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The economics of Laudate Si as commons economics !

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th July 2015

There is … a different sort of economics that helps us see the sense in what Francis proposes—the economics of the commons. This is a tradition that includes the “all things in common” described in the New Testament Book of Acts and the primacy of the common good over private property, upheld from Augustine to modern social teaching. People throughout history have practiced the art of “commoning” to steward goods that states and markets are not equipped to handle. The late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for her research on how longstanding communities govern resources like fisheries and forests, and today the commons of information is undergoing a revival through practices like open-source software. Communities manage their commons in many different ways, using many of the same tools we use to manage our households—like relationship, custom, listening, ritual and love. Act like a greedy homo economicus at the dinner table, and don’t expect to be offered dessert.

Nathan Schneider does it again!

“The encyclical’s heading therefore presents it as an economics for the world we hold in common. But what kind of economics is it?

As the document’s most uncomfortable critics have pointed out, the pope has little faith in the capacity of the market mechanisms of global capitalism to smooth out our reckless abuse of creation on their own. He is less than sanguine also about the capacity of national governments to do the job, especially since many are in the thrall of the same multinational corporations that profit from doing the damage. With neither capitalism alone nor the strong arm of states to turn to, it is no surprise that critics—Catholic ones most venomously—have accused him of economic naïveté and incoherence.

There is, however, a different sort of economics that helps us see the sense in what Francis proposes—the economics of the commons. This is a tradition that includes the “all things in common” described in the New Testament Book of Acts and the primacy of the common good over private property, upheld from Augustine to modern social teaching. People throughout history have practiced the art of “commoning” to steward goods that states and markets are not equipped to handle. The late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for her research on how longstanding communities govern resources like fisheries and forests, and today the commons of information is undergoing a revival through practices like open-source software. Communities manage their commons in many different ways, using many of the same tools we use to manage our households—like relationship, custom, listening, ritual and love. Act like a greedy homo economicus at the dinner table, and don’t expect to be offered dessert.

The Italian economist Stefano Zamagni, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, has participated in the development of Catholic economic teaching before and during the present papacy. “From an economic point of view, the environment is a common good,” he told me. “It is not a private good or a public good, which means that we cannot cope with the problem of the environment using market mechanisms per se, or government intervention.” The ideas of Elinor Ostrom and other scholars of the commons have figured prominently in the academy’s proceedings. The Belgian open-source advocate Michel Bauwens and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, have been invited speakers.

The kinds of remedies Francis proposes for our ecological sins often fit the logic of commoning. He calls for cooperative kinds of business that share wealth rather than accumulating it. He calls for prayer, for repentance and for dialogue—the kinds of things we do when something goes wrong in our household.

Especially controversial are the passages where Francis proposes “systems of governance for the whole range of so-called ‘global commons.’” Some have understood this as some kind of overreaching world government. But Zamagni insists that it is no such thing. Like the World Trade Organization, for instance, this might be something like the very agencies that capitalism relies on, though far more accountable than the W.T.O. to the world’s poorest, who are often the first to hear and suffer from the planet’s groanings.

Commoning is not a replacement for markets or states. Zamagni stresses that the consumerist capitalism that dismays Francis is not synonymous with markets as such. “The pope is not against the market economy,” he says; the problem is an idolatry that imagines markets can solve our moral crises for us. We can respect the usefulness of markets without needing to affirm their omnipotence.

This is the first third world encyclical—drafted by an African cardinal, Peter Turkson, and completed by a South American pope. Like Catholic social teaching in general, it declines to bow before the competing altars of Cold War economics. The commoning it calls for is the wisdom of the ancients, still hidden in plain sight among the “informal economies” at global capitalism’s margins. This is the art, at once, of keeping a loving home and of sharing a precious planet.”


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, P2P Ecology, P2P Spirituality | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: The More-Than-Human Commons: commoning is caring

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th July 2015

A really excellent and well-written (draft) essay on the implications of the commons for how we relate to each other and to other natural beings:

* Source: The More-than-Human Commons : From Commons to Commoning. Patrick Bresnihan. Forthcoming Chapter in Space, Power and the Commons, Routledge.)

Excerpted from Patrick Bresnihan:

“Where the more-than-human commons departs from other interpretations is in recognizing how the starting point is not an individual subject separated from other people and the world around them, but a relational subject who is always already caught up in a world that is intimately shared . This understanding is not based on an ideal but on the materially and socially constituted relations and practices that tie humans and non-humans together within a particular collective or territory. If we talk of ‘use-rights’ in the commons then these must be contingent on ongoing participation in the production and care of the commons understood as the entire collective of humans, animals, artifacts, elements that are necessary to maintain life processes. This meaning can already be found in the roots of the word ‘commons': ‘com’ (together) and ‘munis’ (under obligation). First, this tells us that the commons is produced together, reflecting our inter-dependence, the assumption that our world is already shared. Second, and arising from this, the obligation that such inter-dependence demands of us. The commons is not a ‘thing’ that we have access to because we hold a title deed or authorization, but something that is ours because we produce and care for it, because we common.”

The Social Commons as a perspective on the commons:

“A second perspective on the commons that has become popular within and outside the academy shifts attention away from the so-called ‘natural’ commons, focussing instead on the emergent possibilities of the ‘social’ or ‘immaterial’ commons. These include the knowledge and cultural commons (Hyde 2010), the digital commons and peer-to-peer production (Bauwens 2005) and the biopolitical commons (Hardt & Negri 2009). While the political perspectives that inform these analyses differ, they all assume an analytic distinction between the ‘immaterial’ commons and the ‘material’ commons. In his article ‘Two Faces of the Apocalypse’, for example, Michael Hardt describes the difference between anti-capitalist activists and climate change activists at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen (Hardt 2010). While the former insist that ‘another world is possible’, the latter adopt the slogan: ‘There is no Planet B’. Hardt traces these different political positions to their contrasting notions of the commons. On one hand, anti-capitalists consider the commons as a social/economic commons, representing the product of human labor and creativity, including ideas, knowledge and social relationships. On the other, environmental activists speak for the ecological commons, identified as the earth and its ecosystems, including the atmosphere, rivers, forests and forms of life which interact with them. Hardt argues that the former does not operate under the logic of scarcity, while the latter does. While the first perspective on the commons emphasizes the natural resources on which we all rely, the second emphasizes the social resources that have become increasingly central to contemporary forms of capitalist accumulation. In the first case, nature (commons) is a stock of bio-physical resources which, as Hardt identifies, is subject to the logic of scarcity, bringing us into the domain of liberal political economy and the institutions of formal and informal property rights. In the second, nature is no longer represented as a material background limiting human activity but becomes something malleable and infinitely reproducible, subject to re-combinant technologies and human creativity. This is the domain of neoliberal political economy and the fantasies of contemporary capitalist (re)production (Cooper 2007). The problem with this distinction is that we end up with one form of the commons that appears to be asocial (excluding the socially productive and reproductive labor of humans involved in caring for the ÔnaturalÕ resources they rely on), and another that appears to be anatural (excluding the material limits and properties of more-than-human bodies involved in the (re)production of the ‘social’ commons). While the distinction between the material/natural commons and the immaterial/social commons can be analytically helpful it tends to be over-stated, obscuring the continuity and inseparability of the material and the immaterial, the natural and the social.” (https://www.academia.edu/11778318/The_More-than-Human_Commons_From_Commons_to_Commoning)

