P2P Foundation

Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices




Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Essay of the Day: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th April 2015

‘machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component’

* Article: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. Matteo Pasquinelli.

From the abstract:

“The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxisttradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics isused to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of thedomains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the informationmachine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodiedin databases.

* Excerpt: Some Hypotheses on the Society of Metadata

In conclusion, as a set of provisional hypotheses within the risingsociety of ‘big data’, metadata are said to be used for: 1) measuringthe value of social relations; 2) improving the design of machines andmachinic intelligence; and 3) monitoring and forecasting massbehaviours.

1. Metadata as the measure of the value of social relations. The accu-mulation of information via the mediation of digital machines mirrorsand measures that production of those social relations which Marx himself considered the very nature of value (‘capital is not a thing, but asocial relation between persons which is mediated through things’; Marx,1867: 932). Digital technologies like social networks provide today apunctual cartography of these productive relations (see, for instance,how Facebook and Twitter turn collective communication into attentioneconomy). As much as thermo-machines have been used to measurevalue in terms of quantity of energy per time, info-machines appear tomeasure value in terms of number of links per node. This is evident, forexample, in the case of Google PageRank algorithm and in many rankingand rating techniques employed today (see Pasquinelli, 2009). The extrac-tion of metadata describes here a ?ow surplus value (Deleuze andGuattari, 1972: 233) or a sort of network surplus value.

2. Metadata as implementation of machinic intelligence. The extractionof metadata provides also precious information to optimize machinicintelligence at any level: from software programs to industrial manage-ment, from advertisement campaigns to logistics. In this sense the digitalsphere is still very similar to Alquati’s computer factory: the ?ows of information are used to improve its internal organization and to createmore e?cient algorithms. Also within the infrastructure of the internet,the ?ows of valorizing information are transformed into ?xed capital;that means that knowledge is transferred and incarnated into machinery.See once again Google’s PageRank algorithm and the way it has beenevolving according to data tra?c and the collective behaviours of theglobal audience. Metadata describe here a code surplus value (Deleuzeand Guattari, 1972: 233).

3. Metadata as new form of biopolitical control (dataveillance). Ratherthan pro?ling individual inclinations, metadata can be used for crowdcontrol and prediction of mass behaviours, as happens today with anygovernment tracking usage of social media, spin doctors mapping polit-ical elections, city councils measuring tra?c ?ows and companies follow-ing supply chains. Online real-time statistics of speci?c search keywordscan map the spread of diseases across a country as much as social unrest(see Google Flu and Google Trends services, for instance, and imaginethe same algorithms applied to political and social issues). If Deleuze(1990a) had already warned against the speci?c techniques of a society of control based on the power virtually embodied in the collective infor-mation of databases, today the new regime of dataveillance can bedescribed as a society of metadata, as it is no longer necessary to targetindividual behaviour but just collective trends (see the PRISM scandalin 2013).

An analysis of the new political dimensions of metadata or ‘big data’ isstill to come. In conclusion, the algorithms governing the new society of metadata have been properly illuminated thanks to one of operaismo’s most important intuitions: applying the theoretical and political point of view of valorizing information (that is living labour) rather than the perspective of a mere technological determinism. As Deleuze reminds us in the interview with Negri quoted at the beginning of this essay:‘machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component’.


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Encommuns.org is making business around commons transparent

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th April 2015

We are moving from fragmented outbreaks of the commons to an emerging eco-systemic thinking about the commons economy, which attempts to make it into a organic system that can self-produce itself. Next to the FairCoop/FairCoin project, and the Mutual Aid Network in Wisconsin, here is a first presentation of encommuns.org, based in Lille, in the north of France. It is based on the hard work of people working in the ‘open source third places’, the Coroutine and Mutualab, where a commons-based collaborative culture is nurtured and being born:

“The idea is to help businesses to gain confidence in using the commons and commons to get retributed when the businesses use them. This will also help us in identifying all the businesses working in a respectful way with some commons.”


