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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

P2P: New Economic Paradigm?

I found a great article that amplifies on many of the same economic themes Dave Pollard does at How to Save the World (especially here): Michel Bauwens. "Peer to Peer and Human Evolution." Here's a snippet from the Executive Summary that should give some indication of how good it is:

After describing the emergence of P2P as the dominant mode, or 'form', of our current technological infrastructure (section two), we then describe its emergence in the economic sphere (section three), as a 'third mode of production', neither profit-driven nor centrally planned, but as a decentralized cooperative way of producing software (free software and open source movements), and other immaterial products, based on the free cooperation of 'equipotential' participants....

Such commons-based peer production has other important innovations, such as it taking place without the intervention of any manufacturer whatsoever. In fact the growing importance of 'user innovation communities' (section 3.1.B), which are starting to surpass the role of corporate sponsored marketing and research divisions in their innovation capacities, show that this formula is poised for expansion even in the world of material production, provided the design phase is separated from the production phase.

A lot of this also ties in to various strands of thought I tried to bring together in this old post: "On the Superior Efficiency of Small-Scale Organization."

I'm not sure I agree with Bauwens' contention that peer-to-peer networks will become the dominant form of economic organization. But to the extent that it's possible to disaggregate the separate stages of production within existing vertically integrated corporations, a good many of those stages (for example, as Bauwens says, the design stage) will be amenable to handling by decentralized peer networks and the gift economy.

And the various production stages themselves, when disaggregated in the same way, show a great potential for cooperative ownership and control, and for the use of a wide range of less capital-intensive forms of production. In a decentralized economy, individual stages of production that are currently carried on at a single large site by a vertically integrated corporation may be more economically done in small machine shops (cf. Jane Jacobs' account of the origins of the Japanese bicycle industry, in The Economy of Cities), or in Kirkpatrick Sale's neighborhood repair-recycling centers. In some stages of production, the substitution of lower-tech, partially human powered operations (cf Mumford's discussion of "polytechnic" in The Pentagon of Power) or Sale's and Bookchin's general-purpose production technologies, will be economical when savings on bureaucratic and distribution costs, and overhead, are taken into account.

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Blogger jomama said...

"How to save the world"...that brings a big grin to my face.

I think the guy's half serious even tho he knows he's fighting cultural (some might say hard wired) conditioning.

In any case, New World Disorder gonna look a lot different, even to the point of what is still seen in some small villages of many parts of the world, where some dude is delivering steer shit via donkey to my tomato patch, the ultimate P2P, notwithstanding all the "fine" analytical studies and layers of abstractions describing something so basic.

I expect the former P2P to survive.

It has senority and cuts to the shit.

December 03, 2005 9:15 AM  
Blogger Michel said...

Dear Kevin:

Thanks for referring to my research on P2P. However, I want to slightly amend your interpretation. I am saying that historically, different intersubjective modes have co-existed (gift economy, authority ranking, market pricing and communal shareholding), but always within a context of a dominant form (the gift economy in the tribal era, the authority ranking model in the feudal era), which informs their own expression. For example today the market pretty much puts its stamp on everything, but the communal shareholding format of the Catholic Church or the Buddhist Sangha, was strongly informed by an authoritarian structure. What I'm saying is, that since the current format is not ecologically or psychically sustainable, we have an opportunity to replace it with a format where P2P is the prime overarching logic. But still: markets, gift economy modes, hierarchy modes will continue to exist.

Here's a copy of my editorial for my last newsletter, I hope it is not too long:

Peer to Peer Theory is an attempt to develop a new emancipatory theory, a strategy for political and social change, that is congruent with our times. How does it differ from other theories, what is distinctive about it.

I think much revolves about the significance of the Relational Model by Alan Page Fiske, and the consequences we draw from it. Remember, Fiske, in Structures of Social Life, maintains there’s a universal grammar of human relationships. Intersubjective relations can take on four ideal-types: Equality Matching (I have to return something of equal value to this gift to maintain equal status); Authority Ranking (I defer to your authority because you are superior in some way); Market Pricing (I exchange something for similar value), Communal Sharing (I give what I can for this collective resource, it’s for everybody to use).

I make an add-on to this theory, which I’m not sure Fiske is making himself. Which is the following: if historically the four modes have always co-existed, they have done so under the dominant influence of one of them, which ‘informs’ their own expression. For example, the tribal era was dominated by a gift economy, i.e. equality matching; the feudal era by Authority Ranking, the industrial and capitalist era by market pricing.
The key hypothesis of P2P Theory is this: we witness the emergence of a new form of Communal Shareholding, associated with the peer to peer relational dynamic at work in distributed networks, and giving rise to such processes as peer production, peer governance, and peer property modes. Our preferred hypothesis is that we have a major opportunity to move towards a ‘Commons-based civilization within a reformed market and a reformed state’. Alternatives are that the present market form incorporates the P2P dynamic, or that our energy-intensive civilization collapses into Authority Ranking once more.

P2P Theory attempts to describe the emergence of peer to peer as an ‘objective phenomenon’, but, crucially, investiges what subjective/intersubjective political strategies could be used to promote it. Because of the insight of the Relational Model, we do not believe in a marketless or stateless society, but rather, in a political economy influenced primarily by civil society and its commons.

Please note that we are not advocating a Commons-only society, as a counter to both state totalitarianism (the Soviet model), and market totalitarianism (the neoliberal model), but a differentiated society, where the four modes can co-exist and where people are free to choose the intersubjective mode they enter into. In particular, what makes P2P so appealing, is that it is a form of collective life, of intersubjectivity, which builds on, but does not replace individuality or individualism. There is no return to the organic wholism of premodern society, but something entirely new that integrates individual freedom and free cooperation.

A credible strategy for political and social change therefore would combine fourfold substrategies:

1) strategies aimed at strengthening the Commons and P2P modes

2) strategies aimed at strengthening personalized gift economies in areas where market exchange is inappropriate or dysfunctional (elderly care in Japan, LETS systems)

3) a reform towards an equitable market which does not externalize environmental and social costs (natural capitalism approach); reform of the scarcity-based monetary system (a la Bernard Lietaer), multiple currencies for localized markets (open money schemes); multistakeholder framing of market exchange (Decaillot, see above)

4) reform of the state form and change of hierarchical modes using multistakeholdership and peer governance

It is the combination of all of this which could be the basis of a powerful alternative. P2P Theory does not claim at this stage to offer such an integrated and differentiated strategy, but at least investigates its possibility. At the moment what is has more or less successfully done is describe and explain the emergence of peer to peer as the new relational dynamic which is both immanent in the contempary system, but which has strong transcendent aspects (i.e. a potential for systemic change).

December 05, 2005 4:42 AM  
Anonymous OHenry said...

At one time communities would seek counsel from the elders on matters of import. More experience usually translated into lessons learned. Having survived my share of crises, I am still around to share a thought or two. The main lesson is to never stop learning. Reading is good as is seeking other points of view and new ideas like visiting your blog. Finding what is ultimately important leads one to appreciate actuality, efficiency and mindfulness. Helping others to see some of the forest through the trees is another. happy thought

January 06, 2006 5:53 AM  

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