Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and Columbia University professor, paid visits to Mondragon in 2005 and 2018. He was looking at worker-owned cooperatives as a possible tool to resolve economic disparities created by capitalism. UN Sustainable Goal 8 is decent work and economic growth. In a 2020 New York Times article, “Co-ops in Spain’s Basque Region Soften Capitalism’s Rough Edges,” Amal Chevrau of the OECD was quoted: “Mondragón is one of the landmarks of the social economy movement because of its scale.”
Source: Mondragon Timeline 2005, “Joseph Stiglitz (Fourth from the Left)
Peter Goodman, author of the piece, goes on to say the co-op model is suited to a new corporate outlook that asserts the importance of stakeholders, not just shareholders. The Business Roundtable affirmed this position in an August 2019 press release clarifying the purpose of a corporation. Cooperatives have been positioned as tools to meet targets for UN SDG 8 as seen in “The Mondragon Case: Companies Addressing Social Impact and Dialogic Methodologies.” The following is taken from the OECD social impact measurement policy paper:
“Indeed, cooperatives have taken the lead in adopting appropriate indicators to capture their impacts in terms of social inclusion, well-being and community engagement. To be responsive the specificities and goals of Italian Work Integration, Social Cooperatives have developed a dedicated model with indicators on well-being and personal growth, which are operationalised through psychosocial perceptions of vulnerable people after their work experience in social cooperatives (e.g. trust in their abilities, happiness with their lives, enthusiasm and commitment to work). In Canada, the Urban Institute’s ABC of Co-op Impact identifies metrics to measure the community impact of cooperatives compared to other forms of businesses. Democratic governance and member empowerment in particular are identified as distinguishing features of cooperatives compared to for-profit companies. Similarly, the Centre of Excellence in Accounting and Reporting for Cooperatives has developed a set of key performance indicators along the domains voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, and concern for community.” Page 39
Here’s how the sausage gets made. To those who know nothing of platform cooperatives, tokenization, and impact finance it probably sounds benevolent and hopeful. I think, however, that if you review the topics and framing of these blog posts prepared by the Platform Cooperative Consortium carefully, you’ll see that their economy that “puts people first” has chosen that tactic, because the new economy demands everyone’s data.
Yes, they pay lip-service to the fact that you will own your own data and be able to participate in governance through awarded tokens, but the truth is that mixed reality is not a game created by the masses for their benefit. This is made very clear by the fact that the sole funder of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium is Google – a $1 million grant in 2018. The fact that this NGO’s headquarters is one block away from Union Square, a landmark for labor organizing and free speech in the United States, is a slap in the face to all who made sacrifices for workers’ rights.
Source: Platform Co-ops in Action, Platform Cooperativism Consortium Blog Posts
Source: PCC Affiliates – US, UK, Kenya, Germany, and Australia, plus Michel Bauwens P2P Foundation
Source: Platform Cooperativism Consortium Building With Union Square Park, Historic Site of Labor Organizing and Several Anti-Lockdown Rallies
Source: Sain Lopez, Platform Cooperativsim Consortium Research Fellow, Mondragon University
Source: Sole Funder of Platform Cooperativism Consortium, Google
Source: The History of Union Square, the Public Square That Hosted the First Labor Day Parade
Source: Alison McDowell;s speech at Union Square Rally, March 2021
The concept of Information Economics, the impact of asymmetrical information on markets, was developed by Stiglitz. This fixation on resolving information inefficiencies precipitated the demand that everything be measured. One way to obtain measurements, and quantification of social relations for impact, within workplaces is to turn employers into platform cooperatives and then adopt a tokenized governance model to visualize the dynamics of internal operations, including adherence to stated corporate values.
It also drives the push for finclusion of the so-called un-banked. Eliminating anonymous informal transactions is an imperative for the data economy. It is a misguided quest for full spectrum dominance of all financial activity. Nothing is meant to exist beyond the reach of, the vision of, the machine. In “Decentralization at Work: Cooperatives on the Blockchain,” Joshua Davila of dGen, a Berlin-based consultancy working on “responsible” deployment of Web 3.0 technologies describes a DisCO (Distributed Cooperative Organization) Co-op model which is like a DAO with embedded aspects of eco-feminist economics. The effort is backed by TNI, the Transnational Institute, a program of the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal global NGO advancing the “green” economy, evidence-based drug policy, effective public services, people’s rights in trade, and opposition to structures of technological control (the irony).
