Jane Jacobs – Economics and messy inefficiencies

“Successful economic development must be an improvisational drift into unprecedented kinds of work that carry unprecedented problems, then drifting into improvised solutions, which carry further unprecedented work carrying unprecedented problems…”

Jane Jacobs
Cities and the Wealth of Nations

The 100th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ birth is being celebrated this year by many people around the world. Jacobs is best known for her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of 1950s urban planning. Her influence on the field of urban planning is considered revolutionary.

My own introduction to her thinking, though, was a different book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, written more than two decades later (1985). In what seems to me a natural extension of her thinking about the physical form of cities, she had begun to consider the economy of cities, to “probe the mysteries of economic structure,” as she put it. In this book I found, as I wrote at the time, “new ways to connect artists and the world of economics.”

After reading Cities and the Wealth of Nations, I invited Jacobs to participate in a 1988 conference I was organizing about “creative support for artists” because I saw in her ideas a place for artists in economic development as she described it. She wrote back and, though declining my invitation, sent me a copy of her book, The Economy of Cities (1969) because of my interest. A source for this book was a question she asked herself: Why do some cities decline and die while others live and grow? A common assumption she challenged is that economies depend for their growth on large industrial and economic institutions – the huge modern corporations that are still so dominant. In Cities and the Wealth of Nations she took this inquiry further.

In a 2001 interview, when asked what she’d be remembered for most, she said, “the most important thing I’ve contributed is my discussion of what makes economic expansion happen. This is something that has puzzled people always. I think I’ve figured out what it is.”1  When she wrote Cities and the Wealth of Nations, she hadn’t quite “figured it out” yet (a summary of her economic theory came later in The Nature of Economies, 2000), but I found plenty in that book to expand my thinking.

Cities and the Wealth of Nations was in the pile of books I took with me to the Headlands Center of the Arts in 1991 where I spent 10 days reading, reflecting, and writing to pursue my inquiry into why artists didn’t seem to fit into the economic structure of our society. As I went along, I captured my thoughts in a paper, Artists and Economics: Notes from the Headlands. The section on Jane Jacobs follows here.

The act of writing the paper more closely resembled taking notes than writing a finished essay. It was a way of recording ideas that impressed me and that I thought might be useful at another time – as a source of more writing or as support for action and finding new directions. The paper remained open-ended, especially since I thought of it as notes for future use. It’s fun to pick it up again now and see how I’d argue with my 25-year-younger self.

Anne Focke, 2016

Book jacket, The Economy of Cities, 1969
Book jacket, The Economy of Cities, 1969

Jane Jacobs

I bought Jane Jacobs’ Cities and the Wealth of Nations by mistake. I thought I was getting her earlier book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Cities and downtowns were very much on my mind at the time (1985-86). Besides, economics is not a subject I’d have been drawn to intentionally. A dry and mostly unmemorable college course on economics left me with the impression that economics was fairly unrelated to daily life. About all I remember is something about sole proprietorships and the structure of corporations, plus larger and even more intangible concepts like “capitalism” and “socialism.”

When I bought Jacobs’ book, I was very concerned with how money moved around and how to get it flowing to things I cared about – to artists and work and activities I valued. In the 70s and 80s, I had been responsible for and had tried to raise money for a small, non-profit, artist-run organization named and/or. Fundraising for this organization was not an easy task. I began to realize that the problems I faced were not just my own; the artists and art work I cared about typically struggled financially. My interest in getting money to artists led to other efforts: working to establish an organization to support artists in Washington State (Artist Trust) and organizing a national conference on “Creative Support for Creative Artists” that delved into the topic of how artists are (and mostly are not) supported by our society or by the communities where they live. For the most part, though, something called “economics” was not on my mind.

“Probing the mysteries of economic structure”

Jane Jacobs writes of “probing the mysteries of economic structure” and the “rise and decline of wealth.” The first chapter of Cities and the Wealth of Nations, “Fool’s Paradise,” recaps much of the history of economists’ work and concludes that “several centuries of hard ingenious thought about supply and demand … have told us almost nothing about the rise and decline of wealth … We are on our own.”

The understandings that Jacobs reveals and weaves through her writing, both in this book and in an earlier one, The Economy of Cities (1969), appeal to me in part because they seem drawn from real circumstances, from close attention and observation, and from making connections among the things she discovers rather than from applying abstracted theories or handed-down principles. I didn’t need prior knowledge to follow along with her and to “get it.”

One of Jacobs’ principal points is that cities are the basic economic unit, not nations. Most economic thought proceeds with an assumption that nations are the primary economic unit. Jacobs believes this unexamined assumption is a critical flaw.

Beyond this (and where I got really hooked), she identifies the primary forces that drive economic growth: “economic life develops by grace of innovating; it expands by grace of import-replacing.” (By “import-replacing,” Jacobs means the process whereby cities begin to produce for themselves what they once imported.)

The value she attributes to innovation, improvisation, and insight and their centrality to her understanding of economic life, seems to make room for artists in the economic scheme of things, even though she seldom mentions artists directly.

She doesn’t say that humans are driven to innovate or imitate, just that when we do, economic life grows.

“The drive to better oneself” – Adam Smith

Adam Smith (1703-1790), whose work is the basis of much classical marketplace economic theory (and who, like Jacobs, apparently reached his conclusions empirically) postulated that the prime force motivating economic life is self-interest, a desire to augment one’s own wealth and to better one’s own condition – which has been turned, by now, into a desire to consume and to acquire. To me, it seems that bettering one’s own condition could have meant lots of things – increasing our knowledge, enriching our spirit, adding and deepening friendships. Instead, our economy has become dependent on acquisition and consumption, and our society has become one that often seems to have little other purpose.

The “drive to better oneself” does not seem to play a strong role in Jacob’s thinking. But I’m not sure. She doesn’t write about it explicitly. Instead, she talks about the mechanisms of economic growth itself, about innovation and imitation (replacing imports) – not about self-interest, acquisitiveness, buying and selling, capital accumulation, or supply and demand. Her notions of economic health (growth and development) aren’t about accumulation, but rather are about energy, the process, initiative, and the generation of new ideas and “new little things.” In a sense, the process is only incidentally about getting bigger. Sometimes economic development (or growth) results in a city getting bigger, but sometimes it leads to renewal or to a reversal of decay and stagnation.

Innovation and inefficiencies

Jacobs has thought-provoking things to say about innovation and economic life:

To be effective as developers and expanders of economic life, she says, cities need innovations (or “inputs of human insight”) and import replacements (or “inputs of human capacity to make adaptive imitations”).

