P2P Foundation

Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices



Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Two Europes exist and it is necessary to position oneself in one or the other

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
3rd March 2015

Left-Europe-democratic radicality: this dispositive is becoming increasingly important for defining the defense of working-class interests and for emancipation of the population from poverty. There is a long and dirty tradition of left-sovereigntists that must be ended, just as we must defeat the populist experiences that use national sentiments and transform them into fascist (nationalist, identitarian, isolationist) impulses. Only a europeanist left, deeply transformed by the democratic radicality of the emergent movements against austerity, can construct a democratic Europe.

Excerpted from Antonio Negri and Raúl Sánchez Cedillo:

Two Europes exist and it is necessary to position oneself in one or the other. The knowing population is aware that to win in Europe is possible only in light of a front already opened by Syriza that now has to expand in Europe. The politics of debt, issues related to sovereignty and the Atlantic question can only be considered in the European space.

It was expected that there would be great attentiveness – and so we begin to test it – to the tactical proposals and the politics of the economic-financial team of Syriza. Irrespective of value judgments about the proposals, they signaled a plan for transnational cooperation and an abandonment of the anti-European demagoguery of the “old” leftists, a demagoguery that, in any case, has never been strong in Podemos. Of course, Syriza’s bet is formulated in terms of defending national sovereignty (“against the Troika”, “against Merkel”, etc.), but in practice it implies a fairly evident acceptance of a political intervention within and against the Union as it is currently directed. In this sense, the primary option now is that of a coalition of the PIIGS and the forces of a new left to overturn the status quo of the Union. At the same time, this appears to be the only option available to Podemos for winning the elections.

Let us try to consider things in more depth. Until now the confrontation in Europe has taken shape between a neo-Bismarckian Europe, neoliberal and fundamentally conservative, and a democratic Europe, constituent and fundamentally attentive to the needs of workers, impoverished middle classes and precarious or unemployed youth, women, immigrants and refugees – the excluded, old and new. An alternative so to speak, because departing from the crisis of 2008, the Bismarckian Europe imposed itself forcefully, leaving for the other Europe a marginal space, of protest and at times even cries of despair. Nevertheless, when the situation appeared to remain strictly closed for the claims of justice and the revolts against misery, the alternative presented itself – starting in Greece. Now the task is to affirm it and organize it precisely in the areas where a reactionary initiative has imposed itself – where the attempt has been made to drown Hercules from popular rescue.

The first question, the first difficulty, is that of debt. The Europe of the Troika wants to make the European multitudes pay the debt, and the ability to pay this debt becomes the yardstick of democracy and the degree of Europeanism. But all those who are moving in a democratic front think, on the contrary, that this yardstick is insulting because the debts charged to the people today were in fact incurred by those who governed over the years. These debts have fattened the ruling classes, not only through corruption, tax evasion or fiscal favors, insane arms expenditures and industrial policies that do not benefit labor, but moreover by subjecting it to the logic of financial rent and imposing precarity and suffocating uncertainty on forms of life. Each man, each woman, each worker has had to plead guilty of a debt, of a financial gravamen for which they were not responsible. The moment has arrived to say aloud that it was not the citizens, but the masters of power, the men of the neoliberal project, the politics of the “center”, of the “grand coalitions” – more extreme and exclusive each time – it has been they who have created a debt from which they have appropriated for themselves and for which they are demanding an undue refund. Against this servile condition for the people (not only for the people of the South of Europe, but also those of Central Europe and all of Eastern Europe) the new left, through Syriza, is asking for rescue – a European conference on debt, that is, a constituent venue for a new system of solidarity, for the establishment of new criteria of measurement and fiscal cooperation and for labor policies. Podemos can bring huge support to this project. We all know that behind these topics lies a project of deep transformation of social relations. One more time, of Europe and in Europe a project of liberty, of equality, of solidarity – a project that we can call antifascist, because it repeats the passion and the force of the struggles of the Resistance. The alliance between Podemos and Syriza, and the impulse to merge into this alliance addressed to all of the new European lefts, can construct a model – a model for a democratic Union, based on solidarity beyond and against the market. Departing from this foundation, the only fiscal policy that can be made is one of reducing or abolishing the debt that has been consolidated until now and establishing and standardizing, for the future, progressive fiscal criteria in the whole Eurozone. The central themes of the welfare state – education, medical assistance, pension systems and housing policies, but also domestic labor and care work – can be developed uniformly at the European level, accompanying the great innovation of a decent basic income, generalized and uniform. All of this opens a constituent battle in those places where new rights of solidarity can be recognized, where the common becomes a central element of social-economic organization.

But to win on these issues requires indicating the field of struggle: this only can be the European space in its totality. Which brings us to the central topic, around which many misunderstandings have accumulated: the cession of sovereignty. There have already been transfers of sovereignty, and these have always been made in favor of the neo-Bismarckian powers of financial capitalism.

Demagogically attacking these cessions of sovereignty, nationalist rights are being born and developing dangerously in Europe. And yet it is strange how these positions can sometimes be made out (or that they are regarded with favor) amongst members of Syriza, Podemos and other forces of the “new Europe” that is forming. We must be clear on this point: each of the countries that has entered the Union, and even more so those that have entered the Euro, no longer have full sovereignty. And this is good, for it was behind national sovereignty that each and every one of the tragedies of modernity unfurled. If we want to continue speaking of sovereignty in a modern (and classical) sense, that is to say, of a power “in the last instance”, we must be clear that this is increasingly identified with Frankfurt, with the tower of the ECB. Our situation is characterized by the reign of a dangerous duplicity. We must recognize this: we need Frankfurt, a European currency, if we do not want to fall prey to the powers of global finance, to the politics of the United States or other continental giants that are asserting themselves against Europe; but we must also recover Frankfurt for democracy, to impose on it the reasoning of the people – and Frankfurt should be stormed by Europe: first by the movements and then, gradually, by the majority of the European democracies and by a European Parliament transformed into a constituent assembly. With globalization the centrality of a monetary governance of continental zones was imposed everywhere – and Europe is one of these continental zones. It is impossible to imagine a political battle more essential than that leading towards democratic control of the European currency. This is the storming of the Bastille today.

Moreover, it is clear that merely raising the issue of control over the monetary and political vertex of Europe, and insisting on the dissolution of the old monocratic sovereignties could open up, in a productive manner, the topic of federalism, which is another essential step in the construction of a new Europe. Federalism: not only one that wants the European nations to recompose themselves in a constituent dialogue, but also, and above all, an articulation of all the nations, of all the populations and languages that want to feel culturally and politically autonomous, within a unitary framework, that is to say, a federal one. It is not only the PIIGS who want this; there are Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country and all the other regions that demand autonomy and an effective ability to decide on their social and political constitution. Federalism will be a key to the construction of Europe. The issue of sovereignty can only be raised and used in terms of plurality, subscribing to the dynamics that articulate a forthright federalism for the years to come.

Here we see once again that only the left – the new left that departs from the democratic radicality of the emerging movements of struggle and organizes itself along emancipatory lines (Syriza and Podemos) – can impose the European Union not as an instrument of dominion but as a democratic goal. Left-Europe-democratic radicality: this dispositive is becoming increasingly important for defining the defense of working-class interests and for emancipation of the population from poverty. There is a long and dirty tradition of left-sovereigntists that must be ended, just as we must defeat the populist experiences that use national sentiments and transform them into fascist (nationalist, identitarian, isolationist) impulses. Only a europeanist left, deeply transformed by the democratic radicality of the emergent movements against austerity, can construct a democratic Europe.

Here, another problem emerges, which we can call the “Atlantic question” – it is a problem often evaded or excluded from debate, as if it were obvious that the process of European unification must necessarily develop under the watchful protection of the United States of America. Europe was promoted within the antifascist Resistance in order to overcome the wars that until the middle of the century had destroyed it and impoverished and humiliated its populations. Against this condition, the first elements of a European discourse were construed during the post-war era in Europe and during the transición in Spain, with the knowledge that peace signified the possibility of democracy, whereas war has always signified fascism and militarism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, European unity also lost its characteristic as a last front against the Soviet world and Russian expansionism. In this way, the goal of a European Union has re-centered and re-organized itself around a framework of civilization, own juridical structures and autonomy in a global environment.

But now Europe is surrounded by wars. The entire Mediterranean, deeply integrated not only to the south, but also to all of Europe by movements of migration and critical relationships of energy policy and commercial exchange, is crossed by a single line of war, by fascisms and dictatorships. It is a line that extends all the way to the Middle East and makes Europe an actor dangerously exposed to armed movements that are of global importance and have global leadership. Furthermore, on the Eastern border of Europe a senseless war is developing between Russian-speaking populations, with responsibilities that should be referred to questions of global control that contradict the interests of European populations. From this perspective, the sovereignty of Europe – no longer the imagined sovereignty of each country, but the real sovereignty of a Union that is constructing itself – is projected onto NATO and usurped by it. This is the true cession of sovereignty borne by the European populations! When Tsipras poses, in a symbolic manner, the necessity of dealing with this problem, he touches on a fundamental seam of the European structures. In so doing he introduces a problem to which we should respond, without putting ourselves under the illusion that it could be resolved immediately, but also without negating its existence and its central impact. What we refer to is the relationship of the Union with peace or war, with a peace not only inside Europe, but also at its borders. Moreover, it is immediately clear that the Atlantic question is not a problem concerning only peace and war: it is an issue of peace and war tracing back to the system of control and/or of command over the productive and financial structures of Europe itself.

In order to not be hypocritical, to speak clearly and to give further impetus to the processes of constructing a political force of the European left, we will again put some questions on the table that cannot be left unasked. What does Podemos say or do about immigration, about refugees? But also – repeating ourselves and making our question more precise – about NATO, about the regional conflicts underway in the limes of the Union? If these topics are considered “misfires” in the electoral realm, is it necessary to avoid them and/or to respond with rhetorical exercises to get by? No, not at all: it is very difficult to adopt the slogan “first we take power, then we discuss the program” in this domain. The topics of peace and war cannot be considered secondary. To take positions on them means to unambiguously clarify the fundamental orientation of the group leading Podemos not only with respect to questions of peace and war, but also on issues that refer to reform and a constituent project that affects all of Europe. The courage and seriousness with which Tsipras has laid out the whole context of topics that are now important for the construction of a Europe outside of the Troika are the same that can allow us to also outline a dispositive “outside of NATO”. The movements and governments of a new left know that they have to take on these issues as central. Without ambiguities and conscious that the same global conjuncture can now contribute to their solution. In fact, what the citizens of the world are asking for at this point is a democratic Europe in an ensemble of the new global reality, because Europe is seen as a reality that can renew a democratic tradition with a long trajectory, taking advantage of the light that Syriza and Podemos have lit, as hope for reform and moving beyond capitalism.

