Relating to Resources

The first application of the four-step harmonic vibrancy move is to the resources that support human life. Resources are anything that is accumulated, whether tangible or intangible.[1] For example, food, housing, schools, and markets are tangible, while hunger, emotional support, learning, and feeling connected are intangible.

Gap Description
The first step is to define the harmonic vibrancy aspiration-reality discrepancy to be minimized. The aspiration people hold for resources is that they be easy to access, sustain, and use. The current reality is that resources are easily accessible, sustainable, and useful for some and not for others. Those in the “others” camp represent a large percentage of the human population. Across all sectors, leaders have suggested that everyone would be better off, the Haves and the Have Nots, if everyone had much greater resource accessibility, sustainability, and ease of use. Nonetheless, despite great efforts from business, government, and civil society, the Have Nots, as a percentage of the total population, remain the same. They experience scarcity of resources. There are many “melodic” moves attempting to address this scarcity. These melodic moves tend to share a common view of resources as static, independent, and scarce.

The economic frameworks that emerged from the uni-axial perspectives over the past two hundred years assume that resources are scarce.[2] This leads to working with resources as if they are static and independent from each other – an action taken influences only that resource and not others. This is the primary assumption underlying most forms of thinking about the resources that support human interaction. Its usefulness has been in isolating the behavior of a single resource and the primary drivers that increase or decrease it. It has also simplified resource management, in that responsibility for the growth and sustenance of the resource could be given to one specific person or authority. This benefit of local optimization of a resource has been proven, in many cases, to globally sub-optimize behavior of the social system.

It seems very natural to assume resource scarcity: there seem to be finite things that we have. We have to exchange things for them. We can get them or lose them. If someone else has them, I cannot get them. And, just because I want something, does not mean I can have it. Therefore, it seems logical that resources are scarce.

Other’s Experience
In the search for a healthier relationship with resources, a large body of work has developed over the last fifty years to understand resources as dynamic, interrelated, and abundant – it just matters how people are in relationship to them. The net increase or decrease in a resource is determined by the net result of the inflows to and outflows from the resource. Information about the state of the resource and its associated inflows and outflows influences other resources and decisions made about the resource, which in turn create a feedback loop that influences the inflows and outflows of the resource. These feedback loops either reinforce a direction of behavior or balance it, leading to growth, stability, or a hybrid of the two.[3]

Collectives are learning to work differently with resources, understanding these key dynamics.[4] One example is how people work with and accumulate “capital,” using it to support their needs. Capital is defined simply as any asset that is available for use in the production of further assets (see Figure 1).[5] Around capital, or any asset people are accumulating, there are two possible dynamics, capital growth or loan trap, which are both reinforcing behaviors – once they have been engaged, they reinforce the engaged behavior. The dynamics are simple, as is how they are engaged. The “capital growth” dynamic shows that as the accumulated capital exceeds the outgoing payment, there is more capital available for loaning. As the loan amount increases, and with it the collected interest on the loan, the incoming payment to the loaner increases, further increasing the accumulated capital, assuming the outgoing payment remains the same. The “loan trap” dynamic is just as straightforward. As the “true” price of one’s needs – the amount one needs to make each month to meet existing commitments – exceeds the “actual” price paid for work, then the benefits-needs gap increases. This pressures the individual to meet outgoing payments by borrowing, whether through a loan or credit, which increases the monthly outgoing payment, further increasing the benefits-needs gap. What engages one reinforcing cycle versus another is also straightforward: when the inflows to capital exceed the outflows, then capital increases, otherwise it decreases. When the actual price – one’s incoming payments, whether for work or loaned capital – is greater than the true price – one’s outgoing payments, whether for needs or loan – then one can be in the capital growth dynamic. Otherwise, when the true price exceeds the actual price, one can be in the loan trap dynamic. A large percentage of people in industrialized societies are in the loan trap cycle, slowly converting them into the Have Nots, while a much smaller percentage is in the capital growth cycle of the Haves. While this dynamic is particularly insidious around financial capital, it is directly analogous to any resource, where people are able to engage (1) a resource-growing cycle, loaning excess resource, or (2) a resource-depleting cycle, borrowing and repaying someone else’s resource.[6]

This example shows how the resource is abundant and can be perceived as scarce, depending on how people engage with it. This is what many collectives are learning – they are shifting their agreements around resource accumulation, usually within the current, scarcity-based system.

