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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

France / Ecuador: Most public debt is illegitimate and not linked to public spending

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th June 2014


Excerpted from Razmig Keucheyan:

“France made a decisive contribution to the reinvention of a radical politics for the 21st century … the committee for a citizen’s audit on the public debt issued a 30-page report on French public debt, its origins and evolution in the past decades. The report was written by a group of experts in public finances under the coordination of Michel Husson, one of France’s finest critical economists. Its conclusion is straightforward: 60% of French public debt is illegitimate.

Anyone who has read a newspaper in recent years knows how important debt is to contemporary politics. As David Graeber among others has shown, we live in debtocracies, not democracies. Debt, rather than popular will, is the governing principle of our societies, through the devastating austerity policies implemented in the name of debt reduction. Debt was also a triggering cause of the most innovative social movements in recent years, the Occupy movement.

If it were shown that public debts were somehow illegitimate, that citizens had a right to demand a moratorium – and even the cancellation of part of these debts – the political implications would be huge. It is hard to think of an event that would transform social life as profoundly and rapidly as the emancipation of societies from the constraints of debt. And yet this is precisely what the French report aims to do.

The audit is part of a wider movement of popular debt audits in more than 18 countries. Ecuador and Brazil have had theirs, the former at the initiative of Rafael Correa’s government, the latter organised by civil society. European social movements have also put in place debt audits, especially in countries harder hit by the sovereign debt crisis, such as Greece and Spain. In Tunisia, the post-revolutionary government declared the debt taken out during Ben Ali’s dictatorship an “odious” debt: one that served to enrich the clique in power, rather than improving the living conditions of the people.

The report on French debt contains several key findings. Primarily, the rise in the state’s debt in the past decades cannot be explained by an increase in public spending. The neoliberal argument in favour of austerity policies claims that debt is due to unreasonable public spending levels; that societies in general, and popular classes in particular, live above their means.

This is plain false. In the past 30 years, from 1978 to 2012 more precisely, French public spending has in fact decreased by two GDP points. What, then, explains the rise in public debt? First, a fall in the tax revenues of the state. Massive tax reductions for the wealthy and big corporations have been carried out since 1980. In line with the neoliberal mantra, the purpose of these reductions was to favour investment and employment. Well, unemployment is at its highest today, whereas tax revenues have decreased by five points of GDP.

The second factor is the increase in interest rates, especially in the 1990s. This increase favoured creditors and speculators, to the detriment of debtors. Instead of borrowing on financial markets at prohibitive interest rates, had the state financed itself by appealing to household savings and banks, and borrowed at historically normal rates, the public debt would be inferior to current levels by 29 GDP points.

Tax reductions for the wealthy and interest rates increases are political decisions. What the audit shows is that public deficits do not just grow naturally out of the normal course of social life. They are deliberately inflicted on society by the dominant classes, to legitimise austerity policies that will allow the transfer of value from the working classes to the wealthy ones.

A stunning finding of the report is that no one actually knows who holds the French debt. To finance its debt, the French state, like any other state, issues bonds, which are bought by a set of authorised banks. These banks then sell the bonds on the global financial markets. Who owns these titles is one of the world’s best kept secrets. The state pays interests to the holders, so technically it could know who owns them. Yet a legally organised ignorance forbids the disclosure of the identity of the bond holders.

This deliberate organisation of ignorance – agnotology – in neoliberal economies intentionally renders the state powerless, even when it could have the means to know and act. This is what permits tax evasion in its various forms – which last year cost about €50bn to European societies, and €17bn to France alone.

Hence, the audit on the debt concludes, some 60% of the French public debt is illegitimate.

An illegitimate debt is one that grew in the service of private interests, and not the wellbeing of the people. Therefore the French people have a right to demand a moratorium on the payment of the debt, and the cancellation of at least part of it. There is precedent for this: in 2008 Ecuador declared 70% of its debt illegitimate.”

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Posted in Economy and Business | No Comments »

Why We Need a New Kind of Open Cooperatives for the P2P Age

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th June 2014


Michel Bauwens:

“The cooperative movement and cooperative enterprises are in the midst of a revival, even as some of their long-standing entities are failing. This revival is part of an ebb and flow of cooperativism, that is strongly linked to the ebb and flow of the mainstream capitalist economy. After systemic crisis such as the one in 2008, many people look at alternatives.

Yet, we can’t simply look at the older models and revive them, we have to take into account the new possibilities and requirements of our epoch, and especially of the affordances that digital networks are bringing to us.

Here are a few ideas from the ‘peer to peer’ perspective, as we develop them in the context of the Peer to Peer Foundation.

First, let’s start with a critique of the older cooperative models:

Yes coops are more democratic than their capitalist counterparts based on wage-dependency and internal hierarchy. But cooperatives that work in the capitalist marketplace tend to gradually take over competitive mentalities, and even if they would not, they work for their own members, not the common good.

Second, coops are generally not creating, protecting or producing commons. Like their for-profit counterparts, they most often work with patents and copyrights, doing their part in the enclosures of the commons.

Third, coops may tend to self-enclose around their local or national membership. Doing this, they leave the global arena open to the domination by for-profit multinationals.

These characteristics have to be changed, and can be changed today.

Here are our proposals.

1. Unlike for-profits, the new cooperatives must work for the common good, a requirement that must be included in their own statutes and governance documents. This means that coops can’t be for-profit, they have to work for social goods, and this must be inscribed in their statutes. Solidarity cooperatives, already active in social care in regions like Northern Italy and Quebec, are a important step in the right direction. In the current capitalist market model, social and environmental externalities are ignored, and left to the external state to regulate. In the new cooperative market model, externalities are statutorily integrated and a legal obligation.

2. Unlike co-ops that draw their membership from a single class of stakeholders, cooperatives must include all stakeholders in their management. Coops need to be multi-stakeholder governed. This means that the concept of membership must be extended to these other types of memberships, or that alternatives to the membership model must be sought, such as the newly proposed FairShares model.

3. The crucial innovation for our times is this though: Cooperatives must (co-)produce commons, and these commons must be of two types.

a. The first type is immaterial commons, i.e. using open and shareable licenses to that the global human community can build on cooperative innovations and in turn enrich them. At the P2P Foundation, we have introduced the concept of Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses. These licenses are designed to create coalitions of ethical and cooperative enterprise around the commons they are co-producing. The key rules of such licenses are: 1) the commons are open to non-commercial usage 2) the commons are open to common good institutions 3) the commons are open to for-profit enterprises who contribute to the commons. The exception introduced here is that for-profit companies that do not contribute to the commons have to pay for the use of the license. This is not primarily to generate income, but to introduce the notion of reciprocity in the market economy. In other words, the aim is to create an ethical economy, a non-capitalist market dynamic.

b. The second type is the creation of material commons. We are thinking here of the creation of commons funding for the manufacturing equipment for example. Following proposals by Dmytri Kleiner, cooperatives could float Bonds, to which all cooperative members (of all other coops in the system) could contribute, creating a commons fund for manufacturing. The coop seeking funds would obtain the machinery without conditions, but the owners would be all the cooperators, which would gradually build up a basic income from the income generated by the fund.