The European movements want to be included in the continental political initiative that the Podemos-Syriza axis can create/is creating in the European space. This initiative constitutes in particular a point of attraction for the new lefts and the new democratic radicality in formation in the south of the Union. The rhythm as much as the degree of articulation of this process will depend on the current course of the government of Syriza and on the electoral success of Podemos. We all can (podemos) organize a constituent rupture in the European space.”


Posted in Commons Transition, P2P Movements, Politics | No Comments »

Facebook Is Not a Adequate Communication Platform

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
2nd March 2015

The ironic thing about Facebook is that, for a social media platform, it’s not really very much about social communication. It’s really more of a short-form news/blog aggregator. It’s still just another kind of bulletin board.

Eric Hunting:

“I noticed this trend some years ago, to my own despair. I first noticed it in the way, month by month, the quality of many mailing list discussions deteriorated and then fell mostly silent. I noticed it in how I encountered increasingly vitriolic responses to posts on any topic that exceeded more than a single paragraph. The act of reading was becoming an ever-worsening imposition, making coherent on-line discussion increasingly difficult. In space advocacy forums, people would complain about how no one ever presented any ‘plans’ for doing anything then, when those plans were posted, those same people would complain about being expected to read them–like you were supposed to reduce every highly technical discussion to a bullet list.

Increasingly, mailing list based groups moved to Facebook pages on the premise that this was now where all the people were, which was true, but when my own forums went there I cautioned that the mode of use compelled by the Facebook interface was tailored to mobile devices and didn’t allow for any form of coherent discussion. You could see this in how crude its text editing was, and how quickly you hit the wall in character count. It was a ‘browsing’ platform–a form originating in bulletin board and news aggregator sites–prone to what I call ‘browser’s syndrome'; a cyclic scanning of ‘news’ in small chunks that creates a sort of hypnotic state which is disrupted by text that compels active conscious thought. It’s a way of coping with an overwhelming volume of information by applying a kind of compartmentalization and rhythm to its assimilation. In effect, when people seemed to act compulsively angrily at any long post it was because they were responding to it the way a commuter does when encountering a traffic jam. It breaks the rhythm of the browsing routine. Disrupts the flow. Demands attention when people really want that steady thought-quelling rhythm of news-bytes, like the rocking of a cradle, or maybe the drum beat of the hortator… I worried that a lot of these groups would be killed by going to Facebook, their subject matter too sophisticated for such structure, and I was proved right. But what could you do? Facebook had all the eyeballs and it didn’t so much shape the trend as conform to it. Personal computing itself was shifting from big screens to small. The ergonomics of reading was being changed to suit.

Facebook’s appeal rests in the still intractable problem of the internet’s vast scale and ‘structurelessness’, which relates to the limitations of the search engine to function as a coherent internet front-end. Facebook sort of crudely solves today the problem the Semantic Web is intended to solve some time in the future–and which used to be characterized by past futurists in the idea of the ‘personalized electronic daily newspaper’. I used to describe UNIX as being like visiting Tokyo during a blackout–having to navigate a vast city by flashlight. This is pretty-much what the Internet has long been like; passive, invisible, waiting for you to make some effort to go in and explore it with some collection of tools like a spelunker. You can’t really do anything useful with, or get benefit from, the internet until you’ve established a kind of sub-net of your own into it that you can navigate, more-or-less, in a routine. This is what the features of web browsers were, crudely, about; creating default entry points into the net, giving you a memory of frequently used locations. News aggregators, like Reddit, emerged as a means to pool effort into making the internet more visible through a sort of centralized community window organized by topics, replacing the flashlight with a spotlight. As these became larger they became a kind of push-information front-end to the newest information on-line that you could brows like a newspaper. Facebook offers a kind of personalized push-info view into a certain portion of the internet–albeit rather crude. That personal electronic newspaper spit out of your combination toaster/coffeemaker/computer. You could argue it’s what the web browser itself was really supposed to evolve into but didn’t. Recently, analysts have discovered that, in many countries, large numbers of people can’t tell the difference between the internet and Facebook because they don’t really understand the relationship between the two. They will deny being ‘internet users’ while being avid Facebook users. They think they’re two completely different things; the internet a ‘computer thing’ and Facebook what you use on a smartphone. Facebook has become a kind of Windows OS over the Internet (often, people’s first interaction with it), with people no longer cognizant there’s still something like DOS underneath.

Facebook may command the biggest mainstream mass of eyeballs, but it’s a fundamentally inadequate communication medium and I think that will succumb to other media concepts in time. We’re in a phase now where real competitors haven’t yet been invented because developers of alternatives are still reacting to its scale and ‘corporateness’ rather than its form and structural and functional inadequacies as a communications medium. The form itself is not yet getting questioned. It’s who’s running it that people object to. The ironic thing about Facebook is that, for a social media platform, it’s not really very much about social communication. It’s really more of a short-form news/blog aggregator. It’s still just another kind of bulletin board.


Posted in Media, P2P Epistemology, Social Media | 1 Comment »

The Evergreen cooperative model in Cleveland is no panacea and confronts multiple obstacles

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
2nd March 2015

“It’s been harder than I thought, but I’m heartened we’re still here,” Howard says. “We’ve stabilized, and we’re back on a growth curve, and I think Evergreen has been able to—it’s something that represents a possibility or hope for people, in a field where so much of what people have tried has just hit a dead end. This has been a learning laboratory; it’s been an experiment. I don’t say Evergreen’s the answer, but I’d think it’s been able to unlock the imagination for people way beyond Cleveland.”

Excerpted from an in-depth inquiry into the progress of the cooperative project in Cleveland, by Steve Friess:

“If you’ve heard anything at all about Evergreen, it’s probably gushing. Under headlines like the one in Fast Company that declaimed, “How the Evergreen Cooperative Is Lifting Cleveland Residents out of Poverty,” the project has been presold as a success—a panacea, even. As recently as October, journalist Erik Reece, writing in Harper’s, made Cleveland the answer to his “search for an economy that won’t kill us,” suggesting that Evergreen Energy Solutions was the “antithesis of a shareholder-owned coal mine,” where the laborers have little say in work conditions that result, too often, in injury and death. Particularly when the first cooperative businesses opened, respected publications ranging from Bloomberg Businessweek to Time to The Economist provided reports about this crazy-enough-to-work new approach in prose that failed to scrutinize the details or provide any balancing perspective. All the attention has occurred amid a broader trend of reexamining traditional economic metrics, from the “triple bottom line” to new ways of measuring GDP to growth in interest in co-ops; in the U.K., the co-op economy was worth £35.6 billion in 2012.

In an odd inversion of the usual circumstance in which a reporter is granted access to a private enterprise, I have been allowed in because Evergreen’s leaders want to open up about what’s really been happening here. They’ve realized that there is such a thing as too much good publicity, and the expectations have been set far too high. Even before I drive to Cleveland to see the three Evergreen businesses, the co-op’s chief architect, Ted Howard, warns me that he’s wary of another fluff piece about just how wonderful and perfect Evergreen is making Cleveland. “We’ve been learning important lessons here,” he says before scheduling my visit. “We’re by no means perfect.” McMicken echoes this when we meet: “We, in many ways, closed the door down on some of the hype while we focused on our operations and our staff and the health and well-being of our business. We have to have a real story to tell, that we’ve launched ourselves into consistently successful businesses. That has to be the focus.”

Howard is a principal of the Democracy Collaborative, a policy research institute affiliated with the University of Maryland. He and cofounder Gar Alperovitz, a much-decorated economics professor, cast about the globe for years for ways to create wealth in inner cities.

In 2007 the Cleveland Foundation approached Howard and Alperovitz with the hope that they could divine how the vast wealth and spending power of the Greater University Circle’s health care, education, and cultural institutions could be brought to bear to help the surrounding distressed neighborhoods. The duo saw a prime opportunity to test a large-scale American version of the Mondragon model. The juxtaposition in Cleveland’s core—rows of boarded-up houses stand just blocks from a forest of gleaming new hospital and university buildings and architecturally avant-garde museums—fascinated Howard. “These world-class multibillion-dollar institutions are succeeding, but the neighborhoods are failing,” is how Howard saw the situation. Over breakfast with me in March, he recalled his and Alperovitz’s impressions and subsequent approach. “So how do you break down that divide and get those resources to everybody’s benefit?”

The answer sounds eminently reasonable. Build a network of start-up, community-based, and community-located businesses organized on shared ownership, also known as a co-op. The businesses, which would have to succeed or fail in the competitive marketplace like any other company, would nonetheless have a head start because the anchor institutions that were contributing to the start-up funding would, it was believed, naturally become clients too. As an added incentive, Evergreen co-ops would emphasize environmentalism—hence the name—because, Howard says, “it’s the right thing to do and because the anchor institutions are trying to position themselves as leaders in sustainability and being green and so forth.”

Even before this, co-ops had enjoyed buzzword status. Farmers have relied on the pooling of their outputs for decades to consolidate their market power and insulate from bad years. More recently, nonprofit food co-ops owned by member-customers have boomed, in part on the surge in interest in locally grown and artisanal foods.

Yet the Evergreen effort takes the idea a step beyond, seeking to create a network of worker-owned for-profit companies offering wide-ranging and unrelated products.

Little, however, has gone quite the way Howard and his colleagues planned. The businesses have been squeaking by, only recently verging on profitability. The managers of each company have been replaced within the past year after stumbling, the business plans—as illustrated by GCG’s challenges—failed to analyze the marketplace in fundamental ways, and the touted projections of the number of jobs and the amount of equity were dramatically off-the-mark. “Some of our own expectations were naive,” Howard says ruefully when I wonder if he wishes he could take back his oft-cited prediction that the laundry’s employees would have $65,000 equity after seven years on the job. They won’t. “We thought the companies would be more successful, more profitable, early on.” (Welcome back to any readers who’ve started businesses and fell off their chairs laughing at that one.) “That’s our mistake; bad on us. Therefore, we thought that would mean that these capital accounts for workers would start to grow, and we could project—we never should have talked about that, but we didn’t know.”

