Life Inc Resource Guide

To celebrate the paperback release of Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take it Back, I assembled a guide to resources and organizations who exemplify the post-corporate strategies for commerce and community. But since so many people already purchased the hardcover, I didn’t want to penalize them, so I’ve put the resource guide up here for anyone to use.

Here’s the beginning of my introduction to the guide.

But Wait: There’s More
The Life Inc Guide to Reclaiming the Value You Create

Yes, there’s hope. A lot of it. The economic crisis has laid bare a lot of what’s wrong about the way we work and live. Many people are recognizing that we are running our society on obsolete software – legacy systems of money, government, and commerce that are simply incompatible with the modern, post-colonial world.

But it’s hard for people to see past these obsolete systems, or that there’s any option besides restoring them. It’s hard to imagine how to start a business without a loan, how to get goods and services without dollars, how to work without finding a company to offer employment, or how to invest or save without banks or the stock market. We are so used to working through corporate institutions, we have trouble imagining alternatives for any of our activities.

It’s not that we have to get rid of corporations or stop working through them entirely, however. They are great for making smart phones, building bridges, shipping crude oil, or developing medical devices. But they’re less effective on the local level, when people might actually be able to serve one another’s needs more efficiently, and in ways that encourage transaction, sustainability, and meaningful employment.

After finishing this book, I visited Lansing, Michigan, devastated by the collapse of GM. Most people I spoke with wanted to know how they could convince GM to re-open a plant, or a big bank to invest cash in their town. Until then, they believed, they were all out of work. Under the false assumption that money creates jobs (instead of the other way around) they were looking for an external injection to kickstart their economy – even though it would ultimately result in a further extraction of value from their community.

What most of people I engaged with over this past year couldn’t fully grasp was that they already had all the necessary components for an economy: people with needs, and people with skills. Even land. All they were lacking was a means of exchanging the value that they could create for one another. There was plenty of work – just no cash in circulation with which to keep track of who was doing what for whom. All they needed to do was develop a simple alternative currency or barter system and they’d be back in business.

I realize that this suggestion sounds romantic – even old fashioned. It may seem as if I’m suggesting we return to the Middle Ages, the last time our economy was characterized by peer-to-peer exchange. All I’m actually proposing is that we reinstate a few of the simple social and business practices that were made illegal back then. We don’t stop using corporations; we merely re-introduce some other means of getting things done. Just as choosing to walk to work doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your car, choosing to work and exchange with other people on a peer-to-peer basis doesn’t mean eliminating all corporations from the landscape. We can co-exist with them, each offering the other support and a backup plan. Corporations can come through with technology and infrastructure that support local business, while thriving local commerce provides and alternative source of employment and stability when corporations go out of business, as they did in Lansing.

Some readers, in less dire straits but just as committed to taking back the world from corporatism, felt daunted by how few specific suggestions I made for taking back the world. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group sounds, well, just too easy to fix any big problem, and too inconvenient to bother with. Or a babysitting club? Like that’s going to take back the world?

I believe it can. And, more importantly, you can.

In the opening chapter of the book, we looked at how each compromise we make to corporatism leads to further compromises. Choosing to purchase her prescriptions at Wal-Mart over the local pharmacy led one mother to stop attending Parent-Teacher Association meetings, for fear of running into her former druggist’s wife. When public schools get worse, too many community members think they need to go it alone, and spend their time and energy trying to earn more money to pay for private school when they could be joining with other parents to make the public system better – from the bottom up. Decisions made under the fearful, self-interested presumption of corporatism reinforce one another in a negative feedback loop.

Likewise, each tiny choice we make to take back our world leads to a long chain of positive effects. Start a babysitting club and you form closer relationships with neighbors, you get more quality time with your spouse, you learn about your neighbors’ kids and give your own kids more role models. You build a support system, a community, a network of friends, opportunities for employment, and you help to counter the isolation intentionally built in to the suburban landscape. Join a CSA and you take back your nutrition from Big Agra, reduce your dependence on trucking and oil, challenge the artificial efficiencies of fast food, force reconsideration of zoning laws, and support organic practices – making them cheaper and more competitive in the process. Yes, little ideas and little choices are what matter – especially in a world where the big ones are the province of brands, lobbies, and other highly abstracted and centralized entities.

A young reporter for a major news magazine interviewed me about this book shortly after it came out. She couldn’t understand how such big problems could be solved without similarly “big ideas” – as if one kind of problem demanded an equally sized solution. But real people don’t engage with the world via big ideas. We engage through activities that are scaled to real life. Big ideas – at least the kind we recognize as big ideas – are for big entities: corporations, countries, continents. If we’re going to begin operating on a human scale at least some of the time, then we must abandon the one-size-fits-all way of doing things. That’s just another artifact of the Industrial Age, and its bias towards highly mechanized, repeatable, manufacturing.

By enacting small ideas, often on a local level, we reconnect with the innate power we have as living, human beings. We reify the dignity of this scale of existence, and begin to experience the world from the perspective of people rather than that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Plus, we regain our home field advantage against corporate players that have yet to fully incarnate.

There are as many ways of engaging with the real world as there are real people – and just as many ways of creating and exchanging value, too. The rulebook that works for one group in one region may not work for another. Besides – there’s no need for us all to approach commerce and community the same way. That’s a logic borrowed from corporatism, in which a single company wants to sell lots of the same thing to everyone. In the real world – the one we are restoring – people exchange ideas and models with one another, to use how they please.

So let’s spread some of these ideas right here. In order to demonstrate just how accessible so many of these first steps are – as well as to give you some real and ready resources to begin – I have asked some people and organizations who are already taking back the world to share their strategies with you.

Some of the steps we can take to reclaim our world from corporatism may sound crunchy and lefty, while others might sound right wing or crassly commercial. I encourage you to read with an open mind, paying less attention to the style of each business or organization, and more to the way its founders solved problems, envisioned solutions, and drew support from other people rather than forming dependencies on banks and other corporations. These are each sustainable enterprises, built from the bottom up to answer real needs, employ real people, and contribute to making the world a better place.
And you could be doing any one of them.