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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Jul 15, 2009
Something like this community barter system was used as a plot device by Harry Harrison in The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted. It came under the heading of Individual Mutualism, used the currency unit Whirr and had the important factor that Whirrs could not gain interest. I always rather liked the idea, though it stated that it required that the society be more-or-less closed.
Jul 14, 2009
There is no need to imagine a city capable of sustaining itself on the strength wind power alone. That city already exists. It's called Washington, DC.

But Cheapatopia it isn't.

Jul 14, 2009
My father and a group of like minded friends got together about 20 years ago, formed a trust and took over lease of a piece of hillside with a decent waterway. They've spent a lot of time (I remember lots of weekend 'picnics' taking them lunch) building and setting up the infrastructure and they all take turns doing regular maintenance but they've built a very effective hydrostation whilst providing (and maintaining) walking tracks up and around the raceway and headwaters. It's a nice little tourist spot but more importantly they've been selling electricity to the main grid for years now and the trust has been making a profit since shortly after they set it up. So yes, it can be done and done well. You just need a vision and a number of people prepared to put in effort up front in exchange for long term rewards. This can be the hardest part...
Jul 14, 2009
When you bring up energy costs for a place like Cheapatopia, I'd like to bring up an idea that I've thought about since a few years.

A dynamo could be attached to any machine which takes external energy and converts it into (preferably) rotational motion. This includes lets say an exer-cycle or a treadmill. You might have seen similar contraptions at science fairs, where riding an exer-cycle lights up a regular light bulb. Of course, in practice the amount of electricity generated might be rather small, but that would involve some research to fix.

In a consumerist economy, people pay huge amounts of money to gymnasiums for their own fitness.

In a Cheapatopia-like economy, a power generating and supply company could set up huge gyms all over the place where everyone could stay fit, and generate energy at the same time. People would not pay for using the gym, rather the energy that they generated would pay for their gym time. Karma points could also be worked into the equation somehow.

This company could also scale up to providing employment to ensure that they meet demand. They could pay proportional to the energy generated by the individual (just marginally lower than the energy cost to consumers). It might not be the best paying job of the economy, but would be better than unemployment I guess.

Economically, the real kicker for this company would be the add-on services. People could pay for a personal trainer, if they feel they need one. The company could also have fattenning / energy rich foods available at a reasonable cost.

I guess I'd like to see holes in this arrangement, except for the 'not enough energy can be generated' holes.
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Jul 14, 2009
Karma points are just a way of removing responsibility from the person who is receiving the favour. Fractional points? Comparative assessment? Humans do favours for eachother all the time, and if a job isn't done well you don't get them to do it again. Consistent inferior work - consistent lack of work.

Individuals earn reputations. Karma points are a faceless and irresponsible way for judging 'reputation'. Groups of people are great regulators of themselves, and cohesive communities are the best at regulating free-loaders vs. reciprocators.
Jul 14, 2009
I'm surprised so few have cried wolf (read "socialism") so far...
Jul 14, 2009
Looks like you're gonna need Karma Police to enforce this system...
Jul 14, 2009
Build a power-producing city that its residents do more than just talk about it.

Much of the rhetoric about renewable energy on a grand scale is just talk. This mental exercise for building this imaginary energy-producing city is fun to speculate. But the reality is--

Politicians seeking votes make pronouncements of planned large government renewable energy developments then go home after the photo op and nothing happens.
Big oil advertise they are planning for life after oil but it is mostly PR to justify their huge profits,
Utilities promote they are for green power over brown but seek higher profits in brown energy
More studies and research are funded that go on endlessly
Environmental impact surveys and reports take years winding through the courts.
Government and private environmental interest dig in their heels unbending and fanatical

The result is nothing really happens on a grand scale

The technology exists, the human and natural resources are available and suitable land is there along with the sun and wind. So why is it not happening?

Because it cost money. Forgotten are the hundred of millions in early 20th century capital that Westinghouse and Edison put into the building of the first electrical infrastructure. People seem to think this new power source investment is too expensive.

