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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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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Schlosberg on Rushkoff

Joel Schlosberg has a great post on Douglas Rushkoff's new book, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out.

He links to a series of Rushkoff "thought viruses," written as previews of themes in the book. My favorite is "Open Source and the Authorship Society":

The market for products enabling the do-it-yourselfer is still growing. Home Depot and Lowe's equip the consumer with professional grade tools, while Vitamin Warehouse and herb shops supply the self-healer. Amateurs are now more responsible for formerly expert-only aspects of their own lives, and they're comfortable with it....

This renaissance ethos of authorship isn't limited to some isolated group of “cultural creatives” in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge. No, it's a mainstream "red state" American trend, as well, emerging as crafts fairs, a NASCAR culture of car modification, gun kits, backyard farming, and even home schooling. For every Northeasterner musing on how he would have drawn up the plans for New York's street grid to include bike lanes (and then working through the city council to create some) there's a Midwesterner challenging the curriculum of the local school system, and rewriting his own version based on the facts and values he thinks are more important to teach a young person.

This is the spirit of authorship presaged by the Internet and now extending to every area of our lives....

It is the real legacy of the open source movement—misunderstood even by many of its participants as solely a way to develop computer operating systems, and underestimated in its potential impact by even its staunchest opponents. As I've come to see it, the deeper cultural agenda is based on three far-reaching assumptions:

1. The systems by which we live are inventions and conventions.
2. The codes underlying those systems can be learned and rewritten.
3. This process best takes place collaboratively.

Joel also links to Rushkoff's regular column in Arthur magazine. In the first installment ("Evolution is a Team Sport"), as Joel says, he discusses centralized currency and banking in terms that sound positively money crankish.

...it was also during the first great Renaissance that we developed the concept of competition. Authorities became more centralized, and individuals competed for how high they could rise in the system. We like to think of it as a high-minded meritocracy, but the rat-race that ensued only strengthened the authority of central command. We learned [to] compete for resources and credit made artificially scarce by centralized banking and government.

For just one example, it was during the Renaissance that centralized currency came into widespread use. Before then, localities developed their own currencies, often based on real commodities, and many of which existed side-by-side more centralized currencies that were used for transacting with other regions. With the establishment of the nation state came the exclusive right of kings to create money by "fiat" - literally by invention - and then force everyone else to compete to pay it back....

....[T]he development of complementary currency models, such as Ithaca Hours, allow people to agree together what their goods and services are worth to one another without involving the Fed. They don't need to compete for currency in order to pay back the central creditor - currency is an enabler of collaborative efforts rather than purely competitive ones.

Check out, also, the online version of Open Source Democracy: How online communication is changing offline politics.

Addendum. Also via Joel Schlosberg, here's an excerpt from Rushkoff's article on open source currency:

The advantage is that while the value of centralized currency is based on its scarcity, the bias of complementary or local currencies is towards their abundance.

So instead of having to involve the Fed in every transaction — and using money that requires being paid back with interest — we can invent our own currencies and create value with our labor. It's what the Japanese did at the height of the recession. No, not the Japanese government, but unemployed Japanese people who couldn't afford to pay healthcare costs for their elder relatives in distant cities. They created a currency through which people could care for someone else's grandmother, and accrue credits for someone else to take care of theirs.

Throughout most of history, complementary currencies existed alongside centralized currency. While local currency was used for labor and local transactions, centralized currencies were used for long distance and foreign trade. Local currencies were based on a model of abundance — there was so much of it that people constantly invested it. That's why we saw so many cathedrals being built in the late middle ages, and unparalleled levels of investment in infrastructure and maintenance. Centralized currency, on the other hand, needed to retain value over long distances and periods of time, so it was based on precious and scarce resources, such as gold.

The problem started during the Renaissance: as kings attempted to centralize their power, most local currencies were outlawed. This new monopoly on currency reduced entire economies into scarcity engines, encouraging competition over collaboration, protectionism over sharing, and fixed commodities over renewable resources. Today, money is lent into existence by the Fed or another central bank — and paid back with interest.

This cash is a medium; and like any medium, it has certain biases. The money we use today is just one model of money. Turning currency into an collaborative phenomenon is the final frontier in the open source movement. It's what would allow for an economic model that could support a renewable energies industry, a way for companies such as Wal-Mart to add value to the communities it currently drains, and a way of working with money that doesn't have bankruptcy built in as a given circumstance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of education and open-source, how is it that no one has created an open-source series of textbooks and posted them on-line? Textbooks are extraordinarily expensive, yet there are plenty of people with the expertise and know-how to put together excellent textbooks on elementary-level subjects. Heck, you could get 100 high school biology teachers and put together a stellar book on introductory biology, free and downloadable.

Textbook makers really have students, schools, and teachers over a barrel. I'm stunned teachers haven't done something about this (or perhaps, the teacher unions).

- Josh

January 28, 2006 5:50 PM  
Blogger Joel Schlosberg said...

Wild Pegasus,

Actually, there have been open source textbooks pretty similar to what you have in mind, many written by teachers for their own use. Some examples of textbooks that are free online (some of which are open source in terms of being under an open content license) that I know of:

Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter physics series, Physics for Free, Motion Mountain, Algebraic Topology, Electromagnetic Field Theory, Linear Algebra

Crowell in particular has been doing this for a long time (the earliest copyright date on the Light and Matter books is 1998 so I think he started about then) well before Creative Commons, much of the modern ebook software, and a lot of the other support for it existed. He also has a good recent essay about open source books and the issues involved in producing and promoting them.

January 28, 2006 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...




January 29, 2006 1:32 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I agree, Josh. The textbook companies have an influence on local school boards comparable to what the Merck and Phizer reps have in a doctor's office.

Thanks, Joel and Duncan, for those great links.

January 29, 2006 10:34 AM  
Blogger Joel Schlosberg said...

Another cool resource for open source textbooks (mentioned in Crowell's article) is Textbook Revolution ... and looky here (ho ho ho ho ho)

January 29, 2006 8:50 PM  

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