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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Essay of the Day: the Leukippos Platform for Cloud Collaboration in Synthetic Biology

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Michel Bauwens
17th January 2015


* Article: Leukippos: A Synthetic Biology Lab in the Cloud. By Pablo Cárdenas, Maaruthy Yelleswarapu, Sayane Shome et al. BioCoder, Issue 4, 2014

From the Abstract, by Eugenio Maria Battaglia, Gerd Moe-Behrens et al.:

“As we move deeper into the digital age, the social praxis of science undergoes fundamental changes, driven by new tools provided by information and communication technologies. Specifically, social networks and computing resources such as online cloud-based infrastructures and applications provide the necessary context for unprecedented innovations in modern science. These tools are leading to a planetary-scale connectivity among researchers and enable the organization of in silico research activities entirely through the cloud.

Research collaboration and management via the cloud will result in a drastic expansion of our problem-solving capacity, since groups of people with different backgrounds and expertise that openly gather around common interests are more likely to succeed at solving complex problems. Another advantage is that collaboration between individuals becomes possible regardless of their geographic location and background.

Here we present a novel, open-web application called Leukippos, which aims to apply these information and communication technologies to in silico synthetic biology projects. We describe both the underlying technology and organizational structure necessary for the platform’s operation. The synthetic biology software search engine, SynBioAppSelector, and the game, SynBrick, are examples of projects being developed on this platform.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Research, P2P Science, P2P Software | No Comments »

Video: Peter Linebaugh on Who Owns the Commons

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Michel Bauwens
17th January 2015


Peter Linebaugh is interviewed by Laura Flanders, on the occasion of 800 years of the Magna Carta:

“This year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, and this weeks show marks that occasion with a discussion on the rights of the commons with author Peter Linebaugh. We also visit a community center in Caracas, and hear from youth voices about life and revolution in Venezuela.”

Watch this recommended video conversation about a key moment in history, and what it means today, via:

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

The condition and politics of anxiety (1): analysing contemporary precarious consciousness

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Michel Bauwens
16th January 2015


People who follow us closely will have noticed that one of my current priorities in the p2pfoundation.net wiki is documenting solidarity mechanisms. This is not an accident, and the following analysis, a brilliant essay and an absolute must-read, shows us why.

We present it in two parts, the first part analyses the contemporary human condition in the current configuration of capitalism, while the second installment will focus on the counter-strategies for social change.

The original and full article can be read here.

From of Institute for Precarious Consciousness

Part I

* 1: Each phase of capitalism has its own dominant reactive affect.

Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together. This is not a static situation. The prevalence of a particular dominant affect is sustainable only until strategies of resistance able to break down this particular affect and /or its social sources are formulated. Hence, capitalism constantly comes into crisis and recomposes around newly dominant affects.

One aspect of every phase’s dominant affect is that it is a public secret, something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. As long as the dominant affect is a public secret, it remains effective, and strategies against it will not emerge.

Public secrets are typically personalised. The problem is only visible at an individual, psychological level; the social causes of the problem are concealed. Each phase blames the system’s victims for the suffering that the system causes. And it portrays a fundamental part of its functional logic as a contingent and localised problem. In the modern era (until the post-war settlement), the dominant affect was misery. In the nineteenth century, the dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment.

The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class. The exposure of this misery was carried out by revolutionaries. The first wave of modern social movements in the nineteenth century was a machine for fighting misery. Tactics such as strikes, wage struggles, political organisation, mutual aid, co-operatives and strike funds were effective ways to defeat the power of misery by ensuring a certain social minimum. Some of these strategies still work when fighting misery.

When misery stopped working as a control strategy, capitalism switched to boredom. In the mid twentieth century, the dominant public narrative was that the standard of living – which widened access to consumption, healthcare and education – was rising. Everyone in the rich countries was happy, and the poor countries were on their way to development. The public secret was that everyone was bored. This was an effect of the Fordist system which was prevalent until the 1980s – a system based on full-time jobs for life, guaranteed welfare, mass consumerism, mass culture, and the co-optation of the labour movement which had been built to fight misery. Job security and welfare provision reduced anxiety and misery, but jobs were boring, made up of simple, repetitive tasks. Mid-century capitalism gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life; it was a system based on force-feeding survival to saturation point.

Of course, not all workers under Fordism actually had stable jobs or security – but this was the core model of work, around which the larger system was arranged. There were really three deals in this phase, with the B-worker deal – boredom for security – being the most exemplary of the Fordism-boredom conjuncture. Today, the B-worker deal has largely been eliminated, leaving a gulf between the A- and C-workers (the consumer society insiders, and the autonomy and insecurity of the most marginal).”

For thesis 2 and 3, see the original article:

2: Contemporary resistance is born of the 1960s wave, in response to the dominant affect of boredom.

3: Capitalism has largely absorbed the struggle against boredom.

Part II

* 4: In contemporary capitalism, the dominant reactive affect is anxiety.

Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.