Posted in Commons, Ethical Economy | No Comments »

Meta-Industrial Villages: what happens after the miniaturisation of technology ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th April 2015

Excerpted from William Irwin Thompson:

“DECENTRALIZATION of cities and the miniaturization of technology will alter the center-periphery dialectic of traditional civilization and make a whole new cultural level possible. What will take place in the metaindustrial village will be that the four classical economies of human history, hunting and gathering, agriculture, industry, and cybernetics, will all be recapitulated within a single deme. We will look back to where we have been in history, gather up all the old economies, and then turn on the spiral in a new direction.

The hunting and gathering economy could focus on the gathering of wood, wind and sun. In a way, the work of the New Alchemy Institute is to create a food and energy base for a small tribal band of people living in isolated circumstances. As sociologist Elise Boulding has remarked, “I sometimes wonder if our motto today does not need to be: ‘Forward to the Paleolithic!’ The folk of the Neolithic, with their cozy farm communities, working like dogs and breeding like rabbits, have little that is useful to say to us.” New Alchemy is not a civilized strategy; it is not going to feed the huddled masses of New York and Calcutta; it either will be co-opted and absorbed by conglomerate NASA as the ecology of a space colony or will enable small groups to live in dispersed settlements – or both.

The agricultural economy of the metaindustrial village would focus on organic gardening and the replacing of fossil-fuel agribusiness with natural cycles in the food chain. Since the shift from gardening to field tillage with the plow originally displaced women from food production, the return to ecologically sophisticated gardening enables women to return to take up significant roles in the economy of the village, and thus to overcome the sexual alienation characteristic of industrial society.

The third economy of the community would be industrial, and this is where I part company with many critics of contemporary culture. The metaindustrial village is not anti-industrial and Luddite; there will be industry and technology, but they will be brought down to scale as workshops in converted barns. A village could produce artistically beautiful glass bottles which could be kept as art objects or reused as containers in place of plastics. Or the village could produce bicycles, clothing, rotary tillers, or other well-crafted and durable instruments. In a return to the mystery of the craft guild, particular communities could focus on the revival of particular crafts and industries. Whatever the industry chosen, the scale of the operation would be small, in harmony with the ecosystem of the region, and devoted more to a local market than an international one.

The fourth economy of the community would be postindustrial, or cybernetic. The characteristic feature of a postindustrial economy is the emphasis on research and development and education. Since the entire village would be a contemplative educational community, after the manner of Lindisfarne and Findhorn, the adventure of consciousness would be more basic to the way of life than patterns of consumption. Everyone living in the community would be involved in an experiential approach to education, from contemplative birth, after the thought of Dr. Frederick LeBoyer, to contemplative death, after the thought of Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. And at the various stages of life in between, the entire community would function as a college, in which children and adults would work together in gardening, construction, ecological research, crafts, and classes in all fields of knowledge.”

Source: from an article in Being A Planetary Villager (IC#1); Originally published in Winter 1983 on page 44 1983, by Context Institute; This excerpt is taken from Thompson’s book, Darkness And Scattered Light, (pages 95 – 97)


Posted in P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Manufacturing, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Movement of the Day: Breaking The Frame

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th April 2015

Breaking The Frame is a growing network, which aims to democratise decisions about technology. We are bringing together different campaigns in order to learn from each others’ experience and strengthen our work.

They explain:

“Breaking the Frame started around the Breaking the Frame Gathering in 2014, aimed at a deeper understanding of the politics of technology. This was organised by a group of organisations including Corporate Watch, Luddites200 and Scientists for Global Responsibility, with funding from some charitable trusts.

We called the gathering Breaking the Frame for two reasons. Firstly we want to change the way that political issues such as how our food is produced, internet freedom and nuclear power are framed as separate debates: we believe there is an underlying politics of technology which connects them, so they need to be discussed together. Secondly, ‘breaking the frame’ alludes to the tactics of the Luddites – in the early 19th century, machines were called ‘frames’. You don’t have to call yourself a luddite to come to the gathering (see the list of organisations that sponsored the 2014 gathering). And luddism is not about being ‘against technology’ (that is a history written by the victorious industrialists) – the Luddites broke machines which they thought were ‘hurtful to Commonality’, ie to the common good. For more on Luddism, see www.luddites200.org.uk.”


Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Open Source Farming Equipment is vital for farmers

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th April 2015

Excerpted from KYLE WIENS:

“There’s not much you can do with modern ag equipment. When it breaks or needs maintenance, farmers are dependent on dealers and manufacturer technicians—a hard pill to swallow for farmers, who have been maintaining their own equipment since the plow.

