.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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

My Photo
Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NEW C4SS Study: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

The entire industrial history series, to date:

No. 2. MOLOCH: Mass-Production Industry as a Statist Construct
No. 3. The Decline and Fall of Sloanism
No. 4. The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

I think this is my favorite one so far. It's far more detailed than my survey of micromanufacturing in Organization Theory, and includes fairly extended accounts of a couple of open-source manufacturing projects (Factor e Farm and 100kGarages) in the appendix.

With the funds raised so far, it's settled that I'll be writing two research papers and twice-weekly commentary this quarter. And the funding of my fellow commentators Tom and Alex is also secure. Thanks to all who donated for your support, and to Brad Spangler for offering me this position.

But C4SS is still $640 behind its goal for this quarter. And that last $640 is important; it will enable C4SS to add more written and video commentary. So if you haven't donated already, please consider doing so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

This Week at P2P Blog: Shanzhai--Flexible Manufacturing for the Next Generation

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Week at C4SS: Lily Allen--Copyright Twit of the Week

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freeman Article: How "Intellectual Property" Impedes Competition

The October issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty is online, and I'm in it: "How 'Intellectual Property' Impedes Competition."

Friday, September 18, 2009

This Week at C4SS: How Digital Copyright Treats Consumers Like Enemies

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Organization Theory to be Republished in Mutilated Form

When Organization Theory first came out in print, reactions to the cover image (that virally popular "Head Up Ass" picture you can find hundreds or thousands of on Google Images) were mixed. The negative reactions (some of them pretty pronounced) predominated. But that didn't matter to me. The first time I visualized that picture on the cover of my book, something clicked: perfect! I couldn't imagine it any other way. And I remember how I felt when my proof came in the mail, and holding it in my hand. Even more than with my first book, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of holding a solid object that I had originally envisioned in my mind, at seeing my vision transformed into reality. It was my book.

As you know, I have temporarily removed the book from availability for sale. The cover image, it turns out, is under copyright, and the copyright holder isn't interested in licensing it for my use. So I have to take it down or leave myself open to liability $30,000 in damages. As copyright law stands, there's no requirement to show actual economic harm; the way the courts work, if the copyright holder sues, he'll probably get it.

I'm not interested in naming or linking to the copyright holder and generating a lot of negative publicity. For one thing, suing me for past infringement will remain an option until the statute of limitations expires, if I piss him off--even though he's made clear his lack of desire to do so.

More than that, though, there's just no point to it. Given that the guy believes in "intellectual property"--and most people in this society do--he's been pretty decent about it. He didn't come across as a copyright troll, or anything. His family graphic design firm really did create the original image, and he didn't come on strong or try to blackmail me into coughing up money. I took the images down off my blog and removed the book from sale, and he thanked me, expressing his unwillingness to pursue legal action or seek monetary compensation.

For the past few days, I've toyed with different ideas for a replacement cover image. My first thought was Dilbert's pointy-haired boss--my most likely candidate before I saw the "Head Up Ass" picture--but I imagine it would fall afoul of some exclusive licensing agreement with Scott Adams' syndicate, even if he was interested in the idea. I also thought of a proto-mammal in the dinosaur nest or a T-Rex in a tarpit (William Gillis ought to love those). But the range of images on istockphoto is pretty limited.

And God knows I'll never again use Google Images as a source of free clip art. I've said in the past that the kind of copyright lockdown society Stallman envisioned in "The Right to Read" is impossible, that it would be simply unenforceable. And that's true--except for one case: the use of identifiable copyrighted material in mashups by an identifiable person, for commercial sale via conventional channels. All those billions of images on the web, most of them with no indication of copyright "ownership"--and if you use one of them, and a copyright troll decides to take you to the cleaner's, you've got absolutely no recourse.

I've just about decided to say "fuck it" and forego a cover image altogether, and just replace it with a notice that the original image, the way the book is supposed to look, is under copyright lockdown. Because this thing that will come out will not be my book. It will be my text, which I'll still proudly stand behind. But it won't be my book. My book has the "head up ass" picture on the cover. That's how it's supposed to look. This abomination that's coming out in its place is mutilated. When I hold the new proof in my hand, my feeling will be one of violation rather than pride.

While I'm not angry at the copyright holder, I hate the whole system of copyright and proprietary content more than ever. I'll fight the idea of "intellectual property" and report on the wicked actions of the Copyright Nazis more fervently than ever, and work harder than ever in support of technological developments that render copyright unenforceable.

