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Progressive Lessons from our Productive Past

By Ron Rivers,

Production is a transformative process, consistently and perpetually changing to solve new problems.  All regimes of government are tied to their most advanced form of production. This bond fuels the growth and expansion of the government organization while at the same time defining the social, economic, and political arrangements of the society.  By deepening our understanding of the modes of production fueling the political economy of the United States we can expand our imagination of possible alternatives.

 

Time and Technology

Historically social democracy in the United States is aligned with a mass production economy.  One of the most recognized examples being Henry Ford’s assembly line. The mass production model benefits from low skilled, highly transferable labor.  The ideal worker in this mode of production would be able to focus on a singular task, obedient, have a basic grasp of literacy for safety and operational purposes, and the fundamental physical skills necessary to operate the machines.  Under this model, labor could be moved from one factory to another and quickly adapt to the new operational requirements. This system of large-scale production of standardized goods and services was structured in a very hierarchical and technical division of labor.  You can imagine mass production as a template that could be applied to various production verticals to produce similar outputs.

Fast forward to present day, and we can observe that time and technology have diminished mass manufacturing’s economic dominance here in the United States.  Today our most advanced type of production is the Knowledge Economy. Most advanced defined as the method of output creating the highest returns for input.  The Knowledge Economy is an economic system where the most work relies on highly skilled labor that is easily transferable between organizations, Silicon Valley developers being a single example.  Similar to the manufacturing organization of the past, developers working at one firm can easily transfer to another and be able to begin productive work within a relatively short time frame. The defining difference of this new era is that labor is highly skilled, dramatically limiting the number of people who can access these opportunities.

 

The structure of Access

Comparing the present to the past, we can observe other critical differences in the structuring of access to advanced production resources.  Today the Knowledge Economy exists in almost every industry sector but remains isolated to a few organizations, usually those with dominant market shares.  Its insular nature is due to a few aspects; one is that it is challenging for the new knowledge-intensive labor practice to spread organically unless the general population is brought up to speed with the educational requirements for this type of work. We can also observe that the concentration of access to this mode of production favors the present dominant interests, both political and business, making the path of least resistance to keep it isolated.

If we compare our present modes of production to historical examples, we can observe significant differences.  In the past, the most advanced form of production was disseminated on a national scale. The mass production revolution shared access to advanced production technologies and methodologies such as standardization of products, assembly lines, and methods of batch production.  This philosophy of shared access to technologies developed an economy based on the competition of production value rather than the concentration of access. In the present day, we observe the opposite happening. Our most advanced firms maintain access to the most advanced technologies support machine learning, logistics, data analytics, and more to themselves.   Comparing GDP growth rates [1] of past and present, we can observe that we consistently received more significant economic growth when access to the most advanced methods was shared.

 

New ideas, new systems

If our objective is to create a better engine for productivity and innovation, then data regarding productive growth favors opening up access to the most advanced forms of production to more people.  More people with more access to the tools necessary to innovate will result in more innovation. More innovation creates more opportunities for labor and potential collective impact. Under the current institutional arrangements, we are hindering our possible progress in favor of a small group of mega-corporations.  Therefore the solutions of modern Progressives must be to find ways to reshape our legal and institutional arrangements to unlock access to more people. In transcending our current legal, political, and economic limitations defining who can access the best technology we lay the groundwork for experimentation and innovation that could grow exponentially larger and faster than anything we observe today.

Critics of my argument might claim that people want to join companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon because they provide the most money.  Capital is indeed a big incentive for tech workers, but I would argue that the critique cannot be validated because Knowledge Economy workers have no options.  By choosing to work at the largest firms, the developers gain access to more capital and, more importantly, the ability to work on the most advanced projects in the world.  These opportunities are denied to other sectors of our economy, shrinking the scope of the potential for innovation and access. The claim I make is that if workers of the current Knowledge Economy had more options to use their talents in different directions outside of the monopolistic minority of tech conglomerates, they would do so.  Innovators want to innovate, but it’s hard to do that in a world where your laws and government support the isolation of access.

It’s a fact that the nature of work is changing.  In his second lecture on Progressive Alternatives, Roberto Unger discusses how the future labor will be separated into cooperative organizations and self-employment. Collaborative efforts in the joining of individuals of similar interest working to solve a common problem and self-employment in the form of meaningful work drawing from the creative talents of the individual.  Transforming our approach to labor from a means of survival into a series of passion projects is the goal of the suggested incremental changes. This isn’t a dream of a distant future, instead a call to the leadership of today and tomorrow to recognize the potential we squander every day we do not embrace our transition. No person should have to do a job a machine can do.  Through a combination of institutional reformation, focused automation, and cooperative projects we can begin to construct the future of labor today.


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Lessons Learned from Organizing a Rapid Response Rally

By Ron Rivers,

On Thursday 11/8/18 over 100,000 American citizens banded together to demand that the Mueller investigation not to be interfered with.  We organized the local rapid response rally in New Brunswick, NJ in collaboration with MoveOn.org.   With less than 20 hours of working time, we were able to mobilize 150 community members to come together in defense of our democracy.  There may be a need for future rapid response rallies, and I wanted to share my strategy and lessons learned from organizing the rally in the hope that it may help you in the future.

