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Essay of the Day: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th April 2015


‘machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component’

* Article: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. Matteo Pasquinelli.

From the abstract:

“The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxisttradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics isused to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of thedomains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the informationmachine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodiedin databases.

* Excerpt: Some Hypotheses on the Society of Metadata

In conclusion, as a set of provisional hypotheses within the risingsociety of ‘big data’, metadata are said to be used for: 1) measuringthe value of social relations; 2) improving the design of machines andmachinic intelligence; and 3) monitoring and forecasting massbehaviours.

1. Metadata as the measure of the value of social relations. The accu-mulation of information via the mediation of digital machines mirrorsand measures that production of those social relations which Marx himself considered the very nature of value (‘capital is not a thing, but asocial relation between persons which is mediated through things’; Marx,1867: 932). Digital technologies like social networks provide today apunctual cartography of these productive relations (see, for instance,how Facebook and Twitter turn collective communication into attentioneconomy). As much as thermo-machines have been used to measurevalue in terms of quantity of energy per time, info-machines appear tomeasure value in terms of number of links per node. This is evident, forexample, in the case of Google PageRank algorithm and in many rankingand rating techniques employed today (see Pasquinelli, 2009). The extrac-tion of metadata describes here a ?ow surplus value (Deleuze andGuattari, 1972: 233) or a sort of network surplus value.

2. Metadata as implementation of machinic intelligence. The extractionof metadata provides also precious information to optimize machinicintelligence at any level: from software programs to industrial manage-ment, from advertisement campaigns to logistics. In this sense the digitalsphere is still very similar to Alquati’s computer factory: the ?ows of information are used to improve its internal organization and to createmore e?cient algorithms. Also within the infrastructure of the internet,the ?ows of valorizing information are transformed into ?xed capital;that means that knowledge is transferred and incarnated into machinery.See once again Google’s PageRank algorithm and the way it has beenevolving according to data tra?c and the collective behaviours of theglobal audience. Metadata describe here a code surplus value (Deleuzeand Guattari, 1972: 233).

3. Metadata as new form of biopolitical control (dataveillance). Ratherthan pro?ling individual inclinations, metadata can be used for crowdcontrol and prediction of mass behaviours, as happens today with anygovernment tracking usage of social media, spin doctors mapping polit-ical elections, city councils measuring tra?c ?ows and companies follow-ing supply chains. Online real-time statistics of speci?c search keywordscan map the spread of diseases across a country as much as social unrest(see Google Flu and Google Trends services, for instance, and imaginethe same algorithms applied to political and social issues). If Deleuze(1990a) had already warned against the speci?c techniques of a society of control based on the power virtually embodied in the collective infor-mation of databases, today the new regime of dataveillance can bedescribed as a society of metadata, as it is no longer necessary to targetindividual behaviour but just collective trends (see the PRISM scandalin 2013).

An analysis of the new political dimensions of metadata or ‘big data’ isstill to come. In conclusion, the algorithms governing the new society of metadata have been properly illuminated thanks to one of operaismo’s most important intuitions: applying the theoretical and political point of view of valorizing information (that is living labour) rather than the perspective of a mere technological determinism. As Deleuze reminds us in the interview with Negri quoted at the beginning of this essay:‘machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component’.

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Essay of the Day: Theorising and Analysing Digital Labour

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th April 2015


* Article: Theorising and analysing digital labour: From global value chains to modes of production. By Christian Fuchs. The Political Economy of Communication, Vol 1, No 2 (2013)

From the abstract:

“This paper considers the following question—where do computers, laptops and mobile phones come from and who produced them? Specific cases of digital labour are examined—the extraction of minerals in African mines under slave-like conditions; ICT manufacturing and assemblage in China (Foxconn); software engineering in India; call centre service work; software engineering at Google within Silicon Valley; and the digital labour of internet prosumers/users. Empirical data and empirical studies concerning these cases are systematically analysed and theoretically interpreted. The theoretical interpretations are grounded in Marxist political economy. The term ‘global value chain’ is criticised in favour of a complex and multidimensional understanding of Marx’s ‘mode of production’ for the purposes of conceptualizing digital labour. This kind of labour is transnational and involves various modes of production, relations of production and organisational forms (in the context of the productive forces). There is a complex global division of digital labour that connects and articulates various forms of productive forces, exploitation, modes of production, and variations within the dominant capitalist mode of production.”