The commons is not a resource, but a relation:

“A third perspective on the commons does not admit such a distinction and thus takes us in a different direction. From feminist scholars (Federici 2001; Mies & Bennholdt-Thomsen 1999, 2001; Shiva 2010; Starhawk 1982), geographers (Blomley 2008; St. Martin 2009) and historians (Barrell 2010; Linebaugh 2008, 2011; Neeson 1996; Thompson 1993) we learn that the commons was never a ‘resource’. The commons is not land or knowledge. It is the way these, and more, are combined, used and cared for by and through a collective that is not only human but also non-human. That the commons can continue to be identified as a ÔresourceÕ and not as a complex of relations between humans and non-humans attests to the long history of invisibility associated with Ònonrepresentational, affective interactions with other-than-humansÓ (De la Cadena 2010 : 346). The ÔinvisibilityÕ of peasant and indigenous cultures and forms of life has been well documented by historians and anthropologists (Brody 2002; Bird Rose 2006; De la Cadena 2010; Escobar 1995; Linebaugh 2008; Thompson 1993); colonialism begins with the erasure of any existing claims to territory or history on the part of those who are being colonized. The concept of terra nullius refers to the identification of ÔwasteÕ land, or land that has not been inscribed with human culture and production. This term was not just used in the conquest of territories in the ÔNew WorldsÕ but also in the enclosure of common lands, moors and heaths, that took place in Britain during the eighteenth century (Goldstein 2013). Silvia Federici, for example, argues that enclosure relies on the epistemological separation of the social and the natural spheres, the productive and the reproductive. She reads this separation-through-enclosure as something far more fundamental than simply the privatization of land. The relegation of ‘women’s work’ (childbirth, child rearing, cleaning, cooking, caring) to the domestic sphere outside of the ‘productive’ economic sphere represents the ‘naturalizing’ of this kind of labour : “[a]ll the labour that goes into the production of life, including the labour of giving birth to a child, is not seen as the conscious interaction of a human being with nature, that is a truly human acivity, but rather as an activity of nature, which produces plants and animals unconsciously and has no control over this process” (Mies 1998: 45). While reproduction is most often associated with human reproduction and the management of the ‘household’, from childbirth, to childcare and healthcare, cleaning and cooking, reproduction also extends beyond the confines of the house narrowly construed as four walls. Federici herself describes how her time in Nigeria observing and documenting the labor and activity of women in mostly subsistence economies led her to extend the notion of reproduction (Federici 2012): the household, or oikos, was not just a home or family but a wider sphere of communal reproduction that involved direct relations with the land, water, plants and animals, for exampleii. The conclusions that are drawn from these insights is that capitalist enclosure and biopolitical control necessarily involve the de-valorizing and ‘invisibilizing’ of those myriad, situated relations and practices of (re)production that exist between people and the manifold resources they rely on (De Angelis 2007; Federici 2001; Shiva 2010). What is significant is that this understanding of the commons focuses on the particular relations and practices that are characterize the commons as a different mode of (re)production.

As Peter Linebaugh explains, “[t]o speak of the commons as if it were a natural resource is misleading at best and dangerous at worst, the commons is an activity and, if anything, it expresses relationships in society that are inseparable from relations to nature. It might be better to keep the word as a verb, rather than as a noun, a substantive” (Linebaugh 2008: 279). This is why the noun ‘commons’ has been expanded into the continuous verb ‘commoning’, to denote the continuous making and re-making of the commons through shared practice. In this way the commons is not a static community that exists a priori or a society to come a posteriori but something that is only ever constituted through acting and doing in common. At the heart of this relational, situated interdependence of humans and non-humans is not an impoverished world of ‘niggardly nature’, nor an infinitely malleable world of Ôtechno-nature,Õ but a more-than-human commons that navigates between limits and possibilities as they arise (Bresnihan forthcoming). Nor is the more-than-human commons a pre-modern ideal that has been lost or marginalized. It arises wherever there is an immediate and intimate understanding that the world is shared, that human and non-human life is interdependent. This not an ideal norm but a materially and socially constituted reality that has been documented in many different settings (Linebaugh 2008; Scott 1990)

There are new fields of research that can help us to decipher what is going on in the more-than-human commons. These include the work of anthropologists examining indigenous cosmologies and relations with nature and territory (De la Cadena; Escobar 1999; Viveiros Castro 1998; Rose 2004), as well as post-humanist and vital materialist theory (Barad 2003; Bennett 2010; De la Bellacasa 2010, 2012; Papadopolous 2010, 2010a) that help shift the methodological and epistemological lens away from subjects and objects to the relata, the relations that constitute our world (Barad 2003). These rich literatures can help us disrupt the liberal humanist epistemologies that both individualize and place humans at the centre of world-making processes. In terms of the more-than-human commons this also means making an intellectual leap into contexts where social and material resources are already immediately and intimately shared between humans and non-humans.”


Posted in Commons, Featured Essay, P2P Collaboration, P2P Epistemology, P2P Subjectivity, P2P Theory, Peer Production | No Comments »

Debating Post-Capitalism (1): a critique by Michael Roberts

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th July 2015

I expect to see more critical engagements with Paul Mason’s important new book.

This first one, based on the introductory essay which appeared in the Guardian, is by the Marxist economist Michael Roberts, a long excerpt:

” I have a lot of issues with what Mason argues and concludes. He starts his article of explanation pessimistically by suggesting that neoliberalism has more or less triumphed in its aims for capitalism leaving ‘old labour’ methods and ideas in disarray: “over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.”

The first question that springs to mind here is: does Mason think there is still a ‘proletariat’ or not? Because he is right: far from the working class, even the industrial working class, declining or disappearing, it is growing globally. See my post,

The proletariat may be getting larger globally but, according to Mason, it “no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.” What does Mason mean? Does he mean that the working class is no longer the force for change that Marx and Engels saw it as back in 1848 and has been looked to by generations of socialists since? It’s true that strikes and disputes have dropped away in countries like the US and the UK. But let us balance that with the huge rise in the number of strikes and other actions in emerging economies like China, Asia and Latin America, where the industrial proletariat is increasingly now to be found. Is the working class impotent as a force for revolutionary change?

Let’s leave that argument for the moment, because Mason does offer what he considers is an optimistic alternative to the class struggle. The forces of labour may have been defeated but within capitalism are new progressive trends that capitalism cannot suppress or control which could achieve a better, freer, more equal society without the need for class struggle, at least as we have known it up to now. “Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.”

This is not apparently the socialism or communism that the old methods of class struggle and revolution aimed for, because Mason wants to use the word ‘postcapitalism’ as a clear distinction from those old-fashioned terms for a new society.

So what is this ‘unseen’ postcapitalism that (only) Mason sees; what are its distinctive features? “First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences [my emphasis], will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.”

Ah! So the information revolution means that less work will be necessary in order to deliver a ‘decent life’, a world without toil. But is that true given that the world is still in the grip of a capitalist, not a post-capitalist mode of production? It would seem to me that people are spending more time at home or travelling working for capital on their computers. The edges between work and free time are especially ‘blurred’ in knowledge-producing sectors. People are made to work (solve problems) in their free time more than ever before. See G Carchedi’s groundbreaking paper on how that has panned out – Old wine, new bottles and the internet, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.8.1.0069?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Will the information revolution reduce working time under capitalism and thus lead progressively to post-capitalism? Well, previous technological changes have not done so. John Maynard Keynes had a similar idea to Mason back in the 1930s (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/keynes-being-gay-and-caring-for-the-future-of-our-grandchildren/).

