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Archive for 'Cognitive Capitalism'

How friendship became a tool of the powerful

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
9th May 2015


An extract from an article by at the Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/may/07/how-friendship-became-tool-of-powerful

“In reducing the social world to a set of mechanisms and resources, the question repeatedly arises as to whether social networks might be redesigned in ways to suit the already privileged. Networks have a tendency towards what are called power laws, whereby those with influence are able to harness that power to win even greater influence.

One example of this is known as “emotional contagion”. Psychologists working with social analytics can now track the spread of positive and negative emotions, as they travel through social networks. This was the topic of Facebook’s controversial experiment using newsfeed manipulation, the results of which were published last summer. Different moods, including anger and depression, are now recognised to be more socially contagious than others. But what will we do with this knowledge? The anxiety, as social life becomes swept up by quantitative analysis, is that happy, healthy individuals might tailor their social relationships in ways that protect them against the “risk” of unhappiness. Guy Winch, an American psychologist who has studied this phenomenon, advises happy people to be on their guard. “If you find yourself living with or around people with negative outlooks,” he wrote on the website Psychology Today, “consider balancing out your friend roster.” The impact of this rebalancing on those unfortunate friends with the “negative outlooks” is all too easy to imagine.

The fabric of social life is now a problem that is addressed within the rubric of health policy, and there is something a little sad about that. Loneliness now appears as an objective problem, but only because it shows up in the physical brain and body, with calculable costs for governments and health insurers. Generosity and gratitude are urged upon people by positive psychologists, but mainly to alleviate their own mental health problems and private misery. And friendship ties within poor inner-city neighbourhoods have become a topic of government concern, but only to the extent that they mediate epidemics of bad nutrition and costly inactivity.

The irony is that, for all the talk of giving and sharing, this is potentially an even more egocentric worldview than that associated with the market. The cornerstone of orthodox economics, dating back to Adam Smith, is that self-interest in the marketplace is ultimately beneficial for society. The era of social optimisation looks set to stand this claim upside down: being social in your everyday life is worth it, because it will ultimately deliver benefits back to you. The trouble is that our appetites for this new commodity can spiral out of control.”

Continue to the Full Article – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/may/07/how-friendship-became-tool-of-powerful

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Economy and Business, P2P Healthcare, P2P Public Policy, Sharing | No Comments »

Reclaiming the ‘real’ sharing economy

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
25th April 2015


Romantic Heart from Love Seeds
What does it actually mean ‘to share’? This might seem like an obvious question, but the concept of sharing is increasingly being debated, discussed and redefined in our modern age of rapid technological change and planetary crises.


The rise of the sharing economy in recent years has given particular impetus to this debate, in which many academics are now analysing how sharing is a conflated economical concept that has been co-opted by corporate interests. It’s interesting to observe how savvy young progressives are resisting against this trend, while many social activists and environmentalists are beginning to chart a new direction for (and entirely new understanding of) the sharing economy – not as a profit-oriented business model, but as a potentially transformative mode of social exchange and economic activity.

For example, a community-building innovator based in New York, Lee-Sean Huang, has coined the term #WeWashing to help identify and critique the abuse of terms like “sharing”, “community” and “we”, which are often debased through online technology platforms or manipulated by corporate marketing techniques. Yet these words are meaningful, writes Huang, and “reminders that we are part of something greater than ourselves. As community members and citizens, we share common bonds and common interests. We are more than consumers.” Huang therefore argues that we need to “preserve the meaning of altruistic sharing and the bonds of community beyond narrowly-defined economic transactions”.

In a similar vein, the environmental news and commentary site Grist recently published a new series on “the real sharing economy”, asserting that sharing “has been appropriated and stripped of all meaning by people trying to sell you things, much like sustainability was.” In contrast, ‘real’ sharing goes far beyond “profit-seeking smartphone apps for unregulated taxi services (Uber) and vacation rentals (Airbnb)”, and could allow “humanity as a whole to consume less, hopefully shrinking our economy’s voracious appetite for materials and energy.”

An article by Sam Bliss at Grist gives a neat overview of how sharing can help us achieve economic degrowth in consumption and production, while “maintaining quality of life, or even improving it with more social interactions and stronger community relationships”. A real sharing enterprise, he argues, is not driven by profits for shareholders but wider concerns of equity, fairness and worker participation. He also acknowledges the potential of sharing wealth and power on a bigger scale, which is the only way to decrease global inequality, achieve true social justice, or fix a broken political system dominated by vested interests.

He even goes on to cite STWR’s report that explains how, in his words, “sharing can be the idea that brings together social, economic, and ecological movements in a grand alliance. Imagine Black Lives Matter, the fossil fuel divestment crusade, and the smoldering embers of Occupy joining forces to fight for a real sharing economy.”

No doubt the divergent perspectives on economic sharing will be openly debated at the upcoming Ouishare Fest 2015 in Paris, which has a wide variety of speakers from Charles Eisenstein, Michel Bauwens and Rob Hopkins to Lisa Gansky, Arun Sundararajan and Jeremiah Owyang (as well as a panel discussion with STWR on the environmental impacts of collaborative consumption – not to be missed for anyone attending!).

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Benkler on the Uber-ification of Services

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
24th April 2015


Yochai Benkler

Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler gave attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos a dire warning about future instability if the “Uber-ification of all services” continues.  In his intense six-minute talk, “Challenges of the Sharing Economy,” Benkler notes how open networks and collaborative production models have led to the “destabilization of the firm,” and ultimately threaten to bring about “the potential reorganization of the entire services sector.”

