The Chamber-of-Commonwealth

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The Chamber-of-Commonwealth

Post by DenverCO on Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:39 am

While the gifting and sharing culture continually develops so also does the need for support and advocacy that will help to sustain its growth within the larger, dominant culture. Considering the two as being parallel cultures, there are good ideas to be found in the dominant culture that can be adapted for building the sharing culture. One idea is the nation-wide network of local associations dedicated to supporting the monetary economy through business networking and legal and governmental advocacy, called the “chamber of commerce.” The sharing culture needs the same kind of mutual support, networking, and advocacy in order to support the gifting and sharing lifestyle, and to protect what remains of the commons. Such local organizations would create a similar national association to be called the, “chamber of commonwealth.”

Chambers of commonwealth would use the same form of legal incorporation as do chambers of commerce, which is Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(6), which gives tax-exempt status to “business leagues.” Using a legal structure intended for the support of monetary economics, instead for the building of the time-based economy of labor-gifting and labor-sharing, makes the point that the monetary system is not the only way to organize the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Time-based economies do all of that as well, using money only for exchange with the dominant culture’s monetary economy, while using gifting and sharing systems internally.

Since money is important to the sharing culture, chambers of commonwealth would campaign for legislation supporting the interests of its member organizations with respect to the time-based sharing economy of labor-gifting and labor-sharing. The precedent is set for such legal advocacy on the part of business leagues by an IRS Revenue Ruling (see: 61-177, 1961-2 C.B. 117). The legal structure needed for chambers of commonwealth already exists, and could be easily adapted to the support of the gifting and sharing culture.

There also exists a legal precedent for business leagues to serve the interests of its consumer and worker-cooperative member organizations (see: Rev. Rul. 67-264, 1967-2 C.B. 196). Therefore, local chambers of commonwealth in the United States could provide some of the kinds of cooperative networking and technical assistance that has built the most horizontally and vertically integrated cooperative movement in the world, called the Mondragon cooperatives of Spain. The Mondragon cooperative model has been used by cooperatives in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Cleveland, Ohio, and perhaps elsewhere in the U.S.A., and the chambers of commonwealth idea could help inspire their development in other parts of the country.

There may be occasions where the two business leagues would compete directly with each other, perhaps taking opposing sides in legislative debates and campaigns. The two may closely watch each other, and at times seek to counter and foil the interests of the other, yet for the most part their relationship would hopefully be characterized as a synergy of two complementary economic systems; modeling a relationship pattern between liberal and conservative organizations which would be desirable throughout society in general.

Practicing Law for the People

A chamber of commonwealth would serve as a membership organization giving voice to the developing mutual-benefit culture comprised of cooperatives, credit unions, community supported enterprises, social entrepreneurship, benefit corporations, micro-lending, crowd-funding, community banking, community currencies, barter networks, fair trade, intentional communities (e.g., cohousing, cofamilies, ecovillages, community land trusts, etc.), car sharing, urban agriculture, and the many other ways that people are building social capital through resilience networks that can help people to flourish and thrive regardless of whether the monetary economy is in a boom or bust cycle. Not all of the economic activities listed above use time-based economics, yet all of them are designed to provide for the needs of people directly rather than as a trickle-down by-product of the profit imperative.

There is an awareness of the need for legal support for the gifting and sharing economy, as shown by the founding in Oakland, California of the Sustainable Economies Law Center by two lawyers, Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan. They explain on their website the need for “sharing lawyers” who will help to create new legal practices supporting gifting and sharing systems.

“… As the ground swells with people adopting more sharing and cooperative work and lifestyles, we can look forward to a growing body of law and literature on the subject.