Keynes argued that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” Keynes predicted superabundance and a three-hour day within 60 years – Mason’s postcapitalist dream.

Well, the average working week in the US in 1930 – if you had a job – was about 50 hours. It is still above 40 hours (including overtime) now for full-time permanent employment. In 1980, the average hours worked in a year was about 1800 in the advanced economies. Currently, it is about 1800 hours. So, since the great information revolution began under the ‘neoliberal period’ of capitalism, the average working year for an American has not changed.

Mason’s next argument for the move to postcapitalism is that “information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant.”

Really? For a start, market prices are not determined by the degree of scarcity of a commodity or service. That is the essence of the unreality of mainstream neoclassical economics. The great classical economists, Smith and Ricardo, and above all, Marx, showed that prices of commodities and services are fundamentally determined by the socially necessary labour time taken to produce them. The great contradiction of capitalism is that, as the necessary labour time falls due to technical progress, it lowers the value of commodities and thus puts downward pressure on the profitability of production. And under capitalism, it is profit (surplus value) that matters, not more output (use value).

It is fine for Mason to notice that technical advances increase the productivity of labour (although we are not seeing much of that at the moment – but that’s another story). But that is only one side of the equation. The other side is the squeeze on profitability, the intensification of the class struggle and the resolution of that contradiction (temporarily and periodically) through slumps and contraction.

Mason ignores the two sides of technical advance under capitalism. Yes, one side suggests the potential for a super abundant, low labour time world. But the other suggests inequality, class struggle and regular and recurrent crises. Mason reckons that automation etc is “currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences”. Yes, that is the point, ‘postcapitalism’ cannot emerge without resolving the contradictions of capitalism.

But Mason remains utopian in his hopes that the elements of ‘postcapitalism’ are mushrooming. “Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.”

Mason cites Greece as an example. “In Greece, when a grassroots NGO mapped the country’s food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel currencies and local exchange systems they found more than 70 substantive projects and hundreds of smaller initiatives ranging from squats to carpools to free kindergartens.” The trouble with these examples of the new world is that they are more like a desperate reaction to the crisis of capitalist production, as in Greece. They will remain marginal, or be turned into profit-led operations competing in the market, as has happened to so many cooperatives and localist efforts over the last 150 years.

Mason admits that these ‘micro projects’ can only succeed in changing our world if they “are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do.” Given that most governments in the world are pro-capitalist and driven by big business and big capital, this makes that outcome pretty unlikely. Do we not remember what the modern state is really an instrument for nurturing, promoting and protecting capital and the ruling class? “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.” Engels, Socialism, utopian and scientific.

Mason then raises what many utopians have advocated before him: that if only we can change the way we think, we can change the structure of economic and social relations. “And this must be driven by a change in our thinking [my emphasis] – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

So first we must change our mentality and then the state can nurture these micro-level projects. Cart before horse? As we are locked within the confines of the capitalist production relations (both private and state), it is these relations that must be changed so that new ways of thinking can bloom.

Mason recognises that his ‘alternative model’ is not yet with us. Instead he forecasts a new capitalist crisis ahead – although this prediction is based purely on a Keynesian analysis of low real wages keeping demand low and a new credit bubble threatening another financial crash.

Mason reckons that neoliberalism “has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures.” Well, I thought that it was capitalism that was subject to ‘recurrent catastrophic failures’. But like other modern revisions of Marxist economics, apparently it is only neoliberalism, a special form of capitalism. In my view, neoliberalism, a ruling class policy and strategy to drive up profitability by raising the rate of exploitation, is actually the norm for capitalism. It is only in rare and short periods that capitalism looks to invest in new technology to raise profitability, as in the immediate postwar period.

Mason makes much of Marx’s discussion of the role of technology in his Fragment on Machines from the Grundrisse written in 1857 (http://thenewobjectivity.com/pdf/marx.pdf). Mason suggests that Marx makes the same point as he does: that capitalism expands technology and scientific knowledge to the point that a world of abundance and free time for all becomes reality.

As Mason puts it: “In an economy where machines do most of the work, the nature of the knowledge locked inside the machines must, he writes, be “social”. …“It suggests that, once knowledge becomes a productive force in its own right, outweighing the actual labour spent creating a machine, the big question becomes not one of “wages versus profits” but who controls what Marx called the “power of knowledge”.

But again, this is a one-sided and utopian view of technological progress. If you read the Fragment carefully, you can see that Marx is not posing some steady and harmonious development of a world of abundance through scientific knowledge embodied in an ‘ideal machine’. Yes, use values will multiply through technological advance, but this creates a contradiction within capitalism that will not disappear gradually. Under capitalism, increased knowledge from science and human labour is incorporated into machines. But machines are owned by capital not society in common. The class struggle does not disappear under the ‘power of knowledge’. On the contrary, it can intensify. For more on this, see G Carchedi’s Behind the Crisis, pp 225-232 (http://digamo.free.fr/carched11.pdf).

So it is not true that as Mason argues that “Something is broken in the logic we use to value the most important thing in the modern world.” And that “the knowledge content of products is becoming more valuable than the physical things that are used to produce them. But it is a value measured as usefulness, not exchange or asset value.” Use values are expanding dramatically in the information revolution, but the law of value still operates. Information is not free under capitalism. Indeed, every day, capitalism is trying and succeeding in measuring, capturing and owning information for profit.

But Mason continues to pursue his utopian view of the knowledge revolution. He pleads “If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black. Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models.” If only capitalism would operate in such a way as to create our superabundant postcapitalist world! But it won’t.

Mason returns to reality: “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

But he sees the contradiction, not between capital and labour, but between monopolies and free networking. This fragments the class struggle (which he seems to deny exists any more) into a battle of individual free minds and the knowledge-controlling forces of hierarchies. For Mason, the battle is between millions of people on their computers on the worldwide web (possibly in their pyjamas like me now) trying to change the world through the exchange of information against the forces of big business and their controlling structures. This replaces the old labour versus capital struggles.

Is such a prospect realistic or possible? The old-fashioned industrial proletariat is still out there and getting larger as more millions are urbanised and brought into factories to make the servers, fibre cables, robots, processors, software and other commodities necessary to create the ‘knowledge revolution’ for those of us in our pyjamas.

If Mason is telling us that the development of the productive forces have now created the pre-conditions for a society of abundance and an end of class exploitation, then that is right but it is nothing new. It what Marx said 160 years ago. It is what Engels said in 1880 when he summed up the state of capitalism and Marxism as scientific socialism as opposed to utopian socialism. “The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day-by-day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here.” (Socialism: utopian and scientific).

But Mason also seems to be saying that this new information/knowledge revolution is by-passing the contradictions of capitalism, the law of value and the exploitation of labour by capital. If so, then he is wrong. The contradiction between socialised production and capitalist appropriation remains. There is nothing new in the knowledge revolution that can change that. It requires the conscious action of labour to reconfigure “the social infrastructure”, as Mason calls it, to “make a fundamental change in what governments do”. Without that, ‘postcapitalism’ will remain a utopian dream.”


