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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

10 Open Source Policies for a Commons-Based Society

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Michel Bauwens
15th September 2014

Mira Luna from Shareable asked me for my top recommendations of government policies to encourage open source development and the commons. While government policy usually sides with proprietary knowledge in the public sector, there is a huge opportunity to use goverments as a ally, supporter and guardian of the commons. To learn more and get involved, check out the P2P Foundation,  OpenSource.comOpen Mind and the Open Source Initiative.

1. Education – Government should invest in the education and awareness for public of the legal and licensing choices for open knowledge to create and protect open commons, including for law students.

2. Research Publicly funded research should be Free/Libre/Open Source (FLOS). Citizens have the right to learn from the technologies their governments invest in on their behalf (e.g. public university research). This includes open designs that enable the production of free and open hardware.

3. Purchasing - Government purchasers, educational institutions and other recipients of government funding should preferentially invest in open machinery, software and hardware, for example use open scientific hardware in laboratories to save the public and students’ money by using nonproprietary and free products. (e.g. Linux for university and student use).

4. Patents –  Adopt policies which preserve open source status of new technologies in relationship to patents, especially in early stages of development (e.g. 3D printers).

5. Data - Data produced or commissioned by public entities for public use (e.g. surveys of vacant properties, government budgets) should be open and shareable by the public.

6. Collaboration -Governments and education institutions should invest in physical infrastructures that enable human collaboration around open knowledge, such as hackerspaces, fablabs, and co-working spaces.

7. Commons - Government should preferentially invest in the type of material commons that allows the creative actors to live and thrive in urban and rural centers, protected from the private speculation that renders commons-oriented creative work more difficult if not impossible. Examples include: creation of non-speculative, off market housing through urban community land trusts and publicly owned community centers.

8. Health - Governments should especially invest in open medical research, so that medicines will be available at reasonable price levels. Patents on drugs permit the deaths millions of Africans each year who fall to AIDS alone. Many natural cures go untested because they can’t be patented.

9. Economy - Government should invest in public-commons partnerships and incubators that create livelihoods and a thriving economy around open knowledge, software and design.

10. Systemic Change –  Government should embark on open source and commons-oriented transition policies that systematize the transition towards a society and economy towards open knowledge, following the example of the Commons Transition Plan in Ecuador.


Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Media, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Foundation, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Book of the Day: How Sharing, Localism, and Connectedness are Creating a New Social Design

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Michel Bauwens
15th September 2014

* Book: Sustainist Design Guide: How Sharing, Localism, Connectedness, and Proportionality are Creating a New Agenda for Social Design, by Michiel Schwarz and Diana Krabbendam. BIS Publishers, 2014

From the author, Michiel Schwarz:

“A new culture of sharing is emerging. We are increasingly sharing goods, places, services, and information. It is creating social value and community. In this way, shareability is becoming a valued quality that drives new business practices, community cooperatives, and new forms of “collaborative consumption.” The open source movement and the emerging open design practice reflect the same mentality. Centred around collaboration and exchange, sharing schemes are often linked to mobile and Internet technologies.

The sustainist design challenge is as follows: What would happen if “shareability” would be taken as a design criterion? How might we bring shareable assets into the design process for products, services, environments and situations? What might we (re)design to encourage more sharing and open exchange?”


Posted in Featured Book, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Books, Sharing | No Comments »

The emergence of peer-support families

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Michel Bauwens
14th September 2014

Excerpted/republished from Warren Blumenfeld in Tikkun, the strongly recommended magazine of the Network of Spiritual Progressives:

“I’ve often heard of parents abusing and even disowning young people when they suspect or when a young person “comes out” to them as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*, though except for movies and television episodes, I have never actually witnessed this. That is, until this week when I watched a YouTube video titled “How not to react when your child tells you he is gay.”

The video depicts what looks like an “intervention” by both birth parents and step-mother of twenty-year-old Daniel Pierce who they suspect is gay. When called into the living room, Daniel placed his phone on the “record” mode. After Daniel confirmed his sexuality, his mother stated, “I have known since you were a young boy that you were gay,” But then she accused him of making “a choice” by deciding to be gay.

The two women invoked the name of God and scripture, which soon spun into the three “adults” collectively unloading a verbal tirade and then physically abusing Daniel. They eventually tell him he is no longer welcomed, and demand that he move out of the house as soon as possible.

I became speechless, mouth open with no sounds audible, upset, literally shaking, and tears pooling in my eyes. At the conclusion of the video, images of other youth appeared on the YouTube screen. The youth had apparently filmed their reactions. I clicked on one after the other, and as I watched, my depression and outrage softened by the remarkable peer community that immediately and passionately came to Daniel’s defense.