“[DIY repair] is cheaper than calling out the technician. But that information is just not out there,” Dave explained to me.

The cost and hassle of repairing modern tractors has soured a lot of farmers on computerized systems altogether. In a September issue of Farm Journal, farm auction expert Greg Peterson noted that demand for newer tractors was falling. Tellingly, the price of and demand for older tractors (without all the digital bells and whistles) has picked up. “As for the simplicity, you’ve all heard the chatter,” Machinery Pete wrote. “There’s an increasing number of farmers placing greater value on acquiring older simpler machines that don’t require a computer to fix.”
The problem is that farmers are essentially driving around a giant black box outfitted with harvesting blades. Only manufacturers have the keys to those boxes. Different connectors are needed from brand to brand, sometimes even from model to model—just to talk to the tECU. Modifications and troubleshooting require diagnostic software that farmers can’t have. Even if a farmer managed to get the right software, calibrations to the tECU sometimes require a factory password. No password, no changes—not without the permission of the manufacturer.

John Deere, in particular, has been incredibly effective at limiting access to its diagnostic software. Which is why I wouldn’t have been able to tweak the programming on Dave’s tractor, even if I had been able to hack together the right interface. John Deere doesn’t want me to. The dealer-repair game is just too lucrative for manufacturers to cede any control back to farmers.

* Hacking the Family Farm

After a second swear-word-inducing attempt to monkey around in the code that fuels Dave’s computer, I started wondering how other farmers were dealing with the increasingly cloaked and proprietary nature of modern farming.

My failure with Dave’s tractor got me fired up. I started lurking in ag forums, talking to my farmer friends, and hanging out in diesel repair shops. I found out that farmers aren’t taking the limitations lying down. There’s a thriving grey-market for diagnostic equipment and proprietary connectors. Some farmers have even managed to get their hands on the software they need to re-calibrate and repair equipment on their own—a laptop purchased from some nameless friend-of-a-friend with the software already loaded on it. There are even ways to get around the factory passwords that block access to the tECU to effect repairs.

But under modern copyright laws, that kind of “repairing” is legally questionable.

Manufacturers have every legal right to put a password or an encryption over the tECU. Owners, on the other hand, don’t have the legal right to break the digital lock over their own equipment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act—a 1998 copyright law designed to prevent digital piracy—classifies breaking a technological protection measure over a device’s programming as a breach of copyright. So, it’s entirely possible that changing the engine timing on his own tractor makes a farmer a criminal.

Instead of wrestling with proprietary systems, other farmers are starting to go open source. Dorn Cox has been working the land most of his life. After a break to work in tech start-ups, he took over a 250-acre farm in Lee, New Hampshire. In 2010, he co-founded Farm Hack, an online community of farmers, designers, developers, and engineers “helping our community of farmers to be better inventors, developing tools that fit the scale and their ethics of our sustainable family farms.”

“Knowledge wants to be free,” Cox told me.

So Farm Hack is setting it free. Together, members are building an open-source library of farming tools and knowledge. They hack together solutions that work for them. Projects range from the classically low-tech (a farm bicycle that lets users pick ground crops like strawberries without destroying their backs) to the decidedly tech-savvy (a remote-controlled, Arduino-powered compost monitor).

“The main thing, from a hacker’s perspective, is that we’re not dependent on something to create the tools for us,” Cox explained. “We are actually adapting and taking ownership.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to modifying existing equipment—like Dave’s tractor—it’s that same idea of ownership that’s most contested. Dave paid for the tractor; he owns what’s tangible: the wheels, the metal chassis, the gears and pistons in the engine. But John Deere owns everything else: the programming that propels the tractor, the software that calibrates the engine, the information necessary to fix it. So, who really owns that tractor?

Even if he could, would it be legal for Dave to fix his machine? Right now, we don’t know; and that ambiguity is disturbing. So, we’re trying to find the answer. In conjunction with USC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we’ve asked for a DMCA exemption for farmers who want to modify and repair their equipment.”


