Open Source Ecology, Inc.

Marcin Jakubowski [marcin at]

An Operational Model for a Replicable, Regenerative Development Social Enterprise link

Introduction - History of Economics and Entry to the Information Age

To date, humans have not succeeded in providing basic human needs to all people. In this paper, I will not debate whether such success is possible or desirable, but propose an operational scenario wherein the human species would have an option to meeting basic human needs of all.

Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( link) states, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services." Much of the third world is missing these basic human rights; many in the United States of America are missing access to medical care.

It is useful to provide a brief summary of world economics to date, with respect to the provision of human needs. Conflict and warfare has been a common route to securing life-meeting needs if resources of one group were scarce, and today this trend is on an upswing. (ref) At all times in history both the elite class and subsistence class was able to meet all of their needs relatively well. Some people always had more access to resources than others in non-indigenous populations. Formerly, it was typically possible to find a new frontier for resource base expansion. Today, physical frontiers are mostly closed, with accompanying overpopulation and increased resource scarcity pressures. This provides an opportunity for an increase in the quality of resource use, as opposed to the quantity of resource use.

Today, the economies of the industrialized world are increasingly specialized, where each member of society provides an ever decreasing fraction of society's needs. One individual is typically not in a position to produce all of any person's needs. In pre-industrial times, before the deskilling and specialization of labor, each person was more self-sufficient. The number of one's dependencies on others today is hard to calculate. Craftspeople turned into well-defined cogs in the industrial machine.

In a deskilled economy of specialization, access to information is becoming more and more important due to the increased complexity and interconnectedness of society. Access to information determines one's ability to produce and market. This is called the Information Age.

Because of specialization in a complex world, one has a narrow focus and a decreased ability to make connections or to determine cause-and-effect relationships, such as connections between human organizational structures, technology, and ecology. This explains the need to be well-informed in such a society to cope with the complexities of life in the Information Age.

In the information economy, access to information is access to capital, is access to the means of production, is access to a democratic foundation of society. This is where the need for transparent access to information becomes an obvious democratizing principle.

In the information age, the struggle for access to information is analogous to various other resource struggles of yesterday and today - slavery, independence, or other liberations. In the information age, access to information is a heated struggle - visible in propaganda, media control, and other mechanisms of manufacturing consent, as well as trade secrets or proprietary information. Because of its economic value, the most essential knowhow related to the productive infrastructure for meeting basic human needs is kept under close control - through patents or hard-to-access information, as well as by more subtle mechanisms for creating "competitive advantage," such as compulsory schooling or "jumping through the hoops" to join any professional circle. These mechanisms of closed control are a dominant feature that determines the access to and distribution of wealth in society.

Many do have access to wealth. Many don't. Most people have to work long hours to make ends meet, and the first casualty in working on something not consistent with one's passion is meaning and perspective. Meaningful employment that helps one to evolve as a person is in short supply in an economy where each member produces an ever-decreasing fraction of their needs. Perspective is impossible if one doesn't have time to reflect.

In response to the above, it may be more desirable to pursue and promote modes of production and societal organization that are more integrated and skilled, where time is liberated for other personal and civic pursuits. A skilled worker in the information age is one who tries to piece together the disconnected elements of societal disorganization. They are social and civic entrepreneurs who strive to acquire a broad set of skills and an integrated understanding of how the system works in order to affect a change for the better. Integrated learning towards these ends means that the student of the system is crossing disciplinary boundaries, pursuing broad, applied, experiential learning. This is the type of learning that we are creating in our organization, Open Source Ecology, Inc.

Open Source Ecology refers to the integration of the natural, societal, and industrial ecologies aimed at sustainable and regenerative economics. Participatory models of production represent the core of any truly democratic society. It is only in such a system that a balance can be found between human activity and the sustainable use of natural resources. Part of this process involves the exploration of societal structures and productive activities to determine what is truly appropriate to meeting human needs. The goal is to provide human needs while liberating our time so that we can engage in exactly that which each of us wants to be doing in this life, instead of spending all of one's time on the necessities of survival.

Open Source Ecology, Inc.

We have founded Open Source Ecology as a nonprofit research organization developing a practical framework for the open source method of economic development. Our goal is to develop a practical framework for meeting human needs in a sustainable and regenerative way by applying the principles of open source. We call this framework open source economics - an economic system for providing products and services based on:

Essentially, open source economics is an operational model for evolving the economic system, by building on past experience, providing equal and open access to the economic process. This is a feature of human behavior that is commonly known as sharing . Sharing is a value promoted by most as a high ideal, yet it is violently opposed in mainstream economic practice, outside of accepted trickle-down events of wealth accumulation followed by controlled, top-down distribution.

We believe that open source economics address several pressing issues in society:

Open Source Economics in Practice

Open source software has already demonstrated that the open source method is a viable route to product development. Linux, for example, is a computer operating system, analogous to Windows or Macintosh proprietary operating systems, which can be obtained either for free or at a small cost compared to their proprietary counterparts. On many accounts, such open source software is considered to be a superior product in terms of stability and performance.

One may ask, then, where is the money? The development of Linux started as a development project by a small group of volunteer developers. It grew to a full operating system, now supported by various foundations or corporations dedicated to open source development. The Linux programmers get hired in Linux support and other related services. Simply, Linux is an example of a volunteer and publicly-supported effort, where economic returns arise mostly in the after-market. The economic returns are there, except in a different place.

