Second Reply Regarding P2P


You ask me insistently what the deep benefits of peer production are, and indeed that is important, as you are not taking for granted what I do, and it is important to explain one’s deeper motives.

 

I want to tackle this issue through the angles of motivation and forms of cooperation.

 

Let’s start with motivation. I will leave aside for a moment negative ‘intrinsic’ (from the inside) motivation, i.e. hate and anger, which are unavoidable and sometimes necessary, but essentially destructive political motivations which do not constitute a long term productive mode.

 

This leaves us with three other types of motivation. Extrinsic negative motivation, i.e. fear, this was the driving force of class-divided modes of production, and the essential social contract was “work for me, or else …” Slavery and serfdom were clearly marked by that essential coercion. (though not only that, it was maintained also through the religious legitimacy and the essential conviction of the debt of life, which the subjugated felt towards their ‘protectors’).

 

In terms of cooperation, this very coercive form of cooperation is marked by low productivity societies, as it lacks the essential motivation to work over subsistence levels, since the surplus is taken away by force.

 

Formalizing and generalizing positive extrinsic motivation is the innovation of the capitalist market, i.e. allowing the invisible hand of self-interest and greed to operate. One can of course easily  criticize this as not ‘really true’, since capitalism was also based on disowning the productive classes from their productive property, but, once has to recognize the relative reality and truth of this motivational force. And indeed, as a result, capitalism achieves a quantum leap in productivity.

 

In terms of cooperation, this is neutral, since because we act as isolated and self-interested individuals, we are not interested in doing more, than what equivalent exchange can offer us. So instead of one plus one giving less than two, the negative game of coercive cooperation, we get, in the best of time, one plus one is two. I give you something in exchange for equal value. (we know that this is not entirely true, since surplus value is extracted anyway, but, it is a working fiction nevertheless).

 

This leaves us with the one remaining motivation, positive, intrinsic motivation. In this motivation, you work because you are driven by a inner goal, which can be a collective object of value that you may want to construct with others. This is what peer production is about, because it has structurally eliminated the three other forms of motivation, and the only reason to voluntarily contribute is this passionate engagement.

 

So peer production is based on this highly powerful passionate engagement, and it creates a hyperproductive mode of production. No entity which is based on merely neutral motivation and cooperation (let alone ‘negative’ ones) is able to compete in the long run, with an entity based on passionate engagement.

 

And then I would like to ask you a question: what do you think makes human beings most happy? Coercion, mere exchange out of self-interest, or the possibility to engage in one’s passionate pursuits? The answer is indeed the latter, so the major benefit of peer production is simply that: it is a non-alienated, hyperproductive mode of work.

 

One of my more provocative, but I think true and provable, hypotheses, is that :

 

-       peer production, in the specific form a  freely constituted peer production community, allied with a for-benefit association that maintains their infrastructure of cooperation, and a ecology of businesses entering in a social contract with the commons, naturally striving for absolute quality (the best possible encyclopedia, browser, operating system, ecological car, open fridge),

 

… will tend to produce better and more ‘competitively’ (in capitalist terms), than any for-profit corporation using only commons capture through intellectual property.

 

You ask, if indeed it has benefits, how can we extend it. This requires to understand us that production is divided around a polarity between relative abundance and relative scarcity. At this stage in our historical reality, we are able to institute peer production in the field of the  immaterial production of non-rival (even anti-rival) goods, and it is there that peer production is growing very fast, moving from knowledge to software to design. This is so because in a relatively non-rival environment, I can indeed voluntarily contribute. This is so, because as a knowledge worker, and everyone is one, I can self aggregate my intelligence and passion, my ownership and/or access to computing and the socialized internetwork. (By the way, I have travelled sufficiently in the countries of the ‘South’, to witness that there is a widespread collective infrastructure (even if privately owned), of internet cafes, including in many rural areas, which enables relative participation even without direct ownership of computing machinery.)

 

So non-reciprocal engagement, in which I freely and voluntarily contribute to a commons, without having to receive any direct benefit in exchange from another person, is entirely realistic.

 

But what if we enter the world of rival, relatively scarce goods? Here, the mechanism doesn’t work, because I need cost-recovery. I can’t simply share, but need to recover the productive expense for the material good. This is why inevitably, peer production needs to be associated with a separate solution for the production of material goods. Peer production today is collectively sustainable, as long as the volunteers can be replaced at the same rate, but not individually, since we all have to make a living.

