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Archive for 'Culture & Ideas'

Where next for the sharing economy debate?

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
7th February 2016


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As social and environmental crises continue to escalate, it seems increasingly unlikely that the sharing economy will lead the way to a more sustainable future – unless it actively challenges the power structures that maintain an unjust status quo.


During the course of 2015, the continued success of Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and other commercial giants of the so-called sharing economy provoked a robust critique from environmentalists, social activists and other commentators about the nature and purpose of this fast-emerging new economic model.

In broad terms, the contours of this increasingly nuanced debate are clear: some advocates assert that the sharing economy has the potential to prefigure a post-capitalist future by dramatically reforming the way goods and services are owned, produced, exchanged and consumed. Others remark that sharing economy platforms often commercialise social functions that are traditionally undertaken for free, and are restructuring the nature of employment along far more precarious lines. Put simply, the dispute hinges on whether or not the sharing economy challenges or merely reinforces the fundamentals of neoliberalism.

These contrasting viewpoints have been catalogued and examined in a recent paper by Chris Martin published in the journal Ecological Economics, in which he also reviews a range of perspectives expressed by Share The World’s Resources (STWR), Shareable, OuiShare and other organisations that comment regularly on this topic. His research mainly serves to map the full diversity of opinions on the sharing economy, and it provides a useful overview of the wider discourse in that respect – albeit in an academic format.

The author rightly identifies STWR’s concern that sharing economy platforms often reinforce a narrow and highly individualistic economic paradigm, and that proponents of sharing should therefore align their activities to the more progressive vision of establishing a ‘sharing society’. In Martin’s analysis, a sharing society is “built upon resource sharing at the local and national scales (e.g. public services) and at the international scale (e.g.  transferring resources from developed to developing countries)”. He goes on to explain that making a convincing case for establishing a truly sharing society will require advocating for “the values of social justice, environmental justice and equality”.

Moving towards a sharing society

Despite concerns about the commercialisation of sharing, there is growing hope that the sharing economy can emerge as a more comprehensive social and political concept that can be employed to reshape entire cities along more sustainable lines, and even improve access to public services. As Duncan Mclaran explains in a recent article, “the sharing economy and its intermediaries are only a part of a broader sharing paradigm. Sharing fundamentally relies on reconnecting people and rebuilding social capital, it offers a vehicle for rediscovering public services such as libraries, as well as creating new community facilities such as shared kitchens and workspaces.”

These themes are more fully explored in the book Sharing Cities (co-written by Mclaren and Julian Agyeman), in which the authors explore case studies of the growing list of cities that are adopting the sharing economy model on a municipal basis. Drawing on these examples, they argue that the ethos and practice of sharing does have the potential to challenge neoliberal capitalism by building urban commons, shifting human values, and fostering more civic engagement and political activism.

It will be interesting to see how the sharing economy debate unfolds in 2016, especially in light of a deteriorating global economic situation in which the demand for a more just and sustainable global economy is likely to be on the rise. For STWR, it’s therefore more important than ever that this important conversation about how to integrate the principle of sharing into the way we organise society takes a global perspective, one that is based on the urgent need to address the pressing social and environmental challenges confronting humanity.

As we highlight on our sharing economy resources webpage, “the growing support for the sharing economy indeed has the potential to change the way we understand and address the many crises we face, but it has to be a genuine form of economic sharing that addresses the power structures and politics that maintain an unjust status quo.”


For more information about STWR’s perspectives on the future direction of the sharing economy, please visit our sharing economy page, where you can find a full list of relevant articles and blogs. 

Image credit: Flickr creative commons

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Guest Post, P2P Action Items, P2P Business Models, Sharing | No Comments »

Policy & FLOSS for the Commons – upcoming P2Pvalue Event in Barcelona

photo of Ann Marie Utratel

Ann Marie Utratel
5th February 2016


POLICY N FLOSS blog adjusted width

The P2Pvalue team is hosting the following event in Barcelona, Spain, on March 12-13, 2016 (with a locally-focused event taking place March 11).

WHAT:   Policy & FLOSS for the Commons

“Commons Collaborative Economies: Policies, Technologies and City for the People”

A two-day international interdisciplinary workshop which aims to highlight the relevance of the commons-oriented approach of peer production and collaborative economy, while proposing public policies and providing technical guidelines to build software platforms for collaborative communities.