In light of this epochal shift, he declares, the critical question is: “Will [this shift] allow embedding economic production in the same kind of social solidarity trust models that we saw with the emergence of Wikipedia? Or will the externalization of risk onto the people formerly known as employees create severe disruption?”

The big challenge today, he argued, is that the social and the political have diverged, as demonstrated by the Occupy movement. And this leads to worrisome social pressures that the political system is disinclined to address.

I realize that Benkler must have been under a strict time limit — he was talking quite rapidly for this talk — but it sure would be nice to hear his proposed solutions for re-integrating the social and the political in functional ways, and how he proposes moving that agenda forward.  But at least the Davos crowd was alerted to this fundamental political challenge. Whether they will deign to recognize the issue and move beyond their adulation for the Uber, Airbnb and other lucrative forms of network monopoly is another matter.

While most people think that answers can only come from Washington, D.C. — FCC regs, antitrust law, etc. — rots of ruck on that, for all the obvious reasons.  I think the only effective solutions will come from P2P architectures and legal innovations that technically and legally stymie the consolidation of services by a single, dominant network player. Neither Congress, regulatory agencies or the courts are capable — politically or intellectually — of delivering satisfactory answers, I fear. The natural “power law” outcome of networks will ineluctably prevail unless some sort of intervention is made.  And if the answer is not going to involve social disruption, as Benkler warns, it’s high time that we begin to address challenges of legitimate, responsive, accountable governance in the network age.


Originally published in bollier.org

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Development, Peer Production, Politics | No Comments »

A New Commodity Is Born: Breast Milk

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
6th April 2015


It’s not everyday that we get to see great masses of people alter their attitudes as a cherished act of motherhood is converted into a lucrative market. That’s what is happening these days with breast milk, as recently reported by the New York Times. Biotech firms want to capitalize on the rich therapeutic potential of breast milk by turning it into high-tech medical products that can fight infections, improve blood clotting and deal with intestinal and infectious diseases.

This keen commercial interest in acquiring breast milk – an intimate part of the human body associated with maternal love and nourishment – raises all sorts of troubling new questions.  Who will have privileged access to breast milk in the future – biotech firms backed by the deep pockets of venture capitalists, or premature babies who need the milk, especially from their own mothers?  Will the emerging big business of breast milk lead to the closing of “milk banks” that provide donated breast milk to hospitals and nursing mothers at cost (i.e., the costs of donor-screening and pasteurization)?

The rise of a new market for breast milk brings to the fore the fundamental issue of inalienability – the idea that certain things are so valued that it is not ethically appropriate to exchange them for money in the marketplace. This is a topic that is near and dear to commoners, of course, who are constantly trying to prevent and reverse market enclosures that commodify everything from water and the atmosphere to the human genome and childhood.

Years ago, I learned a lot about inalienability from Margaret Jane Radin’s book Contested Commodities:  The Trouble with Trade in Sex, Children, Body Parts and Other Things (Harvard University Press, 1996).  She argues that liberal societies have a recurrent problem caused by a philosophical conundrum:  It values freedom and individual choice, but it also values the dignity of personhood.  So what happens when our “freedom of choice” in the marketplace runs over our integrity and dignity as human beings – such as having intimate aspects of our bodies converted into market commodities?

“Conceiving of all human exchange in terms of the market metaphor,” said Radin, “creates the risk that we will become incapable of transcending that rhetoric’s presuppositions about human nature, and thus unable to inspire deeper, more humane visions of the good.”

Commodification is a worldview that implies all sorts of attitudes, behaviors and relationships toward other human beings.  If money, efficiency and individual freedom trump all else, and if all values are to be reduced to a price, launching the fiction that everything is commensurable on that single scale of value, then we start down a path toward social disintegration.  A libertarian ethos trumps ethical and social norms, which “interfere” with our “market freedoms.”

If and when the market worldview comes to redefine the value of breast milk, we will enter a new regime in which companies will be entirely free to interpose themselves between nursing mothers and needy babies, much as Nestle’s once did with its milk formula. The Times reports that one company, Prolacta, has produced a “fortifier” compound for premature babies using breast milk.  It costs about $180 an ounce, or about $10,000 for several weeks of milk for one baby.

All of this will inarguably contribute to GDP, and it may provide medical benefits for the special-needs babies who need the fortified milk.  But can neonatal hospital units really afford such a product – and will commercial demand for breast milk dry up milk banks and convert desperate or poor nursing mothers into milk machines?

And what of the inevitable social inequalities that will arise?  Mothers who can afford not to sell their milk will become socially privileged, while desperate mothers who need the money will be induced into selling their breast milk — much as jobless people with a car often turn to Uber to try to scrape by.  Free-marketeers invariably dismiss the ethical issues by retorting, “It’s their choice!”

And some liberal feminists as well.  One of the most depressing responses to the Times’ story came from Jessica Valenti, a columnist for The Guardian. The headline of her recent column:  “For-profit breast milk?  It’s her body, and it must be her choice.”  Valenti conjectures that “business involvement [could] lead to some positive changes for families who do want to use breast milk but don’t have access to it” – noting that government regulation of breast milk could help weed out tainted, unsafe milk.

She concludes, “No matter what the future holds for breast milk, though, we can’t be surprised when a market is created for something we continue to tout as near-magical. And if we value women’s bodily autonomy we’re going to have to get comfortable with the choices she makes – whether it’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or pumping for cash.”

Valenti perfectly expresses the standard liberal view that markets are more or less benign, that regulation will work as designed, and that any individual choice must be respected. The social inequities and changing norms that will result from the marketization of a once-inalienable resource don’t even get a mention from her. “Individual autonomy” (within a corporate-dictated context) is all that matters.