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Anti-systemic Movements and the Future of Capitalism by Immanuel Wallerstein

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st April 2015


Brilliant analysis of the world situation and the history of counter-movements, but falls short in its proposed alternative. There is absolutely no mention of the need for productive reconstruction.


 

Antisystemic Movements and the Future of Capitalism by Immanuel Wallerstein

Unrevised version of talk at 39th Annual Meeting of the Political Economy of the World-System Conference, Berlin, Mar. 2015.

The anti-systemic movements now find themselves in the midst of a fierce struggle about the future. Let me start by reviewing very briefly my premises, about which I have written much. I do this in order to analyze the role and dilemmas of the antisystemic movements in this struggle, what I now call the Global Left. The modern world-system is a capitalist world-economy functioning within the framework of an interstate system. This system has been in existence for some 500 years. It has been a remarkably successful system in terms of its objective which is the endless accumulation of capital.

However, like all systems from the very largest (the universe) to the smallest nano-systems, this system is a historical system, and as such has three phases – its initial coming into being, its long period of what I call ifs “normal” functioning according to the rules that govern the system, and its inevitable structural crisis. I contend that the world-system is now in this third phase, that of structural crisis.

There are several things to note about how the system operated in its previous normal period. It had discernible cyclical rhythms, of which the two most important were the so-called Kondratieff long waves and the hegemonic cycles. Each of these rhythms was imperfectly cyclical in the sense that they followed a consistent pattern of two steps forward followed by one step back. That is, after its upturn phase of the cycle, none of the cyclical rhythms returned all the way to where they had been at the beginning of the upturn, but only to a point somewhat higher. The downturn took the form more of a stagnation than of a true downturn.

To achieve its objectives, each of the two principal rhythms depended on constructing a quasi-monopoly, which brought great benefits to certain groups. However, the quasi-monopolies were necessarily limited in time because they were always self-liquidating.

The modern world-system came into its structural crisis for two reasons. The first is that the three basic costs of capitalist production – personnel, inputs, and infrastructure – rose slowly but steadily over time because of the ways in which producers sought to minimize each of these costs. Their efforts were therefore only partially realizable. Similarly, the mode of enforcing hegemonic supremacies also reached structural limits given the absences of new zones to incorporate into the now global world-system.

The costs of capitalist production had been rising steadily as a percentage of the possible price that could be obtained (effective demand). The consequence of the mode of operations of these two imperfect cyclical rhythms was an upward secular trend over 500 years, moving towards an asymptote. They eventually reached a point where the costs were so high and effective demand so constrained that it was no longer possible to accumulate capital, creating a problem for capitalists themselves. The system had moved so far from a possible equilibrium that they brought about, in conjunction with the limits of hegemonic power, the structural crisis of the system.

A structural crisis is not a cyclical downturn, with which it is regularly confused because of our looseness in using the word “crisis.” It is far more than that. It is the point at which the system can no longer be brought back to equilibrium and begins to fluctuate wildly. This can only occur once in the life of a historical system. At the point when the structural crisis begins, the system bifurcates. For natural scientists, a bifurcation means that there are two different solutions to the same equation, something supposedly not normally possible. In ordinary language, we can say that there has come into being two possible and quite different outcomes, two paths along which the system can evolve.

In a bifurcation, one is absolutely certain that the system cannot survive. However, one is equally certain that it is intrinsically impossible to know which fork of the bifurcation will ultimately prevail and thereby result in the creation of a new historical system (or systems).

The origins and evolution of the Global Left can best be appreciated if one understands some major turning-points of the modern world-system. I start with the French Revolution. Most historians consider that the French Revolution brought about a fundamental transformation of France in either its political or economic structures, or both.

I think it did neither of these things. Politically, France had long been following an uneven trajectory of strengthening the central state. As Tocqueville showed a long time ago, the result of the French Revolution was to put this trajectory back on track. Economically, it did not transform France into a capitalist state, since France had been part of the capitalist world-economy for two to three centuries already. As for its supposed abolition of the remnants of feudal law, Marc Bloch showed that the presumed feudal remnants were still there as late as the early twentieth century.

