Posted: Wed, November 07, 2012 | By: Amon Kalkin
Capitalism versus Socialism
Without wanting to argue the reasons for it here, I’d like to begin by noting that we are now mired in the worst economic, social, and political crisis since the Great Depression. There exist a number of informed arguments to the effect that things are likely to get much worse. In times like these, the question of deep societal paradigm shifts rises to the surface of public consciousness.
Marx‘s (in)famous analysis of political/economic paradigm shifts stated that Capitalism had supplanted medieval Feudalism, and was continuing to accumulate wealth in the hands of a tiny minority. Around 150 years later, his concerns are clearly still current. His own opinion was that a certain point would come when the ultra-wealthy minority (those we now call “The One Percent”) would be unwilling to give up their privileged position, and their vast resources would protect them from moderate reforms such as proportional taxation, so the only option remaining to the majority would be armed revolution. Off with their heads.
Marx’s views were of course Communist, expressed within a wider context of Socialist thinking. Socialism (and later Communism, in Marx’s view) was to be the paradigm to succeed Capitalism. Things didn’t really work out that way, of course. There was something of a Capitalist/Socialist stalemate after World War II, and then we had the premature announcement of the death of Communism & Socialism around 1990, with the fall of the Soviet Union (not to mention Francis Fukuyama‘s related and frankly ridiculous announcement of the “End of History” at the same time). Now, with the global financial and economic crises, Socialism seems to have made something of a comeback. Once again, “Socialism versus Capitalism” conversations are common.
Of course, some groups (such as the “New Labour” movement in New Zealand and the UK) have tried to fuse or balance Capitalist and Socialist principles to varying degrees of success. I have personally started to wonder if the answer lies not in either Capitalism or Socialism, nor even in a fusion or balance of them, but in the creation of an entirely new paradigm…
A Post-Socialist Paradigm
…or should I say the re-emergence of an older paradigm?
People understandably tend to have a negative view of Feudalism, since it involved an authoritarian King handing out gifts to loyal Lords while serfs were lucky to find a plot of land to work. This hardly sounds democratic or egalitarian, because frankly it wasn’t – even if you do a little homework to bust some of the more caricatured myths about the power relationships between Kings, Lords, and Peasants.
Anyway, what I’d prefer to focus upon here for a moment is the theoretical basis of Feudalism. I find it helpful to ask the question “what is the basic functional unit of an ideology”? In the case of Feudalism, this is arguably obvious – the Feudum, or Fief. A Fief was a plot of land which included some basic resources (e.g. arable land, woods with animals or even a stream in a high-value Fief) and a community on it who could work that land and resources to create products or services of value. The Lord of the Fief was an inherited title gifted by the King to a loyal and valuable servant – invariably a soldier sworn to raising troops and/or money for the King’s need when called to do so. Lordship of the Fief was passed on to the firstborn son, but the Fief could not be sold – this was the King’s property, and the King’s resources. Peasants were technically “Freemen” who could come and go as they pleased, but the reality was that by living within an established Fief you were protected from aggressive outsiders by the Lord’s authority, and as long as you paid taxes for living within the Fief you would in principle be generally unmolested. Social Mobility was not exactly a feature of this system, and principles of egalitarianism and democracy were simply alien concepts.
The interesting thing about the Fief is that it is composed of two natures, or has two interrelated functions. On the one hand it is a resource that can be worked to create greater value (in the form of taxes, goods, or a standing army available for the King’s use). On the other hand, it was also a community – a place where people lived and died, and developed their own local group identity. The Fief was it’s people, as much as it was a thing or a place with certain other physical attributes.
Now, let’s take a look at the subsequent paradigms of Capitalism and Socialism, and their basic functional units. The essential unit of Capitalism is of course Capital – i.e. resources which can themselves be used to create greater value, or an increase in resources. Capital can take the form of physical property, equipment, natural resources, or indeed money. The essential unit of Socialism or Communism is the Community – i.e. the people and/or workers who make up society. Everything in Capitalism is geared toward the accumulation of Capital, with benefits to humans considered somewhat tangential to the essential workings of the system. Everything in Socialism or Communism is geared toward the wellbeing of the Community, with the details of trading systems considered somewhat tangential to that wellbeing.
