Self organising systems in business are springing up all around us

trademe-logoDuring a Radio NZ panel I heard ex ACT MP Stephen Franks sing the praises of the self-regulating nature of the businesses Trademe, Uber and AirBnB.

He said that since traders were required to post a comment about the person they traded with on trademe, uber or airbnb, the system ran itself. People on trademe are so keen to keep their reputation, that they are pulled into line to pay promptly. If they are seller they send the item promptly. The system regulates itself. It’s the same with airb2b and Uber. Nobody wants to lose their reputation.

So here we have three businesses that run without the interference of a Securities Commission, local or national government regulators. There are no sanctions or fines, just a loss of reputation therefore of trade. Reputation is so precious to us that we don’t want to sacrifice it. Rate your driver, provide feedback. Rate your trading partner, rate your host, rate your guest: it is an important element of the system design.

airbnb_new-logo-2014You will be able to quote more examples I know. Just as an organism runs itself without a central conductor, so a properly designed natural economic system requires no regulation as it has an inbuilt monitoring system to keep up quality.

Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Marie-Pierre Gleizes, and Anthony Karageorgos say, “Intuitively, self-organisation refers to the fact that a system’s structure or organisation appears without any explicit control or constraints imposed from outside the system. In other words, the organisation is intrinsic to the self-organising system, and it results from internal constraints and mechanisms, which are based on local interactions between its components.”

uber-carThey say “Self-organising and emergent phenomena can be observed in many natural systems. For example, insects that live in colonies, such as ants, bees, wasps and termites, have been shown to seamlessly integrate their individual activities, while every single insect seems to operate individually and without any central supervision.”

With Uber you can rate your driver publicly and the driver can rate you. That’s a constraint on bad behaviour if ever there was one. Whether your are driver or customer you build up your reputation ride by ride.

Just as taxi-drivers complain about Uber, the hotel industry complains about Airbnb. Spokespeople usually say that’s because people listing on Airbnb usually don’t have to comply with the same regulations that apply to the hospitality industry.

And Air BnB blindsided the hotel industry. Forbes Magazine says, “it is an example of how today’s networked platforms compete with traditional industry behemoths without appearing to do so, at all. Platforms connect producers and consumers – hosts and travellers in the case of Airbnb – and facilitate their interactions and exchange.”

This will surely be a great business model for the future.

Living Big in Tiny Houses

Big-Tiny-HouseHenry David Thoreau, the American author, poet, and philosopher (among other things) who wrote the classic essay “Walden” is somewhat of a poster boy for many in the tiny house movement. Thoreau himself lived in a tiny house (a 10′ × 15′ English style cottage) near Walden ponds. He spent more than two years living is this small cottage, contemplating life and turning conventional living on its head.

He worked as little as possible, in direct opposition to the standard mantra of the era, which entailed six days working and one day off. The freedom his new approach to working hours afforded allowed him to gain clarity of mind. He witnessed those around him endure the monotony of everyday work, suggesting, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He was passionate about acting on one’s individual conscience and not blindly following laws, government, and societal norms. Thoreau’s view of the world in some way represents the essence of the tiny house movement.

Thanks to people like Jay Shafer (who founded Tumbleweed, a California-based company that designs and builds ready-made models and floor plans), there has been increased exposure on tiny homes throughout the mainstream media. This exposure has helped bring awareness to the idea of alternative modes of living. The mainstream are taken by the tiny house movement with major networks and media outlets such as CNN, AP, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NBC, Oprah, PBS and many other blogs and networks featuring the phenomenon. Today the internet has been flooded with various images, videos, and stories of people living in and becoming involved with tiny homes around the world. Television shows, documentaries and You Tube clips abound. The tiny house movement, while still in its early days, will most likely be one of the biggest trends over the coming decades.

Six Reasons Why the Tiny House Movement is Going to be Big Over Coming Decades
1. Economic
In the aftermath of the financial crisis and now the Euro crisis, many people have simply lost their hard earned dollars or had their homes repossessed. This segment has had to reassess their lives and their future. When you have lost decades of earning capacity you really need to rethink things. Since the GFC, things have become a lot worse for economies, with both private and sovereign debt levels almost double what they were before. In OECD cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, Auckland, London, and New York, the average price of a standard home or apartment is close to or pushing through the million dollar mark. Even in the far flung outlying suburbs of large cities properties can easily be priced from $500,000 upwards. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a well paying job or business, mortgages can take anywhere between 2o to 40 years to repay. According to “The Tiny Life” research, 21% of people who own a tiny home are under 30. 21% are between 30 – 40, 18% between 40 -50, and the majority (38%) over 50 years of age.

2. Environmental
As people become more conscious of their environmental footprints, small homes will become more prevalent throughout the mainstream. As energy prices continue to increase and the costs of living rise, the tiny house movement will grow. The overall cost of maintaining, heating, and cooling a small space is significantly less than that for larger, more energy and resource intense properties. Not to mention the resources used in the build process are often ten times less than a conventional 2,200 square foot property.