Location and coordination

When choosing your location, it’s important to keep your focus on the convenience and access of your potential attendees.  Rapid response rallies don’t have the luxury of being a consistent block of time in your community members’ schedules, so we want to make sure that getting to your rally is easy.  Ideally, you will want to book your rally in a highly populated area, so your total pool of possible participants is large, giving you a better chance for last-minute attendees. We registered to organize our rapid response rally at the City Hall in New Brunswick NJ, a city with ~57,000 [1] people.  It’s home to mega-corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers University, our largest state University. Don’t be disheartened if your location has a small population, many rallies doubled or even tripled our attendance with many less available people!

Include a link to the city’s parking guide in your event information and the emails that you will be sending out to participants.    Parking in New Brunswick can be challenging, but I was fortunate that the city had a parking resource available [2]. If your local government doesn’t have a parking resource, you could use Google Maps and drop some pins in areas that you would suggest attendees park.  Getting your community to the rally location as smoothly as possible will ensure that their energy is focused on the task at hand and avoid complaints about your site.

The next step is to speak with the city administration and police department.  Contact them well in advance of the actual rally. Because your rapid response rally will not have a set date and time it is unlikely that you will be able to get a permit for your event as was the case with our rally. We worked closely with a detective from the New Brunswick Police Department who was the first person I called when the rally fired.

 

Planning

Taking time to create a day-of plan was the best investment of time we made during our preparation phase. You can view the original notes here. It was the first thing printed out when word was received that the rally had triggered and was used as a checklist throughout the day.  Preparing an actionable list of tasks to be completed the day of your rally will reduce anxiety and empower you to focus on the tasks at hand.

Not linked here is a list of press contacts that a friend shared with us, it made it simple to get the message out immediately.  I’d recommend taking time to find your local contacts upon registering your rapid response rally. This way you can avoid researching during the scramble of rally day.   We received press coverage from multiple organizations and were thankful for it.  Press is an important part of your rally.  It does not define your success, but it does give your actions visibility which is essential.  There are many Americans who believe in the movement despite being unable or willing to attend your rapid response rally; press helps them know that they are not alone in their desire to transcend our present circumstances.

If you’re like most people and work a job with a structured time requirement we recommend letting your superior know well ahead of time that in the future you may need to take a sudden day off in the future.  Be sure to document as well, a casual email confirming the conversation and your request for a future vacation day would suffice.

There will never be a convenient time for a rapid response rally.  When the #NotAboveTheLaw rally fired, some organizers were expressing frustration about the timing since the rallies triggered the day after the midterm elections.  The truth is that more than likely you won’t be happy with when the rally launches, but that doesn’t matter. Be present, be focused, and bring your energy to empowering your community in a time of need.

Image Credit: Alexander Lewis Staff writer | Home News Tribune / Courier News / MyCentralJersey.com

Strategy

When planning how our rally would function, I consulted with Sarah Kelly, a veteran organizer, and director at OurSociety.  We agreed that we wanted to have speakers in attendance to provide additional value to our attendees. Understanding that our rapid response rally would force people to make an impulsive decision to attend we concluded that a short, focused event with speakers would be our best path to success.

Our speakers were a blend of local community leaders and activists.  If you are unfamiliar with people active in your community take time to reach out to them during the rally planning stage.  Local council members, mayors, people you see active in community-based causes, and of course you – by the time your rally fires you’ll officially be an organizer!  Since it is certain that a rapid response rally will occur suddenly, we recommend having many potential options as some people will be unable to help.

We asked our speakers to keep the length of their talks to no more than seven minutes and to stay focused on the theme of “No One Is Above the Law.”  This way we were offering real value to the rally attendees while respecting their time. Our vision was that if our rally attendees enjoyed the experience without feeling overwhelmed, we would lay the foundation for future civic participation when the need arose.  Don’t be afraid to set guidelines for your speakers, even if they’re more experienced than you. It is helpful to them and ensures that your community activists are engaging in a consistent and positive experience.

Our event timeline was to allow people to mingle for ten to fifteen minutes, delegate chant leaders to energize the attendees for another ten minutes, and then begin with the speakers.  We recommend that you as the organizer act as the MC for the evening, welcoming everyone, introducing the speakers, and ending with some words of your own. Ask your speakers for brief biographies ahead of time and make sure that you conclude with the demands of your rally so that everyone leaves with a clear understanding of why they were rallying. Do your best set aside an hour to review what you are going to say; it will be better for you and the rally attendees if you’re comfortable.  Overall our entire event lasted an hour which we thought was appropriate given the circumstances of our attendees.

Image Credit: Alexander Lewis Staff writer | Home News Tribune / Courier News / MyCentralJersey.com

Rally day

When you receive your email or text that your rapid response rally has triggered the first thing you should do is take a deep breath.  If you’ve followed this guide so far you already have a long list of things to do; now you need to do them. Your optimal workplace will be an environment where you feel comfortable and can focus without interruption.

If you’re familiar with WordPress or web development we would recommend setting up a separate landing page about your specific event with all of the details in case the national rally facilitators website has issues due to the traffic.  This turned out to be an excellent idea for us as the main road in front of the City Hall was shut down for construction, so we were able to get the message out quickly despite the MoveOn website having issues.  We also provided frequent updates via our facebook event page and Twitter account to let people know what we needed help with.  Because your existing event pages likely have a placeholder date, it’s important to update them with the new date and time of the rapid response

Keep your registered rally attendees informed.  We sent three emails that day with updated status and requests for support during the event.  It was because of those emails that we were able to connect with the Highland Park NJ Reformed Church who graciously lent us their speaker and microphone system.  Numerous rally goers brought water, snacks, signs and sign-making supplies, while we provided sodas and candy.