Open Source Ecology, Inc., aim to develop the open source economic development process for the production of other physical goods and services beyond software. Currently, Open Source Ecology is working on the OpenFarm and OpenHouse projects, which are aimed at creating an integrated infrastructure for regenerative provision of food and housing needs.

Numerous other open source development projects are also under way. One example is OSCar, or Open Source Car, the development of a state of the art fuel cell vehicle which will be licensed freely to any social entrepreneur and can be produced on a scale orders of magnitude smaller than typical car manufacturers, such that it is appropriate for regionally-appropriate development. (ref) Another example of open source development is SolaRoof, a variable insulation and light throughput and state of the art glazing system whose proponent transferred relevant patents into the public domain to foster a collaborative deployment effort. (ref) Another example is a project which developed a $1 blood plasma dispenser for third world applications, where people were formerly not able to afford the only available devices, which cost $100. (ref) Open source development is not a new idea. Its potential to become a dominant paradigm for doing business is, given the drive for increasing the quality of life in a world with closed physical frontiers but with open information and communication superhighways.

Operating Principles of Open Source Ecology

The basic operating principle of Open Source Ecology, Inc., for developing open source economics is that as nonprofit organization, we are a research and development vehicle for products and services of all types. Everyone obtains full access to the information generated, and everyone is welcome to contribute at various support levels, up to participation in business training internships for incubating regenerative enterprise. By leveraging the collective development power of individuals motivated by the desire for improved quality of life and regenerative development, we put ourselves in a position to use the contributions from many resources to generate a training facility and support infrastructure for incubating new economic actors in society. We focus on the incubation of regenerative enterprise, and we avoid the short-term gain logic of typical corporations. We are taking product research and development into the nonprofit sector in order to assure long term, ecological, sustainable, and regenerative ways of producing goods and services. We aim to create a viable infrastructure for meeting human needs in a regenerative way, as a parallel option that survives alongside the mainstream economic system. We are creating this infrastructure from the bottom up by training people for livelihoods in regenerative enterprise, which is geared to rebuild the infrastructure for providing human needs with an ecological and regenerative option.

The open source method is relevant to regenerative economics in that it allows a large set of applied information to be collected as a route to integrated economic models. Integrated economic models require a large set of interdisciplinary knowledge, which may not be easy to acquire in a system of extreme specialization. We believe that the creation of truly sustainable systems is difficult, if not impossible, within the mainstream economics framework, because the components that are already available are hard to link due to various boundaries to integration and collaboration. Difficulties within the present system that make regenerative development difficult include overspecialization, where too many "hands in the pie" drive costs up; there is also proprietary information; a legal and financial system which promotes specialized, short term gain; the general lack of genuine wealth-distributing cooperation, and excessive overhead costs. Moreover, there is a large number of dependencies on unsustainable practices, since green chemistry, eco-industry, and ethics are in short supply in the current economic framework. The creation of new practices and new ways of organizing and linking these practices is necessary, based on ecological principles. These new practices can then serve to create the infrastructure for a sustainable and regenerative economic system.

The goal of an open source economic development organization is to develop and demonstrate working economic models for regenerative enterprise. This includes all the applied science, techniques, and knowhow involved in the provision of goods and services, including components such as:

Particular to the open source economic development process are additional support features that enable open source economics to exist:

In particular, here is a simplified operational diagram for Open Source Ecology. We are presently following this strategy:

As a nonprofit organization, we are in a position to accept public support and donations to develop a farming operation. Presently, we are putting 8 acres of donated land to use, and have access to a tractor and a pull-type combine. We are using a seeder setup consisting of 2 Earthway seeders on a drawbar, pulled by a tractor. We will market salsa, popcorn, shelled pumpkin seeds, and squash as a fundraiser, motivating our fundraiser as a route to generate capital for the acquisition of permanent land. We are looking for 20-100 acres, which we will put under conservation status. The land will serve as our organizational headquarters and research station.

Social Enterprise Development refers to our program of creating regenerative enterprise. Our initial land acquisition will be dedicated to our organization headquarters and research station. We will perform research for our future involvement in land acquisition, by developing a replicable model for conservation development districts: for a given 40 acre plot, approximately 95% of the land will remain as natural space or agricultural land, and the remaining fraction will be developed with ecological housing. The undeveloped land will be placed under permanent conservation status by extinguishing its development rights.

We will use the land-based headquarters as a research and education center for public-interest land acquisition and open source technology development. This is part of our strategy for creating open access to information and other forms of capital. Land transactions are important because land is the most fundamental form of real capital. Open source technology refers to all the knowhow required for the provision of human needs in a sustainable and regenerative fashion. It includes social technologies and hardware technologies. Social technologies refer to human institutions such as finance, governance, political and social organization. In particular, social technology is used here to imply ethical routes of implementing these human institutions. Social technology is relevant mainly to developing organizational and financing strategies for conservation districts, agricultural districts, energy projects, and others. Hardware technologies include the techniques and applied science that are used to provide the physical survival needs of people.

Social technology is relevant to regenerative enterprise in that, if in conjunction with open source hardware technology, it can produce public-interest enterprise for meeting human needs. Such social enterprise can avoid:

By necessity, social enterprise must have a strong regional identity and a sufficiently small size, such that feedback loops for its ecological and social performance are visible.