 

So what is happening is the emergence of hybrid modes, existing within capitalism and composing with it, but not entirely on the terms of capitalism. Peer production communities enter into a social contract: companies will engage with the commons (i.e. the free software/open source based economy which is pushing out proprietary competitors), will hire developers, but will still develop the commons of knowledge/software/design on which they depend. The community naturally demands that these companies give something back to the commons from which they profit, a process which is called benefit sharing. Companies will fund for example the ‘infrastructure of cooperation’, i.e. the material needs for free cooperation, which will generally be managed by a new type of NGO’s, for benefit associations that maintain the commons, and will be co-managed by the representatives of the community and sometimes the funders (there are many variations). Peer producing communities have the power of exit, i.e. stop to contribute to a commons which they feel is being captured, which would cause the collapse of that commons, and therefore have the power to deprive cooperating companies from their profits. This creates a balance of power and a social contract, much like the former balance between workers and owners in the industrial model.

 

What is the connection between Parecon and others systems, like Christian Siefkes peer-economy model based on effort sharing? The connection is that the contemporary association of peer production within the existing dominant economic models of for-profit companies, could be conceivably changed into relations with new types of organizations, also following a non-capitalist logic.

 

You have two choices as a parecon entity, in the hypothesis that they may one day exist and even become dominant. Either you use open knowledge, in which case the logic of peer production will continue to operate in a parecon-based society, or, you used closed knowledge, an anti-commons, and in that case you’d kill it, just as capitalist “IP” would and does. The choice is yours, friend or foe?

 

Since peer production is however the natural way to be hyperproductive in a economy dominated by post-material processes, Parecon would either condemn itself to low productivity and more scarcity, or would need to be very coercive as a system. Both  are hypothetical, because a refusal to recognize and work with peer producing communities means your ideals will never be carried out.

 

In your contribution, Albert Reacts Again, you object to the freedom of production that is inherent in peer production. Parecon is like the market, an exchange based system, and you clearly aim to generalize the rules of scarcity to the realm of abundant non-rival and anti-rival goods. This is a grave mistake.

 

Again: hierarchical allocation, exchange based modes, whether the market or Parecon, and even democratic self-management, are means to manage scarce rival resources. It is appropriate for the material parts of production, but it is a hindrance to the global cooperation of open design communities creating common knowledge for the whole of community. Specifically, what you call anything goes, i.e. free productive choice prior to acceptance by any community governance mechanism, is not posturing but actually an essential part of its hyperproductivity. You want to constrain the choices by empowering a collective, or its representatives to decide a priori, thereby limiting the field of possible solutions, condemning yourself to more limited productivity. This severely limits the field of emerging possibilities. The root of the problem is that your solution aims to have a mono-logical mode of production based on parecon exchange as the one and only solution for humankind.

 

I propose a pluralist economy and civilisational order. On the one hand, it is composed on thriving open design communities and universally available commons, from which anybody can draw. It is composed of people working in their free time, or funded by the entities which benefit most from that commons;  or through a basic income.  This global common pool of intelligence is used by entities active in the material economy, where exchange of rival goods is still practiced (or a planned economy, or a capitalist market, or parecon exchange, or free software coops, or self-owned worker collectives, the list is potentially endless). In the field of peer production, the freedom to produce is nearly absolute, since they are very few constraints of rivalry, in the field of material production, work is more conditional and subject to coercion (even the freely accepted one in Parecon). The coercion in the material field is inevitable, since it is important to make choices as to where to direct the needed resources.

 

This doesn’t exhaust the subject. Again, how could we expand peer production, if it is indeed as beneficial as I claim?

 

The answer is generally: through ‘distribution of the productive resources’. Indeed, why does peer production even exist: because we all have our own brains, relatively easy access (one billion and growing) to computers, and a socialized internetwork. This is why we can self-aggregate our ‘immaterial’ productive resources into a commons. The material world can be organized in such a fashion as well. The good news is that technological development is on our side. The same developments that let to distributed computing and the universal internetwork, is also leading to the distribution of the means of material production: desktop manufacturing, flexible manufacturing, modular design, personal fabrication, distributed biological production (DIY bio). The era of huge centralized and therefore expensive machinery that can only  be owned by centralized capital, is ending, replaced by an era in which the threshold to enter into material production is being lowered.

