Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

What is a citizen? And the civic?

Posted Dec 8, 2011 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 8 Comments

A citizen is one among the many—one among others.  Citizens are members.  We are always citizens “of.”  “Of what?”  Of the many?  Yes.  But citizens are not mobs or crowds.  Citizens are members of  civic communities, and citizens create and re-create civic communities.  The civic, in other words, comes into existence when we participate in civic conversations as citizens.

Civic conversations are quite different from commercial conversations.  Commercial conversations are about commerce—about the exchange and the overall flow of things.  Civic conversations are about how we want to live together—about the design of our collective life.  Civic conversations should be the context or platform for commercial conversations.  Only when we know how we want to live together will we know how to design the flow of things.

In the history of the United States, for the most part, commercial conversations have dominated civic conversations.   Still, we have witnessed the rise of the civic, such as in the civil rights movement.  And, now, we see it again.  The civic is occupying the commercial.

The goal, of course, is not to eliminate commerce, but to civilize it—to have commercial conversations about how to provide for one another on a civic platform of moral equality and reciprocity.  Commerce is not the problem.  The problem is its separation from civic norms.

When people say, ”We have seen the problem and the problem is us,” they deceive themselves.  We are not the problem.  The problem is one of design.  Our current design of how we live together in unjust and unsustainable, and it is still controlled by commercial conversations without any moral foundation.  Those who control financial markets are sovereign.   If we expand and protect civic conversations we may, in time, participate in the solution—an economy based on civic norms making provisions for this and future generations.

