(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

How to Make Money Work for Everyone: The Birth of a Website

Posted on: Nov. 16, 2010  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

A gaggle of articles, blogs, books, and talk shows are honking statistics that show the widening disparity between the super rich and the rest of us. We hear about the increase in poverty, and about our collective lack of healthcare or, for those that do have care, our inability to afford it, among more gloomy news. It’s easy to opine that corporations are only about profit and greed these days. But we also know it’s not that simple.  Some companies and institutions do a lot of positive things that make our lives better as well.

The problem is knowing which companies are truly doing good and which are not. The profit motive cannot be ignored. Without profits as a motive, would corporations produce the research and development, for example, that gives us the computers and cell phones that connect us all? Would medicines and medical techniques that save lives ever get developed? On the other hand, that very same profit motive fueled the financial meltdown and gave way to corporate scandals. The downside of a short-term profit mentality is clear.

What really seems to be gone is a sense of fairness in our wealth distribution.  Rich and poor alike even agree that it’s out of whack for money to be concentrated in so few hands. It just doesn’t bode well for a strong economy. One of the key tools we have to right this wrong is to direct our expenditures.  While many of us have seen our discretionary income shrink, there is still enough money out there being directed to the things we want and need.  If enough of us start directing our money in alternative directions, institutions will have to respond by changing things such as how much they pay CEO’s and their employees, and stop sacrificing people in favor of profits.  How money moves and is distributed can become fairer. Money can work better for everyone.

What keeps us from being able to make these changes? With the exception of a few monthly statements from socially-conscious companies like Working Assets or a commercial for Toyota’s newest Prius or, on the negative side, CEO’s that suffer no penalty after trading their own stock at huge profits and then having the company restate the earnings that originally propped up the stock price, we don’t really understand how our money is being used and directed.

Another problem is that people who do the right thing and act with civility, people we can trust to behave with integrity, are few and far between.  From politicians to corporate executives, it seems that no one can be depended on to step up and not put themselves first.

What can we do about all of this?  One great leveler is the Internet.  The Web is a perfect tool to make money work for everyone and to promote collective and collaborative social change.  The Internet has already changed how we interact in so many ways.  Interactive websites now promote a common bond among citizens.  The Internet is changing how wealth is directed. New niches are being created as we all explore interests and tastes never before available.  We can sell things on E-bay and buy books and records that never saw the light of day in the old, foot-traffic world of commerce.

Many people like to complain about things but don’t take any action to bring about a change.  Public opinion has often been an engine for social change, and now that opinions can be posted and viewed instantly on the Internet, change often takes place while an event is still unfolding.  Not only does change happen fast on the net, anyone who uses the Internet to pass a story along, contribute to a blog, or join in on a discussion or group can be a part of that change.

If the public finds a product or service that has the feel of a rip-off, the Web provides a forum filled with calls for action or warnings to avoid using a faulty product or sham company.  Even small and petty actions which used to be of the grin-and-bare-it variety now have large groups of Internet users voicing their dismay or irritation, which can turn into a groundswell of social action. Clay Shirky, who writes and comments about  Internet dynamics, reminds us of the actions of an angry airline passenger, Kate Hanni, who waited five hours on a tarmac.  She began contacting other dismayed souls with similar experiences which led to a petition and the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights which put Congress and the media on the case.  Shirky also points out the example of  Wes Streeting, who posted a campaign on Facebook when a bank decided to reverse its no-fee overdraft policy for college students.  The bank figured the students were powerless but when they responded en masse by threatening a public protest, the bank reversed the policy.

While top-down organization and centralized corporate and governmental structures are still the bases for most social institutions and social interaction, the decentralized multitudes of the Web give any institution a run for its money, as it were.  This is why open source software such as Linux and Wikipedia have become so influential.  Under certain circumstances, a messy array of individuals who use their spare time to surf the net can build something far more extensive and far cheaper than any organized social group.  The ninety-thousand Microsoft employees working on Windows can barely compete with the throngs of individual contributors adding, editing, and refining Linux.  Microsoft cannot afford to pay employees to constantly make mistakes while developing their software, yet that is exactly what the many contributors to Linux did to evolve that operating system.  Decentralization and alternative economics are alive and well.

Can corporations ever achieve the same level of fairness that decentralized systems have naturally? Part of the challenge is lack of feedback. When problems arose with corporations like Enron and Worldcom, there was not enough advance warning to avoid their stock prices crashing and the companies collapsing.  The same is true for the financial meltdown that began in the financial and banking sectors—not enough of an early warning system.  By definition, a crash is when everyone heads to the exits at the same time.  In actuality, financial markets usually get things right.  Stock prices usually balance out to find buyers who think a company will improve and sellers who think it won’t (see my blog post of September 21, 2010).  When problems occur, a systemic failure of the market causes everyone to get hoodwinked at the same time—everyone buys into those bubbles we are all now so familiar with.  Make no mistake. There were individuals at Enron and Worldcom, both inside and outside these financial organizations, who had been sounding alarm bells.  The problem with these organizations was that there was no real coordination or feedback to stockholders or the general public about what the companies were doing. Members of the general public, too, were not involved in informing each other of the faulty operations of these companies.

Right now, with unemployment rampant and most people struggling, large financial institutions are getting ready to give astronomical bonuses to their employees, bonuses which exceed the records they set last year.  Where is the  fairness in that?  While a solution may be one that legislatures tackle, what is also needed is feedback to these companies that we’re mad as hell about what they’re doing. We need to find ways to redirect our money to other institutions besides these “too big to fail” companies (which, by the way, are now larger than the were before the crisis began).

How can we get feedback about companies doing the type of work we feel is fair and want to support? And what if we could easily find out about those not acting the way we would like them to act?

