor or work-group decision-making" and proceeds up through "management level decision-making," "board room decision-making," "profit/surplus/gain sharing," up to and including "ownership of equity in stock," noting that participation at each level can be judged to be none, partial, or complete. This matrix of possibilities can be used to evaluate the extent of workplace democracy in a given site, or company, or to determine a direction or objective in a struggle to attain workplace democracy.

Many companies are currently involved in a broad conceptual makeover in which they intend to "reinvent" themselves to make the company become more competitive, flexible, and efficient by increasing employee participation. These companies understand that people are not machines, that people are capable of proactive and creative action, and that workers probably understand their job better than anybody else does. Besides integrating the employee into a general forward-looking framework where problems are analyzed, identified, anticipated, and addressed on an everyday basis, the employee is much more likely to improve his or her productivity and have higher morale and dedication for the company. Of course, companies that shed large numbers of their employees through downsizing seriously limit their ability to garner the requisite employee support for the process.

Most of these efforts at democratizing the workplace, however, stop short of allowing employees to make decisions. We only need to review the principles outlined by Dahl in Chapter 4 to see that a critical criterion, that of "voting equality at the decision-making stage," is missing and, hence, the programs are not democratic. Additionally, the domain of legitimate discussion is often arbitrarily circumscribed by management to exclude contract issues and managerial policies and procedures. These shortcomings are not of academic interest alone. They are likely to cause the deterioration of the participative programs, according to researchers William Foote Whyte and others (Whyte et al., 1991) who have studied those programs at Xerox and other corporations.

Democratizing the workplace offers a host of benefits — many of them indirect — to the community. The major benefit is that the company could become more connected to the community, increasing the likelihood of mutual support. A company's problem becomes a community's problem, and vice versa, and both will be more likely to search for solutions together. A company that is connected to a community will be less likely to pick up its stakes and relocate. It would be less likely to lay off large numbers of workers. Ultimately, democratizing the workplace will help to democratize society; an unbroken democratic fabric is more effective and more durable than one that is threadbare in key areas.

The Power of Your Money

According to Jeffrey Hollender, "There is a direct and tangible connection between every investment or financial transaction you make and the values that are promoted throughout the world" (1990). Just as products will not reflect any environmental destruction or social injustice that accompanied their creation, economic opportunities rarely reflect the implications that an investment in them may provoke. In a more concrete example, money deposited in a bank account may — within minutes — be put to use by its new guardians in a way that is objectionable to the depositor.

The key to understanding the power of your money lies in realizing that where money is spent and invested has social and environmental implications and that there are decisions and choices that are more important than maximizing "return on investment" or "purchasing power" or other slogans of the free-market fundamentalists. In Jeffrey Hollender's words, each purchase is an implicit endorsement: "When a dollar passes out of your hand to purchase a product, acquire a service, make an investment, contribute to a worthy cause, or even to be parked briefly in your checking account — you are casting a vote." Information, again, is the key to making these types of decisions and community networks could help make this information more widely available.

Eric Smith, a certified Financial Planner in Seattle, has developed on-line services on the Seattle Community Network that offer information on socially responsible investing, as shown in Fig. 6.6. Smith has a wide range of other information available on socially responsible investing, including relevant books and periodicals, on recycling companies, and on community-based investing.


Socially Responsible Investing

1 About Socially Responsible Investing

2 Books and Periodicals List

3 Responsible Banks and Credit Unions

4 Community Based Investing

5 Recycling Companies


Your Choice ==> 1

About the Socially Responsible Investing area.

Investing and spending our money has, in modern times, become so complex and abstract that people no longer feel a personal connection to what their money is actually doing in society.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) is the allocation of financial resources, after the consideration of both economic and social criteria, with the goals of maximizing the potential financial and social returns to both the investor and society at large.

The purpose of the SRI area in the SCN Business Center is to share ideas and tools that can be used to understand and begin to practice a more satisfying investment approach. It is possible to support companies and activities that more closely reflect one's own social and environmental values and objectives.