 

So it becomes more easy to imagine the following. The emerging open design communities (http://p2pfoundation.net/Product _Hacking) start to design more and more material products, and of course, they are doing this very differently than for-profit enterprises since they are striving for absolute quality, do not need to design for planned obsolescence, etc…). They are designing also new types of machinery, multi-purpose machinery, more easily accessible by smaller units of production. In this way, distributed immaterial production is more and more matched by distributed, but not peer to peer since we are in the sphere of relative scarcity, physical manufacturing. As the power of peer producing communities and movements grow, as the new types of distributed manufacturing grow, newfound political, social and economic influence starts changing the very logic of the economic and political system. The capitalist market is indeed a scarcity-generating mechanism, which aims to destroy natural abundance and the commons. But we can design for cooperation with the inherent ‘self-generating’ abundance of the natural world.

 

An important issue is that we will have to work also on ownership modes, and here is where potential solutions like Parecon come in. Free software and open design cooperatives, Parecon entities, Focolare production units, egalitarian intentional communities of all sorts, are really the natural allies of the commons and of peer production, and opposing it, as you seem to do here, is in my view profoundly counterproductive, since it leaves for-profit companies to do the job.

 

What we need is a full mechanism of the coordination of material exchange, that can operate independently of the capitalist market. So, are there any mechanisms that can be offered to the free software coops, and the entities based on manufacturing open designs, that can free them of some of the constraints of the current market frame. Can they generate their own credit commons, function as a resource-based economy, or coordinate and exchange their products in some better way?

 

You think that p2p is not presented in the context of broader aims, but that is not true. I and other have written about the political and social implications of the project, but do remember that p2p is a pluralist environment.

 

But the core aim is easily explained:

 

-       reverse the artificial scarcity in the world of immaterial exchange: relax state-enforced artificial monopolies such as IP, and refrain from privately enforced technological scarcity mechanisms, such as DRM

 

-       reverse the pseudo-abundance of the capitalist material economy: recognize both the negative environmental scarcities and positive social externalities (the natural and human commons), on which material production depends. Do not design against the abundance of self-generating natural systems.

 

-       Do this in the context of social justice (which does not necessarily mean classnessness, but rather more modestly: moving in the direction of more equality)

 

The first aim is the natural priority of the p2p movement, and its ‘open and free’, participatory and commons oriented paradigms and associated movements; the second aim is the natural priority of the environmental movement; and the third aim is the natural priority of popular movements representing the working population. The equity demanded by the latter demands attention to ownership modes, also related to the commons-orientation of the first.

 

P2P is both the specialized expression of peer producing communities (an increasing aspect of every human being, not just a specific group of people), and a new value-system that should infuse all three social movements.

 

Next, you rightfully worry about income. Where do open designers get income?

 

Pragmatically today:

 

-       Some designers/developers are free contributors by choice: they can be students, paid researchers/academics, precarious labour seeking to sustain their spirits; people between well-paid jobs; or people suffering from temporary or more long-lasting precarity.

 

-       Many are being paid, under two different scenarios (for Linux, 75% of programmers are now paid). Many are paid conditionally by for-profit firms, but the result of their directed work is put in the commons; some are paid unconditionally in the context of benefit-sharing, i.e. to sustain the commons which forms the basis of their profit-making operations. In this context, it functions as an unconditional basic income, even though it is paid by a corporation.

 

Pragmatically, it means people are moving in and  out of the commons depending on their live situations.

 

Ideally:

 

-       A basic income, or as in Europe today, a series of ‘labour transition’ oriented measures allows people to more easily move from one world to another; as they did through most of history, for example the solutions found for spiritual communities in the pre-industrial era

 

-       Peer production is allied with a strong cooperative (including Parecon) movement and its associated entities, which becomes the dominant force in society and production.

 

Realistically, we have to expect a hybrid situation during 2-3 decades, while the emergent seed form grows to parity with the for-profit mode (as feudalism and capitalism did to replace the earlier dominant modes); At this point only, can we expect a more radical phase transition.

 

After the phase transition, the core logic of producing value will be peer to peer; while the material economy will be cooperative and ‘socially coordinated’, without ruling out the continued existence of a number of markets for rival goods (but not capitalist markets, since infinite growth is an impossibility for long-term sustainability). Ideally, especially if you want to create a broad social movement for change, the more pluralist you are, the more accepting of different social choices, the more chance you have of creating that broad movement.

