I didn't read all the suggestions for location, but it seems clear that there could be more than one great place to put Cheapatopia. For example, some people might enjoy desert living, where the inexpensive land and plentiful solar power are a good combination. Others might prefer to live in a place with four seasons, preferably above a geothermal power source. I can imagine the roads, driveways, and sidewalks in Winter Cheapatopia being heated to 33 degrees after a snowfall, so snow removal is never an issue.

Let's assume there can be more than one Cheapatopia, and that economists and engineers can identify the best locations. Our next question is energy costs.

I'm going to back into energy costs by discussing a barter system first. Imagine that Cheapatopia uses money just like the rest of the world, but for convenience, cash is banned. All payments are made by a credit/debit card (the same card).

Beyond regular money, the citizens of Cheapatopia would have a barter system whereby they earn what I will call Karma Points for services performed. For example, if you babysit for a neighbor, or walk someone's dog, you get some Karma Points that you can later spend to pay a neighbor to mow your lawn. You can still buy all of those services with regular money too, so this is just an option.

And perhaps seniors get double Karma Points for any services they perform, and kids get half points. That way the seniors can easily get help without feeling it is charity.

The key to making Karma Points work is a robust Internet-based service that sets prices for various services and keeps track of who has how many points. The real purpose of this system is not just the convenience of getting stuff done, but the social interaction it causes. Most people make their friends from their organized activities, past or present. They find their spouses and lovers the same way. Cheapatopia increases your social involvement and therefore your social life.

Bringing this back to energy costs, I wonder if there is some modern equivalent of pyramid building, without the alleged slavery, that can be applied to modern times. Could a community build an energy source through its volunteer labor that would be otherwise uneconomical?

For example, if you build an enormously tall tower, and put a wind turbine inside it, the natural air flow from the chimney effect creates energy. It's called a solar updraft tower.


Could citizens be enlisted, voluntarily, to contribute labor to building such a massive energy structure in return for Karma Points, or even reduced energy bills? I don't see it being practical either, but maybe you do, using some sort of pyramid design instead of a tower. Assume real estate and labor are both cheap, and the project can last 20 years. The immediate benefit is in the social interaction it causes, and the collective goal.

Or suppose the city of Cheapatopia creates its own factory for building the type of equipment used in huge solar power plant generation. The most economical types are the plants that concentrate sunlight on tubes filled with water, thus generating steam to power turbines. Cheapatopia could be its own first customer. The beauty of this system is that it is modular. The more units you set up in the desert, the more power.

If Cheapatopia is located where there is more wind than sun, then the enterprise could busy itself making windmills. The point is that the city could be organized around the production of its own energy, both for social reasons and for economics. Once Cheapatopia met all of its own energy needs it could become a provider to others, using the profits for city improvements.

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0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 31, 2009
I realize this is weeks old now, but I wanted to comment on the "Karma Points" concept. Another poster mentioned the Time Bank system, which is gaining hold in many communities around the world right now. The way this essentially works is that interested individuals sign up to be members of a service exchange network. They earn hours by fulfilling service requests from other members, and spend them by requesting services from other members. Their "time bank accounts" track the hours earned and spent. All services are equal in the time bank - an hour of legal advice equals an hour of ditch digging, which equals an hour of meal preparation/childcare/etc.

In practice, this does not replace using traditional currency for services. As a time bank member, I know that I will pay an hour for another member's services, and that person may or may not provide the level of service I would want. If it's a big issue to me (i.e., contractor work or tax advice), I might elect to pay for that service traditionally, utilizing a credentialed/certified/licensed professional. If it's less of a big deal to me (raking my leaves/walking my dog/washing my car), I might choose to use my time bank hours.

Time Bank members are encouraged to list their professional trades as services they provide, complete with license number, etc., if they are interested in earning time credits for providing that service to the network. There is a system for feedback for service exchanges, so I can let people know that a certain member was late to arrive, did a poor job, was an excellent babysitter, etc. Just like eBay or other sites' feedback system, this can be helpful in determining who to select to fulfill a service request.

Members of my Time Bank have a background check performed, though this is not a guarantee of any kind. The main benefit is that I can earn credits when I want to, spend as I need, and choose the timing for requesting and/or fulfilling requests. Since the program is designed to encourage people to use their strengths, the "needs" side of the equation is not viewed as charity - every service request is an opportunity for another member to build hours. People have amassed hours for service assistance during their weddings (cake baking, reception serving/clearing, catering, photography), house painting, fence building, and other large projects that are otherwise expensive and/or time-consuming. I can work through the winter providing companionship, house sitting, and computer instruction to others one-to-one, then spend them all in a large landscaping project in the spring using three other members simultaneously to get it done in 4 hours on one day.