Posted in Food and Agriculture, Open Hardware and Design, Peer Production | No Comments »

Globally, we are not de-industrializing

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th April 2015

The stats on the issue, excerpted from Michael Roberts:

“The world is not de-industrialising. Globally, there were 2.2bn people at work and producing value back in 1991. Now there are 3.2bn. The global workforce has risen by 1bn in the last 20 years. But there has been no de-industrialisation globally. De-industrialisation is a phenomenon of the mature capitalist economies. It is not one of the ‘emerging’ less developed capitalist economies.

Using the figures provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) we can see what is happening globally, with the caveat that there is a serious underestimate of industrial workers in these figures and such transport, communication and many hi-tech workers are put in the services sector.

Globally, the industrial workforce has risen by 46% since 1991 from 490m to 715m in 2012 and will reach well over 800m before the end of the decade. Indeed, the industrial workforce has grown by 1.8% a year since 1991 and since 2004 by 2.7% a year (up to 2012), which is now a faster rate of growth than the services sector (2.6% a year)! Globally, the share of industrial workers in the total workforce has risen slightly from 22% to 23%. It is in the so-called mature developed capitalist economies where there has been de-industrialisation. The industrial workforce there has fallen from 130m in 1991 by 18% to 107m in 2012.

The share of industrial workers in the mature economies has fallen from 31% in 1991 to 22% now. Indeed, according to McKinsey, manufacturing employment fell 24% in the advanced economies between 1995 and 2005.

The reason that the mature capitalist economies have lost their industrial base is that it was no longer profitable for capital to invest in British industry in the late 19th century or OECD industry in the late 20th century. So capital counteracted this falling profitability by ‘globalising’ and searching for more labour to exploit.

And profitability fell because capitalist accumulation is labour-shedding. Capitalists compete against each other to get more profit. Those capitalists with better technology can steal a march on others by boosting labour productivity and reducing labour costs by cutting the workforce. So the drive is always for reducing the amount of labour power to boost profits. The central contradiction here, as explained by Marx’s law of profitability, is that the reduction in labour power relative to mechanisation leads to an eventual fall in profitability. This reduces the industrial workforce in the mature economies and leads to expansion of industry globally. Capitalism is a mode of production for mechanisation, but mechanisation will also lead to its demise as it is a mode of production for profit not social need and more mechanisation eventually means less profitability. That shows that as we move towards a robot economy: profit for capital and meeting social needs will become more incompatible. And the leisure society just an impossible dream.

Employment growth is falling in the advanced capitalist economies. Employment growth is way less than 1% a year in the 21st century.”


Posted in P2P Labor, P2P Manufacturing, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Theorising and Analysing Digital Labour

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th April 2015

* Article: Theorising and analysing digital labour: From global value chains to modes of production. By Christian Fuchs. The Political Economy of Communication, Vol 1, No 2 (2013)

From the abstract:

“This paper considers the following question—where do computers, laptops and mobile phones come from and who produced them? Specific cases of digital labour are examined—the extraction of minerals in African mines under slave-like conditions; ICT manufacturing and assemblage in China (Foxconn); software engineering in India; call centre service work; software engineering at Google within Silicon Valley; and the digital labour of internet prosumers/users. Empirical data and empirical studies concerning these cases are systematically analysed and theoretically interpreted. The theoretical interpretations are grounded in Marxist political economy. The term ‘global value chain’ is criticised in favour of a complex and multidimensional understanding of Marx’s ‘mode of production’ for the purposes of conceptualizing digital labour. This kind of labour is transnational and involves various modes of production, relations of production and organisational forms (in the context of the productive forces). There is a complex global division of digital labour that connects and articulates various forms of productive forces, exploitation, modes of production, and variations within the dominant capitalist mode of production.”


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Labor | No Comments »

Movement of the Day: The Immaterial Labour Union

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
15th April 2015

The ILU wants to be “a decentralized labour union which occupies the space of the “social factory” (Facebook, Google, Twitter etc ..) the profit of a privileged few”.

Rosie Gram explains more:

“The Immaterial Labour Union is a decentralized labour union which occupies the space of the operaista “social factory”: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, etc, where we’re being stripped off of our data for the profit of a privileged few. Labour feels different, but it is still labour and to think or act otherwise is to let capital win once more!

The choice to constitute a union when labour as we know it is changing in advanced capitalist societies is an ideological one: Against the tendency in the lowering power of the union, against the tendency in alienating the produsers from their statuses as workers, the union rises to create a blockade against extreme individualization.

