Pushing Deep Leverage Points towards a Worker-centered Economy

In her thinking on systems, Meadows posited 12 levers that could work towards changing systems.  The most powerful lever was the ability to actually transcend the paradigm of the system to create a new paradigm. Following this were levers that focus on shifting the mindset of the system or its goals.  I am thinking on these levers, generally and more specifically in the context of my current employer, JFF (Jobs for the Future).  JFF is a national nonprofit that works at the intersection of the education and workforce systems with a mission to improve economic mobility and advancement for ALL members of our society.  As an organization, JFF sits in a unique position as an intermediary working across sectors and fields to help align and improve various systems.  I’ve worked at JFF for two years, and from my vantage point, JFF is solidly working with the 4th most powerful lever – “the power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure.” 

JFF supports and works to improve how institutions of higher education work, how workforce systems (both from the supply and demand side) operate, how K-12 learning can transform and how individuals and those working with them might better navigate and make sense of their lives and careers all towards creating more sustainable futures workers and their families.  I am not sure that JFF is positioned to transcend our current paradigms, but I do think the organization has the ability to move up a level or two in the levers of change.  As a boundary spanning actor, JFF has the ability to articulate, influence, and likely shift the goals of current systems.  Our equity and economic mobility lens are critical to how we work to do that.  I also believe that with some strategic visioning and reflection, JFF has the ability to influence others towards larger mindset shifts.  Our biennial conference, Horizons, and the close connections the organization’s leaders have to funders, employers, policy makers, and system leaders mean we are in the places and spaces to influence.  JFF is at the table rooted in 35 years of practice, trust, and influence.

What is ruminating in my head right now is what are the big visionary goals JFF wants the systems we work in to move towards?  What is that mindset shift we want others to make? Any organization that can answer these questions and then move others in the system to act with them can make profound system change.  I personally am excited for the next phase of work at JFF.  In the meantime, I am also thinking about what would it mean for the economy, if workers were at the center of it all?  What if the “economy” worked to maximize the potential of workers rather than profits?  What would an economy like that look like? I think Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have explored such political economic theories.

Francis Hunger on Immaterial Labor

I’ve been skeptical against the Open Source Software producers community since years, skeptical against this white, middle-class, male students and engineers. For me this user/producer group is a club, which includes those who have enough time resources to create social capital through peer recognition by working on technologically oriented projects. As early technology adopters, the OSS producers community also actively shapes technology (I have to repeat: they are white, middle-class, male). The OSS producers community tested, improved and incorporated all the elements which can be found in Lazzaratos description of immaterial work above: Flat hierarchies, computerized networks, creating products in their leisure time. So the OSS producer is paradigmatic for the current overage of productivity in the countries of fully developed capitalism, which again gets induced into the circuit of production and exploitation.more here:


Michael Bauwens on Immaterial Labor

We live in a political economy that has it exactly backwards.

We believe that our natural world is infinite, and therefore that we can have an economic system based on infinite growth. But since the material world is finite, it is based on pseudo-abundance.

And then we believe that we should introduce artificial scarcities in the world of immaterial production, impeding the free flow of culture and social innovation, which is based on free cooperation, by creating the obstacle of permissions and intellectual property rents protected by the state.

What we need instead is a political economy based on a true notion of scarcity in the material realm, and a realization of abundance in the immaterial realm. Complex innovation needs creative and autonomous workers that are not impeded in their ability to share and learn from each other.

Read more here: https://lists.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2007-August/002714.html

Paul Hertzog comments on Immaterial Labor

There are lots of good ideas surfacing through this discussion on the iDC list. I post here in full his response:

“After reading Sobol and Waxman, I thought I would chime in.  So far, I find this list incredibly useful to my own work and am really enjoying the discussions.  That said, I continue thus….
First, utility is tautological.  If you decide that human beings do things only for utility, then you will always find the utility in any action.  Even suicide can be described as a utilitarian action.

Second, the authentic, and to my mind non-utilitarian, experience of life, has and always will be, beyond theft or co-optation by “the bad guys.”  When I go to coffee with my friend and discuss Aristotle,money goes to those it perhaps shouldn’t (e.g. evil coffee bean slavers).  Nonetheless, the substance of the experience belongs entirely to me and my friend.

My difficulty with the analysis so far in this thread is that I find it to be preoccupied with current online tools rather than abstract concepts.  An alternate attempt might go something like this:

Suppose that every moment of your life were visible, capturable,collatable, analysable, (etc.) to others.  Suppose that EVERY act in your life, that YOU tried to live authentically, was also being used for other purposes by someone else.  How would you live?  The answer, possibly paradox, is that you would ignore it, and in so doing you would live in such a way that anyone who was watching would be incapable of seeing your true life at all.  They would only see your superficial movements, but all the while your inner movement would channel bliss.

The authentic life is ALWAYS a subversion, a resistance, a revolution, against some attempt by someone else to bind it, to bound it, to define it, to constrain it.  To live authentically means to create in each moment something that cannot be taken and used for other purposes because it is necessarily INVISIBLE to those who would attempt such a theft.

Consequently, in my own academic work (i.e. logically), and also in my personal preference (i.e. aesthetically), I prefer to keep my eyes turned towards new forms of subversion, resistance, and revolution enable by new technologies.  To my mind, the really interesting and revolutionary things going on in the world are invisible to those who would oppose themhttps://lists.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2007-August/002708.html

An important point from Ladner

Stan reponds in the thread just referenced with this

“Trebor’s notions around immaterial labour certainly qualify here — collaborative media do obscure the free labour that goes into them. And also Wikis. Their collaborative veneer disguises the elitist participation in them.”

See Wikinomics discussion on iDC.

Also the discussion on the list about immaterial labor is very critcal as well. It starts in august 07 here: