COMMONOMICS
Growing Our Common Wealth™
by Commonomics Media Team on November 19th, 2015

Democratic Socialism Board Game Released
 
Commonomics USA releases the first in a series of educational board games on Democratic Socialism in America. The “American Commons” board game (National Edition) is a collaborative fast-paced game that pits the player “citizens” against the oligarchy as citizens attempt to arrange pieces of America’s collective wealth into a defined market economy, robust public services, and a protected American Commons. Future editions will be for state and local economies.
 
Commonomics USA announces the release of the inaugural edition of the American Commons board game. As an educational and entertaining strategy game, it is the only board game on the history of Democratic Socialism in America on the market. It exposes “citizen” players to the rigged economy as they use strategy, skill, and their rights to outmaneuver political corruption. American Commons is designed for two to eight players, age seven and above, and may be played solitarily.
 
American Commons pits the player “citizens” against the oligarchs, uses no money, and includes gaming elements that encourage collaboration. Each citizen’s turn includes a “dice roll” that is predetermined by the previous citizen’s card draw, if any. “Rights” cards and “Voting” cards are stacked accordingly, with special “Technology Wildcards” included in each deck. Software versions of these decks can be played in lieu of the physical decks that are shipped with the game. These are available online and are included at no cost as part of the “American Commons” downloadable app. Decks with specific themes (such as Democratic and Republican Presidential Primary, History of Organized Labor, Monetary Reform, etc.) will also be available through the app.
 
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Democratic Socialism to the American Public as part of the 2016 presidential primary race. “So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me," he said to a Georgetown University audience in November. “It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.”
 
Commonomics USA, formed by veterans of the public banking, debt forgiveness, and foreclosure prevention movements, aims to “advance economic justice, reclaim the commons, and promote democratic economies through nonpartisan partnerships with America's public policy officials, grass roots activists, and the general public,” according to its web site.
 
Marc Armstrong, one of the founders of Commonomics USA and designer of the American Commons board game, says “This game is an opportunity for people to discuss important subjects, like economics and politics, while using their collective reasoning to outmaneuver the oligarchy. The authentic quotes from politicians help to further game play in many surprising ways. The wealth discs, the rights cards, voting cards, and the technology wildcards all interact in a way that brings a sense of order and purpose to the economy. And the bottom line is surprising – can you protect the American Commons? It’s more difficult than one might imagine.”
 
Commonomics USA’s larger vision is a defense of the commons, and implementation of policies that promote human solidarity and resiliency. Armstrong explains that “the commons includes everything from open source software to banking. Government austerity and privatization are the dual threats to our common wealth. We advance the idea that the expansion and protection of the commons, particularly those in the economic arena, will improve our collective wealth.”
 
The web site for Commonomics USA is http://www.commonomicsusa.org/.

by Commonomics Media Team on October 26th, 2015

Marc Armstrong, president of Commonomics USA, discusses the history and resurgence of postal banking with the organization's policy director, Matt Stannard, in this short conversation. 

Listen here. 

by Marc Armstrong on July 10th, 2015

Customization and Co-Branding Available for Partners

Commonomics USA is doing beta testing of a new board game called "American Commons" that focuses on furthering economic justice by protecting the commons. The game voting cards will be available physically, virtually, and through an app. They can be customized by partners who wish to provide a fun and challenging way to provide a compelling way to educate and expand their communities. 

Evaluation orders can be made during July, 2015 and the evaluation copies will be shipped in September. Release of the 2016 Inaugural National Edition will be in November, 2015. Details and ordering information can be found here.

For more information, contact Marc Armstrong at marc@commonomicsusa.org.

by Susan Harman on May 31st, 2015

It is with great pleasure that Commonomics USA notes that the US Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams has, for the second time in a year and a half, endorsed expanding the Post Office’s financial services. We are equally pleased that he agrees with us that most of the services recommended in his "Approach 1" can be started almost immediately.
 
Timing is important because, although it is generally acknowledged that the payday lenders prey on the poor (with interest rates and fees amounting to as much as 1500%), what’s less generally acknowledged is that—until our economy works as well for the 99% as it does for the 1%—these predatory financial servers are a very necessary evil. The sooner the Post Office can offer a reasonably-priced alternative to the predators, the better for the poor and the un- and under-banked of this country.
 
The silver lining of the thriving predatory financial services industry is that it provides the post office a menu of services, their popularity, and their profitability validated by years of real-life experience; no need to “market test potential new products” (unless, of course, they are more innovative than those offered by the predators).
 
The Report offers several Approaches for collaborating with established financial institutions. Commonomics USA takes the strong stand that we need to distinguish sharply between small community banks and credit unions on the one hand, and the huge Wall Street banks on the other. We think the USPS under no circumstances should lend its trustworthiness and good name to the Too Big To Fail banks by collaborating with them.
 