8 Responses to “What is a citizen? And the civic?”

  1. Tom Crowl says:

    January 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Forgive the long comment but I believe we share similar concerns. The following is a hopefully reasonably concise summary of what I believe is the pragmatic model, the design framework so to speak, for a utility which can I believe advance these goals. I'll be happy to answer any questions should interest found here. TO summarize the below... *Patented method allows political micro-transaction with FEC reporting requirements fulfilled and limits tracked w/o burdening transaction costs *Same method allows other transactions as well catalyzing desirable 'donor network' because of advantages to donors, recipients and third parties Establishment of this donor network, in turn facilitates specialized and localized platforms with much needed capabilities for civic engagement and community purposes *Model is profit-making *User governance with plan for user ownership participation also intended The Chagora Model Let's start with the patent, since that forms the core, protected capability not now available. Skipping all the technicals what does it let you do that you couldn't do before? Ever get an email like this: We at the ASPCA say "Support an end to the killing of puppies" (or whatever)... click here and send an email to your Congressman urging the passage of our "Stop killing Puppies bill!" Instead, what if that email said: We at the ASPCA say "Support an end to the killing of puppies"... click here and send an email to your Congressman along with 25 cents to us here at the ASPCA in support of the Stop killing Puppies bill!. They send out millions of those emails at one shot. That 25 cent contribution is not now a viable transaction... so the ASPCA doesn't ask... and probably doesn't even consider the possibility. But what if it were? ... and all it took was 25 cents and a button push... how many of those receiving that email might go for that 25 cents? And sending out millions of emails... how much might that return in a morning? I'm betting quite a bit. I contend that organizations WILL be very interested in that capability and on the other side... the recipient will very quickly see the potential potency of that transaction as well. To give an idea of scale... that 25 cents a couple of times a week times 150 million voters equals over $7 Billion per 2-year election cycle! Enabling the very simple 25 cent contribution is a big deal! Essentially the method is similar to a 'gift card'... you buy a virtual card for $10 or $20 and can use it to make these very easy and small political contributions securely with just a click and all reporting requirements fulfilled and limits tracked. Now that by itself I'm convinced has value. You could just establish this online utility for that purpose only: Put some money on your account and have at it... giving quarters out for causes and issues you support. But what's interesting is this... The same patented method enabling that specialized transaction (that nobody else can do or seems to understand could be valuable)... that method and account CAN DO VIRTUALLY ANY OTHER TRANSACTION OF ANY SIZE AS WELL! POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE!!! But neither a licensing situation to an existing system... Nor immediately using it as a foundation for a new general purpose pay system (e.g. a potential PayPal competitor) may be the best first step... though I'm open to discussion. However we do want people buying these online gift card I'm talking about... and the more that use them... the more powerful the system. Catalyzing the Donor Network I'm not suggesting... I'm flat out stating that a unified utility for donation purposes forms a better and much more capable donor landscape attractive to both sides of that transaction. Here are a few other brief scenarios where such a virtual 'card' might be handy: It's the end of the year... and Buffy likes to give away a few thousand dollars to various charities over the Holidays.. She deposits a thousand dollars in her account all at once and spends an afternoon tossing it out to her favorite charities or browsing solicitations by others that could be of interest... $250 here... $100 there... $17.96 for Girl Scout cookies... $50 for the neighborhood watch... etc... she has her unified record ready for IRS, she prints out all her coupons for free coffee at Starbucks and Free batteries at target offered by advertisers,,, and for her maybe its without ever making a political or any 'micro' contribution at all! And another scenario: Elmo has $10 a month go into his Chagora account out of his paycheck matched by another $10 from his employer. This $20 he distributes to various charities he likes. This money he can't use for political giving because that gets into legal issues because of the matching funds). He has another $10 a month taken from his paycheck beyond the matching portion and these funds he can use as he wishes of course... and he pledges $5 a month to his favorite cause and the rest he likes to save for local candidates that are reaching out to him on his Chagora 'neighborhood page'. (And if you're staying with me at all here this will lead into "what's this neighborhood page?"... and that gets into emergent potentials arising out of developing this donor network.). Another scenario: Ramon could have his first experience with Chagora in a "Live Debate" situation utilizing its capabilities for real time feedback... (some politically 'scary' aspects to this but some interesting safeguards also can be offered). See: The Chagora Live Debate Function for how this might work. WHY would it be advantageous to use Chagora to do these things? From one deposit make many distributions... no need to keep re-entering credit card and/or FEC required info over and over again Financially equivalent to direct contribution to recipient site... and that's even for the added fees Ready availability of corporate/charity sponsorships with advantages for all three parties... the advertiser, the donor and the recipient... (figures hard to come by but looks to be about a $7 to $15 Billion biz) Unified records for donor separating taxable and tax-deductible contributions all ready for the IRS... automated record keeping for recipient. Advertiser and recipient localization (easier for both to reach likeliest targets... some monetization here) Approx 20,000 new (and many temporary) non-profits formed each year... each could be offered a FREE recipient page and ALL needing payment, accounting, marketing and other services... (after all... this IS where the donors are... and since those recipients will be coming here anyway... looks like some more monetization) Utilities available even when account is de-funded (or never funded) providing an ongoing connection between donor and this system THE CAPABILITY FOR TRANSACTIONS NOT AVAILABLE ELSEWHERE... (like those 25 cent solicitations whether for or against some bill or to engage in some debate event) Opportunity for user ownership in all or part under some suitable configuration as added attractant. Monetization In addition to those listed within the list of user attractions... we might add things like: data mining, polling services, general advertising (in addition to specific sponsorships... successful catalyzation of a donor network facilitates establishment of various levels of geographically localized 'platforms'... e.g. a neighborhood platform dedicated exclusively to local businesses, local issues, events and candidacies). This capability arises out of the patent points dealing with FEC reporting requirements and something I call electoral/geographic localization. note: should potential be seen as a more general purpose utility, you could leave political and charitable transactions unburdened... and this is essential regardless... and should revenues make it feasible... system could offer merchants LOWER charges than others thereby out competing and capturing that larger market) The Political Micro-transaction is an unrecognized big deal and the Donor Network is an even bigger one. And that's just the U.S. The Pooled-User-Determined Account has global utility. The drive to get this capability up actually does not arise out of a vacuum. Catalyze the Donor Network! blog Financial function demo A few added notes prompted by recent conversations... Effect of the political microtransaction on political discourse and political climate: The volatility of the mob has always been a concern among those who think about governance. This is a valid concern.But history suggests that its a population who's mechanisms of feedback to those governing are blocked where you'll find a decay into extremism and the draw of simplistic but irrational demagoguery. And I'd suggest the decay of the governing consensus historically present in this country is, at least in part... a result of the inability of the citizenry to participate on a more frequent and granular* basis in the lobbying of our government The political microtransaction is a necessary tool for re-balancing the citizens capacity in the public marketplace of ideas. Moreover there are safeguards which I believe can be provided to both make 'mob' impulse less likely while at the same time developing a more politically capable citizenry over time. (Design matters! e.g. gerrymandering, I'd contend has not only produced a polarized polity... but degraded the ability for those of more reasoned approach to find a political 'home' in either Party.) Placement of Trust Accounts Should such a network of donor accounts be feasible, I'd suggest that community banks, credit unions and similar as best candidates for the holding of such accounts. They also form a network of more locally focused entities who might find advantage in supporting the creation of such a donor network. Public Finance of Elections Should at any time in future, the public finance of elections all or in part... be implemented, I suggest such a donor network offers the best and most recognizably neutral way of doing so. A small distribution of funds directly to individual voters for dispersal to legally registered candidates of their choice Reduction of Campaign Costs Platforms potentially arising in conjunction with such a donor network offer the opportunity to both drastically reduce campaign costs while offering citizens the opportunity to participate more easily and more fruitfully in civic matters on the local level. *Political parties... while serving many good purposes... find themselves often acting as 'opinion bundlers' attempting to tie together actually incompatable postitions with the same ideological framework. I suggest that over time this leads to confusion both in the political debate as well as the public consciousness and degrades the civic culture necessary for good governance.
  2. Tom Crowl says:

    January 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I'm afraid all formatting was removed by comment system so I suspect it will be more difficult to follow than it should be.
  3. Marvin Brown says:

    January 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for the comment and for the suggestions about a Donor Network. I think this is an important part of the puzzle to civilize money, and an alternative to the corporate control of our current electoral politics. Sorry for the formatting problems. I have someone looking at this and it should be fixed soon. Thanks
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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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