Rather, in my view the significance of the French Revolution lay in the cultural transformation of the modern world-system as a whole. The French Revolution bequeathed to the world-system the tacit worldwide acceptance of two cultural concepts: the normality of change and the sovereignty of the people. The combination of the two had very radical implications. The sovereign people could change the system more or less as they wished. For the dominant classes, this belief severely threatened their interests. The immediate problem was how to handle this new reality. There were three different ways, resulting in the three fundamental ideologies of the post-1789 world – rightwing conservatism, centrist liberalism, and leftwing radicalism. Each of these ideologies was a different way of responding politically to these new beliefs. I call this array of responses the newly-constructed geoculture of the modern world-system.

I interpret the world-revolution of 1848 as a critical confrontation of the three post-1789 ideologies, in which both rightwing Conservatism and leftist Radicalism were outmaneuvered by centrist Liberalism, which was able to assert supremacy over the two rival ideologies.

The Global Left took a crucial turn in the wake of the severe repressions it suffered following the world-revolution of 1848. The key political shift was from relying either on spontaneous rebellions or on utopian withdrawal (the two principal tactics prior to 1848) to the creation of organizational and therefore bureaucratic structures to prepare the base for the long struggle. Such structures began to take shape only in the 1870s.

This dominance of centrist liberalism essentially lasted until the world-revolution of 1968, whose major consequence was precisely to liberate both the conservatives and the radicals from their subordinate status to centrist liberalism. After 1968, they were able to become once again autonomous ideologies, recreating the original triad. Centrist liberalism did not disappear but was reduced to being once again simply one of three competing ideologies.

Organizationally what I call the original version of the antisystemic movements, sometimes called the Old Left, began to be constructed in the last third of the nineteenth century. These movements took two main forms: that of social movements, which considered that the basic struggle was a capitalist struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; and that of the national movements, which considered that the basic struggle was between oppressed peoples and their oppressors.

There were parallel debates about strategy that occurred both in the social and in the nationalist movements. One was whether the movements should seek state power. There were those who said that the state was their principal enemy and that therefore they should combat it permanently and unremittingly. The state could not be reformed. And there were others who insisted that precisely because the state was their enemy, they needed to disarm it by taking it over. In social movements, this was the difference between the Anarchists and the Marxists. In national movements this was the difference between the cultural and political nationalists.

The second great debate was over the relation between what each considered to be the primary historical actor (the proletariat for the social movements, the oppressed people for the national movements) and all other movements. There were those who insisted that the victory of the primary actor had to take precedence over the realization of any other demand. Feminist movements, movements of social minorities, peace movements, environmentalist movements all were told to subordinate their actions and demands to those of the primary actor. Otherwise, it was argued they were acting objectively counter-revolutionary. We call this view verticalism. And there were those who insisted that the demands of other groups for their rights could not wait on the victorious “revolution” of the self-styled primary movements. We call this horizontalism.

In the case of both the social and the national movements, the statist, verticalist strategy won out in a formula we came to call the two-step strategy – first obtain state power, then transform the world. This strategy failed in 1968 precisely because it had succeeded in the preceding twenty-five years. The revolutionaries of 1968 (what the French called the /soixante-huitards/) were responding to what they saw as several realities. The first was the pervasive imperialist role of the hegemonic power, and what the revolutionaries defined as the collusion thereto of the Soviet Union (the Yalta tacit deal). The second was the failure of the movements, having realized step one of the two-step strategy, to implement the second step and change the world in any significant way. The third was the limitations and misdeeds of a verticalist strategy from the perspective of other movements.

The world-revolution of 1968 came within a particular historical context, that of the acme of the operation of the modern world-system. This was the period running more or less from 1945 to 1970. This period saw the highest historical level of accumulation as well as the most extensive and powerful degree of hegemonic control of the system that had ever been known. It was precisely the fact that the modern world-system worked so well in this period in terms of its objectives that pushed the system too close to the asymptotes and brought on the structural crisis of the world-system.

Initially after 1968, it was the Global Right that was able to take most advantage of the post-1968 situation. These took the form of the so-called Washington Consensus that imposed on virtually all governments a series of measures that undid the so-called developmentalist thrusts of an earlier period. It would not be until 1994 that the Global Left could resume its initiatives. There three successive moments of this reawakening of the Global Left: the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994; the ability of the demonstrators at the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999 to scuttle the proposed new world treaty guaranteeing so-called intellectual property rights; and the founding of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001.

What then are the useful and possible strategies of the Global Left during the remaining 20-40 years of the structural crisis of our present system To do that, I need to remind you of the reasons why the classic two-step strategy failed.