Figure 1: Capital Dynamics

Axial Description
To minimize the aspiration-reality discrepancy, a move in the harmonic vibrancy zone, a collective must move on all axes. This necessity requires that the collective understand where it is in its axial relationships to vibrancy. Knowing its position in the vibrancy zone allows it to compare itself with other collectives who have increased their ability to access, sustain, and use resources. The failure to do so has crippled most development efforts. For example, some indigenous communities in Africa were advised to follow a western, market-based approach to increasing their access to capital, since it worked for the western communities. An axial description would have shown the Africans that they had healthy relationships along all the axes, and were simply looking to increase the abundance of more material resources, such as wooden floors and televisions. By following the example of industrially “rich” communities, they had to accept the agreements that came with the example. An axial description of the “rich” communities they were copying would have shown them that they were often much weaker on the five axes – the riches of the communities were not due to their higher level of prosperity, as experienced in their level of harmonic vibrancy, rather their sacrifice of healthy relationship, to all axes, in exchange for material accumulation.[7]

This is not to say that all industrially poor communities are harmonically vibrant or that all industrially rich communities are not, rather that taking on the agreements that seemed to have worked for one community to move to greater prosperity implies acceptance of all of the agreements. The ecosynomic framework makes explicit the axes of relationship a community needs to assess when looking at what other communities have learned on their path to greater prosperity.

Harmonic-Vibrancy Move
Clearly there are many implications of this shift from resources as scarce, static, and independent to resources as abundant, dynamic, and interdependent. The industrially developed world is based primarily on a uni-axial assumption of resource scarcity. If resources are in fact abundant, and not scarce, then how people work with them and organize around them could change in deep ways. The ecosynomic axioms guide the exploration of the implications of abundance in the resources that support human life and interaction.

In the abstract, a harmonic-vibrancy move is towards greater abundance. Resources are wholes onto themselves and parts of bigger wholes, in a network of interdependent resources. The experience of harmonic vibrancy is defined by the growth and stability of a set of resources, both tangible and intangible, that are valuable to people. The growth and stability of these resources, for the individual and the collective, is influenced by a feedback system of relationships, which can be leveraged towards greater growth, stability, and prosperity through new agreements. Abundance depends on the agreements made in relationship with these resources

A national-level example of the same can bee seen in Guatemala (see Figure 2). A collective of national-level stakeholders defined their aspiration as a sustainably strong ability to self-determine for all Guatemalans. They agreed that the reality was a very low level. They defined a set of interdependent, dynamic resources they valued – their collective values – which influenced the ability to self-determine. These resources form a reinforcing cycle: as the intercultural identity strengthens, the social structures and processes that support that culture strengthen, strengthening the social fabric that unites the people and generates economic opportunities available to all of them. As the economic opportunities increase, people are more able to self-sustain, having their basic needs met, which allows them to increase their ability to self-determine, supported by a strong social fabric. The increased ability to self-determine, along with a strong social fabric, further increases the intercultural identity, completing the reinforcing cycle. Each of these assets represents a capital that follows the same dynamics as in Figure 1. Poverty, or the lack of prosperity, in Guatemala is a result of the majority of the people being in a loan-trap cycle with all six capital assets, which reinforces a low level of these key values for most of the people. Shifting to a capital-growth cycle around the capital assets, as separate resources and as a set, would dramatically shift the prosperity dynamics for that community.[8] This would shift the system to an abundant, dynamic, and interrelated state, its natural state.

Figure 2:  Guatemala Capital Dynamics

The next two posts will apply the harmonic-vibrancy-move, four-stage process to how people organize their work and how they exchange value.



[1] For a vast literature on the resource-based view of social systems, start with (Barney, 1999; Collis & Montgomery, 1998; Foss, 1997; Ritchie-Dunham & Rabbino, 2001; Sterman, 2000).
[2] Most definitions of economics, in its many forms, start with economics being the science of the allocation of scarce resources (Mankiw, 2008; Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995).
[3] For early development of the dynamic feedback framework for resources, see (Forrester, 1961).
[4] For many examples of collectives that are working with these principles, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Puente, 2008).
[5] See or (Mankiw, 2008).
[6] For a more detailed exploration of capital dynamics, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009).
[7] For hundreds of examples like this, see (Easterly, 2006).
[8] For detailed descriptions of the Guatemala capital dynamics, see Ritchie-Dunham, 2008a, 2008b; Waddell, 2005).

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