But there is no obvious reason why therapeutic innovations using breast milk must be market-driven. One could imagine a large-scale commons-based trust or regional co-operatives to collect and allocate milk without all the ethical problems raised by investor-driven enterprises. Of course, the shark-filled venture capital world is usually the first to arrive on the scene of new profit opportunities, dictating its own vision of proper relationships toward “resources” (i.e., private, monetized, tradeable, profitable).  Meanwhile, the opportunities for co-operative finance, nonprofit and government leadership on this issue – though feasible – are utterly missing.

And so the profit-minded biotech world is beginning to escort mother’s breast milk onto the auction block. A new commodity is being inducted into the market dream machine of progress and innovation. The real questions ought to be what this new market will do to us as human beings and to the culture of parenting – and why there has been so little attention paid to building more humane, commons-based alternatives.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Empire, Original Content, Politics | No Comments »

“Sharing lies”: five lies about the Sharing Economy

photo of Mayra Rodriguez Singh

Mayra Rodriguez Singh
3rd April 2015


topicos-sharing-1200x470Putting things in context is not to let just anything happen. It is also being clear that the “hype” that’s being built with a number of lies that will inevitably lead to disappointment. These are, in my judgement, the five big ones.


Talking about the collaborative world these days is as dangerous as walking on shifting sands. Under the “sharing” and the “co-whatever,” there hides a wide minefield of concepts and phenomena mixed together. To be immersed in the world of the collaborative economy today is, often times, contradictory and surprising.

Of course, there are classifications and dictionaries that give it all order and help us explore, and neither should we forget that all this forms part of a much broader process, of which “sharing” consumption and access to resources is only one very small and superficial part, within very powerful changes and perspectives.

But putting things in context is not to let just anything happen. It is also being clear that the “hype” that’s being built with a number of lies that will inevitably lead to disappointment. These are, in my judgement, the five big ones:

  1. airbnb comunidadPlatforms are communities. That’s a lie. Whatever definition of community we use, Airbnb, Uber, Zipcar, Blablacar, and the many clones of all of them are not communities. Adhering to conditions of use doesn’t even point towards “community standards.” Let’s be honest, the large majority of collaborative consumption platforms are markets. Barter markets in some cases, non-profit markets in others, traditional labor markets in still others, and even markets of restoration… but, markets: places where transactions are made, even if some are relatively cheap and others even at zero price. They’re still markets. And a market is something completely different from a community, and the two provide experiences that are nothing alike. Or do we really think the start-up world could be expected anything other than bid us “Welcome to the Jungle?”
  2.  

  3. The “sharing economy” creates conscious consumption. That’s a lie. We’re told that it’s better to reuse than to be compulsive buyers, and that it’s time to be conscious of our consumption. And that’s true. But if the boom in the sharing economy coincides with the longest economic crisis in the history of capitalism, it’s not by chance. With the middle class seeing its buying power reduced, sharing has grown because it offers to maintain something like the standard of living of the “good years.” Travel, but stay in a stranger’s room or in a little tourist hotel outside of State regulation. Go out to eat, but to the apartment of a chef who organizes the meal, rather than to a restaurant. Go by taxi, but pay less, because the taxi driver works under the table and the car is private. Now everything’s OK again! But the argument is a fallacy. I don’t believe that consumption is more conscious if it takes advantage of people’s precariousness and the shortcuts that so many people have had to take to survive the crisis.Sure, they’ve painted it with a little amnesia, and they’ve put new labels on it to make sure it’s still cool. One of the many examples is vintage fashion, because sharing clothes with your brothers/sisters is not the same as buying it second-hand. If your jacket was once your cousin’s, you weren’t in fashion. But now, second-hand clothes and accessories have gone from being looked down on to being cool, and you can bet someone will ask you for the address or website of the store you shop at, so they can go get stuff like yours. It’s not that the obsession with buying, the famous consumerism, has disappeared. It’s simply been adapted and started valuing things that used to be seen as being “for the poor.” The longstanding flea market that people used to want to relocate now becomes an obligatory Sunday stroll. Stores that were once on hidden streets now reappear in maps of exclusive sites and are the creme de la creme.
  4.  

  5. fabcafeThe “sharing economy” is a new mode of production. That’s a lie. To present the P2P production as part of the “sharing economy” is to confuse things by equating ways of creating wealth that are very different and erasing what P2P really represents.P2P production is centered on the creation of the commons. That’s what transforms the nature of capital and the market. But is that the way it really is in the thousands of “Ubers” that enter the risk-capital market? Does Airbnb create anything resembling a commons? Obviously not. And to confuse things only leads to the things that matter most losing meaning. Quoting Natalia:

    Collaborative consumption is not part of the transition towards a P2P mode of production if isn’t in the framework of the development of the commons and P2P production, in the same way that consumer cooperativism does not create democracy in an economy if it is not in the framework of a cooperative industrial community.

  6.  

  7. airbnb barcelonaThe businesses of the “sharing economy” promote economic activity that displaces capitalism and promotes a new use of the city. That’s a lie. If we study the “Airbnb effect” in a city like Barcelona, we’ll see that it moves us farther away — a lot farther — from the “sharing city.” The difference between Airbnb and Hilton is not not even the difference between a business of the direct economy and a large, inefficient corporation with the strength of over-scaling. Airbnb, Uber, Blablacar and others are not behind the substitution of independent SMEs for the industrial fabric of big businesses whose decomposition is gutting the productivity of cities. In fact, as Bruce Sterling pointed out, by promoting highly centralized models, these business fit into and promote the worst of “smart cities,” deepening precariousness and taking sovereignty from people and the city as a whole. As Sterling asked, “do you think San Francisco or any big American city would let its new taxi system be run by a business located in Barcelona?”
  8.  

