Who Gets What in the Exchange of Value?

When value is generated, who experiences and who receives what part of it?  This is a distribution question.  Around distribution is the question of who gets how much of the value flowing through any part of your life.  Big questions here circle around who has the right to what, and who gets to decide how it is used.  These questions deal with issues around taxation, public revenue, and private ownership.  The big question that hundreds of generations have struggled with is, who gets what of the value that flows through the group’s work?

Basically, you can think of three different groups who divide up the pie of what is made in an exchange: those who have resources; those who do work; and those who organize.  Essentially, you pay rents to people who own the resources you are using.  Whether it is an apartment, a warehouse space, land, or large equipment, you can pay someone else rent for the use of the resources they own.  The people who do the work to make the good or provide the service are paid wages.  Whether paid by the hour or day, like most employees, or by the project, like many professional services, such as doctors or architects, they are paid wages for their time.  Finally, after rents and wages come profits, which typically go to those people who organize the work and resources.

Today’s agreements about value tend to be buried deep within the group unconscious, with most people assuming the current rules are given: that this is the way it must be.  There is one national currency.  The government controls how much money there is and how it is used.  One’s wealth is defined by how much money one has.[1]  What if these assumptions are completely wrong?  What would happen if agreements of abundance were made explicit and shared?  Millions of people in hundreds of thousands of groups are actively exploring new forms of these agreements today, and demonstrating that they can be much more effective this way.

Ecosynomics suggests a very different relationship with value in a network of individuals.  The creative force of spirit manifests in two forms: its absolute, pure form; and in its relative, individuated forms.  Value is the experience of harmonic vibrancy (spirit) coming through both.[2]  People experience the manifestation of the possibility-light, as it expresses in relationships.  Exchange is acknowledging how the experience of vibrancy coming through shows up as itself in me, in you, in us, in nature, in spirit.  Ecosynomics is the recognition of the abundance flowing in all five relationships, while economics is the commoditization of the value that previously you exchanged.

[1] For integral perspectives on money, see Bernard Lietaer and Richard Wagner.  For perspectives on the system dynamics of money, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009a).  For the impact of strings of agreement of different types of money, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009b).

[2] See an interview with me on the ecosynomics of money (Teague, 2010c).


The Value of Exchange

What is value?  Value is what something is worth to you.  The question of what people value is as old as language, maybe older.  While it is tricky to define precisely, people are very clear on what is important to them, in any given moment, and they act from that understanding.  Every moment of every day, you make value judgments about what is important to you and how you will act accordingly.  In these value judgments, you see a desired future state, and you assess what action to take to get you there.  This is working with values.

Historically, value has been divided into three broad categories: virtuositas, complacibitas, and raritasVirtuositas is the ability to satisfy human needs.   Complacibitas is a personal preference.  Raritas is scarcity of the good.  This means that you value something, because it satisfies your needs, because you like it, or because there is less of it than wanted.  The more it does one of these, the more you value it.  These three are separated, because what drives them is different.  I need to eat to live.  I prefer brown bread to white bread.  I will pay more for the brown bread I want, if there is not much of it available.

To get something, you enter an exchange with the person who has it.  When you enter an exchange, you agree to what will be exchanged at what rate of exchange.  Whether it is a basket of potatoes for a chicken, or 10 pieces of paper with ones printed on them, you have reached an agreement of what I will give you and you will give me in the exchange.  We have agreed on the value of exchange.  Sometimes this is referred to as the “price” of what was exchanged.  The price paid is highly negotiable.  It gets hard to see this when you go to the store and see a fixed price, or when you receive the electricity bill.  Yet, you can choose to go to another store where the price for the same good is lower.  When you do this, you are negotiating.  Said another way, you are looking for the agreements you want to enter into in the exchange.  When you opt out of one possibility for another, you are communicating your negotiated agreement.

Around the value of exchange, there are a few moments of exchange that interest you, as a consumer, a worker, an owner, and a citizen.  As a consumer, you are interested in the supply and demand of what you want, helping you arrive at a negotiated price.  As workers, you are interested in how the value is divided up among the people who run the company (profits), those who own the assets (rents), and those who do the work (wages).  As owners, you are interested in how value is generated from the resources you provide.  As citizens, you are interested in who pays for the consequences of the actions of different individuals and groups in the system (externalities).  These are all significant questions that directly impact your life.

Money as a Flow in Value Exchange

I was interviewed this past summer, for a documentary, on the subject of money and value exchange, by Katie Teague, an independent documentary filmmaker working in the growing field of transformational media.  For her movie “Money & Life,” Katie has interviewed a wide group of deeply engaged global citizens on their perspectives on money.  Segments of these interviews are available at the “Money & Life” website.

Relating to Value Exchange

The third application of the four-step harmonic vibrancy move is to how people exchange value in networks of human interaction.

