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The State of the Commons Report of 2014

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
11th December 2014


From the intro of the report:

At its heart, Creative Commons is a simple idea. It’s the idea that when people share their creativity and knowledge with each other, amazing things can happen.

“It’s not a new idea. People have been adapting and building on each other’s work for centuries. Musicians sample beats from each other’s music. Artists create entirely new works from other people’s images. Teachers borrow each other’s activities and lesson plans. Scientists build off of each other’s results to make new discoveries.

We believe that sharing — sometimes it happens in an instant, sometimes it spreads across generations — is how society grows, how culture develops, and how innovation happens. We also believe that copyright can often get in the way, usually without the copyright-holder’s intention. That’s why we created the Creative Commons licenses.

Millions of creators around the world use CC licenses to give others permission to use their work in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to. Those millions of users are the proof that Creative Commons works.

But measuring the size of the commons has always been a challenge. There’s no sign-up to use a CC license, and no central repository or catalog of CC-licensed works. So it’s impossible to say precisely how many licensed works there are, how many people are using Creative Commons licenses, where those people are located, or how they’re using them.

With this report, we’re taking a big step toward better measuring the size of the commons. We’re also sharing all of the data and methodologies that we used to find these numbers, and making a commitment to hone and update these findings in the months and years to come. We’re also telling the stories of events from 2014 that have impacted the size, usability, and relevance of the commons.

Sharing is winning. In 2015, we’ll pass one billion Creative Commons–licensed works.”

To Read the Full Report – https://stateof.creativecommons.org/report/

State Of The Commons 2014

 

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Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, P2P Research, Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

The Real Trouble with Disruption

photo of Nathan Schneider

Nathan Schneider
28th November 2014


disrupt

Young wannabes doing their thing at a Techcrunch Disrupt conference in 2012. Photo via Flickr user JD Lasica

At the Powell Street BART station in San Francisco, ads for Oakley sunglasses are everywhere. “Disruptive by design,” they declare—or, rather, #DESRUPTIVEBYDESIGN. Behind those words are gray images of blueprints and lasers and factories with big bolts like in Charlie Chaplin’s spoof Modern Times. Fittingly, the campaign is a collaboration with Wired, the foremost media enterprise devoted to the worship of all things new. In the Silicon Valley lexicon, disruption is such an overused incantation that it’s almost dull. Now even sunglasses can do it.

The truth, however, is that disruption is not boring at all. It impacts people’s lives every day—though much more often the lives of vulnerable working people, rather than those of the complacent fat cats all this talk of “disruption” is supposed to threaten. We need to be a lot more careful about how we throw that word around and, much more importantly, how we actually disrupt.

Jill Lepore’s recent essay in The New Yorker, “The Disruption Machine,” offers an important intervention. She questions the economic logic of the gospel of disruption being taught at business schools and startup accelerators—that forever disrupting the way of things means endless innovation, growth and progress. Lepore points out that this worldview overlooks the great bulk of the economy that rests on relative stability and rather marginal improvements. Compared to them, disruption is a bit of a sideshow. Even in tech.

A good way to start thinking about disruption is by asking questions like this: Who is being disrupted most? And who really benefits? 25-year-old startup CEOs—the people we hear talking about disruption the most these days—come and go. Some of them will manage to make a living on the basis of their disruptive ideas, and a few will get very rich, but most will end up going through cycles of boom and bust, disrupting themselves until they wind up working for someone else. The venture capitalists who fund them, and who so eagerly egg on their disruptive talk, hedge their bets and diversify their portfolios and will probably end up with plenty of money no matter what.

The most serious disruption of our economy in recent memory, the 2008 financial crash, is a particularly troubling example of this pattern. What caused the crisis? A financial industry gone recklessly amok, disruptively innovating complex instruments like derivatives and new ways of packaging mortgage-backed securities without regard for the consequences. Who suffered those consequences? Some well-paid bankers were laid off, but millions of people across the United States lost their homes, their jobs, or both.

A bailout arrived for the banks, and soon they rehired most of those who’d been laid off and kept—or even increased—their stratospheric executive bonuses. For people in other sectors who were able to get back to work, it was generally to lower-paying jobs. Foreclosed homes in many communities were acquired by big companies on behalf of Wall Street, rather than being bought back by individuals and families who lived in them. That disruption, in the end, only helped the fat cats.