To date, the three co-ops employ about 90 people, hardly a number that can put a dent in an inner-city segment of 44,000 residents where the average household income is less than $18,500 and the unemployment rate is more than 25 percent. It is fruitless, I discover when I try, to ask random residents or shopkeepers in the area about Evergreen because, despite being featured in magazines and TV reports around the globe, its drop-in-the-ocean impact has barely caused a ripple in the local consciousness. Those who were fortunate enough to land one of those jobs are enthusiastic and grateful—each employee-owner I meet parrots back to me the line that as employee-owners they work harder and take more pride in their work—but even they marvel about it as if they’ve been happily struck by lightning.

Grassroots community activists are cautious about how they discuss Evergreen because, clearly, the political muscle behind it is potent. But they wonder if all the low-interest loans and grants that have been funneled into the project—more than $25 million so far—couldn’t have been better spent helping more than 90 people. “It seems like a whole lot of money to me,” said Jan Thorpe, a founder of the nonprofit Inner Visions of Cleveland, which funds microloans to low-income entrepreneurs. She was quick to call the Evergreen concept “bold” and “a fabulous idea” before also saying, “I’m not running their books; I’m not running their program. But there are a lot of uses for a lot of that money. There are a lot of other ways that that can be used.”

Howard says he’s in no position yet to disagree. Everything that Evergreen has done, he asserts, has produced valuable insight, a learning-by-doing that makes the entire effort even more useful to the dozens of consultants and academics who are looking to it for guidance on what works and what doesn’t. “It’s one of the most important community and economic development experiments going on in the country,” Howard says. “We realized it’d be very useful to see what cooperative ownership at this scale could look like, because most people in the United States think of a co-op, and they think of a food co-op. But what does a manufacturing co-op look like? What does it look like when there are tens of thousands of people working in a network of business? Because that was the model we wanted to create here.”

The first business, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, opened in October 2009 with $5.8 million from a variety of sources—grants from the Cleveland Foundation and the city as well as low-interest loans from the Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund, which is, in turn, capitalized by donations from the anchor institutions. The original employees earned $10 an hour for the first six months, then received a raise to $12 and the opportunity to buy into the company via a 50-cent deduction from future paychecks. Once the employee has paid a total of $3,000, he or she becomes an owner and can receive a share of any profits. Employee-owners also have impressive benefits, from free health insurance to access to a program designed to help them buy foreclosed, long-vacant homes at extremely low cost.

Problems started immediately. The first manager had no laundry-industry experience, so the organization of the plant was a mess, recalls 27-year-old Sharon Kaiser, an original employee and now a floor supervisor and equity owner. “They were just running, and they’d throw some stuff on a cart,” says Kaiser, who left a job at the region’s largest industrial laundry for Evergreen only to wonder very soon after whether it was a bad decision. “It’s more than just throwing it on a cart. It has to be clean. It has to be packed neat…. It was hard in the beginning.”

What’s more, the expectation that the anchor institutions would feel obligated to provide a certain amount of laundry work—that was, after all, how Evergreen brass explained the project in press reports and speeches—was, at best, a puzzling misunderstanding. The Cleveland Clinic, for instance, had recently built its own in-house laundry facility, Case Western had precious little laundry, and University Hospitals was mostly under long-term contracts with the region’s large industrial vendors. The laundry did land some valuable business—a couple of nearby hotels and nursing homes—but the volume was about half of the 5 million pounds per year needed for it to become profitable.” (http://www.takepart.com/feature/2014/05/30/co-op-businesses-in-the-us-evergreen-cooperatives)

* How the Evergreen coops are doing?

The Laundry

“When I visit the laundry in March, the nearly five-year-old operation has finally had its first good break in the form of a 2.5-million-pound-per-year, five-year contract with University Hospitals. It is, in some ways, proof that the Evergreen formula may not work without the anchors directing some business to it.

By now, ECL was expected to be a legitimate operator in a competitive marketplace and throw off profits, but instead its survival is tied almost to a fluke, a fortuitously timed lifeline. Last year UH’s main laundry handler, Pittsburgh-based Paris Co., was forced during contract-renewal negotiations to subcontract a chunk of new business to Evergreen. The amount of laundry UH was producing had grown since the last contract anyway because UH acquired two other major hospital systems, so Paris handed Evergreen a piece of that extra work. “It really was win-win-win,” McMicken says. “University Hospitals has no increased cost; they’re paying exactly what they’ve been paying…. It was the business decision Paris had to make: ‘Is it worth it for us to re-sign our largest customer for seven years?’ They have more work anyway. So they throw us some bread crumbs that fell off the table.”

Allen Grasa, a veteran industrial laundry manager hired to be ECL’s CEO last June, admits things were touch-and-go for a while, the laundry nearly exhausting its start-up capital on wages. “We are just about there; we are turning the corner to profitability,” Grasa says. “The previous regimes didn’t know what they were doing.” (http://www.takepart.com/feature/2014/05/30/co-op-businesses-in-the-us-evergreen-cooperatives)

The Energy Coop

“The day I meet Orlando Santaella Sr. is an important one for Evergreen Energy Solutions. We are introduced on a muddy five-acre corner lot where Santaella and his coworkers—one of whom is his son, Orlando Jr.—are putting the final touches on a $3.5 million solar project that included constructing 26 rows of panels. When the solar field goes online, it is expected to generate electricity for The Medical Center Company, or MCCo, which supplies power to several University Circle entities, including the hospitals and museums. MCCo expects to recoup the money in 15 years of energy-cost savings. “We’ve been waiting over a year for this,” says Santaella as he inspects wiring hookups.

Unlike the other two co-ops, E2S is working much more as it was intended. The anchor institutions have channeled a steady amount of work, whether it’s the Cleveland Clinic paying E2S to install and manage solar panels on the roofs of several buildings or the Famicos Foundation, a prominent affordable housing developer, hiring the company to weatherize homes. The company’s managers have nimbly pivoted to seek out other sorts of handyman gigs—painting, installing siding, cleaning out abandoned structures—when the number of energy-related assignments wanes. CEO Domenic Fatica says he expects the employee-owners among his 14-person crew to enjoy some profit taking at the end of 2014. That would make it the first Evergreen co-op to do so.

Santaella, too, has become a bit of a proud exhibit for Evergreen. He emerged at age 43 penniless and virtually unemployable after serving 10 years in the federal pen for dealing cocaine. He was released to a halfway house; his applications for even menial service jobs were summarily discarded once he checked the box that indicated he’d been convicted of a felony.

It felt hopeless, he says, until his son, who had already been hired at E2S, helped him land an interview. The manager “asked me the same questions you asked me about my past, how long I’ve been down,” says Santaella after work as he snuggles on a couch with his girlfriend, speaking over the din of a Die Hard flick playing on his big-screen TV. “I explained to him that I just need a chance. He reached out to me and he said, ‘You deserve a chance. You’re not a bad guy; you just made some choices.’ So he gave me that opportunity, and I’ve been there ever since.”

His is the sort of tale that the well-meaning theorists behind the Evergreen Cooperatives want to offer the world. “That’s a good story; that’s a great, compelling story,” McMicken says. “We just need to be able to replicate that 20 times, 50 times.” In the course of my Cleveland visit, I encounter several permutations of it. DiCarlo Johnson, 25, for instance, got his job at E2S in late 2012 on a recommendation of an inner-city staffing agency called Toward Employment that arranged a job interview and helped write his résumé. An ex-con who had spent two years in prison for drug charges, Johnson was barely getting by working for $7.70 an hour at a steel-painting shop when the E2S opportunity and its $10 hourly starting wage arose.

Santaella’s case is also instructive in ways that indicate problems Evergreen may need to address. He now lives eight miles from the Greater University Circle area in a two-story house he was able to buy through an affordable-mortgage program offered to Evergreen employee-owners through the Cleveland Housing Network. There’s nothing wrong with the situation per se—he’s helped rehab a house that had blighted the block for years—except that a basic tenet of the entire project was to create wealth that would remain in University Circle and help improve those hard-luck neighborhoods.

McMicken acknowledges that Santaella’s migration is no accident , estimating that about half of the original employees of the laundry have moved away. “There’s a number of our employees who we’ve hired from these neighborhoods who began to do well enough financially to move out of those neighborhoods, so that becomes a challenge for us,” he says. “When it comes time to report the data [to Evergreen’s benefactors] on how many of your employees live in your target neighborhood, we’ve lost quite a few who originally lived there.… It’s a pretty tough hill to climb for us, to be able to track, on an ongoing basis, exactly what percentage of the staff today lives in these neighborhoods today. Because it changes; it’s life.”

Orlando Santaella Sr., right, served 10 years in prison for dealing drugs. He couldn’t find work after his release until a friend referred him to Evergreen Energy Solutions. Now he installs solar panels for a living.

Just as McMicken can’t force people to live where they don’t want to, neither can he rewind the clock on the decisions made to launch Evergreen with two capital-intensive businesses, the greenhouse and the laundry'”


Posted in Cooperatives | No Comments »

The New French P2P Book: Sauver Le Monde – Vers Une Economie Post-Capitaliste Avec Le Peer to Peer

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
2nd March 2015

Dear friends, in anticipation of its publication on March 4, here is the new cover of our mass audience book on the P2P revolution:

(see french summary below the cover)


Présentation de l’éditeur

“Pour la plupart des gens, le peer-to-peer évoque des réseaux où les utilisateurs peuvent échanger des documents. Michel Bauwens présente ici une vision bien plus large de ce concept qui est amené à s étendre à tous les aspects de la vie. En effet, pour la première fois dans l histoire, le peer-to-peer permet aux gens du monde entier de créer des choses ensemble une encyclopédie (Wikipédia), tout type d objet (avec les imprimantes 3D) ou bien de financer des projets (avec le crowdfunding).