At the same time, the answers will never be clear cut, and lines we have grown accustomed to will be increasingly blurred. Until we evolve a new set of legal definitions, we'll dance uncertainly around the lines between "income" and "gifts," between "own" and "rent," between "employees" and "volunteers," between "work" and "hobby," between "nonprofit" and "for-profit," between "invest" and "donate," and so on. Our clients may have outside-the-box livelihoods and organizations, but it'll still be the job of lawyers to help them fit into boxes that are traditional enough to comply with the law. …

In the course of their work, sharing lawyers will recognize how a state law or local zoning ordinance could be improved to encourage sharing, to incentivize urban agriculture, or to enable new forms of co-ownership. Lawyers can also be proactive architects of new kinds of organizations, new legal structures for sharing, and mechanisms for protecting the commons. In this same vein, for example, Creative Commons has already created a new licensing structure for the sharing of ideas and creative works.” (Google: thesharingsolution September 1, 2010)

The idea of a legal support organization for the alternative culture affirming human rights over property rights is not a new idea. In 1937 in the midst of the Great Depression a similar organization was formed called the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) which “helped craft the language of the New Deal,” which was the national government’s response to the deteriorating public welfare during economic depression, creating entitlement programs such as the Social Security system. While the American Bar Association (ABA) launched legal efforts to block or overturn New Deal legislation, a group of progressive lawyers met to create a new association of lawyers to support President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Ever since then the National Lawyers Guild has advocated human rights over corporate rights, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to assure that “the law works for the people.”

Over the last seventy-five years the National Lawyers Guild has supported labor organizing, civil rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental, animal rights, and global justice activists, and other popular movements, while at the same time resisting red-baiting and black-listing of American socialists, communists, and anarchists, including some of its own members, due in part to the statement in the Preamble of the Guild’s constitution stating that, “human rights shall be held more sacred than property interests.”

In 1989 the Guild won a lawsuit against the FBI which had pursued a program of surveillance and disruption of the Guild. The NLG helped to win the Freedom of Information Act and attempted to remove provisions of the post 9/11 USA PATRIOT Act which reduce our civil liberties.

The National Lawyers Guild advocated for neighborhood “legal aid bureaus” and community law offices in the 1930s, and the legal services program for the poor during President Johnson’s Great Society programs of the 1970s. Today, during the Great Recession, the National Lawyers Guild is providing legal support for the Occupy movement, and could be a model and source of support for replicating around the country the sustainable economies law project, perhaps as a project of the proposed local chambers of commonwealth.

Commonwealth Education

The use of the term “commonwealth” can be contrasted with the term “commerce,” by emphasizing the connection between the sharing economy and government. Since a chamber of commonwealth can engage in legislative activity, it can therefore serve to help local government, and potentially the federal government through a national association of chambers of commonwealth, to develop public policies supporting both non-monetary, time-based economic programs, and monetary economy innovations that put people before profit.

Several states use the term “commonwealth” in their name, for example Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and so also using the term on the local level would help to point out that government itself uses a form of common-ownership of property, and serves as a mutual-benefit organization. This natural affinity could be a significant aid to the acceptance of the gifting and sharing economy by governmental agencies.

As local governments seek to encourage participation of the citizenry in civil affairs there is now a growing movement to engage people in deciding how to utilize at least a portion of their government’s tax revenue, in a program called “participatory budgeting.” If a chamber of commonwealth were to support both a participatory budgeting program and the public policy debate about systems of taxation, it would then be engaged in both the source of funds and the use funds in local government, potentially aligning relevant aspects of governmental policy with the gifting and sharing economy. Such relevant agencies would include all forms of public welfare, from child care to indigent and elder care, community-based preventive and primary health care, zoning and building codes, alternative dispute resolution, community policing, small-business advocacy, and in fact practically all aspects of local government.

One of the potentially most helpful governmental agencies to the development of the gifting and sharing economy would be the education system, from primary to secondary to higher education and post-graduate work. While there would always be a need for educating people about how the monetary system works, there is a corresponding unmet need of educating people about the gifting and sharing economy. Getting such a focus into the curriculum of public schools, community colleges, and universities could be a project of the chambers of commonwealth, particularly as they create state and national associations.