Posted in Commons Transition, P2P Books, P2P Theory, Politics | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th July 2015

* Book: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society: The Contentious Politics of Intellectual Property. Sebastian Haunss.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013

Excerpted from a review by Eden Medina:

“In Conflicts in the Knowledge Society, Sebastian Haunss studies the most visible movements that have challenged international intellectual property (IP) regimes. He positions the growing politicization of IP as part of a more expansive process of social change that social theorists have historically associated with the transition from an industrial to a knowledge society. Haunss opts to use the phrase “knowledge society” instead of such terms as information society or network society because knowledge society is “the most generic term, capturing the central element that distinguishes these societies from earlier forms” (p. 4). According to Haunss, four factors have increased the politicization of IP in recent years: the increasing economic importance of knowledge-based industries; the growing internationalization of IP issues; the greater attention IP issues receive in non-specialist and high-level forums; and the trend toward personalizing IP rules so that they affect end users as well as producers and sellers. Though Haunss does not list the signing of the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a causal factor, the treaty plays an important role in his analysis.

The book is organized into seven chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. Three chapters document case studies of highly visible challenges to IP regimes. This includes studies of software patents in Europe, the access-to-medicines movement, pirate parties in Germany and Sweden, and the history of Creative Commons (CC) licensing.

Haunss provides the analytical context for these case-study chapters with two preceding chapters: one on the history of international IP and the other on theories of the knowledge society. These history and theory chapters constitute slightly less than half the volume.
The history chapter traces the politicization of IP fromthe high and late Middle Ages to the signing of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) to TRIPS. The chapter also introduces the reader to copyrights and patents, two of the more contested forms of IP at present, and offers an overview of the different narratives that have been used to justify IP rights historically (e.g., personal rights narratives and different forms of the utilitarian argument).The next chapter focuses on social theory. Readers who are already familiar with the work of such scholars as Daniel Bell, Manuel Castells, and Nico Stehr may wish to skip this chapter given that it is mostly a synthesis of previously published work on the knowledge society. Those who are unfamiliar with these theories, however, may and Haunss’s detailed discussion highly useful. In essence, Haunss wants readers to understand how different theorists have described processes of change and con?ict as societies move from economies grounded in industrial forms of production to economies grounded in the production of knowledge.

The book then turns to a series of four case studies in three chapters. The first case-study chapter addresses the controversy surrounding software patents in Europe. Haunss mobilizes an impressive corpus of source materials to build his argument, including 170 newspaper articles published in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Poland, several hundred primary source documents, 25 interviews, and a questionnaire he distributed to actors involved in the controversy. The software patent con?ict of 1997–2005 centered on whether the European Patent Of?ce (EPO) should allow the patenting of software. The EPO and the European Commission felt that this would harmonize European legislation with that of the United States and Japan and remove what Europe’s large industrial associations perceived as an economic disadvantage. The push to make software patentable, however, triggered a counter-response from a diverse set of actors, including the newly formed Federation for Free Information Infrastructure, the EuroLinux Alliance, and the free and open-source software community. These oppositional voices lacked ties to the relevant policy organizations and had less experience and fewer resources than the industry proponents. Yet, they prevailed.According to Haunss, the opposition groups succeeded by creating a “frame bundle” that formed the basis of a collective identity and held together a diverse set of actors from different political, institutional, and personal backgrounds. In this sense, his book draws from, and sits in conversation with, the work of such legal scholars as Amy Kapczynski (2008), who used the frame mobilization literature in sociology to explore how acts of interpretation can spur collective action in the context of IP.”


Posted in Copyright/IP, Featured Book, P2P Books | No Comments »

100 Women who are co-creating the P2P Society – Marion Rousseaux on the Commons in Lille, France

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th July 2015

This is a truly heartening interview to see the depth of activity of urban commoners.

The interview with Marion Rousseaux was conducted by Michel Bauwens, with the assistance of Mélanie Gabard and Simon Sarazin who are active in the same projects.

* Michel Bauwens: First of all, tell us a bit about your personal backgrounds and the context of working in a city like Lille.

Marion Rousseaux: I come from the North of France. I studied law during 4 years and then, I decided to travel. I left during 4 years from 2010 to 2014 both in different parts of France and in different parts of the world. As an example, during my trip, I worked during 6 months in Mexico, in particular as intervenor in the Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH). I was also living in an indigenous community, making a research on the impact of an eco-touristic center within this same indigenous community.This was my internship just before I finished my Master degree in Law and Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE).

In June 2013 we created with 2 other persons a collective called Ôkarina. The mission of Ôkarina is to show that a fair and collective economical system does exists. We are organizing some workshops in different organizations (schools/social structures/international institution like the UN etc.) As an example, this summer we are working in Boulogne-Sur-Mer with 15 youth, accompanying them in the creation of a cooperative. This initiative comes from Québec and it’s called : CJS (coopérative jeunesse de service). The purpose of this cooperative is to :

* develop several services in the youth’s city

* look for customers

* join or create new contributive projects

Ôkarina is working a lot with theatre (a professional comedian is working with us) to put people in action. Our goal is to drop from reflexion to action. After participating to our workshops, some people actually start real projects which have been imagined during our workshops. We also give some e-learning formations : MOOCS, with the ILO (International Labour Organization) on several topics related to a fairest economy.

Ôkarina was first based in Poitiers and the team arrived in Lille in September 2014.

Going back to Lille after this 4 years experience was for me a big comeback because I discovered a Lille I didn’t know before. Indeed, I started to be really interested in the idea of a different form of economy during my journey. That’s why my interests were really different when I came back to Lille. Two weeks after I came back to Lille, I discovered La Coroutine and I met different persons deeply involved in the commons economy. Even if I was involved in social and solidarity economy (SSE) I still didn’t know that the common economy was existing. Meeting with Simon Sarazin and other members of La Coroutine opened my mind so much and answered so many questions I had those last years. Indeed I was focus on SSE and I started to feel that something was missing too often in this vision of the economy : the transmission of an economy based on freedom of implication, with a different perception of money and retribution.

* As I understand it, the projects in Lille are very much related to the existence of ‘open source third places’ which created over time a culture of collaboration that promoted the understanding of what commons are. Do you think that is true ? Are there other factors that played a role in promoting a commons culture. What about the regular ROUMICS conferences?

Indeed I think their are several places where the creation of a contributive economy based on commons is possible. La Couroutine, le Mutualab, two self managed coworking places are the heart of the creation or support of several commons projects as for example zero rent, Basic income lille, Alternatiba Lille, an open kitchen called “la cocotte”, etc. “Open source third place” is a name to say “common places”. And “commons places” are one of most important thing to develop commons. There are only few places in Lille with the openness and neutrality like La Coroutine or Mutualab. There is no property of anybody on the project, we don’t even really know who are the founders. It’s really easy to contribute and start a new project with other people.That’s key factors to allows the appropriation of these places by many persons. And with the time they are becoming really central for the development of commons. But that’s just a step, those places are open but not enough, we need places where all the persons can freely develop commons projects.
Commons culture also comes from an historical work on the impact of new technology in the society made by the ANIS association. Since 2005, this association organises the “Roumics” on this topic. Commons exists in Lille since a long time, with an alternative cinema, shared gardens, common artistic workshops, etc… But since few years, places like shared gardens are more connected to new commons as free software, open source third places and coworking, etc…

* Tell us a bit about encommuns.org, unissons, and ‘la fabrique de la mobilite. Regarding the encommuns project , how much beyond mapping is it ? What have been your ‘commons achievements’ so far ?