It's personal now.

ADDENDUM. By the way, how's this for a class act? On Monday, I announced that the book was in process of being made unavailable for sale, and specifically requested as a favor that readers refrain from ordering books in the meantime. I explicitly stated that I was in a delicate position, and ordering books might put me in legal danger. Guess what? Immediately afterward, Any Book ordered seven copies of the book--in direct disregard of my request. And not only that! They ordered it at the retailer's discount, which meant I got paid a whopping $4 per copy, instead of the normal $14. And then they turned around and offered it for sale, marked up to $106. That's right, it's not a misprint: $106! And they're also selling the used copies for $106. So they deliberately put me at risk, in direct disregard of my request not to do so, and took advantage of my personal difficulties as an opportunity for speculation. Monty Burns must be proud. Whoever did this probably had an ancestor working at Auschwitz who sold gold tooth fillings on the black market.

Needless to say, I hope everyone will boycott this company, and shun them in the manner they deserve. I hope those books rot on their shelves.

Gary Chartier is busy creating a new cover that will pass legal muster, and the new version should be for sale before long. So please wait to order, and please don't do business with Any Book under any circumstances in the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Corvus Editions

For some time, my idee fixe has been the household and informal microenterprise, operating with little or no overhead because it produces with used or abandoned equipment, or using the idle capacity of ordinary household capital goods most people already own.

The examples I like to use are the microbakery using an ordinary household oven, the cab service whose main capital equipment is the family car and a cell phone, etc.

An outstanding recent example of this phenomenon is Shawn Wilbur's Corvus Editions, a micropublishing outfit specializing in classic anarchist texts from the nineteenth century and Wilbur's own publications (e.g. LeftLiberty, mentioned in the previous post). Here's their catalog.

Wilbur, in a blog post months ago, described his experiences in a lifetime in the bookselling trade:
My little store was enormously efficient, in the sense that it could weather long periods of low sales, and still generally provide new special order books in the same amount of time as a Big Book Bookstore.

The problem was that, with the state-imposed paperwork burden associated with hiring help, it was preferable—i.e. less complicated—to work sixty-hour weeks. The state-imposed administrative costs involved in the cooperative organization of labor amount to an entry barrier that can only be hurdled by the big guy.

After some time out of the business of independent bookselling and working a number of wage-labor gigs in chain bookstores, he recently announced the formation of Corvus—a micropublishing operation that operates on a print-on-demand basis.

In response to my questions, he also described in greater detail his own virtually zero-overhead business model in a post to the anarchy email list:

In general..., Corvus Editions is a hand-me-down laptop and a computer that should probably have been retired five years ago, and which has more than paid for itself in my previous business, some software, all of which I previously owned and none of which is particularly new or spiffy, a $20 stapler, a $150 laser printer, a handful of external storage devices, an old flatbed scanner, the usual computer-related odds and ends, and the fruits of thousands of hours of archival research and sifting through digital sources (all of which fits on a single portable harddrive.) The online presence did not involve any additional expense, beyond the costs of the free archive, except for a new domain name. My hosting costs, including holding some domain registrations for friendly projects, total around $250/year, but the Corvus site and shop could be hosted for $130.

Because Portland has excellent resources for computer recycling and the like, I suspect a similar operation, minus the archive, using free Linux software tools, could almost certainly be put together for less than $500, including a small starting stock of paper and toner—and perhaps more like $300.

The cost of materials is some 20% of Wilbur's retail price on average, with the rest of the price being compensation free and clear for his labor: “the service of printing, folding, stapling and shipping....” There are no proprietary rents because the pdf files are themselves free for download; Wilbur makes money entirely from the convenience-value of his doing those printing, etc., services for the reader.

Everywhere we turn, we see the same model emerging. In the culture and information industries, desktop production and filesharing have eaten the old proprietary content companies alive; Wilbur's desktop publishing microenterprise is a case in point. Among hardware hackers, it's becoming an almost daily occurrence to see yet another account of an open-source computer numeric controlled XYZ cutting table, multimachine, or RepRap 3-D printer, and the like, with a few hundred more dollars shaved off the already rock-bottom cost of production. The informal and household economy today is achieving the same scale of cost reductions that flexible manufacturing did in Emilia-Romagna a generation ago, but taking it several orders of magnitude further. It's becoming possible to enter the manufacturing world with a Fab Lab requiring capital outlays of a few thousand dollars at most, and with virtually zero overhead cost.