Innovations are made by adding new kinds of work, logically and naturally, to specific bits of older work. When this proceeds vigorously, a settlement becomes a city.

Adding new work to old is full of surprises and hard to predict. The process, she writes, is analogous to a form of logic – intuition – that artists use. It involves being alert to messages in the work being made. The creator must have an insight and make a new departure. Innovation does not emerge from the logic of a customer; it does not come from sales departments.

Innovations are complicated and diverse.

A few of the examples she named are innovations that are part of scientific research at universities and innovations within an existing enterprise, like the dressmaker who developed the brassiere and the mining company that developed many uses for the glue that holds sand to paper.

And also about development and messy inefficiencies:

Development work is messy, consumes time and energy, involves duplication of effort, and is theoretically wasteful. Cities are economically valuable because they are inefficient and impractical.

To stimulate further development, new improvisations and innovations must be continually injected into everyday life.

Conditions that promote efficient production and distribution of existing goods and services are diametrically opposed to conditions that promote economic development.

The period when an organization is most fertile is when it is small. Economic life can expand quickly within symbiotic collections of little messy enterprises, unpredictably and opportunistically changing in content.

Developing new work at a high rate, Jacobs says, requires access to much inefficiently dispensed capital (perhaps developing new art requires the same).

In a large organization nearly all the divisions of labor must be sterile. That is, they can’t actively add new kinds of work. If they did, the organization’s “community of purpose” would vanish. Even in nature, when an organism becomes complex, it keeps its reproductive cells confined to one small part of the organism only. Large organizations likewise set up specific “reproductive organs” – research and development departments. (When we who are concerned about artists and new work use “research and development” as our metaphor, we’re using a concept that’s borrowed from large organizations rather than from small messy enterprises.)

“The great cold of poverty”

“The great cold of poverty and economic stagnation is the absence of economic development,” and this economic process is rooted in the development work that goes on in impractical cities, where one kind of work leads inefficiently to another. Poverty has no causes, Jacobs writes, only prosperity has causes.

People in government (and large philanthropies) tend to seek sweeping answers to problems rather than bring their minds and resources to bear on a particular small problem in a particular place. Yet, according to Jacobs, the latter is how innovations of any sort are apt to begin – as specific solutions to specific problems in specific places. Nationally- or internationally-mandated solutions are at cross-purposes to development.

The primary economic conflict is not between employers and employees but between people with already well-established economic enterprises and those with new ones. New interests need a “third-hand” as a protector to allow them to get a start, and Jacobs believes this “third-hand” role is best played by governments.

Curiosity and drift

Successful economic development, Jacobs says, must be open-ended rather than goal-oriented. It must make itself up as it goes along. It must drift. It must be “an improvisational drift into unprecedented kinds of work that carry unprecedented problems, then drifting into improvised solutions, which carry further unprecedented work carrying unprecedented problems…” (Ellipsis is hers.) Goal-oriented, strategic planning assumes economic life can be conquered, mobilized, bullied – which works if the activity is warfare, but not if it is development. The last chapter of her book is titled simply, “Drift.”

Cyril Stanley Smith, quoted in Jacobs’ book, writes that necessity is not the mother of invention, rather necessity takes advantage of invention. Invention proceeds from something much more like aesthetic curiosity. Most minerals were discovered for use as pigments, Smith claims. Metallurgy began with the making of beads and other ornaments. Techniques for casting cannons were based on a technology developed to make bells. Further, big things grow from little things. New little things can be destroyed by their environments unless they are cherished for reasons more like aesthetic appreciation than like “practical utility” or success in the marketplace.

“Discoveries often happen on the way to something else.”

There is an order to the drift of economic life as it grows and expands, but it is not the order of challenge and response more common in the military. Rather, the order is more like biological evolution. The more niches filled within a given ecology, the more efficiently that ecology uses energy and the richer it is in life and the means to support life. Similarly, economies that produce amply and diversely for their own people and for export, are better off than economies that are specialized.

In addition to innovation, many other things are needed in an economically vital city – energetic adaptation and replacement of imports, a cluster of cities of the same size with which to trade, sources of inefficient and unorthodox capital for new little ventures, and a “third hand” that protects new ventures from established ones.

What about artists?

Artists and artist “incubators” are additional sources of innovation that were not on Jacobs’ mind. They need investments and nurture, too, and not for their practical utility.

“Friends of the Rag” was a loosely-knit group of between 20 and 50 artists, clothing designers, costume artists and artists making wearable sculpture who were active in Seattle in the mid ’70s. While it would be difficult to prove that these artists were in any sense directly responsible for the emergence of a strong fashion industry in the area, they may well have played a critical role in generating the energy that made Seattle a place for innovative fashion, clothing design, and imaginative costumes. They changed the atmosphere, the spirit and the overall sense of creativity and potential in the Seattle clothing world. They infused it with imagination and innovation.

Innovation, invention, and especially aesthetic curiosity are traits that are being specialized right out of our culture, and the trend may be intensified by the separation of artists into their own worlds. Separating artists from the ongoing life of communities (as happens increasingly) might actually be detrimental to a healthy economy. Jacobs wrote in a 1988 letter to me, “By isolating artists or relegating them to the margins of ‘normal’ life, we have also been eliminating from ‘normal’ life traits that are part and parcel of economic development.”

Is the economy of artists different?

How much is an artist’s process like other economic processes? Are the two similar, just in different realms? Or, if we assume that specialized realms once considered distinct often overlap, might we not find that the economics of artists’ worlds overlap with the broader economy?

Instead of speaking just of the “economy,” economic writers often refer to the “political economy” based on the assumption that the two (politics and economics) cannot be separated and that politics is not distinct from economics. Can creative or cultural concerns be separated any more easily from either politics or economics? What phrase might we use to reflect the reality that creativity and culture also are not distinct from the realms of economics and politics, and vice versa – maybe “political and cultural economy” or “creative political economy”?

How can we create ways to support the messy, inefficient work of artists and inject it into everyday life in specific places? In Jacobs’ terms, economic development occurs when cities “produce amply and diversely for their own people, as well as for others.” Isn’t there the chance that, in some inefficient and open-ended way, this will help cities increase their ability to produce amply and diversely for their own people, as well as for others?

