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The Case for Common Good

In a Nutshell

Common Good is a democratic financial system for community empowerment.

Common Good shifts power from big business and big government back to communities, where we know and care more, promoting civic engagement and collaborative philanthropy in a unique way: by giving communities democratic oversight and control of the local economy, resulting in new community-issued grant funding for local nonprofits and investments in local businesses to advance the common good. By providing a versatile, open-source financial infrastructure closely integrated with the mainstream, and tools for economic innovation and participatory decision-making, we aim to build a fast-growing network of effectively sovereign Common Good Communities worldwide.

problem | leverage | solution | impact | uniqueness | implementation | viability

The Problem

The systematic failure of society to meet the basic human needs of most people on the planet is both economic and political.

Our mainstream economic system rewards Having more than it rewards Doing. Money represents a right to goods and services, a sort of liquid power. People who have the most invest their wealth and receive a percentage return, increasing their wealth faster and faster over time. The value of that wealth, in a finite world, has to come from somewhere — from the planet and from the labor of people who have less. Fewer and fewer have more and more, while the rest descend into debt.

As a result of this ever-greater concentration of power, the world's big decisions are made by a smaller and smaller group, to everyone's detriment.

Meanwhile, pressure on corporations to maintain a constant percentage return on investment requires exponential growth in production, driving a suicidal drain on our planet's finite resources.

We cannot easily challenge big money head on. Instead we need to empower communities, where the smaller, more immediately important decisions are made, where we can consolidate and network our power, and where legislators and corporate executives can eventually be held personally accountable.

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A Leverage Point for Social Change

The world needs more local control of human and planetary destiny. The Common Good initiative is designed to address, indirectly, any need a community of people can identify — food, shelter, healthcare, education, satisfying work, and a livable world. Rather than "feeding" people, we empower communities to feed themselves — creating funding for local projects by monetizing, in advance, the resulting improvements in quality of life.

Human society has everywhere and always been centered on community. But communities have been disempowered by overgrown far-away government. Even when well-intentioned, state government funds road repair when a community prefers better schools. Or vice-versa. Worse, far-away legislators pass laws that favor big business and wealthy contributors, so human needs go unseen and unaddressed. Meanwhile, unrestrained corporations lay waste to the planet.

Community power is a potential leverage point for social change. We help communities recognize that potential and fully embrace their power.

In order to fully embrace their power, communities need a way to oversee and control their local economy effectively. They need systems to track and analyze economic data, implement economic innovations, aggregate input from all stakeholders, make decisions that leverage the wisdom of the crowd, and issue money (or credit) to fund those decisions. All those systems need to be transparent, reliable, and secure.

Common Good provides those systems.

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Our Solution: The Common Good Democratic Economic System

We envision a society in which communities everywhere gather to decide for themselves what their funding priorities should be. The purpose of Common Good is to shift power from big business and big government back to communities, where we know and care more — to create that society anywhere or everywhere at once, one community and one member at a time.

For example, communities with democratic control of their economy might choose to fund sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and local self-reliance, rather than corporate subsidies. Communities might choose to ensure everyone has healthy food, a home, healthcare, satisfying work, and a livable world. Together such communities can build a better world for everyone.

The core of our solution is a versatile, open-source financial infrastructure closely integrated with the mainstream economy. As (probably still) the only nonprofit Money Services Business registered with the U.S. Treasury Department, we provide communities almost all the advantages of owning their own bank, without all the work and expense.

The system consists of:

  • A secure web server with a well-developed online accounting system, including account management, integration with bank accounts, analytic tools, and comprehensive security flags.
  • Payment cards, each with a QR code.
  • A smartphone app to scan the cards and send transactions.
  • An agreement contract between participants across all communities.
  • A community escrow fund.
  • Voting software for state-of-the-art democratic decision-making.
  • A Democratic Economics Toolkit for communities and organizers.

Here's how it works:

  • Open an account online. Exchange some dollars for Common Good Credits (we use e-checks to transfer funds from your bank account to the community fund).
  • Use your card at participating businesses (no fees for either party).
  • Businesses pay employees and suppliers or exchange their credits for dollars.
  • Decide together how to fund the common good — for community resilience, human needs, or increased economic activity. In this holistic system, even a well-conceived grant can bring more money back into the community fund than was expended.

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Impact

Individual members, participating businesses, local nonprofits, and community projects benefit directly from the Common Good initiative. Participating businesses save thousands of dollars a year in credit card fees and enjoy increases in sales and customer loyalty. Local nonprofits, community projects, and local businesses are selected by members in each participating community to receive grants, investments, and zero-interest loans. Common Good software tracks all these financial benefits automatically.