This area is sponsored by The Social Investment Forum — Pacific Northwest Chapter and Wall Street Northwest, Socially Responsible Financial Services.

Your constructive comments and contributions are welcome.

Contact Eric A. Smith, CFP:->


Voice (206) 448-7737

Figure 6.6


CDCUs and CLTs

To help in making the transition to a more equitable and sustainable society, new communities will need to work with existing economic institutions while simultaneously developing new ones. It is imperative to begin developing alternative institutions as these may be better suited for future conditions and future community requirements. With these institutions in place and with newly acquired knowledge about their effectiveness and their limitations, new communities will be in better shape to weather changes in the economic conditions that might otherwise prove damaging.

Some of these alternative institutions are discussed in Jeffrey Hollender's 1990 book, How to Make the World a Better Place, which lists 124 specific "actions" that a citizen can take. Hollender describes several new community-oriented economic institutions and also discusses some existing financial institutions that have prioritized community development as a part of their charter. The Neighborhood Works (August-September, 1993) also has a good summary of "Community Development Financial Institutions."

The first institution is a community-development credit-union or CDCU. CDCUs are designed to serve low-income neighborhoods and they are owned entirely by their depositors. Unlike traditional banks, which typically invest 10 percent or less into local low-income neighborhoods, these financial cooperatives reinvest 80 percent or more into housing rehabilitation and acquisition, small and minority businesses, cooperatives, and lending for family needs, according to Hollender. CDCUs are gaining popularity. As of 1990 there were over 300 of these credit unions with total combined assets over $500 million.

Another institution is the Community Development Loan Fund or CLDF. This is a vehicle that is specifically designed to let investors lend money directly to community-development projects, institutions, and individuals with poor or no credit rating. Although these loans are not insured, as of 1990 all money was repaid and in January 1989, $50 million was being managed in this way.

Hollender also describes the Community Land Trust, or CLT, which is a nonprofit corporation that acquires and holds land for the benefit of the community. Since low-income people pay three to four times more money (in rent) in proportion to the value of their (generally substandard) housing than that paid by middle and upper income people, they could have purchased their house or apartment several times over if their rent payments had gone to a down payment. The CLT helps address this by buying rundown homes and bringing them up to acceptable standards through volunteer effort. Then the CLT sells the housing units to families that meet certain criteria, while retaining the deed to the land. This new economic institution is also gaining popularity. There are now over 65 community land trusts, each owning 100 to 150 housing units, in the United States.

Socially Responsible Institutions

Finally, traditional banks could be more responsive to community needs, although most choose not to. The South Shore Bank in Chicago, an exception to the rule, has been making investments for nearly 20 years in some of the poorer neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side. They now have over $100 million in outstanding loans to local residents, businesses, and community groups. The South Shore Bank (see Fig. 6.7) has many accomplishments to its credit, including renovation of 25 percent of the local housing and financing of 250 small businesses, among others. They have racked up these achievements with loan losses that were one-tenth the national average and have returned 18 percent on the equity.


Socially Responsible Banks, Credit Unions, and Money Market Funds


Name of Institution


South Shore Bank, Chicago

your advisor

Community Capital Bank, New York


Calvert Social Investment Money Market

your advisor

Working Assets Money Fund

your advisor

Vermont National Bank


Local revolving funds (for info call)


Your credit union


Local banks


(This list submitted by Eric Smith, CFP of Wall Street Northwest, a branch of KMS Financial Services, Inc, Seattle.)

Figure 6.7


However successful these new institutions have been in their communities, their effects are localized. Community networks can increase the influence of these new institutions in two ways. The first is informational — people need to find out about these institutions, how they can themselves invest, or how they can even look into establishing ones of their own (see Fig. 6.8). The second is conversational — people need to discuss these issues, what's needed, what's worked in the past and what hasn't.


Socially Responsible Investing Reading List

Selected Books

— Investing for Good: Making Money While Being Socially Responsible, Peter Kinder, 1993, Harper.