Gap Description
The harmonic vibrancy aspiration for value exchange is the daily experience of prosperity through the exchanging and sustaining of value – everyone experiences abundance of what she values, a value-full life.  The harmonic vibrancy reality is that people report that they do not, in general, experience abundance in everything they value, and they do experience abundance in some things they value.  While what is of value to people is a question as old as humanity, industrial-based economics has defined a narrower set of values, suggesting that money is a value-neutral mode of wealth assessment.[1] While highly contested, within economics, as the key metric for value, money is a strong driver of value-driving behavior today.  Money stores value as a medium of exchange.  Currently money is scarce, because it is defined as scarce, with specific banks chartered with creating a limited supply of money, at their discretion.

From an ecosynomic axioms perspective, on the X-axis, the current monetary system gives people a greater freedom, independent of their heritage or relationships – anyone can have unit of currency: however, it is left to the individual to step into her own potential.  On the Y-axis, mutuality makes currency available to anyone, but bares no witness to the other’s gifts or potential.  On the Z-axis, money promotes movement within the collective, but it does not take, pay attention to, or care for the collective or the individuals.  On the A-axis, money removed the direct relationship to the divine.  There is no relationship with money and nature.

Other’s Experience
Another understanding of value exchange is emerging, where money is the symbol of the flow of vibrancy through humanity, as it manifests in our agreements.  The word money comes from the Latin word monére for warning or reminder – a reminder that money is not a noun, rather a verb, the flowing vibrancy.[2] Money reminds us, in each interaction, that we are presencing the flow of vibrancy through one person towards another, whether through what they produce or the service they provide.  This presencing is an agreement, a human agreement.

Ecosynomics proposes that the human experience of harmonic vibrancy is described by a rich set of values, greatly reflected in human relationships to one’s self, another, collective, spirit, and nature.  Ecosynomics suggests that value exchange facilitates the flow of resources that sustain and generate these dimensions of human experience that people value.  There are certain values that the individual or collective can readily nurture and sustain, while other values depend more on the gifts of others.  For those gifts, there is the reminder, money.

Ecosynomics also shows that intention matters.  In a string of agreements, how the value exchange enters the agreement influences what is done with it and what is possible to do with it.  Tens of thousands of collectives across the globe are experimenting with different definitions of what they value and how they exchange value.   Asset-based community development is identifying the assets the community values, those they have, and those they can develop further without sacrificing those they have.  Complementary currencies are experimenting with: (1) the agreements about how money works (i.e., whether it is interest-bearing, scarce, and has an asset basis); and (2) the culture within which the money works.  Sarkozy, the President of France, commissioned leading economists to develop metrics that move beyond GDP to include well-being.[3]

Axial Description
A collective’s ability to work with and shift its agreements around what is valued and how to exchange value depends to a great part on their level of harmonic vibrancy, as reflected in the different axes.  Some agreements function well in low levels of vibrancy, on any axis, such as bartering.  A need is exchanged for an offer.  Higher levels of vibrancy work best with subtler forms of value exchange, supporting each other to take on more significant contributions to one’s own development as well as that of the collective.  A collective’s capacity to see and step into value-exchange agreements that nurture prosperity is influenced by its current position in the harmonic vibrancy zone and its capacity to move towards greater vibrancy.

Harmonic-Vibrancy Move
Clearly there are many implications of this shift from value exchange as a scarce monetary system to value exchange as a reminder of the infinite capacity residing within the emergent system.  The industrially developed world is based primarily on an assumption of value exchange as scarce.  If value is in fact abundant, and not scarce, then how people exchange value would change in significant ways.[4]

The first observation is that even within existing agreements, different possibilities show up in conversations that are based on scarcity than those based on assumptions of abundance. For example, in a small textile US-based company, a conversation about value exchange for an employee can focus solely on the perceived scarcity around financial compensation, leading necessarily to a request for greater pay to alleviate the scarcity.  Leadership has also experimented with a broader conversation encompassing a rich set of values generated for the person by being in relationship with the community of the company.

A second observation, from the perspective of value exchange in harmonic vibrancy moves, is that the individual or the collective cannot be satisfied by a partial value set.  For example, people do not make most decisions based only on how much they make.  They also decide whether the work is satisfying, the people they work with are nice or not.  Now, some jobs are so awful that wage is the only determinant, but this is not so for most ways that people engage with others to create value.

Finally, seeing money as a reminder of flow opens people to seeing what manifests for them externally as a reflection of an infinite potential of an internal flow of creativity.  A counter view is that one’s inner sense of wealth is a reflection of the amount of scarce, finite money to which a person has access (see Figure 1).[5]

Figure 1: Projections of Money and Value


[1] Elsewhere we distinguish between value-neutral and value-ignoring, suggesting that money is not neutral, devoid of intention, rather it drives values, and that this is a residual effect of scarcity agreements around money.
[2] The etymology of “money” is uncertain, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, with possible connections to the Latin monere, which means “to warn, remind,” see (“money, n” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 4 Apr. 2000 .).
[3] For more on complementary currencies, see (Lietaer, 2001).  For more on Sarkozy’s well-being commission, see (Stiglitz, et al., 2008).
[4] For a perspective on the corporation as value creator versus value appropriator, see (Ghoshal, Bartlett, & Moran, 1999).
[5] For deeper insights into the effects of perceptions of money, see papers on the dynamics of money (Ritchie-Dunham, 2009) and the impact of intentions on strings of agreements around money (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009).