No matter who causes a disruption—or, in some respects, even what kind of disruption it is—those who are best prepared to take advantage of it are the ones who win out. In 2008, the banks had lobbyists and PACs and their own former co-workers at the highest levels of government. The people left homeless or jobless, meanwhile, had little recourse but silence and a misplaced sense of shame. Disruption, then, tends to make our rampant inequality even worse.

Another kind of disruption is that of a resistance movement. We all watched, often with surprise and dismay, what happened in the wake of the 2011 uprising in Egypt. The initial pro-democracy wave created a massive disruption and forced a ruler from power. But the democratic forces were fairly marginal in Egyptian society, and that was just about the last we heard from them. Soon, the Muslim Brotherhood took power, having joined the protests only reluctantly. The group won elections not because its members sparked the unrest, but because for decades they had been building formidable networks throughout the population. Before long, they were crushed by the military, a vast apparatus fueled by billions of dollars in aid from the United States. Once again, entrenched power prevailed over the agents of disruption, and those who’ve suffered most have been working class Egyptians.

Disruption is essential, and a fact of life. This is a world rife with injustice and cruel inertia, and we should definitely explore creative ways of resisting those tendencies. We should be in the streets protesting when we need to, and we should be creating new kinds of organizations that push the boundaries set by old ones. But disruption, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a good thing unless those who are most vulnerable in society are poised to benefit.

There are ways communities can make that happen, or at least make it more likely. They can build strong, disciplined coalitions. They can organize workers and develop habits of self-reliance. An important recent conference in Jackson, Mississippi, for instance, focused on building resilient cooperative enterprises in black communities, which were especially hard-hit by the 2008 crisis. African Americans in the South know this lesson well. Decades earlier, the civil rights movement turned its disruptions into victories because of tight-knit networks like churches and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Disruption is not a word we should use lightly, or cynically, or in order to sell more eyewear. It is not a mere business model. Perhaps it should be treated more like a swear word, in the sense of being especially potent and rather seldom used. We draw our swear words from sexuality and religion—important things that can have dire consequences. Disruption is important and dire, too, and it’s time we talked about it that way.


Originally published in VICE

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Posted in Activism, Cognitive Capitalism, Copyright/IP, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Original Content, Politics | No Comments »

Research Is Just the Beginning: A Free People Must Have Open Access to the Law

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
29th October 2014


The open access movement has historically focused on access to scholarly research, and understandably so. The knowledge commons should be shared with and used by the public, especially when the public helped create it.

Source – Corynne Mc Sherry / Research Is Just the Beginning: A Free People Must Have Open Access to the Law | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

But that commons includes more than academic research. Our cultural commons is broader than what is produced by academia. Rather it includes all of the information, knowledge, and learning that shape our world. And one crucial piece of that commons is the rules by which we live. In a democratic society, people must have an unrestricted right to read, share, and comment on the law. Full stop.

But access to the law has been limited in practice. Not long ago, most court document and decisions were only available to those who had access to physical repositories. Digitization and the Internet changed that, but even today most federal court documents live behind a government paywall known as PACER. And until recently, legal decisions were difficult to access if you couldn’t afford a subscription to a commercial service, such as Westlaw, that compiles and tracks those decisions.

The good news: open access crusaders like Public.Resource.Org and the Center for Information Technology Policy have worked hard to correct the situation by publishing legal and government documents and giving citizens the tools to do so themselves.

The bad news: the specter of copyright has raised its ugly head. A group of standards-development organizations (SDOs) have banded together to sue Public.Resource.Org, accusing the site of infringing copyright by reproducing and publishing a host of safety codes that those organizations drafted and then lobbied heavily to have incorporated into law. These include crucial national standards like the national electrical codes and fire safety codes. Public access to such codes—meaning not just the ability to read them, but to publish and re-use them—can be crucial when there is an industrial accident; when there is a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina; or when a home-buyer wants to know whether her house is code-compliant. Publishing the codes online, in a readily accessible format, makes it possible for reporters and other interested citizens to not only view them easily, but also to search, excerpt, and generate new insights.

The SDOs argue that they hold a copyright on those laws because the standards began their existence in the private sector and were only later “incorporated by reference” into the law. That claim conflicts with the public interest, common sense, and the rule of law.

With help from EFF and others, Public.Resource.Org is fighting back, and the outcome of this battle will have a major impact on the public interest. If any single entity owns a copyright in the law, it can sell or ration the law, as well as make all sort of rules about when, where, and how we share it.