Student groups could do much to spread the awareness of and development of the gifting and sharing economy as it relates to their area of study, what ever it may be, from economics to political science, health care, business, psychology, sociology, history, religion, and other humanities, child care and education. College students in particular have a tradition in some cities of forming or joining student housing cooperatives, which gives them a direct experience of the gifting and sharing lifestyle from which they may look to see other ways of applying the cooperative ideal in society.

A National Chamber of Commonwealth versus the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

With an advocacy and mutual support association for the community commonwealth well established on the local and state level, a national association of chambers of commonwealth could then be active in national public policy debates and legislative processes with regard to domestic policies. Such a national chamber of commonwealth could counter and balance the influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the national level as it would the local level on a number of different issues, particularly campaign finance reform.

National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story in October, 2010 about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce possibly using foreign corporate donations to illegally influence American political campaigns, and a Huffington Post article explains that the Chamber has filed legal briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting many conservative causes.

In January, 2010 the “Citizens United” legislation (Citizens United vs. FEC) removed restrictions on how much spending, and therefore influence, that corporations, individuals and labor unions can have over political campaigns. Of course, corporations tend to support conservative candidates and legislation while labor unions tend to support liberal candidates and legislation, yet the two are not equal in funding or regulation.

Corporations may have more money for influencing political campaigns than do labor unions, and corporations do not have the same restrictions that labor unions have of political spending disclosure and member voting approval of political activities of their union. A recent Salon.com article lists ways that states can reduce the negative impacts of the Citizens United ruling. These include requiring corporations to get the same kind of approval from their stock holders as unions must get from their members for political expenditures, and states can restrict corporations that have state contracts from spending money on partisan political campaigns, in the same way that governmental employees are restricted from certain political activities.

If there is any question as to the conservative orientation of the organization called “Citizens United” a movie to be released spring 2012 called “Occupy Unmasked” will make their orientation clear.

Networks of state chambers of commonwealth could be active in the movements to repeal “corporate personhood” legislation, and to enhance citizen participation in the political process through advocating instant run-off voting and proportional representation as methods of making the electoral process more democratic and participatory. Actually, local chambers of commonwealth could adopt the entire agenda of the Occupy movement, or conversely, the Occupy movement could adopt the idea of the chamber of commonwealth as a method for developing and instituting much of its economic, political and social agenda.

The Chamber of Commonwealth Response to Economic Recession and Depression

While there would be many points of disagreement and contention between a proposed chambers of commonwealth and the existing chambers of commerce, as stated at the beginning of this article, there would also need to be a concentration upon creating a synergy of two complementary economic systems through focusing upon finding commonalities through which both organizations may work together for the good of the locality and country. Such commonalities may be few and hard to find, yet if both organizations make a significant effort they can probably be found or created. One potential such area of agreement would be with respect to the governmental response to recession and depression.

There is a parallel between the Great Depression and the Great Recession that helps to explain the U.S. governments’ response during the latter of bailing out “too big to fail” banks and other corporations. This policy was not created as a hurried response to imminent economic collapse, it was actually a long-planned policy response to inevitable economic downturns.

In the book “Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis” published in 2011, James Rickards explains that the Great Recession bail-outs of 2008 and 2009 were a response to economic catastrophe that had been developed nearly a hundred years earlier after the Bank Panic of 1907. In that economic disaster, banks found it more difficult to survive than had been the case in earlier banking panics because the economy was growing rapidly and so legislation was developed which later created the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) as a means of managing the economy and keeping the banks solvent. The Fed was the third “central bank” created in the U.S., with the first two ended by political opposition. After the Panic of 1907 the Democratic Party was able to override the Republican’s objections to the creation of a U.S. central bank, resulting in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

It was because of the Republican opposition to a central bank that the Democrats called a secret planning meeting in 1910 at a resort partly owned by the banker J. P. Morgan on Jekyll Island off the Georgia coast, away from media attention. The resulting Federal Reserve System is not exactly like most European central banks since there is some governmental oversight written into the legislation, and some degree of decentralization with twelve regional money-center banks. However, the New York Federal Reserve Bank has always been the largest and most influential, due to the concentration of the large Wall Street banks in Manhattan. Please note that it was the Republican Party that was most resistant to the idea of a U.S. central bank, showing a particular form of conservative radicalism.