3. Simplicity
imgresSimplifying one’s life and being able to live life within ones means is a good starting point for being able to weather any economic contraction. Reducing debt and downsizing will make the transition to a more sustainable life much easier. Many studies maintain that a simpler and less consumerist lifestyle can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life. A consumerist lifestyle distracts individuals from more meaningful endeavours. Reducing the amount of possessions in one’s life can lead to a cleansing not only of physical possessions, but also of the mind, leading to enhanced mental clarity. Having limited space forces one to de-clutter and minimize the amount of stuff owned. Your entire life is therefore simplified, everything from clothes and appliances to furniture begins to take up less mental energy. You only carry what is essential and what is needed. Many tiny homes are roadworthy, mounted on trailers which gives owners the ability to easily relocate.

4. Tiny Homes Give You Big Think Space
The 1950’s heralded the rise and development of suburbia which expanded throughout many Western nations. In conjunction with larger parcels of land came larger homes. It was predominately the post war economic growth in the United States and other OECD nations which encouraged the suburbanization of cities. With cheap energy in the form of crude oil helping fund this suburban expansion, consumer patterns also shifted. The baby boomers went on a spending spree as industrial output enabled people to purchase an array of goods and services that only decades earlier did not exist or were cost prohibitive. With suburbia and larger houses came a new consumer culture. These large homes needed more ‘stuff’ to make them look like they weren’t empty. Today approximately 30% of most American weekly income is spent servicing debt and mortgage repayments. In countries such as Australia and Canada the number is closer to 40%. It is easy to see why there has been a lack of dissent and free thinking among the masses. Tiny homes and downsizing free you up from the burden of expensive living and being chained to the wheel.

5. Happiness Levels
With less stress and without the burden of having to pay and repay debt, people are waking up to the realization that you don’t need to live in a monster home to be truly happy. With the average size of most North American homes increasing by over 60% since the early 1970’s, there is no evidence to suggest living in a bigger home adds to overall levels of happiness, despite what the advertisers and mortgage brokers will tell you! Having a larger home doesn’t mean you are 60% happier than those living in a small space. In fact, studies show that the larger the home, and the more time you devote to maintaining, cleaning, and servicing, the more financial and personal stress you will experience. Living light gives people space to define their worlds and gain more control over how they live life, ultimately leading to greater happiness and satisfaction.

6. Community
Since the rapid period of ‘suburbanization’ from the 1950’s onwards, which brought about long distance commutes to central business districts, more frequent overseas travel, and consumerism, community ties and networks have been lost. People in large cities and throughout suburbia have become isolated. While there are pockets of vibrant communities, in general there has been a disintegration of community values and connection. We have become too busy working to pay off large mortgages and engaging in hedonistic pursuits which have distracted us from what really matters – family, community, and relationships. There are many vibrant developments in the small space community. Due to the relatively new nature of the movement people are coming together in collaboration to solve some of the zoning, planning, and logistical challenges that have since arisen. Projects like the Tiny House Village in Sonoma Country will become blueprints for others to follow. This project will offer shared amenities with the village structured more like a co-op.

Article compiled by Andrew Martin, editor of onenesspublishing and author of One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future… and Rethink…Your world, Your future.

Sources: Rethink…Your world, Your future.

Images: Living Big in A Tiny House

Tax reform or monetary reform? Which is most important?

The meshing together of Georgism with monetary reform remains a challenge, especially for ardent individuals who claim their cause to be the most critical. I have heard monetary reformers say Georgism is irrelevant and I have even heard a Georgist describe monetary reform as “heresy” and declare it must be “exorcised” at all costs. Then there are the moderates who say Georgism is more important than monetary reform but willingly acknowledge monetary reform is needed. Critics come in many varieties. Regrettably there is a tendency for advocates from both sides tend to promise a growing list of wonderful results from their reform. Maybe Henry George School people only see landlords as “the enemy,” and to mention money, credit and bankers confuses them. Do we see people on both sides arguing that the others should just get off their territory?

Recently I heard a Georgist argue that if you transfer land into community ownership then the money issue disappears.

So let’s tease this one out. To some extent he is right, but he misses several vital factors. For instance he doesn’t appear to understand the growth imperative will still be present, so he needs to work out where the excess money will go, and follow the results to their logical conclusion.

Take the important book Money and Sustainability, The Missing Link, a Club of Rome Report by Bernard Lietaer, Christian Arnsperger, Sally Goerner and Stefan Brunnhuber. The authors say there are five results of creating money as interest-bearing debt – amplification of boom and bust cycles, short-term thinking, compulsory growth, and devaluation of social capital where selfish behaviour replaces co-operative behaviour.