To promote widespread access to capital, we are creating a social enterprise incubator. We will offer intensive residential training internships in regenerative enterprise. We will perform research in and teach about open source technology for various appropriate technology enterprises, starting with food and shelter and moving to transportation, health, and other infrastructures for meeting human needs.

The infrastructure creation refers to the generation of a support framework for regenerative enterprise. This includes:

Putting our Principles into Practice

Our basic goals are regenerative design and replicability. To assess the regenerative design aspects of the projects we engage, we have defined a basic set of guiding principles relevant to the creation and replicability of regenerative enterprise. We call this the Regenerative Enterprise Index (REI):

The Open Source Ecology License states that:

The aspect of openness and replicability demands particular attention. This is motivated by our belief that open collaboration, absolutely free of proprietary or special-interest influence, is the only route to optimal collaboration and to equitable distribution of goods and services. To this end, we have defined an Open Source Indicator which helps us to assess the level of openness and transparency that is present within respect to the access to information or the functioning of other organizations. The OSI also assesses the possibility of making best practice the norm. We believe that the only route to raising the ecological performance of all productive actors in society is by open access to leading techniques and technologies. This avoids the relative mediocrity that is enforced with patented or proprietary intellectual property models: when one protected group uses state of the art techniques, everyone else is mediocre in comparison. We promote an open, participative, and replicable R&D infrastructure which allows all actors to utilize state of the art developments.

The OSI is defined as a level of openness, where each number corresponds to a score. The index begins with an assessment of access to basic information, and stretches to well-defined economic models and the presence of an infrastructure for startup and replication. The higher the score the more open and replicable the productive model. Each Open Source Level is cumulative, and a given Level Score indicates that all prior OSI criteria are met. Note that we believe that one should not pay for information, only for physical products or services. The OSI is an indicator that assesses the level of access to the production of goods and services via regenerative enterprise.

Does Open Source Economics Work?

We claim that there are inherent threats to the democratic process that are embodied in a proprietary intellectual property model. We are not indicating that private property should not exist, but that access to it should be equitable. We are trying to make a case that only if the best designs are developed collaboratively and shared freely, the development costs can be reduced drastically, time could be liberated for other endeavors, and equitable distribution of wealth may come closer to reality.

We claim further that the limit of an economy as information and capital access barrier are removed is a sustainable, regenerative economy, where market inefficiencies - poor product design, overspecialization, overproduction, legal difficulties, overhead costs, poor distribution of products - are removed. These inefficiencies should be assessed in terms of possible solutions introduced by open source development:

Poor design



Legal difficulties

Overhead costs

Poor distribution

Most people, nonetheless, do not believe that open source is a viable route of economic development. Common objections that are raised include:

  1. How will one make a living when the next person can replicate your idea after years of your development?
  2. What provides the incentive for innovation when no-one can claim exclusive monetary benefit?
  3. This must be some happy hippy in the woods phenomenon. How can quality products arise?
  4. The bigger the better. How can lower technology and smaller scales of production work?

Answers to these questions require deep soul-searching, but some immediate points can be made. Question 1 is the most difficult to answer, because it assumes a solo development process. In the open source route, collaborative development is invoked, such that one person does not have to struggle with "years of development," and the final product is more integrated. What about creative work? Open source economics assumes that creativity is not for sale, and that one should be supported only by productivity related to basic human needs. However, open source economics aims to show that survival, with wise use of technology and open access to information, allows one to survive with minimal effort, such as perhaps a 10 hour work week, where the rest of the time can be dedicated to true creativity, in the absence of economic pressure. The 10 hour work week will be elucidated in Section XX [not part of this text - the editor].

Point 2 can be answered easily by invoking the Linux example: a model where a combination of pure passion on the side of the developer and nonprofit foundation support for keeping a project alive can result in superior, affordable products. For example, Elumisoft, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin, provides technical assistance for converting small business to open source computing, saving money for the business while providing meaningful employment to open source developers at Elumisoft.

Point 3 is answered readily in that a shared base of open design is an effective route to disseminating best practice, and that in fact it is the proprietary route that leads to inferior design by all except the "top dogs" in a given field.

To address point 3, one can invoke an example of mega-farm agriculture vs. smaller scale farming as a case in point. In this case, 5 John Deere tractors from the 1950's at $1000 each (which are still in wide use today), can do the equivalent work of a $200K modern tractor. (ref) The modern tractor depreciates rapidly and is more difficult to maintain. Labor costs are higher in the former case, but they are a renewable input. Also, it can be shown that the income from corn planted at maximum closeness with the intense use of fertilizer and pesticide will yield ~$100/acre in net profits, while corn planted at twice less density with cultivation between rows will yield ~$250/acre in net profits. (ref)

Organizational Structure and Operation of OSE

At this point, we can turn to the particular work that we are engaged in to demonstrate how we are approaching the open source economic development process for meeting human needs in a regenerative way.

We are a publicly supported organization with a board of directors and advisors. We are incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the state of Wisconsin, and are currently applying for tax exempt status under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. We operate from a home office and have one full time director and one half-time volunteer project coordinator.

