I was talking recently to people who have been using our neighborhood rewards debit card in Bernal Heights, and they mentioned:

Something we are striving more and more to do is to be considerate and conscious of supporting our neighbors. Sometimes, I could go find something cheaper, but then it wouldn’t support the merchants on the hill who are making Bernal what Bernal is. Each of these merchants are daily stops. Maybe economically it does not make much sense, but it feels more involved to see people everyday and say hi, have that process.

Why is it that something that feels like it makes sense may be said to not make much economic sense? What if it is not making economic sense only because we have impaired economic sight, because we are only measuring the transaction in one unit – financial capital, but are missing measurement of the same transactions in other forms of capital.

I recently met Alexandro Lazlo, a system scientist, who shared with me his typology of capital. According to him, there are 10 dimensions of capital, financial capital being one of them. I thought it would be interesting to think about the kind of measures that we could come up with for any given product or service purchase.

While our Bernal Bucks rewards card focuses only on two dimensions: financial and social (building relationships with businesses), it’s interesting to thing about the consequences of having a mobile point-of-sale device in your hand able to not just scan barcodes to retrieve its price and keep track in a shopping cart, but also to retrieve information related to all of these capital dimensions and helping you make a very different economic calculation.

We may soon realize that the things that didn’t make sense economically only didn’t because we were making economic calculus with very limited information.

Here are Lazlo’s 10 dimensions of capital.

  1. Natural capital: the raw materials we use as input in our industrial processes and the affordances1 they provide
  2. Manufactured capital: the finished products to which we ascribe market value
  3. Financial capital: the monetary repre- sentation of market value
  4. Technological capital: the implements and methods of doing or making that extend human capability
  5. Intellectual capital: the knowledge and know-how that support human activity and innovation
  6. Human capital: the health and well- being of a productive and creative population
  7. Social capital: the coherence and func- tionality of relationships in a commu- nity and the foundation of trust that underlies them
  8. Cultural capital: the lifeways and tradi- tions that characterize a society or social group
  9. Ecosystemic capital: the biodiversity and biotic robustness of a bioregion
  10. Evolutionary capital: the potential for a course of action to be ongoingly emer- gent, regenerative and opportunity increasing

Here are the corresponding 10 dimensions of a purchase transaction for a product/service:

  1. Natural capital: how much energy was consumed to produce this product, what type of energy, how renewable, what raw materials were used, in what quantity, how much was wasted or actually ended up in the product?
  2. Manufacturer capital: how many products/services like the one I purchased were manufactured or serviced? where are they located?
  3. Financial capital: not just how much it cost to purchase, but how much it cost to produce. Also, how much will it cost in the future to maintain or recycle.
  4. Technological capital: which technologies is the product or service advancing or making available to a wide number of people at a lower cost?
  5. Intellectual capital: what patents were involved, which were created as part of the process, how many?
  6. Human capital: who are the people who manufactured the product, how did the production of this product contributed to their long-term well-being. Which communities of people does owning the product or using the service grants access to?
  7. Social capital: which connections the purchase of the product or service created. The retailer, the designer, the workers, the suppliers, etc. Are these people accessible to converse with as a result of the purchase of the product/service.
  8. Cultural capital. Which values and culture does this product or service supports. Which communities is it linked to.
  9. Ecosystemic capital. How does the purchase and use of the product or service contribute to the biotic robustness of the region I live in, or the regions I care about. How does the product/service contributes to my long-term heath and those of the people I interact with.
  10. Evolutionary capital: How friendly is the product open to mods, user-generated improvements, what user/hacker communities exist, how available are development kits and resources to innovate on the product or service as a platform.