The societies of the world will be faced with the task of rebuilding systems of fruitful activity, i.e., real economies based on productive behavior rather than the smoke-and-mirrors of Frankenstein-finance con games.
— James Howard Kunstler

Of course, getting out of the prison is only the first step. The escapee may in the beginning continue to work for the prison bosses voluntarily, going back and forth. This will give them time to consider what’s next.

Those who don’t see it as enough can look for bosses who are not fully wedged in the prison themselves… companies that, one way or another, understand the “no asshole rule” and the need for reconnection among the employees. There are a few out there. Work-sharing in another means to gradually disconnect from the “boss economy” while helping out another person still in need of a job. Laying down a local infrastructure that enables the family and the community to be more resilient when it comes to food, shelter, warmth, and other basics is another early step many are taking these days. And reconnecting eaters with farmers immediately provides fresh, high quality food to one party and a good living to the other.

Reconnected and disruptor-free, why don’t we start our own enterprises? Why don’t we run things among us so that they benefit those who have left the prison? We band together, creating co-ops, partnerships, worker owned businesses, farm CSAs and other types of rural communities, companies run with attention to the triple bottom line, and the like. We work for one another, not for the bosses anymore. Another move, now promoted by the Transition Town people, is to start “our” utility companies that serve a town with wind, sun or water energy gathered in greenish ways. But small enterprises enabling people to capture energy at the household or small neighborhood level while reducing each household’s energy needs may be by far the greenest option available.

The Amish model deserves to be emulated and modified for wider use. They have cradle-to-grave security, and a mix of private enterprise modulated by their tight community framework and mutual aid. Some people will opt for the “new tribalism” social pattern; they will gather together into clans that provide basic cradle-to-grave security in exchange for the freely-given contribution of all able adults to open source projects that benefit the entire community, the entire commonwealth. And experimentation with gift economies is already ongoing. Others will come up with solutions as yet unconceived today.

My favorite radical choice is the “new tribalism.” The term was invented by Daniel Quinn, who began to feel for another model of livelihood containing tribal elements. He did not get very far; his examples of a circus, a theater troupe and a newspaper are more on the order of cooperative enterprises. A tribal living cannot be sold. It is rooted in some form of commons cared for in perpetuity. I see a “new tribalist” community as one that provides all the basics for free to all its members. Basic food, shelter, warmth, education, and medical care. Safety, belonging and meaningful participation in one’s social and natural world. It’s not really hard to do. This is how humans had lived since time immemorial. This is how other creatures live, and manage it easily. The result being that all the other creative things can be done on a lark. Because a person wishes. Because a person is inspired. And since they don’t have to worry about survival they can explore anything they want. Any practical results, of course, belong to the commons, serving as open source for explorers coming after, freely modifying and experimenting with the ideas and inventions of others. And those who think that the “basics” are not enough are free to use their talents to figure out how to have better food or better shelter – as long as their solutions are not privatized and enrich the entire community. (This is, in part, how early science worked, and it worked admirably well.) Is this vision of a society that is both easy on the land, and full of creative ferment, enjoyment and exploration practically doable? That remains to be seen. Such “new tribalism” communities can be among the laboratories of new socio-economic patterns, evolved from the grassroots and debugged before wider implementation. But there is no need to consider them as “the one right way” and turn their development into an ideological quagmire. Those who think such a vision hopelessly commusomething are welcome to experiment elsewhere.

As these new enterprises spread, more and more people will emulate the most successful ones. Other groups will be working on local, non-predatory systems of credit (not money so much, which can be crushed at will by central bankers); yet others will find new ways to hold land, perhaps by implementing Georgist land-value fees, or by taking it out of the market by turning it into a land-trust in perpetuity. Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that some alternative economist out there has the right system all worked out. That is residual totalitarian thinking. Diversity is key and many schools of thought are needed, along with many practical interpretations. And it makes sense that many econ teachers and many learners thrive in our communities; we must no longer leave “economics” to the experts many of whom have been shown up as mere paid-for babblers. I am about to dive into two books that come well recommended. Debt: The First 5,000 Years (money is a late development, forced top-down, claims the anthropologist author), and Debt Virus: A Compelling Solution to the World’s Debt Problems, a controversial work by a physician turned rebel after sitting on board of a bank.

I am not an economist by inclination, and all I see is this fuzzy outline. But I think the following incipient formative sequence is sound. Wherever we go, whatever we do, let’s:

  • shrink the distance between us
  • adopt the “no asshole rule”
  • find ways to work for one another, more and more…

How about starting an Underground Railroad that helps human beings leave the prison and begin to learn the skills to leave the workhouse treadmill as well? There are huge numbers of the unemployed in every country. Many of them are young, high energy people ready to pitch in. Let’s find room for them in “our economy.” There has never been lack of useful work needing doing. There certainly isn’t such lack today.

As Kevin Carson weighs in with the OWSers:

Our general aim should be to promote a relocalized, high-tech [and smart low tech, I add], low-overhead economy that’s less dependent on centralized infrastructure, in which production costs are lower, in which waste labor and waste from planned obsolescence are eliminated, and in which it takes an average of 20 hours or less a week to produce the equivalent of the value we consume.

Encourage a shift of as much production as possible to commons-oriented peer production, and self-provisioning in the informal, neighorhood, and household economies. Encourage primary social units like urban communes, neighborhood cohousing projects and cooperative associations, intentional communities, and extended family compounds, and a revival of the kinds of mutuals and friendly societies [that once flourished in America] as means for pooling income and risk.

Instead of “creating jobs,” we should be breaking the 200-year-old link between work and jobs, and enabling people to meet their needs with their own skills and labor in cooperation with other people, without depending on some corporate hierarchy to give them permission in the form of a “job” to translate their labor into subsistence.

One stream of our energy after another is removed from the prison economy. Eventually, the Leviathan may fight back. Our best hope is that it does not realize the need until the mycelium of the new culture permeates enough of the undergrowth to form a critical mass. Let’s do all this as non-confrontationally and “under the radar” as possible, while at the same time be ready to defend the culture we are building — if it comes to that. When a whole new culture has been grown within the grassroots first, the good fight is merely in the defense of a revolution that has already come.

We need a very rough vision of what the next economy can be, one that inspires wide support. Here is one possibility: whatever our ideological differences, the economy that makes across-the-board sense is a “low-overhead economy.” Bypassing all the countless trolls hunkered down in their toll booths, skimming off productive work of other people, will free up plenty of room for financial sanity and economic well being everywhere.