Category Archives: Examples

Examples of civilitics in action

Changing the GDP calculation?

According to an NPR story (Lady Gaga Writing A New Song Is Like A Factory Investing In A New Machine), the United States government is about to revamp the way gross domestic product (GDP) is calculated because economists are realizing that intangible investments contribute to the GDP and should be included in its overall calculation. In the Lady Gaga example, “the value of the time she spent working on new songs; working in the studio” is now worthy of being counted in the GDP. Investments in filming movies will also receive GDP status, as will investments in research and development.

Credit: MarkyBon

Credit: MarkyBon

So let’s get this straight: song-writing is a value-added activity and represents a contribution to the domestic product. While it may seem like a smoke-and-mirrors tactic to artificially inflate the GDP in order to make the economy look better (which could easily be the real motivation behind this change), the new calculation is a step in the right direction. It is an economic way to approximate heretofore unrecorded contributions to the public wealth. As such, it is a tiny bit closer to the implicit civilitic understanding that every value-added contribution is inherently beneficial to society and counts toward the wealth of a nation.

Since economics and civilitics are based in totally different principles, we must have a common measurement concept if we are going to compare them in a meaningful way. It would be just as inappropriate to discuss the overall ivi of an economic system as it would be to consider the GDP of a civilitic system. But let’s assume for a moment that GDP is a measure of the benefit to society (by the expenditure of effort and money) over the period of a year. Technically, this is not the case, since automobile accidents and disasters contribute to the GDP. But if we consider just the positive aspects of GDP, then the GDP might actually be an economic allegory for ivi. A national ivi (should we call it a GDI – gross domestic ivi?) would be a time-average positive contribution by a nation’s people, something vaguely similar to the GDP. Of course, ivi is a running average and is not bounded by any sort of annual calculation, but we could certainly measure it only once a year if we wanted.

An activity that is a freely-given contribution to the world and society is a civilitic activity. So song-writing – at least by reputable artists – is certainly an ivi-generating activity and the addition of song-writing to the GDP brings that calculation more parallel with an ivi calculation. The same is true for film-making or research and development. But what about other ivi activities that still will not be included in the GDP?

So far, the breadth of activities included by economists – even with the new rules – is grossly incomplete. For example, the GDP does not include domestic activity such as caring for children, cleaning house, or doing yardwork. These activities are also investments in the value of a nation and the well-being of its people. Child care only increases the GDP when it is being done for pay, usually by someone who is not the child’s parent, but doesn’t it still contribute to the wealth of a nation when it is being performed by the child’s parent? Is house-cleaning only important when it is done by a maid service? Is mowing a yard only important when compensation is paid to a landscaping service?

Economists need to explain where and why they draw a line between investing in a new song and investing in other value-improving aspects of our society. Furthermore, since they have now decided to add some of these activities into the GDP calculation, how are we to measure them or assign a GDP value? How much is GDP is that new Lady Gaga song worth while it’s being written and how does that compare with a song being written by my friend Peggy Lang?

In contrast, civilitics handles these questions intrinsically by allowing society to decide the value of all activities. If you mow a lawn, write a song, take care of children, or research a new technology, civilitics calls upon society to assign an ivi value. How much real value is added to society when a board chairperson spends the morning preparing for a shareholder meeting? How much value is added when a mother is available to help guide her child through a moral crisis? Ultimately, economics can only attempt to model calculations which are simple and natural for civilitics.

Civilitics and the music industry

This post is part of a larger discussion that involves intellectual property of every form, ranging from artwork to patents. But here, specifically, we will confine the discussion to music.

In one of her TEDx talks, Jodi Beggs discussed several ways in which musicians survive economically. She did not spend much time on the conventional recording industry, but discussed alternative funding sources such as “pay what you want” and crowdfunding. She also spoke about freely-available music downloads and the presumed threat of digital music downloading and sharing.

Of course the conventional funding method for artists is to sign with a recording company which then handles overhead costs of producing, marketing, and distributing the artist’s music. This relationship gives artists the chance to focus on their music instead of handling the day-to-day job of running a business. Typically, artists must trade some of their profits and much of their independence for the business services they receive from recording companies. In some cases, artists are bound by exclusivity clauses that prevent them from performing outside those contractual relationships.