Le modèle émergent du pair à pair veut contourner la logique de fausse abondance matérielle et de rareté artificielle de l immatériel. L auteur perçoit dans l enchevêtrement apparent de phénomènes nouveaux tels que l économie collaborative, l open source, le crowdsourcing, les Fablabs, les micro-usines, le mouvement des makers, l agriculture urbaine etc. , un modèle qui nous mène vers une société post-capitaliste, où le marché doit se soumettre à la logique des communs. L auteur dessine donc ici les énormes possibilités du nouveau système de pair à pair qui, loin de n être qu un nouveau mode de production, annonce en fait une révolution de la productivité qui va changer la société sur tous les plans …

Car c est bien le germe d un nouveau paradigme qui est en train de voir le jour au sein du capitalisme. Pour sauver le monde, une relocalisation de la production et un développement de la collaboration mondiale sur le plan des connaissances vont révolutionner notre façon de produire, de penser et de vivre ensemble.”


Posted in Featured Book | No Comments »

Syriza’s policy for ecological and energy transformation

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st March 2015

“The actions of the new government suggest that Syriza is ready to take steps to implement key aspects of the platform adopted at its first Congress in July 2013. Syriza is committed to “a new paradigm of social, environmental and economic development” and for the “ecological transformation of the economy.” Syriza says it will pursue the “practice of democratic planning and social control on all levels of central and local government.” In its election manifesto, Syriza declared it was for “Ecological transformation in development of energy production.”

Excerpted from Sean Sweeney:

“Syriza’s program and manifesto, and its early actions to halt the further privatization of power generation and gas, suggest that the EU’s neoliberal approach to energy transition and climate protection is being challenged in a way that could have implications beyond the EU itself. Nevertheless, Greece is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Therefore halting privatization should be seen as a crucial first step in what will be a longer journey toward a new energy system and ecological transformation.

The election of Syriza comes at a time when the EU’s neoliberal approach to energy is in serious trouble. This approach was based on electricity market liberalization – ostensibly to promote ‘choice’ and ‘efficiency’ that was pursued via the Internal Market in Energy directive passed down to member states in 1996. The 2009 EU climate Directive also mandates a 20 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a 20 per cent share of renewable energy sources, and a 20 per cent savings in energy consumption by the year 2020 (based on 2005 levels). These are the so-called “20-20-20” targets. The EU has therefore maintained that liberalization and the scaling up of renewable energy go hand in hand. This is based on the groundless belief that only the private sector can drive renewable energy.

The liberalization of Greece’s electricity sector has stretched over a 14-year period. In 2001 Greece passed a law allowing any company to produce electricity, thus ending the PPC’s monopoly. In 2007 individual consumers were gradually granted full “rights” to choose their energy supplier. Renewable energy companies were given special access to distribution and transmission systems. New feed-in tariffs (FiTs) were defined and introduced in 2007 and permits for offshore wind parks became possible. A modest amount of renewable energy was developed as a result of these measures, with the benefits going mainly to private companies and land owners.

But in June 2013 Greece (along with Spain, Italy and others) announced a huge cut (44.7 per cent) in the FiT and the rush to solar and wind power in Greece ground to a halt. This has been the pattern across most of the EU as member states sought to control the mounting costs of the FiT programs. The main message here is that it takes a large amount of liberalization and, paradoxically, subsidies and government intervention, to generate a relatively modest amount of renewable energy. Importantly, renewable energy has made real headway in Germany as a result of an expansion of municipal control and public investment. (But even here coal generated 60 per cent more electrical power than renewable sources in 2014). In recent years many municipalities have decided to reclaim their local grids from private corporations. Germany has thus seen a major expansion of direct municipal provision of energy services. Those who refer to Germany’s successes in advancing renewable energy often appear unaware of, or perhaps reluctant to acknowledge, the role of public authorities in challenging privatization and intervening on behalf of the broader public. The EU’s dual priorities of energy market liberalization and climate protection are in fact incompatible with each other. Liberalization has led to an oligarchic situation where just five energy companies are dominant (EDF, RWE, EOn, GDF Suez and ENEL), consumer choice is mostly fictitious, and renewable energy companies rely on power purchasing agreements, ‘capacity mechanisms,’ and subsidies to survive.

Dealing with Fossil Fuel Dependence

The failure of EU policy makes it clear that a new course is needed, and Syriza can show ‘another energy is possible’ in the EU and beyond. But Greece faces some particularly difficult challenges. Greece relies on domestic lignite (brown coal) for 70 per cent of its electrical power and imports large volumes of gas from Russia, Turkey and Algeria. However, the country enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine per year and has considerable wind power and geothermal potential. Syriza will therefore inherit a situation where what is public (domestic lignite, overseen by the PPC) is environmentally destructive and what is presently private – renewable energy – will be needed in large volumes in order for Syriza to reduce its import bill and also develop renewable energy in accordance with its political platform.

Some may conclude (including leaders and supporters of Syriza) that, when seen in the light of the many immediate challenges facing the new government, fossil fuel dependency is a problem that can be addressed over the longer term. Greece has cheap and abundant supplies of lignite coal, and this resource can not go unused – even though the ecological effects of lignite use are widely acknowledged. A typical power station using lignite emits 37 per cent more carbon dioxide per unit of power output than a power station using black coal. Lignite use has made a major contribution to Greece’s disproportionately large contribution to global warming and negatively impacts public health. Greece’s air pollution is higher than the OECD average, and the air pollution levels in Athens, exacerbated by the increase in the burning of wood, are today 15 times higher than the EU’s alert level.

Energy Planning is the Key to Ecological Transformation

Changing a country’s energy system may be a decades-long process, but there is no reason why the process cannot begin immediately. The just released TUED Working Paper, Energy Democracy in Greece: Syriza’s Program and the Transition to Renewable Power identifies four broad and overlapping political goals that can serve as reference points for Syriza as it shapes its energy and climate policy.

These are:

* Establish control over the country’s energy future (energy self determination)

* Secure a broad-based and inclusive process for developing and implementing a national energy transition plan
Reduce fossil fuel dependency

* Scale up publicly-owned renewable energy

By halting the privatization of the PPC and DEPA, Syriza has already gone some way toward reaching the first goal. This is a hugely important first step, but Syriza must also strive to develop publicly owned and democratically managed renewable power, and generate domestic solar and wind supply chains. This is discussed below, and is explained in more detail in the TUED working paper Energy Democracy in Greece.

* Goal 2: Securing a Broad-Based and Inclusive Process

Syriza can convene a broad-based and inclusive process for both developing and implementing a national energy transition plan. Preliminary proposals for the fossil-to-renewables transition can be offered as a starting point for a national debate and discussion around broad goals. The transition to a new renewables-based energy system will present many technical as well as political challenges, but decisions can be made based on the best available research and a thorough review of all of the available options.

The short term benefits of a transition to renewable energy, such as cleaner air, improved public health, lower costs for energy in less than a decade, reduced dependence on fuels from abroad, significant job creation, etc., need to be highlighted alongside the importance of long-term climate stability and a sustainable political economy. The process must attempt to show how such a transition plan could strengthen community-based control and constructive autonomy.

Unions, small businesses presently engaged in renewable power, representatives of social movements and progressive research institutions, might constitute the core of a commission of representative groups convened to develop the plan. Syriza supporters around the world with relevant expertise can also be engaged in the process.

Engaging the union GENOP-DEH in the energy transition and the restructuring of the PPC are clearly important steps, as concerns about jobs will be uppermost. The workers in the industry can be integrated into the new ownership and oversight structures. They can be given a large degree of responsibility for operating and maintaining the systems, something they do every day. Sections of middle management can also be constructively engaged.

* Goal 3. Reducing Fossil Fuel Dependency

Greece has the potential to produce enough renewable power to meet its needs from within its own borders, and do so in a way that will generate both jobs and savings.

As noted above, Greece is today very dependent on fossil fuels both domestic (lignite or brown coal) and foreign (oil and gas). Its renewables sector is small and presently privately owned (excluding domestic solar thermal systems). From the perspective of reducing GHG emissions, it would of course be better to first substitute renewables for domestic lignite and then reduce the use of gas use later on. This is due to the fact that “burner tip” emissions from gas are almost a half of that generated from coal, and considerably less than half of lignite-generated “burner tip” emissions. But coal-to-gas fuel switching in Greece may not be the best option politically or economically during the first phase of the transition. Importantly, gas-fired power generation is the domain of a handful of private Independent Power Producers (IPPs) that have become present in Greece during the liberalization period. Reducing gas imports will therefore increase the portion of Greece’s energy that is under public control. And a fully ‘reclaimed’ PPC will ensure that the benefits of domestic lignite use are at least retained in Greece.

During the first phase of Greece’s energy transition (perhaps a decade or so) the strategy should, as far as possible, entail a straight swap: domestic renewable energy should replace imported natural gas and oil, which together generates roughly 13 per cent of Greece’s electricity. However, oil-based generation has thus far served island communities or thermal power stations near Athens as a means of avoiding lignite-related air pollution. Therefore any reduction in oil-based electricity generation will need to address specific challenges of this nature.

But if renewable energy generation can increase at a level of several GWs per year (Germany installed 7.6 GW of new solar capacity in 2012 alone) then the annual reductions in gas-based generation should be more or less comparable. The faster the deployment of renewables, the faster Greece’s bill for imported gas will be reduced.

During the first phase of the energy transition it is important to announce a cap on lignite use in order to protect against the temptation to replace imported gas with more lignite-fired generation. A supplementary cap on GHGs from lignite could also serve a purpose, and retiring the oldest lignite-fueled power plants and introducing pollution control technologies where appropriate could complement such a policy. A cap on lignite use could be accompanied by announcing a moratorium on the construction of any new lignite-fired power plants.

Clearly, Syriza must conduct a careful assessment of the environmental, social and economic implications of projects presently approved or under construction. Lignite reserves in Greece are plentiful and could last many decades, but the existing lignite-powered generation facilities presently operational in Greece will not last forever and an effective moratorium on new construction will mean that the fleet of lignite-fired stations will eventually become dilapidated and will have to be decommissioned. The trajectories for the phase out of lignite use will, however, depend on how fast renewable energy can be scaled up in Greece, and how technical and financial challenges are met and obstacles negotiated.