You’re going to want to have a table at the event to provide information to your attendees.  If you’re part of an organization involved in the progress of society consider making them the official sponsor of the event as we did.  You can provide information about your organization’s purpose and efforts to share with the community. If you’re organizing your rally independently, there is still a lot of material you can access and provide.  We brought voter registration forms, information about our organization, a sign in sheet with email collection, and displayed information about other organizations attending the event. Voter registration forms can be grabbed well ahead of time, and you can include a line in your event details offering space for other civic action groups to share their work.  Your community members will appreciate the ability to learn more and connect with others who care about improving society.

Don’t stress if your rally begins and you realize you’ve forgotten things.  About twenty minutes before the rally started we realized we had forgotten to print out the rally chants!.  It’s likely that your attendees will own smartphones and be able to look up the chants independently. We delegated chant leadership to our attendees, and they did a phenomenal job.

Image Credit: Alexander Lewis Staff writer | Home News Tribune / Courier News / MyCentralJersey.com

 

Stay present

The morning of the rally I kept my normal Thursday routine.  I took my wife Tressa to work. I took my dog for a run, meditated, had coffee and read for a bit.  Coordinating the rally was going to be demanding so I wanted to make sure that I was in a peaceful place where I could focus intensely on the present.  I believed that our community was going to make this a successful rally and they did.

Coordinating your rapid response rally is a challenging task but one that I strongly recommend.  It was a great experience, and the reward of connecting deeper with my community members far exceeded the time that was invested in the facilitation of the day.  Democracy is a tool that requires time and energy to be effective for the people. Your help in rapid mobilization rallies will send a clear message that many Americans are waking up to the misgivings of our elected representation.  Together we have an opportunity to transform society and rally organizers like you are leading the charge.

Image Credit: Alexander Lewis Staff writer | Home News Tribune / Courier News / MyCentralJersey.com


[1] Census.gov https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newbrunswickcitynewjersey/PST045217

[2] New Brunswick, NJ Parking Guide https://www.njnbpa.org/parking-locator/

[3] ACLU Illinois https://www.aclu-il.org/en/news/when-can-government-require-permit-protest


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Designing the Culture of Tomorrow

By Ron Rivers,

Technology and culture exist within a constant state of intertwined expansion. It’s easy to forget that the first iPhone was released in 2007, a mere eleven years ago.  Today approximately three billion people [1] use smartphones, about 39% of our total population. Each one of these devices providing access to much of the world’s full information.  Numerous social [2], economic [3], and political [4] revolutions have developed due to the increased connectivity and access to each other. These technological advancements deepen our empathy and understanding of one another, facilitating cultural innovation at a more rapid pace than ever before.

Still, much of what happened has failed to reach its fullest potential.  Our culture is deliberately manipulated in the interests of profits and political power.  Consumerism is depressing us [5], and we’re witnessing a global resurgence of desperate classes choosing fascism fueled by programmed anxiety and fear of the future.  Seemingly more divided than ever, I question if we are grasping the depth of the opportunities at hand. Are we destined to sleepwalk through our cultural awakening or can we reshape ourselves by restructuring our institutions?

 

Framing technology

Depending on the person reading technology can be perceived as many things.  Some people would recall computers, electronics, and other modern devices. Others might think of manual objects, such as saws, hammers, and ladders.  Some would argue that technology is anything with a purpose, which leaves a vast space for the imagination.

For our argument, we will define technology as any tool that we can use.   With this understanding, we can imagine the scenario where our evolutionary ancestor first picked up a stick to reach a piece of fruit.  This seemingly inconspicuous act created a fundamental shift of who we are and how we interact with the world around us. The understanding that, through our creativity and action, the universe was ours to shape forever changed what we could call the human experience.

What is and is not acceptable?

 

Empathy, culture, and technology

The prevailing ethos of a society correlates to the level of technological ascendency it has reached.   History contains many examples of new technologies reshaping the organization of the world and the human lives within it.

We can compare the concept of punishment in present society to that of those living during the Medieval period as an example.  Slaughter was an unavoidable reality for many people in Medieval societies. Compared to today significantly more individuals were butchering their livestock [6] for consumption than in the present time.  This consistent experience of killing animals likely had a desensitizing effect on the populace and may have contributed to the tolerance of public executions and punishments. Public torture and execution were a spectacle under the guise of justice. [7]  Often the legal sentence also served as a political ritual as well, demonstrating a message to others within the society about the severity of the law.

In Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison [8]  he argues that public executions had unintended consequences.    Torture could generate sympathy for the accused and in turn fuel resentment towards the state.  This example provides us insight that humanity had the capacity for deep empathy at the time but lacked the proper technology to facilitate a fundamental cultural shift in what was considered acceptable punishment by the state.  But technology evolved and so did we. No present modern society subscribing to the westernized values of freedom would accept public torture as a form of entertainment.