Some musicians have explored “pay what you want” funding methods as a way to create a less adversarial and  more friendly relationship with their customers. Other artists have turned to crowdfunding, such as kickstarter, to support their profession. This last group is beginning to look more civilitic, although most crowd funding campaigns remain based on some kind of exchange system to reward support. Even so, the bulk of the gifting is to the artist, presumably as a reward for the good works they have already created, even though it is unlikely those works were themselves freely given.

In addressing the question of digital music downloading and sharing, Jodi said,

…the weakened copyright protection, because of digital downloading, has not helped the producers of music, but it has actually helped society overall because it has resulted in a transfer of surplus economic value from producers to consumers and we have new consumers entering the market that either wouldn’t or couldn’t pay the old prices for music. Not something the industry likes to hear, but something that’s based on very valid scientific principles.

So, contrary to the tenets of Adam Smith, Jodi seems to be encouraging an economic philosophy that elevates “helping society overall” above the economic benefit to the music producers themselves.

In order to make the transition to a more civilitic recording industry, we would need to combine the last two points of Jodi’s discussion: crowdfunding and digital downloading. This is what it would look like:

  • Musicians would do the work of performing and recording, presumably because it is what they love to do, and because it contributes value to the world. As part of that effort, the music would be made freely available for download and/or distribution to the masses. After all, music that is not heard does not enrich the world.
  • The reciprocal side of the equation is that people who hear and love the music contribute in kind, whether back to the musician or in some other positive way. They might choose to make a donation of some kind back to the musician, or they might just “pay it forward” to someone else in faith that it will eventually reach back to the musician. In any event, the musician receives value back from the world in appreciation for their own form of contribution.
  • Overall, the musician provides music without any explicit promise of reward. Conversely, the world supports the musician without any explicit promise of additional music. This arrangement is fully ivi on both sides: things freely given without expectation of direct reciprocity. Of course it follows that better musicians will likely receive higher levels of appreciation. At the same time, it follows that greater appreciation is more likely to free up musicians to perform more works.

In My Garden by Peggy Lang

In My Garden by Peggy Lang

A good friend of mine is a singer/songwriter. Because of her, I have always considered how civilitics would apply to musicians. As with any profession, musicians have overhead tasks that must be done in order to pursue their ultimate goal of performing: there is time spent practicing, tuning, writing, coordinating, planning, and so on. In the economic world, most of those overhead activities do not generate revenue, so they must be covered by money earned from other activities such as performances and selling recordings. However, in a civilitic system, every activity that contributes to value in the world (as overhead activities do), holds the possibility for earning appreciation (ivi) from the community at large.

My friend, Peggy Lang, once had the opportunity to sign with a major recording company but she remained independent and never achieved the comparative musical success that some of her counterparts managed. I think she would tell you she managed to keep her soul in the bargain. It has made the pursuit of her music more challenging and it has forced her to support herself in other ways. Not surprisingly, exchange economics does not support those who challenge the established system.

After speaking with Peggy, she is making her album, In My Garden, available for free download as a civilitic gesture. Producing a run of CDs, marketing, and distributing them, is a large expense for a sole musician, so Peggy is making the download of this album available and is adding value to the world in doing so. She is not requesting any payment in exchange, though I am sure she would certainly put any donations to a good use. Mostly, in making this gift to the world, there is a hope that this will generate another civilitic gift forward. So if you download and enjoy the music, the most appropriate response is to contribute something of your own toward making the world a better place.

Definition of ivi

Introducing a new word: ivi, which rhymes with divvy. It will be taken to mean those things which are done in a civilitic sense. This word is appropriate for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it is contained within the word civil – even though technically not the root of that word. It is also contained within the words giving and living, which are also relevant to the discussion. Besides all that, it is short and easy.


A new word

Ivi is about doing what is right or good or beneficial without consideration for the immediate personal return. Ivi is working for the common good. When a billionaire makes a public donation of a million dollars to a university, that might not be an ivi action. But when a homeless and hungry person shares their last loaf of bread, that’s an ivi action.

When people stop working to make a living and begin working to make a difference… that’s an ivi civilization.

[Update: 2015-08-21] In review of this post, it will be noted that the original definition of ivi, offered above, has already morphed into something slightly different. At this time, ivi is most often used to describe the merit achieved in contributing to the public good. So it is less often used as a verb (to do a public benefit action) and more as a noun (the merit or esteem earned for having taken action in the public benefit).

