Platforms for a New Economy

I was lucky to attend the Platform Cooperativism conference on November 13 and 14 at The New School in New York City. It was convened by Trebor Scholz from The New School and Nathan Schneider from the University of Colorado. The event focused on existing cooperative platforms, such as co-ops, web apps, peer to peer engagement, and considered what can be built in the future. In this blog post I wanted to mention some general themes that struck me at the conference.

First was the importance of governance in new platforms. This has been a theme driven by Janelle Orsi in her writing, presentations, and law practice. She was prominent at this conference giving a talk in the opening plenary and participating in other presentations. Her ideas around governance were stated with cartoons illustrating the need to remove outside investors from the platforms and organizations that we build. With governance distributed to those that work in a given platform, then communal, environmental, financial, and other benefits follow.

Extractive economy was another term used throughout the conference that succinctly describes our current economy. (I attribute the term to Marjorie Kelly and her book Owning Our Future.) Trebor Scholz cleverly used images of demolition during his opening remarks that brought to mind the destructive nature of our current economy. As Janelle Orsi says, it’s important to attach labels to accurately declare our situation. In the closing talk given by author Douglass Rushkoff, extractive economy is a major issue, if not the issue, to overcome in our society. His ideas include teaching corporations that more sharing can benefit them, and the simple act of accepting aid from a neighbor.

Elinor Ostrom‘s work was championed throughout the conference. She has defined principles for use of the commons — the commons being applicable to all the world’s resources. I was thrilled to see that her approach to the commons was being seriously considered. One presenter did rebuke Ostrom’s approach, but her principles are part of the discussion on which to build our future platforms.

I was excited to see Collective Courage referenced by Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform, in her remarks during the closing session of the conference. She emphasized the important history of Black co-ops, and American co-ops.

I think we’re all still learning how to define the future economy but Orsi’s sharing economy sums it up well. Another label for the new economy described by Esteban Kelly among others is the “gig” economy. This suggests we’ll be seeking our own “gigs” for money in the future and be less dependent on working for organizations.

A great conference. Many thanks to all the organizers including Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider. The sessions recorded by Internet Society are a great resource as well, and can be found at platformcoop.net.

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