Another example would be industrial farming technologies.  They remove the experience of butchering live animals to provide the meat many of us eat.  In doing so, our culture shifted. With the decrease in the common practice of animal slaughter, it’s significantly easier to forget about the process of mass producing meat.  Food Inc. and other documentaries like it can profoundly impact people because it exposes the practice beyond the blindness technology provided us.  Mass communication technologies have deepened our access to the truth and in doing so have changed the direction of sections of our population. We can observe this in action by reviewing the available data on the increase in vegetarianism around the world. [9]

Philosophically we have to decide what we want to be. We have not collectively overcome our empathy deficit, but we have advanced our understanding of what is and is not permissible within a free society.  In the process shifting further towards a genuine understanding of the sanctity of human life. This change, I argue, will continue in step with our technological ascendancy.

 

Humanity tomorrow

We live in an age of political and cultural uncertainty.  Technology does not suffer from this burden as progress is accelerating at an exponential rate. [10]  Technology and culture feed off of one another as each introduces new problems to be solved while simultaneously shifting our understanding of the world around us.   We know cultural malleability is real as the for-profit entertainment interests have driven our culture for decades. Armed with this understanding, we can conceptualize culture from a top-down approach, asking ourselves what type of values we would collectively want to share and what types of solutions would need to be developed to accelerate the manifestation this change.

Staying aligned with our examples of punishment we can observe present-day examples in Norway.  Norway boasts an imprisonment rate of about one-tenth of the United States. Even more impressive, they have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at only 20%.  Compare that to the United States where 76.6% of prisoners re-enter the penal system upon release. [11] It’s clear that Norway has chosen a different cultural value for members of its society and implemented research, technology, and practice to produce results that shame our efforts here in the United States.

Politically this would mean a reformation of how we incentivize progress within our institutional arrangements.  A proactive approach for creating technologies and solutions to drive cultural shifts conflicts with a profit-driven incentivization of culture.  Many of us can relate to the addictiveness of social media platforms, and it’s no surprise as they are designed that way. [12] Multiple platforms squander the opportunity to add real value to our lives so they can bombard us with advertisements, reducing their overall effectiveness.  Therefore we’re going to have to empower organizations undertaking these challenges to operate in new ways, unrestricted by the contemporary dogmatic worship of profit-driven results.

An example of how we could facilitate these projects would be to define a new set of laws specifically for these culture drivers.  We would want to create a deeper level of cooperation between firms and government to produce desired outcomes. These could be implemented by extending access to investment funding in the form of tax dollars and by opening up the most advanced technologies to these firms.

In exchange for this public support returns recognized from the project would be socialized.  We could structure the societal benefits of these firms in numerous ways. One would be that the firms could operate under a non-profit co-operative model, ensuring that the products they were developing can be acquired at a low consumer cost.

Alternatively, if the organizations are working with emerging technologies profits could be driven to institutionalize the most successful firms, implementing a model where the best organizations become the best schools, open to anyone looking to transform their role in the world.  Revisiting our focus of punishment and Norway’s prison reform; the solutions already exist so we could focus more on the human capital aspects, funding a team of experts to force implementation of the Norwegian methods within the American penal system.

If our goal is to shift our culture towards the pluralistic vision of an innovative and experimental society, then we must recognize that everything is subject to change.  By extending access to the necessary resources for people working towards the collectively determined cultural goals we provide ourselves with more agency in developing the direction of humanity.

Transformation is possible today. It begins by understanding the impact of technology is having on us as a culture and shifts direction when we decide to take a more proactive approach in the direction of both.  In undertaking this task we rely on the most valuable resource we have, human ingenuity, to develop the solutions to help us be better people. It’s a bet on our shared potential to change the world. An investment that has been proven throughout history to be a worthy undertaking.


[1] Newzoo Global Mobile Market Report 2018 | Light Version Newzoo https://newzoo.com/insights/trend-reports/newzoo-global-mobile-market-report-2018-light-version/

[2] Social Black Lives Matter  https://blacklivesmatter.com/ – Could also be classified as political and economic.

[3] Economic  Occupy Wall Street https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street

[4] Political Arab Spring https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring

[5] Consumerism and its antisocial effects can be turned on—or off Association for Psychological Science

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/consumerism-and-its-antisocial-effects-can-be-turned-onor-off.html

[6] Types of Meat By Melissa Snell Thought Co. https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-meat-1788846

[7] Medieval Torture http://www.medievalwarfare.info/torture.htm

[8] https://books.google.com/books?id=6rfP0H5TSmYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

[9] Why the Global Rise in Vegan and Plant-Based Eating Isn’t A Fad (600% Increase in U.S. Vegans + Other Astounding Stats) Food Revolution Network https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/

[10] The Law of Accelerating Returns by Ray Kurzweil http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returnshttps://duckduckgo.com/?q=law+of+accelerating+returns&t=ffab&ia=web

[11] Why Norway’s prison system is so successful by Christina Sterbenz Business Insider https://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12?r=UK&IR=T

[12] Your Addiction to Social Media Is No Accident by Julie Morgans VICE https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vv5jkb/the-secret-ways-social-media-is-built-for-addiction


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The Founding Fathers were Progressives

By Ron Rivers,

If we view the Founding Fathers and the 55 framers of the constitution through the lens of the present, it is apparent that they would be considered progressive thinkers. The purpose of the formation of our democratic republic was to create a system of institutional alternatives to what was available at the time. A new way of living that had never existed before. It was a time in American history where human imagination and cooperation created new alternatives to the historical organization of economic, political, and social structures.