We are currently operating entirely on donations and a bootstrapping financing mechanism. We have a computer suite of 3 laptops with Mandrake 10 Linux, as well as a desktop Linux machine, printers, scanners, a fax, donated from the Forest Products Lab, a government facility which donates used equipment to nonprofit organizations. Our operating budget for the half of this year includes $7020 in donations. We will be soliciting for funds from the State later this year, but our main fundraising focus relies on a bootstrapping approach, where we are using a donated total of ~10 acres of land in 3 locations to grow crops as part of our research and as part of a social marketing fundraiser in partnership with community groups. Our aim is to raise about $40K by marketing our concept to community groups. The concept is that we will use the proceeds to pay our expenses and utilize ~90% of the earned income in land acquisition of a 20-100 acre property that we obtain via a rent-to-own creative financing arrangement. Our goal this year is to demonstrate that we can use this self-funding mechanism to finance a rent-to-own arrangement for land, where we motivate our fundraising by our interest in conservation. We will be using the land as an operations base and research center for OSE. We are placing the purchased land in permanent conservation by a restriction of development rights, in a region of the country undergoing extensive urban sprawl on prime agricultural farmland.

We have several aims in our activity, where we are applying principles of open source economic development in all aspects of our operations. We are engaging in two main projects, OpenFarm and OpenHouse, as part of this work. Our deliverables for the 3 year period until the end of 2006 are:

  1. Acquire land for our research center by the end of 2004, via a bootstrapping financing mechanism. The purchased land will be preserved permanently by extinguishing development rights. This includes the ongoing generation of income from agricultural value-added production combined with social marketing.
  2. Build a Sustainable House Demonstrator by August 15, 2004.
  3. Acquire and convert a diesel pickup truck to dual diesel/straight waste vegetable oil fuel by August 15, 2004. This requires a fuel line switching valve, settling of waste oil by gravity, and a second tank for oil, to be used above freezing, with diesel operation in winter.
  4. Demonstrate the operation of the research center with ~12 full time residential interns with a yearly monetary budget of approximately $38K by the end of 2005. Develop a curriculum for OpenHouse and OpenFarm, as well as initiate an Open Source Technology program, by the same date. Residential internship includes designing an building of modular dwelling additions to the OSE main building. The core OSE building will be based on concepts embodied in the Sustainable House Demonstrator.
  5. Graduate the ~6 interns upon successful acquisition of rent-to-own contracts for land totaling ~250 acres by year 3 of operation (year end, 2006), thereby demonstrating the replicability of the OpenFarm concept.
  6. Develop a regenerative housing enterprise by a collaborative effort of ~6 interns. This development enterprise integrates housing, agriculture, and conservation in a new development, with a first 40 acre development by year 3 of operation.

The land acquisition is the main thrust of our effort since this will provide the land base for permanent income generation via agricultural production, and it will be the base of a research campus which houses our experimental and demonstration facilities with associated personnel. Our operational strategy is to minimize overhead costs by structuring operational activity in the form of internships (check on 4th world movement model), where agricultural production provides 90% of our diet, the remaining 10% coming from barter economics. Housing will be provided on site, and our energy needs will be based on renewable energy sources. Our research program will be based on subsistence activity, including the development of flash-steam solid fuel combustion systems based on dry feed corn, as well as waste vegetable oil, on-site grown vegetable oil. We are investigating hydrogen internal combustion or external combustion engines as a longer-term option.

The research campus will feature food production by an on-site open source farming and food provision team, where the food is part of an integrated agriculture package that includes grains, legumes, poultry, fish, dairy, fruits, nuts, root crops, vegetables, oil crops, seed crops, and others. Other research topics will be handled by the remaining ~5 agricultural interns.


The proposed time-line of this project is:

  1. Year end 2004:
    • Erection of OpenHouse Demonstrator (see appendix A for details)
    • Permanent land acquisition of 20-100 acres via rent-to-own arrangement for OpenFarm project
    • Core OpenFarm headquarters building erection
    • Continuing OpenHouse multimedia education and design interface
  2. Year end 2005:
    • Agricultural intern program evolved to 12 residential interns, where interns build their own shelter. Collaborative research and curriculum development program:
      • OpenFarm (5 interns):
        • Bioregionally adapted crop research
        • Local product development
        • Marketing research
        • Legal and financial literacy program development
        • Sound land use and conservation program development
        • Appropriate technology research for farm machinery and processing
        • Development of open source technology flexible manufacturing demonstration facility
        • Development of year-round, full diet, CSA package, and establishment of first customer base of ~10-20 people for the 2006 season.
        • Curriculum development for OpenFarm training, such that larger classes may be offered to the general public.
        • Development of a business plan for an Integrated Food and Waste Management System on the OSE campus, (ref) using SolaRoof variable insulation glazing technology. (ref)
      • OpenHouse (3 interns):
        • Sustainable housing building demonstration projects and local sourcing development of cementitious materials, composites, fly-ash cement, and sustainable forestry
        • Work continuing on OpenHouse educational interface
      • Appropriate Technology (3 interns):
        • Bioplastic packaging development
        • Continuing work on hybrid electric generator-electric motor propulsion systems, including flash steam and compressed hydrogen generation.
        • OpenWind project development for megawatt scale turbine installation open-sourcing and open source smaller scale technology manufacturing
      • Holistic Health Program
        • Development of free workshop course offering for an Integrative Transformative, Health Practice
        • Holistic medicine program development, with associated emergency clinic, medical emergency fund, and reduced-cost MD and ND services for interns
  3. Year end 2006:
    • Curriculum developed for OpenFarm Integrated Agriculture course; OSE Institute opens doors to the general public for OpenFarm and OpenHouse
    • OpenFarm
      • Development of a local General Corner Store in Madison, WI, in participation with a neighborhood group
      • Replication of land acquisition by ~3 of the interns, and startup of an economically viable community supported agriculture operations, with year-round, full diet offering and seasonal extension greenhouses
      • 1 of the interns graduates to a teaching position at OSE Institute for Open Farm course offering
    • OpenHouse
      • Develop a hands-on crash course in sustainable building for OpenHouse development participants. This is a short course for future inhabitants of OpenHouse cluster integrated developments, which are the practical end point of the OpenHouse project. These are multi-acre, conservation/agriculture/housing subdivisions.
      • Graduation of OpenHouse intern group after successful design, land acquisition, and ground-breaking of an integrated 40 acre agriculture, conservation, and housing development