Put this way, it seems quite reasonable to surmise that the essential ideological units of Capitalism and Communism are the separated descendants of the essential ideological unit of Feudalism. The Fief was composed of both Capital and Community, whereas a sole emphasis upon Capital spawned Capitalism, and similarly a sole emphasis upon Community spawned Communism (and Socialism, more broadly). It is then a natural step to ask ourselves: Can we imagine a future reintegration of these components in some new form?
As Feudalism gave way to Capitalism, the people who had once been Lords found themselves transitioning into the class of Capital owner/traders. Those who had once been Freeman peasants working the land now became the more general ‘workers’ and consumers. A reintegration of Capital and Community would also imply another round of role transformation, as opposed to the simple abolition of the first class as advocated by Marx. Before we can hope to understand what new form these roles might take, we must consider what a future version of the Feudum (Fief) might look like.
For a start, we understand that a new equivalent of the Fief would have to be part territory, part status-symbol, part Capital, and part Community. In today’s distributed, digital world, this “Neo-Fief” could and should not be limited to physical or geographic territory. It must be a kind of functional unit within society; an organizational concept applicable to both physical/geographic and virtual/distributed scenarios. Just as the Zero State relates to the traditional concept of the Nation-State, so this new organizational unit would relate to the medieval Fiefdom. Given this, it would make sense to expect that the Zero State could be composed of these Neo-Fief units.
We can already see some of the features which the Neo-Fief might be expected to have. Within Capitalism, the vast majority of benefits of production go to the Capitalist ownership class. Within a Marxist system, there is no such class, and benefits are distributed equally among the working class. A combined Capital/Community organization could reasonably be expected to distinguish between owners and workers while still sharing benefits equally between all. After all, without either group, without effective management of Capital or Community cohesion, the overall organization cannot be both ethical and successful.
Another implication is that a replacement for the functional role of the King is required. In Feudalism, the King owned and controlled the Fiefs, by conquering new territories and awarding status to loyal allies. This is clearly inappropriate in the modern age, not to mention anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, and quite simply unworkable. In my opinion, the role of King can only be taken by an authority recognised by multiple ‘Fiefs’, otherwise the system will devolve into resource and identity conflicts. Neighbouring Capital-Communities need to be encouraged to respect each other’s boundaries by the presence of common interests and organization. I also strongly feel that while the authority in question could be a traditional geographic State, it could also be a distributed entity such as the Zero State. Additionally and evolutionarily speaking we know that humans aren’t much good at representing common communal relationships in groups of over 200 people or so. In other words, local identity and community bonds – loyalty to common interest – will break down if the Capital-Community is too large.
Taking all of these things into account, I envisage a new type of ‘Fief’ for the modern age. Although this organizational unit within society bears strong resemblance to the medieval Feudum, there are significant and important differences, so I will coin a new term to denote it: The Zerone. I call it this both to evoke the Zero State and to imply a functional unit within a larger whole by rhyming with neuron(e). The Zerone can be geographically implemented but that isn’t necessary. The Zerone’s defining features are threefold:
(1) It is composed of both Capital/resources of some sort and a Community – the size of which must be no more than 125 people – preferably around 100 maximum.
(2) although the function may change over time, the identity of the Zerone should relate to its function; i.e. the nature of the work that the Community does on its Capital.
(3) The benefits of such work must be shared equally between all members of the Zerone, be they Capital owners or workers, and – albeit less importantly – the work of each Zerone should in some way generally benefit the Zero State as a whole.
I must make clear at this point that although Zeronism involves an integration of Capital & Community as did Feudalism (unlike both Capitalism and Communism, which separate them out), Zeronism is not a form of Neo-Feudalism. There are too many critical distinctions between the two paradigms for such conflation to be accepted, as will be explained further below.
The intent of the rest of this post is to clarify and expand upon the description of the Zerone. In doing so, it draws upon questions and comments gratefully received from Michael Hrenka, Niles Calder, Dirk Bruere, & Rüdiger Koch. I’m determined to explicate the Zerone idea as clearly as possible – both so that we can unearth any unforeseen implications, and so if the idea is rejected by ZS (in which case I would automatically side with ZS and shelve the idea) then at least it is rejected on the merits of the idea itself, rather than some misperception of it.