 

Circumstance and choice

The Thirteen Colonies grew from 2,000 people to over 2.5 million from 1625 to 1775, often by displacing native Americans. During this period the colonies were treated as merchant ventures, the core objective being to generate wealth for England. The citizens did not have access to the same legal rights as English citizens and were subject to taxes without representation. The colonies did have a high amount of autonomy, self-governed with elections they developed independent identities. Objections to the expansion of English control coupled with frustration from the Seven Years War led to heightened tensions with England and an increasingly unified Colonies. The Continental Congress was held, independence was declared, and the American Revolutionary War was fought.

When the time came to design a new set of legal institutions the framers focused on developing a system that would represent a new kind of freedom in the world. Two of the most innovative concepts designed into the American Constitution are the separation of power through a system of checks and balances and the development of federalism.

In theory, the three branches of government keep one another in check. Decentralizing power and democratizing access. Expanding from one center of power to three branches represented a fundamental shift in how citizens of a nation could constrain the strength of their central government. Federalism is the idea that states are an experiment in ways of living. Each state acting with a high degree of sovereignty. Using a specific Founding Father as an example, George Washington symbolically gave birth to the United States government when in 1797 he peacefully transferred power. This act affirmed the in and out system of government we have today. It was this type of visionary imagination of the possible that cement the Founding Fathers and 55 framers as standard bearers of Progressive projects.

 

Being Progressive

“…But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times…”

– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to To Samuel Kercheval Monticello, July 12, 1816

Being Progressive isn’t a political affiliation, it’s a way of thinking about change. It’s understanding that as humanity progresses technologically, intellectually, and culturally there is a parallel need for our institutions to evolve with us. In present time Progressives should approach our policies based on data-driven approaches that focus on the maximization of agency and access for all individuals, even those presently under the spell of an oppressive authoritarian. Only by shedding the labels and ideas of parties focused on power maintenance can we begin to transform society into the model of democracy the Founding Fathers had intended.

The Founding Fathers were Progressives because the vision of the future that they created and manifested extended beyond the existing institutional arrangements available at the time. Their concept of an ever-evolving system of government founded on the Federalist ideal of states acting as labs of experimentation in different ways of living was a tribute to the power of human imagination. They believed in our collective ability to transcend our circumstances while understanding that no change is without struggle and effort. In acting per the beliefs, they laid the groundwork for Progressive thinking extending hundreds of years to the present.

Progressives of the present are supporting ideas and vision encoded into the fabric of American society. The current Conservative views of change and society are the antithesis of what the Founding Fathers has intended. The plan seems to be to stifle agency of the impoverished through the cutting of social protections [7], limiting our ability to maximize our total human potential while the President spews vitriol that ignores the demographic data of the changing United States [8]. Liberalism fairs no better, as it is just as guilty of aligning itself with the best interest of corporations seeking to remain undisrupted in their influence. Change is inevitable, and a Progressive approach to the institutional arrangements of society is the most viable alternative to the current regimes of thought. By choosing to embrace and encode change into the arrangements of society we make the most American choice possible, one that the Founding Fathers would be proud of.


[1] The Tea Act: The Catalyst of the Boston Tea Party The Boston Tea Party Ship https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/the-tea-act

[2] The American Revenue Act of 1764 U.S. History.org http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/sugaract.html

[3] Stamp Act Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765

[4] Declaration of Independence U.S. History.org www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/index.html

[5] The Real Birth of American Democracy by Joseph Stromberg Smithsonian.com https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/the-real-birth-of-american-democracy-83232825

[6] To Samuel Kercheval Monticello, July 12, 1816 University of Groningen http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl246.php

[7] Mitch McConnell says it out loud: Republicans are gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare next by Michael Hiltzik Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-mcconnell-social-security-20181019-story.html

[8] 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world by By D’Vera Cohn and Andrea Caumont Pew Research http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/


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Introducing the P Corp – A Progressive Alternative

By Ron Rivers,

If the Progressive project within the United States hopes to build a lasting movement that enhances access and agency for all individuals, it must develop systemic alternatives beyond the limitations of the existing regimes of thought.  These visions must be bold and creative enough to inspire the imagination of real change within our collective populace while at the same time avoid being so utopic that they are dismissed as impossible.

Modern politics is a struggle between ideologies focused on the wrong question.  The Right argues for more market and less state, while the Left argues for more state and less market.  The Progressive project recognizes the shallowness of these two choices, instead demanding we answer the question, what kind of market?   An economic system based on free labor supported by a vital suite of protections is the long-term vision for the Progressive project, but we must complete certain steps before that vision may be manifested.  In this article, we will explore one such program, the Public Corporation (herein P-Corp). A new type of corporate structure designed to allow people to opt-in to a new vision of economic cooperation.

 

Existing corporate structures

Before diving into an alternative vision of our shared economic future, understanding of the existing legal structures offered to businesses may provide useful for comparison.  If you’re already familiar with corporate structures, please feel free to skip this section, the summary will be brief and factual. Note that there are some structures I am omitting as the following is intended as a brief overview.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole Proprietorships are made up of an individual or married couple running a business alone.  In the United States, they are the most common entity and used by many small businesses. The benefits are that these organizations have fewer taxes and legal obligations in exchange for the owners being personally liable for debts incurred by the company.

General Partnership

General Partnerships are formed by two or more persons who agree to provide capital, labor, or talent to the business.  Partners distribute profits, losses, and responsibilities. All partners are personally and equally responsible for the debts incurred by the partnership.

