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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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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, December 14, 2006

P2P as Contested Term

I've argued in the past that many of the concepts of the "New Economy," especially as developed by trendy management gurus like Tom Peters, are contested terrain. Self-managed teams, "lean" production, and the like are things that might be organizing principles of a genuinely libertarian economy--a decentralized, cooperatively owned market economy, as opposed to our centralized, exploitative, corporatist one. But integrated into the existing corporate framework, they just make exploitation more feasible by using workers' knowledge of the production process against them, while staving off the corporate dinosaurs' collapse under the weight of their own inefficiency.

"Peer production" is an excellent example of such a contested term. Here, via his P2P Blog, is an essay by Michel Bauwens on the dialectical nature of peer-to-peer practice as it currently functions within the global economy: "P2P and the Corporation."

In a sense corporations have become thoroughly inter-subjective in their nature. But the ownership structure of corporations does not reflect this social and cooperative nature of contemporary production....

To protect its ultimate aim of making profit corporations are organized on a feudal basis. Corporations are not democracies, but feudal organizations whether in the older bureaucratic format of the industrial era or the management by objectives of the cognitive era. Objectives are produced in a top-down format.

In the current neoliberal and deregulatory phase capitalism has created a hypercompetitive environment based on speed.... It has tremendously increased the pressure on individuals with its elusive search for zero time (no wastage of time). Stress and related illnesses are growing by the day and working hours have increased in the United States. Production and productive behavior has left the factory and office to infiltrate the daily lives of everyone. Learning has to take place 'after hours'. The safe heaven of a fixed salary is increasingly being replaced by precarious and short-term contracts.

A corporation is not based on the common good, unlike P2P processes.

This is why the relationship between peer to peer, which it needed by the system to function effectively, and capitalism, is inherently problematic and rife with tensions....

P2P and Open Source production processes are increasingly making new and better 'products' than their for-profit counterparts.... This is why I argued that the corporation, beholden to its shareholders, is not the cutting edge of social change, but rather a field of tension and contradiction between the cooperative nature of work and its private appropriation, between the demand for cooperative and synergetic working practices and the feudal nature of its power structure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, open source is a great example of libertarian communism. If anyone knows about open source, they know that it's competing and may be surpassing proprietary competitors in the future.

December 15, 2006 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Reisman's Ghost said...

No! The communists and GNU/Linux bastards are taking over! Dare we face the threat of... international open source operating systems?

December 15, 2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lenny said...

not being in the corporate workplace, but looking at possibilities for rejoining the lemming wave, i am not certain that i understand this concept properly. peer 2 peer is where a pair of people share talents to work on a single combined effort? i picked up the dead fish concept quickly and somebody once gave me a copy of who stole my cheese, the ultimate in lemming training (to be trained to get back into being a lemming).

on another note, the ed system we discussed is getting closer to reality. I will pilot the current system this spring by supporting a knowledge contest in environmental science, and if we can get the proper interaction, so that it doesn't waste a lot of my time unproductively, then i'll get back to you later in the spring and maybe we can set up an economics class in mutualism for the fall.

The Redile system reliance is on reteaching, which is a vague concept for most, but if you have to teach a topic to others, it requires reenforcing what you know. The teacher does not have to know everything, but the students have to be able to ask that one question that tells each one that the expert knows what he is talking about and can be taken as truthful in context and valuable in skill. Also - we will need to conceptualize a mutualist event experience that can be conducted in two to four hours as a role play to have on-line students be hands on in using some of the key concepts. (it may be a mutualist framework to do a science experiment, a museum visit - we can brainstorm later)

there are many concepts of science that do not play in other fields of academic endeavor, though i don't understand why. science is a micro-religion that requires firm believers with a fixed criteria of acceptible truth, and many fields of shade of grey and conditions where the grey shades and turns useful.

December 16, 2006 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Corporations are not democracies

Thank God. They're inefficient enough as is.

Objectives are produced in a top-down format.

This is true of nearly every organization. Even a commune is going to have some sort of leadership/brain trust which works to set an agenda. That agenda may need to be ratified in a collective enterprise, but that does little to change the dynamic.

working hours have increased in the United States.

Commonly believed, but completely untrue.

Learning has to take place 'after hours'.