What I witnessed when Daniel’s family of chance failed him was his new peer family of choice stepped in to lift him over their shoulders high above the din and the cruelty. All responders showed true and honest empathy and imagined themselves walking in Daniel’s tattered shoes.

Some talked of their own coming out experiences and the range of support they received from parents and friends. Others replied that though they identified as heterosexual, they could imagine the emotions arising in them if ever having to suffer the rejection and abuse Daniel was forced to endure. Some offered Daniel and other young people coming out advice to garner support. And all committed their solidarity, their support, their compassion, and most of all, their love – values and emotions denied to Daniel by his birth parents and step mother.

His new cross-racial, cross-sexuality, cross-gender family included, as well, a cross section of religious commitments from devout Christians to atheists and agnostics. Some showed a deep understanding of scripture, others did not. For some, words came quickly. For others, the sheer surprise and shock of disbelief made it difficult to put feelings and thoughts into words. The deep emotions of outrage, disgust, identification, their cry, no, their demand for justice linked them to one another and to Daniel.

This forum clearly demonstrates the endless possibilities of social media to transform passive bystanders into active empowered upstanders. Daniel’s boyfriend also posted online soon after the incident:

Bros, my boyfriend got kicked out of his home and disowned yesterday. It’s been a really traumatic experience for him, and I feel so terrible and angry that this happened.

Fortunately, he’s living with a friend for now. Seems like he can be there long-term until he’s able to support himself….

UPDATE: Thanks everyone. I cannot believe how much response this has received…. We are in the debt of everyone on this sub – even before this incident. Daniel is going to be fine, I think. We’ve had numerous people reach out offering words of encouragement, a place to stay, donations, contacting news sources, and so much more. We are glad we could get the word out about this issue that many people will continue to struggle with. I’m sure we will have the opportunity of helping others the way we’ve been helped. :)

This peer family and others like it throughout the country has indeed inspired me because there is no going back to the desperately closed and terror-filled times of my youth. The current generation will not go back into those dank closets of fear and denial that stifles the spirit and ruins so many lives.

Yes, they will physically return to their schools and their homes. They will continue to study and play sports, to watch movies, listen to their iPods, text their friends, and write about their days on Facebook. Some will most likely continue to serve as community organizers, and some will go on to become parents, teachers, and political leaders once their school days are behind.

But, the place they will go to, though, is nowhere that can be seen. It is a place of consciousness that teaches those who have entered that everyone is diminished when any one of us is demeaned; that heterosexism, sexism, biphobia, cissexism (trans* oppression) as well as all the other forms of oppression have no place in a just society.

Young people have been and continue to be at the heart of progressive social change movements. Youth are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and they are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups.

They are dreaming their dreams, sharing their ideas and visions, and organizing to ensure a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and along their journey, they are inventing new ways of relating and being in the world. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across the gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by “religious” and social taboos of cultural norms related to gender and sexuality. It is a future in which all the disparate varieties of sexuality and gender expression will live and prosper in us all.

Their increased visibility and activism has had the effect of shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of male/female and gay/straight. They are creating a vision of social transformation as opposed to mere reform by contesting and exploding conventional gender constructions, most notably the limiting and destructive binary conceptualizations and definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity.”


Posted in P2P Collaboration, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The New Ecopolitical Nations

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Michel Bauwens
14th September 2014

* Book: Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation. by Ignasi Ribó. Mycelia Books, 2012

This summary description is followed by a review and an excerpt:

“A new world is emerging under the rusted structures of the nation-state. Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec, Flanders, the Basque Country may soon be sovereign and independent states. The process of breaking up the large Western states into ecologically and socially meaningful political communities may have just started and could lead to a more democratic and sustainable world system. In Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation, the Catalan author Ignasi Ribó develops a new and original theory of the nation, in order to show that there is indeed a real alternative to the model of the nation-state and to the modern project of building increasingly larger states. The habitat-nation, founded on the inhabitants’ deliberate choice of living together and on the ecoliberal principles of justice, could well be the theoretical framework for this new world that is just starting to emerge, both in Europe and in America. ”

Review by Mike Menser:

“Ignasi Ribó’s Habitat is an engaging treatise focused upon one of the most pressing questions facing the global ecological movement: what is the appropriate political unit for fostering the social cohesion necessary to respond effectively to the ecological crisis? Should we be hyperlocalists intensely protecting every intimate inch of our everyday life? Green statists pressuring our presidents to bring about a sustainable economy? Or nomadic cosmopolitans, linking together across any and every boundary in an attempt to make a truly global, multi-everything eco-community?

