Maybe This Wasn’t Such a Wacky Idea After All

Here's a really short version of the history of POCA:

Why will nobody hire us to just do acupuncture for ordinary people?
Fine. Fine! We’ll start our own business and make it work.
Not with that business model, we won’t.
OK, let’s fix it.
Hey, it works!
Huh, look at all these weird economic and social disconnects in the acupuncture profession.
Wow, that’s terrible.
Wow, that’s REALLY terrible.
OK, let’s fix it.
Hey, it works!
OK, let’s fix it.
It’s a co-op.
What? Why is it a co-op?
Because. You know, micro loans and stuff.  It’ll make sense later, I promise.
OK…I guess.
Wow, that’s one peculiar-looking co-op you folks have got there.
But hey, it works!


There's an online discussion happening now that I think is especially interesting for us and our peculiar-looking co-op. Have you guys heard about Wages for Facebook?

You might want to start with this summary. And then the thing itself is here.

Regardless of what you think of Wages for Facebook (absurd/ cool/Marxist performance art/great idea), the discussion leads to territory worth exploring, especially for us.  In a sense, Wages for Facebook is pointing out that Facebook takes social capital and turns it into financial capital. Facebook’s access to social capital depends on users generating and sharing it; but there’s no intention of sharing the financial capital.

Community acupuncture, at every level of the fractal, has always depended on social capital because that’s the primary resource that we had. The people who make up our fractal don’t have access to much financial capital; that’s the whole point. So the big question for us has always been — how much can we accomplish with social capital alone? What can you make when you don’t really have any money?  And the answer for us is: a whole lot. We can make whatever we need.

Eventually social capital, if it is well-organized and shared widely, has the potential to generate financial capital. For a long time, nobody knew exactly how to “monetize” Facebook, and it seems like they are still figuring it out. But data is always valuable, one way or another. And relationships are always an asset when you are doing business. And the more people depend on something, the more valuable it becomes.

So I read about Wages for Facebook and I was overwhelmed with relief that we chose a co-op for our structure. Just like Facebook, POCA owns an ever- growing pile of stuff (data, content, proprietary information) only because people have chosen to share it freely. Unlike Facebook, the member-owners of the POCA Cooperative actually own what they’ve shared. So the next time somebody says to me, “hey, lady, that’s one peculiar-looking co-op you’ve got there; what’s the benefit for your member-owners again?” I can answer firmly, “See: Wages for Facebook.” If it turns out that POCA, like Facebook, proves to be efficient at converting social capital into financial capital, at least we know that the financial capital won’t be concentrated and extracted; one way or another, it has to be shared. And if it turns out we never quite figure out how to “value” our resources  in capitalist terms, that’s OK too.

I think about the relationship between social and financial capital a lot in reference to POCA Tech. If POCA Tech were a straight-up capitalist enterprise, we would have pulled the plug on it by now. In terms of what’s required to build it, we could not have afforded to pay people at market rates to do the building, based on what we’re planning to charge students to attend. The math only works because volunteers are building it for love (another word for social capital).  POCA needs POCA Tech. POCA Tech depends on POCA. Neither of them individually is really “worth”  anything in capitalist terms. But together, they are not only valuable to each other but they are valuable to more and more people because they open up more access. And the more people use something, the more valuable it gets. Just look at Facebook.

Author: lisafer

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