Michel Bauwens: An Economy Organized on P2P Principles
In the second (which sheds considerable light on the categories briefly listed in the previous item), Bauwens is interviewed at length by Richard Poynder. I've excerpted some of the most important sections, from my perspective:
RP: There was back then a view that the Web — and the rash of dotcom companies — would force traditional companies to reinvent themselves or perish wasn’t there?
MB: Sure, but it became clear to me that attempts to graft the Internet and the Web onto the corporate world had largely failed — as evidenced by the dotcom crash.
It was also clear that the belief that change would come from corporations — as envisaged by the stakeholder concept of the late seventies — had also proved wrong. Finally, it occurred to me that all the social and ecological indicators were moving in the wrong direction.
RP: How do you mean?
MB: I could see that despite the dotcom crash, the social dynamism of the Internet had not died, but had simply continued in the social sphere, in civil society. At the same time, corporations had become worse places to work in than they had ever been, and poverty and environmental destruction was growing at an unprecedented scale.
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RP: So what are the implications of this P2P dynamic in terms of enabling the social and political changes that you want to see?
MB: The P2P phenomenon gives rise to three new social processes: peer production (which is best explained by Yochai Benkler in his book The Wealth of Networks); peer governance (i.e. how these groups manage themselves) and peer property (i.e. commonly-owned property).
RP: What is it that is new and distinctive about these three new social processes?
MB: Well, the interesting thing about peer production is that while it is embedded in the market, it is managed by neither pricing nor corporate hierarchies. As Benkler points out, it has therefore introduced a third mode of production, one organised by neither markets nor the state.
Similarly, non-hierarchical governance represents a third mode of governance, one based on civil society rather than on representational democracy; in other words, non-representational democracy.
Finally, P2P gives rise to non-exclusionary property forms. These are based on both free and open access, and they seek to prevent the private appropriation of commonly produced work arising from peer production.
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RP: On your web site you say that the general principles behind movements like Open Source software and Open Access provide models that can be used in "other areas of social and productive life". Does this include material production in any way?
MB: Sure. While these principles naturally apply to any form of immaterial production, we believe they also have relevance in the sphere of physical production. After all, although physical production requires large amounts of capital, the manufacturing process also includes an immaterial design phase.
RP: So while physical products like, say, washing machines and television sets, will always need to be sold at a price that reflects the cost of the raw material and the labour that went into producing them, the knowledge about how to produce and design them should be made freely available for anyone to make us of?
MB: That's right. Essentially, P2P expands democracy from the political sphere, to all spheres of life. I would add that P2P's strength is that, as a mode of production, it is more efficient than the for-profit and state-centralised modes in many areas of production.
The other point to make is that in many cases the capital (be it financial or industrial) required to produce material products will also be distributed, and so P2P principles can be applied in the distribution of capital too.
RP: Can you explain that?
MB: I mean that it would be wrong to think that material production will not be affected by the P2P paradigm, so we need methods whereby, instead of having one or several large investors, or shareholders interested in short-term profit, capital can be obtained in distributed ways, from the producing communities and their customers themselves for instance.
That means that we need 'distributed capital'. The UK-based Limited Liability Partnerships and other Open Capital schemes could be a step in that direction for instance. User-built networks and P2P-exchange projects like Prosper and Zopa also point in that direction.