Ways we could take action

We could learn from percent-for-art/public art programs that establish diversionary “toll gates” that direct to art work a small percentage of the money flowing to capital projects of various governmental jurisdictions. Presumably, this money feeds and nourishes the capital projects through artists’ work, as well as feeding and nourishing the artist. Using this experience, we could learn how “economic development” dollars work and where they flow within private and governmental agencies. Then we could set up similar toll gates and direct some of the money to artists, supporting them to nurture economic development with their energies, in the messy and inefficient way that Jacobs suggests.

We could provide a place for artists in “business incubators.” These facilities (sometimes governmental, sometimes private, sometimes university-based) provide work space, support, and working capital for new little ventures.

We could find places and roles for artists in private enterprises as well – in the research departments of large companies, in partnership with small innovative companies, and in collaboration with other inventors and scientists.

We could involve artists in the economic development process in other ways – make it more like an artist’s process. How could artists participate in setting economic policy and in deciding where economic development dollars flow?

And, just to repeat what Jacobs told me in her 1988 letter . . .

By isolating artists or relegating them to the margins of ‘normal’ life, we have also been eliminating from ‘normal’ life traits that are part and parcel of economic development.


1  “City Views: Urban studies legend Jane Jacobs on gentrification, the New Urbanism, and her legacy,” interview by Bill Steigerwald, Reason.com, June 2001, the quotation I use is on the last page.  <jane jacobs interview Reason mag>


Aging & economics: a simple equation

“Are aging and the economic slowdown linked?”

A news article forwarded by a friend carried this headline. Without reading the piece, the headline immediately reminded me of a story I’ve tossed around informally for some time. I tend to pull it out in conversation whenever I or someone else in my general age bracket expresses concern about whether or not our money will last as long as our lives will.

As an equation, it might look like this:

My equation crop

I’ve never expressed it quite this way before, but here’s how I tell the story:

Using round numbers, I say, imagine that I started earning my own living at age 20. I was actually older than that, but it’s close enough and saying I was 20 makes the equation easy to figure out. Then suppose that I decided to stop working for pay at the societally-assumed “retirement age” of 65. I didn’t, but again I’m not quibbling about details. The kicker comes when we add the final assumption, that I might live to be 90. The average life expectancy for a woman my age has been going up and is currently about 86.5 years – again, the number is close enough for the purpose of my storytelling.

The simple arithmetic of the story suggests a conclusion.

Someone living according to my equation would have an earning life of 45 years – just half of a full 90-year lifetime. Hmmm . . . that seems to imply we’d have 45 years to generate 90 years of living expenses, two years’ worth for every year worked. Applied to real life, the equation seems crazy. The equation is all too simple, I know, since it doesn’t account for many things. Obviously, it works well now for a certain segment of the population. For many others, though, the economic life it points to is difficult if not impossible, and on the scale of an entire society, it’s hard to believe that the formula could possibly work.

My equation comes from thinking about the connection between aging and economics in the life of an individual, that is, it’s focused on the “economic slowdown” (or steep decline) in the lives of many older people. The news story I started with, on the other hand, considers the slowdown in the economy as a whole, a slowdown that a new academic study traces to our aging population. Written by Robert J. Samuelson for the Washington Post, the article begins with this sentence:

“An aging United States reduces the economy’s growth – big time.”

The study, out of the Harvard Medical School and the Rand Corp., a think tank, claims that: “The fraction of the United States population age 60 and over will increase by 21% between 2010 and 2020.” Then, Samuelson reports, the study estimates that this aging cuts the economy’s current annual growth by 1.2%, which is approximately the difference between the growth rate from the 1950s to 2007 (about 3% per year) and the rate of growth since 2010 (about 2% annually). This leads Samuelson to conclude, “If other economists confirm the study, we’d probably resolve the ferocious debate about what caused the economic showdown. The aging effect would dwarf other alleged causes…”

Samuelson discusses reasons for why an increasingly older population would reduce economic productivity. It’s partly because there are relatively fewer workers left to support production, but that accounts for only about a third of the slowdown, according to the study. One theory for the rest, Samuelson says, is that older societies may be more cautious with their spending, valuing stability and being more restrained, less experimental and optimistic. On this point, my equation would suggest their “cautious spending” is not necessarily about their sense of adventure but rather about their pocketbooks.


You’ll find the Washington Post article, which appeared in the August 21, 2016 issue, here.


A curse? An identity? A necessity? A calling?

Thinking about how we think about work matters

“Are you retired?”

In answering the friendly barista facing me with a smile, I stumbled a bit to find the best way to answer. You’d think, being well past traditional retirement age, I’d have a ready answer to such a straightforward question. My hesitation, though, had little to do with my age – I’m happy to be 71, lucky to be healthy in body and spirit, and always ready to acknowledge how old I am. The challenge was the meaning of the word “retire” and the assumptions it makes about work and jobs.

Am I working now? Well . . . “yes and no” or “on and off” or “it depends.”

Yes, I still need to make money beyond what I get from social security and modest savings. But even if I didn’t have to, I’m not sure I’d want to stop working, at least not as long as I can define “work” in the large, loose, multi-faceted way I’ve defined it over the years. Lines that might help me define my work have always been fuzzy – lines between my work and my social life, between work that pays my bills and work that I’m driven to do, lines between when I’m working and when I’m having fun.

The meaning of “work” as I’ve experienced it in my life doesn’t fit the conventions for it that typically surround us. In general usage the word is most often restricted to effort where money changes hands, and for many too many people that work is nasty and unsatisfying, especially if they’re at the bottom of the pay scale. But a whole world of real work is left out when it’s defined this way.


John Budd, a university professor who studies and teaches about work, employment, and labor1, claims that the way we define work, the way we think about it, is deeply important to how work is structured in practice. A short piece on his blog “Whither Work?” considers the roots of our words for work and described the long history of negative associations with these words in our language.2 “Words indicating labor in most European languages,” he wrote, “originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction, and persecution.” The French word travail and Spanish trabajo are derived from the Latin, trepaliare, to torture, to inflict suffering or agony. “The German arbeit suggests effort, hardship, and suffering; it is cognate with the Slavonic rabota (from which English derives “robot”), a word meaning corvée, that is, forced or serf labor.”


But the meanings aren’t always negative. “While travail is rooted in torture, another French word for work, oeuvre, comes from the Latin opus relating to accomplishment and creativity. The word work itself is rooted in the ancient Indo-European word werg meaning, simply, “to do.” Budd concludes that words for work can be negative (to torture), neutral (to do), or positive (a work of art).