  9. The activity of the businesses of the “sharing economy” strengthens community bonds and helps resist the social effects of the crisis. That’s a lie. The type of human relations built by the best-known “sharing” platforms are far from creating community or establishing links that strengthen social cohesion. On the demand side, they support the economy of precariousness, shortcuts, and “anything goes,” while on the demand side, they eliminate the need for collaboration and real human relationships, replacing it with interaction through a platform. That is why, as Caro said not long ago in a chat:

    [It’s not even] enough to develop independence from centralized platforms. The simple solution to our problems of access to goods or services through sharing does not create the type of interrelationships and responsibilities that characterize the commons. Just the opposite, generally — the use of platforms in exchange exempts us from the responsibility for building relationships, for observing community needs and organizing to respond to them.

So, is the “sharing economy” bad?

car sharingNo. Absolutely not. It’s just that we must distinguish, and not accept the lies of the “hype” uncritically or in all cases. There are models of couch-surfing that really are communal, and do not create the disasters of Airbnb. There are models of car sharing that don’t try to sell themselves as an alternative mode of production and that were able to evolve from the commons to a business, and from there, be integrated into public services, helping to reduce traffic. Because in reality, the main contribution of the “sharing economy” is to transmit a culture of efficient use of durable consumer goods.

So, I think it is necessary to put the “sharing economy” in context, not to lose the critical view of the talk about their businesses, and above all, not forget that if they contribute to changes of real importance, it won’t be because they tried to be more than they really are, but by taking on a deeper perspective.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Development | No Comments »

Return with Freedom and Occupy Banking

photo of Enric Duran

Enric Duran
7th March 2015


Statement #OccupyBanking #ReturnWithFreedom Enric Duran from Radi.ms on Vimeo.

We want to finance the team that is already working on the launch of the #OccupyBanking campaign with thintention of placing at the center of public debate the total lack of democracy of the European Central Bank (ECB) and large private banks who control the monetary system, and especially the creation of money. A perverse system based on debt with these institutions – who have never been voted in democratically – hijacking our sovereignty. The #OccupyBanking campaign also wants to be the spearhead for creating the conditions that allow the #ReturnWithFreedom of the activist Enric Duran.

The current crisis / fraud perpetrated by the financial and banking system in recent years has uncovered one of the problems that have long been highlighted by many activist groups: from the anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle up until today, the effects of globalized capitalism have been exposed around the world: based on growth through pillag(pollution and destruction) and overexploitation of resources, and the use of debt as a way to subjugate people to pseudo-feudalist economic powers, a model – in view of the evidence of recent years – that has been shown to be extremely harmful to the needs and welfare of humanity and to all living beings.

In this context, in 2008 Enric Duran made public an act of conscious condemnation of this system that involved the expropriation of 492,000 euros from thirty nine financial institutions in order to:

  • Finance diverse social and cooperative projects already in existence (more info)
  • Print and disseminate three publications about the origins of the financial crisis, the main partiesresponsible, and providing alternatives to the system imposed by capitalism and nation states, giving voice to the movements formed with the intention of transforming competitiveness into cooperation, promoting the common good rather than individual benefit, and seeding initiatives based on Degrowthand the Good Living.
  • And especially to highlight and condemn the way money is created based on debt.

Prior to the trial to which Enric was summoned in February 2013, the Provincial Court rejected each and every one of the twenty witnesses that the defence had presented to illustrate that the accusations against the banking system – and especially how money is created – are a significant concern for society and fully justifiedthe actions which had been taken. With such a violation of any procedural guarantee, which certainly was intended to negate Enric’s whole argument and simply send him to jail for common crimes, completely silencingthe claims made and proven for years about all the damage that the banking system has done to the lives of the majority of the population of Europe and inded the whole world. This, together with the known connivance of the judiciary and executive together with the banks’ representatives, caused Enric Duran to reject thelegitimacy of the official trial and decide to go into hiding, where work continues today in various projects related to Integral Revolution.

After the call #ReturnWithFreedomEnric has formed a team of seven fully trusted and willing people with whom to cooperate in person, and this team can move wherever necessary to achieve its objectives.

It is time to act and we need your support!

stopWe’re going to start #OcuppyBanking, a global campaign to expose both the European Central Bank and the banking system and at the same time strengthen the effectiveness of the original action that Enric made, and thus to generate a great movement of support that makes possible his #ReturnWithFreedom. We want to plan his way to come out of hiding,meanwhile denouncing internationally the framework of the European banking system, which is condemning us to the loss of popular sovereignty and the accumulation of wealth by a privileged minority who are plundering the resources of peoples through the privatization of public services, handing theirmanagement to private entities linked to the political and financial powers.

Behind these perverse mechanisms underly a system of creating money out of nothing based on loans contracted; simply trusting that the person signing the contract will be able to give back the money in some way, and if unable to do so, is going to be sanctioned economically or politically. And what is worse, banks –private entities that defend their own interests – are the only ones with the privilege of creating money, whichmeans they have the political control of who will receive funding and how, in the same way that the ECB – even though no one has given them a popular mandate – are ordering policies affecting all the peoples of Europe.