WHEN: During the weekend of March 12-13th, 2016, with a locally-oriented event taking place on Friday, March 11th, 2016.

WHERE: Barcelona, Spain

For more information please visit the P2Pvalue event page.

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Posted in Conferences, Culture & Ideas, Events, Open Calls, P2P Collaboration, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »

Transitioning from Extractive Capital Models to Generative Capital Models

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
4th February 2016


“We believe that a new economy cannot be built in vacuum. We see this as a process of metamorphosis. The ethical and aware classical players will join first to transfer their classical store value and production assets into new assets. This is in essence a transfer of resources from the old economy into the new. As the new (generative) economy builds momentum and critical mass the other more pragmatic players will join. SENSORICA and Enspiral are well-positioned to to this, because we are using tools to gather data about economic activity and because we are transparent. Without metrics and evaluation systems it is a hard sell. All players in the generative economy need to realize this, and start practising “open book accounting” or “value accounting” a la OVN, or something similar.” – Tiberius Brastaviceanu

1. Michel Bauwens:

We have today the emergence of ‘ethical’ entrepreneurial coalitions around Commons-Based Peer Production, like Sensorica and Enspiral, but obviously these emerging and nice projects are embedded in a dominant system which has another logic, so the questions emerges, how does the new ethical economy deal with mainstream forces, especially in the context of needing capital for development.

Two obvious choices are:

1) full separatism , i.e. some parts of the solidarity economy refuse any dealings with the for-profit world

2) cooptation, in which the generative ethical players start behaving extractively, echocing the old logic

The middle way is therefore to consider a set of transitional strategies which regulate the cooperation between the old exctractive economy and the new generative economy, but on the terms of the generative players !!!

But how do we get there ?

Here’s how the co-founder of Sensorica sees it:

2. Tiberius Brastaviceanu of Sensorica: on Transferring Assets to the Ethical Economy:

“If the proposition to investors is to pump $ into projects and get more $ in return, we are just feeding the beast. Instead, the proposition should be transfer of assets.

This is how it goes. When you have a major economic transition what was used to store value in the old system might not work in the new system. Smart people move their assets in order to keep their wealth. For example, selling land and buying equity in new means of production (factories) during the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

So we need to tell investors that I3C helps them to transfer their assets to the new economy, using $ to buy equity into new means of production, divesting from old business models into new business models. They give us $, to organizations like SENSORICA, and others, who function based on new relations of production, we use it during the transition to buy equipment, tools, food, pay rent, invest in infrastructure, for as long as these things are purchased in $, we scale, but we are ready to switch to other reward mechanisms, redistribution schemes and currencies. These investors gain equity in these new ventures, so they are able to maintain their wealth. But, the difference is that their role in this new economy will not be the same. They will not own p2p means of production. It’s like loosing old social status, titles and benefits during the industrial revolution, when new social classes were formed.

Essentially the message is: keep your old assets and your wealth will melt down progressively. Transfer your assets and you’ll maintain (some of) your wealth. We show you how.”

3. Joshua Vial and the people of Enspiral have their own proposal for Capped Returns on Investments:

The idea of capped returns, proposed and discussed by Joshua Vial the Enspiral Foundation and community, is to accept private investments but to cap their possible returns, after which the funded resource is ceremoniously donated to the commons, with attribution to the investor(s).

See this talk by Joshua Vial!

Of course, our own proposal for commons-based reciprocity licensing, i.e. adopting the CopyFair principles, goes in the same direction.

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Posted in Commons Transition, Ethical Economy, Open Models, P2P Business Models, P2P Theory, Peer Production, Peer Property | No Comments »

A new era of global protest begins

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
3rd February 2016


Protesters in Japan

In line with the steady rise in social unrest over the past decade, it’s likely that we will witness an unprecedented escalation in large-scale citizen protests across the globe in 2016 and beyond.


Research by Dr. David Bailey provides empirical evidence for what many activists and campaigners have long suspected: that we have entered a prolonged period of dissent characterised by an escalation in the magnitude and diversity of public protest. The UK-based data clearly indicates that the catalyst for this upsurge in social unrest was the financial crisis of 2008, which continues to have a detrimental impact on economic security for the vast majority of citizens – even while the combined wealth of the richest 1% continues to soar.