Ribó rules out all three. States are too focused on securing sovereignty via militaries and/or markets to be socially sane, much less ecologically sound. Hyperlocalists cannot have a big enough impact, and cosmopolitans lack the embedded commitments needed to foster trust and cooperation. Instead Ribó calls for an approach that will make left progressives uneasy and right wing conservatives puzzled: ecological nationalism (85) grounded in the principles of autonomy, reciprocity, care, and friendship (134). The argument goes as follows. To solve the ecological crisis we must live sustainably. Sustainability means living together with other humans and nonhumans so as to be able to preserve and reproduce all those conditions necessary for our collective survival. After a jaunt through some evolutionary biology, Ribó focuses on intersecting the ecological, social and political dimensions of cohabitation (the economic is not addressed). The place of cohabitation is “habitat.” The mechanisms by which we come to operate in a habitat are “habits.” Human beings are, fundamentally, in a sort of ecological Hume-an twist, bundles of habits. Indeed, all organisms are complexes of habits. There is no great chain of being composed of beings with distinct essences, but rather a number of bioregional assemblies of different ways of being in the world: habit-complexes with different modes of obtaining energy, perceiving, reproducing, dwelling, fending off prey, and so on (124). But even if humans are members of the great earth community, we are dissimilar, since we form deliberative political communities in order to pursue the good life. Humans choose to live together.

This seemingly trivial tenet—what Ribó calls “cohabitation”—constitutes the basis for his ecopolitical view. In order to live together, we need to foster habits that promote the trust necessary for coexistence. The project then is not about (cultural) identity or citizenship (my relationship with some abstracted state-based demos), it is about everyday life and the bonds we develop with our cohabitants, all those who make the systems and institutions I require for my life, and autonomy, possible. Ribó writes, “Wherever a particular bioregion, that is, the geographical coincidence of a biological and a social community, is able to uphold these effective relations of justice founded on the habits of autonomy, reciprocity and friendship, we can properly speak of a habitat-nation” (98–9). According to Ribó, examples of such places are Basque Country, Spain [sic], and the Scandinavian states. The distinctiveness of these places arises not from abstracted relationships to the state (e.g., the notion of citizenship) or transcendental moral orthodoxy of rational persons, but the commitment of the inhabitants to each other and to their place. According to ecopolitical theory, on the contrary, the political community should be articulated from meaningful social communities “bound to a certain natural habitat” (192). The foundation of the community is friendship, the “deliberate choice of living together” (192–3). This does not require common language or religion, but is instead based upon the norms necessary for just cohabitation: autonomy, care, reciprocity, and friendship.

Such units are just when they recognize the freedom of inhabitants (the principle of autonomy), as well as the obligations that arise because of our interdependent contributions (reciprocity). But what really makes these units work is friendship, which gives them a coherence born of trust that also allows for the development of the capabilities of said inhabitants with respect to their desires and aims (the principle of care). The boundaries of the system needed for the just reproduction of our society we call the habitat-nation. Ribó then makes a moral argument for a just inhabitation utilizing an unusual reconstruction of a Rawlsian framework with a dose of Aristotle. What does justice as fairness look like in the habitat-nation? In Ribó’s reconstructed “original position,” not only do we not know our economic position or natural talents, we do not know our species! We could be “humans, starlings or martians”. He writes, “It would make much more sense therefore to conceive the original position as a hypothetical meeting of indeterminate individuals who know they will inhabit the political community resulting from their contract, but are unaware of the natural, social, or specific characteristics within this community”.

While many will find much to disagree with in this reinterpretation, Ribó’s rendering of justice as fairness and his understanding that inequality must benefit the whole society (principle of care as applied to the habitat-nation) is his ecopolitical attempt to respect the autonomy of individuals with respect to the rest of the group. What is more intriguing is that he deems the primary good to be cohabitation: the ability to live together, with human and nonhumans. What is necessary to make this happen is not well appreciated by Rawls, or by liberalism in general, and that is friendship and care. On this note, it is worth contrasting Ribó’s Rawlsian reconstruction and political utilization of Aristotle’s philia with Sibyl Schwarzenbach’s view laid out in On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State (Columbia University Press, 2009). Schwarzenbach calls for an overt refounding and reconstructing of state while Ribó forcefully condemns it, along with political parties, and thus seems to align himself with more bottom-up or “horizontal” political movements as described in Marina Sitrin’s excellent Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina (Zed, 2012).