Like the publication ‘Crisis’, published in 2008, several initiatives have exposed these issues in recent years and some have achieved some successes, such as getting the debate about the creation of money to the British Parliament this autumnNow with #OccupyBanking we are working hard to link these initiatives and to make itpossible to occupy the space in consciousness and public debate they deserve throughout Europe.

necesidadesSo this funding campaign aims to cover the costs of travel to different countriesand the accommodation of Enric Duran‘s team of seven people. We need to ensure at least the economic sustainability of the working group until September 2015, when we rethink the strategy, i.e. seven months with an average monthly expenditure of 2,400 euros, representing a total of 16,800 euros for the maintenance of all equipment.

You can support us financially for the success of this plan with the amount that you feel within your means (any input is welcome); and even if you can not contribute financially right now, we also invite you to cooperate with the dissemination of materials and / or this funding campaign, also you can be part of local support groups that are being put into operation.

It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning“.

Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company and the father of the modern assembly lines used in mass production).

ENTER YOUR PLEDGE AMOUNT

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Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Commons Transition, Crowdfunding, Economy and Business, Empire, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income

photo of Nathan Schneider

Nathan Schneider
24th February 2015


raining-gold

As if Silicon Valley hasn’t given us enough already, it may have to start giving us all money. The first indication I got of this came one evening last summer, when I sat in on a meet-up of virtual-currency enthusiasts at a hackerspace a few miles from the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California. After one speaker enumerated the security problems of a promising successor to Bitcoin, the economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman got up to speak about “engineering economic security.” Somewhere in his prefatory remarks he noted that he is an advocate of universal basic income—the idea that everyone should get a regular and substantial paycheck, no matter what. The currency hackers arrayed before him glanced up from their laptops at the thought of it, and afterward they didn’t look back down. Though Waldman’s talk was on an entirely different subject, basic income kept coming up during a Q&A period—the difficulties of implementing it and whether anyone would work ever again.

Around that time I had been hearing calls for basic income from more predictable sources on the East Coast—followers of the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber and the editors of the socialist magazine Jacobin, among others. The idea certainly has a leftist ring to it: an expansion of the social-welfare system to cover everyone. A hard-cash thank-you just for being alive. A way to quit the job you despise and—to take the haters’ favorite example—surf.

Basic income, it turns out, is in the peculiar class of political notions that can warm Leninist and libertarian hearts alike. Though it’s an essentially low-tech proposal, it appeals to Silicon Valley’s longing for simple, elegant algorithms to solve everything. Supporters list the possible results: It can end poverty and inequality with hardly any bureaucracy. With more money and less work to do, we might even spew less climate-disrupting carbon.

The idea of basic income has been appearing among the tech-bro elite a lot lately. Mega-investor and Netscape creator Marc Andreessen recently told New York magazine that he considers it “a very interesting idea,” and Sam Altman of the boutique incubator Y Combinator calls its implementation an “obvious conclusion.” Albert Wenger, a New York–based venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, has been blogging about basic income since 2013. He’s worried about the clever apps his company is funding, which do things like teach languages and hail cars, displacing jobs with every download.

“We are at the beginning of the time where machines will do a lot of the things humans have traditionally done,” Wenger told me in October. “How do you avoid a massive bifurcation of society into those who have wealth and those who don’t?” He has proposed holding a basic-income experiment in the dystopian fantasyland of Detroit.

Singularity University is a kind of seminary in Silicon Valley where the metaphysical conviction that machines are, or soon will be, essentially superior to human beings is nourished among those involved in profiting from that eventuality. Last June, the institution’s co-founder and chairman, Peter Diamandis, a space-tourism executive, convened a gathering of fellow industry luminaries to discuss the conundrum of technology-driven unemployment.

“Tell me something that you think robots cannot do, and I will tell you a time frame in which they can actually do it,” a young Italian entrepreneur named Federico Pistono challenged me. Among other accomplishments, Pistono has written a book called Robots Will Steal Your Job, but That’s OK. At the Singularity meeting he was the chief proponent of basic income. He cited recent experiments in India that showed promise for combating poverty among people the tech economy has left behind. Diamandis later reported having been “amazed” by the potential.

One might not expect such enthusiasm for no-strings-attached money in a room full of libertarian-leaning investors. But for entrepreneurial sorts like these, welfare doesn’t necessarily require a welfare state. One of the attendees at the Singularity meeting was HowStuffWorks.com founder Marshall Brain, who had outlined his vision for basic income in a novella published on his website called Manna. The book tells the story of a man who loses his fast-food job to software, only to find salvation in a basic-income utopia carved out of the Australian Outback by a visionary startup CEO. There, basic income means people have the free time to tinker with the kinds of projects that might be worthy of venture capital, creating the society of rogue entrepreneurs that tech culture has in mind. Waldman refers to basic income as “VC for the people.”

Chris Hawkins, a 30-year-old investor who made his money building software that automates office work, credits Manna as an influence. On his company’s website he has taken to blogging about basic income, which he looks to as a bureaucracy killer. “Shut down government programs as you fund redistribution,” he told me. Mothball public housing, food assistance, Medicaid, and the rest, and replace them with a single check. It turns out that the tech investors promoting basic income, by and large, aren’t proposing to fund the payouts themselves; they’d prefer that the needy foot the bill for everyone else.

“The cost has to come from somewhere,” Hawkins explained, “and I think the most logical place to take it from is government-provided services.”

This kind of reasoning has started to find a constituency in Washington. The Cato Institute, Charles Koch’s think tank for corporate-friendly libertarianism, published a series of essays last August debating the pros and cons of basic income. That same week, an article appeared in the Atlantic making a “conservative case for a guaranteed basic income.” It suggested that basic income is actually a logical extension of Paul Ryan’s scheme to replace federal welfare programs with cash grants to states—the Republican Party’s latest bid to crown itself “the party of ideas.” Basic income is still not quite yet speakable in the halls of power, but Republicans may be bringing it closer than they realize.