The community-building aspect of the time bank is large - members tend to be those that value strong community ties. The time bank introduces neighbors to each other, promotes reciprocity, and equalizes the value of its members' time. It's not for everyone (neither is Cheapatopia, for that matter), and it's not for every situation. But it works, and it seems to be a growing movement.

*I should mention that this is the way my time bank is set up - there are many different models around the world with their own protocols and systems.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 17, 2009
I have experience with something like karma points and there is a problem. My experience comes as a member of this organization: http://foodcoop.com/

We all work at this grocery store, and in exchange for our work, we buy groceries at a fixed 21% markup on every product. And it works great.

But the work is mandatory and you can't be fired, and at least 30% of workers try to spend their whole shift on their email rather than doing work. So we select workers that are both good and bossy, to watch the slackers and cajole them into getting some work done. This is not the level of service you want in a babysitter.

As far as I know, the sense of community and service that comes from good neighbors is a direct result of having found those few gems in a world of uncaring, lazy flakes (who consider you to be the same). I don't think you can force such service on a big population.
Jul 16, 2009
I know I'm off topic, but SOMEONE needs to point out that Scott's been written up in WIRED's just-released issue (17.08, August 2009). The article is "Speechless", page 112. In fact, the article is, IMHO, quite good and an appealing recap of much of what we regular blog readers have read about Scott's experience with Spasmodic Dysphonia, along with a few more tidbits and is very well written. Reporter Brian Raferty brought an interesting viewpoint on the personal impact of the disorder, along with highlighting Scott's tenacity in finding a solution. I'd be interested in how Scott thinks the article came out and what Brian may have missed or misrepresented.
Jul 16, 2009

Ok - say your community comes up with an energy generation plan that would be prohibitively expensive to build through normal (union) labor. With wages and benefits, including overtime often averaging $60/hour, community members might do better to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves - rather than raise the funds. Except when you consider that the most expensive labor is the skilled type. The grunt work that the community could provide is low value. Skilled laborers are better off working for pay than for Karma points. Better to borrow the money, pay the costs and pay back the loan with the proceeds (sound like a familiar process?). If the project doesn't make sense that way, it probably doesn't make sense with karma labor either.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2009
Not sure if anyone pointed out the fact that if you live somewhere where it snows enough and stays on the ground long enough that you have to shovel your driveway, you probably don't want to heat the drive up to melt the snow unless:

a) you keep it heated until it is dry (waste of resources)
b) you're trying to create a skating rink

Cause if the snows staying on the ground for a length of time, then it's probably below zero and when you turn off the heat the melted snow is going to freeze.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2009
Why does the cuss filter not like the word m-i-l-e-s?
Maybe I'm naive, but I can't imagine how that could look anything like a naughty word.
Jul 15, 2009
It seems as though we're seeing two trends in this discussion. The first deals with Cheapatopia's energy sources, and the general consensus is that they must be cheap and, preferably, renewable. The second trend is that of Scott's Karma Points as an incentive for increasing social interactions.

To the user named "Sentient", I will agree with you that my utilities company probably won't reduce my power bill in exchange for me mowing the company headquarter lawn. And any business outside Cheapatopia wouldn't be so inclined either. My landlady, on the other hand, might very well, because we have great rapport (also because she's pretty frail and I'm pretty sure she was overcharging me in the first place). That's the sense of community we're looking for in Cheapatopia, but on a much grander scale. Utilities would already be really cheap because everyone would be pitching in somehow.

I had a thought about public works that require maintainance, and other full-time jobs in the public service sector. What if each person in Cheapatopia were to work 20 hours each week at a renumerative job and 20 hours on public works/jobs? Ideally, since living in Cheapatopia would be so cheap from all the free labour, only part-time wages would be necessary to maintain a comfortable standard of living. And the other half of the week would be devoted to community projects, "volunteering" your time at the hospital, fire station, garbage pickup, etc. As a diversity junkie, I actually think this would be pretty cool.