I was introduced to Budd’s ideas about work a few months ago at the first Chat Room, a quarterly forum on art in the age of the internet.3  Subtitled, “Value and Labor,” this event also posed a more specific question: “What are the trade-offs for artists, creative freelance workers, and other independent contractors in an economy altered by the internet?” As an introduction to these more specific questions, Minh Nguyen, the forum organizer, began by presenting John Budd’s “ten key conceptions of work.” Many other strands of the evening’s discussion were also fascinating, but the range of his ideas definitely got my attention.

a curse
a commodity


In his 2011 book, The Thought of Work,4 Budd elaborates on these ten views of work and in the process explodes the narrow definitions we commonly use, narrow definitions that reduce work “to a curse or to a commodified, instrumental activity that supports consumption.” Being a fan of lists, I include his list of ten ideas.

A curse.  An unquestioned burden necessary for human survival or maintenance of the social order.
Freedom.  A source of independence from the dictates of the natural world, a way to express creativity and build culture.
A commodity.  An abstract quantity of productive effort that has tradable economic value.
Occupational citizenship.  An activity pursued by human community members entitled to certain rights.
Disutility.  A lousy activity tolerated to obtain goods and services that provide pleasure.
Personal fulfillment.  Physical and psychological well-being that provides more than extrinsic, monetary rewards.
A social relation.  Human interaction embedded in social norms, institutions, and power structure.
Caring for others.  The physical, cognitive, and emotional effort required to attend to and maintain others.
Identity.  A method for understanding who you are and where you stand in the social structure.
Service.  The devotion of effort to others, such as God, household, community, or country.

a job
as commerce
as a calling

Budd differentiated kinds of work in a much more fine-toothed way than I did in “Unpaid, in Spite of Their Value.”5 I made one main distinction, and it was bigger and more diffuse than any of his. Having learned from artists, I distinguished between a “job” and “work,” between work as commerce and work for the common good, between jobs that pay the bills and work that could be called a calling. And by calling, I mean work we’re compelled to do by something other than money – writing poems, composing songs, and making photographs, or teaching, neighborhood clean-ups, and caring for children. I’m grateful for the reinforcement I get from Budd’s multiple views.

Beyond simply identifying the various root definitions of work and his ten conceptions of it, Budd strongly believes that the way we think about work matters. “This should be more than an esoteric, intellectual exercise.” Our unstated views of work affect public policies and laws. When the unpaid work of artists, parents, and neighborhood volunteers is not viewed as “real work,” policies around compensation and benefits, for instance, don’t include them, and without money changing hands, the work and often the person doing it are less valued than wage-earners, not only by the world at large but too often by the people themselves. Budd writes:

“The linguistic features of work reflect the realities of human work… As a society, we need to re-connect with the deep meanings of work not only for individuals but also for democracy. We need to develop new norms that value work that is not rewarded by the labor market and create institutions for improving how work is experienced.”

I’ve thought about multiple meanings of work as I’ve gone from one sort of work to another, and I’ve done so right through my 60s without much of a pause at “mile marker 65.” While I’m sure our specific understandings of what we mean by work will keep changing, I suspect I won’t stop doing it any time soon.

It was ideas like these, bouncing around in my head as I stood in front of my barista friend, that made it hard to give a quick and coherent answer to her question about retirement.



  1. John W. Budd, biographical sketch,
  2. Budd, “Whither Work?” blog site
  3. Chat Room, at the Northwest Film Forum, Seattle
  4. Budd, The Thought of Work, Cornell University Press, 2011
  5. Anne Focke, “Unpaid, in Spite of Their Value,” on this site


The Future of Work and Workers, update

Unpaid, stampin Spite of Their Value

Last year a short essay of mine was published in the online version of Pacific Standard magazine as part of a series of columns on the future of work and workers. I also posted it on this site, “Unpaid, in Spite of their Value.” The columns were the result of the magazine’s special collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Authors were asked to address this question:

What worries you most — and/or excites you most — about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?

Since then, two things have happened. First, Pacific Standard posted a complete archive of this collection of columns on its website here. The columns are insightful, provocative, scary, useful. Check them out.

Secondly, I was invited to read at the Richard Hugo House, Seattle’s center for writers, as part of a program, “Writing for a Cause,” with Nick Licata, former Seattle City Councilmember; Anastacia Renee’, queer super-shero of color, writer, and performance artist; and Elissa Washuta, member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and writer. I chose to read “Unpaid…” As I practiced reading it aloud, I discovered clunky sections that were hard to read, ideas that seemed missing and others in the wrong order. I like it better now, and in the process I discovered a new (for me) way of editing, one that performers have probably known and used for centuries. The piece on this site now reflects these revisions.

9099 Logo-red_D, nick squared

Penny U at Town Hall

Coffeehouse token from the Beaufoy Collection at the Guildhall Museum, drawing by Gordon Ellis
Coffeehouse token from the Guildhall Museum, drawing by Gordon Ellis

Penny universities were safe havens for political discussion, exchange of ideas, and civil debate.

Since fall 2014, I’ve co-organized a series of informal conversations called Penny U. We’ve borrowed its name from 18th century London coffeehouses called “penny universities.” For the price of a penny, people got coffee, pamphlets, the latest news and gossip, and lively conversations on politics and science, literature and poetry, commerce and religion. The low cost led to a mingling of people from all walks of life. Anyone of any social class could frequent the coffeehouses, which became associated with equality and civil society. Penny universities became safe havens for political discussion, exchange of ideas, and civil debate.

Conversations bounce from point to point.

In much the same way that I imagine conversation proceeding at 17th century penny universities, at our Penny U, one statement or question can quickly trigger another, and conversations bounce from point to point. The discussions are less linear, more complex and varied, than “point-counterpoint,” oppositional debates on a public stage. Penny U proceeds more like loosely-focused, living room conversations, sometimes taking seemingly unrelated leaps. For the first year and a half, we focused on the nature of work, how it’s changing, and what it might look like in the future. As we move into the future, we’ve loosened our focus.

Our aim is to engage everyone in the room.

Our conversations have often been jumpstarted by ideas from speakers on Town Hall’s stages. Although these talks regularly inspire us, the premise of Penny U is that everyone with an interest who takes the initiative to attend has valuable knowledge and experience to share. Our aim is to engage everyone in the room. To encourage this, the set up is informal, and the main event happens around small cafe tables in groups of 4-5.

* Penny U 3-15 mark, alice + crop* Penny U 3-15 steve + cropWe begin with a topic and a bit of background, but then pose questions to prompt conversation among the small groups. Though it’s easy for the conversation to turn to big, fairly abstract ideas, we’re urged to tie big ideas to our own daily lives.