We need you to join the organizing committee of the union! We need your ideas and suggestions to dynamize what aims to be the workshop of the Immaterial Labor Union. We envision it as a network of variable architecture which tactically meets to bring to life different, concrete components of the toolkit for the liberation of the multitude! How can we negotiate terms of service? How can we re-imagine collective bargaining within the social factory?

We need you to help us answer those questions! We need you to organize with us!”

Here is a discussion of the topics they particularly care about developing:

“The Immaterial Labor Union was born out of a desire to escape from the atomization of the individual into the collective, to think about alternatives to the neoliberal grey area of the multitude and its permanent state of insulation, to negotiate terms of service and push for the protection of personal data on a transnational scope. Framed within the context of social media monopolies such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+, the Union aims, on a short-term basis, to reddress privacy abuses and unfair working conditions perpetrated through the processing of our online data, and on a long-term basis to conceive and shape alternative social networking solutions.

* Data Rights

For the time being, the EU Data Protection Directive still doesn’t accomodate for globalization phenomena and the advent of social networks; plans are being traced for the adoption, in 2015, and implementation, in 2017, of a General Data Protection Regulation. This Regulation is expected to bridge the Directive’s gaps regarding the network society. In the meanwhile, it is important to trace the collective demands of the digital multitude in regards to control of personal data and negotiate the terms of the current information economy at work in popular social media websites. To give the example of Facebook, which is the most flagrant by the brazen arrogance of its terms of service, it is important to question to which degree do we really have a choice. While it is true that we only accept such outrageous conditions which deeply violate basic human rights if we choose to sign into Facebook, the only other option is opting-out the social loop of your friends and acquaintances. Such abusive demands only go mostly unchecked due to Facebook’s monopoly status. You’re commodified by default.

However, even when not on Facebook, information can still be gathered about you whenever a friend tags you in a photo, refers to you in a comment, etc.

The Union strives for user data control and transparency from a bottom-up perspective, where users push for data controllers to respect their rights by means of negotiation, rejecting the fake binary approach upholded by social media monopolies.

* Data Labour

Increasingly, information is becoming the means of production of the digital age. The blurrying of lines between work and leisure time means the commodification of the latter, and the monetization of our relationships and online activities becomes the rule. The business model of large social media monopolies reduces us to a graph, easily mined, craftily designed. Their strategy makes clever use of the ‘network effect’ (where the number of users determines the value of a service) for marketing purposes, extracting profit from user activity. According to Maurizio Lazzarato, the production of subjects and social relations coincides, then, with economical power. Where the current mode of exploitation is now being labeled under the “social” tag, the user becomes further alienated from the perception of his/her condition as a worker.

Based on this assumptions, equating social media activity with labour and stating this correspondence clearly becomes key to framing the necessity of a Union which can effectively state its their demands in the context of digital economy.

* Toolkit

I hope to gather a few interested people with whom I can then develop the toolkit for the liberation of the multitude. Capable of critically disrupting social networking paradigms, the exact components of such toolkit remain yet to be decided – ranging from cultural jamming strategies to software bundles with a guerrilla mindset, its goals are to empower the digital multitude by means of promoting actions and campaigns, not only translating traditional activist strategies (such as strikes, pickets and protests) to their digital correspondent but also exploring tactical new media methodologies for creative action.”


Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Labor | No Comments »

The Automated Leisure Society is Impossible under Capitalism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th April 2015

Excerpted from Michael Roberts:

“Employment growth is falling in the advanced capitalist eocnomies. Employment growth is way less than 1% a year in the 21st century.

Computer engineer and Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, Martin Ford puts it this way: “over time, as technology advances, industries become more capital intensive and less labour intensive. And technology can create new industries and these are nearly always capital intensive”. The struggle between capital and labour is thus intensified.

It does depend on the class struggle between labour and capital over the appropriation of the value created by the productivity of labour. And clearly labour has been losing that battle, particularly in recent decades, under the pressure of anti-trade union laws, ending of employment protection and tenure, the reduction of benefits, a growing reserve army of unemployed and underemployed and through the globalisation of manufacturing.