01 Are all Zero Staters also Zeronists?
At this stage, no. Zeronism – the idea of the Zerone – is new, and still being developed. The only requirement for Citizenship within the Zero State movement is acceptance of the Zero State Principles, which do not currently make any reference to Zerones whatsoever. That said, if the idea is widely accepted, then a day may come when the role of the Zerone is described in the Principles, and/or Zeronism and the Zero State movement are popularly perceived as one and the same.
02 Why should the benefits of a Zerone be shared equally between all members? How is that compatible with any kind of meritocracy?
The idea of equally sharing benefits of trade, innovation or work between Zerone members is absolutely critical – quite likely the most critical aspect of the Zerone idea. Without it, there is nothing to distinguish between Zeronism and Capitalism, in which the Capitalist class (who own the means of production) “siphon off” the vast majority of the Community’s wealth. The difference between Zeronism and Communism, however, is that this equal sharing only applies within the Zerone – there is no explicit mechanism for ensuring equality between Zerones, or indeed between individuals where at least one is a member of more than one Zerone.
As for how to reconcile this equal sharing of benefits with meritocracy… that is indeed not entirely obvious. All we can say at this stage is that there may be different forms of meritocracy within a Zerone, but they may not apply to the sharing of material benefits from work. For example, Citizens with a demonstrated ability to get certain things done may have greater weight given to their opinions or ability to make decisions unilaterally under certain conditions (a kind of meritocracy Zero State members have started calling “Zerocracy”), but they should still never get more than an even share of material rewards within the Zerone.
03 What is the relationship between Zeronism and this word “Zerocracy”?
In the past I have spoken of balancing direct democracy and meritocracy where possible, but this has raised the question of what is meant by “meritocracy”, since the defining of ‘merit’ can be abused in order to create a corrupt and ironically anti-meritocratic system. In other words, if being born into a certain family is considered to have greater ‘merit’ than having certain skills or talents, then something has gone wrong. Some ZSers suggested that we refer to ZS as supporting “a kind of meritocracy” (hinting at our favouring of ‘Adhocracy’ and ‘Do-ocracy’), and from there we coined the term “Zerocracy”.
Just as all Zero Staters are not currently Zeronists (or at least, not necessarily), Zerones needn’t be run in a ‘Zerocratic’ manner. At its most essential, a Zerone need only have no more than 125 members, and share the benefits of its work equally between all members. A Zerone that is part of the Zero State must furthermore do nothing explicitly or deliberately contrary to the Zero State Principles. Zerones within the Zero State will probably tend to be run with a combination of direct democracy and a sort of meritocracy – i.e. Zerocracy – but they are not bound to do so.
04 What is the relationship between Zeronism and Kalkinism?
Kalkinism is my personal philosophy of total revolution, or periodic renewal of all areas of human concern. As such, it is a relatively vague superset of Zeronism. A successful Zeronism would represent a revolution in the organization of Capital and Community so that the benefits of work are equally shared in small groups, and as such it is effectively a subset of Kalkinism.
05 Is Zeronism a form of Neo-Feudalism? If you want to go back to feudalism then just do nothing. That is the stated intention of ‘the 1%’ after all.
To reiterate the point above: Zeronism is not a form of Neo-Feudalism. In Zeronism there are no Kings, no Lords, no requirement of communal living, no removal of modern rights, and an insistence upon wealth sharing that simply doesn’t exist in Capitalism. I have no desire whatsoever to “go back to Feudalism”, any more than I have a desire to support Capitalism run rampant or join a Communist revolution. This is about creating a new paradigm. The only thing this new paradigm has in common with Feudalism is the integration of Capital and Community; After all, who would say that Capitalism and Communism are the same because they both insist upon a separation of Capital and Community?
As a slight tangent, I should note that I do not personally think the One Percent want a return to Feudalism. That makes for some good anti-Capitalist rhetoric, but it ignores the fact that under Feudalism the One Percent would become Lords of a sort, and would have to hand ownership of their Capital – and their rights – to a King. I think that what the One Percent want is something more like a post-Feudal Aristocracy… an Oligarchy or Plutocracy where those few with vast resources control everybody else, but they are in turn not controlled by any higher power.
