As we begin a new year, I thought it might be fun – and possibly useful – to try to identify where commons activism might make some breakthroughs in 2012. I won't venture specific predictions, which can easily miss the mark. But I do think we can usefully talk about areas of “quickening innovation” for the commons. Here's my list, along with brief explanations and speculations:
Digital and complementary currencies. As conventional national currencies crater and as digital networking technologies become more sophisticated, new sorts of commons-based currencies are emerging to fill the void. There is quite a bit of innovation going on in this space. Some new currencies are locally based; others are digital systems that can function globally. The rise of Bitcoin is only a hint of what may be coming down the pike. (See the terrific New Yorker profile of Bitcoin on October 10, 2011.) I am particularly fascinated by the Ven, a new international digital currency that is backed by real assets (about which I will blog shortly). In the meantime, a good way to acquaint yourself with the possibilities of alternative currencies is the book, Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies With Local Currencies, by Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Lietaer.
Crowdsourcing as a source of capital formation. I see two trends that appear destined to converge: one is the growing use of cooperatives, community land trusts, worker-ownership and social enterprises to democratize wealth and empower communities; and the second is the expansion of crowdsourcing as a way to raise capital for specific projects if not companies.
The first topic, the democratization of capital, has received renewed attention thanks to the re-publication of Gar Alperovitz's book, America Beyond Capitalism (Democracy Collaborative Press). The second topic, crowdsourcing as a new means to capitalize projeccts (and not simply elicit donations or group suggestions), has received less attention, perhaps because any successful equity crowdsourcing project will need to comply with securities law. Still, the efficiencies of equity crowdsourcing are irresistible – and its synergies with traditional forms of democratizing capital are obvious. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but I expect to see some developments here in the coming year. (Here's a great P2P Foundation overview of existing crowdsourcing projects.)