Source: DisCo Coop Trailer
The author of the 2019 DisCO Manifest, “If I Had A Heart” is UK artist Ruth Catlow whose work asserts the potential of networked technology for emancipation. The project prefers the words distributed over decentralized and cooperative over autonomous. Their goal is to create community algorithmic trusts, DisCO CATs, to keep track of work related to the commons including unpaid care work through love, livelihood and pro-bono credits. The latter, especially when combined with fair trade certifications, will create metrics for UN Sustainable Goal 5, Gender Equity. The first use case was a Madrid-based online service, Guerrilla Translation, that uses a platform built on Holo, a pilot for Open Value Cooperativism advanced by Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation through its Common Transition project.
Open Value Cooperativism tracks contribution to a project so that participants have a claim on future value created. This reminds me of the new use case being applied to impact investing – Hypercerts by San Francisco-based Protocol Labs. The model of credit streams was later applied to a regional cultural project in western Spain relating to weaving and two maker-space “Fab-Labs,” one in Zimbabwe and the other Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi. Cooperation Jackson’s Fab-Lab uses software created by the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.
On the surface this model seems reasonable. I know several extremely talented artists and writers whose ability to continue their vital work relies on navigating an increasingly perilous maze of gig work and one-off fundraisers. Stability and camaraderie of like-minded people is something we all seek. But to me this new brand of networked emancipation will demand all participants and the communities, online and offline, in which they are situated submit to the roll out of Web 3.0.
This will bring with it all kinds of smart contracts that will embed themselves in every aspect of our lives. It is only with great effort that activists are going to be able to hold onto the fiction that blockchain tools are serving them rather than confining them. The poster children for DisCO are eclectic, artsy makers, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves the model won’t be grabbed by the tentacles of corporate ESG portfolios or used to manage refugee camps or faith-based Focolare towns.
Bauwens founded P2P in 2006 in Amsterdam and is now focused on accounting for “planetary survival.” That’s life on the ledger. His previous career was in e-commerce working for Belgium’s largest telecom company, Belgacom (now Proximus Group). Before that, he worked as a “cybrarian” for the Cold War propaganda machine USIA and as information coordinator for British Petroleum. He collaborates on “commons” issues with Vasilis Kostakis, a professor of Peer-to-Peer at Tallinn University of Technology(TalTech) in Estonia and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, and Amherst-based David Bollier, co-founder of Commons Strategies Group. Another colleague, Silke Helfrich, independent researcher with the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Mexico, which was affiliated with the German Green political party, died in an alpine hiking accident last year.
Source: A New Post-Capitalist Ecosystem of Value Creation, Stacco Troncoso Affiliated with Guerrilla Translation and Based in Spain
Cybernetic Prosperity Gospel – Virtue and FreeDOM
The emerging economic system, embedded as it is within cybernetic enclosures, is taking on an anarcho-capitalist vibe where the far Left and far right, including the religious right, converge around a shared love of decentralization and the promise of techno-liberation. Somehow both sides think they can use a “tool” of state intelligence to accomplish their preferred economic and sacred ends. Color me dubious.
Perhaps the Left will enjoy a flat-horizontal social structure with weighted “woke” values embedded in its economic transacting for a while, but only until Aladdin comes on the scene. In the same way I think the religious right imagines a future of doing well by doing good and earning enough evidence-based charity tokens to pad their heavenly portfolio without stopping to think that the creator wouldn’t blockchain people and putting your faith in technology undercuts authentic spirituality.
I see the Acton Institute’s article lauding Arizmendiarrieta as the “patron saint of Spanish entrepreneurship,” as a clear example of the latter. Acton Institute is a Grand Rapids, Michigan based think tank that advocates Judeo-Christian values embedded in free-market economics. They are affiliated with the Atlas Network, which is anti-regulation in outlook, and publish a peer-reviewed journal “Markets and Morality.”
Grand Rapids, the childhood home of Gerald Ford, is the economic hub of western Michigan with Spectrum Health System its largest employer. Amway, founded by the influential DeVos family, is located ten miles away in the suburb of Ada. The DeVos’s are major donors, handing out millions upon millions in grants to nonprofits, many in Michigan, and to the Republican party. Betsy DeVos served as chair of the Republican Party of Michigan and was appointed Secretary of Education by Trump in 2016 where she advocated for charter school expansion and school choice. Among Acton Institute’s supporters are DeVos, Eric Prince, the Kochs, and the Bradley Foundation (Birch Society affiliate). Twelve miles from downtown Grand Rapids is Cascade Township, home of an L3 Harris Technologies manufacturing plant that saw a $2.6 million expansion last year. That company is a prominent military aerospace and electrical communications contractor.