We understand this collaboration has the advantage of the convenience of dealing with one partner, but a similar advantage can be had by dealing with the organizations of community banks and credit unions, instead of with individual small banks and CUs. And the downside of partnering with the convicted criminals of Wall Street makes this approach toxic. (Several big banks recently pleaded guilty to felony charges. They and other big banks have paid billions in civil fines and penalties for fraud and other wrongdoing.)
 
It’s difficult to rank which of these crimes is the most toxic, but for the USPS’ purposes, the worst is that the TBTF banks are the financial backers for the predatory financial services industry. It is these Wall Street banks who are profiting from the despair of the poor through their payday lender middlemen. If the USPS’ goal is to provide much-needed financial services to the poor, the last people they should partner with are the banks who benefit most from the payday lenders.
 
Finally, we respectfully disagree that a full-fledged postal bank is impractical, as some people believe. Numerous other developed countries, and even under-developed ones, have done it well. Are critics essentially saying the US is are so incompetent, a "public option" for basic financial services is beyond our reach? Nonsense. Further, we have a running start: 30,000 paid-for post offices and clerks who already handle pure financial transactions every day.

As we all are painfully aware, the nation’s roads, bridges and other public structures (collectively, “infrastructure”) currently require $2.75 trillion worth of repair and replacement by 2020, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. One immediate use for postal savings deposits can be the formation of a capital base for a National Infrastructure Bank, with the aim of substantially reducing financing costs for public works projects.
 

by Ira Dember on May 29th, 2015

 Yesterday (5/28/15) TheHill.com reported on financial industry blowback against proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rules cracking down on predatory payday lenders. According to The Hill, a credit reporting agency warns these rules will reduce the number of payday loans by 70 percent. A global consulting firm catering to the financial industry predicts the new rules will reduce "payday loan revenues of small lenders" by 82 percent.

The Hill's selective reporting leaves readers with the impression that this is another example of misguided government overreach burdening businesses. Poor, poor lenders.

Never mind that these predators rip off paycheck-to-paycheck families as well as retired folks struggling to survive on a pittance of Social Security, and have been doing so for years. Interest rates (effective APR) on payday loans average about 400 percent. Some loans end up costing borrowers 1,000 percent a year — ten times the amount they borrowed. Even the Bible speaks out against excesses like these.

Such context is absent from The Hill's reporting.

We welcome attempts by We the People, acting through the CFPB, to rein in predatory payday lending and other unrestrained 'free market' abuses.

However, choking off supply provides only half a solution. Millions of hardworking families still can't make ends meet. They still need short-term small-dollar loans — affordable ones. Last summer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared, "When more than a quarter of this country is spending about the same amount on basic financial services as they are spending on food, we have a market failure."

When there's a market failure, We the People need to protect and care for ourselves. US Postal Service Inspector General Dave Williams proposed exactly that in January 2014. He said the USPS could expand its existing financial services to include basics like reloadable cards, check cashing and small-dollar loans, all at affordable rates.

This idea — a public option for basic financial services — makes head-slapping common sense ("Duh!"). America has 30,000 post offices, mostly in lower-income zip codes where bank branches are vanishing and payday lenders spread like toadstools after rain. The US now has more payday lender storefronts than McDonalds and Starbucks combined, revealing how strong demand is for short-term small-dollar loans.

Meanwhile, the USPS is operating at a profit, so post offices and their clerks are paid for. These clerks already handle millions of purely financial transactions a year — selling postal money orders, handling electronic international remittances, cashing tax refund checks, and more — in amounts up to $1,000 cash.

No conventional business in its right mind would pass up expanding an existing suite of services at low incremental cost and therefore with minimal risk. In fact, the company's shareholders would toss out its top execs as negligent, irresponsible incompetents for willfully ignoring such an opportunity.

The Postal Service doesn't have shareholders. It has all of us: citizens of the United States. We the People.

In the face of massive market failure, people are demanding that the USPS stop foot-dragging and start enabling a low-cost public option for basic financial services. In mid-2014 the nonpartisan US Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution to this effect. Further, Congress must get out of the way by permitting the USPS to act.

Inspector General Williams has now published a follow-up report proposing ways in which the Postal Service might actually implement postal banking. It's the only consistent, nationwide answer that anyone has proposed to satisfy demand for affordable small-dollar loans in place of predatory payday lenders.

This means the USPS can deliver the other half of the payday lending solution. While We the People choke off predatory supply by tightening laws and regulations, your local post office can offer desperate hardworking families the small loans they sometimes need to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

Keep in mind, even this important step will not address America's rigged economic system and the desperation it spawns, driving lower-income families to borrow small amounts even at exorbitant rates.

It's the rigged system that really needs fixing.

To recap:
The CFPB's proposed rules provide an urgently needed half-solution to predatory payday lending.
The USPS inspector general's outstanding proposal would provide the other half, satisfying demand at affordable prices.
Eliminating our rigged system — a subject of growing policy debate — will sweep away much of the need for desperate small-dollar borrowing in the first place. 

While our nation debates major policy change aimed at the rigged system — a pivotal part of confronting extreme economic inequality — let's all demand prompt action to get both halves of the solution to predatory payday lenders.

Millions of families need it right now.