The Great Transition

People have written a lot about great transitions.   I first posted this on Umair Haque’s Ning site in answer to his question, “What are your top three, four five [essential characteristics of 21st century capitalism]? What is the shape of next-gen capitalism? What’s really different about it?”  It is essentially a restatement of a claim I’ve been making for years — but I am hardly the first!  The DecisionLab blog will probably end up with a few more posts like this from various points of view…

We are in a transition from capitalism to congenialism or convivialism (world hasn’t settled on a name yet). The reason this will be “post-capitalist” is because the key variable will no longer be “do you have the physical means of production?” but “how well can you collaborate with your value-producing community/network?”

Capital used to mean “the physical means of production”, complementary to land and labor. This meaning has been revised — first abstracted, to mean “money”, then expanded, to include all the inputs necessary to the production of physical wealth (standard of living): people, reputation, land, money, tools, etc. Social capital, natural capital… The old definition of capital has been eclipsed because the key source of competitive advantage in the emerging economy is no longer the ability to get some tools (they’re everywhere! you can buy a factory as scrap! they’re self-reproducing!) but the ability to collaborate with people and natural systems. Thus:
[Capitalism = using physical means of production -> material wealth]
is being replaced by
[Convivialism = using ability to collaborate -> wellbeing]
The transition to a convivial economy is transcending and including the advanced capitalist economy, just as capitalism did with feudalism. (Lots of good books cover this, but one of my favorites is “The Experience Economy” by Pine & Gilmore. Of course, although P&G describe the shift from selling “stuff & time” to selling experience & transformation — wellbeing, essentially — they do not describe the larger picture of the collaborative “convivial economy”. For that you can go to lots of recent stuff, or back as far as Ivan Illich.)
Fifty years from now, if we do not hit the wall of Collapse (big if), we will still have all the forms of capitalism you see today — but it will look very different. Co-operative value-aligned networks (my phrase, abbreviated “co-nets”) will be the dominant entity. Organizational democracy — probably sociocracy, actually — will be the standard “best practice” form of governance & management. Reputation systems as currency (a la Bruce Sterling’s “Distraction” or Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”) will run alongside national and local currencies and various share-based systems. Most importantly, wellbeing metrics (for individuals, communities, biosphere) will matter more than profit (profit as surplus currency) as the key measure of bottom line success, both in the short and long terms.

What do you think?

Posted: June 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Great Transition

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