One major part of the social underpinning of anxiety is the multi-faceted omnipresent web of surveillance. The NSA, CCTV, performance management reviews, the Job Centre, the privileges system in the prisons, the constant examination and classification of the youngest schoolchildren. But this obvious web is only the outer carapace. We need to think about the ways in which a neoliberal idea of success inculcates these surveillance mechanisms inside the subjectivities and life-stories of most of the population.
We need to think about how people’s deliberate and ostensibly voluntary self-exposure, through social media, visible consumption and choice of positions within the field of opinions, also assumes a performance in the field of the perpetual gaze of virtual others. We need to think about the ways in which this gaze inflects how we find, measure and know one another, as co-actors in an infinitely watched perpetual performance. Our success in this performance in turn affects everything from our ability to access human warmth to our ability to access means of subsistence, not just in the form of the wage but also in the form of credit. Outsides to the field of mediatised surveillance are increasingly closed off, as public space is bureaucratised and privatised, and a widening range of human activity is criminalised on the grounds of risk, security, nuisance, quality of life, or anti-social behaviour.

In this increasingly securitised and visible field, we are commanded to communicate. The incommunicable is excluded. Since everyone is disposable, the system holds the threat of forcibly delinking anyone at any time, in a context where alternatives are foreclosed in advance, so that forcible delinking entails desocialisation – leading to an absurd non-choice between desocialised inclusion and desocialised exclusion. This threat is manifested in small ways in today’s disciplinary practices – from “time-outs” and Internet bans, to firings and benefit sanctions – culminating in the draconian forms of solitary confinement found in prisons. Such regimes are the zero degree of control-by-anxiety: the breakdown of all the coordinates of connectedness in a setting of constant danger, in order to produce a collapse of personality.

The present dominant affect of anxiety is also known as precarity. Precarity is a type of insecurity which treats people as disposable so as to impose control. Precarity differs from misery in that the necessities of life are not simply absent. They are available, but withheld conditionally.

Precarity leads to generalised hopelessness; a constant bodily excitation without release. Growing proportions of young people are living at home. Substantial portions of the population – over 10% in the UK – are taking antidepressants. The birth rate is declining, as insecurity makes people reluctant to start families. In Japan, millions of young people never leave their homes (the hikikomori), while others literally work themselves to death on an epidemic scale. Surveys reveal half the population of the UK are experiencing income insecurity. Economically, aspects of the system of anxiety include “lean” production, financialisation and resultant debt slavery, rapid communication and financial outflows, and the globalisation of production. Workplaces like call centres are increasingly common, where everyone watches themselves, tries to maintain the required “service orientation,” and is constantly subject to re-testing and potential failure both by quantitative requirements on numbers of calls, and a process which denies most workers a stable job (they have to work six months to even receive a job, as opposed to a learning place). Image management means that the gap between the official rules and what really happens is greater than ever. And the post-911 climate channels this widespread anxiety into global politics.

* 5: Anxiety is a public secret.

Excessive anxiety and stress are a public secret. When discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation.

Indeed, the dominant public narrative suggests that we need more stress, so as to keep us “safe” (through securitisation) and “competitive” (through performance management). Each moral panic, each new crackdown or new round of repressive laws, adds to the cumulative weight of anxiety and stress arising from general over-regulation. Real, human insecurity is channelled into fuelling securitisation. This is a vicious circle, because securitisation increases the very conditions (disposability, surveillance, intensive regulation) which cause the initial anxiety. In effect, the security of the Homeland is used as a vicarious substitute for security of the Self. Again, this has precedents: the use of national greatness as vicarious compensation for misery, and the use of global war as a channel for frustration arising from boredom.

Anxiety is also channelled downwards. People’s lack of control over their lives leads to an obsessive struggle to reclaim control by micro-managing whatever one can control. Parental management techniques, for example, are advertised as ways to reduce parents’ anxiety by providing a definite script they can follow. On a wider, social level, latent anxieties arising from precarity fuel obsessive projects of social regulation and social control. This latent anxiety is increasingly projected onto minorities.
Anxiety is personalised in a number of ways – from New Right discourses blaming the poor for poverty, to contemporary therapies which treat anxiety as a neurological imbalance or a dysfunctional thinking style. A hundred varieties of “management” discourse – time management, anger management, parental management, self-branding, gamification – offer anxious subjects an illusion of control in return for ever-greater conformity to the capitalist model of subjectivity. And many more discourses of scapegoating and criminalisation treat precarity as a matter of personal deviance, irresponsibility, or pathological self-exclusion. Many of these discourses seek to maintain the superstructure of Fordism (nationalism, social integration) without its infrastructure (a national economy, welfare, jobs for all). Doctrines of individual responsibility are central to this backlash, reinforcing vulnerability and disposability. Then there’s the self-esteem industry, the massive outpouring of media telling people how to achieve success through positive thinking – as if the sources of anxiety and frustration are simply illusory. These are indicative of the tendency to privatise problems, both those relating to work, and those relating to psychology.

Earlier we argued that people have to be socially isolated in order for a public secret to work. This is true of the current situation, in which authentic communication is increasingly rare. Communication is more pervasive than ever, but increasingly, communication happens only through paths mediated by the system. Hence, in many ways, people are prevented from actually communicating, even while the system demands that everyone be connected and communicable. People both conform to the demand to communicate rather than expressing themselves, and self-censor within mediated spaces. Similarly, affective labour does not alleviate anxiety; it compounds workers’ suffering while simply distracting consumers (researchers have found that requirements on workers to feign happiness actually cause serious health problems).