06 Isn’t Zeronism just a form of Anarchism? What’s the difference between a Zerone and a (communitarian / (anarcho-)communist / anarchist) worker community/collective owning and using capital for its own purposes?
Now this is an interesting point. After giving the matter some thought, I’m fairly sure that the Zerone could be described as an Anarchist concept, and that Zeronism could be described as a specific form of Anarchism. It is a specific implementation of Anarchist ideals, insofar as it is compatible with the essential precepts of Anarchism as a whole, but incompatible with certain other specific visions of how Anarchism might be implemented.
For example – and this is an important example – I am personally convinced of the view that any emergent society of Anarchist enclaves with no confederating superstructure would eventually devolve into a new round of communities with different governmental systems attacking each other for the usual reasons. In other words, without disincentive to attack your neighbour, some enclaves will become “cancerous”, developing local non-Anarchist belief systems, and attempt to force those systems upon others. The Zerone idea explicitly requires mutual respect between Zerones, acknowledging each other as functional units within a larger Zeronist system, such as the Zero State. If any given Zerone were to become “cancerous” then it would no longer be recognized as a Zerone by the other enclaves in the network, and treated accordingly. Other Zerones could (and should) freely cooperate to contain the emergent aggressor.
Another example, which I’ll go into a little more detail on further below, is that some forms of Anarchism call for the dismantling of class divisions, in a development presumably inspired by Marx and Communism. Zeronism does not call for or require the abolition of private ownership.
07 How does the concept of the Zerone relate to that of a Syndicate as conceived in Anarcho-Syndicalism?
There are certainly some strong similarities between Zeronism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. There are also, however, two key differences that I can immediately identify. The first is that Anarcho-Syndicalists are opposed to having a State in any form, whereas Zeronism does insist upon a kind of “Federal level” with a strictly limited jurisdiction, as mentioned above. This is probably a minor point, since this objection from Anarcho-Syndicalism is almost certainly a mild point of contention between Zeronism (and the Zero State movement) and Anarchism as a whole.
The second key difference is that, like Communists, Anarcho-Syndicalists insist upon the abolition of a Capital-owning class, whereas Zeronism pointedly does not. In other words, a Zerone may contain people who work, and others who simply own valuable Capital (but all share the benefits from the work equally). Within a Syndicate there are only workers, and everyone owns the Capital equally.
08 So, it’s compatible with both Anarchism and Capitalism (of a sort)… is Zeronism a form of Anarcho-Capitalism?
My understanding of Anarcho-Capitalism is that it calls for a complete or near-complete dismantling of the State, while leaving intact the mechanisms and agents of Capitalism (such as a Capital owning class, companies and corporations). In this, Anarcho-Capitalism seems to essentially be the polar inverse of Communism (which would dismantle the mechanisms of Capitalism and maintain a strong State). Although the words “Anarcho-Capitalism” sound like they should denote something compatible with Zeronism, the idea described above most definitely is not. So-called “Anarcho-Capitalism” is essentially an extreme position within Economic Libertarianism, that there should be no controls or limitations on Capitalism; A kind of Ultra-Capitalism.
09 What we’re actually talking about is a form of tribalism, isn’t it?
You could call Zeronism a form of Tribalism I suppose, but it wouldn’t be a very meaningful description. Given that Zerones need not be related to physical/geographic space in any way, they would not be “tribes” any more than there are already “tribes” on the internet now.
10 What are the implications for nonviolent revolution?
The spirit of Zeronism is to focus upon building viable alternatives to Capitalist (or indeed Communist, or Feudal) social-economic-political systems, rather than upon tearing down the extant Capitalist systems. Bloody revolutions tend to oppose the incumbent paradigm, and treat developing an ethically superior alternative as a secondary concern. Reversing those priorities requires an emphasis upon freedom of choice. The only point at which violence should be justified is when the freedom to use alternative social-economic-political systems has been denied, with (implicit or explicit) threat of authoritarian violence.