Limited Partnership

Limited partnerships are formed by at least one general partner and one or more limited partners.  General partners typically manage the business and share in profits and losses. The limited partners share in the profits, but their losses are limited to the extent of their investment.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

See General Partnership – the difference is that the partner doesn’t have personal liability for the actions of another partner.

S Corporation

S Corps are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. This means income and losses are recognized on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates.

C Corporation

C Corps act as separate tax-paying entities.  You may hear that they are “double taxes” – that means that they pay taxes when profits are earned and when they are distributed.  C-Corps are generally designed for larger corporations receiving outside investments and not an ideal setup for a small business.

B Corporation

B Corps are a C Corp structure with additional responsibilities to adhere to that keep the company focused on its non-financial interests as well as the financial.  Think of them as companies that want to intertwine community giving and enrichment into their actual corporate structure.

Nonprofit Corporation

Nonprofits typically serve the public interest but are still able to generate revenues.  The main difference for nonprofits is that there is no dividend distribution if the company has capital exceeding expenses it is expected to use that money to further its mission and purpose.  In exchange for the removal of capitalization, opportunities nonprofits benefit from a suite of tax exemptions.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

LLCs are a hybrid structure benefiting from limited liability while having pass-through income taxation.  Typically used for single-owner organizations.

Now for something… different.   Image Source:  Gratisography

Concept

The P Corp is a new business structure concept developed to attract business innovators and investors to an alternative market order.   The core imagination behind the idea is that through the enhancement of cooperation within verticals we can achieve exponentially more than is possible under the current independent competitive model.  We deepen the connection of participants working within a specific vertical to provide a more fixed base of support while at the same time empowering the individuals to experiment and innovate within the direction of their choosing.

An attractive suite of benefits is provided to participating organizations in exchange for a growth structure that furthers innovation and the creation of access for new participants at the expense of personal profits beyond a certain level.   The P Corp is designed for people and firms whose primary desire is to create change, placing the value of collective transformative efforts over the accumulation of vast swaths of personal capital wealth. It’s a corporate structure designed for the new generations of Global Citizens arising within the United States and around the world.

 

Direction

Determining the ventures that would receive support could be facilitated in numerous directions depending on our will and historical data.  There is the technocratic solution, where the elected board members during a given period within a vertical determine the areas of most significant interest.  The concentration of power and industry could be checked by a rotating board structure with term limits. The benefits of this solution are that the industry experts are guiding the research and growth of the vertical in a data-driven and strategic approach.

Alternatively, we could have a more democratic process.  Instead of making final decisions, the governing boards would be required to produce multiple format media to explain the potential directions, the potential benefits, and the risks and rewards of pursuing said direction.  Content would be made available to the public in the form of detailed whitepapers, summary articles and videos, and a more extended format podcast discussing the opportunity. Ideally, the content could be translated into multiple languages so that all Americans would have the ability to take part in the process.  By providing information in various mediums, we radically deepen the agency of the average citizen to understand the possibilities of national economic direction and investment. After a period of time, votes could be cast by the collective populace. The democratic methodology creates the real but intangible benefit of deepening civic engagement and raising the temperature of democracy within the United States.

Time structures on the selected direction of investment could be implemented to avoid wasteful direction shifts during board member rotations.   We would want to ensure that the firms have adequate time and opportunity to produce results – perhaps five to ten years depending on the relevance of the projects presented initially.  Revisiting the directional decisions above, this could also be determined by a technocratic board or democratically. The P Corp is designed to maximize experimentation and innovation and will likely attract big ideas that need time to complete.  By setting minimum time limits before directional shifts in public investment, we can allow the individuals working on solutions adequate time to realize their vision without the pressure of production from day one. This offers a distinct advantage of C Corp structures as there is no need to focus on quarterly growth for stock performance, freeing time and effort towards the organizations ultimate purpose.

 

Enrollment

Enrollment in the Public Corporation could be done within a set timeframe, for this exploration we will say a yearly basis.   Organizations would apply to be a part of the program within a specific time frame during the year; we could hypothetically imagine January through July.  Applications are processed on a rolling basis throughout the year and evaluated over many criteria.

The first aspect we consider is to define the vertical the applicants would be classified within.  Depending on the number of applicants within a vertical more specific sub-classifications could be given, but to begin, we could determine the general categories.  An example category tree could be Medicine > Cancer > Experimental Drugs. Classification is important because organizations will be grouped with others working within similar classifications for both identity and information purposes.

Next, we would evaluate the merit of the applicant’s idea.  This evaluation would be void of the input of politicians, instead of empowering rotating citizen boards formed of academic and professional experts within a given vertical.  Business concepts would be evaluated by board members based on their potential to pioneer genuine change within society beyond revenue generation. We enter into the selection process understanding that some ventures will fail and that collectively society deems failure acceptable in the light of experimentation.  In choosing this belief, we unlock the potential of access for future change makers. Beyond ideas, the board members will also evaluate the research, planning, strategy, existing capital, and current implementations to determine the viability of an applicant.

