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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Video: Eden Medina on the first historical experiment with economics based on democratic mutual coordination

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Michel Bauwens
26th November 2014


Professor Medina presents material from Cybernetic Revolutionaries, her book that tells the history of Chile’s Project Cybersyn.

Watch the video here:

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Posted in Economy and Business, P2P Books, P2P Theory, Videos | No Comments »

Video: Conversing on the Commons with Gustavo Esteva

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Michel Bauwens
24th November 2014


“Órla O’Donovan, Community Development Journal, in conversation with Gustavo Esteva, Mexican commoner, activist and post-development theorist.”

In this very interesting interview, Esteva talks about his experiences with Ivan Illich, and has a strong critique of Elinor Ostrom.

Watch the video here:

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Posted in Commons, P2P Governance, Videos | No Comments »

The accelerating emergence of an Open Food Movement

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Michel Bauwens
23rd November 2014


Excerpted from Kirsten Larsen et al. who writes:

“A movement of practitioners is emerging who are applying Open Source philosophy to food systems work. Our goal in this article is to recognize the power of this fledgling movement and to highlight some of the people and organizations who are using Open Source for food.

For food systems work, Open Source means open ideas, knowledge, plans, documents, tools, code, data, and so on, all open for use and improvement by others. Instead of privatizing and patenting intellectual property, we’re sharing designs and building off each other’s innovations.

When source code is “open,” anyone can start where someone else left off. Any documented piece of knowledge can be reused and redirected to fit unique situations and local needs. It can be shared across the globe and implemented quickly and easily by local people and organizations working within their communities.

In the late 1990s, the software community popularized the term “open source” to denote “open code” which is available for use by all. The idea was powerful and gave rise to a vibrant Open Source software ecosystem. We all use products built on Open Source every day. Apache servers run the internet; Wikipedia has revolutionized how we seek and share information.

However, Open Source is a contemporary expression of an ancient human idea. We even have cultural institutions, rules, and norms centered around the exchange of genetic material. Agricultural fairs originated as forums for genetic code and breed exchange. What a shame that the norms have shifted to intellectual property, exclusive ownership, patents, widgets, and corporate control. Supporting openness demonstrates an understanding that together we are stronger.

On farms and in food businesses around the world, people are inventing creative solutions every day. As we rebuild the small farm economy and reintegrate agriculture as a central part of our lives, the tools we seek are often unavailable. For the past century, industrial designers and corporations focused on scaling up. Politicians and the agribusinesses executives espoused a “get big or get out” philosophy. However, the tools we need are appropriately scaled to suit our needs as regional producers feeding local communities.

In the spirit of Open Source, this co-authored post is our first step in starting to link up and cross-pollinate this work. The P2P Foundation has an “agrifood” repository in its vast library of resources. The Open Food Foundation, based in Melbourne, Australia, has the beginnings of a wiki compiling open food projects. Farm Hack and Open Source Ecology have growing databases of open tools.”

Check out the directory of initiatives here!

Source: This blog was written by Kirsten Larsen (Open Food Network), Daniel Grover (Farm Hack) and Tristan Copley-Smith (Open Source Beehives) – with some special assistance on open data from Alex Bayley (Growstuff).

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Posted in Food and Agriculture, Open Content, Open Models, P2P Movements | No Comments »

From Renewable Energy to Renewable Matter

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Michel Bauwens
21st November 2014


From the Post-War Era we have inherited a thriving society that is now threatened by pollution and a diminishing social cohesion. These problems cannot be solved by erecting defensive walls to stop innovation but by building bridges towards an engaging future. Renewing energies, materials and relations is the way forward.

From the Renewable Matter magazine launch editorial:

” Today, the march towards renewable energy can only be slowed down, but not reversed. Therefore, time has come to add a second pillar: that of renewable matter. It is a considerable conceptual leap implying an overturn of the current dominant viewpoint. Up until now, the industrial production generated a one-way material flow, turning part of nature into a mine and another into a dump, passing off pollution and environmental degradation as unavoidable collateral damage. On the other hand, the renewable matter approach views the environment as a key resource – the major asset for all possible exploitations and whose yield can be smartly utilised – and considers the materials involved in production as a continuous flow, in which single commodities are just the transitory steps matters goes through.