Although many would regard 2011 as the year that mass civil disobedience peaked across the world (as exemplified by the emergence of Occupy and the Arab Spring, or ‘The Protestor’ being named person of the year by Time magazine) Dr. Bailey’s calculations show that 2015 was in fact the year that public mobilisations in the UK hit a record high. It’s not hard to see why protest activity is on an ascending trajectory, especially in light of government policies that continue to redistribute wealth upwards to an affluent minority. As opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in response to the current direction of policymaking in the UK, “[this government is] slashing public services, especially at local level, for those who rely on them for security and a decent life. It is driving the NHS and social care into crisis, while accelerating the privatisation and break up of our health and education services.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the protests reviewed in Dr. Bailey’s research were austerity-related and convened in response to concerns around pay and working conditions in the public sector, cuts to social services, the privatization of essential services or the lack of affordable housing. More recent catalysts include climate change and the refugee crisis – pressing international issues that remain wholly unresolved and likely to cause further mobilisations in the period ahead. Indeed, with continuing economic stagnation, more austerity measures and growing levels of hunger and poverty anticipated in the coming months, there is every reason to believe that the scale of public disaffection and dissent in the UK will continue to escalate in 2016 and beyond.

Rising protest as a global trend

The evidence from the UK tallies closely with the situation in other countries, as well as the general perception that social discontent is on the rise across the globe. A spate of studies and meta-analysis in recent years depict how large-scale citizen mobilisations have been intensifying for more than a decade, reaching a new peak in the past five years. According to the conclusion of an extensive study examining the complexities of global protests“The current surge of protests is more global than the wave that occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s, reaches every region of the world, and affects the full range of political systems—authoritarian, semiauthoritarian, and democratic alike.”

But it’s not just the magnitude of protest that has been multiplying; the number of people engaged in public rallies is also rising. A study analysing 843 protests that occurred between 2006-13 in 87 countries concluded that 37 mobilisations attracted one million or more participants. For example, in 2013 around 100 million people marched against inequality and dire living standards in India, and 17 million citizens mobilised in Tahrir Square to oust Egypt’s President Morsi – possibly two of the largest demonstrations in history. Commentators also acknowledge the instrumental role that the internet and social media have played in engaging the population during Occupy-style campaigns, and that global communication networks have even facilitated the spread of protests across national borders. In terms of motivation, the evidence suggests that most protests take place in response to pressing socio-economic concerns, the violation of basic human rights or a lack of democratic governance. Put simply, the majority of protests constitute a demand for wealth and political power to be shared more equitably among citizens.

Skeptics might argue that citizen protests are unnecessarily disruptive and do more harm than good, or that they are ineffective at changing laws and regulations. However, the research demonstrates that this is not the case. Although some 63% of stipulations made by protestors between 2006-2013 were not met by their governments, many of these were for systemic reforms which can only be implemented progressively over time. Moreover, the influence that large-scale demonstrations have on public consciousness should not be underestimated – a point well-articulated in the film ‘We are Many’, which details how the anti-war marches that took place prior to the invasion of Iraq influenced Egyptian activists during the Arab Spring almost a decade later.

A new expression of democracy

It’s reasonable to conclude from a simple analysis of these trends that a revolutionary change is taking place in the global political landscape. As policymaking becomes increasingly subverted by powerful vested interests, the resulting democratic deficit is being filled by concerned citizens who are demanding that governments take heed of their collective demands. This signifies a fundamental shift in the relationship between citizens and the State, and heralds a new expression of democracy that is still in its infancy but already capable of shaping public opinion, influencing policy discussions and even toppling governments.

The peoples’ voice is likely to strengthen dramatically during 2016, especially in response to a deteriorating geopolitical, socio-economic and environmental situation that necessitates a far more effective form of intergovernmental cooperation than has yet been achieved. In response to this epochal challenge, perhaps citizens campaigning on separate issues or based in different countries will also begin to coalesce their activities more concretely around a common set of principles and global priorities, such as a united demand for governments to finally secure basic human rights universally. Without such expressions of international unity and solidarity among both policymakers and protesters, it is difficult to imagine how today’s converging crises can be addressed in a way that upholds the global common good.