11 What are the implications for Futurism or Transhumanism?
Zeronism is a paradigm that would be impossible to implement without modern technologies (most obviously, the internet), and perhaps more importantly in emphasising wealth distribution it explicitly advocates the benefits of technology being made as widely available as possible. Beyond that, support for Zeronism and Futurism/Transhumanism are technically orthogonal, but are certainly compatible.
12 How could this be implemented across modern, Post-Industrial Society? A missing piece of the ideology is how to extend this across the entirety of society or even the globe. Zerones of poor people will be far less viable than zerones of the rich, or a mixture.
In keeping with the statement about personal choice above, I would not state that my goal is to spread Zeronism as widely as possible. What I would say, however, is that I’d like to see freedom to join or create a Zerone spread across the globe. Where such freedoms are not available, then there is a problem with authoritarian repression.
The question of the viability of poor / low-Capital Zerones is a critical one, addressed more fully below. For the moment, the short answer is that it is true that people with no resources or Capital, or a lack of available skills, are going to have an extremely hard time setting up a Zerone. The same could of course be said – even more so – of such people’s prospects within Capitalism. At least within Zeronism, once people can do some useful work they will be rewarded appropriately for it, and growth can begin from there. Within Capitalism, even where such people are able to find work of some sort, they will still be exploited by Capital owners who extract most of the value from a project.
13 Can outside capital owners invest in a Zerone? What would they get back exactly in return?
That depends upon what we mean by “outside”, or indeed “invest”. A Zerone must have Capital (by definition), and as I’ve stated does not require or call for the abolition of private ownership. This means that within some (or most, or all) Zerones there will be people whose principal or only contribution is Capital that they personally own. There is no “outside” investment in the sense that to invest one must be a member of the Zerone, and indeed that runs against the grain of what is often thought of as “investment”. In short, ‘outside investment’ is possible to the extent that the investor is willing to be a ‘member-stakeholder’, whose contribution is Capital, and who receives no more reward than any other member.
14 Why should we expect Zerones be a competitive entity? Fiefs didn’t turn out to be competitive entities. Today we have lots of corporations, but no fiefs.
On one level, Zerones have a major advantage over fiefs, in that they need not be and usually will not be geographically-based, centralized entities. It is much easier for a Zerone to select its membership based upon their skills and resources than it was for the land-bound medieval fief; In this the Zerone starts to look much more like a Community-Company than a mere geographic neighbourhood.
There is, however, a critical issue here, relating the questions of competitiveness and Capital investment. The Zerone would appear to be inherently less competitive than a Capitalist company, because it will attract less Capital on the basis of returns on investment. In a company, a Capital investor can expect to receive a share of profits much larger than the wages paid to employees. Within a Zerone, this is not possible: Every member must receive an equal share of the profits. This means that purely in terms of investment mathematics, Zerones are less attractive as investment opportunities than are companies. Communist communities don’t have this problem, because “investment” in Communism is supposed to come in the form of support from a central authority (the lack of reliable support and inherent authoritarianism are the most common criticisms of Communism, of course).
At this stage, this is still an open and important question. The best answer, for the moment, appears to be that Zerones could reasonably be expected to be stable (not to mention ethical) forms of investment. So, just as Communities can provide protection to humans in troubled times, the Zerone might also provide a kind of stable haven for Capital. With no more than 125 members per Zerone, an investor should expect no less than a 0.8 percent share of all profits. This will naturally lead to small investments, except in situations where the profit margin is very large or the Zerone is deliberately kept very small (e.g. three workers plus one investor = 25% profit share) and the Capital owner does not mind creating extremely wealthy workers.
In short, as the idea currently stands there is no reason to expect that the rich holders of large amounts of Capital, or companies, would choose to invest in Zerones: The profit share is too low relative to other stakeholders (i.e. the workers). On the other hand, people with modest resources grouping together to improve their collective lot would be well-advised to organise on this basis. Multiple investor-members each putting in more modest amounts of Capital may well be interested in a modest profit share from a successful Zerone. A 0.8% minimum profit share would give a substantially greater return than buying a few shares in a major company, if the Zerone’s commercial project was successful.
15 How do Zerones relate to companies? Are they an alternative to a company? A new kind of company? A building block for regular companies? Or a completely orthogonal concept?