* Penny U 3-15 whole group, cropAt the end, we reconvene as a whole to share highlights from each table, and that typically leads to more questions, more conversation, and an energy that’s often hard to stop. Notes collected at each table provide a basis for a summary which is subsequently posted online.

One thing I appreciate about our Penny U conversations is the mix of people who come. Most people are meeting for the first time, and they very often end up in conversation with people from worlds quite different from their own.

* Penny U 3-15 susan, miles + crop* Penny U 3-15 buster, laura, randy cropOne evening, for example, we had employed workers, a couple of students, and several people who have retired though still working on some level. Among the kinds of work done by people in the room, there were artists and writers, an architect, geographer, engineer, barista, Lighthouse for the Blind worker, foster parent for dogs, and a retired carpenter, financial advisor, and stock broker. The status of their employment also varies – full-time, part-time, temporary, volunteer, independent contractor, and not working. Like early penny universities, we mix interests, ages, fields, incomes, and cultures for face-to-face conversation about things that matter.

Coffeehouse pennies, or ‘tokens,’ were ‘essentially democratic.’

And, about those pennies . . . here’s a quote about coffeehouse pennies from a book about London’s penny universities in the 1600s.

In the seventeenth century, the coffee-men, in common with other tradesmen, issued their own tokens or coins. They originated through the shortage of small change and were usually for a halfpenny or farthing. For the most part they were of brass, copper, or pewter, but some were of gilded leather. They bore the name and address and calling of the issuer, the nominal value of the piece, and usually some reference to his trade. They were redeemable at the face value and were acceptable at any of the shops in the immediate neighbourhood, but they rarely circulated beyond the next street. As C. G. Williamson has said: “Tokens are essentially democratic; they would never have been issued but for the indifference of the Government to a public need; in them we have a remarkable instance of a people forcing a legislature to comply with demands both reasonable and imperative. Taken as a whole series they are homely and quaint, wanting in beauty, but not without a curious domestic art of their own.”*


* Aytoun Ellis, The Penny Universities: A history of the coffee houses, first published 1956 by Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., London, page 36.

The first Penny U at Town Hall was in October 2014, the most recent in April 2016. Penny U is co-organized by Anne Focke, at large, and Edward Wolcher, Town Hall. I posted reports from and advance notes for the first year of Penny U conversations on a different website, pennyuni.blogspot.com.

Thanks to Jean Sherrard for Penny U photos.


Basic income – How would it affect us as human beings?

Report from Penny U

Didn’t Penny U talk about basic income before?

Yes, indeed, this is essentially the same topic that prompted a Penny U conversation back in December 2015. [More about Penny U here.] We suspected then that there was more to say on the topic…and we were right! So, for Penny U in March 2016, we used this as our overarching question:

What would happen if everyone received a basic income, regardless of the work they do or what their financial status is?

This second Penny U on basic income was organized in partnership with Town Hall as usual, but was held in the cabaret at the Richard Hugo House – a space that’s very conducive to discussion. The specific questions for the evening included one that triggered the discussion reported below:

Would a basic income lead to fuller lives and an increase in the common good, or would it encourage people to be lazy and to work less?

A second set of notes [here] reports on other conversations that evening that took up other questions. Some got more into the nitty gritty of how it would actually work: If basic income is a good idea, should everyone get the same amount, and where would the money come from? And others ttook a big picture view and considered the whole of society: Would a basic income just be a concession to capitalism, and why are we having this discussion now?

In drafting both sets of notes, I haven’t tried to synthesize the conversations, opting instead to try to more closely reflect its spirit, offering a record that’s more like dialogue. So, as you read, imagine lively exchanges, each one a combination of four or five discrete voices at one of four tables, all talking at once. The animated conversation went on for a good two hours and sometimes headed in unexpected directions. The notes add a modest order to it all by grouping somewhat similar ideas together.

Our hope is that Penny U gives us practice listening to each other and speaking up, whether uncertain or confident, whether drawing on study and research or on our daily lives; a place where we hear our own voices and listen closely to others, even when faced with conversational styles and ideas fundamentally different from our own.

What would happen to our sense of self worth if everyone got a basic income?

“Our jobs are linked to our feelings of self worth,” one person claimed. “Our sense of purpose in life is tightly tied to the way we make a living. We become what we do.” The speaker worried that today many, maybe most, people have no habit of defining themselves. “We let our jobs do it for us.” She went on to say that it would be a huge shift in the basic framework of our lives and our understanding of who we are – psychologically, emotionally – if we didn’t have jobs to give us a purpose. As an example, she mentioned friends on social media who “don’t love their jobs,” and she’s aghast at what they do with their time off.

“Our identities very often come from our jobs; we become what we do.”

“Perhaps having basic costs covered would take the fear out of having or losing a job.” Without that fear underlying their lives, they’d be freed up to define themselves in new, more meaningful ways.

“But, if people are released from the burden of economic fear, would society’s necessary, sometimes unpleasant, work still would get done? Would people just be lazy?” On the other hand, maybe we could “run society like a household, where everyone takes turns doing the unsavory jobs.”

“I’ve been an artist/writer all my life. It would be easy for me to fill my time, I’ve had practice. But, so many people haven’t had the chance to define themselves, and it could take a long time to adjust.” How long would it take for most of us to develop a purpose-driven life? “I’m nervous about our ability to float while we make this transition. Money has been such a driver.”

“Who says not producing something has no value!”

“A basic income shouldn’t be tied to individual results. Who says not producing something has no value!” “The program wouldn’t be a failure if some people simply sit back. That will happen.” “It isn’t necessarily bad if some people don’t get engaged. That can benefit society as well.” “We have such a Calvinist approach. Society’s understanding of work and our sense of what’s valuable are huge cultural hurdles to an idea like this.”

“We need to change our mindset about leisure. Leisure is meaningful. Education could help us. Its purpose can be directed to developing skills for a vocation or it can be directed to the liberal arts. College should be free.” “A college for all one’s life.” “Has social security created a lazy generation of seniors?”

“Young people will find their self-actualization outside their jobs.” – Andy Stern

In a 2014 discussion of similar themes, former SEIU President Andy Stern told a Town Hall audience, “My 3-5 year-old niece and nephew won’t think about work the way we do.” Referring to his own generation, he went on to say, “We often found our social environments through our work, our jobs. Young people won’t, and many have already made that shift.” They find what he called “their self-actualization” outside their jobs.

Would people still fight for supremacy, still strive to get the most or the best?