The volume of communication is irrelevant. The recomposition – reconnection – of liberatory social forces will not happen unless there are channels through which the public secret itself can be spoken. In this sense, people are fundamentally more alone than ever. It is difficult for most people (including many radicals) to acknowledge the reality of what they experience and feel. Something has to be quantified or mediated (broadcast virtually), or, for us, to be already recognised as political, to be validated as real. The public secret does not meet these criteria, and so it remains invisible.”

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Posted in P2P Epistemology, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Lifestyles, P2P Subjectivity, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Strategies to defend and reclaim the ‘public good’ from the state

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Michel Bauwens
15th January 2015


1) People are fighting privatization by refusing to recognise the state as the owner of public services and resources, instead claiming that they belong to the people. 2) Where public services are gone, people are organising themselves, locally and democratically, to provide the services they need. This included the provision of healthcare in the Greek example and the provision of housing in the Spanish example, but there are millions of others. 3) But there are also forms which kind of bring together both elements of the first two. These are struggles which both defend or demand the public provision of services while at the same time vesting ownership of services in the people and getting people involved in the democratic control of services.

Republished from the provisional university in Ireland:

Perhaps the best known case of resistance to the privatization of water services came in 2000, in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The year before, 1999, the Municipal Water & Sewage Service (SEMAPA) was sold to a consortium of private companies led by the U.S. multi-national Bechtel. This was only the latest in a series of reforms following the ‘structural adjustment’ programs of the W.B. and IMF. After the privatization of SEMAPA, the citizens of Cochabamba faced excessive rate increases for purchasing water, at times up to 200% of the existing rate, and the water committees that formerly managed water distribution at the local level were forced to buy licenses to access water resources they had previously managed themselves. The popular resistance movement that arose in response was led by the Coalition for the Defense of Water & Life.

Closer to home and more recently, the Italian people fought and won a constitutional battle against the proposed privatization of water services. In 2010, President Berlusconi passed laws that opened the door to future privatization of water services, but a mass mobilization of people across Italy first forced the government to have a referendum on whether the laws should be repealed and then an overwhelming turn out and victory of 96% of voters voting to retain collective ownership of water. Water thus became enshrined in the constitution as a ‘common good’ and thus not something that could be bought or sold by any particular government.

Interestingly, a similar process is now underway in Ireland in the protest against Irish Water. The 100,000 who came out on the streets a few weeks ago were not only protesting against another ‘austerity tax’ but against the entity that is Irish Water, an entity that does not resemble a ‘public’ service and thus does not represent the ‘public’ good. In more concrete terms, a campaign has begun to gather signatures for a petition, and possibly demand a referendum, so that the constitution be changed from state ownership of water resources to public ownership of people, thereby vesting control over water in the people rather than any particular government. This campaign is being pursued by the Right2Water Campaign but it is also being supported by the Green Party.

In both Bolivia and Italy, and many other examples, what we can see is people mobilizing to reclaim or defend the ‘common’ or ‘public’ good from their own governments. People were saying that the state had no right to privatize something that belongs to everyone. In other words, the struggle is not just against private actors and privatization but against the state itself that is no longer seen to be protecting the ‘public’ good.

As well as organizing to resist processes of privatization, these struggles are also part of a wider movement that is not only defending and reclaiming the ‘public’ or ‘common’ good, but also constructing new forms of collective, self-organized management of essential services, such as healthcare, housing and water.

These initiatives have tended to take place in countries where the imposition of austerity policies has been harshest or where existing state services were inadequate or missing altogether.

Greece is the obvious example, where the disasters of crisis and austerity have forced many people to develop their own networks of social and material support. For example, a network of 40 or more solidarity health clinics run on a volunteer basis by doctors, nurses and other health-workers have developed across Greece. These clinics offer free health care five days a week to anyone who needs it. In Thessaloniki, the solidarity clinic has treated 12,000 patients over the past five years. It does this by raising funds for medicine and equipment through donations and fundraisers, such as hosting children’s music concerts in local schools.

In Spain over half a million households have been evicted. The PAH movement which has emerged in response has been hugely successful – they have even managed to bring legislation before parliament providing for the transfer of housing held by banks to social housing. 80% of the Spanish population support the PAH. And yet the main parties have blocked the legislation, demonstrating their prioritization of the financial system above all else. In response, the PAH have been occupying empty housing owned by banks and transforming it into social housing – but this is not social housing provided and managed by the state. It is provided and managed by the residents themselves. It is an example of direct and democratic self-management of urban services and urban resources.

* Public-Commons Partnerships: Re-Municipalization

Above we have seen two forms of resistance to the neoliberalization of urban services. On one hand, the more familiar form of mass mobilization as people reclaim and defend the ‘public’ good against a state that has become trapped in a logic of competition and financial austerity, and on the other, more localized forms of everyday politics as communities build and take over the direct management of their own resources and needs – such as health care, water and housing. What we want to emphasize however is the connection between these two forms and the importance of reclaiming, defending and constructing anew the way we make decisions over and manage vital resources and services.

One form this has taken is in the movement towards the ‘re-municipalization‘ of urban services. What this generally refers to is not only the taking back of urban services that had previously been privatized but taking them back in order to manage them in a more democratic, equitable and sustainable manner.