4. Finally we must address the issue of global social and political power. Following the lead of David de Ugarte and the lasindias.net global cooperative, we propose the creation of global phyles. A phyle is a global business-ecosystem that sustains commons and their community of contributors. Here is how this would work. Imagine the existence of a global open design community for the design of open agricultural machines (or any other product or service you can imagine). These machines are effectively manufactured and produced in a system of open and distributed microfactories, close to the of need. But, all these micro-coops would not exist in a isolated fashion, merely connected through the global and ‘immaterially-focused’ global open design community. Instead, they would also be interconnected through a global cooperative uniting the microfactories. The combination of such global phyles would be the seed for a new form of global and social political power, representing the global ethical economy. Ethical entrepreneurial coalitions and phyles can engage in post-market and post-market coordination of physical production, by moving towards open accounting and open supply chain practices.

In summary, though traditional cooperatives have played an important and progressive role in human history, their format needs to be updated to the networked era by introducing p2p and commons producing aspects.

Our recommendations for the new era of open cooperativism are:

1. That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good

2. That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders

3. That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons

4. That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.”

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Posted in Ethical Economy, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Governance, P2P Theory, Peer Production | 5 Comments »

Interpersonal Forms of Sharing Are Not Enough To Achieve Justice or Sustainability

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
15th June 2014


Excerpted from Rajesh Makwana:

“Bearing in mind the urgent need to implement sharing on a systemic and global basis, a fresh evaluation of the sharing economy from the perspective of social justice and environmental sustainability is presented below. The five general positions that follow do not present a comprehensive critique by any standards, but they are a starting point for broadening the sharing economy discourse and making it more relevant to the bigger picture issues that concern many progressives today. In particular, this perspective questions the role of commerce in so-called sharing-related business activities. It also proposes that we should include longstanding national and global forms of sharing in our definition of what constitutes a sharing economy, especially if we are working towards the creation of a more equal, just and sustainable world.

* Interpersonal forms of sharing are not enough to deliver social justice or environmental sustainability

There is good reason to doubt whether the sharing economy (at least as it is generally understood today in terms of peer-to-peer activities) can ever have a significant impact on pressing global crises. For example, many people involved in the sharing economy aim to reduce their personal consumption to sustainable levels. While this is an important practice, the sheer scale of the ecological crisis suggests that simply sharing surplus or under-utilised personal goods is not a sufficient response to a global problem that requires systemic change at all levels to resolve. As often repeated, humanity as a whole is consuming natural resources 50% faster than the planet can replenish them. Not only is this massive overshoot in global consumption levels set to worsen as the world’s consumer class expands, it is also further complicated by huge imbalances. Around 20% of the world’s population are responsible for 80% of all resource consumption, while the remaining 80% are surviving on a ‘low consumption pathway’ and 20% are in ‘basic needs deficit.’

Clearly the global sustainability crisis cannot be addressed effectively until the structural factors that are responsible for creating these inequalities are fully addressed, and this has huge implications for transforming government policies and economic systems both nationally and globally. A huge array of reforms are needed to reconfigure the way nations extract, produce, distribute and consume resources across the world. For instance, this would include rethinking our notions of progress and prosperity, ending the dominance of consumption-led economic growth over government policy, and reversing the relentless push towards trade liberalisation. Much also needs to be done to dismantle the culture of consumerism, reconceptualise financial measures like GDP, and shift investment towards building and sustaining a low-carbon infrastructure, as endlessly debated by civil society.

In fact, the entire ecological conundrum is increasingly being framed in terms of sharing by progressive analysts – either through an ‘equity and fair shares’ lens or from the perspective of sharing the planet’s resources more sustainably to secure basic human rights for all. Although these critical discourses on sharing are becoming ever more urgent and popular among civil society thinkers, sharing economy advocates have generally neglected these systemic issues and failed to connect with environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners who are often calling for vital forms of global economic sharing.

The need for public sector-driven solutions is also evident in relation to tackling poverty and inequality which, in simple terms, requires governments to ensure universal access to essential goods and services. But instead of promoting or facilitating these fundamental aspects of economic sharing, most sharing economy supporters tend to focus on the collaborative (and often for-profit) sharing of household items, cars or spare rooms – not the resources that people most desperately need to be shared today such as nutritious food, healthcare and essential public services. Similarly, while sharing in terms of charitable giving and voluntary assistance within communities can help redistribute wealth and alleviate some instances of human deprivation, it cannot address the structural causes of poverty and inequality that have their basis in public policy.

If advocates of the sharing economy are really motivated to tackle complex social and ecological issues, they should also devote time and energy to promoting forms of sharing that are far more effective at addressing these problems, such as universal social protection or contraction and convergence approaches to addressing climate change. This means moving beyond the solely personal, community and city-oriented view of sharing, and embracing a wider understanding of sharing that includes the role of governments in advancing effective social policy and environmental regulations. Most of all, it is at the national and global level that the sharing economy can be revolutionary and transformative – if its supporters are willing to engage in the gritty politics of reforming government policy to establish truly effective and ‘sharing’ societies.

* A much broader definition of the sharing economy is needed

Existing definitions of the sharing economy tend to focus on personal, local and business approaches to sharing, even when those involved in the sharing movement profess to care deeply about climate change and other global issues. But these definitions present a very limited and superficial understanding of what the sharing economy is, which disconnects the sharing economy movement from serious attempts to address social injustice or environmental degradation. For instance, national systems of sharing are arguably the most established, important and fundamental examples of sharing economies that exist in the modern world, as alluded to above. Through systems of progressive taxation and the provision of essential public services and social protection for all, the vast majority of people in most developed countries are involved in and benefit from these broad-based sharing systems. Why aren’t these crucial examples of sharing part of the discourse and evolving definition of the sharing economy?

Perhaps a majority of those involved in the sharing economy come from an entrepreneurial or technology background, and therefore prefer to focus on social enterprise solutions or software-driven and online peer-to-peer platforms. Others might be deeply sceptical about state intervention and regulation – a view that is particularly prominent in the United States. Or perhaps, as various commentators are increasingly suggesting, the sharing economy is more concerned with profit and the private sector than it is with the ethic of sharing per se. It stands to reason that if the sharing economy movement had a more robust focus on the welfare of people and the planet, one would expect more vocal opposition to austerity measures or greater support for environmental campaigns by organisations like Greenpeace – issues that are rarely if ever mentioned on the pages of the most prominent sharing economy websites. In this sense, the millions of people across the US and Europe who are mobilising against government austerity policies could be considered the real champions of the sharing economy.