Solution? People and companies that produce power and profits from non-renewable sources and the users of that cheap power should pay for most of it. Also, reward those who produce and use sustainable, renewable and environmentally sound power. Only invite the government in after the fact to show them how it was done.

But, hey looking for logic where there is no logic is not logical. Go figure.
Jul 14, 2009
Scott: Here's a website where someone is trying to bootstrap the sort of karma-bartering you're proposing: http://www.sharealot.org/ It doesn't look like the website is exactly taking off, but hopefully you will still find it interesting to see that someone is trying to implement the same idea.

ExPat17: "Suppose I rake a neighbour's leaves, and I receive one Karma Point (KP). Then another neighbour rakes my leaves, and receives one KP, yet he/she has done a far inferior job than I could have. Do I take them to Karma Court? Do they get half a KP? Either way, that neighbour won't be inclined to do me any favours in the future."

I don't see anything wrong with fractional Karma Points -- we deal with fractional currencies all the time. If you don't like that idea, just increase the overall scale: if raking leaves well is worth 10 KP, then you can pay someone 5 KP for doing it poorly without dealing with fractional KP. Or, perhaps you give them the full 10 KP, but don't hire them in the future. Or you give them another chance, but warn them next time that you won't give them the full amount unless they do a better job than they did the first time. In other words, it works exactly the same way paying someone to rake your leaves has always worked -- I don't see what is inherently more cumbersome or inefficient about Karma Points compared with dollars/pounds/yen/rupees/etc.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2009
Sorry, I'd just like to add to my last post, and only because I noticed an ad on this site.

The ad has a 'rich jerk' with a speech bubble saying 'I'm better than you'. The ad is some get rich quick site that promises up to three mil. a year.* People in material countries often equate net wealth with being a 'better person', and that every one of us must strive to make more money to be a better person. The karma points is just a moral version of this, where those with the most points will eventually take on the form of the morally superior - which will lead us right back to where we are with money. Interestingly, society as a whole benefits from this situation in terms of labour, but I doubt social cohesion would benefit much at all.

*honestly, why does dilbert have such shocking advertising? Surely you have precise enough demographics on the poeple who use this to know that some ads might be far better suited than others. The tackiness of ads on this site has always irked me.
Jul 14, 2009
people will do this anyways if it is economically eficient/proficient (?)

do not add regulations. the only reason for regulations should be to curb crime and wrongdoing that DIRECTLY affects other people

do not add regulation to make people do things that aren't economically eficient

that is stooopid!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2009
I'd like to point out that it's only in the last 10,000 years that humans have come in from cold, quite literally. For 99% percent of our entire existance as Homo Sapiens we lived rough, providing for one another where required, receiving help when needed, hunting (farming), socializing, traveling and creating. It's only since industrial times that have had this highly defined and untouchable concept of 'I'. When people post on this saying things like 'I don't think people could ever give up their time for others' they are really saying 'My time is more valuable than yours, and you are not worthy of it'. Get over yourself. Humanity, more or less, has evolved to occupy the niche that Scott is attempting to describe here - everyone living, helping and working with one another in close cohabitiation (albiet, technology is a new variable).

Enough with my little rant - I'll continue with the topic...

I agree with Aussielad - make every house legally required to be covered by solar panels. If every dwelling, building and other flat surface generated 125% energy required for that particular building you would be hard pressed to ever be without energy.

Failing that, in such a self-concerned community we could just have a really big turnstile in the middle of town which everyone must devote some time to pushing - thus powering the town from its own population. Ok, perhaps that's a little draconian, but I believe that inline with Scott's suggestions for 'pyramid building' a 1 day a week donation of time might actually work. Furthermore, when a fledgling town looks back and acknowledges that they created this power/monument it will increase social cohesion.

Not wanting to join the growing club of naysayers on the blog I'm afraid I think karma points are a bad idea. Good will ought to extend naturally from the community minded individual, commodosizing it may lead to greater problems.