The only certainty is that government ministers will invite further social unrest if they fail to act on the rising demand for real democracy and justice that is at the heart of the current wave of popular unrest. The way forward has long been clear to global activists and engaged citizens: curtail the power of elites and corporations, and ensure that governance systems truly serve the people and protect the biosphere. As a minimum – and in line with the growing demands of a disaffected majority – this necessitates a radical decentralisation of power and the redistribution of wealth and resources across the world as a whole.

Image Credit: Nathan Keirn, Wikipedia Commons

 

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Guest Post, P2P Action Items, P2P Development, P2P Movements | 1 Comment »

Decentralized Autonomous Organization as Social Automatization: do we need techno-cratic governance ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
3rd February 2016


The whole blockchain development is a very good example of ‘value-sensitive design’, i.e. how the material interests and visions / intentions of various human groups enter into design decisions. The underlying cyber-libertarianism is a composite of different sensibilities, all of which are competing for the design direction of our new technological systems.

The original Bitcoin/Blockchain design is very much beholden to the so-called anarcho-capitalist vision of propertied democracy, one dollar, one vote, and with an in-built system for rent-extraction, which it aims unsuccessfully to distribute. It rests on a underlying vision as society (if we can call it that), as consisting of un-related individuals freely going into smart contracts into each other. It favours individual decisions and avoids collective decision-making.

Another stream of thought was represented by the Backfeed Magazine article we excerpted two days ago, which explicitely calls for democratic decision-making and governance by peers, and which is much closer to the sensibility of the P2P Foundation.

But there is of course also a very strong undertone of techno-cracy, which is exemplified here by the same author, Julian Feder, which years for organizations that automatize social relations and exist independently of humans and their messy decision-making processes.

This is very well expressed in the following excerpt.

Julian Feder:

“The Idea of a Decentralized Autonomous Organization that truly isn’t controlled or owned by any particular individual isn’t only revolutionary on a political or social level. One is almost tempted to call it an ontological revolution, one that redefines the basic categories of what is objectively real and what is simulated.

Classic distributed organizations such as shared stock companies, nonprofits or cooperatives simulate distribution. Their existence depends on laws, terms and regulations – guarded and executed by armed men and women (mostly men) – which restrict the otherwise total control of the individuals in power.

In comparison, a DAO, once in place, is a self-existing entity that transcends time, space and the personal existence of specific individuals and their ability to use institutional force. It is in many ways something entirely new; one could call it a new form of social automatisation, solely made out of information.

The idea of an organization without the need for an headquarter, which exists almost outside of physical space and that cannot be captured or seized by any kind of military force, would have sounded almost religious just a few decades ago. The bewildering implications of this new potential form of human organization seem to a 20th century mindset almost as alien as the landing of a flying saucer on the lawn of the Whitehouse, albeit less photogenic.

It might sound pathologically optimistic, if not straight out insane, but this new ability we are developing – to create autonomous complexes made out of information that exist in some kind of digital hyperspace and that have the ability to execute themselves and self-regulate while abiding nowhere and everywhere at once, with no servers or strings attached, might not just revolutionize governance and modes of production, but might very well transform our very understanding of nature itself.

Why would one claim such venturesome preposterousness? Well, because in the few decades in which our information technologies developed from handwritten manuscripts to mass distributed copies of disembodied information, our universe expanded from a few dots encapsulated in transparent spheres to a mind boggling vastness reaching to the outer ends of infinity, that’s why. In the end, it was our ability to conduct an (almost) global dialog, which transcended the ingenuity of the particular individual that brought us the telescope, calculus and eventually a new and alien universe.

Furthermore, this new technology of Decentralized organizations, databases, applications, contracts and what have you, are not just a new tool for exploring the world. To a large degree they are a new territory of existence to explore: a dimension of autonomous information.

But then again, It might very well be too early to jump to specific conclusions. We wouldn’t expect a 16th century peasant to foresee late consumer capitalism and to understand what an employee of Goldman-Sachs does for a living – let alone contemplate on interstellar spaceflight. But luckily time seems to speed up as history progresses so hopefully it won’t be too long until we’ll be granted with a glimpse of a world to come.”

