Occupy Wall Street: a new economic paradigm?

Occupy Wall Street: a new economic paradigm?

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Occupy protest movement is the commentary now going on about its application as a business model.

It's a point raised by theorist Michael Bauwens in his piece for Al Jazeera where he looks at a completely different economic paradigm created by the movement. "Let's look back at the workings of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park, when it was still in operation in the autumn. At its centre was a productive public, reaching consensus through the General Assembly and offering all kinds of templates ("Mic Check", "Protest Camping", "Working Groups", et cetera) which, in a true open-source way, could be copied and practiced by similar communities the world over, but also modified to suit local needs. This community had all kinds of needs: physical needs, such as food, shelter and healthcare. Did they resort to the market economy for this? The answer isn't a simple yes or no. Occupy Wall Street set up working groups to find solutions to their physical needs. The economy was considered as a provisioning system (as explained in Marvin Brown's wonderful book, Civilising the Economy), and it was the "citizens", organised in these working groups, who decided which provisioning system was appropriate given their ethical values. For example, organic farmers from Vermont provided free food to the campers, but this had a negative side effect: the local street vendors, generally poor immigrants, did not fare too well with everyone getting free food. The occupiers cared about the vendors and so they set up an Occupy Wall Street Vendor Project, which raised funds to buy food from the vendors. Bingo: in one swoop, OWS created a well-functioning ethical economy that included a market dynamic, but that also functioned in harmony with the value system of the occupiers. What is crucial here is that it was the citizens who decided on the most appropriate provisioning system – and not the property and money owners in an economy divorced from ethical values."

Alexis Madrigal, an editor of The Atlantic says the movement has relied on a completely open source model. Organizers and occupiers alike have not tried to maintain control of the message or methodology for spreading ideas or occupations. Instead, anyone who wants to support Occupy Wall Street can just do something. That's been encouraged. "The occupations are governed by general assemblies in which consensus rules. These are generally run by organizers who are familiar with the consensus method … strive for inclusiveness and bring the whole group together on some predictable schedule. Anyone can speak at the meetings and detailed minutes are taken … Strategy/working groups: While the big decisions are made by the GA, the thousands of other tasks involved in running the camp have been farmed out to working groups that focus on specific issues. For example, the Internet Working Group works on the infrastructure requirements of the protesters."

As the Ideaeconomy blog says, businesses can learn a lot from the Occupy model.

"Consider some of these implications.
Motivating and involving a dispersed volunteer effort is starkly different than an employer – employee relationship. Try motivating people to take action without paying them.
A vision to do good in the world is far more powerful than any monetary reward. Is your company making the world a better place?
Large groups of people can be mobilized without central control or authority. What could your employees accomplish if given the freedom?
Democratic and egalitarian processes can formulate a unified vision. Direction doesn't have to come from the boss. Give your employees the information and freedom to direct their own future.
Self-interests and ego gratification only serve to derail the process. Let the cause or vision be the focus, not a rock star executive."

Photo source skinnylawyer


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