— Jews, Money & Social Responsibility: A "Torah of Money"..., Lawrence Bush, 1993, Shefa Fund.

— Social Investment Almanac, Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini, 1992, Henry Holt and Company.

— Investing From the Heart, Jack Brill and Alan Reder, 1992, Crown Publishers.

— Investing With Your Conscience, John Harrington, 1992, John Wiley & Sons.

— Investing with a Social Conscience, Elizabeth Judd, 1991, Pharos Books.

— Socially Responsible Investing: How to Invest with Your Conscience, Alan Miller, 1991, NYIF.

— Good Money: A Guide to Profitable Social Investing in the '90s, R. Lowry, 1991, WW Norton & Co.

— The Better World Investment Guide, Alperson, 1991, Prentice Hall Press.

— Shopping for a Better World, Council on Economic Priorities and Ballantine Books, annually revised.

— Companies that Care, Morgan and Tucker, 1991, Simon & Schuster.

— Everybody's Business, Milton Moskowitz, Levering, Katz, 1990, Doubleday-Currency.

— Economics as If the Earth Really Mattered, Susan Meeker-Lowry, 1988, New Society Publishers.

— Ethical Investing, Amy Domini & Peter Kinder, 1984, Addison-Wesley.

— Honest Business, Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry, 1981, Random House.

(This reading list submitted by Eric Smith, CFP of Wall Street Northwest, a branch of KMS Financial Services, Inc, Seattle.)

Figure 6.8


Red de Informaci-n Rural

While many people in the United States are yearning for a return to communities that are more convivial and caring than today's cities and towns, many other people, particularly those outside the United States, live in those types of communities already. These communities, often poor in material terms, are facing enormous challenges to their way-of-life, including economic strangulation and the onslaught of mass culture.

In Mexico there are currently over 28,000 Ejidos, communities of small land holders. Their primary enterprise is farming, but fishers or other people who work the land, sea, forest, and other natural resources, also live in Ejidos. These Ejidos, whose three million plus members are called Ejidatorios, have traditionally been the backbone of Mexico, both economically and culturally, and they have been vital to the very identity of Mexico. Currently in Mexico, there are policy makers who believe that the Ejidos are an inefficient anachronism that should die, much as the family farm in the midwestern United States was greatly diminished after the onslaught of large-scale agribusiness in recent decades.

Scott Robinson, an anthropologist at Mexico's Metropolitan University Iztapalapa campus and Director of the Red de Información Rural (REIR), the Rural Information Net, thinks that the Ejidos are worth fighting for. They represent communities who must adapt to the global economy and computer-network technology may be an effective weapon in this struggle. While the Ejidatorio may be the soul of Mexico, he or she is now competing on an economic playing ground that is extraordinarily unequal. For the small farmer is pitted against vast capital-intensive agribusiness with advanced technology, access to global distribution networks, up-to-the-minute knowledge about prices, markets, costs, modern methods of growing and of controlling pests, legal acumen, and resources. Robinson and representatives from national and regional Ejido organizations believe that the key to competitiveness that is also consonant with the existing way of life is to increase timely access to important information, and to improve strategic planning as well as communication among themselves and distributors, brokers, government bodies, and potential buyers of their product through appropriate, often low-tech computer-network technology.

The system (Fig. 6.9) was launched in November 1994 with funding for theÊfirst cycle provided by the Ford Foundation of Mexico. The initial information service consisted of bulletins from the National Market Information Service (SNIM) available via dial-up or via gopher. Since the Mexican government has no tradition of making agricultural information freely available (no equivalent of the USDA or extension services), REIR had to buy a subscription to this service from the government. It is important to note that the Mexican government knows that the information is going to be freely distributed electronically and has apparently decided not to prevent that. In fact, the REIR inaugurated government agencies' information on-line.