We have already mentioned the successful water struggle in Cochabamba. One of the results of that struggle was that the water committees in the Southern part of the city became more visible. These water committees, and the water systems they managed, were not part of the Municipal Water System and yet they are responsible for supplying water to about half the urban population. These committees are important for the communities because they create a space in which problems relating to water, but also other issues, can be raised and discussed. They are a form of direct political participation and empowerment that are now working with the Municipal Water Service in order to gain access to resources and expertise to develop their water service. What emerges is a new democratic form and scale that seeks to work with other levels of government.

While there is not really an equivalent to the water committees in Bolivia here in Ireland, or other European countries, it is possible to see similar efforts to democratize the management of urban services from below. In Greece, in response to the proposed privatization of the water service in Thessaloniki a campaign began that sought to bring together citizens in the city to buy the water utility themselves. This was called the 136 Initiative referring to the cost per person required to buy the utility outright according to the asking price given by the Greek government. While this campaign has not been successful, one of the outcomes was the development of community-based water ‘unions’ or assemblies where citizens came together to discuss and learn about their water system, what they could do about it and in the process developed forms of decision-making and self-organization. This has been repeated in other parts of Greece as the movement towards reclaiming the water services from private companies continues.

One of the tactics that has already been mentioned in terms of these grass-roots movements has been the referendum. In Italy the referendum was officially sanctioned and binding, but elsewhere, where the legal systems are different, referendums have been an important way of bringing people together to start talking about the kinds of services they would like, how they might be managed and for whom.

This was the case in Berlin, for example, where the Berliner Energietisch (BE) organized a referendum initiative to remunicipalize the electricity grid and create a public, democratic energy utility in Berlin, Germany. BE’s slogan “ecological-social-democratic” names the three key principles behind the campaign to buy back the city’s electricity grid from the current owner, a subsidiary of Swedish corporatized public energy company Vattenfall. The coalition, whose name can be roughly translated as Berlin Energy Roundtable, started to form in the summer of 2011 and now unites some 40 civil society groups with support from four of five parties in the Berlin state parliament. After successfully completing the first round of signature collection, the coalition has until June 10, 2013 to collect 200,000 signatures in order to get the initiative voted into law at the September parliamentary elections.

The BE campaign is asking city residents to “reclaim” Berlin energy, in parallel with other citizen initiatives such as the successful anti-privatization referendum led by Berliner Wassertisch to re-municipalize the water service and the S-Bahn Roundtable initiative on regional transportation which fought against the privatization of the S-Bahn or tram system in Berlin.

So what have we tried to say in this series of posts? To begin with, we have the context in which global urbanization is taking place in a neoliberal context characterised by the withdrawal and privatization of state services and the marketisation of everything. But, we have stressed that it is more than this:

The problem is not just too much market and not enough state. The problem is also that the state has become an enabler of the market, the market has become embedded in the state and, we might even say that today the state itself is not what could be called a ‘public institution’.

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, P2P Governance, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »

The historical origins of coinage in the democratic polis, against the aristocratic gift economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
15th January 2015


Money is, and always has been, a “creature of the state”, and currency has always been a state token. Precious metal coins merely represent one kind of state token, and their origins can be traced to the specific social upheaval that took place at the end of the 7th century B.C. This is an important, fascinating, book that should not be ignored by any monetary theorist.

Source: From a Review of the book, Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold, by Leslie Kurke, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1999; xxi, 385; paper $29.95 (ISBN 0-691-00736-5), cloth $65.00 (ISBN 0-691-01731-X). Reviewed by L. Randall Wray, University of Missouri—Kansas City.

Excerpted from L. Randall Wray:

“We all know the orthodox story about the origins of coins. A commodity money functioning as a medium of exchange replaced inconvenient barter. Eventually, societies settled on precious metals due to their inherent characteristics (high value-to-weight, divisibility, and so on), which were later stamped to indicate fineness and to reduce counterfeiting. At the same time, it has long been established that the first coins were issued in Lydia and East Greece, probably no earlier than the third or fourth quarter of the seventh century B.C.. The dating is puzzling, because we also know that money, local markets, long-distance trade, and even complex financial instruments existed for several thousands of years before coins were invented. If precious metal coins were indeed invented to reduce transactions costs, one wonders why it took so long for sophisticated traders to discover them. Further, as Innes (1913) has pointed out, while coins might have been important to the Greek world and perhaps to the Roman world, they played a relatively unimportant role throughout most of European history—with bills of exchange far more important for long-distance trade and with tally sticks or entries on merchant ledgers sufficient to finance domestic trade (a point confirmed by recent scholarship, such as that of McIntosh 1988). Unfortunately, economists—even Institutionalists—have paid far too little attention to this paradox.

Numismatists and cultural archeologists have been, at least recently, more reluctant to impose modern economistic thinking on early societies. As Polanyi warned long ago, the Greek economy was “embedded” in other noneconomic institutions, “the economic process itself being instituted through kinship, marriage, age-groups, secret societies, totemic associations, and public solemnities.” (Polanyi 1968 p. 84) Leslie Kurke, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California—Berkeley, tackles this subject from a close analysis of the literary texts of the period, sans economistic blinders. While, as she admits, “this is a hard book to characterize”—and, I might add, a difficult book to read—it provides an analysis that I found to be eminently engaging and largely consistent with an Institutionalist approach. Indeed, Kurke approvingly quotes the passage from Polanyi above, and carefully adopts the embedded/disembedded dichotomy throughout her book, arguing “the fact of an embedded economy must make a difference to the causes for the invention of coinage”. (p. 5) The two main questions she attempts to answer are: Why were coins introduced?, and, Did this represent a conceptual revolution?