In some cases, focussing on new sharing economy platforms, technologies and initiatives could even undermine more effective and established systems of national sharing. For example, while car sharing schemes are clearly good for the environment, a universally accessible public transport system is undeniably better. Indeed public transport can be regarded as a greener citywide or nationwide sharing platform – but few people promoting the sharing economy are advocating to improve such services. The intense focus that the sharing economy places on individuals and the private sector might also explain the recurring issues around sharing-oriented businesses flaunting regulatory and licencing conventions designed to protect society at large.

If a key focus for the sharing economy movement is on resolving global crises, it stands to reason that our understanding and definition of the sharing economy must include critical forms of sharing resources on an international basis that urgently need strengthening and scaling-up. Sharing resources on a finite planet, almost by definition, must take place globally and between governments. Even though international mechanisms for sharing are still in their infancy compared to the national systems of sharing mentioned above, some examples do already exist. These include essential forms of global redistribution such as humanitarian aid; emergent systems of global governance (as ineffectual and biased as they currently are); and frameworks and agreements that facilitate the protection and sharing of the planet’s scarce natural resources. This international aspect of sharing is the most crucial with regards to social and environmental justice, although it still remains the least developed or discussed among proponents of the sharing economy.

Supporters of peer-to-peer sharing could help build a much stronger identity by recognising that their activities form part of these much broader and more fundamental sharing systems that operate at all levels of society. An inclusive working definition that can embrace the diverse national and international forms of sharing was put forward in STWR’s report Financing the global sharing economy, and is worth revisiting:

“The sharing economy is a broad term used in this report that encompasses the many systems of sharing and redistribution that exist locally, nationally and globally – whether facilitated by individuals, states or other institutions. It is concerned with the social, economic, environmental, political and spiritual benefits of sharing both material and non-material resources – everything from time and love to money and natural resources.”

“In comparison, the global sharing economy refers specifically to systems of sharing and redistribution that are international or global in nature – whether facilitated directly by people and governments or by global institutions like the United Nations. It refers to the many methods by which the international community can share their financial, technical, natural and other resources for the common good of all people. The global sharing economy is still in its infancy, but is nonetheless an important expression of the growing sense of solidarity and unity between people and nations.”

* The sharing economy movement must resist co-optation by the corporate sector

In a worrying phenomenon sometimes described as ‘sharewashing’, commercial activities that have never before been regarded as sharing are now re-branded under this trendy new meme. For example, most people would agree that renting is not the same as sharing and neither is giving people a lift in your car in exchange for cash. Room sharing and car sharing enterprises might offer excellent and rewarding services in their own right, but they may have little to do with the principle of sharing in relation to human rights and concerns for equity, democracy, justice and sustainability, especially when the main beneficiaries are company shareholders and not customers or employees. It is already well recognised that many so-called sharing enterprises adopt business models and ethics that do not allow wealth, income or decision-making to be shared with their employees or customers to any significant extent.

Above all, we must guard against sharing-oriented initiatives from being co-opted by the corporate sector. Rampant commercialisation is at the heart of the social and environmental problems we face, so those involved in the sharing economy movement should be cautious about supporting large corporations whose wider business models and practices fail to embody the principle of sharing in any real sense. This sort of co-optation is a well-documented phenomenon in relation to social and environmental issues, with the ‘greenwashing’ of oil companies that supposedly pursue an ecological agenda, and the ‘whitewashing’ of unethical corporations through Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

If sharing is not to be co-opted by venture capital and the corporate sector, perhaps there should be a minimum criteria for any company that professes to be part of the sharing economy. At the very least, sharing economy businesses should be set up as not-for-profits or cooperatives, or else they should adopt business models that promote the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. They must also pay their fair share of taxes, as this is a key part of the established and most important system of sharing that we have (yet) created.

* Sharing is already a common cause for the global justice movement

Many supporters of sharing economy initiatives think that sharing is fashionable and trendy – a lifestyle choice – and that by sharing they are doing their bit to promote egalitarian or environmentally conscious ethics and values. But if the sharing movement is to play a role in shifting society away from the dominant economic paradigm and help to resolve global crises, it will have to get political. This means recognising that sharing economy advocates are part of a much larger body of people calling for more transformative forms of economic sharing in relation to pressing social and environmental concerns.

Millions of people across the world are already campaigning for economic and political reforms that embody the principle of sharing, although they don’t always use the term ‘sharing’ in their advocacy and activities. The sharing of wealth, power or resources is central to what progressives have long been calling for, and supporting these demands for social justice, peace and ecological sustainability is fundamental to affecting structural change on the scale that is now necessary. This means being more aware of the issues that environmentalists and activists campaign on, and explicitly aligning local sharing activities with their broader justice-based vision of economic and ecological sharing.

For example, as mentioned above, strengthening systems of progressive taxation and public services is essential at the national level – and this means opposing economic austerity measures and supporting nationwide systems of sharing. Campaigners are also calling for new mechanisms for sharing the global commons (including the atmosphere – a key issue in international climate change negotiations) as this is the only way to create a more sustainable and peaceful world. If we support the sharing economy in its broadest sense as outlined here, we need to support these and other sharing-related campaigns in their many and diverse forms.

* The sharing economy is best promoted by appealing to intrinsic values

It is not hard to imagine how a process of sharing could theoretically play a key role in addressing multiple global crises, as genuine forms of economic sharing should result in a fairer distribution of resources for all people within planetary limits. However, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that promoting the sharing economy as another way to supplement our income is likely to promote extrinsic values that will undermine efforts to create a more equitable and sustainable world. According to detailed studies, promoting intrinsic values that go beyond concerns about oneself are far more likely to encourage sustainable lifestyles than a focus on extrinsic values, such as personal financial gain. In other words, those who share because they are told it can help them make some spare cash are less likely to engage in other environmentally beneficial activities, compared to those who share out of purely environmental concerns.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with making some extra money or being motivated by extrinsic values. However, if our goal is to help address the world’s interconnected and intractable crises, the evidence suggests that our campaigning activities must remain firmly aligned to intrinsic values. This has huge implications for all those involved in promoting the sharing economy at a time when so much of the public discourse on sharing highlights the growth and success of certain businesses in predominantly monetary terms.

To conclude, there is little doubt that through the time-honoured act of sharing we can strengthen communities, reduce consumption and facilitate the non-monetary distribution of goods and services – and this can potentially help rebalance an economic system that is increasingly dependent on greed and hyper-consumerism for its continued success. But interpersonal sharing is not enough at a time when humanity is facing what can only be described as a global emergency that includes massive poverty and rising levels of inequality, climate change and the wider ecological crisis, as well as ongoing conflicts over the world’s dwindling natural resources.