 

I think the important differences between our approaches are the following:

 

-       You designed an ideal system which people should follow; you also clearly indicate in this text, though I think you will have to change your mind <g>, that you reject free productive choice; you’re system aims to replace the current system by a unique new logic

 

-       The p2p approach does not design an ideal system but closely observes social practice for innovations that sustain higher ethics and equity, as well as the hyper-productivity to outcompete the existing system, and aims to interconnect them, creating an emerging set of counter-institutions that already exist, but can form the seed of a new overarching social and institutional framework; it accepts and wants to promote free productive choice in the immaterial field, while accepting constraints in the field of the production of more rival goods; it believes that like in the past, while there will be an overarching logic of creating value, this will be in the context of a pluralist economy and society, where the other modes will be peer-informed but not obliged to conform to a unique model.

 

So you ask me: why not see p2p as heading towards Parecon?

 

Well in fact, I do: I see p2p evolving from a seed form today, through parity, towards a phase transition that would be an implementation of broadly the same value system as Parecon.

 

But I’m pluralistic, a believer in emergent order, as how these values will choose to be expressed by concrete humans. For me, the specific way that Parecon is constructed is problematic, for the same reason that I feel Christian Siefkes Peer-economy is problematic, because they are both ‘imagined’ solutions, that may, or may not work. So my attitude is one of wait and see, compared to the many solutions being invented today, as patterns that actually do work. Why should I particularly ‘believe’ in your solution, when I don’t see any application of it? Parecon is an utopia, but unlike the utopian socialism of the 19th century, doesn’t seem to want to be actualized in examples. If I’m mistaken, I’d be happy to hear that.

 

The other issue, and this is where we might part ways. You obviously do not believe the free productive choice of peer production is a good idea, you call it paternalistic and posturing. This is of course your freedom. But as the social practice obviously not just exists, but is very successful in creating complex and hyperproductive social artifacts, such as Linux, the Wikipedia, Firefox, the Arduino circuit board. How are you going to deal with it?  Do you intend to let it exists, or do you want to abolish it? If you choose the latter road, obviously the increasingly numerous peer producing communities will not regard your movement and proposals as a friend of their hard won productive freedom.

 

Finally, and I realize that this may be problematic for you. I choose a road of systematic pluralism. I seek common ground with many other social forces that may in one way or another be beneficial to the further evolution of peer production.

 

For example, people from post post-liberal and post-socialist orientations may find themselves because the former favour liberty and the later equality and equity, and in peer production, one is the condition of the other. As Eben Moglen, the anarchist lawyer of the Free Software Foundation somewhat provocatively says: peer production is the wet dream of both communists and capitalists. I’m not pleading to ignore differences, but I’m saying that in certain circumstances, despite these differences, we can work together on the common priority of expanding the conditions for peer production. So, if netarchical capital creates platform for sharing, I find that a positive development, while at the same time educating sharing communities in their rights and interests, and striving for more open platforms, open standards and the control and ownership of their own data. If a peer producing community aims to make their practices more sustainable by creating a successful business ecology around it, I find that a positive development, while at the same time pushing for more equitable partnerships and making sure the commons can’t be captured and expropriated by private interests. Rather than anti-capitalist language and rhetoric, most often counterproductive, I prefer to enhance real post-capitalist processes that go beyond the commodity form.

 

All this being said, I believe there are many ways in which a movement that is sympathetic to the aims of Parecon, and movements inspired by open-free, participatory and commons-oriented values, such as the P2P Foundation, but also many others, can find common ground and work together.

 

For example: I would like that peer producers, rather than rely on for-profit enterprises, would form their own cooperative arrangements, and internetwork in a coordination council. Is there any way that a Pareconish approach would offer solutions, that would speed up that uptake in a way that is acceptable to those free software coops? This being said, there are not many of those coops today. Creating for-profit enterprises does still seem the overarching choice of entrepreneurs emerging from the peer production environment.

 

So what I’m hoping will happen is that as you are learning more about peer production, you will seek to dialogue with such communities, in a way that you have something to offer them, so that the peer to peer logic that informs their voluntary work, can be extended in their paid working life, by more equity-based social forms. Many might reject them, but others will embrace them.

 

As to the end of capitalism. I agree with Immanuel Wallerstein, and give the current system at most a few decades. An infinite growth system is simply impossible in a finite physical environment. What may replace it though, could be conceivably worse.

 

But since, unlike your suggestion, I don’t see God coming down to force us to make a decision, I read the conjuncture and the possibilities as follows.