Given the significant number of workers engaged in lignite mining, transportation and power generation, workers and communities that depend on lignite need to be reassured that the transition away from lignite is not going to happen without their active involvement and it will be stretched out over a period of years. Firing workers is not on Syriza’s agenda, under any circumstances. No worker or community will be asked to pay a disproportionate price for the energy transition while others in Greece (and globally in the form of reduced emissions) reap the benefits. A set of robust protections and guarantees need to be given priority in order to avoid alienating the workers and communities likely to be affected by a shift away from lignite – however far in the future that shift may actually be.

* Goal 4: Scaling Up Publicly-Owned Renewable Energy

A large and rapid deployment of renewable energy in Greece is possible. But it will need to be grounded in a stable financial model, which means finding a way to recover investments in the system, operation and maintenance costs, and perhaps generating surplus revenue for upgrades and new investments. In the EU, incentives like the FiT have allowed for individuals, small businesses, and even cooperatives, become partially independent of the grid. However, this means the costs to maintain and renew the system are shifted to those who are not “prosumers” – mostly people without property and/or disposable income. Furthermore, the rapid deployment of renewable energy raises the problem of intermittency (the wind does not always blow, nor the sun always shine) which will require the development of new ‘smart’ grid options and technologies that can integrate and coordinate many different feed-in points. FiTs therefore probably have only a limited role in the energy transition.

Renewable energy cooperatives could also play an important role. In the many instances where public utilities have become marketized and profit-driven in accordance with the neoliberal agenda, the growth of cooperatives has been seen as a positive development. Furthermore Germany’s 700 renewable energy cooperatives have provided a launch pad for remuncipalization of power generation in over 40 cities. Cooperatives have also helped solidify popular support for Germany’s relatively impressive shift toward renewable power.

Lafanzanis’ statement that “there will be a new PPC” is particularly relevant here. The PPC could work with municipalities, unions and communities to drive the transition to renewable energy in a way that is ambitious enough to meet emissions reduction targets and reduce fuel costs relatively quickly. The PPC already has a presence in renewable energy and therefore some experience to offer, particularly with regard to larger installations. A reformed and reoriented PPC could play the role of buyer and installer of PV and do so in a way that spreads the benefits more evenly than is the case with the ‘prosumer’ model.

A reformed PPC can therefore be a driver of renewable energy deployment in Greece. Indeed, there have been instances where utilities have been known to pivot toward on-site generation of solar, often as a preemptive measure, aimed at moving into and enclosing ‘disruptive’ market competition. In Greece, the PPC can be instructed to play a role in helping, rather than hindering, both the deployment of renewable energy and aggressive end-use energy conservation. The effort to build energy democracy in Greece may wish to situate municipal-based power at the center of a new energy system with a reformed PPC playing a coordinating and technical role.

An ambitious deployment of renewable energy can also create significant numbers of jobs in Greece. Solar PV manufacturing is today dominated by a few countries, as is wind turbine production. Jobs can, however, immediately be created in the production of basic components and in the construction, installation and maintenance of renewable energy projects. Large-scale deployment will also stimulate demand for cables and connectors and other electrical components. Array planners are also needed.

Clearly, the scale and speed of the planned deployment will have an impact on the prospects of manufacturing gaining a foothold in Greece and also its chances of future expansion. Publicly-owned manufacturing facilities or cooperatives are not inconceivable, but phase one may require ‘joint venture’ arrangements in order to allow for the transfer of skills and knowledge.

It is possible to imagine the installation and related work being performed by PPC employees earning decent wages. The PPC could also be the primary purchaser of solar modules, inverters and other components. Public buildings – schools, hospitals, etc. – could be assessed in order to see if they are suited for solar PV, and a plan developed to install PV systems over the course of the next decade or two. In Greece, the largest single classification for buildings are public schools. Already the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources (CRES) has explored possibilities of photovoltaic systems development on the rooftops of schools, in partnership with Greece’s School Buildings Organization (SBO). A national energy transition plan could involve developing an inventory of public buildings and spaces in order to assess their capacity for on-site power generation.

The transition to renewable energy in Greece will require commitments of capital. But when measured against the financial, health-related and ecological costs of continuing with fossil fuels, renewable energy is the best possible social investment. For a more specific quantification, we can consider the cost of the public sector’s annual electricity bill, which can then be calculated over 20 years based on recent trends. This cost can be then compared to the cost of major solar PV deployment in those facilities. The price of globally sourced PV, along with installation and maintenance costs are today such that PV systems can pay for themselves within 5 years after which time the electricity supply to these facilities will be virtually free. There is every likelihood that the electricity costs to sustain the public sector – including schools, hospitals, and other government buildings – will actually fall quite dramatically over a 20-year period.

Capital could also be sourced from a variety of sources. In 2012 the PPC made a pre-tax profit of €276-million. A ‘reclaimed’ PPC would provide the option of redirecting capital to renewables. Another option is for PPC to issue bonds against its future revenues. These can be issued domestically rather than internationally and provide a tried and trusted mechanism for financing public services.

Another possibility is a carbon tax. There are numerous options for designing a carbon tax, such as imposing it on major industrial emitters in Greece, or through a charge on petrol. Greece consumed an average of 343,000 barrels of crude oil per day in 2011, of which almost half (46%) was used for transportation. According to the IEA (2009 data) compared with other OECD Europe countries, Greece has a relatively low tax on gasoline and diesel. A small carbon tax of a few cents on a liter of petrol would generate significant revenue that could in turn be dedicated to investment in renewable energy.


Syriza’s existing programmatic commitments to work toward “the development of a new paradigm of social, environmental and economic development,” and the need to build a public sector of a “new type” could transform energy and climate politics in the EU and beyond. But only if these commitments are implemented. Halting privatization of the PPC and DEPA was a massive first step in the right direction. If Greece can show that another energy is possible, not just theoretically but in the form of a real open, transparent and democraticaly directed transition bringing measurable gains, then the implications for society and the ecosystems that sustain us all are potentially enormous.”


Posted in Commons Transition, P2P Energy, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »

Assessing the Greece / Eurogroup negotiations (2): a positive evaluation by Tom Walker

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th February 2015

This battle is a very long way from over. There are more key moments this week, and no doubt there are many weeks and months of crunch points still to come. The last thing we should be doing is abandoning Syriza because it hasn’t fulfilled all our hopes in the first few weeks after its election. And it’s also no use flipping backwards and forwards between enthusiasm and dejection based on each day’s round of negotiations. The future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them, we are giving up on our own struggle too.

Excerpted from Tom Walker in Red Pepper:

“To discover the truth we need to not only look at the deal, or even the media spin around the deal, but examine what the text they have signed up to will mean in practice.

* No agreement to austerity:

Much of the reporting of the deal led on the claim that Syriza has ‘signed up to austerity’ – and that would be a massive U-turn if it were true. But this rests on some mischief with the terminology.

What the Greek government has signed up to is to continue running a budget surplus, as opposed to a deficit. That is not, in itself, austerity. Austerity is the practice of balancing budgets through cuts in public spending.

Yet the agreement, as Tsipras has said, cancels the previous Greek government’s planned cuts to pensions, as well as scrapping VAT rises on food and medicine. The reforms Syriza will submit as part of its end of the deal look set to include a massive crackdown on tax evasion and corruption – meaning a shift away from spending cuts towards raising the revenue through taxation.

The Eurogroup statement also includes some flexibility for surpluses to be ‘appropriate’ given economic conditions. In other words, until the Greek economy returns to growth, the punishing targets of the previous government can be eased back – meaning there wouldn’t be as much money to raise as previously. This should free up some cash to tackle Greece’s humanitarian crisis, through Syriza’s promised measures such as free electricity and meal subsidies for the poorest.

And Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has added a very important and under-reported rider: ‘Nobody is going to ask us to impose upon our economy and society measures that we don’t agree with… If the list of reforms is not agreed, this agreement is dead.’

Of course, this is hardly anyone’s ideal programme for government. While it is not true that the hated ‘Troika’ has returned, Greece must still deal with ‘the institutions’ (the European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF) – the distinction being that it now has the potential to negotiate with the different institutions one by one. Greek democracy remains partially suspended, at least for the four-month duration of the deal, subject to negotiation and oversight.

But look at the situation Syriza were in before you condemn. Multiple credible sources claim that, if they had not agreed to the deal, Greece’s banks would have collapsed within days – and Syriza would have got the blame for taking the country into a new crisis. As Varoufakis said, ‘Greeks were being told that if we were elected and we stayed in power for more than just a few days the ATMs will cease functioning… Today’s decision puts an end to this fear.’

Defaulting on the debts and leaving the euro might be preferable in the long term – though support for that course of action among Greece’s people remains very low – but it would mean huge short-term chaos and pain that Syriza’s negotiation has managed to avoid.

In any case, the deal is not signed in blood. It can be ended if it goes as badly as some commentators are saying. The option of ‘Grexit’ and default hasn’t gone away. It is clear, though, that it is not currently part of Syriza’s mandate, and those who put forward that alternative in the election received only a fraction of Syriza’s votes. Default was always going to be a last resort, not an opening gambit: it will only be politically possible if no alternative remains.

Insofar as the Syriza government is having to compromise – and clearly it is making compromises short of surrender – that represents not so much their failure as our own. Syriza has always been clear that we cannot expect Greece to defeat austerity alone.

The various European ministers on the other end of the continuing negotiation with the Greek government need to be feeling the pressure. We need a huge movement across Europe in solidarity with Greece, and we need to be throwing ourselves into building that movement, not reclining in our armchairs ready to say ‘I told you so’.

We must put everything we can muster into shifting the political balance of forces across Europe. We now have four months of space in which to do so: we need to make them count.

There is clearly a division among the elite now over the issue of austerity, with the US government, the Adam Smith Institute and various prominent economists not usually associated with the left backing Greece’s proposals. That crack is waiting to be forced open.

This battle is a very long way from over. There are more key moments this week, and no doubt there are many weeks and months of crunch points still to come. The last thing we should be doing is abandoning Syriza because it hasn’t fulfilled all our hopes in the first few weeks after its election. And it’s also no use flipping backwards and forwards between enthusiasm and dejection based on each day’s round of negotiations.

The future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them, we are giving up on our own struggle too.