“People will always seek the advantage, everyone wants to optimize. Trying to convince others to our way is an universal aspect of human nature.”

“But, is this just an institutional overlay? It isn’t true everywhere. If this impulse is allowed free reign, we’ll lose our democracy. Fighting for supremacy is a way of moving forward in a patriarchy, characterized by an attitude of ‘you’re with us or against us’.”

“Can we shift to seeing ourselves as part of a collective whole?”

“How can we develop a spirit of cooperation, can we see ourselves as individuals who are part of a collective whole? How do we encourage a culture of generosity?” “The commons gives us a different mode. It is an ancient system that still continues in many ways and in many places around the world. The commons is not, as a famous essay, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ by Garret Hardin, suggests, an unregulated resource to be taken advantage of by everyone. It is a resource, used by many and managed by the community that uses it, and this community of users establishes rules, values, and protocols for its use.”

“I’m feeling optimistic. Surprising, radical transformations are more possible now.”

“Younger people are less sympathetic with radical competitiveness. They feel they’ve been given a ‘bait and switch’ deal, for example, big college debt for jobs that are disappearing. It’s why they’re in love with Bernie Sanders.” “I’m feeling optimistic.”

[This conversation continues. See additional notes, here.]


Basic income – How would it work and why are we talking about it now?

Report from Penny U, part 2

Basic income – from details to the big picture

If basic income is a good idea, where would the money come from? And what drives the need for more equitable income?

This is the second set of notes from a Penny U conversation in March 2016. An introduction to the topic overall and the first set of discussion notes is here. Those notes discussed ways a basic income might affect or be affected by who we are as human beings . . . for instance, would it affect our sense of self worth?

These notes cover groups who instead focused on specifics such as, if basic income is a good idea, where would the money come from and should everyone get the same amount? Others took up a big picture view that considered society as a whole: are proposals for a basic income just attempts to mitigate capitalism, and why are we having this discussion now?

How would a basic income work?

Can we find the funds? Should everyone get the same amount, or should there be prerequisites for getting the money??

One group was quite optimistic about funding. “We could go back to a truly graduated income tax and levy a large tax on high levels of income or capital gains. We could institute Thomas Piketty’s global wealth tax. We could use the War Tax. We could democratize the workplace by creating more co-ops.”

“The amount of a universal basic income would not be enough to live on, so we’d need a hybrid approach.”

“In Brazil a basic income for families comes with incentives or requirements for doing certain socially positive things, like ensuring that children attend school and be vaccinated.”

“A German experiment with basic income requires an assessment of kids at a certain age, which raises a potential pitfall of people getting pigeonholed into a predetermined role or job when they’re young.”

“The question of prerequisites points to a distinction between the term ‘universal basic income,’ which means unconditional income with the same amount given to all, and the term ‘minimum basic income,’ which asks for proof that you need it.”

“Does universal basic income conflict with the goal of racial and gender equity, since women and people of color historically start with fewer assets? Should they get more?”

“Perhaps we could pay wages for housework as an alternative to giving basic income.”

“A danger is that universal basic income sounds new and exciting compared with the tired old social welfare language. A libertarian view would replace all social welfare programs with a basic income. Leave the choice of what to spend money on to the individual. Appeal to ‘American individualism’, and to our ‘freedom as a consumer’.”

“What we really need is a universal basic income with social welfare underneath, not instead of – a hybrid approach.”

More and more questions

“Would drug and alcohol addiction be more likely with an unconditional basic income, or would people be freed from stress, making it less likely they’d need such substances?”

“Would a basic income allow people to remain on or reclaim rural areas?”

“How big an impact would it have on a global economy? Should it be implemented on a global or a regional scale?”

“Is basic income an authentic solution for communities in distress? What would it mean for communities of color? Would it exacerbate gentrification?” “How universal is this idea? Is it just a white-guy dream of exploring the universe in a post-capitalist world?”

It has to be a dream on top of a broader social movement.

“Basic income isn’t really a political program with a coherent organizing concept that people can come together around. It has to be a dream on top of a broader social movement.”

“It would be exciting if basic income could it be used as a basis to begin building a local economy, to develop a cooperative way to aggregate the funds. We could grow the community by spending locally, and we’d feel connected to our neighbors.” “Working cooperatively confronts the myth of individual achievement.” “This would be easiest if the payments came in lump annual sums rather than smaller monthly payments. We’d need cooperative banks.”

“It all comes down to organizing.”

How would any of this actually get implemented? “It all comes down to organizing.”

The big picture: considering capitalism and the whole society

“Questions about a basic income can’t be asked without considering the whole of society, its conditions, and what really counts. It depends on effects we can’t predict.” “It’s designed for a Keynesian economy that doesn’t exist.”

Is a universal basic income radical enough?

“Discussing a universal basic income raises the question of what capitalism means. And, would universal basic income just be a mitigation?” “Like many other proposals, providing a basic income is a concession to capitalism. A market place would need to exist on top of it, along with continuing differences in wealth.”

“This country’s obsession with individualism is based on a flawed understanding of the history of our economic reality. Resource exploitation and slavery established the basis of our economy and gave us a wildly unrealistic sense of the power of individual efforts.”

We don’t have successful examples. Right now, a basic income would be a pure experimentt, like the Soviet Union’s experiment of taking a feudal Russia directly to communism.

“Perhaps trying to implement a basic income in a society with such a well-established social economy as the U.S. is a bad place to start. Some other kind of base might have to be established first. We just don’t have successful examples.”

“We’ve ceded public responsibility to the private sector, basically selling off the public. And this has been going on since the ‘80s. Would a basic income, paid for by eliminating social welfare/safety net programs, open up the possibility to finish the job quickly? to just drown the baby ­– that is, government, maybe even democracy?”

Why are we having this discussion now? What drives the need for equitable income?

Two common responses provided a kind of backdrop: 1) the rise of automation that is destroying people’s jobs and 2) the increasing income gap. These two background causes seemed to be accepted by everyone, but conversations went from there.

The only reason we’re even discussing this now is to prevent social upheaval.

“It comes from necessity. We need a new version of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Understanding the history of the New Deal could help it happen now.” So, how did that come about? “Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins just kept pushing him forward, and eventually he got on board.”

In his message to Congress on the State of the Union in January 1944, Roosevelt introduced what has come to be known as his “Second Bill of Rights,” or “Economic Bill of Rights.” In introducing his eight rights, he said: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”

People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Penny U participants went on to talk about conditions today: “Both the private sector and government are worried that if jobs are eliminated, there would be overwhelming discontent.” “It’s possible that the private sector will get the incentive to establish and fund a basic income so people will have an income and be able to buy private sector products.”

