On Work, Money and PURPOSE, Part 4
What next, when ANY theory of “work” becomes less relevant and applicable every year?
(this post is part of a longer essay I wrote in May 2020. Please also read the rest and, if you find it useful, thanks in advance for supporting this and my other work, through donations or in other ways, as described here.
Index of the full essay:
- Part 1: Introduction, and What Is Work, again?
- Part 2: Employment and Innovation in the 21st Century
- Part 3: Universal Basic Income (why/when/how it makes sense, for Catholics and everybody else)
- Part 4: Open Business Models, Finding (real) WORK in Catholic Doctrine, and Conclusions
Chapter 4: Open technologies, platforms and business models
Whatever happens in the next decades, society will continue to need air travel, steel mills, cement plants, internet, data centers, high-tech healthcare and many other services and infrastructures that are really expensive, and only large investments and organizations can handle.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Triple Bottom Line (TBL) propose for-profit companies to focus on ethical, social environmental concerns… just as they do on profits, in order to actually bring benefits to society.
Announcements like the one by investment giant BlackRock (January 2020), that it will “integrate environmental, social, and governance factors (ESG) into all its advisory strategies [and] exit investments with high ESG risk” are concrete steps in that direction.
As positive as they are, however, they are far from being sufficient. Much of the WORK that will be possible and necessary in the next decades is SERVICE, or will have to have a small, local dimension anyway. This leaves a lot of opportunities for new entrepreneurship and small/medium companies.
I have already described in 2013 the basic technologies and practices (Free Software, Open Hardware etc…) that concretely enable those opportunities, and their affinities with CSD in “CSD And The Openness Revolution: Natural Travel Companions?”. Today, everything outlined there is even more needed, but is much more mature, and ready to play a much larger role in business and society. This role already has several concrete, already actively practiced forms, that here is only possible to mention.
Commons-based Peer Production (CBPP) is any socio-economic production, that can be today carried on by large numbers of people thanks to the Internet. Digital Do-It-Yourself (DiDIY) is the ensemble of all the concrete manufacturing activities and mindsets that give, both to individuals and small communities, from single villages to cooperatives, the opportunity to produce goods and services that would not be possible without digital technologies (Disclosure: I was a member of the DiDIY project).
Cosmo-Localization, or cosmo-local production, combines the concrete possibility to share knowledge, as a global design commons available to everybody, with the emerging capacity for local small-volume production of value, possibly on demand, by independent partners.
DG-ML, that is Design Global, Manufacture Local, is a form of Cosmo-Localization where local manufacturing becomes economically substainable thanks to the assistance of global pools of experts, but happens in local for-profit or shared facilities, on behalf of a Critical Reference Group (CRG), that is a well defined local community that needs some goods.
Open Source Circular Economy further focuses the same processes to build clusters of economic closed loops, that produce goods, using renewable energies, by continuously reusing as many raw materials, components and finished products as possible.
On the service side, Platform Cooperatives aim to offer the same on-demand digital services (e.g. ride hailing, local delivery of goods, internet access…) made popular by for-profit companies, to their own members or the general public.
Chapter 5: Finding WORK in CSD
All the arguments made so far stand on their own, but are even more valid inside CSD. The Gospel says that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and this is what SERVICE is about. But, exactly because it is so important, SERVICE should not be stopped by mere need of money, in all the many cases where it has no monetary “value”, nor should have one.
The business models mentioned in Chapter 4 can be excellent ways to work for the Common Good. What is written here about UBI and employment could be confronted with this passage of Laudato Si: “To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute” [LS, 129].
Several parts of CCSD-6, starting from those about unions or child labour, only apply to what is called p-work here, and the repeated calls for full employment have the limits discussed in Chapter 2. Most of CCSD-6, however, seems to either describe UBI, WORK and SERVICE just as defined here, or leave no other practicable door open. To make just a few examples:
WORK is what CSD calls the subjective sense of work: “Human work has a twofold significance: objective and subjective… In the subjective sense, work is the activity of the human person [that corresponds] to his personal vocation… Work in the subjective sense [depends] only and exclusively on their dignity as human beings”[CCSD-6, 270].
“There is an urgent need to create economic systems in which the opposition between capital and labour is overcome” [CCSD-6 277]: UBI contributes to overcome this opposition, by enabling much non-marketable WORK to happen independently from capital.
“People need concrete forms of support as they journey in the world of work, starting precisely with formational systems, so that it will be less difficult to cope with periods of change, uncertainty and instability.” [CCSD-6 290]: regardless of the limits of training presented in Chapter 2, UBI would be much easier to implement, and closer to subsidiarity, than traditional “forms of support”.
“A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work [and] is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents… a just wage must not be below the level of subsistence of the worker” [CCSD-6, 302]. If we consider all WORK, not just “employment”, UBI becomes both the foundation of a just wage for all WORK, including SERVICE to “cultivate worthily” one’s whole life, as well as a tool to facilitate negotiatios for just wage of p-work.
“Redistribution of income which… look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen” [CCSD-6, 303] is, as history shows, extremely difficult to implement as intended, if founded on employment. Achieving the same goal, with the same ethic and moral requirements, by starting from WORK and UBI could hardly be more difficult, to say the least.
Finally, the business models in Chapter 4 answer exactly the call of CCSD-6 for “new forms of solidarity” [CCSD-6, 319], “globalized solidarity” [CCSD-6, 321] and “humanism of work on a planetary scale”, making that solidarity and humanism of WORK possible not just among individuals, but also among businesses.
Chapter 6: Conclusions, and next steps
Together, UBI and the open business models of Chapter 4 and UBI as proposed in Chapter 3 would be good even without the crises considered in Chapter 2. With those crises in mind, they become crucial tools to minimize waste at all levels, starting from human capital, make the best use of technology and make society much more resistant to the financial, political or natural shocks that are increasingly normal in the current system.
At the policy level, the first consequences, of these tools is the need for reforms in the fields of product liability, consumer protection and intellectual property, as studied in the DiDIY project.
Much more study of work in and for digital platforms is also needed. Drivers in platforms like Uber do own their “means of production” but that does not make them much good. It may be now time to move the focus to the ownership of the means of self-organization, and of access to markets.
Last but not least, money.
Money is necessary in any complex society, as is, as a consequence, finance. However, when finance takes over money and society as it is happening in this age, any theory of “work”, not just CSD, becomes less relevant and applicable.
If the goal is WORK that ennobles, freeing WORK (or at least SERVICE) from money and vice-versa, or at least loosening that connection, may be unavoidable. But even if that hypothesis were wrong, money is a crucial issue: “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”, says a notorious quote with some truth in it.
In the almost 104,000 word count of the CSD Compendium, however, “money” appears only four times, and never in CCSD-6, the chapter about work. It may therefore be time in CSD for a thorough analysis of what money is, what it could or should be in the future, and its relationship with UBI and,above all, WORK.
(to see why the focus on Catholic Social Doctrine, please read the introduction)