I have recently come across an excellent report on Cooperativa Integral Catalana (Catalan Integral Cooperative , henceforth CIC). It is not a single organization, rather a set of interconnected cooperatives, working closely together.
I am not going to try to summarize the report here. Yet again, the model it outlines is so different from run-of-the-mill late-stage capitalism that it might as well be describing some alien planet in a work of SF. I just want to note what seem to be the highlights of their economic model:
- Very militant attitude. Its one-time charismatic leader, Enric Duran, came to the fore for tricking Spanish banks into lending him half a million euro which he promptly gave away to various anti-globalization activist projects, in a kind of Robin Hood gesture. In 2013 he had to go to ground in order to avoid prison. It does not seem, however, that this money was directly used to capitalize CIC.
- Legal orgs as infrastructure for people’s businesses and projects. CIC has spawned a series of companies that act as legal vehicles for about 600 people to issue invoices. This is, to the people in question, cheaper than setting themselves up as independent workers under the Spanish system. They do pay a fee to these companies.
- CIC itself has no legal status. Despite this, it is very much real: a set of committees, which meet weekly, run the show. Committee members are paid – they call their monies “basic income”. There are about 10 full-time jobs equivalent in running CIC.
- Decentralized by design: CIC is constantly spawning new cooperatives, that initially rely on CIC’s support to get by. The successful ones, like Calafou have become fully autonomous.
- Two currencies. CIC operates both in EUR and in ECO, Catalonia’s local currency. There is also a system of mutual credit, which is similar to PayCoupons, though not as sophisticated.
- Real estate excess capacity. Many of the central features in CIC’s economic landscape have developed around the availability of cheap buildings (AureaSocial, Som Pujarnol) or even entire villages (Calafou). Physical spaces appear to be like bioreactors for innovative social dynamics and bnusiness models.
- Focus on public/common goods. CIC puts a lot of effort in making things that then can serve as an enabling platform for whatever the people in it might want to do. They have companies as a legal shell for freelance work, two-sided markets for labor and products, a logistic system for food products, a cooperative for mutual and self-financing, a science and technology networks, and some real-estate based projects.
- Dyson sphere. The system of small businesses surrounding CIC attempts to “capture” all the revenue that might come from the outside of the system. For example, suppose I had a client asking me to organize a workshop on network science. As I do that, I am going to try to send some business the way of other people in the system. Perhaps my client needs a venue: does anyone in the CIC space have one? What about the catering service? Etc.
The list above is interesting, because we in the Sci-Fi Economics Lab have seen some of its items before. 4, 7 and 8 are also part of the model in Messina’s social district. Edgeryders itself also does 7, in a fashion limited to software and knowledge so far. We also do 2, though not nearly as successful as CIC.
I hope that, as we continue the exploration of alt-economies, a convergence will emerge. By this I mean a set of strategies that several initiatives have independently hit upon, and work reasonably well under a variety of circumstances. These might be some of the building blocks for the new economic systems we are longing for.
If you know any interesting initiative that attempts to build an alternative economic system, I would be grateful for pointers.