I don't even know what this is supposed to mean.

The safe heaven of a fixed salary is increasingly being replaced by precarious and short-term contracts.

So, in other words, the wild uncertainty that has characterized almost all of human existence is returning. How much "salary" did a hunter-gatherer get? How much "salary" do entrepreneurs get?

A corporation is not based on the common good, unlike P2P processes.

Neither are based on the common good. P2P processes reward contributers with status instead of money. But without the money economy, you don't get the status contributions.

This guy seriously has no idea what he's talking about.

- Josh

December 16, 2006 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

working hours have increased in the United States.

Commonly believed, but completely untrue.


December 19, 2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

The Weary Do Rest


Here are the numbers (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported in the Economic Report of the President) for average hours worked per week for private production and non-supervisory workers in the United States:

1970 37.0
1975 36.0
1980 35.2
1985 34.9
1990 34.3
1995 34.3
2000 34.3
2003 33.7


- Josh

December 19, 2006 5:15 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Reisman's Ghost,

I'm trying to come up with a good riff about a specter haunting the RIAA, but I got nothin'.

Dr. Lenny,

Sounds like you've pretty much got a handle on the P2P thing. It's about distributive, demand/pull-driven organization of production through peer networks. Software production and the net-based exchange of artistic production was the initial application, obviously, but P2P advocates commonly talk about distributing the manufacturing process through peer networks as well.

The redile thing sounds promising; I look forward to hearing more.

December 19, 2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Although some of your objections probably have some merit, I think you're losing sight of the forest for the trees in saying that Bauwens doesn't know what he's talking about. Generally, he's one of the best analysts I've read on the overall subject of P2P as the organizing principle for a new economy.

In stating that corporations were not democracies, he was not arguing to make the existing corporation more democratic, but that P2P would make it possible to organize production more democratically *outside* the corporate framework. The corporation's inefficiency and its lack of democracy are both symptoms of the same underlying cause. In an economy that's artificially centralized and capital-intensive, the dominant firms are so large that they *can't* be efficient because of all the agency problems and the internal transaction costs of aggregating the distributed knowledge of the workforce. They can't afford to be democratic because they're set up to carry out fundamentally irrational and undemocratic functions. To paraphrase Shevek from The Dispossessed, the corporation reflects the organizational imperatives of the paleotechnic era; it's the most rational way of organizing, given an irrational starting point in which those who know most about the production process have no personal stake in increasing productivity, and are motivated only by extrinsic carrots and sticks. As Shevek said of a professional army, it's a way to get people to do something they have no personal interest in by making them fear their superiors more than they hate their assignment. But when ownership and productive labor are united in the same people, and production is directly organized by those engaged in the process, democracy flows from the nature of the organization--eliminating the agency problems in the process.

On the working hours thing, Anonymous asked the same question I didn't get around to asking in time. Thanks for providing the stats. I haven't read Juliet Schor's book, so I'm suspending my conclusions on the subject. But I'm inclined to doubt that Schor pulled her statistics out of her ass, so it seems likely that this is a debate over the interpretation of data, or the choice between rival sets of data, and that it's a debate with two sides to it. I wonder, for example, if Schor and the Economic Report of the President aren't arguing apples and oranges. Could it be that the average figures from the ERP are averaging out the conflicting tendencies of a two-tier labor force? Could it be that the longer work-weeks of those with full-time jobs, especially in the cubicle salariat, are being balanced out by the number of underemployed people working at McJobs or through temp agencies? In other words, you might both be right.

There's a lot of stuff from the hunter-gather era I wouldn't particularly care for. From a purely subjective perspective, I think most people prefer some level of certainty and stability when it comes to their future livelihood. And contract has been a common mechanism used by people attempting to reduce their uncertainty. Hell, there's an entire industry--insurance--organized around the principle of distributing risk. So when there's a general shift in economic structure that reduces the perceived security of some group, it's a natural conclusion to draw that the people affected don't think it's a "good thing." And it's also natural to ask questions like Qui bono, and how was the benefitting party in a position to impose the change.

December 19, 2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous quasibill said...