“There’s momentum for this now. The left is interested and beginning to organize. The tech world is optimistic and getting into the act. Who knows? New markets might be formed. There are many unknowns.” “We need to start creating jobs in a whole different format.”

“The best and quickest way to solve all this would be by electing Trump. The youth are very anti-establishment. ‘Bern it up, or burn it down.’ Take the system and ameliorate it, or burn it down.”

We can’t just ask for this. We have to repair our democratic power first.

“There’s so much to do! Can social pressure encourage people to get involved? Lots of people have a sense of duty. Can we build on that?”


Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights” ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm

The Roosevelt I Knew, by Frances Perkins bestpossiblelife.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/frances-perkinss-book-the-roosevelt-i-knew-reissued-as-a-penguin-classic/


9099 Logo-red_D, nick squared

Jumping & Hustling

Rebecca Brown on teaching and paying the bills

Rebecca Brown at Hugo House Jan2016 cropOften someone else’s words describe something so well that the words become a reliable reference point. In pursuing my curiosity about the nature of work, the following passage has done this for me. It appears in “An Interview with Rebecca Brown,” by Alex Davis-Lawrence, which is published in Moss, Volume One.1 After speaking about why and how much she loves it, Rebecca says this about teaching…

And of course it’s paid a lot of my bills. At different times in my writing, I’ve made nice money, but I have not supported myself entirely with writing. So, I don’t teach out of the good of my heart as much as the need of my pocketbook. [laughs] As far as the range of different places where I’ve taught – libraries, prisons, universities, colleges, workshops, Hugo House, living rooms, summer camps – when I first got out of graduate school, I looked for a full-time tenure-track teaching job and I got turned down a million times. But over the long haul, I’m glad I didn’t find one job and then just stick to it forever. I’ve had to kind of keep jumping, hustling, and you get to know different people if you’re out there. I think I have a broad sense of what’s out there, because I haven’t been full time secure in one location or job.

Now I see young friends who are getting full-time tenure jobs pretty early and I’m, like, “watch out.” Like, don’t become someone who gets so secure in a job you kind of stop writing. I think sometimes if you lose the hunger, you kind of, I don’t know…lose the edge or urgency you need to make your work.


1  Moss is an online journal dedicated to bringing Northwest literature to new audiences and exposing the emerging voices of the region to discerning readers, critics, and publishers. It was founded in 2014 and publishes three times annually. Moss, Volume One, put the first three online issues into print, September 2015.


What if everyone, unconditionally, received a basic income?


Image from website, "We Are Anonymous"
Image from website, “We Are Anonymous”

The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

–  Martin Luther King, 1967 3 

What would happen if everyone received a basic income, regardless of the work they do or their financial status? Would it be a good idea? If so, how could it become policy? How would it be funded?

About 20 people discussed this in small groups around cafe tables at Town Hall in December last year. Most, but not all, of us felt it is a good idea, though with much elaboration and many caveats and questions. Three tables of participants simultaneously discussed the ramifications of the idea based on questions posed in advance:4

  • Assuming that rules could be changed and funding found, is a guaranteed minimum income a good idea? Would people use their time well? Would it lead to fuller lives and an increase in the common good? Or would it increase laziness and freeloading?
  • If it is a good idea, how would such a mechanism be put in place? How would we build “a countervailing power,” “unrig the system,” and make rules that allow this to happen?
  • If it’s a good idea and the rules are changed, how would it be funded? A citizen’s bequest, a return on the use of personal data, eliminating the current welfare system, some other mechanism?

“A basic income would create a less competitive society and promote true democracy by giving us time to invest in it.”

The first group spent their time in a spirited discussion of the many reasons a basic income is a good idea: The policy could decrease income inequality, reduce racism, reduce stress, and improve health. A basic income would give everyone the opportunities that having more time offers, time to spend with and care for their families, to build relationships among neighbors and strengthen the social side of our lives. It would also “liberate people to discover their true professions,” would make room for creativity and provide the freedom to be authentic. It would create a less competitive society and promote true democracy by giving us time to invest in it. They didn’t address the practical side of putting such a policy in place or funding it, but they did raise few questions: Would things cost more? Would inequality just emerge in other ways? Could climate change be the catalyst to work together toward solutions like this? Who is against this and why?

Two views: “Without competition there is no freedom.” “Could we rely on cooperation instead?”

Right at the start, people at the second table discovered they were not in agreement about the value of a basic income. Beginning with the assumption that, as the first table also assumed, a basic income would reduce competition, the first speaker at this table said, “People need competition. Without competition there is no freedom. My job gives me money which gives me freedom.” Another believes that a basic income would take away an essential structure: “If I misbehave at work, they don’t pay me. That gives me structure.” Others in this conversation were supportive of the basic income idea. “What about a structure based on cooperation instead of competition? We’re so used to a competitive market it’s hard to see any other options, and other models are available.”

This beginning took the discussion in many directions, quite beyond its initial focus on a basic income to such topics as: alternate economic systems, the need to consider the common good, the availability of the commons as an alternative to marketplace commerce, Adam Smith’s belief that competition and “following your bliss” would have socially desirable results, Gates Foundation philanthropy, the government’s role, and the possibility of requiring work in exchange for basic income.

“A new type of education might be needed to help people find their true calling.”

The third table managed to cover all three questions. They reported being pretty laid back and comfortable with collective organizing and with the idea that a minimum basic income could increase people’s ability to pursue their passions and their creativity. They also thought that a basic income would make volunteer time more highly valued, reduce the status attached to wealth, and perhaps require a new type of education, one that would help people find their true calling. They wondered whether the policy would lead to inflation and how diversity would be expressed. And, quite beyond that, they wondered whether a plan like this that serves the common good could actually be put in place. The challenges include the current state of capitalism, our individualistic culture, and the fact that economic power rests with the ultra rich, lobbyists, and corporations. This economic power, they thought, might be countered by the political power of a much larger and broader base.

Where would the money come from?


One person, critical of the basic income concept, was nonetheless eager to offer an idea that could support it: establish a government-run life insurance program where, at death, the proceeds are returned to everyone. The folks at table three came up with quite a long list of possible funding strategies: take from the war defense budget, maybe 5%; create a new national model for income taxation; close tax breaks and loopholes; institute 401Ks or socially responsible investments; tax places that aren’t taxed now, like churches and charities; eliminate the welfare system; address food security through gardens on roofs; save money by recentralizing municipalities and establishing new practices such as water systems that use gray water. They’d really like to see examples of functional economies that could support a system like this. And when each of the three groups came together toward the end, another idea was proposed: “How about a 100% estate tax for everybody?”