Posted in Politics | No Comments »

Assessing the Greece / Eurogroup negotiations (1): a negative evaluation by Stathis Kouvelakis

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th February 2015

The Syriza government will thus have no choice other than to administer the Memorandum framework. The small changes it can make will certainly be improvements, but they will not succeed in transforming the totally disastrous economic and social situation. This will disappoint the hopes and expectations that the popular electorate placed in Syriza.

A negative assessment of the grave consequences of the Eurogroup accord as a grave defeat for the new government, from an interview with Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the party’s Central Committee:

(but watch this space for excerpts of a positive evaluation of the deal, by Tom Walker of Red Pepper)

“It’s now a month since the election. What is your assessment of Syriza’s record so far?

The new government has announced a first set of measures, expressing its desire for transparency and increased democracy. The changing of the nationality code – handing automatic Greek citizenship to immigrants’ children born in Greece – is a considerable shake-up of Greek society’s definition of nationality, citizenship and even national identity.

Another objective of these measures is media transparency, putting an end to the entanglement of political personnel and business interests linked to the state – a combination that often includes media moguls. That is not anything particular to Greece, as Berlusconi in Italy and Bouygues in France demonstrate, but in Greece it has reached really huge proportions.

The distribution of cabinet portfolios shows that Syriza was not going to give up any ground, at that level. Notably, the Interior Ministry was handed to a leading figure in the anti-racist movements, involved in struggles supporting immigrants; and the new president of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Constantopolou, is well-known for her fight against corruption and her involvement in the struggle for individual freedoms. So that sends a strong message.

From a social and economic perspective, the re-establishment of workplace rights – which the previous governments had got rid of – is another important measure that Syriza has announced, as are the re-hiring of laid-off civil servants; the re-connection of electricity for households that had previously been cut off; and the re-establishment of the ERT (public radio and TV). These announcements seek to demonstrate the new government’s break with the previous governments’ policies serving the Memorandum.

This set of measures – which correspond to Syriza’s mandate and are meant to put an end to austerity policies – has quickly come up against the demands imposed by the European Union and the Troika. These latter have forced the Greek government into a series of retreats, paralysing the implementation of Syriza’s programme. Only just after having been elected, the new government has run into difficulties that give us a glimpse of what a grave situation we will face if it fails.

* What does the accord signed on 20 February tell us?

The agreement insists on the full and timely repayment of Greece’s debts. Most importantly, it foresees the existing programme being followed through in full, which means the country agreeing to remain under the supervision of the Troika – or as it’s now called, ‘the institutions’.

Indeed, the Greek government has committed to not taking any unilateral measures that might endanger the budgetary objectives laid down by the creditors.

This accord thus neutralises the Syriza government’s activity and its capacity to implement its programme. We ought to be clear – it keeps almost the entire Memorandum framework in place.

* What explains such a rapid defeat?

Firstly, right from the start the European institutions exercised enormous pressure. This began on 4 February when the European Central Bank announced that it had stopped the refinancing of the Greek banks – because it no longer accepted Greek debt bonds – at the same time as there was massive capital flight out of the country.

Having been around €2bn a week, according to reliable sources capital flight hit around €1.5bn every 24 hours in the last few days. My information from Athens is that the Greek banks could not have opened on Tuesday if Greece had not come to an agreement with Europe. The ECB has blackmailed Greece in exactly the same way as it did Cyprus in 2013 and Ireland in 2010.

The Greek government is being strangled, exploiting its weakest link, namely, the banking system. There was increasing pressure on Greece during the Eurogroup meetings, in an effort to force it to accept the terms of the Memorandum. If Germany was the most vindictive country – and there is a degree of theatre at moments like this – the others were no different. No one took a stance against Germany.

* What are Syriza’s responsibilities now?

We ought to be clear. Some of the debates that we have had in Syriza have now been resolved in a negative way. The idea that we could break with austerity policies and yet avoid confrontation with the European Union has been refuted in practice. The majority tendency in Syriza avoided giving a clear answer to what would happen if Greece’s creditors refused to negotiate.

Those who upheld this position also thought that our European partners would be obliged to accept Syriza’s legitimacy and thus accept the Greek government’s demands. And we can clearly see that this is not the case. The dominant tendency in the Syriza leadership has the illusion that it is possible to change things even within the existing European Union framework.

These institutions have shown their true face, which is the imposition of extremely harsh neoliberal policies and other policies leading to the economic and social marginalisation of entire countries.

* What explains these ‘illusions’?

There is a real stumbling block, not just a psychological barrier but also one that concerns political strategy. Like almost all the European radical Left, Syriza believes in the idea that it is possible to reform and transform the existing European institutions from within.

That’s the whole problem. Syriza ever more clearly dug itself into a position refusing not only to break from the Euro but even to consider this a possible threat it could make during the negotiations.

And indeed we have seen that neither Tsipras or Varoufakis ever made use of this possibility. This tendency refuses to take full account of what the EU institutions and the integration process consist of – yet this is a process that has neoliberalism in its DNA.

These institutions were created in order to entrench neoliberal policies and liberate them from any kind of popular control. We cannot break with austerity policies and the Memorandum measures unless we mount a confrontation with the European Union, and leave the Eurozone if need be. During the negotiations Greece showed that it feared ‘Grexit’ more than its interlocutors did, and that was a fatal error.

* What conclusions ought we draw from this accord?

We could describe it as a major defeat for Syriza, possibly even a fatal one, and this failure affects each and every one of Syriza’s components. The Left did not succeed in imposing its point of view, having been defeated by the leadership’s strategy, ever since the 2012 elections, of shifting closer to the centre. The idea was that since we had already won as many votes on the Left as we could, what we now had to do was go in search of centrist voters.

This electoralist logic is mistaken, because given the extent of the social crisis the tendency of public opinion is not at all the strengthening of the centre ground. On the contrary, it is radicalising, and it is this radicalisation that explains the audience for Golden Dawn as well as for Syriza.

There is a really fundamental error of analysis, here. For a political force of the anti-austerity Left to give up on essential points of its programme can only lead to defeat. And sadly that is precisely what we are seeing play out at the moment.

The Syriza government will thus have no choice other than to administer the Memorandum framework. The small changes it can make will certainly be improvements, but they will not succeed in transforming the totally disastrous economic and social situation. This will disappoint the hopes and expectations that the popular electorate placed in Syriza.

Going on this way can only mean defeat. I think it is possible that Syriza could disintegrate, and that there could be a reconfiguration of the current political alliances. If Syriza continues with this policy then there is no reason why pro-Memorandum forces should go on refusing to collaborate with it. To Potami, PASOK and even a wing of New Democracy could do so – and it was precisely this latter that Syriza was giving a nod and a wink to when it chose Pavlopoulos, a leading figure of New Democracy’s centrist wing, for President of the Republic.

* How might the Greek people react?

Syriza’s victory gave the Greek people hope again. After the ECB started with its blackmail we saw people spontaneously heading into the streets to give their support to Syriza. The current retreat risks putting a stop to all this, leading to very severe disappointment.

* Should we fear disappointed voters turning to Golden Dawn?

The current success of far-Right parties in Europe essentially owes to the fact that very large sections of public opinion see them as genuine anti-systemic forces. They seem more credible and more radical than the Left.

Thanks to the extent of the mobilisations between 2010 and 2012 the electorate that has broken from the traditional ruling parties has mostly turned to the Left.

Nonetheless, the possible recomposition of politics entails the enormous danger of us abandoning the terrain of challenging the existing order to the far Right.

Syriza has been forced to accept continuing with Troika supervision of Greece. This feeling of national humiliation is very important to understanding the breakthrough that Golden Dawn has made. Its rise is really a regressive nationalist reaction to this feeling of national humiliation, combined with economic and social breakdown.

* European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently declared that ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties’. Are our societies – in Greece as well as elsewhere in Europe – really democratic?

The Juncker quote sums up the reality that we face. Since the 1980s the construction of the European Union has been the vehicle of neoliberal policies. Neoliberalism is in its DNA, it is written into its treaties. Its underlying logic is constitutively anti-democratic.

It seeks to dissolve the instances of national control, establishing a detached supranational order freed from any mechanisms of popular control. And this is what has driven oppositional political forces to paralysis. Syriza’s defeat faced with the European Union is the most striking illustration of this – and also the saddest.

For any force that wants to oppose the dominant economic policy decisions, it is indispensable that they break with this construction.”


Posted in Politics | No Comments »

Tools for Collective Labor Action in the Gig Economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th February 2015

SARAH KESSLER reports on how “Workers and activists are creating new tools” for labor organizing in the mis-named ‘sharing economy':

The first tool she discusses is Dynamo:

“Milland took her gripes to a new platform called Dynamo, which was created by Stanford PhD candidate Niloufar Salehi as part of her research into collective action online. In the process of building the platform, in collaboration with other researchers and Mechanical Turk workers, she realized it was more than just an issue of making an online petition. Despite Mechanical Turk’s reputation as a place where people go to complete simple jobs—usually for just cents per task—in their spare time, many of them actually relied on the income to pay their bills. And they were afraid of retribution by Amazon. More than that, they didn’t always agree on what needed to be changed.

Dynamo attempted to create a space where workers could discuss and organize actions. The first action the group took was to write a set of guidelines for researchers, who often use Mechanical Turk to distribute surveys or tasks that they may have previously given to undergraduates. Sometimes, Milland says, the researchers forget they are dealing with actual humans, for instance designing an experiment in which they show a worker horrible images in order to see how long he or she will continue a task despite them. The guidelines were meant to help advise ethics review boards at universities about best practices on Mechanical Turk, in order to avoid this type of situation. According to an organizer on Dynamo, they were viewed more than 12,000 times in the first month. The second action was asking him to “see that Turkers are not only actual human beings, but people who deserve respect, fair treatment, and open communication.”

There was a bit of a media blitz around the project—The Guardian, The Verge, and The Daily Beast all picked it up—and Milland says it was a good proof of concept for Dynamo campaigns. But only about 20 people submitted letters publicly. In the end, Amazon didn’t change its platform. Nothing has been added to the discussion for about a month.”

* Then, on Coworker:

“About three years ago, Michelle Miller, who had worked with traditional labor movements for years, began to notice a pattern of spikes in attention like the one around the Amazon Turk letter-writing campaign. “A group would form around an issue for a couple of weeks,” she says. “There would be some excitement, some media coverage of the issue the workers were talking about, and then it would either be resolved or it wouldn’t be, and everything would sort of dissipate back to the way it was.”