Such conceptual leap requires a change in language. Terms such as “virgin material”, “raw material”, “secondary raw material”, “waste”, “products and by-products” entail a values scales in which matter is progressively degraded (from virgin to raw material, from raw material to secondary raw material and so on and so forth). The concept of renewable matter ousts this old hierarchy by going beyond the idea of recycling as the only phase of reutilization, almost the exception that confirms the rule of a linear process.

Within the “cradle to cradle” vision, transformation becomes crucial, a model that has passed the test of time with flying colours over three billion years of evolution of life on the planet. After use, matter breaks down into parts that get back into the cycle becoming what they were at the beginning or acting as input for other products and for industrial, energy or craft systems. Such perspective would be worth enhancing by creating “Tables of renewability” (inspired by Mendeleev’s Periodic Table) classifying the ability of each material to regenerate and to be reutilized according to its structure and the technological and environmental abilities available.

Although different, there are three fields sharing this new way of thinking. They are deeply interconnected (commodities, biomaterials, waste) and share one common factor: the environment.

Commodities. Raw materials represent the core of the problem. Their flow influences economic trends and income distribution. Current market globalization and the growing importance of financial activities in economic systems make it all the more complex. It is an ever-changing scenario that can be transformed radically by the recent trend of replacing goods with services (i.e. cars and photocopiers are loaned for use rather than owned).

Biomaterials. They are materials coming from the organic realm (produce and waste from organic production chains) and as such they can be regenerated in a relatively short time so they can be considered renewable. Overall, they represent an inexhaustible mine of environmentally low-impact materials that, thanks to technological innovation, can become sources of supply for many industries, thus creating an alternative to conventional raw materials.

Biofuels, nowadays used even for aircrafts, or bioplastics, whose range of uses spans from packaging to medical surgical technology, are a case in point.
Waste. As it has become clear over recent years, waste is no longer a price to pay for the production system but it rather represents an efficiency deficiency that we are trying to fix. In a period of economic crisis, the fact that waste is just “a misplaced resource” becomes more and more measurable in monetary terms. It is evident how the huge flow of materials transformed into waste cannot be discarded and must be exploited in some way. But how? There are several possible approaches depending on the level of innovation in the making of a product. If the manufacturer, inevitably generating waste, does not take care of the possible uses of that “waste”, then its exploitation and reutilization becomes difficult. On the other hand, if the maker of a product has devised an efficient reutilizing strategy, the quantity of wasted materials becomes minimal, amounting only to the entropy inherent in any transformation process. Nowadays there are already some materials that go through the “waste” stage with minimal loss of value. Thanks to suitable treatment, they can offer the same performance they had at the beginning of the production cycle. But the majority of materials is partially reutilized or dumped into landfills.

The Environment. The environment is involved in all the flows outlined so far. Raw materials, both organic and inorganic, are taken from the soil. Biomaterial and biofuels derive from crops that inevitably prevent other uses of the same land. Waste has an impact on the environment or causes climate-changing emissions that, in turn, affect soil’s quality and yields. In order to harmonize a different industrial strategies, two essential elements are needed. A systemic approach without which there is a risk of becoming inefficient, namely you gain with one hand while losing with the other. And, secondly, the ability to create common interests capable of steering such transformation.”