Discussion of the OSE Open Source Development Process

The operational economic model that we follow is a hybrid between an "earned income" model and a pure charity. The combination of our OpenFarm and OpenHouse, in so far as it leads to working economic practice of production-financed integrated agriculture-conservation-housing projects, can be called a Conservation Generator Program. The key steps in our procedure are:

  1. Donations: Donated land, equipment, and machinery, with farm management by OSE, on a startup budget of under $2,000 for the management of 10 acres.
  2. Production: We engage in agricultural production to generate income.
  3. Social marketing: We get the full worth of our work, or realize our donated and produced assets, by a social marketing strategy that focuses on sales to civic groups, local businesses, and on replacing existing fundraisers with a locally-grown alternative.
  4. Land acquisition assistance: We are documenting and defining a land acquisition strategy, which assists both the seller and us in navigating complex property transaction issues.
  5. Proven business model: By engaging in the economic process directly, we are defining and testing a bootstrapping, open source business model that any interested individual or group can replicate, either with us in the form of an internship or independently.

The above projects and goals embody the open source method of economic development in the fullest sense. The entire process of development is designed to be open and collaborative, where all of our research results enter the public domain. The projects are developed by teams. Low overhead is maintained by an internship organizational structure, tax exemption from property taxes due to the public benefit research and education aspect of the land holding, and autonomous food, energy, and transportation systems.

We are working on providing an economic alternative to the mainstream food and housing industries, where our products uphold high standards of ecological and regenerative enterprise. We are committed to thorough transparency and openness, and will minimize our use of any proprietary technology, because such technologies come with strings attached, increase costs, and prevents effective collaboration from happening. We believe that the open source development method will succeed in rapid substitution of many proprietary technologies with open source, ecological equivalents. Thus, we aim not to partner with anyone who requires nondisclosure or secrecy.

Furthermore, we believe that the last word in economic theory is open source knowhow and technology. We also see a step beyond open source technology: the organization of transparent systems and modes of human organization that uphold highest ethical ideals and promote democracy. We call that next combination of human systems Open Source Ecology, and hence our organization's name.

The economics of such systems need to be demonstrated. We point to the economics that we are developing, and we compare open source economics results to the mainstream economics for computing, housing, and agriculture in Appendix A.

Addressing Pressing World Issues and Generating Leadership for Correcting Market Inefficiencies

Reducing Market Inefficiencies

Here we argue that gross shortcomings of our economic systems, which economists call market inefficiencies, can be overcome in an open source framework of doing business. These market inefficiencies include concentration of wealth and power, environmental degradation, poor distribution of wealth, or the gap between the rich and poor.

Shortcomings of "pure market forces" refers to the incomplete effectiveness in terms of economic systems to provide for human needs. It should be noted that there is no "pure market forces," or some abstract power that guides the economic process. Instead, economies are guided by human will. Features that make economic systems ineffective are part of overall system design or of executives' decisions. True, the executive powers are forced into unethical behavior by system design - such as making big returns or a company would collapse from competition. System design is where open source thinking can be utilized.

If information is fully available, as fostered by open source transparency - then feedback on issues of performance - ecological or social - is available. Issues such as pollution, inequity, overpopulation are acknowledged, as downstream effects of environmental degradation and inequity are visible. If cause-and-effect relationships can be understood, there is a chance to correct systematically recurring negative features of our economies. Transparency of the underlying cause-and-effect relationships can be fostered via interdisciplinary, open source learning. This learning can occur at the level of our educational systems or at the level of an informed population. Skills necessary to correct or address these causal relationships can be attained if barrier-free, interdisciplinary, applied rapid learning is nurtured. This is the goal of open source learning, while trade secrets, propaganda machines, advertising, patents, scholastic disciplinarity, and other barriers stand in the way.

What is a completely educated individual? It is our opinion that the absence of abundant disincentives to holistic understanding, mentioned above, would result in individuals who know how to grow food, produce their shelter, and become involved in other creative endeavors that are fundamentally related to the human psychological stability. We are not promoting a life of toil, because we have enough knowhow and technology to remove survival pressures from dictating our political choices. We can have a generally enlightened society, or a society that is significantly more wise than today.

There's a catch here. We assume that people, the economic actors, care. That is, we assume that if they have a complete information base for making wise decisions, they will make ethical and ecological decisions. Many would agree that such care is in short supply in today's world. This is a matter of speculation, since this can not be proven one way or another, given the presence of human will. Humans have a choice to make decisions, if free from abject poverty that reduces their choice to base survival. Since it is not the abject poor that control our economy, but instead by those with ample means for survival, we can hope that these leaders will make wise decisions. Yes, you can choose to care or not to care about something.