The very belief in the in evitability of progress was substantively depoliticizing, and particularly depoliticizing once an antisystemic movement came to state power. After 1968, the Global Left espoused a sort of anti-statism. This popular shift to anti-statism, hailed though it was by the celebrants of the capitalist system, did not really serve the interests of the latter. For in actuality anti-statism served to delegitimize all state structures, even if it was thought to apply merely to certain particular regimes. It thus under mined (rather than reinforced) the political stability of the world-system, and there by has been making more acute its systemic crisis.

The politics of the transition are different from the politics of the period of normal operation of the world-system. It is the poli tics of grabbing advantage and position at a moment in time when politically anything is possible and when most actors find it extremely difficult to formulate middle-range strategies. Ideological and analytic confusion becomes a structural reality rather than an accidental variable. The economics of everyday life is subject to wilder swings than those to which the world had been accustomed and for which there had been easy explanations. Above all, the social fabric seems less reliable and the institutions on which we rely to guarantee our immediate security seem to be faltering seriously. Thus, antisocial crime as well as so-called terrorism seems to be widespread and this perception creates high level of fear. One widespread re flex to increased fear is the expansion of privatized security measures staffed by non-state hired forces.

The Global Right are a complex mix and do not constitute a single organized caucus. The majority of those who identify with them will share in the general confusion and will resort to their traditional short-run politics, perhaps with a higher dose of repressiveness insofar as the politics of concessions will not be seen as achieving the short-run calm it is supposed to produce.

But there is also the small minority among the upper strata who are sufficiently insightful and intelligent to perceive the fact that the present system is collapsing and who wish to ensure that any new system be one that preserves their privileged position. They probably can be divided into two main groups advocating two possible alternative strategies. One is fierce repression and one is the de Lampedusa strategy – to change everything in order that nothing change. Both sub-groups have firm resolve and a great deal of resources at their command. They can hire intelligence and skill, more or less as they wish. They have in fact already been doing so.

I do not know what the de Lampedusa faction will come up with, or by what means they will seek to implement the form of transition they will favor. I do know that, whatever it is, it will seem attractive and be deceptive and is far more dangerous to the Global Left that the advocates of repression. The most deceptive aspect is that such proposals will be clothed as radical, progressive change. It will require constantly applied analytic criticism to bring to the surface what the real consequences would be, and to distinguish and weigh the positive and negative elements of the measures they propose.

The Global Left who wish to move in the direction of a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system necessarily act within the framework of an uncertain outcome. This is not easy. There is no bandwagon to climb aboard. There is only a harsh struggle.

Pre-1968 left analysis involved multiple biases that had pushed it the Global Left towards a state-orientation. The first bias was that homogeneity was somehow better than heterogeneity, and that therefore centralization was somehow better than decentralization. This bias derived from the false assumption that equality means identity. To be sure, many thinkers had pointed out the fallacy of this equation, including Marx, who distinguished equity from equality. But for revolutionaries in a hurry, even those who claimed to be Marxist, the centralizing, homogenizing path seemed easiest and fastest. It required no difficult calculation of how to balance complex sets of choices. They were arguing in effect that one cannot add apples and oranges. The only problem is that the real world is precisely made up of apples and oranges. If you can’t do such fuzzy arithmetic, you can’t make real political choices.

The second bias was virtually the opposite. Whereas the preference for unification of effort and result should have pushed logically towards the creation of a single world movement and the advocacy of a world state, the de facto reality of a multi-state sys tem, in which some states were visibly more powerful and privileged than other states, pushed the movements towards seeing the state in which they lived as a mechanism of defense of collective interests within the world-system, an instrument more relevant for the large majority within each state than for the privileged few. Once again, many thinkers had pointed to the fallacy of believing that any state within the modern world-system would or could serve collective interests rather than those of the privileged few, but weak majorities in weak states could see no other weapon at hand in their struggles against marginalization and oppression than a state structure they thought (or rather they hoped) they might be able to control themselves.

The third bias was the most curious of all. The French Revolution had proclaimed as its slogan the trinity: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” What has in practice happened ever since is that most people have tacitly dropped the “fraternity” part of the slogan on the grounds that it was mere sentimentality. And the liberal center has insisted that “liberty” had to take priority over “equality.” In fact, what the liberals really meant is that “liberty” (defined in pure ly political terms as a multi-party parliamentary system) was the only thing that mattered and that “equality” represented a danger for “liberty” and had to be down played or dropped altogether.