This Open Access Week, EFF is drawing a line in the sand. The law is part of our cultural commons, the set of works that we can all use and reuse, without restriction or oversight. Protecting that resource, our common past and present, is essential to protecting our common future. That’s why the open access movement is so important, and we’re proud to be part of it.

Between October 20 and 26, EFF is celebrating Open Access Week alongside dozens of organizations from around the world. This is a week to acknowledge the wide-ranging benefits of enabling open access to information and research—as well as exploring the dangerous costs of keeping knowledge locked behind publisher paywalls. We’ll be posting on our blog every day about various aspects of the open access movement. Go here to find out how you can take part and to read the other Deeplinks published this week.

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Posted in Campaigns, Commons, Copyright/IP, Open Access | No Comments »

How to craft a collaborative economy for the 99%

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
22nd October 2014


Faircoop _

Towards a second wave of world-changing hacks

In recent years, the collaborative economy has been growing exponentially , reaching a stage of co-dependency with the emerging new forms of the for-profit economy, which we have described in our recent book, ‘Network Society and Four Scenarios for the Collaborative Economy‘. The new ‘netarchical’ (= net-archy, the hierachy of the network) form of capital, is no longer investing in its own production through the hiring of labour, and making products that it sells on the market, but, as Google, Facebook and other platform owners show, is directly capturing profits from the free cooperation and contributions of the 99%. While it may seem a good thing for users that platforms are being built ‘for free’, or that buyers an sellers can directly connect with each other for a fee, it is also very problematic as it creates a deep value crisis, not just for the increasingly precarious workforce, but also for capitalism itself. Indeed, how can we imagine a successful capitalism, that produces products that it can no longer sell, because an increasing number of contributors are no longer paid for their value creation ? Thus today, after an increasing exodus of especially young people out of the system of paid labor for capital, the social tensions are not just between salaried labor and capital, but increasingly, between peer producers and netarchical platform owners.

The search for alternatives is on, and more and more citizens and young knowledge workers are looking to build an alternative economy where they can make a livelihood around their contributions to the shared commons that are the heart of the new economy. Obviously, this new ‘hacker’ working class has its own approaches, that are very different from the traditional labor movement, and often takes the form of ‘hacks’, i.e. subversive tweaks to the existing system which hijack a system for contrary purposes.

The most famous hack was of course the hack that created the open and shared knowledge economy itself, and which has now reached, according to the Fair Use economy report, one-sixth of GDP in the U.S. alone. This hack, by Richard Stallman and others, took the form of licenses that used the very enclosures of knowledge facilitated by Intellectual Property legislation, to free knowledge, code and design. Through the General Public License, massive commons of shared knowledge was created, creating huge economic streams around it. However, this hack has created a paradoxical effect. Indeed, the more shareable the commons, the more capitalistic the economy which is built around it. Thus the Linux economy is at least 75% commercial, and dominated by large firms such as IBM. So, in this co-dependency between netarchical capital and the commons, we have a ‘communism’ of capital, in which the use value created by the commoners creates exchange value for the private for-profit economy. Is there an alternative to this ‘liberal communism’? Is there a new hack on the horizon?

We believe there is, and this requires a new type of license, which are no longer fully shareable licenses, but licenses based on ‘stronger’ reciprocity. Thus, along with others, we have proposed ‘Commons-based Reciprocity Licenses’, which are open for use by common good institutions, nonprofits, and for-profits that contribute, but ask for license fees or other contributions from for-profits that do no contribute back to the commons. The first iteration of such a license is the ‘Peer Production License’, already in use by the P2P Foundation, Guerilla Translation, and other P2P economy entities, and which was developed by ‘venture communist’ Dmytri Kleiner.

A second great historical hack is of course the hack of currency. As an alternative to the nationally sovereign currencies whose compound interest requirements are destroying our economies, the non-interest based Bitcoin cryptocurrency was developed, which can be peer produced by participating computers (‘mining’), has an open source code, and a thriving global hacker community to support it. However, Bitcoin is also a hyper-capitalist currency, with a higher inequality coefficient than sovereign money, mmonopolized mining, and a deflationary design which leads to rent extraction of newcomers by early adopters. Hence, Bitcoin will be mostly a tool for netarchical capital as well, enriching a new elite within the hacker class. Here also, we need to hack the first hack, just as we needed to do with the GPL. Thus the initiative of fair.coop, a global network instituted by the Catalonia Integral Cooperative, in cooperation with the P2P Foundation and others, to institute the first global cryptocurrency for the commons. Fair.coop uses the rent extraction model of cryptocurrencies, by buying up a failed egalitarian bitcoin fork, called Faircoin, but gifts this currency to a global coalition of open cooperatives, i.e. cooperatives and other ethical enterprises that create positive externalities and co-produce commons, creating livelihoods for the commoners. On the basis of the increasing market value of Faircoin, a commons-supporting capital currency is created, on top of which interest mutual credit systems will be built, supported by commons-based collateral.