She begins by quoting an intriguing passage from Herodotus:

The Lydians use customs very similar to those of the Greeks, apart from the fact that they prostitute their female children. And first of men whom we know, they struck and used currency of gold and silver, and they were also the first retail traders. And the Lydians themselves claim that also the games that now exist for them and for the Greeks were their invention. (p. 3) Note how Herodotus juxtaposes prostitution, coinage, retail trade, and games—all (inaccurately) attributed to the Lydians, who are otherwise supposed to be much like the Greeks. As Kurke wonders, “why do all these phenomena form a natural class for the historian (if they do)? In a sense, the entire discussion that follows is an attempt to make this a comprehensible list: to explain why it is especially so for a mid-fifth-century writer and why it occurs in Herodotus’s Histories.” (pp. 3-4) Her discussion is based primarily on literary texts, although there is also some analysis of art (of an erotic nature, with photographs). There are two problems. First, as she emphasizes, “we possess only 5 to 10 percent of the original literary and artistic production” (xi). Second, while prostitution, games, and retail trade are frequently discussed and linked in the literature, coinage is virtually never discussed (at least in a positive sense; almost all references are to counterfeiting). One might conclude that coinage must have been quite unimportant, meriting barely a mention. Quite the contrary, Kurke insists, pointing to ample precedent in psychoanalysis, deconstructionism, and Marxist criticism for concern with what the texts don’t say. She also notes that the greatest Greek democracy, Athens, produced not a single text supportive of democracy—rather, all contemporaneous discussion of Athenian political theory was written by a hostile elite. While her line of argument might appear far-fetched, one can imagine the cultural archeologist in 4050 studying today’s economic textbooks. As Heilbroner (1999) has famously argued, the word “capitalism” almost never appears in any current text. Is one to conclude that capitalism is not important at the turn of the new millennium? Or, does the deafening silence tell us more about the ideology of the brown-nosing sycophants who write textbooks? Is capitalism never mentioned because of its overriding dominance in our modern society? Kurke notes that Kraay (1964) revolutionized numismatics when he argued that coins were invented to standardize payments made by and to the state. He challenged the economist’s assumption that coins originated to facilitate trade by noting that the early denominations were too large, that circulation of coins was too narrow, and that use of coins was limited to Greeks while trade existed for thousands of years without coins. Kurke recognizes that some of Kraay’s evidence has since been disputed, however, her primary objection is that Kraay had not paid sufficient attention to culture, institutions, and other social and political motivations. In her view, “the minting of coin would represent the state’s assertion of its ultimate authority to constitute and regulate value in all the spheres in which general-purpose money operated simultaneously—economic, social, political, and religious. Thus, state-issued coinage as a universal equivalent, like the civic agora in which it circulated, symbolized the merger in a single token or site of many different domains of value, all under the final authority of the city.” (pp. 12-13) In a sense, the choice of precious metals for coinage was a historical accident, a pointed challenge to elite monopoly over precious metal. By coining precious metal, the polis appropriated the highest sphere of gift exchange, and with its stamp it asserted its ultimate authority—both inwardly (or domestically) but also outwardly (in long-distance trade): “For every Greek polis that issued its own coin asserted its autonomy and independence from every other Greek city, while coinage also functions as one institution among many through which the city constituted itself as the final instance against the claims of an internal elite.” (p. 13) As the polis used coins for its own payments and insisted on payment in coin, it inserted its sovereignty into retail trade in the agora. Mainstream economists frequently assert that growth of the local market was associated with expansion of democracy, but Kurke stands the typical Austrian argument on its head by noting the critical role played by the polis in wresting control away from the elite. By tying the invention of coinage to the special circumstances of Greece, Kurke’s analysis makes it clear why coins have been so unimportant to other economies before and since.

Of course, from the perspective of Greece, coinage was no historical accident. As Kurke argues, introduction of coins arose out of a “seventh/sixth century crisis of justice and unfair distribution of property”. (p. 13) Coins appeared at this particular time because the polis had gained sufficient strength to rival the symposia, hetaireiai (private drinking clubs) and other institutions and xenia (elite networking) that maintained elite dominance. At the same time, the agora and its use of coined money subverted hierarchies of gift exchange, just as a shift to taxes and regular payments to city officials (as well as severe penalties levied on officials who accepted gifts) challenged the “natural” order that relied on gifts and favors. It is no coincidence that elite literary works disparaged the agora as a place for deceit, and coinage was always noted for its “counterfeit” quality. As Kurke argues, as coins are nothing more than tokens of the city’s authority, they could have been produced from any material. However, because the aristocrats measured a man’s worth by the quantity and quality of the precious metal he had accumulated, the polis was required to mint high quality coins, unvarying in fineness. (Note that gold is called the noble metal because it remains the same through time, like the king.) The citizens of the polis by their association with high quality, uniform, coin (and in the texts the citizen’s “mettle” was tested by the quality of the coin) gained equal status; by providing a standard measure of value, coinage rendered labor comparable and in this sense coinage was an egalitarian innovation. Obviously the elite reacted to such developments, although in a veiled manner. When money is discussed in the texts, its introduction is invariably attributed to tyrants who destroy the nomos, the community, the devine order. It is also interesting that the elite usually attributes invention of money to the requirements of scorned retail trade—just as modern economics does, albeit without scorn—rather than to the struggle to assert sovereignty of the polis. As Kurke argues, this “mystification” of the origins of money is ideological—as it remains today—a purposeful rejection of the legitimacy of democratic government.”