The process of sharing can only play a transformative role in addressing these crises if we move beyond our egocentric understanding of the sharing economy, and embrace national and global forms of sharing that are facilitated by government bodies in response to urgent social and environmental needs. By being vigilant about how we promote and participate in the sharing economy, we can also guard against the pervasive influence of commerce as it seeks to expand into new markets in a last ditch attempt to preserve the status quo. And by working more closely with the many millions of campaigners and organisations across the world who recognise the transformative potential of economic sharing – whether this is explicitly or implicitly expressed – we can significantly strengthen our chances of establishing an ecologically viable and socially just future for all.”

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Posted in P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, P2P Theory, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Establishment elites are no longer in control: the rise of global bottom-up politics

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th June 2014


We’re republishing interesting remarks from Immanuel Wallerstein:

“The list of countries with enduring and worsening civil strife is growing. A short while ago, the world media were highlighting Syria. Now they are highlighting Ukraine. Will it be Thailand tomorrow? Who knows? The variety of explanations of the strife and the passion with which they are promoted is very striking.

Our modern world-system is supposed to permit the Establishment elites who hold the reins of power to debate with each other and then come to a “compromise” that they can guarantee. Normally these elites situate themselves in two basic camps – center/right and center/left. There are indeed differences between them, but the result of the “compromises” has been that the amount of change over time is minimal.

This has operated as a top-down political structure, within each country and geopolitically between countries. The outcome has been an equilibrium slowly moving upward. Most analysts of the current strife tend to assume that the strings are still being pulled by Establishment elites. Each side asserts that the low-level actors of the other side are being manipulated by high-level elites. Everyone seems to assume that, if their side puts enough pressure on the elites of the other side, these other elites will agree to a “compromise” closer to what their side wants.

This seems to me a fantastic misreading of the realities of our current situation, which is one of extended chaos as a result of the structural crisis of our modern world-system. I do not think that the elites are any longer succeeding in manipulating their low-level followers. I think the low-level followers are defying the elites, doing their own thing, and trying to manipulate the elites. This is indeed something new. It is a bottom-up rather than a top-down politics.

Bottom-up politics is sometimes alluded to when the media speak of “extremists” becoming important actors, but the locution “extremists” misses the point too. When we are amidst bottom-up politics, there are versions of every complexion – from the far right to the far left, but including ones in the center. One can bemoan this, as did Yeats in one of his oft-quoted lines from The Second Coming:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

But note that Yeats is attributing the category of “best” to the old elites. Are they really the best? What is indeed true, to cite one of Yeats’s less quoted lines, is that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

How then can we navigate politically in such an environment? It is very confusing analytically. I think however that step one is to cease attributing what is happening to the evil machinations of some Establishment elites. They are no longer in control. They can of course still do great physical harm by imprudent actions. They are by no means paragons of virtue. But those of us who wish to seek a better world to emerge from this chaotic situation have to depend on ourselves, on our own multiple ways of organizing the struggle. We need, in short, less denunciation and more constructive local action.

The wisest lines of Yeats are the last two in the poem:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

As our existing historical system is in the process of dying, there is a fierce struggle over what kind of new historical system will succeed it. Soon, we may indeed no longer live in a capitalist system, but we could come to live in an even worse system – a “rough beast” seeking to be born? To be sure, this is only one possible collective choice. The alternative choice is a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system, also seeking to be born. Which one we shall see at the end of the struggle is up to us, bottom-up.”

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Posted in Empire, Peer Production, Politics | 1 Comment »

The Commune movement is organising in Venezuela

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
13th June 2014


Excerpted from EWAN ROBERTSON:

“Communards have been meeting around the country on an independent basis to better organise their movement and present the government with their proposals and requirements for development.

In the Andean town of Mesa Bolivar, Mérida state, some 600 communards representing over 50 communes in the region gathered last weekend to discuss how communes can combat what they describe as an on-going “economic war” against the country’s Bolivarian revolution.

“The aim of this meeting is to reflect, debate and design actions against the economic war, in the areas of supply and revolutionary auditing [of distribution and sales], and in the area of production and socio economic projects,” said Alonso Rua, a member of the Communard Council of Mérida, to Venezuelanalysis.com.

The gathered activists, displaying a range of ages and backgrounds, many of whom were rural workers, met for an open air assembly in the town centre. They then held working groups on security, the economy, communication, and political education. Youth activists met in a separate meeting to discuss issues specific to them.

The more general aim of the meeting, the seventh of its kind over the past year, was to tighten links between commune activists and to advance the organisation of their movement toward goals of local self-management and production.

“What do we want with all this? First, self government, so that we are our own governors. That is to say, truly realise what the constitution says, which is a true democracy,” said Luis Pimental, a high school teacher and member of a commune near Lake Maracaibo, to VA.com.

The communard continued, “When talk began about communes, I was skeptical, and I asked myself, ‘Are we really prepared for this?’ Yet with what I’ve seen, I’ve realised that yes, there are a lot of people [in the commune movement] with a lot of knowledge, who have been making a valuable contribution”.

However, some communards warn that beyond the presidency and ministry of communes, many public institutions and figures have been resistant to recognising the growth and potential of the country’s commune movement.

“We continue coming up against a bureaucracy that is present within state institutions, that on many occasions doesn’t allow the community’s proposals to be attended,” said Betty Vargas of a commune in the city of Mérida. Her commune is currently planning to establish a new community run higher education centre in a semi-rural zone near the city.

Nevertheless the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) governor of Mérida state, two local mayors, and representatives of the national government and state institutions were present at the meeting in Mesa Bolivar.

During the open air assembly, the National Land Institute handed three communes new land titles as part of a policy to transfer land to communal organisations for the development of their productive and agricultural projects. One of the communes, India Caribay, plans to plant crops, fruits, and construct a fruit processing plant with public financing.

Liskeila Gonzalez, a youth member of the commune, told VA.com of the importance of such projects for the community. “I want the commune to achieve the creation of the farm and fruit processor. In the end, it’s the communities around India Caribay that will benefit, and if a person is in need, the fund [from production] will be there to help them,” she said.

She added, “In the commune we all take part in decision-making. There aren’t bosses, a president, anything like that. We’re all equal and we all work the same”.

A similar meeting of communards was held on the same weekend in the eastern state of Monagas, where reportedly hundreds of communards from 39 communes met.

Further, a national meeting of the independent National Communard Network is set to take place this weekend in Lara state in the west of the country. At least 3,000 are expected to attend, where discussions will take place to further advance communal organisation.”

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

The Communal State project in Venezuela

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
11th June 2014


Excerpted from EWAN ROBERTSON:

“The Venezuelan government and commune movement are taking steps to move towards the creation of what is referred to as a “communal state”, which involves community organisations assuming collective control of local production and decision making.