Source: Venerable Servant of God Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta: Patron Saint of Spanish Entrepreneurship, Acton Institute, June 2021
The founder of Acton Institute is Robert Sirico, a man on an unusual spiritual journey. If there were ever an embodiment of shifted polarization it would be him. Raised in Brooklyn with his recently-deceased brother and Soprano’s actor Tony Sirico, Robert separated from the Catholic Church as a youth and moved to the west coast where he became a Pentecostal minister. He then changed course and established a church ministering to the gay community in Seattle and Los Angeles. Later, upon reading Hayek and the biography of John Neumann, he turned away from those beliefs and came back to the Catholic Church, attending Catholic University and becoming ordained as a Paulist priest.
A major influence on his theoretical understanding was Catholic philosopher Michael Nowak. Nowak, a strong critic of Liberation Theology, wrote “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which theorized that democracy was only possible within free markets and a plural, liberalistic culture. During his time on the west coast Robert Sirico was active in peace and environmentalist movements. His goal at Acton is to bridge the Left’s position on the climate with the Right to become better stewards – though to my way of thinking this has everything to do with emergent markets in ESG finance and sensor networks.
The story goes that Sirico was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus annus, which revisited the 1891 Rerum novarum in the waning days of the Cold War. It affirmed social and economic justice but in opposition to Marxism. He came to Grand Rapids to found Action Institute with Kris Mauren, a Johns Hopkins graduate in international policy with a focus on nonprofit management and measurement. The men sought to promote virtue and freedom and honorable business practices grounded in private property rights. The organization has 50 employees, a $12 million annual budget, and maintains satellite offices in Rome and Buenos Aires. Maximilian Torres, professor of business ethics and corporate organizational measurement, connects Acton to Mondragon’s Spain and the Vatican’s inclusive capitalism. The Harvard Law alumnus took a PhD in Management at IESE in Navarre Span, an Opus Dei-affiliated institution, and taught there for a decade before coming back to Michigan where he now edits Acton’s “Journal of Markets and Morality.”
Source: Sirico and Mauren with President Ronald Reagan
Blockchain Poverty Cure?
In the spirit of the church’s social teachings, Sirico launched the Institute’s PovertyCure initiative at the Newman Centre of the University of Toronto in 2018. The program, which now has over 400 international partners in 150 countries, applies Christian-centered entrepreneurship to the problem of global poverty, fostering voluntary civil associations outside the state to promote human flourishing.
In 2014, Acton underwrote the creation of a documentary Poverty, Inc., to prepare the ground for this work. The film, which won dozens of festival awards and was recognized by the John Templeton Foundation, is a good example of impact media. The website even includes an “impact survey” to capture metrics.
People on the Right who follow my work may be thinking, “So, what’s the problem? I don’t see anything not to like.” Well it gets murkier once you dig into the interests behind the creation of the film. Mark Weber was the point person. He’s the business innovation lead for IBM. From his online bio: “Mark focuses on cultivating the research-to-impact workflow within a hybrid cloud ecosystem for driving AI applications with pathways to integration and scale.” “As a researcher, Mark has published works on blockchain technology for supply chain finance, graph deep learning for anti-money laundering, and AI fairness for anti-discrimination in lending.” Weber earned his MBA at the Sloan School where he worked as a graduate assistant on MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI). Weber overlapped for a year with DCI founder Brian Forde, who relocated to his home state of California in 2017 to run for a Congressional seat in Orange County (Forde lost).
Source: Mark Weber – Driving Business Innovation from Fundamental Science
While at DCI Weber helped build b_verify, a blockchain commodities tracking platform developed in partnership with Boston University (Jesuit), the University of Pennsylvania, the Mexican government, and the InterAmerican Development Bank. The platform was ostensibly to create efficiencies in warehousing and storage of commodities, but as we know, all of this technology is dual use.
At this point very few people are willing to say out loud that the plan is to tokenize poor people and children as commodities, track them, and place futures bets on them as you would a silo of GMO corn. If you read my detailed investigation into Mexico’s pilot of conditional cash transfers to low-income women and children in the mid 1990s, you’ll understand my concern. There is a reason Mexico and InterAmerican Development Bank are on the partner list.