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Posted in P2P Ecology, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Pablo Iglesias of Podemos on going for the win

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Michel Bauwens
16th November 2014


The “secret” of Podemos according to Pablo Iglesias:

“I have defeat tattooed on my DNA. My great-uncle was shot dead. My grandfather was given the death sentence and spent 5 years in jail. My grandmothers suffered the humiliation of those defeated in the Civil War. My father was put in jail. My mother was politically active in the underground. My first experience of political socialisation as a child was in the mobilisations against NATO [in the 1980s], which was the last time that the Left in this country thought we could win. It bothers me enormously to lose. … And I’ve spent many years, with colleagues, devoting almost all of our political activity to thinking how we can win … The things I say in the mass media and how I say them require a great many hours’ work where we think about how to move through an absolutely hostile terrain. … We were in Latin America and we watched and watched how they did things there to win. And here is the secret. The first thing is not to feel any fear …. [Second] I know that all Left activists want the whole of the Left to be united. … If all of the Left organisations were, then we can beat the rogues in charge. Rubalcaba and Rajoy love it that we don’t think like that because they know that then we would be limited to 15 or 20 per cent [of the vote]. … I don’t want to be the 20 or 15 per cent. I don’t want my biggest political aspiration to be taking three regional ministries from the Socialist Party. I don’t want to be a “hinge”. I want to win. And in a context of complete ideological defeat in which they have insulted and criminalised us, where they control all of the media, to win the Left needs to stop being a religion and become a tool in the hands of the people. It needs to become the people … I know that this pisses off people on the Left. We like our slogans, symbols and anthems. We like getting together as a group. We think that if we get several party initials on a poster this means we are going to win. No way. [Winning] is about people’s anger and hopes. It is about reaching people who otherwise would see us as aliens because the Left has been defeated. … What should democrats do? Democracy is taking power off those that monopolise it and sharing it out among everyone, and anyone can understand that. … 15-M sent a damned message — firstly to the Left and there were left-wingers that took it badly. I remember Left leaders saying “I’ve been ‘indignado’ [outraged] for 30 years. Are these kids going to come and tell me what being outraged is all about?” OK, but it wasn’t you that brought together hundreds of thousands in the Puerta del Sol. The fact that [15-M] held the largest mobilisation since the NATO referendum and that this has been able to change this country’s political agenda to put the demand for democracy first, does that reveal [the Left’s] strength? No, it shows our damned weakness. If the unions and social organisations were organised, we wouldn’t need things like [Podemos]. The problem is that in times of defeat so you don’t get defeated again, …. you have to think and say “we can be the majority”.

— Iglesias, speaking in February during a debate with Alberto Garzón of Izquierda Unida (IU; United Left)

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Posted in Default, P2P Movements, Politics | No Comments »

How the Internet of Things will disposses us through Protocollary Ownership

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Michel Bauwens
16th November 2014


Excerpted from Scott Johnson:

The Internet of Things, “will subtly redefine ownership as we know it. You will no longer own many of the most expensive and sophisticated items you possess. You may think you own them. But you’ll be wrong.

They say “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” but even if you physically and legally own a Smart Thing, you won’t actually control it. Ownership will become a three-legged stool: who physically owns a thing; who legally owns it; …and who has the ultimate power to command it. Who, in short, has root.
This is not a hypothetical situation. Your phone probably has three separate computers in it (processor, baseband processor, and SIM card) and you almost certainly don’t have root on any of them, which is why some people refer to phones as “tracking devices which make phone calls.” The New York Times recently ran a story about cars being prevented from starting because payments were days late. (And as CityLab points out: “Losing transportation could mean losing everything.”) Consider also the recent discovery that Belkin routers apparently had to connect to Belkin’s servers before they would connect to the rest of the Internet.

As The Atlantic puts it:

– the smarter one’s things, the greater the possibility that they’ll be conscripted into schemes you never would have imagined and might not like.

The fundamental issue here is that the Internet of Things will not have a standard set of open APIs for consumers. (Well, there’s ThingSpeak, but it’s not exactly widely supported.) You can’t get your Tesla to dump all of its data to a server you specify. While Nest has a public API, they maintain gatekeeper control over it. (You may think: “Of course!” — but imagine being told that you can’t use Safari to access any Google services without Apple’s explicit consent and approval.) When you buy a Smart Thing, you get locked into its software ecosystem, which is controlled by its manufacturer, whether you like it or not.

Techno-utopians like to argue that open systems always win, but that simply isn’t true, as the mobile era has shown. Android is more open than iOS, but for most intents and purposes, both are walled gardens.”