Encommuns.org is a project started during Alternatiba Lille in 2014; an event framework created to mobilize society to face the challenges of climate changes. During this event, some people decided to ask participants what commons they wanted to develop and to show what commons were actually existing in Lille. The idea is to help people joining them, or collectively start new ones. Here started the lille.encommuns.org platform, a first step before starting encommuns.org, a more global platform. That’s just the beginning and we need to go further.

Unisson is a “wiki” framework created to develop commons easily. That’s where we share good practices about commons and reference the best tools to develop them. For example, there are pages on Unisson about how to develop the contribution in a project, or how to get money and share it with others. Unisson give six “ingredients” to develop a common (finance, partners, contribution, sharing, governance, legal aspects)

Some really interesting ideas we need to improve are the ones on how we can develop business or public partnership around commons without having to take the risk to destroy the commons (as so often happens). Also the work done on how to share money in a community is important. We need to solve the problem that Benjamin Mako Hill explains well “It’s easier for a successful volunteer Free Software project to get money than it is to decide how to spend it “. Commons projects don’t know how to share money without creating frustrations that deteriorate commons. Unisson is a place to share ideas around that.

* Can you give a few examples of commons initiatives and commons oriented enterprises in your region ?

In Lille and in the Nord-Pas de Calais, there are different commons initiatives as for example :

* La Locomotive : which is a participative grocery based in Fives neighbourhood. Every 2 months, the members of the grocery order online some non-perishable food. Then, they come together in someone’s house to receive all the products. They package and distribute all the products which have been carefully chosen with local and organics producers. Of course, some products come from other countries (pasta for example come from Italy) but it’s a minority. The community pays a huge attention to the product’s provenance. The objective of this initiative is to be replicated in many neighbourhoods of Lille.

* Centre culturel libertaire, CCL. It is an activist common where a community of persons who organize themselves. Concerts, debates, meeting, free pricing restaurant twice a week are the everyday life of this initiative.

* Zero rent

* Formation on the commons : Several persons in Lille are interested in mutualising their knowledge on the commons topic. The idea is to create an open source formation where everybody can get involved and use the contents to give some courses and spread it with many people.

* Entre’coop : which is the CJS we are working on with the 15 youth in Boulogne Sur Mer. Indeed, this cooperative is open and it will initiate several collaborative projects as for example a coworking place, a participative kitchen/grocery and other services. We are working with different persons from Boulogne-Sur-Mer and our willingness is to prolong this project after the summer. Indeed if the current dynamism persists, this place could become a real third place.

* How is your relation to the public authorities, to various sectors of the business community; what are you proposing to them ?

Recently, we met with Christiane Bouchard, politician working at the City Hall in Lille. She comes from a political party called Europe Ecologie les Verts, focused on ecology. She is interested in the commons since a while and she wants to know how political actors can support the creation of commons in Lille without impulsing them or controlling them. Indeed in a common dynamic, the government’s role should be supportive and attentive to the citizens needs and initiatives. They shouldn’t be in a control stance.

* Are there any thoughts about creating a ‘assembly of the commons’ or a chamber of the commons in your city ?

With Christiane Bouchard, we started developing the idea of an assembly of the commons. We would like to firm a contract or a charter with politicians before the next elections. This charter would say that all decision must first be presented to the assembly of the commons to know what communities around commons think about a decision or if commons are not doing the work politicians are trying to do. This could improve the support of politicians to commons and not get closed or proprietary projects in competition with “commons” that citizen develop. That’s just a draft for the moment.

* How do you relate with the wider context, i.e. commoners in other cities and parts of the world

We are in relation with several communities in Brest, Toulouse, Montpellier, Grenoble, Paris etc.
We recently went to an event called “Open Château”. The objective of this event was to mutualise different initiatives existing in France. This was the occasion to organize ourselves in the objective of solving different problems.

During this event, we realized that we are now all facing the same kind of problems :

* The legal aspect

* The question of retribution within a collective

* The relation between the commons and the public institutions

* The mutualisation of the common initiatives emerging in different places

* The financial resources to develop platforms and online tools which will facilitate the communication and the visibility of the commons at a national and international level.

* What are your plans for the next five years and beyond ?

I have plenty of plans for the next five years. I’d like to find a way to put Ôkarina in a real contributing dynamic both in terms of an open pedagogy and an innovative monetary retribution based on several criteria inspired from Gratipay. Also, in September, I will start a school of Chinese Medicine. It will be a 5 years adventure which will allow me to understand better the interaction between the humans and their environment. My objective is to be able to connect the importance of getting closer from our bodies and mind to the economic global system. Indeed, everything is related and I agree with the fact that a global change starts with yourself. I would also like to participate in the creation of a participative grocery in my neighbourhood. Also, another project I have in mind since several years is to build an earth house called “ecodome” or ”superadobe”, in a contributive way. Indeed, I think that our living environment has a big impact on our creativity.”


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Business Models, P2P Localization, Peer Production | 1 Comment »

Essay of the Day: Reconsidering the University Invention Ownership Model

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2015

* Essay: Reconsidering the Bayh-Dole Act and the Current University Invention Ownership Model. By Martin Kenney and Donald Patton.

From the abstract:

“The current model within which universities own the inventions made by their researchers was enshrined in the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. This paper finds that the current system, in which universities maintain de jure ownership of inventions, is not optimal either in terms of economic efficiency or in advancing the social interest of rapidly commercializing technology and encouraging entrepreneurship. We demonstrate that this model is plagued by ineffective incentives, information asymmetries, and contradictory motivations for the university, the inventors, potential licensees, and university technology licensing offices (TLOs). We suggest that these structural uncertainties lead to delays in licensing, misaligned incentives among parties, and delays in the flow of scientific information and the materials necessary for scientific progress. The institutional arrangements within which TLOs are embedded have encouraged some of them to become revenue maximizers.

We suggest two invention ownership models as superior alternatives to the conventional model. The first alternative is to vest ownership with the inventor, who could choose the commercialization path for the invention. For this privilege the inventor would provide the university 5 percent ownership stake in any returns to the invention. The inventor would be free to contract with the university TLO or any other entity that might assist in commercialization. The second alternative discussed is to make all inventions immediately publicly available through an open source strategy or, through a requirement that all inventions be licensed non-exclusively. Both alternatives would address the current dysfunctional arrangements in licensing university technology .”


Posted in Featured Essay, Media, P2P Education, P2P Research | No Comments »

Interview with Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval on the Politics of the Common

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2015

The interview was conducted by Amador Fernández-Savater. Dardot and Laval are the authors of a book on neoliberalism and a book on the ‘common': “Common, Essay on revolution in the 21st Century”.

* “What was your intention in writing the book? Why set out this key idea of the common here and now?

Pierre Dardot: This book follows the same trail as our previous works, particularly The New Way of the World. The latter ends with a somewhat elliptical expression: “the reason of the commons”. We wanted to suggest that the ‘counter-conducts’ we spoke about in the book, that is, the practices of resistance and subjectivation, ought to be articulated as a new political reason, an alternative political reason to the neoliberal reason we had analysed.