Yeah, there seems to be two big, glaring problem areas with the stats Josh gives:

1. "non-supervisory"? That excludes quite a large percentage of workers, especially with the incentives in classifying positions as "supervisory" in order to avoid overtime and unionization. So, at first glance, these stats say far less than what Josh thinks they do.

2. notice anything about where the hours are hovering? around 35 hrs/week. Wonder why? Think again about overtime/benefits issues. I know more than a few people who want a full-time job, but are stuck at 32 hour/week jobs so that the employer can avoid all sorts of regulations. Of course, these people then supplement their income with under the table work.

Statistics are nothing more than numbers with labels attached to them - and in most cases, the labels are far more important than the numbers.

December 20, 2006 7:00 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Another problem with those figures is that we don't know what is being calculated. If someone undergoes spill and fill and goes from being a full time employee with overtime to casual roles, those roles could easily include unpaid and unassessed overtime, with greater workloads while working but lower apparent workloads from not allowing for periods of short term unemployment between contracts.

For what it's worth, I was led to the possibility of a phase change from noticing the apparent co-existence of over- and under-employment here in Australia. That suggests that some underlying curve could have reversed its slope - and lo! when I looked, I found a mechanism that would do precisely that, a Tragedy of the Commons thing that spreads the cost of unemployment away from particular employment decisions (see my publications page for more details).

December 22, 2006 7:26 AM  
Anonymous joanne said...

Is non-supervisory the same as non-exempt (from overtime)? Regardless it's clear they aren't counting unpaid overtime here, which means many a Dilbert in the u.s. is working overtime off the books.

December 22, 2006 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

The problem with democratic production organizations is that they, too, are efficient. Nothing wastes more time than a meeting where everyone gets their say, regardless of how little they contribute.

So, to save time, the democratic organization brings in experts, appoints specialists, etc. and pretty soon you end with an oligarchy and de facto heirarchy.

I don't know who Juliet Schor is, so I can't comment on her work. But if people are McJobbing, that's an indication that time worked is going down. If the McJobs turned into careers overnight, you'd end up with longer working hour numbers. I'd bet the farm that the anti-business lefties would shit their pants over that, too. It's a no-win with those people.

As for "in a position to impose the change", no one is in position to impose the change. The world economy is too large, too varied, too international, too integrated for anyone to impose change on the world economic order.

As to quasibill, the answer is that supervisory workers work longer hours than non-supervisory workers, always have, always will. And for the 35/hr. people, think of all the unintended consequences of the workers' advocates/rights legislation that anti-business folks have been pressing for years. In Europe, job security means no one can find a job. In America, benefits security means you don't get 40 hr.


Until you provide some figures about how much unpaid overtime is being used, and where, and by whom, and for what, etc., you're just pissing in the wind. It's like the mythical Chinese "slave labor". Apparently, the entire Chinese economy runs on slavery, but when you press anti-business people for data, it gets quiet right quick.

- Josh

December 23, 2006 11:02 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Just who is pissing into the wind here, Wild Pegasus? You claimed that you were offering proof of something that seemed implausible in terms of common experience, i.e. your suggestion that working hours were coming down in the USA.

Now, your materials do support that view - but they are not sufficient to prove it, precisely because there are a number of other ways your materials could be true at the same time as working hours going up.

One of the posters described one of these. You then flipped the burden of proof, suggesting that this was unwarranted unless the poster could prove it.

But she didn't have to,m and still doesn't. It was you who claimed something implausible and then took on the job of attempting to prove it. The rebuttal need not prove the reverse, merely show that your proof doesn't do its job. You might still be right - but you still have to prove it.

December 24, 2006 2:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure some unpaid overtime is happening:

I find it impossible to believe that theoretical conditions for abuse of unpaid overtime exist and yet noone is actually taking advantage of them.
1) Exempt workers can legally work more hours for no additional pay whatsoever which definitely benefits the employer. Some of the exemptions (computer jobs) were only put in the law in the 90's.
2) My second assumption is unequal bargaining power between employees and employers (going out on a limb here :)). Workers in these categories are almost never unionized.

That's theory. Anecdote is that I have seen and heard first hand of this being abused (in fields like IT, although even here not as much as the second hand media report). But that's anecdote and unlikely to convince anyone who hasn't seen the same thing around them.

