Community Capital

by weft2 min read9th Oct 201715 comments

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Argument: There is a Thing called Community Capital (closely related to social capital), and because it is based more on How Humans Work, you can get a lot more out of it than just plain old Money.

Epistemic Status: Opening a conversation. All these ideas are in sand.

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I used to compare the prices of Various Weekend Activities to the pricetag of one of my main hobbies (we'll randomly call it "Ballooning" to keep it simple). I might pay $35 for a weekend of Ballooning, which would include lodging, delicious food and alcoholic beverages, classes and activities, and lots of one-on-one help. Other Various Weekend Activities tend to be... quite a bit more than that. You would think Ballooning events must be operating at a loss, but it turns out that they actually tend to MAKE money. So what's happening here?

My guess is that money is not actually an efficient unit of exchange, as compared to social or community capital. When you buy things with money you are paying people a premium to do tasks they are not inherently motivated to do, often in situations that are not convenient for them. I can do my own dishes in the two minutes that I’m in my kitchen waiting for my tea water to heat up. However if I am paying someone, in most cases they have to schedule a large chunk of time and travel out of their way to my house to do a task they have no motivation to do except for the exchange of money.

People in communities generally have an inherent desire to contribute to their community. They are often already in a position to help. They are preselected for being interested in many of the sorts of tasks the community needs (e.g. a swing dance community needs swing dance instructors and swing dance music djs). They have social ties to the people they are helping, as opposed to being strangers. They gain social status by contributing and thus find it satisfying.

When I go to a Ballooning weekend I am not just spending $35. I may spend 3 hours washing dishes after a meal. I may spend 10 hours prepping material for a class, and one hour teaching it. I may spend 20 hours making items that are going to be given away. I may spend 3 hours at a meeting helping to organize the event. I may spend an hour on setting up or cleaning up. I may spend 5 hours working with a new person one-on-one.

Sure, if I were to value my time at $20/hour, then my $35 Ballooning events would suddenly be a LOT more expensive! But with the exception of dish washing, which I view as “putting in my time”, these are all activities I enjoy to some degree, and they feel more like “participating in my fun hobby” rather than “doing work”.

I ENJOY making things that will be given to and treasured by my friends. I ENJOY working one-on-one with new people, and watching them fall in love with the things that I love. I ENJOY contributing to the community that means so much to me. If I could instead work an extra hour at my place of employment and then use that money to hire people to pack up… that’s not an exchange I’d want to make.

And it’s not only time that can be bought more cheaply with community currency than with money. Physical objects can also be bought with the currency of community. Sometimes you can borrow an expensive piece of equipment rather than buy it. Sometimes I buy nicer equipment for myself, and I enjoy giving away my starter equipment to new people to help get them started. Sometimes items are more easily bought in bulk sizes that you don’t need, and you’d rather give away the excess than store it forever or trash it. Sometimes I want to rent a venue for cheap, and if I have a large community all willing to do some simple searching in their networks, I can find a deal on a space that’s never been posted on a website.

As with all advice, you may want to reverse this. If you have infinite money and very little free time, it makes sense to spend the money rather than the time that is generally required for developing community capital. If you have Very Important Needs that you don't think your community can commit to or handle, it makes sense to buy them with money.

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Attributions and Contributions:

  • I already had these thoughts but reading a similar comment by ingres inspired me to type them up.

  • Thanks to Raymond and Duncan who did read-throughs of the rough draft

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