Communes in Venezuela are formed out of groups of community councils, which are small neighbourhood organisations representing 250-400 families – where local residents organise to develop their local community and run community affairs. They can also receive public funds to undertake a variety of projects in their area.

Communes themselves are created when an election of local residents is held to select spokespeople from each community council in a given area to form a communal parliament, which has different sub committees and covers community affairs over a larger territorial zone. The commune can then take on larger scale tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funding for productive, educational, cultural, infrastructure or other development projects.

There are currently around 40,000 communal councils and 600 communes registered in the country, with more communes currently in the process of formation.

Over the past year and a half the Bolivarian government has stepped up efforts to encourage citizens to organise themselves into communes. This coincided with a speech that late former president Hugo Chavez made in October 2012, criticising the lack of progress in establishing communes in the country, and the appointment of Reinaldo Iturriza as minister of communes by President Nicolas Maduro last April.

Some of the main ideas behind the creation of communes expressed by activists and commune ministry figures are for local communities to play a greater role in productive activities such as agriculture, and for communities to play a greater role in local decision-making and administration.

Earlier this month, President Maduro created a Presidential Council of Communal Governance to act as a direct link between the government and communes and to receive proposals from communes on how government policy can better support communal development.

“You make the proposals, I’ll articulate them with policies, and you send me the criticisms about the shortcomings of the Bolivarian government. Long live grassroots criticism, let’s learn to grow from criticism, let’s not fear the truth, that’s Hugo Chavez’s method,” said Maduro to 10,000 communards (commune members) in Caracas upon making the announcement.

Another announcement was that authorities will distribute 980 cargo trucks to communes in order to support their productive and agricultural activities. This will help local farmers transport their goods to markets without expensive private sector middlemen charging speculative rates for the service, which drives up the prices of food and reduces farmers’ incomes.

Press also reported that Maduro agreed to a meeting with communards to examine difficulties for communal enterprises in issues such as investments and sales, in order to resolve these issues with presidential law-making powers.

Various other commune meetings are planned for June such as a national communal productive fair. There is also a proposal to be debated soon in the Federal Government Council for the transfer of some competencies of local government to the communes.

Dameris Herrera, a spokesperson of the Orinoquia commune in eastern Venezuela, told media her impression of the announcements. “He [Maduro] is saying that yes we can, especially in the transfer of powers, because we can be the administrators of many things that are being done at the level of the constituted power [local representative governance], and as the constituent power [direct participatory governance]; we have this responsibility,” she said.”

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The Consolidation of Indigenous Resistance against Extractivism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
10th June 2014


Excerpted from Manuela Picq:

“Indigenous peoples are contesting extractive projects in various, complementary ways. Collective marches have multiplied as an immediate means of resistance throughout the Americas. In 2012, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador led thousands of people on a 15-day, 400-mile March for Life, Water, and the Dignity of Peoples, demanding a new water law, the end of open-pit mining, and a stop to the expansion of oil concessions. Within days, a similar mobilization took over Guatemala City. The Indigenous, Peasant, and Popular March in Defense of Mother Earth covered 212 kilometers to enter the capital with nearly 15,000 people protesting mining concessions, hydroelectric plants, and evictions. In Bolivia, various marches demanded consultation as the government prepared to build a highway within the Indigenous Territory and National Park Isidoro Sécure (TIPNIS). From Canada’s Idle No More movement to the protests against damming the Xingú River Basin in Brazil, Indigenous movements are rising and demanding they be allowed to participate in decisions affecting their territories.

Protests are at the core of global Indigenous agendas. In 2013, the Fifth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples of the Abya Yala encouraged communities to step-up resistance in light of the threat posed by state-sponsored extractivism. This is what Indigenous women were doing when they walked from Amazon territories to Quito, Ecuador, denouncing government plans to drill without consultation in the Yasuní reserve. Local protests are not trivial or irrelevant in world politics. Rather, they are part of a larger effort to transform local concerns into international politics.

Indigenous peoples have remarkable expertise in international law and are savvily leveraging their rights to consultation and self-determination guaranteed in the ILO Convention 169 (1989) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (UN General Assembly 2008). They have won emblematic legal battles at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), at times obliging states to recognize Indigenous territorial authority. In the decade-long case of Sarayaku v. Ecuador, the IACHR upheld the right of free, prior, and informed consent with a binding sentence against the Ecuadoran State for allowing a foreign oil company to encroach on ancestral lands without consultation during the 1990s. A 2011 petition by communities of the Xingú River basin led the IACHR to order Brazil’s government to halt the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. The Mayan Q’eqchi’ expanded jurisdiction by taking Hudbay Minerals to Court in Canada for crimes committed at an open-pit nickel mine in Guatemala. In Canada, two Manitoba First Nations used their own legal systems in 2013 to serve eviction notices to mining companies operating illegally on their land.1

International pressure is significant, yet states frequently eschew what they perceive to be uncomfortable mechanisms of accountability. Courts may validate Indigenous resistance, and UN reports warn against the catastrophic impact of extractive industries, but Brazil continued to build the Belo Monte Dam and Peru’s government did not consider suspending the Camisea gas project of drilling 18 wells on protected territories that have been home to Amazonian peoples in voluntary isolation (Feather 2014). Nevertheless, states that evade prior consultation obligations only foster Indigenous inventiveness. In the absence of official mechanisms of consultation, people establish autonomous ones. Local communities of the Kimsacocha area took matters in their own hands after years of being ignored, demanding Ecuador’s government consult them on a mining project in the highlands. In 2011, they organized a community-based consultation without the authorization of the state that was nevertheless legitimized by the presence of international observers (Guartambel 2012). The community voted 93% in favour of defending water rights and against mining in the area. Autonomous forms of prior consultation are increasingly common in Latin America. In Guatemala alone, there have been over sixty community-based consultations since 2005 (MacLeod and Pérez 2013).

Indigenous resistance has been the target of severe government repression, ranging from judicial intimidation to assassinations of activists. Mobilizations against the Congo mine in Cajamarca, Peru, led President Ollanta Humala to declare a state of emergency and unleash military repression. An estimated 200 activists were killed in Peru between 2006 and 2011 for resisting extractivism (Zibechi 2013). Colombia’s government, in turn, declared protests against the mining industry illegal. In Ecuador, about 200 people have been criminalized for contesting the corporatization of natural resources. Many have been charged with terrorism. Violent repression against TIPNIS protesters in Bolivia revealed that even Evo Morales, Latin America’s first elected Indigenous president, is willing to use force to silence demands for consultation. Various activists opposing the multinational mining giant AngloGlod Ashanti have been assassinated. Argentina’s Plurinational Indigenous Council, which calls for an end to extractivism, has recorded eleven assassinations since 2010. The Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America (OCMAL) estimates there are currently 195 active conflicts due to large-scale mining. Peru and Chile lead the list with 34 and 33 conflicts respectively, followed by Mexico with 28, Argentina with 26, Brazil with 20, and Colombia with 12. Mega-mining alone affects nearly 300 communities, many of which are located on Indigenous territories.