William Greider explains in his book, “Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country,” that the creation of the Fed not only insulated banks from recession and depression yet also insulated the banking industry from meddling by citizen activists like the Populists.

“The Federal Reserve was not born in isolation. Its creation was the keystone in a profound alteration that occurred in the American culture of self-government—a new sensibility that devalued the potential of representative democracy.… The masses of ordinary citizens, though theoretically sovereign, were incompetent to govern—randomly willful in their opinions, blind to the complexities of modern life. The affairs of state and society would therefore be conducted by new elites of professionals, managers who could communicate intelligibly among themselves on important questions. … The Federal Reserve was an exemplar of the technocratic approach.” (“Secrets of the Temple,” William Greider, pp. 284-5)

Among the attendees of the Jekyll Island meeting were representatives of National City Bank and of the First National Bank, which later merged and became known as Citibank. James Rickards writes in “Currency Wars” that, …

“In 2008, Citibank was the recipient of the largest bank bailout in history, conducted by the U.S. Federal Reserve. The foundation laid … on Jekyll Island in 1910 would prove durable enough to bail out their respective banks almost one hundred years later exactly as intended.” (“Currency Wars,” James Rickards, Kindle location 871-878)

Although the bank bailouts of 2008-9 in response to the Great Recession saved the banks from collapse, those banks generally sat on the billions of dollars of taxpayer money they had received in order to pad their balance sheets, and refused to make the loans needed to quickly bring the country out of recession, due probably to the fear that they would not be paid back. Not until about three years later, in late 2011, would bank lending and the economy begin to significantly recover. This economic strategy of the banking system is essentially a “supply-side” orientation assuring that the banks are able to support economic expansion once it starts as a result of economic stimulus on the part of the government, or by the eventual freeing of pent-up consumer demand. The fact that the banks did not lead the economic recovery after being bailed-out, and instead only followed it once the recovery was underway due to other stimulus programs, shows definitively the error in the supply-side assumption of economic recovery.

Recognizing that the policy of corporate and bank bailouts are a long-standing institutional response to recession, which failed to quickly bring the country back to economic health during the Great Recession, the alternative strategy which may be employed the next time would be to bail-out the population instead, which represents the “demand-side” economic recovery policy.

Although some money was given to taxpayers as part of the economic stimulus program during the Great Recession (about $1,200 per tax-payer), it was not enough to make a significant impact. If rather than bailing-out corporations a much larger amount were to be given to tax-payers during the next catastrophic recession, perhaps twenty or thirty times as much, in the form of demurrage currency that would lose value the longer it was saved and not spent, it would be quickly used for such things as automobile purchases and down-payments for homes that would have caused auto companies and mortgage lenders to compete for the consumer dollar rather than beg for government bail-outs. The government and the rest of the country could then save itself from having to decide whether and which companies to rescue with bail-outs, that is which companies are “too big to fail,” and leave it to the market to decide which companies would survive and which would fail.

In a sense, giving the people money to spend to increase economic activity in response to imminent economic collapse would be the capitalist response to economic catastrophe, as opposed to the corporate socialism of government bailouts. Perhaps even radical conservative Republicans can appreciate the logic behind letting the people choose which corporations live and which die rather than any branch of government, whether the executive or the legislative. A national association of chambers of commonwealth could in the future advocate for this and other forms of demand-side economics which put the welfare of people before the welfare of corporations.