Her answer was, a platform where workers can, like on Change.org, organize petitions, but with one major difference: The communities build not just around specific issues, but around virtual and analog workplaces. Once someone self-identifies as an employee of a company, Coworker keeps them updated about new campaigns within that company. Miller says, for instance, the site has signed up more than 17,000 Starbucks employees through various campaigns.

So far, most of the campaigns are among non-gig economy laborers. Those Starbucks employees used it, for instance, to campaign for the coffee company to change its policy banning visible tattoos (it eventually did so). It has promise to be useful to gig economy workers, as well. The California App-based Drivers Association (CADA) has used the platform to create a campaign that asks Uber to add an automatic tip calculation to all of its fares.

Of course, independent contractors are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Without traditional union protections, there’s no law stopping Uber from just firing anyone who participates.”


Posted in P2P Labor | No Comments »

The City as Commons – Michel Bauwens interviews Professor Christian Iaione

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th February 2015

Originally featured on Shareable.net

A commons-based economy cannot thrive without appropriate institutions, especially those that represent a “partner state” approach. Professor Christian Iaione of LUISS University in Rome is a pioneer of such institutional innovation in Italian cities. I believe his work with the city of Bologna on Bologna’s Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons is a breakthrough. This regulation allows citizen coalitions to propose improvements to their neighborhoods, and the city to contract with citizens for key assistance. In other words, the municipality functions as an enabler giving citizens individual and collective autonomy.

More than 30 projects have already been approved in this context and dozens of Italian cities are adopting this regulation. The CO-Mantova project in Mantua, Italy is one such example. It has been set up for citizen-based social innovation using a multi-stakeholder approach that includes Professor Iaione. In the interview below, we asked him about his motivation, the ideas that have shaped his work, his urban commons projects in Bologna and Mantua, and how he sees the expansion of this approach in cities throughout the world.

Michel Bauwens: Before we explore your work, what sparked your passion for urban commons?

Chris Iaione: I grew up in Southern Italy, but with an Anglo-Saxon imprinting. My parents lived in the US in the sixties. They eventually decided to go back. My father told me they made this choice because they wanted to give back to their country. In the Seventies, they were both Vice-Mayors in their respective hometowns (Contrada and Atripalda, near Avellino). The first time I went to the US was 1980. I was five years old and running away from a catastrophic earthquake that hit my city and its county (Avellino). Schools and other public services were shut down. My mother, my brothers and I fled to New York and New Jersey to stay with friends and relatives. My father decided to stay in Italy to take care of his city and his citizens.

These were the first lessons I learned about life and the US. The sense of duty that my father taught me with his example, and that the US can be a welcoming land for those in need. Almost twenty years later in 1999, I enrolled in the UC Berkeley Extension Program. In Berkeley I learned the importance of becoming a unique human able to collaborate with other unique human beings, rather than competing to be the first of my class. I came back to the States for a third time to intern at the International Law Institute in D.C.—a city where you can feel the immanent presence of power and how distant institutions can be from the needs of citizens and how reluctant they are to innovate, but also how you can find innovators within government.

Lessons learned: if you want to change something you have to change it from the inside by finding those who are willing to work with you. I then had the opportunity to work and develop my academic studies as a research fellow at New York University School of Law. It was there that I developed the theoretical framework for local public entrepreneurship, which is the basis of the CO-Mantova project and the idea of the city as a commons. My study on the tragedy of urban roads and experiments in Bologna lead to this.

You run LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of commons dealing with new commons-centric urban governance, which is part of an important Italian academic institution LUISS University, and, in particular, the International Center on Democracy and Democratization led by Leonardo Morlino, a prominent international political scientist. What is LabGov?

LabGov is an in-house clinic for social, economic, institutional and legal innovators that carry out empirical work to implement innovations in public policy based on collaborative governance and public collaboration for the commons, subsidiarity, active citizenship, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, shared value, and collective impact. I co-produce the clinic with young people graduating from LUISS University. I designed this program having in mind a powerful new social class which is on the rise. It is a class of active citizens, social innovators, makers, creatives, sharing and collaborative economy practitioners, service designers, co-working and co-production experts, and urban designers.

This social class is pushing or nudging society, business and institutions towards new frontiers. Student should have the opportunity to join this social class and help it move the frontier forward. That is why, through the clinic, student interns develop projects that must come to life. Students must implement innovation in areas where innovation has not been brought yet or amplify the innovation in existing projects. In 2013 LabGov was devoted to the subject “The City as a Commons,” while in 2014 it was focused on “Culture as a Commons.”

In academic year 2014-2015 the focus of study is green governance, to be understood as a social, economic, institutional and legal technology. Therefore, this year the LabGov is devoted to the “land as a commons: environment, agriculture and food.” All the real life projects we design in the Laboratory are then proposed to real life actors that are willing to experiment with the ideas we seed. LabGov is a nonprofit rooted in the university but working on the outside. LabGov intends to update the Triple Helix concept of the university-industry-government relationship because we believe in a Quintuple Helix approach (embedded in LabGov logo) where universities become an active member of the community and facilitate the creation of new forms of partnerships in the general interest between government, industry and businesses, the not for profit sector, social innovators and citizens, and other institutions such as schools, academies, plus research and cultural centers.

You are known as one of the key authors of the new regulation on collaboration for the care and regeneration of urban commons, which was adopted by Bologna and is now being adopted by other Italian cities. What exactly does the “Regolamento sulla collaborazione per i beni comuni urbani” entail, and are there already practical consequences?

The Bologna Regulation is part of the “The City as a Commons” project that LabGov started in 2012. It consists of two years of field work and three “urban commons governance labs.” The Bologna regulation is a 30 page regulatory framework outlining how local authorities, citizens and the community at large can manage public and private spaces and assets together (available in English here). As such, it’s a sort of handbook for civic and public collaboration, and also a new vision for government. It reflects the strong belief that we need a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government, moving away from the Leviathan State or Welfare State toward collaborative or polycentric governance. This calls for more public collaboration, nudge regulations, and citytelling.

I have been researching the topic of the commons for quite a long time, and at some point I realized that the city could actually be interpreted as a collaborative commons. I synthesized my research in a paper “City as a Commons” presented at a conference in Utrecht and later published in the Indiana University Digital Library of the Commons. This was the background study for the Bologna and Mantova projects. I am now working with Sheila Foster from Fordham Law School on a more comprehensive study which is going to lay out a theoretical framework building on the background studies I developed in Italian (see an article titled La città come bene comune) and the empirical work I am carrying out in several Italian cities.

We met at the presentation of CO-Mantova, an ambitious project to revive the local economy with young social innovators, which also proposes an innovative fivefold local governance scheme. Tell us why Mantova needed this, how the process with youth worked, and how the city, province, and Chamber of Commerce came to accept the process. Above all: what’s next?

CO-Mantova is a prototype of a process to run the city as a collaborative commons, i.e. a “co-city.” A co-city should be based on collaborative governance of the commons whereby urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons are co-managed by the five actors of the collaborative/polycentric governance—social innovators (i.e. active citizens, makers, digital innovators, urban regenerators, rurban innovators, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural academies, etc.)—through an institutionalized public-private-citizen partnership. This partnership will give birth to a local peer-to-peer physical, digital and institutional platform with three main aims: living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production).

The project is supported by the local Chamber of Commerce, the City, the Province, local NGOs, young entrepreneurs, SMEs, and knowledge institutions, such as the Mantua University Foundation, and some very forward-looking local schools.

The first step was “seeding social innovation” through a collaborative call for “Culture as a Commons” to bring forth social innovators in Mantua. Second step was the co-design laboratory “Enterprises for the Commons,” an ideas camp where the seven projects from the call were cultivated and synergies created between projects and with the city. The third phase was the Governance camp, a collaborative governance prototyping stage which led to the drafting of the Collaborative Governance Pact (see the Italian version here, English version forthcoming) the Collaboration Toolkit and the Sustainability Plan, which was presented to the public during the Festival of Cooperation on November 27th last year.

The next step is the fourth and final phase: the governance testing and modeling through the launch of a public consultation in the city on the text of the Pact and a roadshow generating interest in CO-Mantova among possible signatories belonging to the five categories of collaborative governance actors. We are also may have CO-Mantova opening up a Commons School.

The CO-Mantova salamander mascot

What are the prospects for public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes? What do you see happening elsewhere and what do you want to see change in the near future?

This really depends on the local context. In my opinion, people are what matters the most, and the best entry point is always to find the people or group who believe in change, and in doing things better by pushing the boundaries of institutional innovation. You need people with around-the-clock commitment beyond their official duty both to the community, the institution and to excellence.

You always have to take into account that public officials are likely to be very cautious, since changing one thing tends to impact other things. Innovation is not the result of revolution, but it’s quiet, not necessarily slow, but difficult and involves a continuous negotiation process. This is something that you have to “figure out on the ground.” If you manage to implement change with the public administration rather than using political drivers, your change and is much more likely to be permanent.

There are some good example on how public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes are taking place. Florence is one example where collaboration has been seeded in several institutions and projects that the city is already running. The new mayor and new commissioners have already showed interest in expanding the reach of a collaborative approach within the city government.

Moreover, a growing community of innovators is working in Italy to foster collaborative practices, sharing economy and social innovation. For example the Sharing School that was held from 23 to 26 of January in Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture.

What else are you working on? What are your long-term goals?

We are talking about a cultural shift. The new governance model proposed is a new way for us to relate to almost everything, from economy to society as a whole and to other people, in other words: our vision of the world changes. Whether this cultural paradigm takes expression in sharing a car, or caring about where the trash ends up, this is all part of a 21st century way of living: a way of sharing things, sharing services, sharing spaces, sharing production and sharing responsibilities.

You need a “nudging class” instead of a ruling class, a class that has the drive to convince and nudge society and institutions towards a sharing and collaborative paradigm. But you cannot force change, you have to nudge people to share and collaborate.

