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Worlds Colliding

Interesting plural on Worlds; we don’t usually think of more than one, but this past week showed how surprising co-existing ‘worlds’ can be when using divergent economic systems.

On LinkedIn, I read about Ecomodo – Trade and Borrow: a new bartering system facilitated by technology and run as a social enterprise. You can lend (or sell) skills, tools, and assets to a broad community or a trusted lending circle. If there is concern about the return of the item being exchanged, you can buy insurance. If you want to help charities, you can charge a price for the ‘rental’ and then donate the fee. Nice, uplifting, alternative economies stuff that starts at the grassroots and grows. Who wouldn’t buy into this type of system, creating a way for friends and neighbours to stop over-consuming and reduce over-production of goods? Since my neighbourhood is about to introduce its own ‘dollar’ for community specific retail, I can imagine Ecomodo doing very well in this small part of Canada.

On Facebook, by contrast, there was all the negative stuff about the entire world being impacted by the downgrading of the American credit rating. There was a blog about the US Treasury Board defaulting on purpose: Treasury Board Just Strategically (Intentionally) Default (that actually pre-dates the present ‘crisis’). According to the blog, if it were to happen, it would create instant stock market panic and would show the US government has been fudging its numbers to stay afloat. Some experts felt that it would just be a ‘technical’ situation and investors weren’t making much money on their Treasury Bills anyway, so the outcome would be minor. But if you believe the news reporting, the big world of finance does not think that the American economic situation is minor.  And Canada is part of that great big economic system, just like every other country.

Reading the blog posts made me realize that we have two disparate systems in existence that somehow manage to collide.   Both ‘types’ of economies are present and operating and yet they are as unlike as any that could be imagined. One is predicated on community, exchange and zero growth – using what we have. The other is predicated on a demand for growth, the requirement for profit and guaranteed return (however false that may be) and making new. The first is based on a true and simple exchange and the second is a little fuzzy, although it has a lot of numbers to suggest otherwise.

Between these two worlds sits social finance and I suddenly feel the precariousness of what I thought of as our ‘perch’. The current economic system is obviously in decline (governments defaulting, historical and hysterical investor panics) and a new economic system, hailed as a return to the better world of before, is also something that went into decline. And although the barter system would seem an easy addition to social finance, investing and business creation are the cornerstones of social finance too.

All of the positiveness, vigour and creativity of social finance could not exist if we had not had the time to sit upon our ‘perch’, just slightly away from the fray and with the time to consider our options. No surprise that our time of intellectual consideration has come to an end.

I find the momentum of social finance invigorating but challenging to keep up with, never mind the dismantling of present economic systems and the full-scale replacement of governments’ treasuries with local community ‘dollars’. I don’t have the ‘chops’ to sit here and figure this out, and I no longer have the time anyway – none of us have.

Over the weekend, I felt the squeeze of where social finance sits and the reality of our work. We’re being shaken from our perch: Like shifting tectonic plates, the world’s economies, accepted and alternate, are colliding and creating a new base – social finance. It’s an interesting place to stand (or sit), but also very shaky. Let’s hope for tremors and not 9-point earthquakes because I have no idea how to put together an Emergency Preparedness Kit required for the kind of shifts taking place.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/d_brown/2472396675/

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