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Posted in P2P Collaboration, P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Subjectivity | 2 Comments »

Video: Why are people turking for Amazon ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
3rd February 2016


Very nice short film, watch it to the end, for the testimonies of indivual ‘Turkers’:

Watch the video here:

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Posted in P2P Labor, P2P Lifestyles, P2P Subjectivity, Videos | No Comments »

Food as a Way to Help Refugees and Build Social Solidarity

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
2nd February 2016


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Can food be used as a way to bring strangers together, if only for a meal or two, and create the beginnings of a new type of community? Penny Travlou, a cultural geographer and ethnographer at the University of Edinburgh, decided to find out. In an interview posted on “Social Innovation Europe,” an EU website, she talks about her experience in co-organizing “pop-up dinners” that bring together immigrants with local Greeks in Athens. The idea is to use meal preparation and eating together as a way to break down cultural barriers and support migrant integration in Greece.

Travlou’s specialty as a researcher is the collaborative practices of digital artists and practitioners. But recently she has been fascinated with “nomadic co-living communities, hackers and refugees.”  Syrian refugees of course face some very different challenges than hackers, makers and other nomads of digital culture. Yet they both are living a kind of “nomadic transient citizenship” that Travlou believes is changing Europe.  One might say that ad hoc cooperation based on mutual need, empathy and shared circumstances is a big aspect of modern life.

In developing the idea of pop up dinners for refugees and local Greeks, Travlou had been inspired by Jeff Andreoni of the unMonastery, who had been organizing dinners in Athens for locals and immigrants.  Working with a professional cook, an Eritrean refugee named Senait, Andreoni and Travlou held a dinner for 100 people at a house in Athens.  As Travlou explained:

That made us think that such small-scale events can be a great way to give job opportunities to newcomers — i.e., immigrants and refugees — and get them feel part of the Greek society and culture. From that event onwards, we got collaborated with and participated in other immigrant collective pop-up events. In the summer, we set up the African Collective Kitchen “OneLoveKitchen” with a group of cooks from Senegal, The Gambia, Sudan, Nigeria, Eritrea and Ethiopia. We collaborated with the African United Women Organisation and Nosotros: the free social centre.

All our events have been self-organised without any formal funding. We have organised small pop-up dinners in houses and roof terraces, have served food in a solidarity economy festival and have catered for two conferences. Since September when a great influx of Syrian refugees has been arriving in Athens, some of us have also been involved in daily collective kitchens preparing food for a housing squat for refugees and other similar initiatives.

Travlou and Andreoni are now setting up a new project, Options Foodlab, which is a professional kitchen and co-working space for food training.  Travlou said that food is a great way to bring people together:

What I always say when people ask me why I got involved in such a project is to think of where the words ‘company’ and ‘companion’ come from. They both derive from the Latin word ‘companio’ which means one who eats bread [pane] with you. Thus, food making and sharing is a social act and a means of exhibiting respect for an existing or future relationship of reciprocity. Food making is about hospitality and connectivity. There is not a better way to bring people together: you don’t need linguistic cues to connect with others. With this perspective, we can think food as an object of exchange, a gift that can be shared and exchanged.

An inspiring project!  You can read the full interview with Travlou here.

 

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Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, Food and Agriculture, P2P Collaboration, P2P Lifestyles, Sharing | No Comments »

“A Call for Decentralized Governance”: On the Lack of Democracy in Bitcoin

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st February 2016


Decentralization simply means building mechanisms which allow for a group of peers to efficiently arrive at decisions without having to rely on fixed hierarchies, central coordination and single points of failure.

From an excellent article on the “Mike Hearn” controversy in the promising magazine Backfeed, excerpted from Julian Feder:

“Since Hearns post mid january, the Bitcoin price has more or less recovered and an avalanche of advocacies in defense of Bitcoin’s future has rained upon the blogosphere, sounding at least as convincing as Mike Hearn himself. Seems like Bitcoin isn’t dead yet, and as the saying goes: Those declared dead live the longest. However, one crucial point remains standing without a doubt – The Bitcoin community suffers from serious communication issues and lack of maneuverability to say the least.

One of the most influential centers of power in the Bitcoinsphere is the Bitcoin Core Project, which essentially develops the software protocol that operates miners and enables Bitcoin wallets to communicate and exchange value.