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Posted in Gift Economies, P2P Books, P2P Money | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: P2P Search as an Alternative to Google

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Michel Bauwens
15th January 2015


* Article: P2P Search as an Alternative to Google: Recapturing network value through decentralized search. By Tyler Handley. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 3, July 2013

From the Abstract:

“This paper examines the intersection between Google’s desire to “database the world’s knowledge” and the many ways in which Google’s approach affects both the nature of the information users find and how they find it. The paper will argue that Google has monopolized the socially constructed nature of the World Wide Web; Benkler’s concept of social production will be used as an example of this process. Google capitalizes on the attention economy, using a combination of PageRank and personalization to dominate the search market. To do so, it must store and retain vast amounts of user data, this data being a representation of the cultural and social relations of Google users. By storing user data in “centralized” logs, Google’s approach to search opens up questions about how such sensitive data should be stored, and what the ownership of such a social ‘map’ by a private corporation means. To further establish the meaning of Google’s position this paper outlines the potential for new contrasting forms of search, that allocate more control to the user. In particular, this paper will analyze the Peer-to-Peer distributed search engine YaCy to see how it can alleviate the specific problems of various censorship and filtering that affects Google search results, and how it can address the wider issue of the private appropriation of social and cultural networks. This comparison of Google and Peer-to-Peer search will allow a clear view of the issues at stake as search is developed over the next decade, issues which will have resonating consequences on what information we receive.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Trust-based vs. Trustless Infrastructures: ID3 vs the Cryptoledger Infrastructures

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Michel Bauwens
15th January 2015


Excerpted from Amanda B. Johnson:

“The ID3 software, called Open Mustard Seed, wouldn’t just contain your name, home address, birthday, government tracking numbers, etc. It would also contain “biometric” and “behavioral” trackers, and all this data would be fused with every online transaction you ever used it for.

ID3 wouldn’t dream of sharing this mass of private data about you with others—unless, of course, the third party requesting the data is a government employee, by ID3’s own admission.

In fact, the software developers have a vision of an entire Internet built on trust—which, as you’ll remember, is exactly the opposite of how cryptocurrency works. A statement by ID3 Managing Director Dan Harple is especially revealing:
“The next phase of Internet growth requires a re-tooling, with identity and trust at the foundation.” Identity? Trust? One has to wonder if Dan Harple has ever even used Bitcoin.

ID3 claims that they there are many Bitcoin-based businesses who are wild about their new identity-tracking software, including BitPay, Bitstamp, Delta, Ripple Labs, Swarm, Xapo and ZipZap. This isn’t surprising, as some businesses choose to be more responsive to governments than they are to customers.

And governments have been itching for a way to track individuals online as closely as they attempt to track them in the physical world. ID3 may have just created the End to Online Anonymity 1.0—that is, for those who opt-in.
This means that there’s likely going to be a divide among Bitcoin businesses—those who “comply” and cut off services to customers who don’t pony up their flesh-and-blood identities first, and those who continue to serve their customers the way they always have—more or less anonymously.

While the shape of this divide remains to be seen, what is obvious is the lesson that cryptocurrency has taught us: that online transactions don’t require trust or identity. That in fact, we’re all safer without them.

Online transactions have two purposes and two alone: that the seller delivers what he promised to deliver and the buyer pays what he promised to pay. That’s it. Real-world, flesh-and-blood identity has nothing to do with this process.

Many are already building a new Internet foundation that requires no identity and no trust. Think MaidSafe and Ethereum, due to be released within months. Or the already available OpenBazaar and NXT FreeMarket. Why were they built? Because so many understand that the less we have to trust one another or divulge our identities, the safer we all are.

The trustlessness of a decentralized Internet is what most of us will choose to use in the coming years. Emerging alternative Internet protocols are the future. ID3 and all others who cling to old trusted third party models are cementing themselves in the past.”

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Posted in Open Standards, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Movement of the Day: the r0g_agency

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th January 2015


r0g_agency is a Berlin-based collaborative enterprise for open culture and critical transformation initiated in 2012:

“r0g_agency is a Berlin-based collaborative enterprise for open culture and critical transformation initiated in 2012 and founded as a non-profit company in September 2013 by Stephen Kovats and Susanne Bellinghausen, along with a small group of open culture specialists active in locations worldwide.

The free culture, open technologies and hacktivist-induced projects r0g_ embarks on are dedicated to a more radical thinking, non-conventional, innovative and creatively irreverent way of approaching complex problem solving … a group of rogue systems mavericks working with the means of open source cultures and technologies in securing equally open, sustainable, autonomous and collaborative societies.