Michael Matheson Miller also helped create the film. Miller is an Acton Institute research fellow and wrote the book “Digital Contagion” with a focus on Big Tech and surveillance capitalism. Of course we know how the dialectic works – the planned “solution” being some version of “rebel city” digital sovereignty (branded Left or Right as needed) so we will elect to commodify our souls and join IBM’s blockchain supply network that’s being built out by Mark Weber’s colleagues. Miller’s podcast topics at “The Moral Imagination,” are meant to appeal to Libertarians. They hit all the buttons – classical education, awake not woke, principled entrepreneurship, crypto; totalitarianism, beauty and love. They know how to tell you what you want to hear, but they aren’t going to tell you everything.
Mark knows that there’s a game afoot. Sirico may talk a good game about human flourishing, but I’ll state again that Jesus would not blockchain people and put them under ubiquitous digital surveillance for supply chain tracking. That is not freeDOM. That is not liberty. If you want to pull out of charity so you can push entrepreneurship, understand that a poor person succeeding in this age of automation will be practically impossible UNLESS they agree to be used for anti-poverty washing data analytics and synthetic biology for the open air prison. What Acton Institute is doing is asking people to live in the game while pretending that there is no game.
I invite you to read the description of blockchain warehouse logs with IoT surveillance monitoring. Then read this open letter to Jeff and Laura Sandefer and parents who have children enrolled in Acton Academy franchise micro-schools. Acton Academy is loosely connected with Acton Institute through its Texas oilman founder Jeff Sander. The mom said she was very concerned about the amount of personal data being collected on her children in school through digital platforms. The Sandefer’s response was that they could choose to leave and that the kind of data they were collecting wasn’t Communist. I guess we’re supposed to be glad for it. I suppose they don’t count on people understanding digital twins and blockchain mind files. The school franchise and the Institute are both named after Lord Acton who is often quoted as saying “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Indeed.
Source: b_verify Warehouse Receipts An Open Source Blockchain Protocol For Verifiable Records
The text above:
“The selected use case informing this research is the negotiable warehouse receipt for agricultural commodities. Warehouse receipts (picture student meta-data on blockchain) are legally defined title documents attesting to a particular quantity, type, and quality of a commodity (securitized human capital) at a specific storage facility. These instruments can be used to secure inventory as collateral for loans, to facilitate trade, and to settle expiring futures contracts.
Development agencies and multilaterals have championed the benefits of warehouse receipts for price discovery (reputation scoring for securitization of humans as Berggruen’s tokenized assets) and access to credit for even the poorest of farmers. One USAID program in Tanzania produced a doubling of the prices farmers were able to command for their harvest immediately upon the installation of a storage and warehouse receipt program. Strengthening the agricultural sector also improves food security and competitiveness at a national level.
Three problems prevent warehouse receipts from realizing their full potential for farmers and society: forged documents, high transaction costs, and the potential for disparities (similar arguments used to advance blockchain learning lockers/transcripts) between the receipt attestation and the physical goods. Applications using the b_verify protocol can help mitigate these problems.
First, high profile frauds involving forged or duplicated warehouse receipts have cost banks hundreds of millions of dollars; this makes banks wary of lending against them and traders wary of buying them. The b_verify protocol addresses this problem by posting warehouse receipt issuances as cryptographic commitments to the data structure of the Bitcoin blockchain as a secure, public source of record.
Second, assuming the receipts are authentic, the transaction costs involved in verifying and transporting paper records are extremely high, especially in countries with poor infrastructure. The b_verify protocol addresses this problem using a novel method of coordinating updates to the records using cryptographic proofs constructed by a designated server, which need not be trusted (picture automated contracts/payments for remote gig labor).
Third, again assuming authentic receipts, banks and traders worry about the quality and honesty of warehouse custodianship; perhaps the goods are removed illegally for example. While this problem cannot be completely eliminated by technology, access control measures and Internet of Things (IoT) integrations can be combined with the b_verify protocol (surveillance of students/workers like Wildflower Montessori wearables and artificial vision cameras) to reduce these risks. For example, outflows of grain from a silo could require authentication via a query of the blockchain record, while digital devices measuring the outflow can independently commit updates to the record without human interference.
An added feature of the b_verify protocol is the opportunity for the programmatic enforcement of covenants and contracts (also known as “smart contracts”). For example, using an application servicing the b_verify protocol, the pledging of collateral with a warehouse receipt could automate the transfer of the collateral to the lender upon a hard loan default. Covenants such as maximum debt-to-asset ratios or minimum allowed commodity price fluctuations could also be constructed within the b_verify system.