Robinson's ultimate dream is that REIR will help give form to a "cyber-extension service" among Ejidatorios in Mexico's widely diverse regions including Chiapas, Oaxaca, the Yucatan, and others. Although Ejidadorios may have to adapt in many ways if they're to survive as small farmers, Robinson's working hypothesis is that a network of community networks will add a needed patch to the colorful and complex quilt that is rural Mexico.


But can the proposition that democracy should take precedence over economics really be taken seriously? Absolutely. After all, was not one lesson of Eastern Europe's anti-Communist revolutions in 1989 that an economy unsupervised by democracy is bad not only because it is undemocratic (bad as that may be) but also because it risks injustice, ecological spoilation, and gross economic inefficiency?

  Richard Sclove (1993)

Global capitalism is vigorously defended by those who have benefited most greatly by it, but it is currently a force that can overwhelm the individual and the community. At the same time it is largely independent and unanswerable to the individual and the community. In other words, the (not so) "hidden hand" — the omniscient director of our affairs first described by Adam Smith, then deified by Milton Friedman and others--may be sweeping us into oblivion. Global capitalism is a juggernaut of unparalleled proportions that is marked by two tendencies. The first is the unwavering predisposition of its defenders to enforce its tenets as the only acceptable way to think and act. The second is its seemingly unstoppable drive toward exploitation of people and the environment.

Economics can't be ignored while developing community networks because economics has a major influence on all the other core values. Those with more money receive better education, their health is better, and their voice is more influential in politics. At the same time, we realize that we all can't be rich, at least not at the unconscionably high levels that rich people and rich countries enjoy today. We need to develop new patterns of production, distribution, and consumption that raise people out of poverty to adequate and dignified standards of living. At the same time, this must be accomplished without seriously depleting the resources of the earth.

What do all the issues and concerns in this chapter add up to? Although radical treatment may be in order to cure the patient, it is unclear that any particular new ideology or philosophy offers the appropriate treatment. One of the chapters of The Quickening, Francis Moore Lappé's and Paul Martin Du Bois' excellent book about the renewal of citizen participation (1994), is prefaced with the query, "What, No Manifesto?" that described why they're making no specific demands. The solution will have to be community-based — both community as neighborhood and community as global community. It must be based on the principles of respect, dialogue, and inclusivity; it could include civil disobedience but never violent action.

The economic system is a system that binds the entire human race. Its policies, rules, local customs, and other factors, are all of human invention. It's a dynamic, social system that touches people's lives continually as it largely determines who gets what and under what conditions. Unfortunately, people tend to view it as a "force of nature," while many exploit its special characteristics for increased control of resources and people. The rules — both legal and those of everyday practice — have been developed largely for the wealthy individual and for the corporate, and often against the community. Orthodoxy and obedience to authority, particularly of the moneyed and credentialed interests, are at least partially to blame for current predicaments, and it will become increasingly important not to accept outcomes based on conventional wisdom as sacrosanct or immutable.

The opportunity exists now for all people to begin to seriously explore the modifications of existing economic prerogatives and the invention of new economic institutions. It behoves us as a society to explore a wide range of actions. As Sally Lerner (1994) points out, the failure to examine "seemingly 'far-out' ideas" would "limit our ability to identify emergent issues and to address them effectively." Sustainable mechanisms for meeting human needs and shared principles of equity and inclusiveness must form the basis of new economic systems. For this reason, workers and poor people need to participate in ongoing discussions and deliberations. Economic data that is clear and understandable (including that on taxation, employment, profits, stock ownership, corporate holdings, and investments) are needed to support this process. Ironically, there is a wide range of data —including U.S. census data— that is often available to everybody except the people to whom it pertains! Citizens of the new community need to take the lead in reinventing and inventing economic institutions —including corporations— in their communities and replicating successes in other communities.



1 Statement made at Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing Symposium. Cambridge, MA. April 23, 1994.

2 Send e-mail to or contact IGC. See Appendix A.

D Schuler, NEW COMMUNITY NETWORKS, 1996 Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc.


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