This wave of intense criminalization indicates the expansion of the extractive frontier. In Peru, where anti-extractivist unrest toppled two cabinets under the Humala government and led to the militarization of several provinces, mineral exploration expenditures increased tenfold in a decade. In 2002, 7.5 million hectares of land had been granted to mining companies; by 2012 the figure jumped to almost 26 million hectares, or 20% of the country’s land. Nearly 60% of the province of Apurímac has been granted to mining companies. In Colombia, about 40% of land is licensed to, or being solicited by, multinational companies for mineral and crude mining projects (Peace Brigades International 2011). According to OCMAL, 25% of the Chile’s territory was under exploration or operation as of 2010. In 2013, Mexico’s government opened the state-controlled energy sector to foreign investment, changing legislation to allow private multinationals to prospect for the country’s oil and natural gas resources for the first time since 1938.

The problem is that governments are largely licensing Indigenous land. In 2010, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reported that Colombian mining concessions had been awarded in 80% of the country’s legally recognized Indigenous territories. Colombia’s government has 8.8 million hectares of Indigenous reserves designated as oil areas and granted 168 mining licenses on Indigenous reserves in 2011. Extractive industries lead to evictions, toxic waste, and resource scarcity, creating conflicts over water, soil, and subsoil. Open-pit mining uses unsustainable amounts of water. The controversial Marlin mine, partly funded by the World Bank in 2004, and today fully owned by Goldcorp, uses in one hour the water that a local family uses over 22 years (Van de Sandt 2009).2 In Chile, mining consumes 37% of the electricity produced in the country – which will reach 50% in a few years – compared to 28% for industry and 16% for the residential sector. This requires the Chilean State to continually expand energy sources, thereby accelerating displacement and the transfer of agricultural land to hydroelectric projects.

Conflicts against extractivism should not be dismissed as only concerning Indigenous peoples. They encompass larger debates about the role of extractivism in politics and contest a development model based on the corporatization of natural resources. In particular, they reveal the continuous role of resource exploitation as a strategy to finance states. Governments are prioritizing extractive industries as key engines of growth, although there is ample evidence that extractive industries create relatively few jobs. President Juan Manuel Santos promised to turn Colombia into a mining powerhouse because it attracts quick investment. Opening Ecuador to mega-mining financed much of President Correa’s third re-election. In fact, his unexpected policy shift to approve drilling within the Yasuní Reserve is explained largely by his government’s urgent need for cash. China, which holds over 35% of Ecuador’s foreign debt and financed 12% of its budget in 2013, buys about 60% of the country’s oil and is expected to pre-buy Yasuní oil (Guevara 2013).

Indigenous claims against extractive projects contest a world system based on predation and usurpation. In Guatemala, mining is managed by long-standing political elites and inscribed in the colonial genealogy of power. In many instances, the entrepreneurs promoting mining today are the scions of the same oligarchical families that have controlled Indigenous land and peoples for centuries (Casaús 2007). The political economy of extractivism encompasses global inequalities of exploitation, within and among states. About 75% of the world’s mining companies are registered in Canada, and most operate in the so-called Global South (Deneault et al. 2012). Extractive industries in the North rely on alliances with national elites to exploit natural resources of peoples and places historically marginalized from power politics.”

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What do we know about Podemos, the first post-15M party in Spain ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
10th June 2014


Excerpted from Cristina Flesher Fominaya:

Podemos logo círculos“If one wants to look for ideological points of reference for the team behind Podemos probably Gramsci and Subcomandante Marcos would be the logical place to start. But it is precisely an anti-ideological stance, a refusal to self-define in terms of political ideologies, typical of autonomous social movements and 15-M that has marked an important element of the effective Podemos strategy.

It is here that Podemos has distinguished itself from it’s closest political rival, leftist coalition formation Izquierda Unida (IU). If many of their positions are the same, the language and framing has been very different. To many, IU seems old, tired and stuck in the past, and has for quite some time. By contrast, Podemos has understood that if people are not willing to think in terms of anti-capitalism, they are very open to criticisms of fraudulent bankers and corrupt politicians.

Podemos has presented itself as a party of “decent ordinary people”, who understand the needs of ordinary citizens and are open to taking their lead from them through the participatory process (as opposed to positioning themselves as the intellectual vanguard). They want to go “beyond acronyms” (again a very typical stance of progressive autonomous social movements in Spain[1].)

Clearly the strategy has worked very well, and the capture of 1.25 million votes for a very young party is nothing short of remarkable. The political fallout has been immediate. PSOE leader Rubalcaba announced he will be stepping down and opening the process for the election of a new leader (many bets are on Susana Díaz, after her excellent results in Andalucía). IU is also going through a significant internal shakeup and period of self-reflection. And, of course, what everyone wants to know is who actually voted for Podemos.

From early data on Madrid analyzed by Fernández-Albertos[2], the voter profile of Podemos highlights some intriguing features. First, the campaign slogan, “when was the last time you voted with excitement[3]?” seems to have worked, as Podemos appears to have activated the abstentionist vote. There is a strong correlation between increased participation and support for Podemos.

Second, districts where there has been an increase in unemployment are also strongly correlated with the Podemos vote, showing that the crisis is an important element.

Third, Podemos has mobilized the youth vote, so that even holding income constant, the younger the voting district the stronger the vote for Podemos. Finally, it is possible that some PSOE voters switched their vote to Podemos. In the analysis by district, there is a weak correlation between increase in the vote for IU and Podemos and a slightly stronger correlation between a decrease in the vote for the PSOE and an increase in the vote for Podemos. But as yet there is insufficient data for any firm conclusions.

Why Podemos and Why Now?

It is impossible to understand Podemos without taking into account the crisis and the social response to the crisis in the form of the Indignados/15-M movements and related or constituent movements such as the remarkably successful Platform for those Affected by Mortgages (PAH) and the Movement for the Right to Housing.

These movements prepared the terrain for Podemos, through a sustained critique of the existing parties and party system, and direct actions such as the PAH’s “escrache al bipartidismo” a form of direct action protest against the bipartisan system of the PP and the PSOE (referred to as the “PPSOE”) who supported austerity measures and have not taken care of citizen needs in the wake of the crisis, instead using public money to socialize private banking debt. They even changed the Spanish constitution (art. 135) to limit the deficit (thus ensuring austerity in times of crisis).

The name of the party “Podemos” reflects the PAH’s slogan “Sí se puede!” (Yes it can be done! as well as recalling Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes, we can!” and 15-M Acampada Sol’s humourous take on it, “Yes, we camp” .