What we were not so sure about was this very articulation, or, to put it another way, what kind of direct and positive participation in conducts of resistance could help build an alternative rationality. We had in mind an opposition between two principles: competition (a principle of neoliberal logic) and the common [lo común], but it was still very abstract. Ultimately, what was at stake was what we might call the positivity of practices of resistance: we cannot be satisfied with a resistance to power that is purely defensive or reactive. Rather, we have to think about a resistance that can produce new rules. It is only in this way that we will be in a position to overthrow neoliberal reason.

Christian Laval. We were prepared to map out the path from resistance to emancipation, in that sense moving beyond Foucault and his mistrust of the “big projects”. But what was ultimately decisive in writing this book, with this title, were the different movements contesting the private and state-led appropriation of resources, spaces, services, etc. And, most especially, the movement of the occupation of squares (15M, etc) which has set forth new demands with an incomparable energy.

In all these movements a radical questioning of ‘representative’ democracy has developed, in the name of a ‘real’ democracy, linked in certain cases to ecological demands concerning the preservation of ‘common goods’ (urban spaces above all). So something that was for us still rather a matter of intuition at the end of The New Way of the World has now taken shape. We believe that the common is the principle that literally emerges from all these movements. The common is not, then, something that we have invented, but rather emerges from current struggles as their own principle.

* What is your definition of the common?

Pierre Dardot: The definition of the common that we propose at the beginning of the book does not seek to be a general definition, independent of time and place. If we go back to the etymology of this term (cum-munus) it is certainly not to give the impression that the common has always held the meaning we give it today. In Aristotle, the koinôn is what arises from the activity of common endeavour that constitutes citizenship, the activity that involves the back-and-forth between the rulers and the ruled. In the Roman Republic, the word munis meant, above all, the dimension of obligation imposed upon all magistrates that held public office. Today, by the lights of the movement of the squares, the term has a rather different meaning: the only valid political obligation is that which proceeds, not from belonging to the same thing, but from participation and involvement in the same activity or task. This demand is one of participative democracy and as such it stands opposed to representative democracy, which authorises a few to speak and act on behalf of the many.

* Could you explain the difference between your approach to the common and what we find in other discourses at play in more or less the same field? To be specific: 1) What distinguishes the common from the public-state owned? 2) What distinguishes the common from ‘common goods’? 3) What distinguishes your thoughts from those of other intellectuals such as Toni Negri and Michael Hardt?

Christian Laval: The public-state-owned rests upon two demands that are perfectly contradictory: on the one hand, it purports to guarantee universality of access to public services; on the other, the state administration reserves the monopoly over running these services, thereby reducing users to consumers, and excluding them from any kind of participation in their running. The commons must be precisely to put an end to this baleful division between “public servants” [funcionarios] and “users”. To put it another way, the common could be defined the public/non-state: to guarantee universality in access to services through direct user participation in their running.

Pierre Dardot: Secondly, the common is for us a political principle and not a property that might pertain by nature to a certain kind of “goods”. We distinguish between the common [lo común] as a political principle that is not to be instituted but rather applied, and the commons, which are always instituted through the application of this principle. The commons are not ‘produced’, but rather ‘instituted’. This is why we are very reticent with regard to ‘common goods’. Because all goods considered in this way share this quality of being ‘products’. We think this reasoning needs to be turned around: every common that is instituted (whether natural resource, knowledge, cultural space etc.) is a good, but no good is in itself common. A common is not a ‘thing’, even when it relates to a thing, but rather the living tie between a thing, an object or a place, and the activity of the collective that takes charge of it, that maintains it and cares for it. The common can only be instituted as that which cannot be appropriated.

Christian Laval: Finally, our perspective also calls into question the thesis set out by Negri and Hardt of a spontaneous production of the common, which would be at once both the result and the condition of the process of production (in the same mode as the expansive dynamic of the forces of production in a certain kind of Marxism). We think that by idealising the autonomy of immaterial labour in the era of ‘cognitive capitalism’, this thesis fatally ignores the mechanisms for subordinating labour that capital nowadays operates.

* ‘There are no goods that are not common goods [by their very nature, by their intrinsic qualities], but rather commons to be instituted.’ These are the words that round off your work and in a certain way summarise it. How is the common instituted? What kind of institutions are appropriate?

Pierre Dardot: To institute does not mean to institutionalise in the sense of rendering official, of consecrating or of recognising a posteriori what has already existed for some time (for example, in the form of habit or custom), nor does it mean to create out of nothing. It means to create the new with -and starting from- what already exists, as such in conditions passed down independently of our activity. A common is instituted by a specific praxis that we call ‘instituent praxis’. There is no general method for the institution of any given common. Each praxis ought to be understood and carried out in situ or in loco. That is why we must speak of ‘instituent praxes’ in plural.

Christian Laval: Opening up a service that had been until that moment closed down, in a psychiatric hospital, following a discussion with the health workers and the patients, involves an instituent praxis, though it might be a ‘micropolitical’ extension, as Foucault would have it. Similarly, instituting a seed bank for peasants or setting up a cultural centre for common use. And it is these practices that prepare and build the revolution understood as ‘auto-institution of society’.

* There is a classical suspicion among the more egalitarian and horizontal movements with regard to the idea of ‘institution': the danger of bureaucratisation, the consecration of tradition, the excessively rigid channelling of the ‘flow’ of the movements, etc. How would you respond to this suspicion? How should we think of the institution in a way that responds to these risks? How can we crystallise without freezing?

Christian Laval: Throughout history: there is a ‘curse’ that lies in wait for social mobilisations, for movements of struggle, for revolutionary experiences: the alternative between their swift dissolution due to lack of structure, or their bureaucratisation. Certain writers hold that we cannot escape the petrification of movements, their degradation into a fixed organisation, headed up by a small conservative oligarchy. Sartre, for example, thought that the insurrectional episode of the groupe en fusion inevitably led to an institutional reification. The concept of institution therefore wound up in one thing: the inertia of a dead body.

But this thesis can only be understood as the reverse of the old Marxist-Leninist theory of the Party that saw, in the absence of a disciplined organisation capable of seizing the centre of power, the cause of the defeat of revolutions (particularly the Paris Commune). The Marxist-Leninist party, the keeper of the knowledge of history, was no more than a simulacrum of State, based on the model of the central bureacracy. The challenge of contemporary movements consists in having the capacity to refute this double fatalism.

Pierre Dardot: We have to tackle this feeling of historical impotence that says that effective and lasting politics can be nothing other than the monopoly of the dominant. And to this end there is only one solution: to create institutions whose principle is such that the rules can be the object of a constant collective deliberation so as to avoid a bureacratic ‘freezing-over’. What is essential is that the institution, whatever it might be, should have the capacity to open up to the unforeseen and adapt to new necessities: its functioning must therefore allow at every moment a relaunching of the instituent.”

* At what point are we right now in this struggle?

Christian Laval: The dominant forces in Europe and the world have deliberately entered into a logic of political confrontation, under the pretext of returning debt to creditors, in order to break these fractions of the population that resist neoliberalism and rip the heart out of any will for political rupture. We are entering a new period of struggles. Greece and Spain are the vanguard. The important thing is that they must not remain alone, and that other forces in other countries must come to their aid in order to break these austerity policies.

