RSA: The Core Economy

Live blogging an RSA Event, with Dr Edgar Cahn talking about timebanking. Beware: here be typos and inaccuracy


Steve Broom, director of research at the RSA, introduces Professor Cahn.

Kahn likes to think of himself as an itinerant troublemaker, a disruptor of assumptions. If you think of a paradigm as a map, then we're following one we need to revise. We think of clients as customers not co-producers, and we over-value privacy and confidentiality, leaving people isolated. We define value in terms of price only. We need to leave this behind and think differently.

What does money measure? It's a pretty fundamental question. How much of what we thought was economic reality came from the characterstics of money measurement, and how much was the underlying reality?

Three topics:

  1. Pizza

You can deliver pizza and package, but you can't deliver health or justice or community or well-bringing. You must view the people you are working with as co-workers. That was the understanding that underlay the concept of co-production – enlisting those we are working with as our partners. In Washington DC he's set up a youth court where teenagers can resolve their problems. It is handling 70% of non-violent crime amongst that group. They are  doing more for the rule of law than his law students are. You cannot deliver solutions to social problems without involving people.

  1. Windows

If you think of a computer and the icons on the screens, if the OS goes down, buying new applications won't fix it. The economy is like that. The monetary economy runs highly specialised applications, but is not the OS, which is families, households, communities. It's that core economy that we need to repair. When we talk about timebanking, we're talking about rebuilding the OS. The old version has been based on exploitation of women, immigrants, children. We need to move on from that. Every person has something to give – even those see as not economic assets. If nothing else, they can contribute time and care to their family and community. And how far have we fallen if that's not considered valuable? How much of us is actually on our CVs? We have to honour as real work the work that goes into protecting democracy, and supporting the young, old and valuable. That labour is essential to building the world we want. If we allow price to define value. Every capacity that defines us as human beings is worthless under money metrics, because they are abundant… We need to create a complimentary medium of exchange for these.

  1. Prius

A Prius runs on a thin stream of gasoline, and a large stream of energy it generates. He is of the absurd belief that people who build communities should be allowed to eat. This is reciprocity or mutuality.How many people could your agency mobilise? How could you mobilise them if your funding was cut? It's about what we can do for each other. We need to understand how much we need each other's time and skills. Most people in the service professions have the experience of someone asking "what can I do to pay you back?" Rejecting that sends the message that the other person has no value, nothing you need, and that they're only valuable for their problems. Guess how they increase their assets… The medium of money sends the message that we are passive – consumers. There are other mediums of exchange – academic grades, for example. We need others. We'll need money to do this, but it's nowhere enough on their own. We need to create institutions that thrive on two fuels – thin money and a wide pipe of timebanking.

Rsacahn Questions

Broom: The book suggest we're in a time between two worlds – between the wage economy and the core economy. Our new OS could be considered to be the Big Society. Are we really asking the non-market to pick up the costs of the market without reciprocity?

Cahn: Prius principle: needs a thin stream of money. Without that, you have to walk it, which is a long hard, journey. If we're not prepared to give a brutal critique of the system as it exists, if we just leave it all to government, it won't happen. We need some brutal hell-raising.

Q: A lot of us instinctively understand co-production, but in local areas, the levers of power are held in small elite groups. Those who try co-production end up outside the system. How do you pitch this to elites?

A. One levels of attack is how academia – change how it functions to create new systems. In the US, for 30 years there's been a struggle to prove that the disparity in youth justice results based on race was intentional. He shifted the discussion to the future, to give an alternative, and prove that the existing system perpetuates the problem. We need to make it untenable for official s not to use knowledge that works.

Q. What comes after. Once a Prius institution is up, how do you manage it? Is it possible to live in that kind of mixed economy.

A. We'll have no choice but to live with it. The question is not what we can do, but what we can set in motion. We get the message that we are the victims of economic cycles, of good time and bad times, and we can't change that. We have the power to change that. You have 8k baby boomers hitting 65 every year for the next eight years. The US needs to see that as a resource, not a disaster.  Timebanking software is going open source, and will soon be available on mobile phones. We can't outbid drug dealers with money, but we can with self-esteem. We need to keep experimenting. And he's a hopeless optimist, he admits. 🙂

Q. Examples of work with officials? Often we conclude that this is about low income communities – how do you do it in other places?

A. Mayor Bloomberg in NYC has launched timebanking city-wide for seniors. It might become a fashionable and prudent thing to do. In Washington DC, the judges who are part of the problem, have no problem joining a coalition to beat up on the schools. In every organisation, there are closet change agents. We have a co=production fidelity index. We can then grade agencies. We'd love to see a fidelity audit of government agencies. 100 clients averaging 4 hours a week of reciprocal work, is 20000 hours a year. Timebanking is for everybody, because everybody is a human… We need to listen and respect everyone. Even wealthy people want their kids to have better values.

Q. If our own government is telling us that recovering drug addicts are people to be feared, how can we involve them?

A. In the US we have this insane war on drugs that is costing more than education in many states. His son had a crack problem, but is 21 years clean, and arguing cases in the supreme court. 12 step programs are examples of people supporting each other, of tremendous energy. It's one thing to have money, it's another to use it wisely. Timebanking can be too transactional. Some kids have reformed it in more of a club model, with different levels of membership based on commitment.

Q. Could you intervene with the British Government at tell them there are systems that we can use for true co=production?

A. "I have promised, like the bad penny, to return." Yesterday he spoke to a group of officials. He would be delighted to have that opportunity. in 1980 he had a heart attack that destroyed 60% of his heart. He's had one two week holiday since then, a honeymoon and little else. His heart is 80% healed. Getting up each day with a purpose is a powerful thing.

Adam Tinworth

Living somewhere in the blogging/journalism intersection, and not particularly bothered about making a choice.

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