In sum, we have to cast off abstract moral categories such as rational persons (a fiction), political ones such as demos (an anti-ecological abstraction), citizenship, and sovereignty, and embrace the biocultural terrain of the habitat. The habitat nation is not self-sufficient; to make it the fundamental unit, then, is to require further relations and coalitions. These can be formed along the lines of cohabitation and friendship, rather than market rivalry and competition as in the interstate system (186–7). Although this will sound too ambitious or naïve to some, in the last chapters Ribó thinks strategically about how this ecopolitical transformation might take place in North America and Europe. This is one of the more refreshing and welcome aspects of the book. Ribó takes the pains to explain how his view differs from the top-down decentralization of the EU (205–7) and how it could build upon projects in places as diverse as Québec and Mexico, but he also recognizes the particular political difficulties facing the US and how they are different from those in Europe. Ribó is optimistic without being naïve. Indeed, the book begins with a short story about a small nation whose defection from a large state brought about the collapse of one of the biggest empires in human history. The country was Lithuania. What motivated this tiny nation to risk so much? A mix of ecological degradation and the desire for independence. Acting on the small scale can have big results. The implications for the global environmental movement are profound. Especially, as Ribó points out, since two-thirds of the world’s population lives not in the megastates of the Chinas and Indias but in the more human and natural-scaled Guatemalas and Nigers.”

Excerpt by Ignasi Ribó:

““This book has grown out of a previous one, written in Catalan, De la indignació a la nació (“From indignation to nation”), which was published on September 11th 2012, the same day that hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to demand their freedom and a state of their own. It was in that book that I first developed the ecopolitical theory and the notion of the habitat-nation that I am exposing here to English readers. The original aim of my reflections was to displace the old ideology of the nation-state, which is still very much divisive in Catalonia, and to ground the nation on a new, more inclusive theoretical framework in which all individuals, regardless of their culture, their origin or their condition, even their species, could find their place in the political community and contribute to the sustainability of common habitation.

By its own nature, the ecopolitical project is not restricted to the transformation of a particular social community such as Catalonia, but aspires to become a model of universal appeal, albeit always within the limits and the possibilities of each specific community. My theory, therefore, rather than offering ready-made institutional solutions that could be indiscriminately applied to all social communities, attempts to set up the foundations that would allow these communities, if they so wish, to constitute themselves as habitat-nations and to develop their own ecopolitical institutions according to their habits and forms of habitation. For the same reason, the theory of the habitat-nation avoids any ideological or partisan ascription, focusing instead on the elaboration of a constitutional framework that could be accepted and assumed by all inhabitants regardless of their inclinations, values or political preferences.

In my previous book, I delved in much more detail into the practical implications of the theory presented here, putting forward specific mechanisms and institutions that could serve to implement the ecopolitical notions in the future state of Catalonia. While many of these reflections and proposals, which touched on political, economic and social issues in considerable depth, might be of some interest to non-Catalan readers, I have decided to exclude them from this book in order to concentrate on the more general proposals of the ecopolitical theory. As a consequence, the reader might feel that my ideas are not sufficiently fleshed out, but tend to linger for too long on the high spheres of theory. I have nothing to say against this criticism, except to invite the critics to undertake the work of elaborating those specific proposals, adapting and developing the concepts discussed in this book to meet the needs and the possibilities of their own habitat-nations. After all, a book should strive to create a sense of wonder and inspire readers to seek their own solutions to the problems, rather than giving them a creed to follow.

Whatever the actual institutions that may eventually stem from it, an unavoidable conclusion from my theory is the urgent need to redefine the geopolitical units that make up the current world, abandoning once and for all the model of the nation-state and advancing towards more ecologically and socially sustainable political communities. This book attempts to justify, both theoretically and practically, why this process is so necessary and how it could be accomplished in the present political context. But surely, as always, the world is already running ahead of our theories. The rusted structures of the nation-states, particularly the largest ones, are already showing evident signs of decay and instability. New habitat-nations may be about to achieve statehood, both in Europe and in America. A new world seems to be forging its way ahead. Let us hope that it will be so organised that we shall not regret calling it our home.”


Posted in Empire, Featured Book, P2P Ecology, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Local vs. Centralized Resilience in Responding to Disasters

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Michel Bauwens
13th September 2014

* Article: Walker, B., and F. Westley. 2011. Perspectives on resilience to disasters across sectors and cultures. Ecology and Society 16(2): 4.

Brian Walker and F. Westley:

“Discussion of accountability led to consideration of where responses to disasters should best originate. Participants viewed the greatest threat as originating from the highly interconnected nature of our communication system and economies but, although consistent with resilience perspectives, there was little discussion of the fact that government institutions at any level were rarely interconnected except to note the amount of jealousy, turf issues, and struggles for resources that characterized coordination attempts. However, government representatives who were present expressed the need to push power up to the international level, in an attempt to anticipate and provide adequate response to threats such as terrorism, which seemed to have a truly global dynamic, but at the same time to push power down to the local community level where sense-making, self-organization, and leadership in the face of disaster were more likely to occur if local governments felt accountable for their own responses. One discussion framed the need in terms of promoting the philosophies of both Hobbes, i.e., a social contract ceding freedoms to a higher authority, and Rousseau, i.e., look for the good in people to develop personal responsibility from the bottom up. This is reflected in the social-ecological resilience literature on the need at local scales for adaptive governance and comanagement, and at higher scales for global scale institutions in the face of looming global scale failures (as articulated in a recent Science article, Walker et al. 2009). Current efforts and emphases are focused too much at the levels in between.