The verifiable activities of a given business over time, such as inventory turnover and repayment history, can also provide valuable insight into the health of the business, which is the chief consideration in assessing creditworthiness (also applicable to human capital).
Lastly, the transparency provided by this publicly accessible and verifiable system of record may contribute to safer, more transparent asset-backed securities and derivatives markets as these develop in emerging economies.” Source
Excerpt from one mother’s experience with an Acton Academy Microschool – compare with excerpt above:
“The next big red flag was the 360 reviews that kids were asked to fill out at the end of every session on the Acton tracker. Acton says these reviews are meant to ‘normalize feedback’. Except, I do not know any professional who is allowed to offer feedback directed at an individual’s character. The 360 reviews ask students to anonymously rate everyone in their studio on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how ‘tough-minded’ and ‘warm-hearted’ they are. They are given a space to write a sentence of evidence for their rating, and then are given space to write ‘stars’ for things they like about the person, and ‘wishes’ for what they wish that person would change. After seeing this, I sent an email to the owners of our school with evidence I have accumulated from professors in my Master’s work which demonstrated feedback, especially personal feedback, does not have the desired positive outcomes, and induces shame responses. The owners of our school and founders of Acton told me normalizing feedback was valuable; and, if Acton was not a good fit, there are other schools for my kids.
The results of the 360 reviews were one of the metrics used to determine a student’s freedom level. Before Acton, the only time I had heard the term ‘freedom level’ was to describe a social credit system where those with higher credits get greater access-a program that has been piloted on a wide scale under the guise of ‘building trust’ with authoritarian governments. Inside each studio are 5 freedom levels. Freedom is earned or lost by meeting certain expectations, and in the middle and high school studios, higher freedom levels are not given to those with low peer 360 reviews. In upper elementary, a student on the highest freedom level can choose anywhere to sit during work time, and can even choose not to work. On the lowest level a student has to sit in an assigned seat, cannot snack, and must get a minimum amount of work done.
And, these 360 reviews are not written on paper or given any relational connection. They are written and published online, on Acton’s ‘tracker’. The tracker is a major anchor for many ‘personalized’ learning programs. It holds the student’s record, or ledger, of their work, their 360 reviews, their ‘SMART’ goals, their ‘badges’ for completing a certain amount of work, and their ‘buck’ balance (more on bucks below). This tracker allows you to look at the progress, bucks balance, 360 review scores, and badge earnings of everyone in the studio. It asks you how many minutes you worked on math or reading. It asks you to upload screenshots of proof, and answer questions about topics. One of the ways Acton keeps costs low is to utilize education technology for Math and English Language Arts, so that no expertise is needed by educators for what they call ‘core skills’ learning.
The tracker and the education technology learning platforms are forms of surveillance. These are ways data can be harvested and utilized. My open letter to Acton describes exactly how schools, institutions, and those set on 21st Century education reforms benefit from harvested data. I asked Acton how they are using the data from the tracker, how they are protecting the data harvested from my children on the tracker and the EdTech companies they promote. I was told that I could trust them or go to a new school, and that only I could protect my children.”
“Acton students are told they have a minimum number of lessons to do online for math and ELA. If they succeed, they will earn a badge and will get paid bucks. If they do not, they will lose a buck each week for not completing the minimum. This rewards those who learn well online. Some kids can earn bucks at a much faster rate, and others can be highly stressed. Now, if a student runs out of bucks they must go to an isolated room and work on core skills all day, for as many days as it takes to earn another hero buck by completing a badge. To avoid this, my kids have a badge they leave 90% completed so that if it were to happen they could get a badge and get out ASAP.
Bucks are also taken if peers see you not following the classroom rules. Peers are supposed to offer a verbal warning, and then if the behavior persists the peer can go on to the Acton tracker and ask the person for a buck. Guides take bucks for not being on time and prepared and not being respectful. There is not a moment in the day when bucks are not in jeopardy. Which, by definition, means this is not a self-directed environment.
I made several attempts to discuss why their learning and behaviors are incentivized, as this is in opposition to research that has been published for 30 years stating incentivization has a net negative effect. I was told to trust them and that these systems were being used wisely.” Source
Jason and I paid a site visit to a different Acton-affiliate in Utah this spring. To be continued, Part 4 on wellness metrics and smart environments.