The situation of confrontation on a European scale shows the practical need for a new internationalism. And hence one of the current risks, undoubtedly the major risk, is that when confronted with the ravages of neoliberalism, some end up succumbing to the deadly siren calls of nationalism and sovereigntism. This is what is currently happening in France, not only on the far right with the Front National, but also in the ‘radical’ left.

* We believe one of the virtues and strengths of your book is that it can appeal both to those involved in grassroots experiences as well as those who have opted for the ‘assault on the institutions’. Regarding grassroots movements, how might your book help to rethink and reassess one of their major problems, that of duration? How can the (egalitarian, inclusive etc) political practices that emergge in exceptional moments of struggle be turned into ‘habit’ or ‘custom’?

Pierre Dardot: Regarding the movements, the reach of our book, at least that which we are seeking, is that the institutional dimension of ‘real democracy’, in the words of 15M, be taken seriously, that it become the object of experiments, debates, collective reflections. For us, real democracy is a matter of institutions. And this is the condition for ensuring the duration and the strength of the movements. It is for this reason that we are opposed to all these illusions regarding the spontaneous development of ‘immanent communism’ in grassroots struggles. These illusions are dangerous, because they short-circuit the decisive question of the institution, that is, in our perspective, the investigation regarding the effective forms of instituent praxes. The dialogue can be established on these grounds.

We should not underestimate how difficult it is to invent new institutions whose functioning is geared explicitly towards preventing their appropriation by a small number, the distorting of their purposes, or the ‘rigidification’ of their rules. The question is not how to ‘create’ new ‘customs’ or ‘habits’, because neither one nor the other can be the object of acts of institution, but rather how to allow practical rules to prevail that allow for debate, deliberation, collective decision-making even in the very definition of the rules that organise collective life.

* And regarding public institutions, how might one contribute from these towards the common? Is it possible, for example, to transform public institutions into institutions of the common

Christian Laval: As we have said, there is a close relation between the ephemeral nature of mobilisations and the more or less ‘grassroots’ spontaneity that condemns any kind of political activity in the name of distrust regarding everything that looks like “politics”. But at the same time, it is not enough to “conquer power” and “occupy the positions” of the State in order to change things. The deep and undoubtedly irreversible crisis of representative democracy in the neoliberal era clearly shows the need to invent another politics, another relation to politics. And that is precisely the challenge of the politics of the common.

Pierre Dardot: We must remember that the common does not come from the State. The State is by no means the owner of the common, except illegitimately. It is from the very inside of society’s movement, through the struggles that transform it, that new political forms are invented. Institutions are born out of conflict. It has been forgotten, no doubt owing to the degeneration of the organisations of the socialist and labour movement, that workers in the 19th century were able, under very difficult conditions, to build new institutions in their day, such as unions, cooperatives, mutuals etc.

The current abundance of associations of struggle and defence of citizens links back to this history while at the same time gives it a deep renewal. It is not only the workplace that needs to be reinstituted politically, as socialists of years past wanted, but all social activities and all spheres of life: the hospital, the school, the home, the city, the culture.

Christian Laval: There is no preestablished plan for this new politics. We only have concrete experiences that need to be considered, compared, synthesised. For example, all that has been explored for years under the name of ‘participatory democracy’ at a local level, in very different regions and under very varied forms, in Latin America, in England, in the Kurdish region of Rojava with its communalist utopia etc. And, above all, this irresistible wave on a global level of collective care of ‘common goods’, which entails (despite its erroneous designation) the participation of citizens in its definition, care, production. The example of the democratisation of water services in Naples, as promoted by the mayor Luigi de Magistris, stands out in this sense, despite its limits.

* To be more specific: what message would you give to the municipal initiatives (Ahora Madrid, Barcelona en Comú, Marea Atlántica) that view ‘the defence of common goods’ as a key axis of their programmes?

Pierre Dardot: One of our ‘proposals’ is to transform public services into instituted commons. This would mean that they would no longer belong to the State as if it were the proprietor, the sole custodian, the overall authority. A public service is only worthy of that title if it is a service that society gives to itself in order to realise its rights and satisfy its needs. We need to break the monopoly of state administration in order to guarantee universality of access to these services: users must be considered, not as consumers, but rather as citizens who take part in the deliberations and decisions that concern them, alongside the ‘public servants’.

Christian Laval: Another condition to be imposed: politics must not be a matter for professionals. Politics is not an office, and least of all an office for life. On the political plane, one of the hinges of the revolution we are tasked with today is the radical modification of the definition of the political mandate, at every level, in order to eliminate the political ‘caste’, who, ever closer to the ruling economic powers, has done so much harm to our societies.”


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

The economic foundations of abundance

photo of David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte
23rd July 2015

An approach to the concept of abundance and the elements that make it more possible and closer today than ever before in the history of our species.

We all understand that abundance exists when it becomes unnecessary to work out what is produced and what not, and above all, how much access to a given product these or those people will have.

Schlaraffenland - JaujaThat’s why it’s intuitive to understand that abundance is a question of costs. We all understand that if producing something doesn’t cost anything, that something will be abundant. The problem is that it’s hard to think of anything whose production doesn’t cost anything, and even harder to picture a society where it never costs anything to produce anything.

The truth is that a situation like this is not necessary to imagine a society of abundance. We just need to distinguish between value and price on the one hand, and the other, between the different types of costs of production.

Value, price and costs

As we saw in the prior essay, as a species, we humans are obliged to transform Nature to survive. In that transformation, “things” incorporate knowledge and are “humanized” as they are turned into products. This incorporation is none other than the effect of the the transformation itself, the effect of work. That’s what we call value.

Value and price

Value is not price. Price is a measure that attempts to quantify the relationship between different resources within general scarcity. Value, in contrast, is the measure of work, and therefore, of the knowledge “incorporated” into an object or a service.

The difference between value and price is a classic piece of economic theory. The first economists of the 17th and 18th centuries, “the classics,” embraced theories of labor-value and built their models around the differences between “incorporated work” and relative prices over the long term. At the end of the nineteenth century, when the corpus of marginalist economic theory was formed, the economic foundation (value) was left out in favor of an effective explanation of the mechanism of prices. A good understanding of the mechanism of prices and the efficient distribution of scarce resources needed no more than a good understanding of the relationship between supply and demand, which is to say the relative measure of scarcity among resources.

In reality, every object or service, to the extent that is necessarily a product, and to the extent that it always incorporates human labor, has value, but only goods, the scarce products that enter the market, have a price.

When something becomes abundant it stops having a price, or rather, has a price of zero. A handy example is free software. It obviously has value: it incorporates knowledge and serves in turn to produce other goods and services. It also has costs: the work hours that thousands of developers have dedicated to coding and the computers they used, the maintenance of the servers from which each program is distributed, etc. And yet, its price is zero. Why? How can it be that something with costs has a price of zero, even when it has established demand and there would be certainly be people prepared to pay for access to it? Is it just a donation?