There was flimflam in this analysis, and the Global Left fell for it, in particular its Leninist variant, which responded to this centrist liberal discourse by inverting it, and insisting that (economic) equality had to take precedence over (political) liberty. This was entirely the wrong answer. The correct answer is that there is no way whatsoever to separate liberty from equality. No one can be “free” to choose politically, if one’s choices are constrained by an unequal position. And no one can be “equal” economically if one does not have the degree of political freedom that others have, that is, does not enjoy the same political rights and the same degree of participation in real decisions.

Still this is all water under the bridge. The errors of the left, the failed strategy, were an almost inevitable outcome of the operations of the capitalist system against which the Global Left was struggling. And the widespread recognition of this historic failure of the Global Left is part and parcel of the disarray caused by the general crisis of the capitalist world-system.

What is it however that the Global Left should push I think there are three major lines of theory and praxis to emphasize. The first is what I call “forcing liberals to be liberals.” The Achilles heel of centrist liberals is that they don’t want to implement their own rhetoric. One centerpiece of their rhetoric is individual choice. Yet at many elementary levels, liberals oppose individual choice. One of the most obvious and the most important is the right to choose where to live. Immigration controls are anti-liberal. Making choices – say choice of doctor or school – dependent on wealth is anti-liberal. Patents are anti-liberal. One could go on. The fact is that the capitalist world-economy has survived on the basis of the non-fulfillment of liberal rhetoric. The Global Left should be systematically, regularly, and continuously calling the bluff of centrist liberals.

But of course, calling the rhetorical bluff is only the beginning of reconstruction. We need to have a positive program of our own. There has been a veritable sea-change in the programs of left parties and movements around the world between as late as the 1960s and today. In the 1960s, the programs of Old Left movements emphasized economic structures. They advocated one form or another, one degree or another, of the socialization, usually the nationalization, of the means of production. They said little, if anything, about inequalities that were not defined as class-based. Today, almost all of these same parties and movements, or their successors, put forward proposals to deal with inequalities of gender, race, and ethnicity. Many of these programs are terribly inadequate, but at least the movements feel it necessary to say some thing. On the other hand, there is virtually no party or movement today that considers itself on the left that advocates further socialization or nationalization of the means of production, and a goodly number that are actually proposing moving in the other direction. It is a breathtaking turnabout. Some hail it, some denounce it. Most just accept it.

In the period since 1968, there has been an enormous amount of testing of alternative strategies by different movements, old and new, and there has been in addition a rather healthy shift in the relations of antisystemic movements to each other in the sense that the murderous mutual denunciations and vicious struggles of yester year have considerably abated, a positive development we have been underestimating. I would like to suggest some lines along which we could develop further the idea of an alternative strategy.

(1)Expand the spirit of Porto Alegre/. What is this spirit I would define it as follows. It is the coming together in a non-hierarchical fashion of the world family of antisystemic movements to push for (a) intellectual clarity, (b) militant actions based on popular mobilization that can be seen as immediately useful in people’s lives, (c) simultaneously argue for longer-run, more fundamental changes.

There are three crucial elements to the spirit of Porto Alegre. It is a loose structure that has brought together on a world scale movements from the South and the North, and on more than a merely token basis. It is militant, both intellectually and politically. Intellectually, it is not in search of a global consensus with the spirit of Davos. And politically, it is militant in the sense that the movements of 1968 were militant. Of course, we shall have to see whether a loosely-structured world movement can hold together in any meaningful sense, and by what means it can develop the tactics of the struggle. But its very looseness makes it a force difficult to suppress, while encouraging centrist forces to be neutral, if hesitantly.

(2)Use defensive electoral tactics/. If the Global Left commits itself to loosely-structured, extra-parliamentary militant tactics, this immediately raises the question of our attitude towards electoral processes. Scylla and Charybdis are thinking that they’re crucial and thinking that they’re irrelevant. Electoral victories will not transform the world; but they cannot be neglected. They are an essential mechanism of protecting the immediate needs of the world’s populations against losses of achieved benefits. The electoral battles must be fought in order to minimize the damage that can be inflicted by the Global Right via control of the world’s governments.

