August 9, 2011

The Political Philosophy of Co-Production


According to Edgar Cahn, co-production (C-P) has three forms. It’s a philosophy which refers to previously unmeasured and unvalued work, which seeks to raise the measure of this work to parity with the world of money, market, professionals. (I add, parity as a transitional stage toward overcoming and transcending all of these.) In the same way, it seeks to bridge and then transcend the market and non-market economies.
It’s the process and practice of achieving and then transcending this parity. This process may be collaborative or dialectical with elements of confrontation and conflict with the system economy and polity.
Finally, it’s the set of standards and goals. The four imperatives: Assets, revaluation of real work, mutuality, and the building of a new community, civil society, democracy. Cahn claims, and I agree, that these four values are largely universal. All citizens of a human society agree upon them, all who believe in democracy, fairness, justice, which are beliefs comprising the very essence of being a human citizen.
He compares the core economy to the autonomic nervous system or the environment – things most people tend not to notice until something goes wrong with them. C-P wants to emphasize, focus upon, cultivate, and maximize the fruitfulness of the core economy. (The core economy is AKA the “informal” economy, although I’d expand the definition of core to comprise both the informal economy and the real work which is contained in the market economy but underpaid by it. Cahn, like most reformers (cf. the MMTers), seems to carefully avoid directly treading on the market’s turf, so his definition of “core” and undervaluation tends to ignore work which is actually paid but lowballed. No Marxist analysis here.)
The four imperatives of C-P combine to define a virtuous circle. The time bank member’s individual capacity is empowered to help others. This contribution is valued equally with other contributions in building a network of mutual benefits and obligations, and all these actions and relationships together help build new cooperative communities and strengthen civil society and democracy. This stronger social world is all the more favorable to the individual seeking to realize his potential, and so on.
This not only transforms our economies but helps bring out and strengthen the truly democratic nature of polities as well. The giver enjoys the Aristotelian ideal (in his famous description of man as a political animal) where politics and core values are to be “seen, heard, recognized, recorded, rewarded”. This political manifestation is an added spur to the recipient who already wanted to overcome the feeling of dependency on a personal level by becoming a giver himself. Now he also can attain a public political identity as a cooperative activist. C-P is dedicated to the individual’s need to be needed, to reintegrate the lonely, atomized individual who feels useless, and who is in fact useless from the point of view of the capitalist system, into a network of community and mutual giving. In this way C-P is trying to reinvigorate a largely destroyed tradition which has previously existed in such forms as tribal potlatch, while it’s also an expression of the ancient democratic political philosophy.
From there C-P tries to transform all socioeconomic and eventually all social relations by at all points empowering the passive recipient (of anything, nominally good or realistically bad) and turning him into an activist and giver. It would turn all economic relations into public goods. All relationships which have any aspect of hierarchy, like for example that between professional and non-professional recipient, are to be transformed, first to parity/mutuality, and then to full democratic self-management. All of this is to be done within a framework of social justice and according to the imperatives of this justice.
As Cahn says, C-P as an ideal has arisen in the same way as such ideals as democracy, free speech, due process, while the fight for it arises out of the same pain and outrage as was the wellspring for the abolitionist, civil rights, suffrage, labor, anti-war, environmental, and other movements.
The negative definition of justice is the fight to prevent or rectify injustice. Similarly, C-P’s negative fight is to prevent and rectify what violates social justice: The devaluation of the core economy, this monumental robbery of the people.
Affirmatively, we must fight to ensure that all real work is fully honored, legitimated, and compensated. This compensation will be the ongoing experience of living as a true citizen in the human community we now set out to build, where all who work are guaranteed their fair share. Basic, decent food, shelter, health care, leisure, amenities, and respect, to go along with the opportunity for political and economic participation to the extent of one’s desire, shall be the compensation afforded by this community. As for the interim, we’ll strive to build this world among ourselves and expand its spirit and practice to all who want to be part of it. Toward the system, on the other hand, there too we must reciprocate. We must deal with it as it deals with us. We must attain a permanent Work to Rule attitude and, as much as possible, practice. Toward the capitalists and mercenaries we must have nothing but a purely mercenary attitude.
But among ourselves, our friends and allies of good will, we shall cultivate and express the gift-giving spirit and the democratic revival. These can be helped along their way with the concept of C-P and the form and practice of time banking.


