The purpose of community wealth building is to increase local economic empowerment. This can only be sustainable on the basis of local value-producing capacity. Without this, community wealth will gradually, inevitably, be extracted away from the locality.
Economic empowerment derives, ultimately, from capacity to produce value. In a simple economy, where most value is produced with simple tools, this empowerment is relatively straightforward to achieve. People are able to produce goods and services which others are willing to pay for, with low dependence upon outside infrastructure.
But in a complex economy, most value production depends upon access to a wide variety of infrastructures. These have become ever more centralised, operating at larger and larger scales, and generally controlled by large institutions – state or commercial.
When a large fraction of the infrastructure used in value production is not local, then a corresponding fraction of the income will be lost to the local economy.
No moralising judgements are needed for it to be clear that this condition constitutes a significant block to local economic empowerment. Even where large institutions really try to care, it quickly becomes apparent that ‘elephants cannot look after ants’. It just can’t work.
If we are to address this block – to increase the fraction of income from local value producing activity which accrues to the locality, rather than to remote institutions – the requirement to develop local infrastructure is unavoidable.
This might seem to be a matter of making a case for some investment – but we need to go deeper. We need to ask ourselves why there isn't the needed local infrastructure – because it was present in the past.
Aha! We've already noticed that it got centralised – what happened?
It’s the old pattern of enclosure; local infrastructure, which was some kind of a local commons, was enclosed upon, and abstracted away – that’s the process of centralisation. It didn’t happen by accident, either. Again, without making moral judgements, we can see that this was a systemic process – institutions seeking to manage well, corporates seeking efficiency, achieved these goals through amalgamating and standardising.
Recognising this, wishing to create new local infrastructure, we need to ask ourselves, then, how we can make sure that these systemic tendencies can’t lead, all over again, to the enclosure of what we build.
On top of the proper work required to justify any infrastructure project, we must also consider three things:
How to structure the investment needed, so that it minimises the amount of power and revenue which ends up outside the locality.
How to guarantee that ownership and control are structured, so that the infrastructure continues, throughout its useful life, to provide support for local productive capacity:
Effective, but not suffocating asset locks;
How to be confident that – despite its locally limited scale – the infrastructure remains sufficiently well-managed and efficient to provide real utility to local value producers:
Local returns to efficiency gains;
Local feedback to operators.
These three considerations interlock – each requires, and supports, the others. The Commons Asset Society structure is designed to satisfy all three in a coherent and integrated way.