Comments on the crisis at Open Source Ecology

Two comments on the crisis in the OSE project, by Hudson Luce:


” I’d bet that the “open-source” projects which fail or turn for-profit all have one thing in common: one single person who owns the enterprise, de jure and de facto. Nobody else has any real say in what goes on, it’s the guru’s way or the highway, and the people who show up to give substantial effort are treated like cheap hired help, which is in fact what they are. When you come right down to it, it’s pure exploitation, and I’ve seen the same pattern over and over again, in “co-ops”, in organizations which abuse “consensus” to enforce the leader/owner’s will, and so on. Organizations like this can make the guru into a multimillionaire and often do, but it’s a scam all the way, with the hard work of good-intentioned but credulous people being paid for with a pittance – if at all.

One way for this to be overcome is to set down in the constituting documents for the organization that it is to be constituted and run as a partnership, and each partner has an equal ownership share, and an equal vote, to all the other partners. That’s a start – but you have to set these things out in plain language before you get started. Common votes = common ownership of assets = common responsibility = common liabilities and common rewards. And that means that each partner has title to his or her actual share of the partnership. Of course, you have to have limitations on how much each partner can encumber partnership assets and also on transfer of partnership rights, but this sort of set-up would make it potentially very difficult for one person or a small group to loot the partnership.”


If it’s happened 3 times without significant change, it’s unlikely that the “leader” will learn anything. He’ll just look for new suckers… new recruits, that is. There’s a grocery co-op I know of where one person has pulled this sort of thing off for about 30 years; every five years or so, he collects a new set of “investors” who have (powerless) seats on the “Board of Directors”. It’s difficult to know how lucrative this arrangement is for him, since he keeps the books, he’s been treasurer since he got involved. But the prices at the store are significantly higher for the same goods sold in other stores in the city, and he pays his five employees minimum wage or less, no health insurance, no Social Security, no worker’s comp insurance, no unemployment insurance. He attracts idealistic people as employees and customers – that’s how the place stays in business – and every five years or so there’s a “financial crisis” in which he pulls in a new crop of people to “invest” a couple hundred thousand dollars in the grocery to “keep hope alive” or whatever. It’s a scam, of course.

From what I’ve seen of Open Source Ecology, it appears to have a similar sort of feel, the strong leader who controls everything – I wonder who keeps the financial records – the new crops of idealistic employees who get paid minimum wage and no benefits, the donations gathered in by fundraisers from rich idealistic people, the cycling of people and so on…

And the idea of an “open source ecology” being dependent on fossil fuels (gasoline for the Power Cube) seems a bit counterintuitive. Building a steam engine with a power take off would make more sense, the technology is quite well known and all you have to do is generate steam, which can be done from crop waste. Other sources of motive power would be wind and flowing water (and gravity) which are well characterised since the 1400s … fossil fuel dependence is a design flaw for any sort of “ecology”, open source or not.” Incidentally, I live within 2 hours drive of Maysville, MO, over in Topeka, KS. There’s a working Benedictine monastery up there that’s been going since 1873; I visited it in the late 1970s when I was still in college… quite a place.”

1 Comment Comments on the crisis at Open Source Ecology

  1. AvatarMatthew Slater

    Its very difficult, and arguably not at all fair for a social entrepreneur who has invested years in a project to hand over the reigns to transient juniors who are still deciding whether they are committed to the new ways of doing things.
    Those bright young things might rattle on about democracy but how much voice should they have unless or or until they have a real stake in the project. Volunteer labour is critical to projects finding their feet in the new economy. But volunteers should not be seeking to steer those projects, instead they should be watching and learning and appreciating their lack of responsibility.

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