Enter BoodleWiki, a website dedicated to making money work for everyone (and making sure as many people as possible know when a company’s “promissory note” is phony). The website encourages millions of amateurs and those in-the-know to give their feedback about what is right and what is wrong with our institutions and with companies in general.

Millions of interactions can add up to billions of dollars.  Some web users will make it a hobby to find cool companies and cool offerings.  Others will become watchdogs to make sure companies aren’t taking advantage. If you see commentary that a company cares about their community, the common good, and giving back and not just taking, assuming that their prices are also right, you will most likely opt to support that company over a less socially-conscious one that offers the same product.  Who knows? You might also be inspired by others to consume much less or not at all.  Sure, there are those in our consumer society who won’t care one way or another.  Eventually though, when many of us change our buying habits, others will follow.  As fairness itself becomes a “product” that generates profit, other corporations will have to be fair just to remain competitive.  As money starts to flow more toward the common good, more of us will see our lots improved.  Newfound wellbeing and improved quality of life will mean money has started to work for everyone.

Let’s say you believe corporations should invest in their local communities.  Via the website (or the news articles it inspires!), you could find out to what extent the firm you give your hard-earned dollars to is giving back and how.  You could also see alternative institutions that offer similar products or services that might be a better fit for your personal sense of fairness and values.  You may feel no CEO should be paid exorbitant amounts of money to head an organization, so you could use the resource of the web to find out how just how high the CEO’s compensation is.  If you are unhappy with how much that CEO is being paid, you could check if there are other companies that pay a more reasonable compensation for a particular product you buy.

Another example. Let’s say you feel that we should not ship jobs overseas or, on the opposite side, you feel the more menial jobs can be outsourced, and more power to the company for getting these workers off their books.  If jobs are your thing, you may ask: is the company hiring and giving back, or are they just sitting on their cash and holding back investment?  While some of these things are public record, many of them are not currently discussed in one place from the perspective and experience of a multitude of Web users: employees, former employees, board members, consumers, image consultants, labor representatives, and so on. Users could discuss whether it is reasonable to ship the jobs out.  Then they could put pressure on the company by talking down its reputation on the site and suggesting alternative ways to avoid spending money with the company.  Since reputation and profits are so important to any company, this feedback will encourage some type of change to help restore the company’s good name and value.

There are many disincentives that keep us from cooperating with each other.  These boil down to a “what’s in it for me?” stance.  Basically, if we feel others are cheating or taking advantage of the system, we may feel we have to as well, in order to keep up. We rationalize that since others do it, it is okay for us to do it, too.  Also, we can benefit from others’ hard work without having to work ourselves.  Those who look out for themselves or cheat while others are not doing so gain a large advantage.

The problem:

  • Materialism and consumerism do not produce a sense of well-being.
  • There is not enough feedback in one location about institutions and how they rate  on “we’re all in it together” values.
  • There is not enough fairness in income distribution for those who work hard and do good work, yet are barely or not able to make ends meet. Teachers, for example, should be compensated more for what they are doing to help all of society.
  • Getting things to change is not a spectator sport, yet many of us complain and feel there is no way to make things better.

What works:

  • Corporations and other institutions are very sensitive to reputation, image, and public opinion.
  • The social nature of the Internet means that, with so many eyes watching and so many “mouths” opining, feedback on the website can increase trust and reciprocal behavior, creating a stronger feeling that we are not being taken advantage of.
  • Coordination of a wide, diverse group of individuals giving feedback on what they know or think makes markets work. Private information used in conjunction with public information provides independence that prevents groupthink from making all of us act unwisely.
  • Social capital, trust, and reciprocity work better than their opposites.  Humans are social beings who get internal rewards for helping others as well as external rewards when we trust and help each other.
  • Most people want to be fair, do the right thing, and play by the rules.
  • Collaboration and coordination provide better results.
  • When things are getting better or are appreciated, more of us are satisfied.

The Solution:

BoodleWiki – a website:

  • Reviews any social institution, whether a bank, an insurance company, a corporation selling food, a school, etc.
  • Uses collaboration on the Internet, similar to how open-source software works, as well as collaborative updating, as in Wikipedia.
  • Builds on trust groups, connecting and reciprocating with Meetup for that particular group.  For example, there could be a group of concern for a particular corporation on hiring practices and they can keep in touch with each other directly.
  • Uses feedback in star rating form similar to a Yelp.com or Amazon.com along with user feedback on whether the entry was helpful.
  • Refers to other institutions similar in nature that could be an alternative especially referring to local sources.

Rules:

Similar to good open-source software:

  • No whining
  • No paid endorsement, comment or review
  • All opinions are needed and welcome, and not just “experts” or those with direct experience but amateurs and those with passion
  • Users may take a loyalty oath that they are not profiting and abide by the non-profit nature of the site

Features:

  • A general description updated by users with notes on who updated.
  • A futures section that utilizes a fun, game-playing strategy where play money can be traded according to whether the company’s star rating is going up or down (and possibly a real-life stock price prediction).  If enough people play, the predictions may become close to accurate.

Individual category reviews on multiple individual entries, such as

  • Products (with links to product review sites)
  • Management
  • Executive compensation
  • Employees and former employees
  • Advertising
  • Political donations
  • Hiring practices
  • Board meetings and strategy
  • Environmental Impact
  • Whistle blowers
  • Community relations
  • Charity
  • Health and Safety
  • Total review based on all individual entry reviews.

One Comment

  • This is agreat idea. You have obviously put a lot of thought into it….when you are ready let me be the first to review Wellpoint, the insurance company that has the license to run a Blue Cross of Georgia and Anthem of California as for profit..they used to be non-profit..and has the highest paid CEO in the state of Indiana while cutting mental health benefits and pay for providers of mental health services to the bone.

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