This brought to mind the notion that for general resilience we need both top-down and bottom-up institutions. For dealing with disasters society needs both. This corresponds with the conclusions of E. Ostrom and colleagues (e.g., Dietz et al. 2003) on the need for both in common property adaptive governance institutions. However, barriers to adaptation are different at the two scales as Ditchley discussions revealed. In particular, from a resilience perspective the mechanisms for building social learning and memory were identified as different.

Building local general resilience

There was considerable discussion about building local resilience and some interesting evidence presented that exercises such as simulations help considerably in this regard. We came to see such rehearsals for disaster preparedness as the equivalent of probing the boundaries of resilience. Conducting evacuation exercises, for example, not only identifies particular areas that need addressing to improve response capacity, but the exercise itself increases community collaboration, communication, and identity and therefore response capacity. This is related to the need for sense-making and social memory in situations of disaster. Response is slowed by the disorder of breakdown and requires framing, often by particular leaders, to ignite action. Rehearsals and exercises provide an opportunity for making sense in advance of the actual disaster, which allows for better response and triggers self-organizing capacities. In effect, this is a kind of storytelling that builds a repertoire of alternative scripts. It appeared that exercises and rehearsals also triggered memory and social learning which at times produced more scripts as alternative responses.

Building general resilience in central agencies

As noted above, the need for speed in times of crisis can reduce general resilience by privileging specific resilience. It can also reduce the capacity for learning which is key for transforming short-term disaster into longer term resilience. In emergency operations responses are by definition highly specific and formal, with little room to improvise. There is also a general tendency with consequent expenditure of effort to assign blame, and failure to follow the prescribed formula can result in having to accept an undue proportion of that blame. However, by definition, if disasters are unexpected improvisation, a kind of in the moment experimentation, may be essential and the capacity to share such rule breaking can allow for deep learning and innovation in the central agencies responsible for disaster relief. Creating such a safe space for a temporary suspension of rules and of accountability assessment is challenging but can be transformative. One fascinating comment in regard to how the breakthrough was made around Northern Ireland peace negotiations was that a consensus was achieved in one meeting that peace was more important than justice. Unless such rule free zones are temporarily invoked the tendency is to look for blame, which shuts down the capacity to learn from the crisis. Those familiar with the ecosystem dynamics part of social-ecological systems will recognize that it is during times of major disturbance that novelty and experimentation come to the fore. It is in the social part of the system that conservative caution dampens it. The contemporary systems of accountability, although important, must at times be seen as real barriers to resilience.”


Posted in Featured Essay | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The Power of Neighborhood and the Commons

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Michel Bauwens
12th September 2014

* Book: The Power of Neighborhood and The Commons. Autonomedia

“The anonymous Swiss author of bolo’bolo and Akiba offers a new practical proposal for reshaping the future, based on this prognosis of the present: “Our economic system is stumbling from one collapse to the next…Our system is fundamentally flawed and destabilized by internal contradictions. To point out one of them: income can only be generated by work, but work is getting scarce at the moment and will become even scarcer in the future. Thus the “purchasing power” that capital needs to realize value is strangulated by itself. These contradictions are being deferred into the future by financial manipulations…The metaphor of the train racing towards an abyss and the need to pull the emergency brake must spring to mind. Since the braking distance has meanwhile become longer than the distance to the abyss, we have to think in terms of parachutes.’’


Posted in Commons, Featured Book, P2P Books | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Peer Production as a Model for the Provision by Food Services Collectives

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Michel Bauwens
11th September 2014

* Article: Peer Production and Prosumerism as a Model for the Future Organization of General Interest Services Provision in Developed Countries. Examples of Food Services Collectives. By Katarzyna Gajewska. World Future Review March 2014 vol. 6 no. 1 29-39

From the Abstract:

“Based on the examples of two collectives preparing lunches and giving them for free with an option of donation at Montreal universities, this article considers how services of general interest could be organized in an alternative way — namely how the combination of paid and unpaid work, spontaneous work involving high number of volunteers, and the dissociation of annual income from sale of output can serve as a model for providing needed public services. The probable expansion of such services in the future is supported by several current trends in the developed countries: for example, underemployment of human resources, a new work ethos, and the democratic deficit inherent in the current system of service provision by state or market providers. This article applies the case study method to illustrate citizens’ attitudes and to consider what structural and organizational changes may be needed to set up an alternative form of service provision potentially applicable to other venues.”