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Posted in P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Technology, Peer Property | 1 Comment »

The emergence of p2p-solidarity formats to combat Energy Poverty

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Michel Bauwens
15th November 2014


Some time ago, I created a new section in the p2p wiki, on peer-driven solidarity forms, see here; which features the excellent introductory pamphlet by Felix Stadler on the topic, called Digital Solidarity.

Gridmates allows ‘smart grid’ users to gift energy to those in need.

Watch the video here:

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Posted in Ethical Economy, P2P Energy, Videos | No Comments »

Video Introduction to Fab10 and the Promise of Distributed Fabrication

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Michel Bauwens
14th November 2014


Via Tristan Copley Smith:

A review not just of the highlights of the conference but of the promise of the movement and the concept of distributed manufacturing. Very well done video.

Watch the video here:

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Posted in Open Hardware and Design, P2P Manufacturing, Videos | No Comments »

Discussing the myth of barter

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Michel Bauwens
14th November 2014


Excerpted from David Graeber:

(the full and longer essay, a discussion with austrian economists, is well worth reading)

“First, the history:

1) Adam Smith first proposed in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ that as soon as a division of labor appeared in human society, some specializing in hunting, for instance, others making arrowheads, people would begin swapping goods with one another (6 arrowheads for a beaver pelt, for instance.) This habit, though, would logically lead to a problem economists have since dubbed the ‘double coincidence of wants’ problem—for exchange to be possible, both sides have to have something the other is willing to accept in trade. This was assumed to eventually lead to the people stockpiling items deemed likely to be generally desirable, which would thus become ever more desirable for that reason, and eventually, become money. Barter thus gave birth to money, and money, eventually, to credit.

2) 19th century economists such as Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger [1] kept the basic framework of Smith’s argument, but developed hypothetical models of just how money might emerge from such a situation. All assumed that in all communities without money, economic life could only have taken the form of barter. Menger even spoke of members of such communities “taking their goods to market”—presuming marketplaces where a wide variety of products were available but they were simply swapped directly, in whatever way people felt advantageous.

3) Anthropologists gradually fanned out into the world and began directly observing how economies where money was not used (or anyway, not used for everyday transactions) actually worked. What they discovered was an at first bewildering variety of arrangements, ranging from competitive gift-giving to communal stockpiling to places where economic relations centered on neighbors trying to guess each other’s dreams. What they never found was any place, anywhere, where economic relations between members of community took the form economists predicted: “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow.” Hence in the definitive anthropological work on the subject, Cambridge anthropology professor Caroline Humphrey concludes, “No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money; all available ethnography suggests that there never has been such a thing”

a. Just in way of emphasis: economists thus predicted that all (100%) non-monetary economies would be barter economies. Empirical observation has revealed that the actual number of observable cases—out of thousands studied—is 0%.

b. Similarly, the number of documented marketplaces where people regularly appear to swap goods directly without any reference to a money of account is also zero. If any sociological prediction has ever been empirically refuted, this is it.

4) Economists have for the most part accepted the anthropological findings, if directly confronted with them, but not changed any of the assumptions that generated the false predictions. Meanwhile, all textbooks continue to report the same old sequence: first there was barter, then money, then credit—except instead of actually saying that tribal societies regularly practiced barter, they set it up as an imaginative exercise (“imagine what you would have to do if you didn’t have money!” or vaguely imply that anything actual tribal societies did do must have been barter of some kind.

So what I said was in no way controversial. When confronted on why economists continue to tell the same story, the usual response is: “Well, it’s not like you provide us with another story!” In a way they have a point.

The problem is, there’s no reason there should be a single story for the origin of money. Here let me lay out my own actual argument:

1) If money is simply a mathematical system whereby one can compare proportional values, to say 1 of these is worth 17 of those, which may or may not also take the form of a circulating medium of exchange, then something along these lines must have emerged in innumerable different circumstances in human history for different reasons. Presumably money as we know it today came about through a long process of convergence.