And Scott, I imagine this little thought experiment of yours has evolved into a horrid beast that has escaped your control. I wonder though, after location and energy, what was your next idea for Cheapatopia?
Jul 15, 2009
I wanted to add that I would like to see more incentive for exercise (sorry to those who may have already posted on this; I only have a few minutes to do this, so not enough time to read everyone else's posts).

They're already talking about attaching GPS systems on our cars to tax our mileage once alternative fuel becomes more available and the govt looses the gas tax revenue. Why not use the same concept for Karma points for !$%*! walked or bicycled?

That way there's more of an incentive to do those types of things instead of drive, thus reducing the negative effects on the environment and increasing overall health and wellness. Then, Cheapatopia would HAVE to provide a safe walking/biking system throughout town.

I live in the Midwest, in one of the "fattest" cities in the US. However, it's almost impossible to do any safe bike riding here. There's no interconnected system of trails that are out of traffic. I could get run over riding in my own neighborhood the way people drive! Forget about biking across town to work (even though I'd love to do so).

If Cheapatopia offered this, it alone would make me want to move there.

Jul 15, 2009
The concept is interesting but I see a few flaws.
The settlement will be dependent on outside resources for many items, from light bulbs to heavy machinery. This would require some sort of cash ecomony.
Also, in order to provide medical services to the residents, you will need medical instruments and medicines that are only available outside. Which brings up another point, how will the residences pay for medical costs? There will need to be some sort of 'insurance' that covers these expenses and provides for expenses in excess of what the individual would pay.
In order to maintain a trained population, you will either have to replicate an extensive education system, or rely on outside institutions. This will require the use of cash money.
Then again, what about artists? Will a poet be limited to an audience no greater than this single community?
Will items of art and entertainment be limited to just the community, or will they be sold to a broader base.
(Will your Dilbert cartoon's no longer appear in my newspaper, once this commuity is formed and you become a member?)
It seems that to exist in today's world, and maintain a resemble level of technolgy, it will be necessary to deal extensively with other communities.
No community can exist in isolation. There needs to be interaction and there will be a degree of interdenpendence.
Rather than try to create a new world, the goal should be to improve the one we have.
Jul 15, 2009
The person who thinks the neighbor will do a far inferior job of raking the leaves might be forgetting one thing: leaves, once raked, will have value in Cheapatopia: they can be used to make leaf mold, which is a fantastic compost. Anyone who thinks that local food production wouldn't be the stronghold of Cheapatopia is mistaken. Local food is far cheaper, and is a major source of social interaction (assistance, farmers markets, seed trading, pumpkin competition, harvest, harvest fest, etc) So maybe the leaf raker wouldn't be so crappy. Plus, raking leaves is a cheaper activity than walking on a treadmill, and I'll bet that real chores would replace gym workouts, because then you're getting two things done at once, which is probably a hallmark of Cheapatopia. Back to local food production and location: you'd have to put Cheapatopia in the midwest, where food production is easiest and natural disasters the unlikelyiest. Cheapatopia would then also be close to the Great Lakes, an excellent water source. If the emphasis is placed on entertainment and social interaction, then altruism would only increase (it's harder to get away with !$%*!$%* people when you see them all the time.) As far as bringing people together for a major project to accomplish something big: possible. My boss offers Mountain Dew, Cookies, and a fun time for fitness center employees to do big projects. We've installed new flooring, moved big equipment, and other huge reconstructive projects that would otherwise cost a lot of money (and we couldn't afford). He doesn't pay us for it, and not everyone participates to the same level, but the princesses make sandwiches and bring them to the people shoveling playground rubber and we all generally have a good time. I think it works.
Jul 15, 2009
It's easy to state why an idea can't work (I am guilty of this, too). What I'd like to see is people on this forum offering ways of how this idea (Cheapatopis) can work.

Here's one small idea - and I've often wondered why we don't do this more now.

Small sections of neighborhoods share a community maintenance shed. The shed is no more than 200 meters away from any home in the group. In this shed are two riding lawn mowers, two push lawn mowers, two snowblowers, rakes, shovels, hedge clippers, etc. Things most suburban and rural homes all have now. Most of the time they sit around as useless items, some depreciating more every month. Why not optimize their use?

The members of each local group determine a schedule for checking out the lawn mowers. 14 homes could easily share 2 riding lawn mowers. When a blizzard hits, it might get a little more difficult, but with only 14 homes to accommodate, a schedule could be worked out. Maybe one person does 3 driveways when it snows, and all driveways get done more efficiently.