Stats are hard to find one way or other (I still haven't figured out how the stats above were calculated). So I'll just conceed to not knowing for sure one way or other how the stats split and whether dozens of people hardly working offset those working too hard (what a cheery thought that might be ...).

December 24, 2006 2:13 AM  
Blogger Sergio Méndez said...

Wild Pegasus:

In Europe, job security means no one can find a job.

Unemployement in European Union was aroun 8.3 this year. That is hight by american standards, but hardly means "no one can find a job". Even in countries with a larger welfare system like sweeden unemployement is around 5%, which is near the American rate, just a bit higher.

December 26, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger quasibill said...

"As to quasibill, the answer is that supervisory workers work longer hours than non-supervisory workers, always have, always will. And for the 35/hr. people, think of all the unintended consequences of the workers' advocates/rights legislation that anti-business folks have been pressing for years. In Europe, job security means no one can find a job. In America, benefits security means you don't get 40 hr."

I'm not sure who you're arguing with here, Josh. Your retort is EXACTLY my point. Those stats you posted *exclude* people who work *longer* hours, and it happens to be a category that has expanded significantly since the 1950s.

And yes, my point was that ERISA and related state interferences in the market have skewed those precious statistics that you posted - there is an extra-market incentive for lower end employers to offer part-time jobs - jobs that average low 30s hrs/week. Problem is, these employees then go on to work some other job under the table - another category of jobs that magically doesn't get included in your statistics.

Finally, a point I didn't mention, I have heard, anectdotally only, that these part-time jobs often require a fair amount of "off the clock" work - like you have to clock out, but you can't leave until your supervisor has signed off on your area (cleanliness, accounting, etc.). In fact, I think Walmart is being sued for such practices in my state. So I'd be a little hesitant to throw those numbers you have around as proof of anything other than our government has no clue about what actually happens in the market.

December 27, 2006 7:55 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


This statement of yours is probably our strongest area of disagreement:

"The world economy is too large, too varied, too international, too integrated for anyone to impose change on the world economic order."

Government action to structure the rules within which the market functions--the banking monopoly, political appropriation of land, and a vast array of subsidies--result in an enormous qualitative change in the economy. Government interference isn't something that distorts the market; it's more accurate to say that the market price system is something that operates within the interstices of a fundamentally state capitalist structure. The fact that the global economy is so large and interconnected is the *result* of state action. The state has taken apart and reconstructed the economy like a conqueror reconstructs an occupied province. And the TNCs that dominate the global economy sit at the helm of the state.

December 27, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger T.S. said...

Yeah if only the state where that good! (why haven’t all countries mastered this level of prosperity? castro, kim and chavez must be on the verge of discovering something better) Clearly there is no such thing as spontaneous order when the invisible hand is free to act! I agree on eliminating subsidies, non-natural monopolies, and political land taking (kelo)- government never acts benignly. Was the interconnected medieval india/china to europe spice route a direct result of government action or the result of traders gaining free access through non-protectionist lands?

January 04, 2007 9:05 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Has Adam Yoshida gone "libertarian"?

Seriously, there *could be* such a thing as a spontaneous order emerging via the invisible hand. And I'd like to see it happen. But if you think the distribution of wealth and power in the corporate economy results from such a spontaneous process, you've got a really interesting perspective on reality. I'm not sure what the strawman reference to Kim et al is supposed to prove, but if you're tarring me with that brush your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired.

As for the spice route, it involved mainly the exchange of extremely expensive luxury goods, and was possible because 1) the supply was geographically limited because Europeans hadn't figured out how to produce the stuff themselves; and 2) a ruling class had the wealth to purchase such luxury goods. Surely you don't think the feudal nobility of Europe paid for all those spices with legitimately obtained wealth? In that case, you must think Kim Jong-Il is buying jet skis and ipods with money that's rightfully his.

January 09, 2007 12:27 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

That's a litt;e simplistic about the feudal nobility. While they were overpaid from being able to set their own pay scales, as it were, it was proportionately far less than today's politicians award themselves. They actually did own some of what they defended, having acquired it from yet others who had less claim rather than at the expense of rightful owners. Consider, for instance, the sequence of events before as well as during the Spanish Reconquista, back to the time of Carthage.

January 11, 2007 3:56 AM  

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