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The Wealth of the Commons and Public Benefit Financial Institutions

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More wealth has now become concentrated in the hands of the elite than in the years leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. The middle class has lost trillions of dollars in accumulated wealth, largely transferred to the top of the economic pyramid.

Much has been written about this phenomenon, but solutions are in short supply. Doesn't so much power concentrated in so few hands leave the rest of us powerless? Actually no, there are vast resources available to us.

Those resources reside in the "wealth of the commons," that is, the natural and human resources in our hands and heads. The key is figuring out ways to redeploy those resources to directly benefit society and the planet, not just the few.

The current system can survive only if we keep feeding it. By turning our energies in other directions, we can fundamentally change the world for the better.

The futurist Buckminster Fuller famously said "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a NEW model that makes the existing model obsolete." We at the Commonwealth Group have taken his words to heart.

Today we have unprecedented tools for collective efforts, like the Web, email, social networks and so on, that can rapidly assemble groups of likeminded people around a common goal. All it takes is a small, dedicated group to develop a plan and take it to the rest of the world. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." We think it is time to change the world.

Below are a number of ways we have come up with that can help to change the world for the better.

Financial systems are the key

At the heart of all our institutions is the need for money. Money is directed and controlled by the world's financial systems -- ripe and ready for fundamental change. The near collapse of basic credit to small business and the artificial propping up of the "too big to fail" Wall Street banks are just some of the signs that those financial systems are already collapsing.

In the meantime, as in nature, other organisms spring up in the gaps left by the old dominant system and the more those new organisms nurture and support each other, the more likely their survival.

Applying those ideas to financial systems, we have identified the following areas where we can create new means by which the world of finance can serve us rather than the other way round. We refer to these replacements as Public Benefit Financial Institutions.

Stock exchange

No financial institution has come to epitomize the worst of the current system more than the speculation driven excesses of stock exchanges. Exchanges have been called nothing more than gambling casinos favoring insiders who increasingly appear to control the game.

Stock exchanges should fill a vital role in providing businesses with capital. Yet they seem consumed with the buying and selling of exotic financial instruments from which vast fortunes are made, often at the expense of others, rather than focus on that less profitable role of providing capital.

It is not just the financial manipulators that benefit while hurting the rest of society. We also find that companies listed on those exchanges are caught up in a similar "profit at all costs" game. Short-term profit-driven behavior that trumps all other objectives appears to be behind their unparalleled influence over our governments, the despoiling of our environment and the destructive cycles of our economies.

What is needed is a new kind of stock exchange, one that returns to the fundamental role of providing capital to companies and is an honest arena for shareholders to buy and sell their ownership interests in those companies. It should also be one that rewards the corporate behavior that benefits society and the planet, so that companies not only prosper but behave in ways that we all would like.

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Michael Sauvante is a California entrepreneur with over 30 years business experience. He has founded and run over a half dozen small companies, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Along the way he accumulated a great deal of (more...)
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