Systematically, our choices are being narrowed down when we are overworked, in which case we are reduced to a state similar to the abject poor, who are reduced to the most simple and brute means of survival. We need to rest when we are overworked, we make simple decisions, and not think about making a better world. Competition can be dangerous when we lose perspective as we race ahead without having time to reflect. Absurdities - such as the $1.1 trillion of unsupported accounting entries by the pentagon (ref), local overpopulation or resource degradation, or ongoing arrest of American citizens without trial due to the Homeland Security Act - are allowed to thrive in such a state of society.

It may be said that the limit of an economy, in the (1), presence of complete knowledge flows, and (2), availability of time for people to reflect, is a sustainable, regenerative economy. We noted that the economy is controlled only by a small fraction of the population. Most people are interested in following opinion leaders. Thus, to say that "most people don't care" may not be relevant to the possibility of a sustainable, regenerative economy - since only the small percentage of people make far-reaching decisions that guide the progress or regress of society. This at least introduces hope that a small fraction of civic and social entrepreneurs in society can have profound effects in addressing pressing world issues.

Open source economics is particularly relevant to the creation of an improved economic system, through its focus on barrier-free participation in the economic process. It is the goal of OSE to invite those interested in developing their capacity to do "good world work" - to acquire the broad set of skills to be potent free agents in society, or those guided not by group-think but by their capacity for constructive critique of the System. These people are capable of guiding projects from a creative, as opposed to reactionary, perspective. We are interested in nurturing such freethinkers, while avoiding the indoctrination process common to many professional circles.

On Competition

Competition, as used in reference to today's economy, is a misnomer. In reality, it refers to the annihilation of competitors, in that market players aim to do anything to prevent others from doing something as well as they are. Frequently, an uneven playing field is created to keep outsiders where they are: excluded from the economic process. We call such practice dysfunctional competition, as opposed to healthy competition. Healthy competition works when inspiration, not protectionism and its underlying motivation of fear, is the basis of an economic process, which implies the presence of a level playing field.

Dysfunctional competition engenders general mediocrity, where a small group controls the leading technologies and practices. From the perspective of open source thinking, a clear solution arises: to share best practice openly, to raise the overall performance of all market players. This introduces the possibility of best practice becoming the norm.

The practical implementation of an open source product development process can manifest as a foundation or nonprofit research institution which generates the knowhow that is freely available for all to use and build upon. The foundation or nonprofit organization can be funded publicly, while anyone can privatize resulting income by engaging in productive activity. However, no one can privatize the information itself, and an equitable governance should encourage further developments to be placed in a common pool of open source knowledge. This has been demonstrated in the Linux model of open source software development, and we are engaging this method for developing products and services at OSE.

As a counterexample to the open sharing of pu, consider the privatization of public resources that goes largely unnoticed and accepted as a way of doing business. The National Renewable Energy Lab is one example, of many, where a government-supported institution holds patents that it developed with public money. At one point, we called NREL to inquire about access to one of its clean thin-film photovoltaic technologies, and we were informed that it would cost us $1M to acquire the patent rights. Since the financial barrier limited our participation with NREL, we decided to pursue the Open Source Photovoltaics project, a research and development effort for small scale photovoltaics production facilities that could be licensed freely to any community that wants to manufacture its own photovoltaics.

Towards Import Substitution and Generation of Local Wealth

People have long observed that poor regions or nations typically import more than they can afford or else are terribly deprived because they fail to produce wide ranges of things for themselves. (J. Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life, Vinage Books, NY, 1985, p.35). Open source economics is relevant to local prosperity in so far as improved knowledge and access to a wide range of open source production technologies, such as the Open Source Photovoltaics project, can lead to increasing wealth. Even if a region is materially poor, access to and creative use of knowhow can realize much wealth.

A general trend in human history is that groups and regions were not self sufficient. Trade routes and merchant commerce were present for thousands of years, and the current phenomenon of globalization is the limit of such exchange, where electronic transactions can travel across the globe in a fraction of a second, and physical products can travel to the farthest reaches of the earth in a fraction of a day.

Because all human knowledge can be collected in any location rapidly by information and communication technology, and because technologies are increasingly efficient in producing goods and services, there now exist conditions under which high levels of prosperity and wealth can be the norm in just about any region of the world. We call this autonomy, the self-determination of regions free from pressures such as random global market forces or the necessity of war.

The conditions for such autonomy are several:

