As I mentioned in my link collection post, my thinking about co-operative economics has taken a brief foray into the area of leadership and governance, both on the small scale (eg "How do we organize our project, to acomplish our goals") and on the larger scale (eg. "How do provide institutional support for the governance of our civilization"). Both are important and relevant questions, but it's all complicated of course. Also, we should probably start of with a brief interlude of what an individuals labor/work activity might look like in a post-corporate economy, and then I'll move into two interludes about leadership and government. Seat-belts fastened?

Post-Corporatism and Labor

We're seeing some post-corporatism in the forum of an explosion of freelance and independent consultancies of various stripes and colors. Some key observations:

  • Many if not most people working in this don't work full time for one employer, splitting their time and energies between a number of projects.
  • Freelance work allows people to develop flexible careers where growth isn't dependent on moving into management careers.
  • Traditional "benefits" of employment (eg. health insurance, office resources, data connectivity, etc.) are increasingly procured either through ad-hoc agreements: eg. Marriage for health insurance, Co-working spaces, "Freelancers' Unions" and so forth.

Leadership and Co-Operative Governance

The question that I think I've failed to really address in during all of this "co-op" conversation is If corporations are replaced by cooperative organizations, how are projects managed and where does leadership come from? Indeed one of the biggest benefits/strengths of the corporation (top-down) model, is that corporations are really (or at the least reasonably) well organized and constituted, so if we're doing away with the corporation, how do we remain organized and productive.

I should, as an interlude, reiterate that I've advocated for cooperative organizations on the basis that they're more effective at creating real and authentic value, than the American/multinational corporation as we now know it. Furthermore, I'm totally convinced in the necessity and utility of effective leadership and management, for our productivity. The post-corporate economy isn't a world without management, but rather a world with a smarter, more distributed system for management.

Part of the distribution of management comes from the fact that labor itself is to be more distributed. Just as we bring on engineers, artists, manufacturing in an often ad hoc way, we might also bring on project management and other "logistical professionals" to promote productivity. (Remember that coops are organizations that are unlikely to involve the direct labor of more than 100 or 150 people at any given time.) Higher level administration and guidance can be provided by small elected/nominated executive councils (a la, the KDE project, the Squeak Project, or the Debian Project) or in the "benevolent dictator" model (eg. Linus' for Linux, Larry Wall for Perl, Guido for Python, Dries for Drupal, Matt Mullenweg for WordPress, Rasmus for PHP, etc.)

Another "inherent" solution for providing management derives from the fact that cooperatives have a more pervasive project-based and goal oriented focus. Cooperatives, then, like open source software development projects, work on making something of value, (or providing valuable services,) don't need to expend resources maintaining solubility. When a co-op finishes it's project, the members move on to other projects and co-ops.

I think creative thinking about leadership in new environments requires a few basic assumptions:

  • Democracy is created by participation rather than by elections.
  • Management/logistical overheads grow geometrically while operations grow arithmetically.
  • Co-ops would exist to both create value, and serve the interests of its members. Corporations exist to serve the interests of the investors. The dissolution of a cooperative isn't antithetical to the purpose of a cooperative in the way that it totally antithetical to the purpose of a corporation.

Land and the Problem of Government

I'm persistently convinced that the "State" (as in the United States) or province (in the Canadian/Australian sense) is probably a really ineffective way to organize and structure a government. A lot of the people who are object to the American government advocate for states-rights and taking power and authority from the federal government and handing it to the states (eg. Libertarians). This has always struck me as sort of foolish.

Not because I think local control is a bad thing, or I have any great love of the institutions of liberal democracy, but rather because States themselves fail to convey meaningful/practical/useful administrative or political units. A co-operative ethos would require (and need, though not--strictly speaking--depend upon,) a system where institutions and governance transpired along meaningful and practical political units.

Greater metropolitan areas make sense as administrative units (including those that straddle existing borders) in a way that states themselves don't really. Gary Indiana and the City of Chicago have a lot more in common than Chicago and Carbondale Illinois. At the same time there's a big problem with the city-state, as "the unit of government:" it fails to account for, integrate, capture, and empower people in less urban areas. Which is given the importance of food, is incredibly crucial.

I'm interested in thinking about how, particularly with new technologies, we might be able to conceptualize geographically based political units that integrate populations that fairly represents the interests/needs of people who live in areas with lower population densities.