We cannot neglect such battles because all of us live and survive in the present and no movement can tell people that short-term survival is unimportant. This makes, however, electoral tactics a purely pragmatic matter. Once we don’t think of obtaining state power as a mode of transforming the world, they are always a matter of opting for the lesser evil, and the decision of what is the lesser evil has to be made case by case and moment by moment.

The choice depends in part on what is the electoral sys tem. A system with winner-takes-all must be manipulated differently than a system with two rounds or a system with proportional representation. In addition, there are many different party and sub-party traditions amongst the Global Left. Most of these traditions are relics of another era, but many people still vote according to them.

Since state elections are a pragmatic mat ter, it is crucial to create alliances that respect these traditions, aiming for the 51% that counts pragmatically. But no dancing in the streets, when we win! Electoral victory is merely a defensive tactic.

(3)Push democratization unceasingly/. For at least two centuries, what left movements and ordinary people have most loudly demanded of the states can be resumed in one word more – more education, more health, more guaranteed lifetime income. This is not only popular it is immediately useful in people’s lives. And it tightens the squeeze on the possibilities of the endless accumulation of capital. These demands should be pushed continuously, and everywhere. There cannot be too much.

To be sure, expanding all these “welfare state” functions al ways raises questions of efficiency of expenditures, of corruption, of creating over-powerful and unresponsive bureaucracies. These are all questions we should be ready to address, but they should never lessen the basic demand of more, much more.

It is crucial that popular movements not spare the center or left-of-center governments they have elected from the pursuit of these demands. Just because it is a friendlier government than an outright right government does not mean that we should pull our punches. Pressing friendly governments pushes rightwing opposition forces towards the center-left. Not pushing them pushes center-left governments towards the center-right.While there may be occasional special circumstances to obviate these truisms, the general rule on democratization is more, much more.

4)Make the liberal center fulfil its theoretical preferences. This is otherwise known as forcing the pace of liberalism. The liberal center notably seldom means what it says, or practices what it preaches. Take some obvious themes, say, liberty. The liberal center used to denounce the Soviet Union. regularly because it didn’t permit free emigration. But of course the other side of free emigration is free immigration. There’s no value in being allowed to leave a country unless you can get in somewhere else. We should push for open frontiers.

The liberal center regularly calls for freer trade, freer enterprise, keeping the government out of the market decisions that entrepreneurs are making. The other side of that is that entrepreneurs who fail in the market should not be salvaged. They take the profits when they succeed they should take the losses when they fail. It is often argued that saving the companies is saving jobs. But there are far cheaper ways of saving jobs – pay for unemployment insurance, re training, and even starting job opportunities. But none of this needs involve assuming the debts of the failing entrepreneurs.

The liberal center regularly insists that monopoly is a bad thing. But the other side of that is abolishing or grossly limiting patents. The other side of that is not involving the government in protecting industries against foreign competition. Will this hurt the working classes in the core zones Well, not if money and energy is spent on trying to achieve greater convergence of world wage rates.

The details of the proposition are complex and need to be discussed. The point however is not to let the liberal center get away with its rhetoric and reaping the rewards of that, while not paying the costs of its proposals. Furthermore, the most effective political mode of neutralizing centrist opinion is to appeal to its ideals, not its interests. Calling the claims on the rhetoric is a way of appealing to the ideals rather than the interests of the centrist elements.

Finally, we should always bear in mind that a good deal of the benefits of democratization are not easily available to the poorest strata, or not available to the same degree, because of the difficulties they have in navigating the bureaucratic hurdles. Some thirty years ago, Cloward and Piven proposed a mode of aiding the poorest strata. They said we should “explode the rolls,” that is, mobilize in the poorest communities so that they take full advantage of their legal rights.

5)Make anti-racism the defining measure of democracy/. Democracy is about treating all people equally – in terms of power, in terms of distribution, in terms of opportunity for personal fulfillment. Racism is the primary mode of distinguishing between those who have rights (or more rights) and the others who have no rights or fewer rights. Racism both defines the groups and simultaneously offers a specious justification for the practice. Racism is not a secondary issue, either on a national or a world scale. It is the mode by which the liberal center’s promise of universalistic criteria is systematically, deliberately, and constantly under mined.

Racism is pervasive throughout the existing world-system. No corner of the globe is without it, and without it as a central feature of local, national, and world politics. In her speech to the Mexican National Assembly on Mar. 29, Commandant Esther of the EZLN said:

The Whites (/ladinos/) and the rich people make fun of us indigenous women for our clothing, for our speech, for our language, for our way of praying and healing, and for our color. which is the color of the earth that we work.