Karl Widerquist, a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, has been preaching basic income since he was in high school in the early 1980s. He says that we are now in the third wave of American basic-income activism. The first was during the economic crises between the world wars. The second was in the 1960s and 70s, when libertarian heroes like Milton Friedman were advocating for a negative income tax and when ensuring a minimum income for the poor was just about the only thing Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon could agree about. (Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan, which bears some resemblance to basic income, passed the House but died in the Senate.) The present wave seems to have picked up in late 2013, as the news went viral about a mounting campaign in Switzerland to put basic income to a vote. Widerquist is glad to see the renewed interest, but he’s cautious about what the libertarians and techies have in mind.

“I don’t think we want to wait for technological unemployment before having basic income,” he says. For him the plan is not about averting the next disaster—it’s about curbing the exploitation of the property system.

Riding way on the left side of the current wave of enthusiasm is Kathi Weeks. She’s a good old-fashioned-in-certain-ways feminist Marxist who made basic income a central proposal in her recent book The Problem with Work. She advocates it cautiously, however: If a basic income were too low, people wouldn’t be able to quit their jobs, but employers would still lower their wages. It could incline more businesses to act like Walmart, letting their workers scrape by on government programs while they pay a pittance. Workers might get money for nothing, but they’d also find themselves with dwindling leverage in their workplaces.

If we were to fund basic income only by gutting existing welfare, and not by taxing the rich, it would do the opposite of fixing inequality; money once reserved for the poor would end up going to those who need it less. Instead of being a formidable bulwark against poverty, a poorly funded basic-income program could produce a vast underclass more dependent on whoever cuts the checks. And as out-there as the idea can seem, Weeks’s leftist critics complain that it’s still a tweak, a reform. “It’s not going to signal the end of capitalism,” she recognizes.

Like pretty much all the shortcut solutions Silicon Valley offers, basic income would have its perks, but it isn’t enough to solve our real problems on its own. There’s still no substitute for organizing more power in more communities—the power to shape society, not just to fiddle with someone else’s app. Social Security, for instance, came to be thanks to the popular struggles of the 1930s, and it carried huge swaths of old people out of poverty. Obamacare, a set of reforms mostly written by the industry it was meant to regulate, has turned out to be a far more mixed bag.

A basic income designed by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley is more likely to reinforce their power than to strengthen the poor. But a basic income arrived at through the vision and the struggle of those who need it most would help ensure that it meets their needs first. If we’re looking for a way through the robot apocalypse, we can do better than turn to the people who are causing it.

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A world of ‘sharing and caring’ won’t begin in Davos

photo of Adam Parsons

Adam Parsons
13th February 2015


Davos

At this year’s gathering of the world’s richest and most powerful at Davos, the World Economic Forum founder has urged delegates that the motto for their 2015 meeting should besharing and caring’.


Inequality is again on the agenda (if not considered the top threat to world stability, as last year), which has prompted many critics to point out – as usual – that the solutions to inequality are unlikely to come from the global elites that are largely responsible for creating it.

Despite all the media debates and high-profile discussions there is mainly talk and no action when it comes to creating a more equal society. And the only kind of sharing that is championed by the corporate executives and world leaders at Davos is within the context of charity and big business, rather than discussing any real solutions that would require government interventions and wealth redistribution.

A new report and series of interactive infographics from Global Justice Now, formerly the World Development Movement, exposes the core myths that define the worldview of this tiny group of elites. In a refreshingly straightforward and incisive way, it demonstrates the fallacies behind their ideology that is now deeply ingrained in society and a serious obstacle to building a fairer, more sustainable world for the majority.

For example, it is not true that the ‘poor are getting richer’ in the face of soaring inequality, which is starkly illustrated in sub-Saharan Africa where there has been almost no improvement in poverty rates since 1981 (indeed, the number of people living on less than $2 has doubled over this period). As often repeated, the vast majority of the fall in global poverty since the 1990s is the result of China’s effectiveness at tackling poverty, which it famously achieved without following the prescriptions of the so-called Washington Consensus.

The reality is that while the rich have certainly got richer as a result of economic globalisation, most of the poor have remained in poverty. Believing otherwise is to conveniently overlook the devastating impacts of free market, neoliberal economic policies in many developing countries, as well as the inequalities of power that keeps poor people poor. But this is, of course, unlikely to be the chief concern at Davos where discussions revolve around a common theme: that their business practices, overseas investments, entrepreneurial talent and philanthropy are the only answer to world problems.

Another myth is that economic growth is the panacea for social ills and poverty, despite all evidence to the contrary. As the Global Justice Now report argues, growth – while important – is never enough, unless a nation’s economy is geared to sharing the benefits of growth fairly. As long as the benefits are increasingly captured by a small global elite, it is inevitable that the lives of those at the bottom of society will continue to get worse. A neat graphic illustrates a stark fact from the New Economics Foundation’s report Growth isn’t working, asking the reader to guess how much of each $100 of global economic growth has actually contributed to reducing poverty – which is an astonishing $0.60. (Equally shockingly, 95% of the proceeds of growth in the US went to the top 1% during the three years of economic recovery that followed the 2008 financial crash.)

Several of the report’s myths also simply describe how the global economic system is fundamentally skewed in favour of rich countries, which is the real reason why billions of people in poorer countries are lacking the essentials for life, such as adequate food, water and energy. So the image of Africa as poor and helpless is wrong, because the continent is one of the richest in terms of natural resources – and far more money is extracted from the region (such as through profit repatriation, debt repayments and tax evasion) than is given in aid.