Clashes and new questions when we came together 

Strong but differing opinions on the effect of competition on freedom kicked off the exchange when we reconvened as a single group. For a few, freedom requires individualism and competition, which would be undermined by a basic income; and for many others, a basic income would make freedom possible – it would mean reduced competition and compulsory overwork, less stress and inequality, and time for relationships, volunteer work, and creative interests.

A few questions came up as we closed: Does anyone feel uncomfortable with the idea of people getting money without working for it? If education is available more broadly and more people choose it, the economy will grow – should it? And finally, a question about whether there is social and intellectual value to work drew a quick reply: “Yes, when the job is freely chosen.”


1 Penny U is a conversation series on the nature of work, how it’s changing, and what it might look like in the future. Learn more here.

2  In Switzerland in fall 2013, activists dumped eight million coins outside Parliament, one for each Swiss citizen, in support of a referendum that would institute a universal basic income.

3  Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967.

4 More detail on the questions posed can be found in the introduction to the Penny U session here.


Private Resources for Public Good: An annual forecast from Lucy Bernholz

“How do we carry the core purpose of civil society into the digital age?”

“As we return to an era in which more than half of full time workers may be freelancing, the systems of social supports are going to have to change.”

“Perhaps more people’s working lives will begin to look like those of independent artists and less like life-term nonprofit corporate climbing.”

“If the economy is undergoing fundamental shifts, what role do we want nonprofits, foundations, and other social economy actors to play?”

Excerpts, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016
Lucy Bernholz

photo of Lucy

These are all quotes from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016, by Lucy Bernholz. I offer them to suggest the range of topics covered in her latest annual forecast for people working in and interested in philanthropy and the social economy.

Every December for the past seven years, Lucy, a self-professed philanthropy wonk*, has written a forecast for philanthropy and the social economy – that is, the economy that uses private resources for public good. She provides insight into big ideas that will matter in the coming year, makes specific predictions for 2016, identifies buzzwords that will likely come into prominence, and offers glimpses into deeper concerns she sees coming over the horizon. She packs a lot into the forecast’s 24 pages. I’ve had the good fortune to work with her since the publication was just an idea. In general terms, my role is as sounding board, clarifier, and editor.

The latest installment, Blueprint 2016: Philanthropy and the Social Economy (link below), was published just last week by GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Center. For the past six years, Lucy has been pushing her readers to expand their understanding of the social economy beyond just nonprofits and charitable giving to include a wider world that includes social enterprises (B Corporations, L3Cs), online alliances, social impact investing, informal networks, and political activism. She has also been a consistent voice urging greater awareness of our “digital civil society,” in other words, the ways we use our private resources for public benefit in the digital age.

blueprint_2016_fina            blueprint_2015cover

Last year’s Blueprint 2015 contained sections that provide a great summary of both the social economy and digital civil society. Especially if you’re not familiar with Lucy’s thinking or with these concepts, I highly recommend it. The Blueprints may be annual forecasts, but their value extends considerably beyond a single year.

The structure of work

Working with Lucy always teaches me a lot, and this year I was especially excited because one of the two big ideas she urges us to watch next year has also been on my mind: the structure of work. She considers how work is changing and how these changes apply to philanthropy and the social economy. She says:

The coming year is shaping up to see the issues of workers’ rights, wages, and income inequality raised to the level of national and regional political topics. It’s time to consider how the changing workplace and its impact on lives and communities influences nonprofits, foundations, and civil society.

She considers research on the impact of advances in robotics and automation. She mentions scholars and activists focused on inequality and on increasing wages for the lowest-paid workers. She provides statistics that support the conclusion that “almost half of us – with or without smartphone apps and the rhetoric of the ‘gig’ economy – are working by the project or one-off opportunity whether we recognize it or not.” We’re freelancers and part-time or temporary workers.

She emphasizes that, as we enter an era in which more than half of full-time workers may be freelancers, the systems of social supports (from social security to health care, taxes, childcare, and retirement funds) are going to have to change. Having spent almost all my working life as this kind of worker, I wholeheartedly agree.

One approach to revising – or reforming – our system of social supports was the topic of discussion in a different setting, a recent conversation at Seattle’s Town Hall, organized by Edward Wolcher and me under the series title, Penny U. The discussion revolved around the establishment of a minimum basic income – an idea championed by Martin Luther King, conservative economist F.A. Hayek, and Robert Reich.

Artists’ work

In Lucy’s Blueprint 2016, I especially appreciate that she includes artists in her thinking. The following two passages among others, appear in this issue:

Some of civil society has operated as a ‘gig economy’ for a long time. In particular, artists and activists have often spent their entire lives weaving in and out of ‘regular jobs,’ doing their work independently and as part of institutions.

Even if only a handful of the predictions being made about the future of work are accurate, many more of us, not just artists, are likely to need the skills of designing our own work lives as hybrid part-time workers and self-employed entrepreneurs rather than just taking full-time jobs defined by others.

And more

The 2016 Blueprint investigates and provokes questions about many other related topics. The short quotes I use to start this piece only begin to suggest the range of compelling topics and themes covered. Rather than spend any more time summarizing them, I simply suggest that you go to GrantCraft’s site (links below), download your own copy, and read the original.

Here are a few more quotes to tempt you:

“Given all the changes in the nature of employment, the spread of automation, and the fluctuating value of data, we’re bound to see new enterprise forms.”

“We need to develop governance models, organizational norms, and new policies for digital civil society.”

“We need to understand and adapt the ways data and algorithms are used to shape public policy.”

“In today’s online environment, the less data collected, the safer the individual.”

“What does a social sector characterized by networks, distributed governance, and greater rates of spending look like compared to what we know now?”


* Lucy Bernholz has worked in, consulted to, and written about philanthropy and the social economy since 1990. Now she is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and works at the Digital Civil Society Lab, which is part of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS). Her blog is titled “Philanthropy 2173, on Twitter she’s known as @p2173, and she posts most of her articles, speeches, and presentations online at www.lucybernholz.com.


•   Read the press release for Blueprint 2016 here.
•   Download Blueprint 2016 here.
•   Download Blueprint 2015 here.
•   Connect with Lucy’s blog, Philanthropy 2173 here.
•   Find more about the Digital Civil Society Lab here.