The informal economy, in short, is the rats in the nests of the corporate dinosaurs. The corporate economy will be eaten alive. Good riddance.

New Periodicals

LeftLiberty #2. Published by Shawn Wilbur.

The section of "The Anarchist of Approximations" deals in some depth with that notion of "approximation." "Mutualist Musings on Property" draws together some of my blog and forum posts with new framing and connective sections, and sets the scene for the "New Approximation" that begins in issue #4. This issue's "on alliance" is a look back at my early posts on the blog of the same name, as I try to come to productive terms with my recent secession from the ALL. The Distributive Passions chapter is mostly set in the 305th Century, AD, when the world has been perfected, roughly on Fourier's timeline, and it's all downhill from there. Playing Julian West in this Looking Backward-and-then-some is Kali, a damaged and thoroughly disgruntled cyborg soldier, whose suicide attempt 28,000+ years ago seems to have had world-historical consequences. For her, picking up the pieces will require finding out what happened in the interim, which will take us back to 2005, and so on. I hope all of the issue will be as fun to read as it has been to write.

ALLiance #3. Published by Chris Lempa.

ALLiance a journal of theory and strategy aims to be a movement journal for the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. Contributors include Kevin Carson, Darian Worden, Jim Davidson, Fed Foldvary, and Nick Louras.

Veteran agorists, curious conservatives, and disenchanted liberals will be enthralled by the most recent issue of ALLiance.

The Bad News First

The bad news is, I've requested that Booksurge take down the page for Organization Theory at Amazon temporarily, and that Abe Books do likewise, pending resolution of a copyright claim involving the cover image. Until they do take the images down, please do not order the paper version of the book. I'm trying to resolve this without any litigation, and copyright infringement damages can amount to a pretty big chunk of change.

I hope the copyright owner agrees to a settlement that will let me keep using the image for a sum I can afford, because from the minute I first saw that picture I thought it embodied everything I had to say about management and bureaucratic irrationality in my book. But if no arrangement can be made, I will republish it with a different cover.

The good news is, I'm offering the pdf of the text (which does not include the cover design at issue) for $10 here. Everything I write is in the public domain (under the well-known Woody Guthrie Public License), and can be reproduced without limit, including for commercial purposes--although I'd appreciate the courtesy of attribution. If you want to email it as an attachment to all your friends, or can afford to print it out and bind it cheaper than my dead-tree price, whatever--more power to you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Week at C4SS: Put Not Your Faith in Princes

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Don Fitz: What the Police Won't Apologize For

At Counterpunch. Don Fitz reports on anti-GMO activists at the World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis, May 2003. The police riot there was typical of those against anti-globalization demonstrators from Seattle on -- including, among other things, arrest of organizers on such trumped-up charges as "riding a bicycle without a license" (a non-crime in St. Louis), a warrantless invasion based on the false claim (i.e., police lie) that a building was condemned, and a warrantless invasion followed by a humiliating strip search. Local police intelligence activities against the activists was also reminiscent of the good old red squads. St. Louis police cooperated not only with the FBI, but with Monsanto. Shit, I'd have figured Monsanto's own goons were more than capable of running a police state on their own.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Guest Post at P2P Foundation Blog: The End of Economic Growth

Friday, September 04, 2009

Latest C4SS Paper: The Decline and Fall of Sloanism

C4SS just published my fourth research paper: "The Decline and Fall of Sloanism"

It is a direct continuation of the analysis in the previous paper, and both are extended developments of themes originally set forth, much more briefly, in my first paper.

The series, for anyone who wants to read it from the beginning, is:
C4SS Paper No. 1 (Spring 2009): "Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles"
C4SS Paper No. 3 (July 2009): "Moloch: Mass-Production Industry as a Statist Construct"
C4SS Paper No. 4 (August 2009): "The Decline and Fall of Sloanism"

If you think these papers are worth reading, by the way, you might consider contributing to the C4ss fourth quarter fundraising drive. It's getting off to a slow start, and it's your contributions that keep these things coming. The next one in the pipeline is a further development of the theme of relocalized manufacturing as Sloanism decays: specifically, desktop manufacturing and the household microenterprise. (Of course if you don't like this stuff, you should consider supporting C4SS anyway because of the great commentary by Tom Knapp, Alex Knight and others).