Zerones are not Capitalist companies in the sense that they are both limited and free in ways that do not automatically apply to companies. From the point of view of Zeronism, a Zerone could be a company, provided having the basic features of a Zerone (e.g. equal profit share) were compatible with the appropriate jurisdiction’s commercial law. Large commercial projects would require voluntary confederations of Zerones – which also allows the Zerone to act as a small Trade Union of sorts – so yes, the Zerone could be viewed as a “building block”.
Companies are intrinsically Capitalist phenomena, so the real question here is whether Zeronism and Capitalism could co-exist peacefully. I believe they could – this view would see Zerones operating alongside or even in cooperation with companies, focusing on what they do best and leaving the companies to continue doing what they do now. I can imagine Zerones operating like a Kibbutz or a subcontractor… itself a non-Capitalist organization, but having points of contact and cooperation with the dominant societal paradigm’s organizations – in our case, being companies.
The short answer to this question is “potentially all of the above!”
16 There also the analogous question about how Zerones relate to more classical communities. Is a Zerone something like a “Community+”?
Yes, I think it is. Just as Zerones are a little like companies and could (to an extent) replace them or cooperate with them depending upon context, I think they’d likely have a similar complicated and context-dependent relationship with traditional communities. A Zerone would only map on to an extant, local or geographic community where that community voluntarily and collectively agreed upon operating as a Zerone; there would be no process of “converting” communities. I expect that the most common form of Zerone would be the entirely virtual community organised around a common constructive purpose or business model. If you leave aside the commercial aspect for a moment, such communities already exist in large numbers across the internet – they just don’t identify as Zerones and follow the basic rules of being a Zerone… yet.
Just as we wouldn’t expect companies to cease to exist (at least not through the agency of anything described as part of Zeronism), we shouldn’t expect non-Zerone communities (online or off) to disappear either. The Zerone would simply be a new organizational vector weaving its way through society, combining and integrating Community and Capital by following a very few, very simple rules.
17 Can you be a member of two or more Zerones at the same time?
Yes, upon reflection I believe this is necessary. People whose principal membership role is Capital investment may wish to invest across multiple projects/Zerones, and similarly people with a wide range of skills or interests may wish to keep their fingers in a few different pies. Of course, it is up to their fellow members to decide whether they are “pulling their weight” and therefore allowed to retain their membership in any given Zerone.
The original reasons for insisting upon a small Zerone size were twofold: To stay well below Dunbar’s Number, and to make investment at least feasible given the equal-profit-share rule (even if not attractive to large investors). People having membership in more than one Zerone isn’t a problem regarding investment (in fact, it could be very helpful), but the issue of people finding it hard to relate to large numbers of fellow-members does persist. I expect that we’ll simply have to adopt a “wait and see” attitude to this, to see if problems emerge with multiple membership. If any such problems are not significant, then I would imagine them to be outweighed by the potential benefits.
18 How is the size restriction of a Zerone enforced, meaning what happens exactly when a Zerone exceeds the critical member limit? Even if a Zerone is split into two Zerones they both have so much in common that there should be a meta-entity that still binds them together somehow. If we stay with the neuron metaphor, such a meta-entity could be something like a cortical column.
I can certainly imagine the emergence of “meta-Zerones”, ranging widely on a scale of formality from loose similarity to common engagement in some activity (such as being part of or subcontracted to the same company). As for the enforcement of Zerone size, I would expect that to be self-enforced, with the alternative being that the community is no longer recognised as a Zerone by others in the network – which would automatically have negative practical consequences. In other words, a Zerone choosing to have larger or unlimited membership would be considered “cancerous” in the sense discussed earlier, and ‘contained’ accordingly. Of course, if the maximum membership rule turned out to have no significant utility then all of the Zerones might choose to abandon it together, but I believe it would have utility for the reasons already discussed.
Last but not least, a Zerone could choose to split into two – which would require some careful thinking about allocation of members (and therefore functions & Capital) – but I would imagine it would be easier to simply not accept new members after 125 people. If more people (skills or Capital) were still required, a new, cooperating Zerone would be formed, and the nature of the cooperation would have to be made explicit.
19 What is it exactly that holds a Zerone together? Personal relationships between their members? Working together on projects? Like-mindedness of some kind?