Bitcoin Core is not an incorporated entity of any kind. It’s an opensource project that in theory allows for the participation of anyone who’s interested and capable of contributing to it, but since it enjoys a sort of monopoly position, originating in the need of the Bitcoin network to be synchronized with itself, this principle of permissionless participation stays very much in the realm of mere theoreticality, or as Hearn phrases it –

“[…] Bitcoin Core is an open source project, not a company. Once the 5 developers with commit access to the code had been chosen […] there was no procedure in place to ever remove one. And there was no interview or screening process to ensure they actually agreed with the project’s goals.” Now, let us make one thing clear – Bitcoin being a decentralized entity, running on forkable open-source software and operating without corporate structures is obviously a feature, not a bug. This is exactly why anyone was interested in it in the first place. If that wasn’t the case most of us would have sent it to hell a long time ago. But there’s one crucial point that’s being missed all to often: Decentralization doesn’t mean lack of governance, neither does it mean that everyone has to agree with everyone else in order to get things done, nor does it imply that centralized special interest groups have their way in buying overwhelming influence through brute and unintelligent market mechanisms. If anything, decentralization aims to achieve the complete opposite of all these.

Decentralization simply means building mechanisms which allow for a group of peers to efficiently arrive at decisions without having to rely on fixed hierarchies, central coordination and single points of failure. This, obviously, can’t be achieved by merely pretending that they’re abolished or irrelevant to begin with, but rather by developing tools which make them obsolete. Bitcoin Core and various other groups which together could be called the “Bitcoin establishment” lack most, if not all of these tools. Hence the civil war and stagnation we’re witnessing.

In an attempt to deal with this situation, Hearn and his colleges from BitcoinXT proposed to allow Bitcoin miners to vote on the controversial blocksize, a proposition perceived as outright heresy among many leading figures in the Bitcoin scene, or as Hearn cites the admins at bitcoin.org:

– “One of the great things about Bitcoin is its lack of democracy”’

Could BitcoinXT have prevented or solved the Bitcoin crisis? Maybe. It could have made things worse as well. A lot of brilliant minds differ on this point and the argument won’t be settled here, anyways that’s entirely beside the point. Even if miners were allowed to vote on a specific update with their hashpower, the governing institutions of the bitcoin community themselves lack any kind of truly efficient decentralized apparatus that would allow for further managing the system and improving it, not to speak of a decent compensation scheme to encourage large scale participation in such an improvement and governance process.

The irony of this situation should scream sky high, since it was Bitcoin itself that introduced the Proof of Work algorithm in order to tackle a very similar problem: The PoW protocol allows the Bitcoin network to reach consensus regarding the contribution of each node in the system to the authentication process needed to verify transactions. The moment such a consensus is reached, contributors are rewarded with freshly minted Bitcoins.

The PoW model restricts itself to an algorithmically quantifiable and verifiable action, e.i how much computing resources you’re investing into the network, other value creating actions – like suggesting improvements to the system, writing code, creating software updates or anything their like, which geniune people have to do, are entirely of the scope. Bitcoin knows how to create and distribute value in a decentralized fashion, as long as no dirty humans with opinions are involved.

There’s another major problem with the Proof of Work scheme, especially if one would use it to determine the future of the entire system the way Hearn and his colleges from Bitcoin XT suggested (Voting with hash power to decide on the blocksize): Computing resources are a tradable commodity. Everyone with enough resources is capable of centralizing the entire system under his dominion, both in terms of the revenue stream created through mining, and in deciding how the system behaves, given voting with hashpower would become a thing. This is probably the reason why some consider Bitcoins “Lack of democracy” being such a great trait.

In the early days, many were terrified that some financial interest group like the Fed or some other statist syndicate, consisting of cigar smoking man in black, might bring Bitcoin down in exactly this way. Luckily, that didn’t happen. You only have a hashpower triopol generating about ? of the network’s total hashrate, most of which resides in the People’s Republic of China, behind a stasi-type firewall, making the system painfully slow.

There are alternatives to PoW, like “Proof of Stake”, where the amount of minable blocks is restricted to the amount of Bitcoins a miner holds. This would make it very costly to establish a monopoly position, but would officially transfer the ownership of the network to the 1% Bitcoin oligopoly, which currently holds about 99% of the entire Bitcoin supply (sounds familiar?).