The report also argues that international aid could make the world a fairer place, but only if it undergoes major reform so that it is genuinely redistributive and no longer a tool of free market policy. At present, aid is increasingly being used to support multinational corporations in their quest for profits, such as by forcing poor countries to privatise their public services. But this does not mean that overseas development assistance should be entirely scrapped as a system, as “redistributing wealth from the richest to the poorest is a necessary element of creating a fairer world – as it is in creating a fairer society.”

More ambitiously, the report suggests, we should see aid more as a system of global taxation in which it is used to help build what we might call ‘sharing societies’ in all countries. It concludes: “The funds would have to be much bigger than they currently are to create such a change, and the mentality would have to change completely. Creating a better world is not generous, especially if you have created the unfairness in the first place. What’s more aid can never be seen in isolation. Fairer trade, cancelling unjust debt, stopping climate change, tackling tax havens and securing democratic freedoms are all more important in achieving global justice.”

Such common sense is sadly not the preserve of orthodox thinking among the majority of attendees at the luxurious ski resort of Davos, where there is no hint of the poverty and hardship suffered by billions of people elsewhere in the world. As ever, it is up to campaigners and concerned citizens to challenge the myopic outlook of those elites who are concerned about growing inequality, but unwilling to embrace the necessary measures to reverse it.

Photo credit: World Economic Forum, flickr creative commons

 

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Oxfam’s latest bombshell on how unequally the world’s wealth is shared

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
10th February 2015


davos-oxfams-shareable-graphic2-island

Twitter feeds and newspaper headlines were again dominated this morning by new statistics on growing wealth inequality, as released by Oxfam ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

It is now customary for Oxfam to publish new research on how severe the gap between the 1% and the 99% is growing, prior to the gathering of billionaires and politicians at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. The latest research has heralded another media coup for the anti-poverty charity, demonstrating how extreme is the lack of sharing in our societies when just 80 rich people have the same wealth as the bottom half of the planet.

This is in contrast to the 85 billionaires that held the same amount of wealth last year, according to wealth data drawn from Credit Suisse that also grabbed news headlines in January 2014. (Interestingly, Forbes magazine – who publish the annual billionaires list – later contended that it was actually 67 people who own as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion).

Oxfam estimate that in 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. However, almost all of that 52% is owned by those in the richest 20% of the global population, leaving just 5.5% for the poorer 80% of people. If current trends continue of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people by 2017.

Oxfam’s short research brief, Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More, illustrates this staggering inequality with a series of graphs that show how the wealth share of the top 1% has continued to increase since 2010, while the bottom 99% have experienced a decline in their share of total global wealth that is set to fall significantly further over the next 5 years. The wealth of the very richest continues to expand at an inconceivable rate, typically increasing by over a billion dollars per individual between March 2013 and March 2014 – or $4 billion in the case of the Italian pharmaceuticals magnate, Stefano Pessina.

In the words of the paper’s author, senior researcher Deborah Hardoon: “The extreme wealth at the top of the distribution… is not only mind-blowing, but quite obscene when compared with how wealth is distributed to the rest of us in the world.” The main reason for this upward redistribution, according to the brief, is the entrenched cycle of wealth, power and influence that enables the super-rich to create an environment that protects and enhances their interests, particularly through government lobbying activities and campaign contributions.

The most prolific lobbying activities in the US are on budget and tax issues, which Oxfam states can directly undermine public interests where a reduction in the tax burden to companies results in less money for delivering essential public services. In other words, the billions that are spent on lobbying is increasingly moving society away from the direction of economic sharing and redistribution on behalf of the common good, a pernicious trend that is set to accelerate without a dramatic change in government policy and business practices.

The reality of extreme global inequality and the case against it has now been well made in any number of books, reports and conferences, from Thomas Piketty’s tome of analysis to the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank last year, where the chosen theme was ‘shared prosperity’. But the need for real action from policymakers to share wealth and resources more equitably is ever urgent, especially in the midst of ongoing austerity measures, wage cuts and high unemployment in many high-income as well as low-income countries.

As STWR has often remarked, this will inevitably require government intervention, regulations and laws that guarantee fairness and equity in society, however anathema this may remain to the neoliberal rulebook still held by most of today’s politicians. Although the richest 1% had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014, we cannot expect the members of this global elite to voluntarily share their wealth as a response to world poverty, one that is based on charity instead of justice and structural reform. Indeed as Oxfam acknowledge through their many sensible recommendations, the policy solutions for reducing inequality are plentiful and widely known. So if 2014 was the year when the need to tackle inequality went mainstream, perhaps 2015 will be the year when a call for economic justice and sharing becomes the presiding theme of political conversation.

 

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Top P2P Books You Should Have Read in 2014 (1): The return of the cooperative commonwealth

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


Our book of the year is Humanizing the Economy by John Restakis. See why below.. I can truthfully say it’s one of the most important books I have read in the last ten years.

2014 was definitely the year of the commons – cooperative convergence. Two objective trends especially since the systemic economic crisis of 2008 are the revival of the commons, mostly driven through peer production; AND a revival of cooperatives and cooperativism, which had been subjected to a certain decline and even a neoliberal degeneration in the period since the 1980’s. What was new in 2014 is that these two sectors started talking and looking at each other. At the P2P Foundation, we call for a new synthesis in the form of open cooperativism, i.e. cooperatives which consciously and structurally co-produce commons, as pioneered by the Catalan Integral Cooperative or the Allianza Solidaria in Quito.