According to the ILO report, in 16 developed economies, labour took a 75% share of national income in the mid-1970s, but this dropped to 65% in the years just before the economic crisis. It rose in 2008 and 2009 – but only because national income itself shrank in those years – before resuming its downward course. Even in China, where wages have tripled over the past decade, workers’ share of the national income has gone down. Indeed, this is exactly what Marx meant by the ‘immiseration of the working class’.

Will it be different with robots? Marxist economics would say no: for two key reasons. First, Marxist economic theory starts from the undeniable fact that only when human beings do any work or perform labour is anything or service produced, apart from that provided by natural resources (and even then that has to be found and used). So, crucially, only labour can create value under capitalism. And value is specific to capitalism. Sure, living labour can create things and do services (what Marx called use values). But value is the substance of the capitalist mode of producing things. Capital (the owners) controls the means of production created by labour and will only put them to use in order to appropriate value created by labour. Capital does not create value itself.

Now if the whole world of technology, consumer products and services could reproduce itself without living labour going to work and could do so through robots, then things and services would be produced, but the creation of value (in particular, profit or surplus value) would not. As Martin Ford puts it: the more machines begin to run themselves, the value that the average worker adds begins to decline.” So accumulation under capitalism would cease well before that robots took over fully, because profitability would disappear under the weight of ‘capital-bias’. This contradiction cannot be resolved under capitalism.

We would never get to a robotic society; we would never get to a workless leisure society – not under capitalism. Crises and social explosions would intervene well before that.”


Posted in P2P Labor | No Comments »

Money as a Common Pool Resource

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
13th April 2015

Republished from FEASTA’s Graham Barnes:

“The Money we are working towards here is a value-led means of exchange – the manifestations of value being decided by its users – the commoners. What follows is a consideration of three important design areas from a commons perspective: convertibility, the equitable allocation of issued money, and how to provide capital investment; followed by a comment on division of labour.

* Convertibility

Convertibility we can define as the extent to which the currency design and operation supports or hinders exchange with fiat. If we look at a parallel situation with a more easily thinkable CPR, land, then we can see that the key danger is of a commoner selling their rights to an ‘outsider’ who may not share the values of the community. Elinor Ostrom’s number one key design principle in her rebuttal of the so-called Tragedy of the Commons [3] is “clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties)”.

A guaranteed fixed exchange rate with fiat, as operated by the proxy-pounds for example, means that currency can be bought by outsiders, but the localised acceptance of the Brixton, Totnes or Bristol Pounds means there is limited scope for outsider disruption. Convertibility is certainly a plus in terms of starting up a currency because a user whose commitment wanes can always bail out and cash in for fiat.

In future, though, we can imagine circumstances where the Preferenced Domain [4] of a currency incorporates some access rights or goods and services that are reserved to (or supplied at a preferential rate to) the users – the commoners. Engineering this will help to attract users. In this context, some means of defining, identifying and excluding ‘un-entitled parties’ is needed. To address any concern that this form of exclusion is elitist in some way, it is best to consider it as a protective measure – to keep a new developing currency safe from the Deprecated Domain [5] – from outsiders wishing to appropriate it as capital and rent it back to its users. Because that would be a natural course of events in a pure capitalist eco-system. It’s one interpretation of what has happened with fiat.

There is a feasibility issue here too though. In an open market economy there is nothing to stop an exchange developing that would manage supply and demand for our new currency and ‘discover’ a fiat market price for it. This can be addressed via a ‘right to use’ status held independently for each user separate from their currency account balance. Such a right to use would be based on an individual’s reputation – their track record in supporting the values and extending the reach of the currency. This line of thinking was anticipated by Feasta’s co-founder, the late Richard Douthwaite [6]. Interestingly, the role of ‘oracles’ in Bitcoin, as trusted assessors of some external condition that will trigger a payment (or some other blockchain transaction) gets us into the same ground. As assessments required become progressively more subjective and less ‘factual’, reputations of assessors will matter more and more.

* Equitable Issuance

For our proxy-pound example, issuance is only achieved by purchasing with fiat. Essentially no new currency is created. Fiat can clearly not be considered a CPR – it breaks every one of Ostrom’s eight design principles [see Annex]. So we are here concerned with currencies that issue new money in some form. The issuance regime of Bitcoin allocates new coins to the miners. It has been argued that this is just substituting a tech-geek oligarchy for a financial oligarchy. Perhaps there is an element of shared-value anti-government sentiment in that community, but rewards appear to be accruing to accounts in an inequitable manner. At its heart is an important development – the blockchain – but Bitcoin is not a value-led currency suitable for treatment as a CPR.

