Ethonomics condensed

This page gives a summary of our take on the key problems of capitalism, our solution, and the potential impacts of that solution.

See Ethonomics unpacked for a more detailed account.

The problem

Our account of the problems of capitalism pivots upon four main ideas:

1. economic overreach;

2. behaviour and structure;

3. cooperatition;and

4. big society.

1. Economic overreach

The span across which economic ties operate has expanded rapidly through the process of modernisation. For example, a mobile phone purchased in the UK will often have been manufactured on the other side of the world from components and materials, in turn, from many different places.

However, community mechanisms (as we refer to them), for monitoring the ethical aspects of the economic ties, have failed to keep up. For example, in our mobile phone example it may be that there are problems with labour conditions and environmental standards.  It may be very difficult to monitor these things from such a distance (see below for discussion of the effectiveness of ethical consumerism, ethical business practices, ethical investment and regulation).

This illustrates the general disparity that has grown up between up economic community size and social community size. This disparity has resulted in a situation where many economic processes are not subject to proper ethical controls. It is these insufficiently-ethically-controlled economic processes that we focus our attention on.

2. Behaviour and structure

We propose two options for addressing economic overreach:

1. try to work with the socio-economic system as it now is but try to improve the ethics of our behaviour within it. This approach includes mechanisms such as ethical consumerism, ethical business practices and ethical investment; or

2. we can try to modify that system (as well as then seeking to optimise the ethics of our behaviour in it).

Our analysis (see behaviour and structure) proposes that the first of these two options, based on mechanisms relying on modifying the behaviour of individual actors, is insufficient. These mechanisms include ethical consumerism, ethical business practices and ethical investment. Without structural change to the system within which these mechanisms operate they cannot work effectively. This is because these mechanisms rely on unattainable conditions such as:

• voluntary ethical participation by all;

• perfect information;

• the capacity in terms of time and expertise for consumers to exercise ethical choice in the many, many direct and indirect choices they are confronted by; and

• the availability of ethical options to be chosen in each area.

3. Cooperatition

We therefore look instead to identify problematic structural features of the economy that are not subject to proper ethical controls.

Without proper ethical controls and taking place in free-markets, as they do, they are susceptible to the ethical race-to-the-bottom phenomenon, which operates between competitors: they are progressively structurally encouraged to cut ethical corners when those save them money or give them any other competitive advantage.

Competition is therefore identified as a key structural problem in this area. Community we regard as its natural antidote. We therefore look for ways to foster community in a number of groups: consumers, businesses, states etc. ‘Cooperatition’ represents the compromise between economically productive competition and cooperation for ethical ends.

4. Big society

Next we consider which of these groups (consumers, businesses, states, etc) is likely to have the most leverage in solving the problem of unethical economics.

To do this we first note the general trend within economics (the rules governing material things in the marketplace) for free-markets to be more successful than command economies. In our view this is because they capture greater creativity and participation.

It is possible to draw a parallel in the area of ethics in the marketplace: economies where ethics are decided by the many will also capture greater creativity and participation.

In modern society where there is such an astonishing variety and complexity of products and services we look to crowdsourcing in order to cope with this complexity. It is important to note, however, that:

• crowdsourcing is not suitable in every situation since specialist knowledge may be required;

• delegation mechanisms are therefore sometimes appropriate and should not be excluded;

• nonetheless, the benefits of trusting the general population with decisions may be derived from  the following two examples:

• first, current world leaders and businesses presiding over massive contemporary environmental degradation;

• secondly, First World War leaders sending millions of troops into battle where many of those same troops, from opposing sides, exchanged greetings and played football in no man’s land on Christmas day 1914 (and to a lesser extent in 1915).

Our conclusion is a particular take on the big society concept – arguing that solutions increase in effectiveness where they involve, in the following order (least effective first):

• the state (through regulation etc); to

• businesses working together across any given sector, were it to be permitted by competition law; to

• consumers.

This is due to the increased numbers of actors that may take part.

In fact, a tool involving all actors combined (consumers, businesses, regulatory bodies, various groupings of citizens, for example) would offer the best outcomes.

Our solution

e-community aspires to be a solution to the problems of capitalism which could facilitate all actors and groups of actors in working together in community. This would thereby achieving ethical outcomes in the economy, amongst many other benefits. Our tool to achieve this aim is Peopletree.

Peopletree is an IT tool, mediating between individuals, that would help in enabling meaningful and rewarding outcomes in large communities. It also would enable interactions within separate large communities and sub-communities to be woven together into one structure. Such interactions would enable a radical new crowdsourcing of ideas and a highly significant impact on creativity and innovation in modern society. They would also enable ethical outcomes in an economic context. 

The aim is to work towards achieving large-group community, through an online tool, where:

• all can express their opinions freely and fully (subject to community guidelines), thereby harnessing the resources of the crowd and providing it with a sense of empowerment, promoting engagement and responsibility;

• unity is achievable between and within communities;

• all information is accessible in one place;

• outcomes are democratic in nature;

• the functioning of the site is primarily people-driven through swarm intelligence and the crowd, in order to keep the connection between the site and the people it would represent direct and tangible; and

• views can be explored by viewpoint or community.


It is this new form of community, described in greater detail here that we propose in helping us towards correcting the disparity between economic versus social community size and thereby bringing free markets back within a community setting. We think this is needed to free human decision-making from capitalist/ money-driven concerns instead towards happier and more balanced priority sets.

This has the potential to allow the developed world to offer a much better model for the developing world, and for the process of development to be less harmful.

Note that this therefore also redresses the problem of alienation. This partly arises through the shift in relationship between the state and society: a big-society e-community solution would mean that the power of society, instead of being mediated remotely through the state (if indeed the state truly represents society), would be exercised much more directly. This would de-alienate those areas of life traditionally controlled by the state (for example regulation of labour conditions according to ethical principles).

Also furthered by these new forms of community-building are possibilities for a prolific expansion in the number of communities and number of layers of community, and the way in which they are constituted. This opens up possibilities, for example, for transnational linkages being formed to mediate issues that are congruently transnational, and also for more effective international community.

For more information about impacts see here.

For a fuller account of the our work see ethonomics unpacked.

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