Most importantly, though, individual members have a greater and greater degree of local sovereignty — highly participatory economic democracy with the data they need for sound planning and decisions. Common Good supports individuals and organizations in doing the work that needs to be done to address the most pressing issues of our time — climate change and environmental protection, racial justice, economic justice, poverty and hunger, guns and violence, gender justice, healthcare reform, education reform, justice reform, protection of the Commons, individual freedoms, etc. — and to build a beautiful life for everyone in the community.

Common Good's indirect impact includes the results of every initiative funded in each community. For example, Common Good Greenfield Massachusetts recently funded:

  • Revitalization of a community performing arts center.
  • Low-income farm shares, leveraging legislation to expand health insurance coverage of low-income access to healthy food.
  • A community-shared solar project.
  • A business rooftop solar project.
  • Upgraded appliances for a pay-what-you-can restaurant.
  • Community art-making to benefit local service organizations.
  • A town-owned edible permaculture garden.
  • Founding a worker-owner composting company, empowering former prison inmates.

To track our success in each participating community, we supply model grant, loan, and investment contracts that require specific evaluation details from each recipient; for example, "number of families fed" and "recidivism rate".

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What's Unique About Common Good

Many strong social change initiatives seek to address the injustice and destructiveness of our global economic system. Common Good is inspired by many of them, combines the strengths of each, and now compares favorably to the best:

  • David Schweickart's EconDem and Michael Alberts's ParEcon each provide a comprehensive plan for a new economy (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) they face big legislative hurdles. Common Good takes us smoothly there — or wherever we decide together to go — one easy step at a time, as our experience and ideals evolve. With a slide, not a leap.
  • The Next System Project, gathers good thinking about what we want for a new society (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) has no practical, ongoing, real-world testing ground for innovation in economics and democracy.
  • Oakland's Community Democracy Project promotes community-level economic democracy (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) lacks any way to issue money and requires new legislation to get started.
  • Philanthropy Northwest's Community Democracy Workshop supports experimentation (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) has no clear, recommended, scalable working model.
  • BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies envision an independently-verifiable decentralized global financial network (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) are secret, not transparent, and provide no way for communities to issue money at their discretion.
  • BerkShares and other paper currencies facilitate money creation (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) cannot easily be used outside their region, have no democratic funding, lack state-of-the-art security and tools for economic analysis and modeling, and integrate poorly with the mainstream. Common Good offers an "upgrade" to these currencies, connecting them to the mainstream while maintaining their local character.
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have a firm foundation in the mainstream economy (like Common Good), but (unlike Common Good) they are minimally democratic and provide insufficient access to financial data.

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Rapid Implementation Strategy

We promote Common Good organically by supporting our members and participating businesses in attracting new participants. Together with decentralized community-centered control, this permits exponential growth. Since January 2017, our monthly growth rate has doubled (accelerated) to about 6% (90% per year).

Our strategy has been to test and optimize the system iteratively in the real world, passionately welcoming suggestions and variations, keeping it small and agile until the basic model is stable and reliable. We have reached that point and we are ready to grow fast!

"Common Good Preferred" window signs and stacks of invitation cards at participating businesses are highly cost-effective. We attract potential organizers in new communities through social media and other free internet advertising. We support our organizers in supporting each other, with our ever-evolving Common Good Democratic Economics Toolkit.

Spreading mostly by replication, with seamless interchange between locations, our community-centered model can work well at any scale.

With 5 participating businesses, more money stays local and members have a small fund for community projects.

In a single community with thousands of participants, members can fund new industries, make large grants for environmental sustainability, social justice, and the arts, and provide incentives for buying local, organic, fair-trade, community-owned, etc.

Regional Common Good networks might guarantee a Basic Income.

Thousands of communities together might buy out a ruthless corporation and restructure it. Inspired by their local government by the people, for the people, they might elect and lobby state officials to support community values.

A Common Good world might reflect community values everywhere, banishing war, hunger, homelessness, and wanton environmental destruction.

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Business Model / Financial Viability

How do we ensure the long-term financial viability of Common Good (the nonprofit organization) and each Common Good Community?

Since 2002 we have been funded almost entirely by donations from individuals and participating businesses for our "seed" funding. We invite participants in the Common Good system to contribute regularly. Many participants also choose to round up each payment they make and donate the change to Common Good. Or they choose to contribute a percentage of every payment they receive. Half of each donation goes to the member's Common Good Community and half to support Common Good's ongoing work.

On average, each participant contributes about $20 per year. That means even at our current membership growth rate we will reach the break-even point within about 3 years — long before our seed funding is exhausted. And since our growth rate has been accelerating, break-even will likely come even sooner.

History

Horrified at the dysfunction of big business controlling the world — resulting in needless poverty, environmental destruction, and war — software engineer William Spademan sat down one day to design a better system. His strategy was to design not a destination, but a way of getting progressively closer to whatever ideals people choose to embrace — a socio-economic learning-machine. He designed a rudimentary prototype and set it in motion. For 15 years the Common Good design has evolved, through repeated trial and feedback.

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