Posted in Featured Essay, Food and Agriculture, P2P Research | No Comments »

Post-Liberalism: a p2p-relational version of liberalism ?

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Michel Bauwens
10th September 2014

the big questions in politics today are less about individual rights and more about the nature of our institutions and the quality of our relationships

Excerpted from Nick Dyrenfurth:

“Its ethos can be discerned in the post-Cold War “Third Way” politics of social democrats such as Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and even Bill Clinton. Some call it communitarianism rebooted. Post-liberalism’s central claims also echo the ancient traditions of civic republicanism, elegantly restated of late by Philip Pettit’s book Just Freedom: A Moral Complex for a Complex World.

It is in post-global financial crisis Britain that post-liberalism has generated most interest, attracting supporters from across the party political divide. Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism”, a key influence upon David Cameron’s “Big Society”, is one expression.

Glasman and Jon Cruddas, head of British Labour’s policy review, are unabashed post-liberals. A post-liberal ethic is evident in the writings of former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

What does post-liberalism have to say precisely? One high-profile advocate is David Goodhart, director of London’s left-leaning Demos think-tank. He writes that post-liberalism wants to fix the unintended consequences of economic and social liberalism – the fact that despite being freer and richer, many of us seem to be less happy.

post-liberalism believes in individual rights and liberties but recognises that without secure, settled lives surrounded by love and recognition, occupied by purposeful activity, individuals cannot truly flourish as human beings. Stability, continuity and familiarity are instead its watchwords; a love of family, community and patriotism are not to be sneered at.

Goodhart’s essay is based upon the British experience, where the GFC and immigration are more visceral political issues. But there are lessons for Australia, despite two decades of uninterrupted economic growth. And therein lies the rub. The two liberalisms have not necessarily made us happier. Witness the unprecedented reports of loneliness and depression, record rates of divorce and family breakdown. Sociability and neighbourliness are in serious decline. Australians are less trusting of their fellow citizens but also more sceptical of the ability of government to deliver services or solve complex problems. Nor have the twin liberalisms necessarily made the entire populace richer, certainly in relative terms. The richest one per cent of Australians now own the same wealth as the bottom 60 per cent.

In creating a society built upon abstract rights and freedoms, we have lost sight of what really matters. Too much of our economic debate occurs in a moral vacuum. For example, productivity is talked about as an end in of itself. There was something nihilistic about the manner in which the Abbott government effectively killed off the nation’s car manufacturing industry – as if we could not afford to consider the impact on individuals, families and communities of mass job losses and the flow-on effect to the wider economy.

Ironically, as government retreats from the economy, power is increasingly centralised in Canberra – and it becomes even easier for vested interests to distort policy making. Consider, too, the power wielded by the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, as Malcolm Knox revealed in the August edition of The Monthly.
Do not misunderstand my argument. The liberalisation of our society was generally a good thing. Few would want to turn the clock to an Australia of the six o’clock swill; inequality for women, ethnic minorities and gay people; cultural conformity and crude economic protectionism. There is no undoing globalisation. Nor is this an argument against the market economy. “The 1960s and the 1980s were not mistakes”, Goodhart suggests. But “the big questions in politics today are less about individual rights and more about the nature of our institutions and the quality of our relationships.”

How does post-liberalism transform into the real world of policy? Relationships are crucial. A post-liberal politics calls for a new grand compact between the market, state and civil society. This compact – call it an accord, if you like – needs to be built from the bottom-up by communities working in tandem with governments. We arguably need less government policy, better implemented. In general terms, what is called for is a shift away from the dominant economic model of today. An order based on short-term profits and pure price competition should be abandoned in favour of sustainable, profitable industries centred on quality, innovation and environmental obligations, and which in turn provides for fulfilling, secure and well-paid employment.

The key is to re-embed markets in social institutions. Take the jobs crisis. There is much talk today of a productivity emergency. For the most part this is a confected crisis designed to usher in a new round of workplace law deregulation, which can only exacerbate the real labour market crisis. Unemployment is at a 10 year high with 747,300 Australians out of work in July. Youth unemployment sits at 13 per cent. The underemployed are estimated to number 1.1 million, hardly surprising given that the formal measurement of employment requires one hour of work per week. Good jobs are increasingly being replaced by low-skill, low-wage insecure work that lacks dignity and meaningful career progression. Part-timers, casuals, outworkers and contractors make up 40 per cent of the workforce (and are thus denied non-wage benefits such as annual leave). These trends are eroding the security of family life and probably harming the holy grail of productivity.

