Michel Bauwens: P2P as Organizing Principle for the Physical Economy?
A crucial aspect of peer to peer theory... is whether peer producton, the common production through communities, as evidenced in free software, linux and wikipedia, can be expanded to the physical sphere, and additionally, whether that expansion can be enclosed in the money economy....
My own take at the P2P Foundation is of the more expansive school of thought, we think that peer to peer has the potential, and even likelyhood, of becoming the new core of the next political economy, the one that will arise to save us from the very success of capitalism, and its corollary: the destruction and depletion of the biosphere....
If we ask ourselves, through what strategies and trends could we see an expansion of peer production to the material sphere, I usually give two answers, one is the ‘distribution of everything’. To the degree we succeed in expanding the distributed format, in intellect, productive capital, financial capital, we expand the space where peer production can thrive. Additionally, if we can envisage a process whereby the design phase of industrial production is separated from its physical production space, there is no limit to the use of open source methodologies in the design phase. We can easily imagine for example, the design of a car that would be vastly superior to the car designs by corporations. But the question remains on how to finance its physical construction. But we already see companies in the software industry, who successfully link their market-based aims and behaviour, with a dependence on a intellectual commons and an open source community, fruitfully building a ecology from which all parties profit. It’s a model that can be expanded to other sectors of the economy.
Sam Rose, in the comments, has this to add:
Let me say that, if we can co-design a car, or a house, or a machine, or another similar structure online right now, we can also design it in a way that would allow people to physically construct it for less money, and within the means of general fabrication industries available to the average person right now. Basically, we can co-design the construction process of the car as well. The actual construction could be done by a combination of different independent fabricators....
To peer-design a car like we are talking about would be no small task, though. It has taken http://www.theoscarproject.org/index.php 6 years and they are still in the concept phase....
When I look at this: http://www.osgv.org/cdv1.php
And the question [is] “How much will it cost?” their answer is: “Preliminary analysis indicates that such car can be built for under USD$15,000 in large quantities. Actual production cost could be higher, depending on the supply of materials.”
But here again, the costs can be brought down in the design, and through research of fabrication costs and materials. This research can be done in a peer to peer way. So can the whole administration of ordering the cars, and manufacturing them.
And Richard Poynder has followed up with the second part of his interview with Bauwens.
MB: ...What is also incontrovertible is that immaterial production is becoming an ever-larger part of our economy and, within that sphere, it is increasingly apparent that peer production is more productive and more efficient than the traditional model — in so far as it creates more value than for-profit alternatives.
These things guarantee that P2P processes will continue to grow, and demonstrate that it is more than a transient phenomenon....
...[T]he key question today is a simple one: will P2P remain a subsystem within a capitalist economy, or will the market at some point become a subsystem within a pluralist economy that revolves around a core of peer production.
RP: What is your answer to that question?
MB: My expectation is that the market will eventually become a subsystem with a P2P economy. So in the system I foresee we would have:
* a core of non-material production using peer-to-peer principles in their pure format (non-reciprocal peer production);
* a surrounding sphere of reciprocity-based gift economy, for services in the West, and for the protection of the remaining traditional world in the South;
* a market that is divorced from the obligation of endless accumulation, and so becomes 'natural capitalism' (as envisaged by Hazel Henderson, David Korten and Paul Hawken.) In other words, it would no longer be obliged to destroy the biosphere, and it would have a market that is subject to peer arbitrage, not just power play — as is the case today with fair trade;
* States and governance enriched with multi-stakeholder principles (e.g. states subjected to peer arbitrage as well).
* * *
MB: We can no longer afford a system that externalises the true costs of things. So I am attracted to the notion of a market without capitalism — i.e. a free market but not based on infinite accumulation.
MB: ...Essentially, I see three main ways in which P2P might migrate to the physical sphere:
* In industrial processes, as I previously mentioned, we could see the design phase being separated from the material production phase. I see no objection in theory or practice, for instance, why cars cannot be designed by Open Source communities, and then produced by a third party who has access to the necessary capital.
* I can also see further expansion of distributed models, particularly in the field of financial capital. I mentioned, for instance, the "distributed capital" model being promoted by Open Capital schemes.
* Finally, we could start to make physical items freely available under Open Source licences — artworks say, or bicycles; or indeed books, as already happens with the Book Crossing project. The licensed item could then be linked to a digital address so that it can be monitored, and protected from private appropriation or theft. This strategy offers a tremendous opportunity for creating a wide variety of different physical commons.