The participants and outside investors could provide existing capital for P Corps.  In both cases, P Corps would come with a preset definition of possible returns for specific investments.  P Corps benefit from the ability to raise private equity with the hope of gain, unlike a Non-Profit structure.  The difference is that these returns would not grant permanent control over the organization and its direction as currently available in a standard C Corp structure.  As an arbitrary example, we could use a 25% return on investment realized after a particular time frame of profitability. This 25% return could be extended to grant funders and non-profit accelerators as well, opening up access to start-up capital that would traditionally not be mixed.  We can imagine that this structure may turn off institutionalized investors, while at the same time attracting more small-dollar crowdsourced donors excited about the opportunities that P Corps create.

Once applicants are accepted, they would agree to relocate to the location selected within a specific time frame.  Upon transferring, they would gain access to funding and therefore subject to the requirements outlined above for the P Corp structure.

 

Location requirements

Accepted P Corp organizations would be required to relocate to take advantage of the benefits offered.  By centralizing firms in a single location, we reduce costs while enhancing cooperation and sharing of talent, ideas, and technology.  Supporting the over-arching P Corp theme, by deepening collaboration each firm is empowered to compete in different directions.

Locations would be determined by numerous factors such as the location of applicants, existing industries that have geographic concentration, access to raw materials needed for the firms to produce, and the intended distribution of their innovations.  States and the federal government would facilitate this program by can procuring “innovation locations” and renting them out to these emerging firms slightly above cost (with the additional profits going into a building trust to pay for future repairs – the goal would not be rent-seeking).  States would exempt these locations from property tax as states already do concerning government properties [2], further reducing the financial burden on the site and therefore the participating firms.

By concentrating these firms in a single location, we are better able to create a structure designed to reduce costs and waste.  Centralization allows for the consolidation of purchasing and resource acquisition, driving down the costs of material as well as logistical costs.   It also provides for the reduction of overhead expenses, allowing for collective bargaining for tools such as high-speed internet and office assets and amenities.  Most importantly, talent can be pooled and shared across organizations when needed.

 

Deepened cooperation

We could imagine a scenario within the biomedical vertical as an example.  Imagine that ten biomedical organizations applied for the program and were accepted.  Within existing market arrangements these ten firms would operate independently, renting space, purchasing lab equipment, hiring staff, etc.  Under the P Corp, these ten firms would  relocate to a single location with access to a shared, state-of-the-art laboratory. Cooperative operational structures could be created to ensure that space and equipment were available to the firms to avoid bottlenecking and the slowing of research and experimentation.

P Corp structure also creates greener organizations.  Because we centralize the firms in specific locations based on industry verticals, we open up opportunities to introduce cooperative travel efforts. Ride-sharing, carpooling, public transportation, are all methods that help to reduce the energy required for people to travel to work can be utilized to coordinate transportation among the firms’ workers.  Reducing congestion and vehicle emissions, helping to shift our corporate models to more green methods.

The cooperative structure extends beyond materials and travel.  The P Corp seeks to make collaborative competition among firms at the human level as well. Rotating members of the P Corp would be required to attend a shared monthly meeting among all of the existing firms.  Each session would have a specific agenda focused on utilizing the collective talent to solve problems that could be suggested and voted on by team leads across organizations. Meeting attendees would be chosen based on their expertise and their capacity to learn from the subjects being discussed.  In structuring cooperation into our legal model, we build a more collaborative approach to experimentation and innovation both in practice and in paradigm. Raising the level of collaboration among firms deepens our access to one another. It allows us to further advance our transformational efforts on shared problems but in potentially infinite alternative directions.

 

Accelerated Access

P Corp implementation goes hand-in-hand with other aspects of the Progressive project as suggested by Roberto Unger, specifically the increased access to credit and resources for these small and medium innovation firms.   Firms accepted into the program will be supported by a fixed amount of seed funding generated by tax revenue.  Attached to this funding will be a set of requirements outlined later in the argument.

P Corps structure empowers individuals who lack access circles of wealth to attract seed funding.  By opening up access to more people, we create an opportunity for more solutions to problems that exist beyond a sales number. We want to support the best ideas while at the same time redefining the language and meaning of the word best.  We remove the association of profit generation from best, replacing it with impact generation. What type of change will the firms create, who will they benefit, and how will it happen? If applicants can answer the first two questions but lack the experience to define the third, the P Corp has attributes built into the structure to help ideate solutions.

All accepted P Corps will operate under a unique patent structure that awaits future creation.  The objective of the P Corp model is to push experimentation and innovation beyond the limits imposed by the existing laws relating to property and contract.  Innovations in technique, research, and technology developed within the P Corp vertical will be shared with all of the other member firms before product implementation.  Through this cooperative structure, all firms dedicated to problem-solving have access to the most advanced forms of productive at any given period. By continuously raising the floor from which all firms operate, novice and veteran alike, we radically expand the rate of potential innovation across all participants.

The Progressive project is about transforming society to expand the horizons of what it means to be human for every individual.  Paying further intellectual debt to Professor Unger, another core objective of the Progressive project is the dissemination of the most advanced forms of production.  We envision the P Corp as a solution to a world where the most advanced access belongs to a small few in the fringes of every industry.  The P-Corp is an opt-in structure that can begin to crack the calcification of our imagination on how we view technology and progress. Under the proposed framework we begin to envision progress not as the property of a select few, destined to be hoarded, but rather as another brick in a foundation of common access.

 

Success and plurality

What does the collective populace gain from the P Corp structure?  In accepting the benefits, structure, and support offered by the P Corp firms agree to a redefinition of success.