Open Source (i.e. FOSS and Open Hardware), Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Data and related Open ICT4D, DIY and Up-Cycling methodologies, are some of the keywords upon with which r0g_agency bases its direction. Not abstract concepts and/or theories for the academic world or start-up ventures, but rather taking action with concrete solutions for Social Innovation to support community development and the empowerment of people marginalized by conflict are among the agencies primary goals.”

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Stephen Kovats interviewed by Marco Mancuso of Digicult:

* Marco Mancuso: Hello Stephen. First of all, could you to give me a general description of r0g_agency and its activities?

Stephen Kovats: The “r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation”, as is the agency’s full title, is a German based, internationally active non-profit company. We focus on applying the power and resources of open models, such as open source tools and platforms, as well as open knowledge repositories to foster new forms of innovation, using these to support peace-building and sustainable development in crisis, transformation and post-conflict regions. We were incorporated late 2013, so we have been working on developing our methodologies and forms of (inter)action. At first this has been primarily through workshops, seminars and collaborations on programme development with on-the-ground implementing organizations. We also support grass-roots, or home grown initiatives in these regions that apply open culture ideas and methodologies to advance the development of free and open societies.

One such group is, for example, the Kapital Movie collective in South Sudan which was formed by a group of medical students to learn video and media production in order to advocate for health, social, education and violence mitigation issues amongst youth in that country. With virtually no proper external resources, they have set up an independent media academy – the Kapital Virtual Academy, or KVA (http://www.kapitalmovie.net/kva.html) – as a means of training and passing on their own knowledge in media development issues. Although they use primarily cracked and “found” proprietary software for their work, they are interested in learning, using and promoting FOSS in media training as an effective and more sustainable form of media development practice.

* Marco Mancuso: We talked about your idea to launch an agency like r0g_ at transmediale 2012, I remember. Why did you decide to start such a project? And in which way is r0g_ the result of your past professional experiences at V2_ and transmediale, eventually?

Stephen Kovats: After working for over 20 years in the realm of digital arts, coming at these from a social activist and “societal transformation” point of view, I wanted to re-orient the way I work and interact with communities in a more hands-on and direct way. It’s not only my professional experience through V2_Institute and transmediale that has informed this direction, but also my earlier work in the 90?s in Eastern and Central Europe on this issue, as well as my work in Ethiopia before joining V2_. A lot of this work had to do with architecture and urbanism, and their impact on society from a grass-roots, community interactive perspective … we could say (although the term was not yet being used) an “open urbanist” approach. The groups, artists and communities which I was also most interested in working with at both V2_ and transmediale were the more activist, socially engaged innovators, who made us think about process and our relationships to technology on a number of levels. So one point of departure was my interest and desire in linking a number of these methodologies in specific development contexts – also to look at how artistic and cultural strategies can provide a different, perhaps in some cases more effective, form of problem solving for complex challenges, like those associated with post-conflict development. We therefore chose to adopt the “r0g_” tag as our “indicator” in reference to the English word “rogue”. Taken in its original meaning, r0g_ is that of an agent acting or working outside the usual or given realms of activity on alternative, innovative solutions, then re-entering the frame of reference to apply or implement the specific developed scenario … a renegade or maverick form of development activity that calls on new or alternative forms of solution to complex challenges. This is a form of thinking and conceptual development very close to the heart of organizations such as V2_ and we want to take this way of working into more uncomfortable and perhaps uncharted territory using the vehicle of open culture and open methodologies.

* Marco Mancuso: r0g_agency applies the key concepts of international open culture directly to the pure social impact these methodologies can have. It seems your idea concerns the possibility to work on a wide range of similar strategies, for example Open Softwares & Hardwares used for networked practices for education and culture, p2p policies for Open Governments and Open Data systems, DIY attitudes for recycling and Open Design, Open Source systems for sharing economies and so on. How much do you believe in such a system, even for the next generations?

Stephen Kovats: Well, I believe the open source model, which was the key innovating factor for the early web and internet, is now finally re-emerging after society at large has become better acquainted with technology and has begun a much more intimate interaction with it. Taking command of this technology is an important force of independence as well as of creative potential. Besides understanding these systems more clearly – perhaps in the light of recent data, security and privacy scandals – we now also have better developed tools, stronger communities and means to share, collaborate on and create innovation, also as economic models, than we may have had five or ten years ago.

* Marco Mancuso: It’s true r0g_agency works with post-conflict areas of the world where open systems can be a solution for wider problems, but why have you chosen to work with such areas of the world and to focus on the devastations caused by conflicts and wars? Which can be the starting point for any possible sustainable hybrid form of cultural innovation in such areas?

Stephen Kovats: Open systems solutions should be used in all forms of problem solving, development, innovation etc., wherever. In the realm of international development, especially in post-conflict situations, the use or knowledge of open resources is either extremely limited or often completely unknown. However this is an area where the potentials of open tools, solutions, resources and methodologies, given their inherent traits of sustainability, collaborative enterprise, implementation rapidity and empowerment are perhaps their greatest.

Either way, in the year 2015, it is unthinkable, we believe, that if one is working in a “development context’” that the opportunities presented for example by Open Educational Resources (OERs), FOSS and other open source structures, or infrastructural considerations such as community based wireless mesh networks would not be considered. We believe that such resources and systems can have their greatest impact where the challenge is the greatest, and these areas – among others of course – certainly are post-conflict or crisis regions. The UN also has an acronym for this: PCPD, or Post-Conflict / Post-Disaster (where the former is principally man-made, the latter principally natural).