The best record of this, which we don’t count as a book, is the following report of a in-depth convergence conversation by leading commoners and cooperativists:

* 0. “TOWARD AN OPEN CO-OPERATIVISM. A New Social Economy Based on Open Platforms, Co-operative Models and the Commons. A Report on a Commons Strategies Group Workshop Berlin, Germany, August 27-28, 2014. By Pat Conaty and David Bollier. CSG / Boll Foundation / Foundation pour le Progres de l’Homme, 2014.

We strongly urge everyone to read this.

Our top book about the cooperative commonwealth tradition is paradoxically a book that appeared in 2010, but that strongly deserves a second life with its second print run this year. It is the marvelously well written book by John Restakis, entitled “Humanizing the Economy”, which places cooperativism in its historical tradition, and presents innovations such as solidarity cooperatives. Learn there about the cooperative tradition in Emilia-Romagna and the innovative Seikatsu movement in Japan. Since, John Restakis has developed a much stronger understanding of the commons and worked with the P2P Foundation and myself on the commons-cooperative convergence. The evidence of this lies in our P2P-Foundation published e-book on the Commons Transition, which has strong chapters by John Restakis on the convergence of the commons economy, the partner state approach, and the cooperative economy. Finally, our own book, “Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy” co-authored by Vasilis Kostakis, gives a detailed vision of expectations related to this cooperative commons economy: will it fullfill its promise, of fall victim to the forces which extract its value for purely private benefit of large multinationals of netarchical capital?

1. Humanizing the Economy. Co-operatives in the Age of Capital. by John Restakis. New Society Publishers, 2010

1. 1. b eBook: COMMONS TRANSITION: POLICY PROPOSALS FOR AN OPEN KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY. By Michel Bauwens and John Restakis. P2P Foundation, 2014

* 1.1.c. Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy. By Vasilis Kostakis and Michel Bauwens. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

The second trend, the revival of the commons, produced two very important book this year, by David Bollier and Jeremy Rifkin.

David Bollier’s book is a very well written general introduction of what ‘commoning’ means for human life, comparable to these great classics like The Gift by Lewis Hyde; Jeremy Rifkin’s book may not go deep enough in the problematic transition, but gives a great historical introduction to changes in the modes of production, and why the commons is now an economic fact, destined to grow not just in the so-called ‘immaterial’ economy, but also in the physical economy, through the ‘margical cost’ effects of distributed energy and 3D printing.

* 2. Think Like a Commoner. A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons. by David Bollier. New Society, 2014

* 2.1. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. by Jeremy Rifkin. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

More good books on the Revival of Cooperativism:

* 3. Capital and the Debt Trap. Learning from Cooperatives in the Global Crisis. By Claudia Sanchez Bajo and Bruno Roelants. Palgrave MacMillan (2013)

“The recent financial crisis has had a devastating impact around the globe. Thousands of businesses have closed down and millions of jobs have been cut. Many people have lost their homes. Capital and the Debt Trap explains how key economies have fallen into a ‘debt trap’, linking the financial sphere to the real economy, and goes beyond, looking into alternatives to the constant stream of financial bubbles and shocks. Overlooked by many,cooperatives across the world have been relatively resilient throughout the crisis. Through four case studies (the transformation of a French industrial SME in crisis into a cooperative, a fishery cooperative in Mexico, the Desjardins Cooperative Group in Quebec and the Mondragon Group in the Basque country of Spain), the book explores their strategies and type of control, providing an in-depth analysis within a broader debate on wealth generation and a sustainable future.”

* 3.1 e-Book: Democratic Wealth: Building a Citizens’ Economy. Ed. by Stuart White, and Niki Sethi-Smith. openDemocracy and Politics in Spires, 2014

“Democratic Wealth’ is a collection of essays that challenges the poverty of thinking around economic policy, particularly after the 2007 financial crash. It explores the renewed interest in republicanism and suggests this as a framework to shape an economy that serves the common good. It is a selection of articles from a series published by openDemocracy and Politics in Spires, a blog run by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

* 3.2 eBook: Alternatives To Capitalism: Proposals For A Democratic Economy. by Robin Hahnel, Erik Olin Wright. New Left Project, 2014

“New Left Project’s new e-book, Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy, is now available for download.
In it the leading radical thinkers Robin Hahnel and Erik Olin Wright take on the crucial but all-too neglected question: what kind of society should we be fighting for instead of capitalism? Hahnel favours ‘participatory economics’. Wright advocates ‘real utopian socialism’. Alternatives to Capitalism puts these practical proposals through their paces in an in-depth, frank and extremely instructive debate about the central question of our time.”

* 3.3 Gary Alexander. eGaia Growing a peaceful, sustainable Earth through Communications. Published by Lighthouse Books, ISBN 0907637248 (2nd ed. 2014)

A updated second edition. See here for reviews.

* 3.4 Co-operatives in a Post-growth Era. Creating Co-operative Economics. Edited by Sonja Novkovic and Tom Webb. Fernwood Pubn. (with Zed Books), 2014

“Featuring a remarkable roster of internationally renowned critical thinkers, this book presents a feasible alternative for a more environmentally sustainable and equitable economic system. The time has never been better for cooperatives everywhere to recognize their own potential and ability to change the economic landscape.”

* 3.5 Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiszewski. Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future: Insights from 45 Global Thought Leaders. World Scientific, 2014

“The book offers a broad, critical discussion of what a sustainable and desirable future should or can be, with chapters written by some of the world’s leading thinkers, including: Wendell Berry, Van Jones, Frances Moore Lappe, Peggy Liu, Hunter Lovins, Gus Speth, Bill McKibben, and many more.”

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Ethical Economy, Featured Book, Open Models, P2P Books, P2P Business Models, Peer Property, Sharing | 1 Comment »