  1. I think that maybe the initial Puritan communities were functioning with these ideals which are basically, Christian, and go way back in our civilization. Probably the initial Christian communities, before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, functioned this way.
    As it turns out, the five people who I know who have constituted themselves in a Benedictine community, and run a cultural organization, ARE LIVING this way.
    Except that, while they do no direct proselytizing, they are involved in outreach to others outside their community.
    I think that we need to find new meaning and value to the situation of dependancy, and that one of our greatest problems lies in rejecting our tremendous structural dependance. We also particularly need to create a world where dependancy is accepted for a time, but where people can move in and out of it without stigma, and without getting STUCK.
    I have been thinking a lot recently about WOMEN’S role in the economy.
    One of our greatest problems, I feel, has been the gradual devaluation, and destruction of PRIVATE POWER (understand that to be power that is not in the public sphere, and does not elicit hand clapping, cheering, etc) in favor of public power FOR EVERYBODY.
    By eroding these distinctions, we have eroded the distinctions between public and private and I DEFINITELY BELIEVE IN THEM as a necessary rampart against rampant invasion by the State (and the social body) in our private lives.
    I am in favor of DIFFERENT FORMS OF POWER to be exercised in different manners, by different people IN DIFFERENT PLACES.
    This works against uniformization, and I am definitely NOT IN FAVOR OF ANY PURSUAL OF THAT PAULINIAN IDEAL beyond what it has already been pursued (and boy, has it ever been pursued… the above is a restatement of the Paulinian ideal in yet another form, with another vocabulary, in my opinion).
    But this will only work if we are not constantly clamoring to BE THE SAME, DO THE SAME THINGS, etc etc.
    I think that the UNIVERSAL sentiment of injustice springs essentially from the PERCEPTION of corruption. This corruption, however, has always been present in society, and always will be (at different degrees, perhaps). But it is the erosion of our own capacity to believe in our ideals, and the erosion of the social body’s capacity to offer a terrain for our ideals, that breeds revolution.
    Louis XVI was NOT a bad lout. If anything… he lacked AUTHORITY for the position he was in, and did not feel up to the crushing responsibility of it.
    Not believing enough in HIMSELF, and in HIS MISSION, he contributed in a significant manner to the bloodbath that followed.
    IT DIDN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN…(that way, at any rate…).

    Comment by Debra — August 9, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    • We don’t need the State at all (including its corporate appendage), and doing away with it would also do away with the artificial demarcation between a vicious private life and a sham, exsanguinated public one, which together form the bourgeois ideology and practice.

      But it is the erosion of our own capacity to believe in our ideals, and the erosion of the social body’s capacity to offer a terrain for our ideals, that breeds revolution.

      This is true, if we include the fact that this erosion is merely part of the campaign of scorched earth destruction waged upon us, our society, and our ideals by history’s most wicked criminals.

      Comment by Russ — August 9, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

      • I tend to follow Galbraith in my analyses on this one.
        I think that… one of the inevitable tendencies of the democratic process, and democratization (which I am not crazy about), is to shift vertical, hierarchical power away from individuals, and entrepreneur capitalism, for example INTO IDEAS, horizontal committees, groups, abstractions. Into areas where power is much more disincarnated and diffuse. This was probably done with the idea (misguided as always…) that “we” would be able to create a political system that would resist corruption in this manner, but NO POLITICAL SYSTEM WILL RESIST CORRUPTION. That is the way of the world, and the word “corruption” is intimately linked to the fact that as time passes, the world does not remain the same, and never will.
        And never forget… the corruption of the best engenders the worst. Good point, that. I agree 110 %. And it was apparently the early Church fathers who said it…
        Personally, I feel that my private life is not vicious at all… It suits me just fine. I have been battling with the State (and the social body…) to preserve it for over 30 years now.
        Gotta get a handle on that Paulinian ideal there.

        Comment by Debra — August 9, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

      • If corruption is intrinsic and must always be met with vigilance, that’s all the more reason not to maintain hierarchies and concentrations of wealth and power. Disallow those, and vice has no place to get a handhold.

        I didn’t say every individual’s private life is vicious, just those dedicated to greed and decadence.

        Comment by Russ — August 9, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  2. Ahhhh…. but we are ALL decadent these days. In a decadent civilization, how can we NOT be decadent ??
    Time to reread the “Dune” series, as I mentioned elsewhere here.
    We are waiting for a new Messiah.
    Those ABSTRACT, DISEMBODIED IDEAS just don’t galvanize us the way that a flesh and blood person does.
    You are naïve on the “solutions” to corruption.
    There is no solution to corruption. Every “solution” entails its own disadvantages.
    “WE” would ditch paradise (if we could even find a consensus to recognize it…) because we inevitably start hankering after SOMETHING NEW.
    Take a look at all those Renaissance paintings : on the one side, you see “heaven” where people are standing still, looking transfixed (or bored, and lifeless according to your perspective), on the other, you see HELL, WHERE ALL THE ACTION IS.
    We tend to like action… particularly in OUR civilization where we are drugged on it.
    Happily, THE WHEEL ALWAYS TURNS. Whether we want it to, or not, moreover.

    Comment by Debra — August 10, 2011 @ 3:37 am

  3. Good day Russ,

    I really like the ideas as they are presented in this post. Thank you for continuing to write. I have a lot to say on this subject and I continue to compile ideas on it, and truly my friend, you are inspirational. I wish I could say more but for now I fear it would only be incomplete and imperfect.

    Where are you located anyway and how long have you been active in pursuing your ideals without compromise? Id like to know more about your history if you would share. I dont find many role models worth loking up to nowadays.

    Thats all for now, God bless

    Comment by Strieb Roman — August 11, 2011 @ 4:06 am

    • Thanks, Streib. Those are kind words. I’ve been thinking about this stuff (and filling notebooks) for many years, but only started zeroing in on my real position about 6 years ago. I made some tentative stabs at becoming involved in real life activism, but didn’t really start “doing” things until spring of 2009, when I simultaneously started this blog and found an existing (but still pretty new) relocalization group nearby. Since then I’ve become ever more intensely focused on those two parallel efforts.

      Thanks for your efforts as well.

      Comment by Russ — August 11, 2011 @ 6:02 am

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