Price and costs

To answer, we must first understand what costs consist of. Intuitively, when we think about them, we think about the total cost: how much it costs me to produce a given number of copies of something. In reality, this cost has one fixed part–what I have to spend no matter what to start producing–and a variable part, which is a function of the amount produced.
For example, if I want to make sugar, my fixed costwill be (simplifying somewhat) the cost of the sugar-milling machines, while the variable costs will be the sum of the costs of the work hours that I dedicate, the tons of beets I purchase, and the electricity consumed by the machines. The fixed cost, the cost of the sugar-making machine, does not depend on the amount I choose to produce. However, the variable costs will tend to grow as I produce more. Intuitively, we understand that theaverage cost, the result of dividing the total costs by the amount produced, at least at first, will tend to decrease because by producing more, and the part of the fixed cost built into each cup of sugar will be smaller. As of a certain quantity, however, I would begin to find myself obeying the famous “law of diminishing returns,” and costs would vary (three people working on the machine do not produce three times more than the first, but rather, a bit less).

But there is still one more measure of cost, which is especially interesting: marginal cost, the extra cost incurred to produce the next unit of product. Mathematically, it is the derivative of the function of total costs, but the interesting part comes from being useful to determine how much a business will produce in a market in perfect competition.

Perfect competition is a model that all Econ students learn in their first year. In it, all the businesses in an industry produce identical goods, there are no barriers to new businesses entering the market or old ones exiting. No business has any trouble acquiring new technologies and no business has the power to set prices on its own. In other words, by definition, none of the participants enjoysrents&madsh;benefits due to some type of differentiation or extra-market advantage.

costes variablesIn reality, in a model like this, the price is set by the business that is capable of producing at the lowest cost, and the others adjust their production to that competitive price, which in the end, is simply the one that reduces extraordinary benefits—rents—to zero. In this model, the supply curve of the businesses is built by thinking about how much different businesses would like produce for a given price.

The answer would seem to be common sense: as the price is equal to the income that the last unit sold would produce, they would not want produce if the marginal cost was greater than the price, because then that last unit would cost more than the income it would create and would reduce the total benefit. But if the marginal cost was less than the price, producing a little more could still bring in a little more and give a greater total benefit. Result: a business will be situated with maximum total benefits when the amount produced equals marginal cost and price.

And thus, one of the mantras of every economist is born: in perfect competition, which is to say,when rents don’t exist, the price is the marginal cost.

Abundance as child of the market

By introducing time into this model, Econ students learn that predictably, over the long term, in every industry, the curves shift to the right, which is to say, that prices fall over time. But let’s imagine that a series of technologies or forms of production appear that pull the curve of marginal costs down, so that, over the long term, we could think about marginal costs equal to zero.

If we think about it a bit, that’s already happened with some immaterial goods: up to a certain amount, one more person downloading one of our books from our server does not mean any extra cost. The marginal cost of distributing a book in the public domain is zero. And what goes for a book goes for a copy of the latest distribution of Debian.

In markets like free software, therefore, we can talk about having arrived at the paradigm of perfect competition: Zero marginal cost and zero price. The product has reached a point where the efficient price is the zero price. No longer is it exchanged for money, no longer is it a commodity:decommodification has arrived as a product of the evolution of the market.

Criticism and nuances

Distributed networks and abundance

Topologías_de_redThe first criticism of the example above would be that it’s only true for a certain number of copies, because if our server passed a certain critical point, we would have to increase bandwidth and in reality, if it happened long term, we would have a growing variable cost and therefore, a positive marginal cost.

But this is really only true if there is only one server from which to download the product. If we share it on a P2P network, like those created with the BitTorrent protocol, we would be in a radically different scenario: each new download, each new user, would mean a another possible place to download from for the next person. The more people who “consume,” the less each one of those who already are part of the network need to contribute. Not only we would we be well settled with the zero marginal cost, but at the limits, the total cost borne by each person would also be zero.

This is just one example of the logic of abundance produced by distributed networks described by Juan Urrutia in 2001. In addition to the network effects like the one described above, there’s one more important element: the drastic reduction of transaction costs that appears when the real social network unites identarian communities.

Transaction costs is another concept from economic theory. They were created to explain why, if markets tend toward efficiency, people don’t just start produce things on their own, hiring the factors of production and even the coordination of the process ad hoc. That is, transaction costs are the primary explanation for the existence of businesses. They include things like the cost of negotiating with providers and customers, the derivatives of the need to get information and those of supervising providers and customers. All of them have to do with asymmetries of information and distrust between people, and it is that distrust that makes it rational to set up a business, which is to say an institution, a set of contracts, that is going to remain stable over time.

But all these costs dissipate within a real community–which is, by definition, a small distributed network–of people based on trust. Unity in large distributed networks of overlapping identarian communities–which is to say that on average, each individual will have more than one identity-based community–is both about the role of models and the reality made much more possible by the Internet, the “primordial soup” where abundance germinates for the first time, even if only in a few environments, on a massive scale.

Other rents

El capitalismo que vieneAnother obvious criticism would remind us that, “in real life,” big businesses do not live in markets with perfect competition, but seek rents of all kinds: rents of position, regulatory rents…

But here once again, the emergence of distributed architectures changes the game. The key is a concept described for the first time in another book by Juan Urrutia: thedissipation of rents. The idea is that the unity of distributed networks and globalization erodes all rents more and more intensely, including regulatory rents like intellectual property.

To understand the ultimate causes, we must add one more factor: the reduction of the optimal scales of production, which is result of technological development. The same movement background that produces a true crisis of scale means that necessary investments are smaller smaller, and it takes less time to replicate an innovation in any industry, including some as complex as pharmaceuticals. That’s why even rents from innovation, the benefit derived from create something new and enjoy a small, temporary monopoly, are more and more brief.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that rents derived from things like the legislation of intellectual property or “custom” regulations for oligopolies like electricity have disappeared or been canceled. It just means that, for the time being, they are being continuously eroded, in an unending cycle of innovations that erode rents and legal repression, new innovations that have already brought down audiovisual industries, publishers, and even energy production, and that, over the long term, seem to reinforce the expansion of technologies and networks that are more and more distributed and opaque to the State.

The fibers of abundance

The fibers of a society of abundance are already among us. Some, like the dizzying development of productivity or the possibility of zero marginal costs, were already present in the thought of the utopians and economists of the 19th century. Others, like the role of the reduction of scales, distributed networks, and the commons, only have appeared clearly in the last three decades.

Those very elements let us clearly see something that is no less important: what doesn’t lead to abundance, what is truly “reactionary” in our days. We’re talking about strategies like the recentralization of the Internet, and about economic nationalism and the expansion of corporate rents that it entails, which are typically accompanied by the exaltation of over-scaled financial markets, and therefore necessarily destructive. But we’re also talking about narratives that present growth, technological development, and productivity as enemies to beat.

In upcoming essays in this series, we’ll go into more depth on the new basis of abundance, to start them to imagine the possible world that they are drawing for us.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Company Watch, P2P Development, P2P Lifestyles | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: How the Student as Producer is Hacking the University

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2015

* Paper: Student as Producer is hacking the university. Winn, Joss and Lockwood, Dean (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. Routledge.

From the abstract:

“This chapter discusses the Student as Producer project at the University of Lincoln and provides two case studies of how Student as Producer is infiltrating quite different areas of university life. The first discusses Student as Producer in the context of Deleuze and rhizomatic curriculum design, while the second looks at how the project is being applied to the development of an open institutional infrastructure, in which Computer Science students are redesigning and developing the tools used for research, teaching and learning.”


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Education, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

The best video of the year: 3 minutes on our precarious plight under neoliberalism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2015

Worthless is marvelous spoken work on music poem by Agnes Török, a very powerful three minutes:


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