I think this will be to a large extent emergent, and decided by the nature of any given Zerone. Some may be more cohesive than others, and some may (at least implicitly) praise certain values or opinions above others. Given that the core nature of the Zerone is political-economic (i.e. a combination of Community and Capital), then I would expect efficiency as a functioning commercial unit would often – but not always – be the prime engine of integration and coherence. Zerones that do not have a strong shared identity, sense of Community, or confer any economic advantage to their members would most likely disintegrate, losing their members to other Zerones.
20 The vast majority of the resources/capital are in the hands of a vanishingly small proportion of the population who have no interest in sharing with anyone. There aren’t enough resources/capital left to share to break the global population down into groups of a hundred people.
That’s certainly true, if the intent is to “convert” the world to Zeronism, and all extant companies and communities into Zerones. As discussed earlier, however, that is not the intention. Where a group of people do have skills and Capital, then they may choose to form a Zerone if they so desire – knowing that their work would function as a unit within a wider ethical process of wealth redistribution. Individuals without Capital could seek to join existing Zerones, if they have skills (or anything else) that the Zerone prizes. People without any skills, connections or Capital whatsoever may well have great trouble, but certainly no more than they already do under Capitalism. At the very least, there is a slim chance that by organizing as a Zerone that might be able to create something of value… and then the resultant equal-profit-share would ensure that the entire group benefits, rather than just a small proportion of it.
If the objection is simply “it’s too late to get our money back from the Capitalists by legitimate means!” then what have you got to lose by trying? The longer we do nothing, the more money the Capitalist class siphons out of the system. The alternatives are to either (A) abandon all hope, or (B) become a Marxist and hope for all hell to break loose. Suffice to say, I feel that both of these approaches have many, many more inherent problems than Zeronism does.
21 Zeronism would only be workable if it was absolutely clear if resources were the property of the entire Zerone, and individual members were absolutely free to leave at any time.
There are two suggestions here; One I agree with, and one I don’t. First, we must bear in mind that a Zerone is not a fief – not a plot of land – and so it has no intrinsic Capital, and Zeronism does not call for the abolition of private ownership as Communism does. The key thing to bear in mind is that it doesn’t matter if an individual owns Capital, as long as everyone working that Capital to create surplus value shares equally in that surplus value. If a Zerone is formed with no Capital (e.g. lots of skills and interests, but no equipment or money to buy it) then it must attract Capital, and no Capital-owning person is going to want to be a member if they lose their Capital in the process. There’s a difference between being a radically ethical investor and being robbed at gunpoint by a bunch of Communists. Just because a Community attracts Capital and benefits in a fair way from working it, doesn’t mean that they should automatically own it. And if we agree that innovation is a good thing, then mobile Capital is a good idea too – Zerones, like all projects, will have exciting phases and less exciting phases. A person with Capital should be able to take their assets from one Zerone to another, or share their assets as they see fit. The members of the Zerone will benefit greatly (not to mention equally) from all profits or benefits that come from the work done on the Capital while it was around. If withdrawal of Capital is a problem, a Zerone can either attract more Capital from elsewhere, or simply dissolve.
The second point – that Zerone members must be free to leave at any time – is absolutely critical and fundamental to Zeronism. Membership of the Zerone must be fully consensual, subject to removing oneself voluntarily or ejection from the Zerone if the other members feel that contributions are in some way lacking. Although this idea is already vital to Zeronism in and of itself, it would be doubly reinforced with Zerones forming the body of the Zero State, since the freedom to leave unmolested at any time, without needing to state any reason, features prominently in the Zero State Principles.
22 The one person who makes the decisions within any community always ends up thinking that they’re special and deserves special treatment. This typically results in them taking more than their fair share, and trying to influence the decision of who replaces them.
That is certainly an unfortunate recurring theme in human history, but it is also incongruent with the stated nature of the Zerone. As I’ve noted, Zeronism itself does not mandate any particular decision-making style within the Community, although a Zerone within the Zero State might be expected to use a ‘Zerocratic’ mix of direct democracy and skill-and-initiative-oriented meritocracy. Most importantly, however, we must bear in mind two intrinsic aspects of the Zerone: (1) Anyone can leave any time they like, and (2) All profits and benefits must be shared equally.