For this reason, since 2012, I’ve suggested the creation of a federalized network of local hubs of expertise gathering best practices, starting up experimentations in different territories, spreading governance culture and disseminating knowledge among Italian territories. This National Collaboration Network could become a hub that provides collaboration toolkits, regulations and governance schemes, as well as training programs and day-by-day assistance for local administrators to help them drive change toward sharing and governance of the commons. This could accelerate the shift towards a 21st century paradigm of public administration.

What other cities are you allied with or are learning from? Is CO-Mantova part of any networks or associations that support commons-based urban development?

Many other cities are taking the route synthesized by CO-Mantova and opened by Bologna with its regulation on collaboration for urban commons. Milano, Firenze, Roma, Naples, Battipaglia, and Palermo have decided or are deciding to invest energy, skills, and other resources on the challenge of collaboration. They increasingly believe that only through co-design and bottom-up processes of civic and economic empowerment is it possible to face the challenges that congestion, agglomeration, and density that cities will face in the future.

How are LUISS students or LabGov interns involved in Co-Mantova? And what feedback are you getting from them so far?

Labgovers, as we call LabGov interns, participated actively during all the phases of the Mantova project. They supported project design and field implementation. They handled internal and external communication, organized the workshops and conferences, and facilitated the different project working groups, which, for instance, created the Collaboration Pact, the Collaboration Toolkit, and the Sustainability Plan.

For them, CO-Mantova was their first fieldwork and occasion to test the competencies acquired during their University study, and through the colloquium that LabGov holds every year on commons governance, sharing economy, social innovation, nudge regulation. LabGov helps young, talented students develop useful skills for their careers. All skills that due to the continuous transformation of society, you will not find in books or learn in a classroom. For this reason, LabGov teaches collaboration, service design, project management, and the sharing of roles and responsibilities through a “learning by doing” approach. Thanks to LabGov, young students and graduates enter the working world better prepared than their colleagues. I am confident that Labgovers will hold important positions in society and will be the driving force of change by fostering collaboration and a commons-oriented economic approach.

In conclusion, how do you see the inter-relationship of the commons, city governments, citizens, market players and market institutions?

The job of city governments, and maybe every government layer, is changing. Their function is less about commanding or providing. They are increasingly acting as a platform that enables collaboration between citizens and social innovators, not for profit organizations, businesses and universities — the five actors of collaborative governance — to unleash the full potential of urban, cultural, and environmental commons, promote a sustainable commons-oriented development paradigm, updating the concept of State or government and therefore implying as Neal Gorenflo would say a “shift in power and social relations.” Market institutions are more interested in this process than one might think. This is the main take away of the Mantova experiment. In fact, it is the local Chamber of Commerce, the local cooperative movement, the local businesses and the young entrepreneurs that are investing more in this innovative project than other sectors. SMEs and big companies alike are looking for new, innovative approaches to the way value is produced. The race to the bottom that globalization has triggered is no longer an available strategy for a knowledge economy system like Mantova. Economic actors increasingly understand that they should invest in producing collaborative value and create collaborative economic ecosystems that foster creativity, knowledge, identity, and trust.

This new phenomenon represents an opportunity to revolutionize the current state of play of the society, economy, institutions and law. This new social, economic, institutional and legal paradigm is going to characterize the 21st century as the “CO-century,” the century of COmmons, COllaboration, COoperation, COmmunity, COmmunication, CO-design, CO-production, CO-management, COexistence, CO-living. For all these reasons, it is urgent to design the rules and institutions of this new century. LabGov.it is working on this frontier and is doing it together with experts, organizations, and individuals that represent what we think is a newly rising social class, a class of economic and institutional innovators.

“If you are looking for glory, you are probably not a very good innovation agent”.


Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Public Policy | 1 Comment »

The distributive enterprise as a model for the open hardware economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd February 2015

Excerpted from Marcin Jakubowski:

How to create business models that tend to distribute wealth equitably?

Our method is open source – but in itself, Open Source is not a business model. It is a development methodology. OSE likes open source because it promotes collaboration, cross-fertilization, and innovation. This also means that a workable business model still has to be developed on top of the open source development method for this process to be viable. Standard business models of monopoly capitalism – which have been designed for secrecy – may not apply. A casual observer may conclude that ‘open source business models do not work because standard models of monopoly capitalism cannot be applied readily’. This view is short sighted – because innovative business models can be created to make open source development work. As a business model solution – OSE is proposing the Distributive Enterprise.

In a nutshell, the Distributive Enterprise is a model where we develop enterprises, and give them away for free. We mean shipping real product – where robust business models are created. Ethically and practically, we believe in this and we are developing this model.

Think about it this way: it takes years of development to create a solid and sustainable enterprise. Many companies toil for years to develop their product, and do a lot of reinventing the wheel while they are at it. By the nature of this process, the result can not be optimal – due to the cost of competitive waste. Once a product ships, companies set up castles of protectionism around themselves, from patents to legal and tax ‘structuring’, up to some really foul play. Think of all the companies that make the same, common product. Startup, development, and innovation costs could be reduced significantly if open collaboration existed between all the companies: from product design to enterprise aspects, from sourcing to business model generation and marketing. The intended result of lowered start-up barriers is that an enterprise could break through start-up mode readily – and begin innovating. By innovating, we mean getting a head start on transitioning from business as usual to a regenerative enterprise – a transformative endeavor on a whole new playing field than plain survival. With such collaboration, everybody wins – people and the planet – and products become better from continuous improvement.

What would it look like if OSE could produce turnkey blueprints that can be downloaded for free and someone could start an enterprise from scratch? If both the product design and enterprise design were worked out in the bluerints, a veritable Construction Set could be created for enterprise creation.”

Check the original extensive article to see how they intend to experiment with this with their CEB Press machine.

OSE then offers some conclusions:

“Why is DE so important? Therein we have a practical chance to transition enterprise to regenerative enterprise and systems solutions. Think solving wicked problems, similar to Singularity University and Exponential Organizations – but add open source and remove the technofix.

From one perspective, solving wealth disparity is low-hanging fruit. There is enough for all of us: from first principles – the sun shines 10,000 times more power to the surface of the earth than the entire global economy uses today. The reality is that currently, the wealth of our distributed energy source is not distributed well.

OSE’s notion of a regenerative economy is the open source economy. We define the OS economy as an efficient economy, where distribution of wealth also happens – so everyone is happy. OSE’s current practical approach to the regenerative economy is the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). As we are developing the GVCS, we are innovating on open collaborative development protocols so that any product can be developed quickly. Over the last few years, we have discovered indeed how much of a BHAG the GVCS really is, and what it really takes to get to 100%. We are perhaps 1/4 of the way there as of 2014.

At present, we believe that a 2 week design cycle for a complex machine/product is possible – compressing the effort of about 5 years of human time to 2 weeks via swarming. We imagine something like a Red Bull Creation – but larger, more focused, replicable, self-funding, and with a carefully designed collaboration architecture. For comparison, the industry standard time to design a house is 4 weeks. For a car, the time is 2 years.

For perspective, the current market share of open source hardware is only approximately one millionth of the total economy . This means there is a long way to go for open hardware, because 85 << 3.5 billion.

Let’s rewind. Global wealth inequality is a pressing challenge. The World Economic Forum deemed wealth disparity the single most pressing risk to the world in 2014. Open source economic development – and in particular – Distributive Enterprise – can yield drastic improvements on this issue. Is anyone paying attention to this opportunity?

There are 2 components to the Distributive Enterprise. The first is its substance – which we call Extreme Enterprise (XE). An extreme enterprise is an enterprise that ships product – and specifically – an optimized, low cost, open source product that is as good as it gets. The optimization includes zero competitive waste – no patents or protectionism of any sort. All documentation assets are available. From design to BOM to production engineering plan, and even marketing materials. An Extreme Enterpise’s efficiency includes social aspects of the Genuine Progress Indicator: by design, it tends to distribute wealth to the populace rather than to concentrate it.

The second component of the Distributive Enterprise is training for startup. Training is desirable so that any entrepreneur who would like to start the enterprise could get the required crash course – an accelerator program focused on distributive good. The entrepreneur is free to pursue the enterprise option either on their own – because all product and enterprise documentation is available – or via an accelerator program that OSE is creating – to minimize barriers to entry.

Who has the incentive to develop all the necessary assets as above? An ethical player like OSE. Is there financial sustainability to such a model? Absolutely. We test the enterprise model to determine if it work. While dogfooding the enterprise as such – we run this enterprise, learn the ropes, and end up with a working business model. Then we add training. As we believe that information wants to be free, we put all of our training materials online. If you want to take immersion crash training with us, we charge you for that. To minimize the barriers for our social entrepreneurs-in-traing – or OSE Fellows – we are evaluating setting ourselves up as a community college such that tuition can be covered via external support – or we can look for other ways to underwrite our Fellows while making the program self-sustaining.

The Distributive Enterprise is a combination of the Extreme Enterprise and training as above. The DE is a business that develops the Extreme Enterprise – up to dogfooding its enterprise model – and then teaches the enterprise to others. As such, the DE is the polar opposite of the monopoly: its revenue model is based on creating competition for itself. The DE model can train 2 types of entrepreneurs: the entrepreneurs who wants to produce as an XE, or someone who wants to dive into the deep end and start another DE. The latter becomes a teacher of other entrepreneurs. The former is solely a producer.

The DE concept can be applied most effectively to common products that are in wide demand, and where current demand is met by some centralized, non-local operation. The DE can bump out the invading colonial, by virtue of community support and based on raw econommic performance afforded by lean, open source XE. There is a huge case for such regenerative economic activity, because relocalized production brings wealth back to communities. Many startups today focus on zero sum games, turking, and other activities that do not generate real tangible value or real transformative potential. As such, DE brings a meaningful option.

The DE can be applied readily to common products with a huge market as opposed to the long tail – products related to the basic infrastructures of survival that are multibillion or near trillion dollar markets: food (food products, agriculture equipment), construction (homes, work places), manufacturing (distributed producution tools, automation), energy (solar, biomass, hydrogen, etc.), transportation (cars). Complex products such as computers or semiconductor fabrication (digital age technology) are not considered here for simplicity, though there is no a priori reason why such enterprises cannot be considered.

There’s a radically viral intent in this concept. Viral such that perhaps we can change the 85 = 3.5 billion.”


Posted in Open Hardware and Design, Open Innovation, P2P Business Models | 2 Comments »