* Marco Mancuso: You define r0g_agency as a connector, an initiator being part of a wider network of partners and organizations. How does a real form of networking, of grass-root social hacktivism, make up your projects, seminars and conferences?

Stephen Kovats: It’s quite central to the way we exist and act, at least in this phase of our own development. We are a small team doing other forms of work, intersecting on the projects and initiatives being developed. In any case, we see the work of r0g_agency in bringing together different forms of communities, skills, cultural contexts etc. in order to achieve the goals set out. Such methodologies, like those of effective networking or hacktivism play key conceptual roles in the work, but for reasons of communication or context they are maybe not always called so. We talk about and define what we mean by hacktivism, but then we look at re-appropriation of technology, up-cycling, or DIY strategies to specifically illustrate why we feel these are valid strategies, for example in skills training and capacity building.”

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Posted in Featured Movement, Open Hardware and Design | No Comments »

OIKONOMOS – a documentary about transforming economics education

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th January 2015


This is a film about the growing movement to transform economics education.

There is an increased criticism of economics and economists not adequately dealing with our societal issues, as most recently demonstrated by the global financial crisis. Voices are calling for change, and among that chorus there is a strong plea to make economics education more pluralist and related to the real world, giving economists-to-be a bigger toolbox and wider range of perspectives when dealing with increasingly complex economies and societies.

Around the world there is a growing movement working to change how we educate economics. This project attempts to tell the story of this movement, and asks why and how students, academics, educational institutions and citizens are working to make economics education more pluralist, updated and related to the real world.

The movement to change economics education is broad and diverse, with a variety of motivations and visions for change. A sample of these engaged people and organizations have participated in the film, and you can read about them at “Meet the Movement”.
“OIKONOMOS: transforming economics education” is a joint film and research project, made as part of Ingrid M. Rieser’s dissertation in the Economics for Transition MA at Schumacher College.”

Watch the video here:

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

Food is not a commons: Tiberius Brastaviceanu responds to Jose Luis Vivero Pol

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th January 2015


Tibi responds to an earlier interview we published:

“Treating food as commons is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, unless we want to go back to communism.

Food is different from water and even more different from air, in terms of its availability. We can get air just by breathing. Water has some costs, especially in large cities, because bringing it to the point of consumption requires infrastructure. It makes economic sense to build public utilities and share the costs of water in large cities. Privatizing water doesn’t really make sense, since it’s infrastructure is expensive and therefore it would be exclusive, which creates a monopoly, which usually brings prices up and lowers the quality of the service. Yes evil people have evil dreams to control other people by controlling the essentials to their survival, but history shows that there is strong popular opposition to keep these dreams unrealized. In the modern world, food doesn’t just grow on our tables. For that reason, I believe that we cannot treat food (tomatoes and corn) as commons. Unlike in the Amazonian forest, where food literally grows on trees, in the modern world growing food requires capacity of production and distribution, and a lot of effort. Food is not abundant by itself. We produce an abundance of food, we waste a lot of it, and we miss allocate it. Treating food as commons requires treating the means of production and distribution as commons, which brings us back to communism.

In my opinion, the global food system is screwed up not because we treat food (tomatoes and corn) as a commodity, but because the means of production and distribution of food have been monopolized. These monopolies have influence and have raised the barrier to entry by putting in place policies and regulations, which is a very well-understood dynamic, it’s what monopolies do. My feeling is that treating food as commons as proposed in this paper means transferring these private monopolies in the hands of national and transnational public institutions, which again, I cannot distinguish from communism.

So what can we do??

We need to democratize food production and distribution.

* INNOVATION

There is a growing commons of knowledge around food production, created and diffused by open communities like Open Source Ecology, FarmHack, Apropedia, etc. This helps local producers, which in turn can aggregate into local food networks and coordinate themselves for transformation and distribution.

* ACCESS TO INFORMATION

The truly p2p web-of-things (not Google’s version!) is a distributed sensing network that gathers information about agricultural activities, which can be aggregated into open databases, analysed and rendered to food producers to help them make better decisions. Layers of economic models can be created on top of the raw data. Leveling the information field can help brake these monopolies.

* PRODUCTION

Open innovation helps individual farmers. Access to information gives everyone the big picture. New network resource planning systems (like the one proposed by SENSORICA with the OVN model) allows producers to share resources and processes and to implement more complex revenue sharing schemes. All this and more makes possible the aggregation of individual production into massive quantities with a great diversity, by networking a large number of individual producers, which can now formulate a value proposition to the consumer that can displace big agro.

* MARKETS

It is also true that capitalist markets don’t capture all the costs of food. But some recently created markets do take into consideration quality, carbon footprint, environmental chemical pollution and even ethics. Examples are the local, organic and fair trade. We need to recognize that these are new markets, operating on a different logic, and we need to improve and to expand them. Their problem is that they only operate with one currency, the same one used in classical markets. What about introducing environmental points, which can buy land and water exploitation rights for example? What about reputation points?”

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Posted in Commons, Food and Agriculture | 2 Comments »