Mutualism & Web3

On May 12, 2022, we dove into mutualism as a frame for building and delegating power to communities, with Nathan Schneider - a writer and thought leader on cooperatives - and Sara Horowitz - founder of the Freelancers Union and Mutualist Society. What role can tokens, NFTs and DAOs play to strengthen mutualist communities in new ways? Can tokens and smart contracts open new forms of decision-making, contribution and participation? Will DAOs be the way to organizing communities across borders? We explored these questions and more. Watch the full conversation here. Here are a few of the highlights.

From Occupy Wall Street to Ethereum

To get us situated, Nathan shared how he got interested in Ethereum, crypto and DAOs. For the last decade or so, he has been exploring new ways of exercising democratic power, creating bridges between cooperatives and movements like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matters, and more recently exploring the role Web3 can play.

Mutualism & the distributed ledger

Mutualism is a way to build our next safety net through the local organizations we know and trust. Mutualist organizations - unions, cooperatives, mutual aid groups and faith-based institutions – are defined by three criteria: they have a social purpose that their members collectively solve for. They have an independent, sustainable economic mechanism – a way of making money. And they have a long-term focus. Mutualist institutions are intergenerational with leadership infrastructure and capital strategies that equip them to serve future generations. They are built to outlast their members. Sara Horowitz breaks that down with some examples and the promises she sees in the distributed ledger.

What to keep track of

While Nathan agrees the true promise of Web3 is in allowing us “to keep track of things” in new, decentralized ways, he urges us to question the assumptions that are currently being coded into the most prominent blockchains. What rights would mutualists want to embed within their blockchains? And why aren’t we building them?

Thank God we sell health insurance

Having our own source of revenue is the first of Mutualism’s three principles, and that is because money can be a source of liberation. For the Freelancers’ Union, which Sara founded, that meant starting a health insurance company for freelancers. She argues that Web3 could provide us with an opportunity to build wealth (and power) in new ways.

What we can learn from FDR’s New Deal

U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt recognized the importance of unions when he built the New Deal, nearly 100 years ago. Through regulation and the tax code, he ensured mutualists could thrive so communities could thrive. Sara urged us to think about what our version of the New Deal might be today with new Web3 tools at our finger tips to strengthen mutualist institutions. Nathan underlined we must return to a time where people recognize that money is political, and that democratic control over resources is critical to a thriving democracy.

DAOs &self governance

“We stand between the possibility of a democratic renaissance, and a very, very real threat of authoritarian populism,” Nathan said. DAOs offer a new opportunity, if we get the details right, for self-governance, deepening democratic possibilities. Local communities for example could make up their own currency to keep track of their contributions so they can vote on issues relevant to them.

Biodiverse scale - letting go of Bigness

Both Sara and Nathan argue that America’s obsession with bigness, and scale through growth, doesn’t lead to mutualist outcomes. They imagine a world where Web3 tools, and mutualist values, offer new strategies to scale impact. Sara calls this biodiverse scale, which relies on growth through connected yet decentralized networks of mutualist institutions.

Harnessing the opportunity for mutualism

Nathan is quick to say that mutualism could have thrived in previous eras. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Web3 tools offer us the first chance to make mutualism work. But it does offer us a new opportunity to redesign our systems that we should not squander.

Rethinking the role of local government

What new layers of governance might we build to manage the type of non-territorial challenges we face today, in a world in which we are both territorial and virtual? Again, this is an area where blockchain governance might create new opportunities for democratic decision-making.

An invitation

Let’s not sit on the sidelines and wait for crypto-enthusiasts to build mutualist blockchains and DAOs. The mutualist Web3 community is ours to build.

For more check out the DWeb Learning Collaborative, convened by Ashoka & Mutualist Society