  1. Sustainable management of regional resources exists to the point that the local population stabilizes according to its regional resource base.
    Undoubtedly, this point requires the reduction of scale such that patterns of resource use are held at a sustainable level by transparent feedback mechanisms with respect to shortages, environmental abuses, or poor distribution patterns. Such a decrease of scale is possible when a region produces all its life-supporting services in as small an area as possible. For nonlocal, nonrenewable materials, such as metals, a reuse and recycling capacity should be built into the local community to extend the life of these materials as long as possible. Strategies such as design for disassembly, modular components, and a best practice database for optimal design, could contribute to this strategy. For example, stainless steel and aluminum have a lifetime of 500 years, and many other metals can have protective coatings to extend their life.
  2. Educational and other institutions support an agenda of sustainable and regenerative resource use. This relies on open access of individuals to the economic process, and calls for an end to dysfunctional competition with the introduction of open source best practices.
    The local politics require a transition to open source thinking in its education, economic, and governance structures. This is a hard point to sell to the mainstream, dysfunctional-competitive society. We aim to create an educational facility at OSE that teaches such stewardship economics. We believe that appropriate governance structures will arise from the economic infrastructure that is created. Best practices can enter common use if educational structures focus on collaborative development of a common repository of knowledge, free of the influence of proprietary contributions.
  3. The appropriate use of technology is a prerequisite to generating autonomous regions. Inappropriate technology choices will not save time or money when all costs are considered.
    High technology choices require an extensive infrastructure for their production and upkeep. For technology to truly serve human needs, it needs to be used wisely for it to save time and increase the quality of life. The level of technology should be such that it genuinely increases the quality of life, instead of leading to the "myth of the machine:" that misguided notion that machines always save time. It appears that the general present trend is unwise technological choice: people work long hours, even when the level of technology is sufficiently high that with proper management, the time it would take for all human needs to be taken care of could be reduced many-fold, simply because a machine can do the labor of many people. For the machine to be used wisely, the requirement is that it takes less time to produce, use, and maintain it than it would take to perform a given task without the machine. Apparently, unwise technological choice is rampant in the USA, because people are working increasingly long hours. Poor distribution of wealth and inefficient governance accounts for some of the longer hours, but a lot of the trouble stems from poor technological choice.
    For example, it can be shown that 5 John Deere tractors from the 1950s, costing $1K each, which are still in common use today, can do the equivalent work of a $200K modern tractor. Moreover, the modern tractor depreciates rapidly, while the old tractors retain their value. This represents a savings of $195K, which translates to a liberation of a huge financial burden and a corresponding reduction in working time for purchasing the tractors. The high capital inputs in these case can be replaced by labor (4 extra tractor operators), which are a renewable resource.

A. Appendix A - Basic Financial Analysis of Open Source Economics

A.1. Show me the Money: Open Source Economics in Computing

Disclaimer: these economic models are part of our ongoing experiments. They are based on a large set of assumptions, which are presented explicitly and should be kept in mind when a surprising level of affordability arises.

One can show a basic comparison for the cost of equipping a home or office with a full office and productivity suite using Microsoft Windows on the proprietary computer operating systems side, and Linux on the open source side. (ref)

Table 1
Costs Linux operating system Microsoft operating system
installation cost, home 0 if downloaded, $40 if purchased on CD $0 if pre-bundled, $400 if bought separately
updating cost, home 0 $300
installation cost, 5 user business license 0 if downloaded, $40 if purchased on CD $2000
updating cost, 5 user business license 0 $2000
technical support consulting fees consulting fees

Table 1 indicates that a business using proprietary, Microsoft software spends thousands of dollars on the software license, while a user of Linux needs to spend up to $40 for any number of users license.

A.2. Comparison of Open Source Economics in Housing

Let's consider an example of typical cookie-cutter development and OpenHouse-style development.

A rough breakdown of development costs for urban sprawl development and OpenHouse development can be shown, using an example of a 50 acre parcel with 200 single family residences, as found in the area of Madison, Wisconsin. We are considering a cluster OpenHouse development where up to 5 acres is dedicated to housing at a high density of 40 people per acre, which is livable only via the use of vertical space such as in ziggurat structures (ref), and is made tolerable and pleasant by ready access to natural areas which are only a few steps away from any dwelling.

Table 2
Costs OpenHouse cluster development Mainstream urban sprawl development
Land acquisition ($10K/acre) $500K $500K
Infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, electric) $1,000K (includes 500W of solar energy and 500 W of wind-power per household, on site biological water treatment in using IFWMS technology (ref), and partial rainwater catchment) $8,000K
Permits and legal costs $1K $10K
Design and planning $1K $10K
Building materials and labor 200 homes at $5K each, $1,000K 200 homes at $40K each, $8,000K
Interest costs - $125K
Total costs $2.5M $16.6M
Total cost to consumer 200 homes at $15K each: $3M 200 homes at $150K each: $30M
Profit $498K $13.4M

The open source process relies on background laid out by the OpenHouse multimedia education and design interface, as well as by a crash course.

The above numbers show a spectacular difference in cost and profit. The land costs the same in each case. The low infrastructure cost is explained by ziggurat-like cluster development in the OpenHouse case, with rest of the space dedicated to natural areas and agriculture. Assuming that a lean open source organization such as OSE acts as the project integrator, it can fetch a good deal on permitting and legal costs via legally literate interns and in-house design and planning capacity developed as part of the OpenHouse project.

The building materials cost is harder to explain because it includes sweat equity lumber production using a hired lumberjack, as well as sweat equity house deconstruction materials acquired with the aid of a qualified deconstruction organization. In particular, it can be shown that a hired lumberjack team with a portable bandsaw is capable of generating lumber at 1/4 the cost of lumberyard wood. (ref). Combined with deconstructed, scavenged, and sweat-equity based on-site generated building materials, the cost of the materials is reduced drastically. The other main difference is that the Builder's Yard model (ref) is invoked to involve the sweat equity of future residents, under the guidance of a master builder. The economics of such a model have been previously demonstrated (ref).

The sweat equity model may be hard to explain to financing institution or other mainstream agents, but it does rely on a fundamental need of humans to shape their own environment, and as such remains a viable option in spite of the industrialization of house building. The economics of such an arrangement are motivated by the builders' passion.