If I might make a suggestions regarding increasing community cohesiveness that would also cut down on favours/karma required to maintain society as a whole and well as individual holdings. I suggest that all homesteads be large enough to house extended family (i.e. Mum, Dad, Kids [plus boy/girlfriends of kids when the time comes], and [one set of] Grandparents). You don't need someone to look after your dog, because the Folks will be there; and they can leave for the weekend whenever they feel like it, because the Kids will be around to pick up the slack, etc. This is just more efficient than 1) letting couples live alone - which wastes so much power / resources; and 2) packing them all into one 'retirement village' - which, again, commodisizes age and wellbeing.

Before everyone jumps on the bandwagon screaming "No-one likes their grandparents, No-one could live with that many old people" - you should consider that this happens all over the world, and has happened since pre-industrialized times. It is a formula that works, it's just one we forget when we decided that the perception of the 'I' is greater than our compassion for others.
Jul 14, 2009
Why not just make it a legal requirement that all properties use Solar Tiles


for their roofing material? This will mean that all properties, residential or commercial, spend all day producing power and feeding it into the grid. This should take care of a large amount of your power needs.

Wish they'd do that here in Australia - if there's one thing we got, it's plenty of sun!
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2009
I'll agree with many posters that the barter system seems cumbersome and inefficient. Suppose I rake a neighbour's leaves, and I receive one Karma Point (KP). Then another neighbour rakes my leaves, and receives one KP, yet he/she has done a far inferior job than I could have. Do I take them to Karma Court? Do they get half a KP? Either way, that neighbour won't be inclined to do me any favours in the future.

Another problem is how such KPs would be transferred. I imagine a future where cash and credit/debit cards will be obsolete, all transactions will occur through your personal digital device, kind of like an advanced Blackberry. You buy a product in a store, it gets scanned at the counter, you wave your device at the wireless receiver, authorize the payment, and leave. So you could theoretically do KP payments the same way, if each device identifies all the other devices within the general proximity. So you'd fire up the little java program, and pay one KP to "device 'GuitarRocker_Man519'", and that device would acknowledge receipt. Such a system would also maintain anonymity.

As for energy production, I can imagine several ways things can go wrong with a volunteer-based organization, which some people have already addressed. Obviously whomever has the specialized knowledge required will be in charge of the project, and other positions will be filled accordingly, right down to the unskilled-yet-willing-to-help labour pool. Those in charge will, however, presumably want better compensation, which may or may not be deserved, particularly since responsibility and accountability go hand in hand with the leadership of the project (in Cheapatopia it does).

So I think admission to Cheapatopia needs these two criteria: First, the willingness to work for free to help the community as best you can, with an emphasis on recognizing that your time and energy, while valuable, are ultimately just as valuable as everyone else's. Therefore each individual will theoretically be vastly "underpaid" on one or two projects they will lead, but will be "overpaid" on all the others (relatively speaking). It'll all even out.

Second, the ability to bring something new or needed to the community. If there is a necessity for more carpenters or teachers or nuclear physicists, they are welcome, provided they agree to the above criterion. Or, if an entrepreneur/inventor has an idea that can benefit the community, they are welcome as well. The idea is to foster development and innovation while reducing waste in the form of goods, services or energy.

This brings me to my final thought that Cheapatopia should be designed to be almost entirely recyclable. For example, any enterprise manufacturing a good would, by necessity, manufacture it to be recyclable or reusable. So buildings would use recyclable materials that, when renovations are begun, can be returned, sold or given to other businesses for their use. Cheapatopians would have a compost barrel/bucket/container that would be collected every week to create fertilizer, oil, etc; a recycling bin, for bottles, cans, paper, etc; and a miscellaneous "garbage" can that would be, ideally, almost empty, since no product could be purchased that didn't have another use, in whole or in part.

And... talk about rambling.
Jul 14, 2009
Some people have mentioned that cash is useless in a world with computers and credit. I believe that this is a serious fallacy. Credit and electronic money balances are a powerful tools used by the banks to control the money supply and to skim a significant portion of the productive economy into their own hands with very little effort. (Does anyone really think that Goldman Sachs somehow produced goods and services this quarter with ultimately more value than did Apple Computer or Intel?) Additionally, many people benefit greatly from using cash instead of "credit" for their purchases because it forces you to realize that you have tangibly limited quantity of reserves and requires effort and planning to replenish your wallet (e.g. going to the bank!).