2) However, there is every reason to believe that barter, and its attendant ‘double coincidence of wants’ problem, was not one of the circumstances through which money first emerged.

a. The great flaw of the economic model is that it assumed spot transactions. I have arrowheads, you have beaver pelts, if you don’t need arrowheads right now, no deal. But even if we presume that neighbors in a small community are exchanging items in some way, why on earth would they limit themselves to spot transactions? If your neighbor doesn’t need your arrowheads right now, he probably will at some point in the future, and even if he won’t, you’re his neighbor—you will undoubtedly have something he wants, or be able to do some sort of favor for him, eventually. But without assuming the spot trade, there’s no double coincidence of wants problem, and therefore, no need to invent money.

b. What anthropologists have in fact observed where money is not used is not a system of explicit lending and borrowing, but a very broad system of non-enumerated credits and debts. In most such societies, if a neighbor wants some possession of yours, it usually suffices simply to praise it (“what a magnificent pig!”); the response is to immediately hand it over, accompanied by much insistence that this is a gift and the donor certainly would never want anything in return. In fact, the recipient now owes him a favor. Now, he might well just sit on the favor, since it’s nice to have others beholden to you, or he might demand something of an explicitly non-material kind (“you know, my son is in love with your daughter…”) He might ask for another pig, or something he considers roughly equivalent in kind. But it’s almost impossible to see how any of this would lead to a system whereby it’s possible to measure proportional values. After all, even if, as sometimes happens, the party owing one favor heads you off by presenting you with some unwanted present, and one considers it inadequate—a few chickens, for example—one might mock him as a cheapskate, but one is unlikely to feel the need to come up with a mathematical formula to measure just how cheap you consider him to be. As a result, as Chris Gregory observed, what you ordinarily find in such ‘gift economies’ is a broad ranking of different types of goods—canoes are roughly the same as heirloom necklaces, both are superior to pigs and whale teeth, which are superior to chickens, etc—but no system whereby you can measure how many pigs equal one canoe.

3) All this is not to say that barter never occurs. It is widely attested in many times and places. But it typically occurs between strangers, people who have no moral relations with one another. There is a reason why in just about all European languages, the words ‘truck and barter’ originally meant ‘to bilk, swindle, or rip off.’

Still there is no reason to believe such barter would ever lead to the emergence of money. This is because barter takes three known forms:

a. Barter can take the form of occasional interactions between people never likely to meet each other again. This might involve ‘double coincidence of wants’ problems but it will not lead to the emergence of a system of money because rare and occasional events won’t lead to the emergence of a system of any kind.

b. If there are ongoing trade relations between strangers in moneyless economies, it’s because each side knows the other side has some specific product(s) they want to acquire—so there is no ‘double coincidence of wants’ problem. Rather than leading to people having to create some circulating medium of exchange (money) to facilitate transactions, such trade normally leads to the creation of a system of traditional equivalents relatively insulated from vagaries of supply and demand.

c. Sometimes, barter becomes a widespread mode of interaction when you have people used to using money in everyday transactions who are suddenly forced to carry on without it. This can happen, for instance, because the money supply dries up (Russia in the ‘90s), or because the people in question have no access to it (prisoners or denizens of POW camps.) This cannot lead to the invention of money because money has already been invented.”

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Posted in Economy and Business, P2P Money, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Video: The Open Source Solar Pocket Factory

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Michel Bauwens
12th November 2014


“Shawn Frayne and Alex Hornstein, two young inventors based in the Philippines, are taking their passion for clean free energy and developing a way to make it accessible and cheap for everyone. These guys are working restlessly to provide a product that could be used by practically anyone to make homemade solar panels. The factory is small enough to fit on a desktop and efficient enough to produce 300k to one million panels per year, up to one every 15 seconds. By cutting out much of the labor intensive process, which represents 50% of the total cost, this machine can dramatically reduce the price of solar. Their pocket solar panel producer can change the way the world views electricity.”

Watch the video here:

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Posted in P2P Energy, Videos | No Comments »