What is needed is an Australian version of the German social market. One idea is making compulsory the appointment of employees on company boards to ensure a fairer distribution of rewards and imbuing management with vocational knowledge of what actually works on the shopfloor. We need to be thinking about the establishment of work council-style arrangements to boost productivity and actually tackle issues around childcare, transport and flexible work.

Instead of talking about the “minimum wage” the debate ought to be reframed in terms of a “living wage”: a “fair day’s pay” means time for parents to spend with their children and engage locally. Another solution to the jobs crisis is drastically increasing the volume and quality of vocational education, linked more closely to labour market entry in the form of subsided private sector apprenticeships. Such a strategy would partly obviate the need for the much-abused 457 visa scheme. Here, employers’ groups and chambers of commerce could play a critical role. Instead of lobbying for Work Choices-style legislation, they could act as a conduit between government, vocational education providers, unions and business.

Outside of economics, a post-liberal politics would devolve the control of services to allow families and communities a real say. Education is ripe for devolution. The ultimate goal ought to be creating schools that are not merely tailored towards churning out more productive, high-income earning units, but which yield more rounded, resilient students and stronger, more cohesive communities.

There is no reason why this logic should not apply to community banking, or the provision of childcare, health and welfare. What may be required to accomplish this is a complete rethink of our political structures. While those colonial-era throwbacks, the states, are unlikely to be tossed into the ashtray of history, we could give greater powers to capital city and regional councils – a nod to Gough Whitlam’s new federalism. Can post-liberalism prosper in Australia? It ostensibly cuts across the left/right divide and has won a hearing in segments of the British Tory party, but there is little reason to believe that the market fundamentalists, libertarians and “big ‘C'” conservatives of the modern Coalition will seriously consider post-liberalism. The so-called conservative intelligentsia is obsessed with pursuing prosaic culture wars. The Greens may be attracted to aspects of its community-activist agenda and free-market scepticism, but its “messy” attitude to “doing” politics will likely prevent any serious embrace. Which leaves us with Labor. It should be a no-brainer. Post-liberalism is in Labor’s DNA.”


Posted in Culture & Ideas, P2P Movements, Politics | No Comments »

A political evaluation of bitcoin

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th September 2014


“Despite all the drawbacks mentioned, Bitcoin remains a landmark and pivotal development, showing that globally scaleable currencies are technically feasible. It sets the stage for potential commons-based p2p-driven currency systems and the Bitcoin ledger can become a tool for self-organizing communities.”

Bitcoin is a complex phenomenom, and it is a landmark development, even a technological singularity, for good or ill. At the P2P Foundation, we also have complicated feelings about it.

The Positive Aspects of Bitcoin

Let us first summarize why Bitcoin is indeed such a singularity.

Bitcoin is the first globally scaleable, social-sovereign, post-Westphalian currency

This is not trivial. Before the Treaty of Westphalia, local currencies where the norm, many with negative interest rates, and they bolstered local independence, but the scaling effects of the printing press, which led to a Europe-wide religious civil war, made necessary a re-organization of the political space around the emerging nation-states. These nation-states outlawed local currencies, destroyed local autonomy, and also relied on sovereign currency to establish their power. While local currencies have a periodic resurgence in times of crisis, none of the complementary currencies scaled. Local currencies can therefore never be the expression of global commons power, i.e. the power of global virtual communities. Bitcoin has no intrinsic value, it is a hyper-fiat currency, i.e. it only exists because of the trust and political will of the international libertarian hacker segments of the population, in the particular algorithm.

Bitcoin is a weapon of last resort for activist communities

The mainstream monetary and payment system is at the service of a particular world order, and can be mobilized against opposition to it, as became very clear around the Wikileaks affair, where banks, VISA and Paypal collaborated with various authorities to block the fundraising for Wikileaks. In such times, access to alternatives like Bitcoin is vital for activist groups, it becomes their lifeline to funding outside of the control of the central authorities.

The potential of the Bitcoin ledger as a tool for human self-organization

Apart from being a currency, the underlying universal ledger technology of Bitcoin has potential to usher in a new era of more easy self-organisation, by enabling the possibility of smart contracts and software-driven ‘distributed autonomous organisation, as expressed by initiatives like Ethereum, Common Accord, and the crypto-equity experiment of Swarm. Though these developments and possibilities are not without danger, and though most of the current enthusiasm is utopian and mostly based on hopes and just a few budding experiments, this technology is potentially a game changer by bringing down the transaction cost for self-organization.

The Negative Aspects of Bitcoin

Notwithstanding the above, Bitcoin’s development comes with a potentially very high and anti-social price tag.