For an equitable issuance regime, we can turn back to ‘to each according to his needs and contributions’. The needs part of this equation can translate into some form of issuance related to a Basic Income or Citizen Dividend (maybe one-off, maybe recurring). The criteria for inclusion could be a combination of targeted audience (geographic, demographic, interest-group) , charter-value sign-up and the completion of some initial tasks appropriate for the particular value-set. A handful of Altcoins are already pre-distributing currency – for example Auroracoin to the citizens of Iceland.

The contributions part implies a continuing, ideally peer-reviewed process assessing the contributions of each user to the currency itself and to its underlying value-set, with appropriate reward levels. There is admittedly a chicken-and-egg problem here in that the pro-currency and pro-value activities have to be assessed ahead of the distribution, and therefore issuers need to recognise that the use-value of the issued currency is at that stage unguaranteed. Work is being undertaken for uncertain reward, energised primarily by the communal shared value-set, and underlining the need for clear articulation of that value-set.

* Capital Investment

A good issuance regime can make sure there are enough ‘insiders’ with enough currency to circulate to facilitate exchange between users. It cannot, without additional design features, cater for currency to be set aside for capital projects. Arguably it should not do this at all because we know that saving (or hoarding) slows down circulation with a consequent lack of liquidity and exchange. There are after all many asset classes out there competing for investment, and in a money-diverse future new currencies will operate alongside fiat.

But it is tempting to set out to address one of the problems with fiat – that capital is available to most only as a loan at interest. If our new currency can be created out-of-nothing (just like the banks do with fiat) then we have the option of varying the terms. Most of the rationale for interest disappears anyway with ex-nihilo fiat, except for its justification as a ‘hidden subsidy’ for the issuer banks in return for their unholy partnership with government and the operation of a payment clearing system (which could incidentally be run itself as a commons).

The incorporation of any form of capital accumulation and allocation, even for projects which clearly benefit the CPR itself, adds a significant level of complication to the currency. But if investment in the CPR itself is needed, as is likely, external financing brings with it the possibility of part-capture or enclosure by outsiders, so designing-in forward access to capital will have to be attempted.

* Division of Labour

We have come this far without mentioning Mutual Credit, and have done so mainly to avoid specifically critiquing it in the cause of a wider exploration of the issues. Mutual Credit and Timebanking are both interesting money-form models, but they both illustrate a key issue – that of facilitating the re-combination of labour into the co-operative production of goods (and services). As individuals we can essentially issue our own currency based on forward commitment of work. Fiat currency effectively allows the capitalist to put a numeric value on individual contributions (via wages) and inputs, add a profit element and set a price. Who performs this role in a mutual credit or timebanking context? And how is this co-operative process governed?

Unless we accept that new CPR-oriented currencies must restrict themselves to exchange between individuals, it seems necessary to complement the core currency design with the governance design of an institution which takes on the ‘capitalist role’ in the management of collective endeavour. To this extent, the institution-type *is* the currency. And if the corporation is the flawed and outdated institution-type of fiat currency capitalism, what might the preferred institution-type of a commons currency look like?


The paradigm of money as a common pool resource may be able to provide insight and encourage radical monetary innovation. The complexity and multi-functional nature of the fiat money form should not be allowed to conceal the fact that the root backing for money is work – past work rewarded and future work pledged. An exchange currency needs a stability of value (non-volatility) but it does not need to provide an appreciating store of value. Fiat money has become a toxic asset class in its own right. Because of the manner in which much of it has been created and passed on , holding it implies no associated merit; it confers increasingly unequal social power which may in turn be exchanged for political and economic influence.

New money forms do not need growth. Designers can choose to exclude or discriminate against deprecated behaviours, recognise and reward behaviour compatible with an explicit transparent value-set, and prioritise the well being of commoner-insiders. In so doing the exemplars created will lay the foundations for a post-modern version of common wealth.”


Posted in Commons, P2P Money | No Comments »