The operational model that would allow such building to occur involves a design process which involves the future residents. Such basic design capacity is teachable to most people (ref), and computer aided tools exist to help with that process. The design process also includes firm adherence to the principles of regenerative design, as introduced earlier, and is based on a basic layout established under the direction of the master builder. Participants to the process agree to adhere to the best judgment of the master builder for the general layout that provides coherence to the entire building project, where individuals' creativity enters in the details of the construction methods chosen.

Note that the interest costs for the open source route are zero. This is because up-front payment is required as part of the OSE philosophy of paying up front to avoid the usury of interest rates. We promote borrowing from family members and close friends.

Note that $498K of profit remains. $200K of that goes to the installation of a wind turbine, and the remaining $298 goes towards establishing agricultural


Table 3
Item Cost
5 1950 John Deere or equivalent tractors $10K
1 acre SolaRoof greenhouse (ref) for integrated agriculture using IFWMS (ref) $200K
2 pull-type combines $1K
Vehicle fleet of 20 hybrid open source technology transportation vehicles $20K
Machine shop and portable saw mill $5K
Other agricultural implements, buildings, and supplies $12K
Medical facility and medical emergency fund $50K
Total $298K

As such, a largely autonomous community that provides its own food, energy, shelter, maintenance, and health needs is created. In conjunction with the practical educational support of OSE, such communities may become a norm within an ecologically minded customer base. Members of the community take on roles after becoming stewards of the various operational aspects of this planned unit development. The design of the entire community is aimed to be largely integrated with nature, such that the schism between urban and rural areas tends to disappear.

A.3. Comparison of Open Source Economics in Agriculture

In the above example, little was explained about the economics of food provision. A comparison of American mega-farming of corn and soybeans provides a pitifully weak example of land management, where incomes on the order of $100 accrue in the presence of industrialized, heavy input agriculture (ref). In the integrated OpenHouse development, where all of one's food can be grown on site, an equivalent income on the order of $5,000/acre is likely to obtain. The assumption here is that an acre is sufficient to feed 4 people on our hypothetical 50 acre example, and each person would spend at least $1000 on food each year. (ref} link

The point that we are exploring in the OpenFarm project is the demonstration of an integrated agricultural operation that provides a full, year round diet with complete protein, grain crops, legumes, oil crops, and so forth, utilizing seasonal extension and involving food processing as part of the operation. We are studying the economics and ergonomics of such an operation, while defining an appropriate technology supporting equipment list for both field machinery and processing equipment using the organic method. We aim to show that a single person well-equipped with the necessary technology can easily provide an entire food package to approximately 100 people.

Some indications of the ergonomics are indicated by considering the amount of time it takes to produce a full diet for on-site residents who can participate in some aspects of the production process. While one farmer might find it difficult, a combination of the farmer's work with the labor of all food recipients at a minimum amount of effort shows that one person could do the following, if equipped with a tractor, combine, and a few agricultural implements. The calculation here is for feeding 100 people. A basic rule of thumb is that one person requires 1/4 acre, such that 100 people require 25 acres. If a farm tractor is used, then it is easy to work a 25 acre parcel.

Table 4
Crops Time Requirement per person
wheat, oats, amaranth, sesame, flax, barley, rye, canula growing farm manager only: 4 days to broadcast
beans, lentils, soybeans 1 day to plant
cabbage, kale, carrot, beet, napa 1 day to plant
peanuts, potatoes 1 day, with help of a team of 10 people
pumpkins, squash, corn 1 day, with help of a team of 10 people
onions, garlic, chives 5 person team plants and harvests
salad greens self-growing
dairy cow duty: each of 100 people spends 4 hours per year, doing 4 days of milking
chickens, fish self-picking
fruits and nuts self-picking
harvesting 2 days of combining and winnowing
processing: oil expression, hulling, milling 1/2 day sessions for oil, seed crops; bread: 4 days per year
canning, drying, root storage 1 work day of 6 hours per year; 20 different products

The above table, which is a rough calculation, shows that the farm manager needs to be involved directly for about 35 days of the year, while other activities are aided by minimal effort on the part of the residents. Operations such as milking, fruit collection, self-growing, require minimum effort on the part of the farm manager if a well-defined infrastructure for meeting all the needs exists: jars, code kitchen, processing equipment on hand and storage well-organized. Then the only major tasks are equipment maintenance, seed saving, pruning, electric fencing, and other minor tasks.

The above example relies on a heavily integrated and sizeable knowledge base, which can be attained only via rapid learning of zero access barrier material, such as found in an open source knowledge base. Basic hands on training will be available for OpenFarm skills as part of Open Source Ecology operation, and new social organization patterns based on regenerative living communities fueled by open source knowledge, appropriate technology, and low-impact living.

B. Appendix A

[The original text had two "Appendix A" which is reflected in the header while the numbering scheme is sequential - the editor]

B.1. Sustainable House Demonstrator

Open Source Ecology, Inc., has received an in kind contribution of space to build a 200 square foot studio building demonstrator. The particular design features of the demonstrator are:

C. Appendix B: Open Source Ecology Open Publishing Policy

Open Source Ecology (OSE), Inc., is committed firmly to open access to information. OSE finances its information collection and publications via its nonprofit fundraising.

Users have cost-free access to:

A fee will be requested for:

This fee may be waived by request, to account for easy access to individuals or groups with tight budgets. We also offer our printing facilities to those who want to print materials themselves, where we charge only for the at-cost value of materials used (paper, printer ink).

D. Appendix C