There are just two of the main hacks1 that are being developed to create leverage for an emerging prefigurative commons economy, and offers an alternative to the hyper-extractive netarchical model.

The first wave of hacks was radically liberal, it is time for a second wave, where the values of equity and fairness are added to the core value of freedom, liberating commons-oriented peer production from its capture by netarchical capital.

**

1(At the P2P Foundation, we use Loomio software to hack hierarchical governance and are looking at new models like the Fairshares model to hack property models)

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Posted in Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Money, Peer Property | 4 Comments »

Can we turn Netarchical Platforms into worker-owned businesses?

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


facebook
In answer to the question posed in the title, I don’t think we can do much to reclaim our rights as producers of content and use value in netarchical platforms. However, we can work to raise awareness on the subject and help the shift toward real P2P platforms. This is already happening right now, with Diaspora enjoying a revival in the wake of Ello’s failed promise to deliver a true alternative to Facebook. The following article was written by John Robb and originally published in Home Free America.


“We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership… We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.”

Do you contribute to Facebook, Yelp, Reddit, or sites like that?

Most of us do contribute to some sites like this and our contributions, more or less depending on our contribution, are the reason these companies are valuable.

Our contributions are the reason people come to these sites day after day, so why don’t we get a bit of ownership for our contributions?

Lots of ownership goes to the employees.  But, nobody goes to these sites for the high quality software, elegant design, or robust hosting.  Further, all of the tech they are using is the result of innovation by other people.

Most of the ownership goes to the financing.  Yet, these sites don’t cost much to run.  A pittance actually.  The cloud makes them very cheap to operate.  In fact, the amount is so small, nearly all of the money needed to launch these sites could be raised by the customers using these sites.

We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership.

We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.

There is a small glimmer of hope things might finally be changing (it’s something I tried to do back in 2010-12 and got my ass handed to me for trying to do it).

My hope is due to three things:

  1. Desire to do the right thing.  We don’t see enough of this in Silicon Valley anymore, despite the fact that all great innovations start with getting the “why” right.  Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong (formerly of Facebook) is doing the right thing.  He’s planning to make Reddit’s users into owners, depending on their contribution to the site.
  2. There’s a way to create a form of liquid ownership that doesn’t require Wall Street.  This new method is based on the bitcoin blockchain.  That technology makes it possible to issue ownership to contributors in a decentralized and trusted way.
  3. The combination of blockchain stock, Yishan’s example, and the experience of participants will set in motion a wave of change in Silicon Valley.  The message is:  if you want to build an online company, you better find a way to make your customers/contributors owners.

PS:  This is potentially a sea change in financing/ownership.  There’s much more to this.  Wall Street’s banksters should be worried.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Networks, Politics | No Comments »

Spanish lawmakers to kill CC licensing

photo of Guy James

Guy James
17th October 2014


image by argazkiak.org

image by argazkiak.org

As usual, Spanish politicians react with fear and repression when confronted with the effects of new ways of sharing information: they are preparing a new law (to go with the ones restricting crowdfunding and services like AirBnB and Uber) to tax those who wish to share information freely. The pattern appears to be: existing industry feels threatened, lobbies government, government passes legislation to hamper innovations. The individual merits of each new service can be argued but anyone who knows the way the conservative government in Madrid generally thinks and reacts, we can be pretty sure they do not understand the milieu in which they are attempting to act.



“…all Spanish newspapers are haemorrhaging readers, consistently report revenue losses to the tune of millions of euros a year and many are already technically bankrupt.”
“…The idea that law will compensate for these losses is laughable. What isn’t so funny is the chilling effect on the free dissemination of information it will have.”

Read more…

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP | 2 Comments »

Video of the Day: Bruce Sterling on Design Fiction

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
12th October 2014


Bruce Sterling and his iBook

“[…This] is gonna kinda hurt: In the startup world, you work hard and you move fast in order to make other people rich.”