So it seems that all of these schemes do a very good job in decentralizing the technical contribution needed to keep the network up and running, but have very little to do with making decisions, improvements and progress. However, it should be self evident that every system that involves genuine people, as automated and well designed as it first may appear to be, will at some point require adjustments, all of which will most probably necessitate decisions, have consequences for various interest groups and be subject to criticism. All these decisions and adjustments do not only require means to form an informed conesus, they also require a compensation mechanism that encourages improvement and gains the attention of highly skilled professionals – and above all – a sybil proof scheme to keep the system truly decentralized.

But is that even possible? Could we play the same trick, PoW plays on computing power, on human contributions to an evolving organisation? Including assessment of value, establishment of consensus and compensation via cryptocurrency?

At Backfeed we believe that the answer to this question is yes, and we’ve developed exactly such a mechanism, which not by accident goes under the name Proof of Value, or PoV.”

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Posted in Blockchain, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory | 2 Comments »

How the Digital Media Environment Enforces Boundaries

photo of Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff
31st January 2016


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In the 1980’s, the ultimate television president, Ronald Reagan, went to Berlin and implored Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Thanks to the global spectacle of electronic age as well as the unifying image of the earth from space, we were on our way to becoming one world. For better and for worse, both the spirit of kumbaya and the new power of the global market were in full force. This was utterly consistent with the media landscape of that society.

Today, the ultimate Internet candidate, Donald Trump, offers not to tear down a wall but to build one between the United States and Mexico. Thanks to the discrete bits and binary logic of the digital age, as well as the frightfully alienating spectacle of beheadings on social media, we are becoming obsessed with divisions and identification. For better and for worse, both the spirit of decentralization and the latent power of nationalism are in full force. This is utterly consistent with the media landscape of our society.

Consider the current argument over Ted Cruz’s status as a “natural born citizen.” No matter how disingenuously the question was raised, it proved wiggly enough to bring Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe to explain on CNN that “the Supreme Court has never fully addressed the issue one way or the other.” Even though Tribe believes Cruz’s eligible to run, he nevertheless wants this grey area to be rendered in black and white.

This is a digital-style problem. I don’t mean it’s caused by digital media so much as reflective of the qualities, the biases of the digital media environment in which we live.

For just one example, as we transitioned from emulsion film to digital photography and projection, we replaced smooth, random specks of silver with discreet pixels of numerically rendered tints. Each pixel required the computer to make a decision about what color to enter into the pixel. Back when there were 16 colors, that was a very crude estimate. Is it blue or purple? Whichever is closest.

Even with millions of colors and retina-display density, the decision must be made.
Definition is forced, and once the decision is made, fidelity is assured forever more. Everything has been made discrete (not discreet, but distinct).

That’s why we’re either Americans or Mexicans, Canadians or natural born citizens. Red states or blue states. Where pixels are getting mixed up, well, that’s where we have to build better walls. Get Supreme Court decisions that something is one way or the other. All the wiggle room, the undefined nooks and crannies that may have created ambiguity but also helped soften the edges of our societies, is taken away.

I was thinking our goal should be to re-establish the ambiguity?—?find new tolerance for ill-defined and undefined places on the spectrum. But even in those places, like the increasingly nuanced definition of gender, most are gravitating toward evermore specific names for their sense of self.

So now I’ve started to wonder if it’s better to push through. Maybe forcing definitions, as our digital environment seems to be doing, will lead to more granular definitions and categories. But each time we do this process, we will also be forced to come to terms with the arbitrary nature of all these categories and distinctions. Each one is a compromise, no matter how many decimal places we use.

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Livable vs Non-Livable Basic Income

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th January 2016


A low basic income that destroys welfare-based solidarity mechanisms, could have very negative consequences.

An important warning from Shannon Ikebe:

“Considering the fundamentally different political implications, a basic income above and below the level of a livable income should be treated as different proposals. We could call them a livable basic income (LBI) and a non-livable basic income (NLBI).

Could an NLBI still be a significant improvement over the status quo, even if it is not as transformative as an LBI? It entirely depends on the source of its funding and other associated measures.