TEDxPublicStreet: Jodi Beggs

I happen to be a big fan of TEDx. For one thing, it is a sort of quasi-civilitic network, allowing people to give freely of their experience while generating a social reputation in the process. But even moreso, many of the presentations have some really excellent content. Collectively, TEDx is a beautiful gift to the world.

Jodi Beggs at TEDxPublicStreet

One particular TEDx presentation was made by Jodi Beggs at TEDxPublicStreet on January 20, 2013. To her credit, I think Jodi might be about as close to connecting the  civilitics dots as any mainstream economist is likely to be, while still remaining an economist. In her biography, Jodi identifies herself as a hybrid between Steve Levitt, Demetri Martin and Jon Stewart. It is clear that her thinking is motivated as much by ethics as exchange economic dogma. This particular presentation was given at an event with the theme “how people in different fields are using what they know in order to make the world a better place” (her own words). Her presentation is so relevant to civilitics that I could devote several posts to discuss all the material:

  • First of all, Jodi points out that economics was once known as the dismal science. The term derives from concerns by nineteenth-century economists that ending slavery would hamper economic progress and plunge the world into a depression. This discussion provides an excellent entry point to discuss the relationship between slavery, economics, and civilitics. This is nothing new, but civilitics brings the discussion of exchange economics, started by Thomas Carlyle in the mid-nineteenth century, to its full circle conclusion, showing how civilitics is to exchange economics what exchange economics was to slavery. In some respects, exchange economics is really just the new slavery. See my detailed discussion at Economics as a dismal science.
  • Secondly, Jodi speaks extensively about the music industry, which is apparently her specialty. Here again, she goes so far as to almost touch on civilitic systems of production while not quite seeing the possibility. I have a very good friend who is a singer/songwriter, which has caused me to give considerable thought to how civilitics would work for musicians. While discussing the economics of crowd-sourcing, “pay what you want”, and music sharing, Jodi comes very close to bridging the gap to the civilitic paradigm. See my detailed discussion at Civilitics and the music industry.
  • Finally, in passing, Jodi singled out “one pretty famous” economist: Adam Smith. She summarized one of Smith’s basic tenets, saying his “idea of supply and demand of the self-interested producer making things – not because he wants to directly benefit society but because he wants to benefit himself – that actually can be very much in line with doing what’s best for society overall.” Unfortunately, Adam Smith was wrong and Jodi should have emphasize the words “can be” in that quotation.

Over recent years, we have seen many negative consequences of exchange economics. I am encouraged by economists like Jodi who are honestly looking for ways to vision a positive role for economics in the modern world. The effort is honorable and I can imagine how frustrating it must be to really believe in the economic mythology while seeing confronting how it undermines good in the world. I have every expectation that Jodi will be among the first to awaken from the dream (dare I say nightmare?) of the exchange economic machine and realize there is a real alternative within our reach.

National Public Radio (NPR) and civilitics

National Public Radio (NPR) is already organized in a quasi-civilitic way. The model is based upon giving service and depending, in part, on the supportive behavior of people who listen to the programming.

Credit: deviever


In its most basic form, NPR broadcasts are produced as a free contribution to the public benefit. This includes news, art, music, and specials. Anyone in the broadcast area is welcome to listen to the programming without any need to pay. Of course, because there is no fully civilitic framework, the radio stations have fiscal obligations and need financial support in order to survive. To meet those needs, they need some listeners to contribute money for the programming, but there is no binding requirement to do so. As a result, NPR programming certainly is a gift to the listening audience.

On the other side of the radio signal, listeners of NPR are encouraged to contribute money to help support the programming they like. While many listeners might never send a payment, there are many others who do. Those who contribute have some influence over the programming choices and thereby encourage specific behavior by NPR. Ultimately, those contributions are gifts made back to the radio stations as a way of saying “I like what you are doing, please keep doing it.”

Civilitics works in much the same way as NPR except that it works at a global human scale. Rather than considering the preferences of radio broadcasts, it is the actions of people which are considered for public approval. Rather than payments being made to a radio station, people (other than the original beneficiaries) act as the providers of goods and services to one another. A civilitic framework allows people to know how much contribution others are making and reward them accordingly. High contributors are more likely to be rewarded and will be more highly rewarded while low contributors will be less so.