Don’t miss this outrageously inspiring video, where Bruce Sterling proceeds to break the hearts of a few thousands wannabe venture capital baiters at last year’s NEXT Berlin conference for “digital forethinkers and tech experts”.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Politics, Technology, Videos | 2 Comments »

Defining Ownership in a Digital Era: How Makers Are Navigating the Complexities of IP

photo of Guy James

Guy James
24th September 2014


psfk logoHaving just set foot in a Fab Lab (two in fact) for the first time last week, I am intrigued by how the same disruption (yes, that word again!) that visited the music and movie industries is now beginning to erupt within the industry of fabrication of physical goods.  In my opinion, the change which has come to the former industries has been positive, although I would imagine that it is so far incomplete and will see further transformation of business models, probably in the direction of ‘Culture As A Commons’, when it is realised that copyrights and IP in general do more harm than good to innovation and even ‘the bottom line’.

This article by PSFK Labs describes how those involved in ‘Maker Culture’ are trying to steer a path through the murky waters of IP and ensure that there is benefit for all concerned – my reservation with the model of only allowing designs to be printed once is that although it protects the right of the designer to earn value from their work, it does so by imposing an ‘artificial scarcity’ where none is really called for – ultimately I would prefer designs to be shared freely in a Commons approach, possibly in conjunction with something like the Peer Production Licence so that capitalist entities not contributing to the Commons have to pay IP rent, and thus ensuring a flow of value back to the creators of the designs.

The key phrase from the article seems to be ‘Within the world of digital design, it can be hard to define where ownership begins and ends‘ – this is surely one of the pressing dilemmas of our age and if we get it right we can ensure a future that is more abundant than what we have known in the recent past.

 


An emerging set of platforms and services are making it easier for inventors to navigate the complex landscape of copyright and bring their ideas to market.

Between 2003 and 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed, threatened or settled more than 30,000 cases against individuals who used peer-to-peer (P2P) networks to share music. It was an unprecedented legal campaign designed to protect copyrights and intimidate into submission anyone who might be tempted to upload or download material without giving the industry its due.

And while music lovers and open-Internet advocates screamed, the RIAA argued that it was the only way to ensure that individual artists and their recording labels could survive. Since then, as society has become increasingly digitized, the balance of democratization and rights protection has become harder and harder to strike.

To see this struggle in action, look no further than the exploding industry around 3D printing and design marketplaces like Shapeways and Sculpteo. Catherine Jewell of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) wrote last year, “Ensuring that incentives and rewards are in place for those who invest in new ideas without stifling innovation and openness in the use of online designs will be a key challenge for IP policymakers going forward. Mechanisms that facilitate the licensing and legitimate sharing of design files will play a major role in meeting this challenge.”

The urgency of finding the right mechanisms is underscored by the fact that companies spent $13 billion last year dealing with assertions of copyright infringement. Fortunately for makers on both sides of the issue, there are a number of innovations emerging that will allow innovators to fully focus on their craft without having to worry about losing ownership of their work or infringing on the intellectual property of others.

We’ve called this raft of new tools ‘Gated IP’ and this week, we take a closer look at three examples of the trend.

Continue reading…

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Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

A short video on Commons Based Reciprocity Licenses

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
21st September 2014


Work on developing Commons Based Reciprocity Licenses (or CBRLs, for short) continues apace here at the P2P Foundation. When speaking of these types of licenses, we often find it hard to explain how they fill a niche in the alt. license spectrum, falling somewhere between the straight up copyleft and the popular Creative Commons Non-Commercial License.

To that end, I asked Michel Bauwens to condense his thinking on CBRLs into a short (5 minute) video we could share with people, which you’ll find below. It was filmed by our associate Kevin Flanagan and recorded at a break during the Open Everything Convergence held in the Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Tipperary, Ireland.

 

 

Are CBRL’s perfect or will they work? We don’t know, but we believe that we’ll only arrive at an answer by creating them and testing them out. Whatever their viability, they represent a statement that Free/Open Culture shouldn’t be appropriated by capital while the Commons withers, unable to ensure it’s own social reproduction. We’d like to thank Dmytri Kleiner, for his pioneering work in this area, not just for providing a critique of Creative Commons, but for actually getting his hands dirty (along with John Magyar) and creating the first working CBRL, the Peer Production License, which can be adopted right now. In fact, the PPL has already been adopted by a number of collectives, such as Sharelex, Infrastructures.cc, En Defensa del Software Libre and the other  organization I regularly work in: Guerrilla Translation.
I’d also like to acknowledge Primavera De Filippi and Miguel Said Vieira for their excellent critique of the concept in their must-read article: “Between Copyleft and Copyfarleft: Advance reciprocity for the commons“. The P2P Foundation is now working along with Primavera, Annemarie Naylor, Karthik Iyer, Joel Dietz and others to develop new CMRLs partly based on Primavera´s and Miguel’s recommendations.