Economics of the Commonwealth

Another economic and public policy program which the proposed chambers of commonwealth could advocate, respecting the idea of the commons, is the sharing via severance taxes and user fees of natural resources through such programs as the Alaska Permanent Fund. This fund is an example of how common heritage resources like oil in this case can be shared by the people rather than primarily for corporate profit.

The Alaska Constitution states (in Article VIII. Section 2. General Authority) that “all the natural resources of Alaska belong to the state to be used, developed and conserved for the maximum benefit of the people.” (Alanna Hartzok, “The Earth Belongs to Everyone,” p. 165) Alaska invests the resource royalties from oil in a fund, a portion of the income from which is given annually to each citizen: child, woman, and man. This model of sharing can be used for all forms of natural resources, including forest products, fisheries, minerals, even the wind and sunlight in the form of income from energy generation, and such policies can be applied by local, state, national, and even international governments. Where this form of sharing is most developed is in sharing of the unearned income from land. (Hartzok, “The Earth Belongs to Everyone,” see index listings for “Global Resource Agency” p. 352)

Land value is claimed by the land owner, whether one person or a corporation, while local governments typically require the sharing of some of that value via property taxes. The portion of that land value which is generated by the effects of population growth and the provision of governmental services is called “unearned income,” while the portion of land value that is due to the improvements upon the land, such as buildings, is called “earned income.” By shifting taxes off of buildings and onto the value of the land, that is to say off earned income and onto unearned income, the owner is therefore encouraged to improve the buildings and other features of the property as these become tax-free. (Hartzok, “The Earth Belongs to Everyone,” see index listings for “land value tax” p. 354)

Society as a whole, through governmental taxation, has the right to claim the unearned income of land, since it was created by society itself, while the land owner has the right to claim the earned income. Typically, however, the land owner desires to minimize property taxes in order to claim as much as possible of the unearned income through renting the land at the market rate. Land-value taxation (LVT) is one method of assuring that society receives its rightful claim to the unearned portion of the rental income, to be used for the good of society.

Another method utilized by private organizations is the community land trust (CLT) which holds the land in common while individuals or groups lease portions for private use and enjoy other portions as their community commons. (Google: “Geonomics and Community Power") :Community land trusts, like other forms of intentional community, use forms labor-gifting, time-based economies internally.

Natural resource extraction and land value are two sources of wealth which individuals and corporations attempt to monopolize for their own profit, yet which may instead be more widely shared when they fund governmental services and a citizens’ dividend, through programs of “green economics” or “geonomics” advocated by a number of different organizations. (Google: earthrights) Economics of the commons would be a focus for chambers of commonwealth on all levels, including local, state, national, and international.

Chambers of Culture Wars

The next time a major banking crisis occurs, there could be planned and coordinated popular and political support for significant economic stimulus checks being sent to tax-payers, and nothing for corporate bailouts. This and other programs from sharing law, to public budgeting, to green taxation may provide ways for the proposed chambers of commonwealth to work with existing chambers of commerce, since in some ways radical conservatives and radical liberals are at such extremes that they actually meet on the far side of the political and culture sphere. If members of existing chambers of commerce were far-sighted, out-of-the-box thinkers, they themselves would adopt the idea of the chamber of commonwealth as a program within their own organization, there-by modeling a kind of economic synergy parallel to what is beginning to develop in the new political synergy of the bipartisan political campaign of Americans Elect.

More realistically, however, the creation of a nation-wide association of chambers of commonwealth, supporting the programs listed above along with non-monetary, time-based economies of labor-gifting and labor-sharing, will likely result in the fueling of the culture wars. Greater political and cultural polarization would not be preferred, yet if this is the way that things are to be, then instituting the idea of the chamber of commonwealth would at least provide a method for liberal causes to begin to work toward a degree of parity with what conservative causes already have in American politics, economics, and society.

***

A. Allen Butcher, First World Strategies, March 2012 (Google: Intentioneers)

DenverCO
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