If the money for an NLBI comes from taxing the 1 percent or cutting prison or military expenditures, it is clearly positive. For example, Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig call for a $3,000-a-year basic income that would be financed by raising taxes on the rich and reducing the “submerged welfare state for the affluent” — a robust redistributive measure even if it doesn’t lead to a radical post-work transformation of society.

But it should not escape our attention that an NLBI is very similar to the negative income tax (NIT) favored by libertarian economists, including Milton Friedman. An NIT simply means that those who make less than a certain income threshold receive money back from the government instead of paying any income taxes. Friedman argued that after instating an NIT, you could eliminate all other existing welfare programs, reducing bureaucracy and market interference.

More recently, the libertarian political scientist Charles Murray has proposed an annual unconditional grant of $10,000 for every adult and scrapping the rest of the welfare state, including Social Security and Medicare.

Even if a basic income is not introduced as a libertarian scheme, financing it by eviscerating other social policy or public investment programs (or through non-progressive taxes) would likely have a negative redistributive effect, without increasing the scope of freedom.

In a political context in which the Left is on the defensive, such an outcome is not unlikely. The Swiss proposal advocates for a considerably higher and livable 2,500 francs per month — and its proposed text for the constitutional amendment states a basic income should “enable a dignified existence” for the entire population — but the vast majority of parliamentary members bitterly oppose the social movement–led plan. In Finland, it’s a center-right government that’s proposing the multiple options up for consideration, with different levels of income and funding sources, containing both progressive and reactionary possibilities.

Even if the Left had sufficient political power to win a progressive NLBI, it is far from clear it should be our primary demand. We still need better-funded and free higher education, massive investment in green infrastructures and energy sources, and the restoration and expansion of decimated social policy programs, just to name a few priorities.

A basic income’s universalism and lack of means testing is certainly significant, as van Parijs emphasizes. He argues we should aim for a “basic income at the highest level that is economically and ecologically sustainable,” whether it’s a livable amount or not. On the other hand, a basic income may not be fiscally compatible with an expansive welfare state under the conditions of capitalism.

For feminist economist Barbara Bergmann, even a below-livable basic income would undermine a Swedish-style welfare state — the kind of welfare state that may contribute more to social and gender justice because of its targeted focus on socializing social reproduction. While a basic income would compensate those who spend countless hours doing unpaid reproductive labor, men who don’t engage in reproductive labor would receive the same amount.

The fundamental dilemma of a basic income is that the more achievable version — in which basic needs go unmet without supplementary paid employment — leaves out what makes it potentially emancipatory in the first place. Indeed, many commentaries cite basic income experiments to argue it does not significantly reduce work incentives.

This contradiction is directly tied to the fact that a basic income only addresses the question of distribution, while ignoring that of production. The kind of freedom from work — or freedom through work, which becomes “life’s prime want” — that an LBI envisions is, in all likelihood, not compatible with capitalism’s requirements of profitability.

The dramatic strengthening of working-class power under a robust LBI would sooner or later lead to capital disinvestment and flight, since capital can only make profits through exploitation and won’t invest unless it can make a profit. But slowing production would undermine the material basis of an LBI.

The only way out is to continue producing even if one can’t make a profit. Thus, an LBI would sooner or later force onto the stage the age-old question of the ownership of means of production.

Despite all these shortcomings, a basic income remains one of the few concrete proposals with emancipatory potential that is gaining mainstream attention and support. Especially in a period of left weakness, we should not dismiss it or disengage from discussions about it simply because a UBI throws up numerous challenges.

It is most politically powerful as a demand — a demand that exposes the irrationality of an economic system in which productivity increases seem to bring more unemployment and misery instead of the expansion of freedom they make possible.

In addition, it is not inconceivable that even an NLBI could constitute a first step in a longer-term strategy toward an LBI, forming an institutional infrastructure that could be expanded when the balance of class forces is more favorable. And the very presence of a basic income could help highlight the arbitrary link between “work” and income.

But when it comes to basic income proposals, the details matter. Supporting any plan that seems politically attainable and bears the name “basic income” isn’t a strategy for winning radical change. In the end, there is no feasible way to achieve a free society, or even one close to it, without challenging the power of private capital.”

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