Bitcoin is not a true peer to peer currency but leads to more extreme inequality

It is sometimes asserted that Bitcoin is a peer to peer currency because any computer with mining software can create the currency, but not everyone has access to the same number of computers and not everyone has computers, hence, the design of Bitcoin, which favours early entrants and those with investing power, is an engine of inequality. Bitcoin’s Gini coefficient, a metric of inequality, is a whopping 0.87709 and according to Bitcoinica, 1% of the players own 50% of the coins.1 That inequality is not diminishing, but rising: according to Bitcoin Trader, for a given period, “the top 100 have gone from holding 1,776,434 coins to holding 2,254,634 Bitcoins, a whopping 27% increase!”2 The mining capacity is also already concentrated.

Bitcoin can’t lead on its own to a disintermediated society

We live in an epoch of techno-utopianism with a strong drive for techno-cracy. The former means that many believe that technology alone determines certain outcomes, while the latter believes it is a good thing that flawed human processes are replaced by ‘clean’ technological processes. Both attitudes are very dangerous. First, distributed technologies do not necessarily lead to distributed outcomes. We have seen this historically with the effect of the invention of printing, which led to a democratisation of knowledge and literacy, but also in time replaced the local autonomy of free medieval cities with much stronger and controlling nation-states, i.e. more political centralization, not less. Networks which have no counter-measures to maintain equality inevitably lead in time to a new concentration of resources. Hence, in Amazon and iTunes, the so-called long tail of culture consumption predicted by Chris Anderson is no longer operative, and in p2p social lending, 80% of loans are provided by big bangs and institutions, the very forces the technology was supposed to disintermediate. Again and again, we see that the potential disintermediation of power, which may affect established powers, creates new intermediaries, such as the platform monopolies. Technologies are indeed, used by social forces, who inflect technologies for their own needs. The inequality of bitcoin ownership will inevitably further affect the structures that make bitcoin operational, leading to new kinds of monopolies. Technologies are always infused with human values, no programming or infrastructure is truly neutral in that respect.

Bitcoin funds a dangerous ideology

The big danger to the social movements of the industrial era were fascism and stalinism, both forms in which the power of the state became extreme. But what fascism is to the state, propertarian libertarians are to the markets: they aim for the realization of a total market, where every aspect of human life is commodified. The design of Bitcoin is anarcho-capitalist, i.e. it is designed to favour the freedom of property owners, and the more you own, the freeer you are. Because such propertarians do not want to see the existing inequalities in society, decreeing them to be the result of free choice, they inevitably ally themselves with oligarchic forces and support their political programs of the dismantling of social solidarity mechanism, and any regulation which limits the freedom of powerful corporate forces. The valuation of Bitcoin means an important transfer of social wealth to this political tendency, which allied with venture capital and the oligarchies that invest in Bitcoin, alters the balance of power away from emancipatory and progressive political forces. Early libertarian investors in Bitcoin, can sell their bitcoins at a premium to new entrants, thereby capturing substantial speculative value. So while the claim that Bitcoin is a pyramid scheme is obviously false, it does institute a rent from new entrants to existing owners. In this sense, Bitcoin, far from being a tool of distribued equality, which is already a false empirical claim at present, is an ideal tool for the development of hyper-capitalist economic models. In this sense, Bitcoin is an ideal tool for netarchical capitalism, the hierarchies that enable, but also control the networks, and capture value from it.

In Conclusion

Despite all the drawbacks mentioned, Bitcoin remains a landmark and pivotal development, showing that globally scaleable currencies are technically feasible. It sets the stage for potential commons-based p2p-driven currency systems and the Bitcoin ledger can become a tool for self-organizing communities.


Posted in Original Content, P2P Foundation, P2P Money, P2P Theory, Politics, Technology | 9 Comments »

Essay of the Day: The Commons as a Template for Transformation

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th September 2014

* Article: The Commons as a Template for Transformation. David Bollier. Great Transition Initiative, April 2014

Here is the summary:

“This essay argues that, in the face of the deep pathologies of neoliberal capitalism, the commons paradigm can help us imagine and implement a transition to new decentralized systems of provisioning and democratic governance. The commons consists of a wide variety of self-organized social practices that enable communities to manage resources for collective benefit in sustainable ways. A robust transnational movement of commoners now consists of such diverse commons as seed-sharing cooperatives; communities of open source software programmers; localities that use alternative currencies to invigorate their economies; subsistence commons based on forests, fisheries, arable land, and wild game; and local food initiatives such as community-supported agriculture, Slow Food, and permaculture. As a system of provisioning and governance, commons give participating members a significant degree of sovereignty and control over important elements of their everyday lives. They also help people reconnect to nature and to each other, set limits on resource exploitation, and internalize the “negative externalities” so often associated with market behavior. These more equitable, ecologically responsible, and decentralized ways of meeting basic needs represent a promising new paradigm for escaping the pathologies of the Market/State order and constructing an ecologically sustainable alternative.”


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