 

Right now we are going through a Sudden Systemic Shock, as we had in the 1890’s, the 1930’s etc … So financialized neoliberalism can no longer function as the accumulation engine of capital, and both capital and the populations of the world are looking for alternatives, but which they consider ‘realistic’ from their frames of mind. I would suggest that very few would entertain Parecon at this stage. What is possible, necessary, and likely, but not certain, is that in order to re-establish itself, a new ‘long wave’ will have to seriously compose with the realities of peer to peer. So we have a historical period before us, in which the seed form of peer production, and the existing market practices, will mutually ‘use’ each other. Capitalism can’t survive without the using hyperproductive peer production, and peer producing communities can strengthen and improve the conditions of their sustainability through new types of more inclusionary social contracts (historically, each long wave has been marked by a more inclusionary social contract, i.e. compare the Smithean form of accumulation of the 19th century, with the Fordist model based on mass consumption).

 

During this coming period, peer production will grow from a seed form to an integrated set of alternative patterns, existing increasingly at ‘parity level’ with capitalism. The next, ‘up’ phase of the long wave, also marked by green capitalism, will ultimately prove to be unsustainable. At this stage, in about 30 years or so, we will reach a very serious systemic crisis, usually, it’s the down phase of decline of the long waves, but in circumstances in which the very survival of the biosphere will not allow for such a descent.

 

If Pareconish alternatives are successful in establishing themselves as the equity-based alternative for the organization of material production, it may become an essential  part of the post-transition civilization that will be born around that time. If not, it will have been a legitimate attempt to imagine an alternative, which will have never functioned, and instead, we’ll have some other form of equity-based ownership and governance. But whatever that form will be, it will be co-existing with the core logic of peer to peer based value creation.

 

On page 7, you address the issue of peer governance.

 

Peer governance is the process that allows the self-aggregation of productive resources, that allows the free productive choice inherent in peer production, and has mechanisms in place against the private appropriation of the commons. As long as we are in the sphere of free aggregation of immaterial resources, we are in the sphere of peer governance; as we move to areas of scarcity, we enter into the realm of the allocation of scarce resources, and thus, democratic (or not democratic) decision-making regarding those resources.

 

For example, in peer producing communities, both aspects co-exist. Free productive choice co-exists with a very democratic governance system for example in Debian, as described in the excellent study by Mathieu O’Neill, “Cyberchiefs”. Many times, the Foundations that manage the infrastructure of cooperation are very democratic, but they do not dictate the process of production, that is the crucial difference between the pre-p2p modes, and that I would like to see you abolish in the Parecon model.

 

So again, in your freely aggregated time, you choose the task and carry it out, and there is a communal post-production process (usually by ‘committers’ or ‘maintainers’) to judge its quality and inclusion in the final ‘product’ (free software, open design). In the existing market economy, you either work under the division of labour imposed by your employer, or you are a self-managed cooperative entity, pareconish or not. That is today’s reality. In tomorrow’s reality, there might be more and more of the latter. And the day after tomorrow, after the phase-transition, the latter will exist in a totally different institutional environment, based on equity, protection of the natural environment, and social justice. As we both agree, we are not there yet, and for all we know, it may never happen and what will replace the dying system may be a lot worse.

 

Michael: in the last paragraph, you ask what is in essence the question: “wouldn’t it be nice if all peer producers would agree with Parecon values and proposals”.

 

The answer is: neither you or I have any control over that. It’s the free choice of humans in the context of a environment that is relatively controlled by a system that is not essentially friendly to your values.

 

You are free to propose Pareconish values and alternatives to them; my approach is to extend peer production in a context which is maximally sustainable and just. My strategy is to do that through the strengthening of peer production itself, and to ally it with equity and justice based solutions to the extent possible. This is the essential difference between our approaches.

 

Some peer producers will care for your approach, some more will care about similar values but not believe in your particular set of solutions. A lot more will reject it. Some are very happy to follow their passionate pursuits, while making money in for-profit enterprises and couldn’t care less about the people cleaning their offices. Today, it is the majority,  (not because they are mean, but because they think the world works that way) though in conditions of global economic and environmental collapse, that may one day be very different.

 

This is the plural, mostly unjust world we live in, and have each to compose with in our own ways, while trying to change it where and when we can.

 

If you want to reach the emerging peer producing communities though, I suggest they will be much more open to your approach, if you do not reject free productive choice, but rather include this new possibility in your Parecon framework, and tell them that it will increase it, rather than abolish it.

Leave a comment