The influence and importance of 15-M on Podemos cannot be overstated: Podemos and other similar formations such as Partido X are known as “15mayistas”. As one observer stated when summarizing the consequences of 15-M, “without 15-M there would be no Podemos”[4]. Indeed, without the existence of anti-austerity and pro-democracy (radical, alternative or reformist) social movements there would be no 15-M, and without the crisis and 15-M, there would be no Podemos. This does not in any way diminish the extraordinary effort and talent of Iglesias and the Podemos team, who have read the national mood (an astonishing 80% of support for 15-M in 2011), learned from social movements and known how to use alternative and mass media to maximum effect.

The other crucial “15-M style” mechanism of Podemos was the participatory method for developing the electoral programme, one that used web tools that permit the collective development of documents, with a team of “synthesizers” from Podemos pulling together the final programme. This open and participatory method, in which any citizen could take part, was an attractive and successful aspect of the new approach. Citizens do not need to be card carrying members of Podemos to participate in the party, a dynamic far removed from the traditions of party militancy of formations like IU, PSOE or even the PP.

If Iglesias and his team are modern politicians, who know how to use new media to good effect, they also campaigned “old school”: travelling thousands of kilometres to meet people all around Spain, relying on mailbox leafletting, volunteers, word of mouth and local campaigning.

For and Against

Podemos can be considered a 15mayista party for all the reasons above, but it is also true that the very idea of a 15-M party is in many ways a contradiction in terms.

Within the 15-M related social movement networks activists are very divided about the rise of this new party. While there is generally positive feeling about Iglesias himself, and a sense that he is “one of us”, there is also considerable reticence about Podemos and other 15-M related political parties.

The lines of debate run roughly thus: for those against, or at least those who did not vote for Podemos, the arguments include the following:

* Podemos co-opts a movement that, while not anti-political (as some claim) was autonomous or apartidista (non-aligned to any party and refusing to allow parties to co-opt or act in a representative capacity).

* 15-M was about imagining a new form of direct democracy and people power from below, not entering into the political circus of party politics.

* Podemos is actually just IU (or another leftist party, Izquierda Anticapitalista) in new clothing, since the main actors are in fact ex-IU affiliates or formerly close to IU (or Izquierda Anti-Capitalista).

* Podemos is therefore a populist party that fails to actually say anything new or different from existing formations.

* Podemos reproduces a Spanish trait of party politics known as “personalismo”, which is all about a politics of charismatic leadership, generally with a retinue of acolytes, and which exalts the leader above the base of support.

* When social movements invest their energy in political parties, the movements inevitably decline and activist leadership is coopted into party politics. This argument was reflected well in a tweet of a 15-M activist following the elections: “I wonder how long it will take for some people to stop doing things for themselves and start expecting Pablo Iglesias to do it for them.”

The main arguments for Podemos (or in response to the above) go something like this:

* The 15-M movement was great but it is over, and it is necessary to channel some of that energy into party politics and institutions to make lasting change, rather than see it dissipate.

* The 15-M movement is not over, but has evolved into a myriad of projects and outcomes, one of which is the creation of grassroots parties such as Podemos or Partido X. Podemos embodies the spirit of 15-M and is therefore “15mayista”.

* Media demands leaders and it is unrealistic to expect a party to be successful without entering into that dynamic, (and besides)

* Podemos is the most horizontal party in practice out there.

* There is no reason to think there is only one line of resistance, there is no contradiction between strong social movements and a progressive political party (“one foot in the institutions and 100 in the streets” as the saying goes).

Knowledge of the relation between Spanish autonomous movements, progressive movements and the state help make sense of both sides of the debate.

Unsurprisingly, many activists in a horizontal leaderless movement based on direct rather than representational participation do not support Podemos.

On the other hand, many people who participated in 15-M, whether as committed activists or more peripheral supporters, felt strongly that the movement needed to articulate an effective institutional alternative to the existing political parties.

The imposition of austerity measures comes through parliament, after all, and is unlikely to be stopped purely by people power (the argument goes). After countless mass demonstrations in which millions of people’s rejection of the governments’ policies have fallen on deaf ears, even some of those who might initially have had more faith in the power of protest alone have undoubtedly felt that an institutional option was necessary. Spaniards in their millions have been asking for the defense of public services and rights, the elimination of corrupt politicians (amidst high profile corruption scandals), a greater distribution of wealth and opportunities, and a rejection of austerity policies as dictated by the Troika and financial elites.

Podemos has campaigned on precisely these issues. For those who were already voting in protest, rather than enthusiastically for other leftist parties, Podemos, and other options such as Partido X, represented an alternative that offered some hope for change.

In fact, many activists have long been multi-militants, with one foot in the social movements and the other in political parties, and supporting Podemos is a continuation of this long-term practice.

Iglesias and the rest of the Podemos team were around long before 15-M and have spent decades now developing their political expertise. The question is how long they will be around after 15-M. As one young voter told me, “I did not vote for Podemos because first I need to see what they actually do”.

Another outstanding question is the extent to which people voted for Podemos or voted for Pablo Iglesias. As Weber pointed out in relation to charismatic leadership, its key flaw is that without the leader, the political project fails.”

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Sharing City Seoul One Year After: Assessment and Future Plans

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th June 2014


An update excerpted from Cat Johnson:

“Mayor Park is leading a wave of social innovation in Seoul and opening a new chapter in the city’s history. The Sharing City is a sharp turn from the rapid growth of the last 40 years, but it’s one that the city government is fully embracing. And one that has the potential to transform “The Miracle on the Han.”

Shareable’s co-founder Neal Gorenflo, who recently visited Seoul, points out that this ability to change quickly could catalyze their sharing economy. “If the South Korean people decide this is where they want to go,” he says, “I think they’ll move quickly—just as they were able to move quickly to become a modern country.”

The city’s density, its tech-enabled citizenry, and world-class infrastructure can support Seoul’s plan to become a global leader of the sharing movement. As Su Jeong Kim of the Social Innovation Division explains, Seoul has a unique environment with 60 percent of its inhabitants living in apartment buildings. The city is leveraging this by catalyzing the formation of lending libraries in apartment buildings. There are now 32 apartment building lending libraries. While this is a small number for a mega-city, apartment building lending libraries have the potential to become social hubs for Seoul’s many vertical communities.

“Seoul is a very dense city,” Kim says, explaining that a quarter of all South Koreans live in Seoul. “You can imagine how dense our city is. As a result, there are lots of apartment complexes with 1,000-2,000 people living together. It’s a difficult situation for community-building, but at the same time, it’s a very nice environment to gather…”

In-dong Cho, director-general of the Seoul Innovation Department, stresses the importance of utilizing these densely-populated apartments in rebuilding a sense of community.