A riding lawn mower that normally lasts 15 years or more might last 7.5 years when used more frequently. But if 14 households share in the expenses of each item, everyone still comes out way ahead.

Participation is voluntary, and some people might prefer to buy and maintain their own stuff. Freedom is a wonderful thing.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 15, 2009
Forgetting the energy thing, the whole 'karma' points and self sufficiency, it's not exactly a new idea, it's called a Kibbutz and there are practically none left, socialism doesn't really work in real life in the face of the modern world however pretty you make the names and concepts.
Jul 15, 2009
What if you built Wind Turbines, then put solar panels on the turbine blades?
Jul 15, 2009
"the natural air flow from the chimney effect creates energy"

I missed this line yesterday. while I don't doubt Scott knows better it does illustrate an important point which sounds like semantics but actually isn't in a way that's hard to overstate: one does not CREATE energy - EVER! no how, no way, under no !$%*!$%*!$%*! - PERIOD! there are no free lunches in physics! I make this point because one important thing everyone is missing (/ignoring?) in all this alternatiive energy talk is that ANY means by which we harvest multi-terawatts WILL have unintended consequences. energy has opportunity cost like anything else - those photons being absorbed by photovoltaic cells (or reflected/focused on a heat exchanger) would have otherwise altered some natural process (ex: photosynthesis). ditto for the delta-v the wind turbine put on a mass of air.

I'm not saying they aren't the lesser of the evils (compared to burning carbon) or that they shouldn't be pursued, just be prepared in a few decades to hear about altered weather patters (though that will probably still be blamed on Bush & CO2) or the plight of some subterrianian microbe at the base of our food chain dying off in the darkness. I can't tell you when, how or at what rate, only that there WILL (w/100% certainty) be unintended adverse consequences.

sounds crazy, right? almost as crazy as the idea that humans could produce enough CO2 to substantially affect the Earth's climate must have 100 yrs ago? again, we still need to do it - but from a physics perspective all energy is "renewable" and none of it's "clean". sorry, reality bites...
Jul 15, 2009
We could turn people who have a negative impact on society into a power sorce. For example, smokers polute our air, so lets make it so that whenever they smoke a ciggarete, they have to generate 100 watts of power to compensate.
Another way would be with convicted fellons; instead of taking care of them, we could put them in a wheel attached to a generator and they get released once they generate enough to compensate for what they did; traffic violators would have to power 50 light bulbs, wheras murderers would have to power a paricle accelerator for life.
We could take telemarketers and but them on bikes hooked up to generators. In theory, that could power our phone usage.
It's even possible that Cheapatopia could act as a dumping ground for prisoners from other cities, and then we could use their their prisoners to generate power to sell to those cities.
Jul 15, 2009
If anything seriously useful could be built with free unskilled labor then China would have already cornered the market. They can't even put together a decent car with it, much less huge free energy sources. All they've got is disposable coal diggers. Your idea is intriguing but the only thing that you'll get out of lots of Karma labor is a clean city.
Jul 15, 2009
Energy, Well having demoislhed Washington DC to make way for my cheaptpoia i think that the ideal source of wind power would be to get all the previously employed poloticians to generate enough hot air for the wind power.

If you build cheaptopia around the energy provider, (no matter what it is) you will save on money and costs as you will be better able to direct that power grid. Effectivly there would be a massive main generator at the center and smaller subsidury ones at the center of each "block" to support it. As it would be a combination of solar geothermal, wind and other sustainable and cheap (not eco friendly) power sources they could compliment eachother to maintain the power flow.

My Cheaptopia is to be named Yorkshire btw after the most cost effective county in England.
Jul 15, 2009
What is the difference between cash and karma points.
As it is now, the free market sets a price for a service which we receive in exchange for cash.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 15, 2009
The gyms, and home gym equipment, of Cheapotopia could be used to generate electricty, either fed back into the grid or to power the building they were sited in. It won't solve the energy needs, but it'll make a small contribution.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 15, 2009
I am skeptical. The solar tower might generate a bit of electricity; whether the ratio of electricity generated : work involved in building it would work out, I doubt.

Building a factory, then building things in it, would feel too much like a job. People would want to work there full time, and be paid for it; they don't want to spend their free time in evenings/weekends working in a factory. Cheapotopia could well develop this as an industry, but I don't think it could be staffed by volunteers.
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