Salaries and bonuses would be determined by an agreed upon amount from the public board.  We want to reward people for their efforts, while at the same time abandoning the ideals that capital reward is the ultimate value of future endeavors.  We want to ensure that all people providing labor are compensated adequately as well, not just the founding members. No policy exists in a vacuum. If we could imagine the implementation of a vital suite of protections that included necessities such as housing, food, and healthcare existing outside of the P Corp we would also empower organizations to spend less capital on salaries and more on research and development.

Successful organizations would need to drive profits to further research and development towards existing problems, new problems, or if the organization has wholly exhausted its potential, the assistance of other P Corp firms within the shared location.

In addition to additional R&D at a determined point of economic stability (profits exceeding expenses), the firms are required to develop educational programs and become schools devoted to their specific vertical.  The best firms become the best schools. These schools are free to all applicants, funded by the excess profits created by P Corps. In opening up access to the most advanced knowledge, technology, and talent to the public, we empower any person to come to learn about this growing sector of production and research.  People applying would not require previous experience – our objective is not to further support the insular practices of existing advanced firms. Instead, we seek to extend access to the resources needed (both educational and opportunity) for all members of society who are passionate about changing their ability to transform the world within the selected vertical.  Applicants would be evaluated on numerous factors, with preference awarded to underprivileged and underrepresented individuals. These educational firms would not limit participation to those with innovative ideas, instead supporting both innovators and future roleplayers.    Once accepted they would be relocated to the centralized hub to begin their education.

Curriculums could be developed at scaled levels – from beginners to very advanced continuing education.  Participants would be judged on merit, assuming that in the right environment the capacity for every person to learn is vast.  Upon completion of their training, the students would have the opportunity to join one of the existing hub firms or to go off and innovate and experiment in their own direction.  This program of open, free, and continuing education reinforces a core value of the Progressive project – the empowerment of all members of society to continually grow, learn, and transform the world.

 

Competition and failure

The capitalist model has demonstrated that competition does create innovation, so we should not discount its value within future production models.  Competition between firms under the P Corp model takes form in implementation. All of the information and technology sharing in the world could never surpass the most significant resource any human has, time.  The combination of a vital suite of protections, increased access to credit, capital, and technology will significantly alter the capabilities of all organizations, but creative methods of delivering value will be limited to the infinite present.  We want to break up the rent-seeking of many monopolistic organizations today, innovating ever so slightly to justify charging for upgrades. Instead of focusing on pushing boundaries to disrupt at a more rapid rate than possible under the current single market structure.

These suggestions do not come without risk.  Firms fail all of the time and under the P Corp structure that is unlikely to change.  As P Corps are geared toward experimentation and innovation, we are likely to see tax dollars spent on efforts that do not come to fruition.  This is OK. We must break free from the dogmatic beliefs that our existing structures imprint on us – success cannot always be measured in profitability.  We accept that every organization that attempts to innovate either succeeds or teaches us a method and practice that does not work. Both outcomes drive us closer towards our ultimate goal, defined by either the technocratic board or democratic process that decided to fund the verticals.

As the existing P Corp structure facilitates cooperation across competitive organizations, the participants of a firm that fails to develop the solution intended would be given preference to move their efforts to one of the existing centralized organizations.  Recognizing that the skillsets of individuals in the failing firm may not be directly applicable to the other more successful firms they could participate in the training programs required of the successful firms as mentioned above. If there is no opportunity or the individual is demonstrably poor fit for the firm, the aforementioned socialized bottom would allow them to re-enter a relevant training program of their desired field or to take time to consider alternative forms of work if the vertical no longer interested them.

This approach towards failure within the P Corp structure helps to redefine our humanity.  In pursuing work we are passionate about, in contrast to working a job we dislike so that we may survive, we are preventing a slow erosion of our existence.  Work we dislike binds the majority of our waking time towards efforts that do not fulfill or expand us. By creating a structure where new people can enter and exit verticals of interest, we open the door towards pursuing passions.  These efforts extend our humanity, igniting passion and, to an extent, slowing time. When we decouple lively hood from the dogmatic capitalistic model practiced today we release the potential of individuals to create change which might otherwise be destined for a slow, living death of human experience dictated by circumstance.

 

A single example

Transformation is piecemeal.  At times the shifts may seem sudden, but our efforts to shift society must be broken down into digestible projects that continuously move the expand our spheres of influence and understanding step by step.   By introducing the P Corp as an alternative option to existing structures, we supersede criticism by loud market fundamentalists – no one is being forced to participate in the vision of the Progressive project, but for those who do the benefits are apparent.   The information presented should be viewed as a potential framework, not a blueprint.

The P Corp is a single example of the potential of the Progressive project.  By recognizing that there is no legal or historical precedence for a single form of market order, our democratic ideology empowers us to experiment with and innovate within our existing structures.  In doing so, we move one step closer to the ultimate vision of the modern Progressive – increased access and agency for all individuals to transform the world. This effort further humanizes our existence, as contained within the transformation of the world is the transformation of the self.  By redefining what is possible within our institutional structures, we redefine what it means to be human. Each innovation bringing us closer to realizing the infinite potential contained within every individual.


[1] Internal Revenue Service https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/business-structures

[2] Government Property and Property Taxes by Chris McLaughlin UNC School of Government https://canons.sog.unc.edu/government-property-property-taxes/


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