Or take another example of monetary reformers overpromising. While we can’t tell if she actually believes it herself or not, monetary reformer Amanda Vickers lists their extravagant promises. She writes in the Otaki Mail, “Sovereign money advocates extrapolate further that the outcome would also be far-reaching throughout our economy and our lives. They say it could also improve: the inequality gap, child poverty, housing bubble control, student debt, state asset sales, job security, local businesses performance (due to the 10% higher output gains), budgets for local community projects and facilities, health care and education.”

Positive Money in their little video says money is created every time someone takes out a mortgage. The money doesn’t come from someone else’s saving but is new money just created. The bank enters your debt as an asset on their accounts then enters the same amount in the liabilities column of their books, your deposit. The entire money supply is on loan from the banking system. When they charge interest on this money creation £200 billion a year is transferred from the public to the financial sector every year in UK. Since money is created as interest-bearing debt, if we all pay off our debts the current economic system would collapse. There would be no money in the system.The debt can never be repaid. The money creating power needs to be transferred to some democratically accountable body and spent into existence instead. He mentioned it has been pumped into property bubbles and financial markets.

They claim it would reduce inflation and that you would also be able to move towards a low carbon society this way.

dscn1459So what I take out of this is that Positive Money people, by not addressing tax reform, may think that if you create money by spending it into existence you will avoid rising land prices. By creating a monetary authority to control inflation they give their new monetary authority magic power to stop money going into a land bubble. It simpley wouldn’t happen this way.

So let’s go back to the Georgist’s claim that when you have land in community ownership the money issue disappears. Not so. If you continue to create money as interest bearing debt, then money still moves from the public to the financial sector. Though there is always the personal desire to pay off your debt the money supply would disappear if everyone did this. Moreover, there is always the mathematical imperative for the money supply to grow in order to pay off the debt with interest. That is what we don’t want on a finite planet.

It is true that when there is either no cost or little cost on the holding of land AND money is created without interest or with low interest, you get money pouring into land inflation. Anyone who has paid a mortgage knows that when interest rates decline, there is what they call a housing bubble (it is really a land price bubble). This is undesirable. And if you take land out of the market entirely money won’t go into a land bubble, but it will go into some other form of monopoly.

When Karl Fitzgerald of Prosper Australia did his 2013 study Total Resource Rents of Australia, he subtitled it “Harnessing the Power of Monopoly.” The list includes Land Residential, Land Commercial, Land rural, Land other, Subsoil Minerals, Oil and Gas, Water Rights, Taxi Licences, Airports, Utilities, Fishing, Forestry, Gambling, EMS, Satellite Orbit Rights, Internet Infrastructure, Domain Name Registration licence, Banking Licences, Corporate Commons Fee, Patents, Parking fees, Public Transport, Liquor Licences, Vehicle Rego Licences, Sin Taxes on Tobacco and Alcohol, Carbon Taxes, Non Tax Revenue (sale of goods). That’s quite a list of the things you can claim a monopoly right on. “Land” in its widest sense is actually a list this long and longer.

So if we just deal to land by taking it out of the marketplace, you just put your money into monopolising another part of the commons. You could buy a much desired personalised number plate. The plate “F1″ fetched £14 m and the number plate with the number 1 was bought by an Emirati businessman for £7.25m in 2008. Perhaps you could buy a domain name? sold in Nov 2014 for $10m and in 2010 for $35.6m.

Or the extra money could go into the financial sector including securities, commodities, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, trusts, and other investment activities like investment banking). Nothing productive here. Yale economics professor Robert Schiller says, “The classic example of rent-seeking is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is helping nobody in any way, directly or indirectly, except himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free. If enough lords along the river follow suit, its use may be severely curtailed.” Yet that is where a lot of money and activity is going.

In June 2015 the Guardian reported that “Adair Turner, the former chair of the Financial Services Authority, gave a memorable critique of the UK financial services industry in the wake of the credit crisis when he said that some of the activities carried out by the City’s finance firms were “socially useless”.”

There are many places where the excess money can go if there is tax reform but no monetary reform. We haven’t even touched on fishing quotas, art investments, oil and gas, utilities, or forestry. Leaving the growth imperative firmly in place by leaving money created as interest bearing debt will invite trouble and plenty of it.

However there is no doubt that land price inflation would disappear if all land was owned communally and leased from a public entity instead. While the boom-bust cycles would exist for other parts of the commons that remain in the market place, these cycles would no longer be present for land prices.

As Professor Michael Hudson explains “In a nutshell,land rent today is paid out as mortgage interest. Ditto for oil and gas, and monopolies.In terms of reform, financial and tax reform must go together. What is not taxed will be capitalized into bank loans. That’s the basic message.”

In one of Michael Hudson’s papers he quotes from Tolstoy when discussing the issue with Henry George. “The land cultivator in a bad year, not being able to pay the rent exacted from him by force, would have to enslave himself to the man with money in order to keep his land and not lose everything.”