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Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Foundation, Peer Production, Sharing, Theory, Videos | 1 Comment »

Post Capitalism

photo of Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein
1st September 2014


PictureIn an interview recently, Aftab Omer observed that I seem hesitant to describe Sacred Economics as a post-capitalist economic vision. I replied that I am not talking about the end of capitalism, bur rather a transformation in the nature of capital, so that capitalism no longer bears the social dynamics to which we are accustomed.

After the interview, Aftab probed a little deeper. “As you know,” he said, “the essence of capitalism lies not in the kind of money being used, but in control over capital in a broader sense. Why then do you not describe your thinking as post-capitalist?”

One reason is simply strategic: the term “capitalism” is so fraught with a century and a half of ideological baggage that it is impossible to use the term without triggering blunt political categorizations, throwing the conversation onto well-worn and deeply rutted paths. For example, it invites comparisons with the failed experiments in state socialism of the 20th century, or suggests that I don’t value individual enterprise and initiative.

There is a second, and deeper, reason why I avoid the term: if we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used. Even in the most resolutely capitalist countries, this right is never absolute: to take a trivial example, zoning ordinances severely limit what we can do with our property in American suburbia. 

What is more relevant to me than the fiction of property is the precise nature of the social agreements that define and underlie property. In Soviet state socialism, despite ideology to the contrary, it was actually a small elite group that decided how the means of production were to be deployed (and who reaped most of the benefits). In that sense it wasn’t so different from Western capitalism.

Reading Sacred Economics, one might think, “This is still capitalism. It still allows private ownership of land, factories, intellectual property, and other means of production.” But if we don’t see ownership is a reified category, an absolute predicate, then the matter is not so simple. Because what is this “ownership”? What is the social agreement that the concept embodies? It is rather different than what we have today. 

Echoing Roman law, to own something today implies the right to ”use, enjoy, and abuse” it. In other words, all the benefits derived from it are yours, and you are under no obligation to use it in a way that benefits society or the planet. (As mentioned, this has seldom entirely been the case in practice.) What would ownership mean if we significantly altered this Roman law conception? That is what Sacred Economics proposes. First, it circumscribes the private right to “use and abuse” property by penalizing socially and environmentally harmful activities like polluting. Secondly, inspired by Henry George, it separates as much as possible the “enjoyment” (i.e. the fruits) of ownership from the fruits of the labor and creativity added to the thing owned. This means eliminating “economic rents” – the proceeds one obtains through the mere ownership of property, as opposed to the improvement of the property or the wise use of the property. Thirdly, it limits the extent to which one may enclose the cultural and intellectual commons, in part by curtailing copyright and patent terms. Finally, it asserts a public interest onto financial capital by subjecting money to a demurrage fee, a negative interest rate, that discourages hoarding and encourages zero-interest lending, in essence making money less of a thing you can keep, hold, and own. Hold onto it too long, and eventually it will no longer be “yours.” 

“If we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used.”

These might seem like technical reforms that leave the fact of ownership of the means of production unchanged, but actually they change what “ownership” means. When we understand that property is a fluid concept, a broad label we give to a complicated set of social agreements, then it becomes hard to say what is capitalism and what is not. 

At bottom, the blurriness of the concept of ownership implicates the blurriness of the concept of the owner. Who, or what, owns property? The 17th-century thinkers that developed the philosophical foundations of property law (and law in general), Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf, Hutcheson, etc., despite their differences, all pretty much took for granted a world of separate individuals giving consent, entering into contracts, and making free-willed moral choices. It is from this assumption that libertarian ideas about the sanctity of property and the sanctity of contract are born, along with the irreconcilable difficulties that arise in integrating these with the good of the body politic. Private property (its presence or absence as an absolute category) goes hand in hand with the separate self. A system grounded in the understanding of our inter-existence, in the fluid and fractal co-construction of self and society, no longer takes ownership as a well-defined category. The terms capitalist, socialist, post-capitalist, and so forth, because they draw on ownership as an elemental concept, are therefore a little bit obsolete.  


Originally posted in charleseisenstein.net

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Posted in Activism, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Gift Economies, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Foundation, Politics | No Comments »