It is, in short, hard to imagine what benefit there would be to staging a dictatorial coup within a Zerone, when any dissatisfied members can simply leave and declaring profit shares to be unequal would automatically invalidate Zerone status. ‘Neighbouring’ Zerones (i.e. those in the same network) would then act together to ‘contain’ the newly cancerous cell. To those who might say that they’d still be unhappy with a ‘dictator’ who didn’t disturb the equal-share rule: Let’s not forget that they still must effectively have constant democratic support within the Zerone. If someone starts making decisions that the majority of other members dislike, and refuse to step down as principal decision maker or change their ways, then the entire group can simply leave and form a new Zerone – sans the would-be dictator, and taking their Capital with them!
If all of these mechanisms can be undermined, then frankly we’re not really talking about a Zeronist community at all.
23 How do you plan to avoid the failures which dogged the commune movements of the 60s?
The well-known problems of many 1960s communes were a combination of unrestrained and vague idealism, lack of discipline (including a lack of clear, fair rules), and most importantly a total reliance upon shared habitation of a specific geographic location. Zerones are certainly idealistic, but very specifically so – no vague claims are made for the effect they’d have, beyond equal profit sharing for communal productive activity. The rules of what constitutes a Zerone are already clearer than those defining most 1960s communes, and are expected to become clearer and more fully worked out over time. Last but not least, Zerones are not exclusively geographic communities – in a successful Zeronist network I would expect a vanishingly small minority of Zerones to be defined by geographic location.
24 The vast majority of Zerones would not be based around land in the West or communal living – how do you address the question of attracting Capital / incentive to invest?
To a certain extent, this issue has already been addressed above. I have already noted that Zerones are automatically ill-equipped to attract large Capital investments, relative to a company or any Capitalist organization where the investor sees a vastly greater profit share than do the workers. That said, I have also noted above that Zerones may be well-suited to multiple small investments by Zerone members.
There is an unaddressed issue in this area, though, and that is the question of how a Zerone should best seek to attract Capital investment in practice. It seems clear that it is best to start with as small a group as possible, only admitting Zerone members where their skills would be a valuable addition to the task at hand. This will maximise the profit-share of any would-be investors. Next, members of the Zerone need to consider what proportion of the Zerone membership can be tolerated existing purely as investors, rather than taking active productive roles. Additional points that will need to be initially addressed include the nature of the productive work intended, development of a business model, establishment of an internal decision-making structure acceptable to all members, and criteria (to be posted publicly) by which future membership will be decided. Only after all of these things have been done should the Zerone contact whatever Federal/Network level exists (e.g. the Zero State) to officially announce and register its existence as part of the network. The overall network can then post details of the new Zerone, whether it is looking for members, what kind of skills or Capital they would ideally have, etc. Such an arrangement would obviously fit perfectly with the planned development of a business network within ZS.
25 To build a real Zerone, we need a reason for people to be in it. We also need at least one business model – probably multiple business models per Zerone. Is this a problem? How are these business models generated?
I can imagine the existence of Zerones that are collectively financially independent, have become so, or who have found a way to eschew the use of Capital for personal or ideological reasons. Such Zerones would not necessarily need business models. Most Zerones however, being productively engaged with work on Capital to create surplus value for their own micro-Community, would need at least one good business model. It is most likely that most Zerones would end up needing multiple business models over time, adapting to both conditions of failure and success.
The first thing I must stress here is that there is not, and nor should there ever be, a “one size fits all” business model for all Zerones. The minimum basic conditions for operating as a Zerone suggest that any successful Zeronist network would be extremely diverse, and operating in a state of constant flux. Given this, we should expect that each Zerone should develop (or beg/borrow/steal) their own business model(s).
The second and final thing is that we must never forget the single greatest advantage of Community, which is mutual support. The whole point of a network is that it allows redundancy, but never requires it. This means that once there have been a number of successful Zerone business models, then other Zerones must be free to adapt those models to new and innovative ends. This is another function that may be provided by a ‘Federal level’ network such as the Zero State; A permanent repository of the details of all Zerones that have existed, for free access and use by Citizens of the network.
This essay was originally posted at Zero State’s website, HERE