Another reason that cash is important is that cash cards are used to track your purchases. Banks track your spending habits to create a profile of you and sell that information, they are increasingly using it to set your credit limit. They are pushing right now to increase their visibility into your charges so that they can determine the individual items you purchase. No doubt homeland security will be interested in mining this data as well.

Our governments are completely corrupted and controlled by the monied elite. Ergo, there is no possibility of a Cheapatopia within the boundries of an established 1st world nation. Additionally, the rich nations actively work to either integrate those up-and-coming 3rd world countries into the leviathan or break them by corrupt subjugation (IMF, World Bank). I sound like a crack-pot. Maybe I am. But think about how much we waste the potential of our intelligence, our energy and our technology in chaotic and destructive and barbaric ways right now and how many individuals within the familiar bounds of the extremely privileged U.S.A. struggle just to keep afloat in our society. If you had a great deal of money and power, and believed that fundamental human nature is likely to force your family to revert to the mean condition. If you knew how easily it could be wrested from you by those same forces of barbarism, greed and stupidity, wouldn't you move to rig the system to continue to ensure your elite position? Wouldn't the rising tide of unsustainable humanity that is engulfing and devouring the resources of the natural world further spur those in power to strengthen their hand? The banks and the government are the mechanism by which they tilt the game board in their favor.

Cheapatopia is a nice thought experiment. I don't think we're going to last long enough to realize it.
Jul 14, 2009
The original immigrants to this country tried the communal way of living, and mostly starved to death. Humans don't work for nothing and are much more motivated by keeping what they make/earn. When they divied up the land for each family to farm for themselves, they prospered. That paradigm has never been successful.

The other problem I see is what are you using for energy during the 20 years it takes to build an energy plant of somekind?
Jul 14, 2009
Scott's suggestion that there ought to be a connection between energy, money, and community is intriguing. Several years ago I came to the conclusion that money IS energy. Or, to put it a bit more scientifically (economically?), that in the future money will be backed by energy in the same way that it used to be backed by gold.

A unit of currency will literally be redeemable for a certain number of kilowatt-hours off the grid, which you can use in whatever way you feel like. Prices will literally reflect the total energy cost of building/growing/transporting the item in question, plus some profit for the middleman. To some extent they already reflect energy costs; watch what happens to commodity prices whenever the price of energy fluctuates. In the future, as other inefficiencies in the market fade (good advertising, brand loyalty, taxes and trade barriers, etc.) the energy cost will be, more and more, the real and final cost of the product or service.

What this means for Cheapatopia is that there must be an minimum level of personal income required to maintain a basic life (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), and that since money=energy that "income" is expressable directly in terms of kilowatt-hours per person per day. The trick, as Scott has apparently sensed, is to find a way to convert the time, labor, and ingenuity of the community (a renewable resource if ever there was one) directly into energy, preferably via a largely passive communal source like solar convection. Once it's operational, the energy it pays back can literally power the minimal income needs of the community, either directly or by trade with other communities. The better the source, the better the quality of life.

Jul 14, 2009
I think the downfall in this plan is a lack of social engineering. You have to account for greed, sloth and while we’re at it, probably all 7 of the deadly sins. The "Karma Dollars" idea is an attempt to put people on even keel, but any such system is inevitably going to be circumvented. Then new rules to the system will be added, and courts etc. These processes will build on one another until you have a typical ineffective bureaucracy.

The best answer might be interview individuals and find those that are the first and foremost to help neighbors and community. (As well as capable.) Still, there would be a life expectancy on this as kids and spouses would eventually be brought into the mix, and the "good old boy" system would start to pervert the interview practices.
Jul 14, 2009
Cheapatopia should be a floating yet submersible city located in the Gulf of Mexico or East Coast, utilizing the gulf stream currents and thermal differences as power sources along with hydrogen electrolysis, geostationary satellite for communication capability (internet, phone, etc) tethered to the bottom for protection from earthquake, submersible for protection from storms and nuclear hollocaust, aqua farming and hydroponic food supply, change the name to "Atlantis".
Jul 14, 2009
Sounds like the final suggestion in the youtube documentary "Money As Debt."
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