“In order to regenerate communities in apartment complexes,” he says, “we recommend people establish share bookshelves, share libraries, share gardens and common tool warehouses, and to organize community activities through subsidies or grants.” He adds, “These movements toward sharing will restore dissolved communities and revive sharing culture in citizens’ daily lives.”

Grassroots citizen-driven sharing is just one aspect of the Sharing City. Another is official support for tech startups and other organizations working to catalyze more sharing in Seoul. But rather than taking a top-down approach, the city is acting as partner for emerging sharing initiatives.

“It is not desirable for government to directly intervene in the market to promote the sharing economy,” says Cho. “The city needs to build infrastructure such as law, institution and social trust capital—the city needs to pave the way and strengthen the ecosystem for the sharing economy to thrive.” He adds that the sharing policy model of SMG is not a top-down nor bottom-up approach. “This is a creative, private-public partnership model of Seoul’s own.”

Seoul’s Sharing City strategy has three prongs: change outdated laws and systems; support sharing enterprises; and encourage citizen participation. Dozens of programs have been launched to support the initiative. They range in size from small, shared bookshelves to large-scale carsharing. Here are the key programs, some with initial results.

Public Buildings: Since the launch of the Sharing City, 779 public buildings have been opened to the public during idle hours for events, meetings, and more. These buildings have been utilized over 22,000 times by Seoul citizens.

Startup Incubation: 20 teams were selected for the Youth Business Startup Incubation program where they were provided office space, funds, and training or consulting.

ShareHub: Run by Creative Commons Korea, ShareHub is the go-to place to find all that can be shared in Seoul.

Financial Support: 461 million won ($450,000) has been invested in 27 sharing organizations or businesses. Among these are platforms that facilitate Airbnb-style homesharing, children’s clothing exchanges, parking space sharing, and goods sharing. These projects resulted in 359 shared parking lots; a 68% increase in homestays; and a doubling of the amount of children’s clothing shared from 18,000 to 40,000 items.

Startup School: To encourage entrepreneurialism, officials launched a program to help entrepreneurs understand the sharing economy and support them in creating sharing businesses.

Housing and Inter-generational Connection: To address the housing crisis and reduce the social isolation of seniors, a program was created to match young people with idle rooms in seniors’ houses. There have been 28 matches to date.

Seoul Youth Hub: Another initiative of the SMG, Seoul Youth Hub is a place for young adults to come together face-to-face to design the future society.

Car Sharing: There are 564 car sharing locations in Seoul with over 1,000 cars that have been shared 282,000 times through companies such as Socar and Greencar.

Bartering for Goods: Using e-Poomasi, people can barter for goods or services without using money. There have been 21,052 sharing transactions by 5,685 citizens in 15 districts so far.

Open Data Plaza: 1,300 data sets have been released to the public for use in business or civil society.

Lending Libraries: 32 lending libraries have been opened for books, tool rental and repair (plus woodworking programs).

Public Wi-Fi: 1,992 wireless access points have been established at markets, parks and government offices.

Seoul Photo Bank: Nearly 250,000 photos have been uploaded to this platform that sources images from citizens and the government. The photo bank is due to launch in July.

While these may seem like modest results for a mega-city, Mayor Park has a plan to scale the sharing economy.”

Plans for the Future

Sharing City Seoul supports both the creation of new sharing businesses and the growth of existing companies. Some of the standouts of Seoul’s sharing economy are: Kiple, a children’s clothing exchange; SoCar, a carsharing service; Zipbob, a p2p mealsharing platform that has a lot of traction; Kozaza, which is like Airbnb for traditional Korean houses, known as Hanok, that Gorenflo describes as “very beautiful, cozy, human-scale houses”; home sharing platforms BnBHero and WooZoo; suit rental platform OpenCloset; and Wisdome, a knowledge-sharing platform. Several of these businesses have seen 100 percent growth since the launch of Seoul’s Sharing City initiative.

To build trust in sharing companies, the Sharing City Seoul project is being rolled out through its 25 boroughs known as kus. Seoul’s kus are similar in size and budget. Each ku has its own mayor and local government. Because government-endorsed businesses are trusted by citizens, SMG introduced the sharing economy to two kus by endorsing Kiple, the children’s clothing exchange. The experiment proved to be successful — Kiple doubled sales in one year.

With this success, more kus want to join the trial. To fuel growth further, SMG created a positive competition between kus for sharing-related government grants.

Like other cities, the sharing economy in Seoul chafes against outdated regulation that hampers sharing. Familiar issues, including regulations around car insurance and home sharing, are being addressed as part of the Sharing City initiative. Leaders are working with insurance providers and regulators to develop solutions.

“The main reason why SMG has actively implemented the sharing policies initiatives is that we want to expedite and boost the sharing economy through public-private partnership,” says Cho. “The startup businesses need to overcome a lot difficulties and obstructions to establish themselves. They cannot avoid confrontation and conflicts with existing industries, laws and regulations.”

He explains that startups will have difficulty addressing these matters on their own and that this is why SMG is working to reform regulation and lay a foundation for a sharing economy ecosystem.

“In other words,” Cho says, “the city of Seoul helps the sharing companies to take root well and settle down successfully in their markets.”

Many of the key decisions for the Sharing City project are made by the Sharing Promotion Committee comprising 12 members from the private sector and three from government. This reflects the city’s strategy to grow the sharing economy through public-private partnerships rather than in a top-down fashion.

Seoul is the sharing leader in South Korea, but other cities, including Busan, the second largest city, and Gwangju, are following Seoul’s lead with similarly ambitious plans.

Around the world, cities have tiptoed into the waters of the sharing economy, but too often, it’s little more than a gesture. Seoul is a shining exception.

“They’re serious about it,” says Gorenflo, pointing out that other sharing city projects that have been announced with little follow through. San Francisco’s Mayor Lee was recently criticized because he created, but did little to nothing with, his Sharing Economy Working Group. Similarly, 18 mayors signed on to a Shareable Cities Resolution at the US conference of mayors in 2013, but there doesn’t appear to be any follow on activity there either.

“A big lesson is, if you’re going to publicly declare yourself a sharing city, you better do something substantial or you’re going to get criticized,” says Gorenflo. “Seoul’s effort has substance. There are significant resources behind it. It’s well-integrated into their plans, and with their large innovation department, they’ll be able to implement it.” He continues, “Another lesson for cities is that you have to invest in social innovation; you need to experiment to find solutions to social problems, and you need resources to run experiments. That’s what the Sharing City is, it’s an experiment, and it may be the most important one in the world.”

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Posted in P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Public Policy, Sharing | No Comments »

Education as a Commons: the final hangout

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th June 2014


After seven days of intense cross-fertilization of thought and practice on the future of education, a final conversation.

Watch it here:

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