She went on to plead in favor of the law that would guarantee autonomy to the indigenous peoples, saying:

When the rights and the culture of the indigenous peoples are recognized,…the law will begin to bring together its hour and the hour of the indigenous peoples…. And if today we are indigenous women, tomorrow we will the others, men and women, who are dead, persecuted, or im prisoned because of their difference.

6) Move towards decommodification/. The crucial thing wrong with the capitalist system is not private ownership, which is simply a means, but commodification which is the essential element in the accumulation of capital. Even today, the capitalist world-system is not entirely commodified, although there are efforts to make it so. But we could in fact move in the other direction. Instead of transforming universities and hospitals (whether state-owned or private) into profit-making institutions, we should be thinking of how we can transform steel factories into non-profit institutions, that is, self-sustaining structures that pay dividends to no one. This is the face of a more hopeful future, and in fact could start now.

7) Remember always that we are living in the era of transition from our existing world-system to something different. This means several things. We should not be taken in by the rhetoric of globalization or the inferences about TINA. Not only do alternatives exist, but the only alternative that doesn’t exist is continuing with our present structures.

There will be an immense struggle over the successor system, which shall continue for 20-40 years, and whose outcome is intrinsically uncertain. History is on no one’s side. It depends on what we do. On the other hand, this offers a great opportunity for creative action. During the normal life of an historical system, even great efforts at transformation (so-called “revolutions”) have limited consequences since the system creates great pressures to return to its equilibrium. But in the chaotic ambiance of a structural transition, fluctuations become wild, and even small pushes can have great consequences in favoring one branch or the other of the bifurcation. If ever agency operates, this is the moment.

The key problem is not organization, however important that be. The key problem is lucidity. The forces who wish to change the system so that nothing changes, so that we have a different system that is equally or even more hierarchical and polarizing, have money, energy, and intelligence at their disposal. They will dress up the fake changes in attractive clothing. And only careful analysis will keep us from falling into their many traps.

They will use slogans we cannot disagree with – say, human rights. But they will give it content which includes a few elements that are highly desirable with many others that perpetuate the civilizing mission of the powerful and privileged over the non-civilized others. If an international judicial procedure against genocide is desirable, then it desirable only if it is applicable to everyone, not merely the weak. If nuclear weapons, or biological warfare, are dangerous, even barbaric, then there are no safe possessors of such weapons.

In the inherent uncertainty of the world, at its moments of historic transformation, the only plausible strategy for the Global Left is one of intelligent, militant pursuit of its basic objective – the achievement of a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian world. Such a world is possible. It is by no means certain that it will come into being. But then it is by no means impossible.

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Essay of the Day: Multitude, Assemblies, and a New Politics of the Common

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Michel Bauwens
29th March 2015


* Essay: A Common Assembly: Multitude, Assemblies, and a New Politics of the Common. Elise Danielle Thorburn. Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Volume 4 (2): 254 – 279 (November 2012)

From the Abstract:

“Contemporary experiments in organising the “multitude” have proliferated of late – from the encampments of Occupy to the Quebec student strike, the Arab Spring, and the European anti-austerity movements. These experiments, all appearing highly networked, have a political form in common – the assembly.

This organising model, the “assembly” as form, now seems to provide a point of convergence for a variety of left tendencies – including both jaded transversal activists who want a bit more vertical organization and vanguardists who have been forced to learn the lessons of horizontality.

It is a politics no longer split along traditional lineages, but rather opens us on to a politics of the common – something shared between people, not mediated by the State or capital. Using concepts drawn both from concrete activist experience and from the tradition of autonomism. This paper explores some of the genealogy of the assembly as form, and examines the autonomist notion of the common in order to see the convergences between emergent assembly projects – such as the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly – and theoretical tools that Autonomist theory has provided in order to being the project of thinking about how we can structure, coordinate, and organise movements so that they get us closer to the creation of a new world.”

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A new social settlement for a sharing society

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Rajesh Makwana
7th March 2015


social security (2)

The latest phase of research from the New Economics Foundation proposes a new framework of ideas that are all premised on the need for a more equal and sharing society, one that “serves the interests of people and the planet, not the other way around”.


A major new report was launched this week by the New Economics Foundation that sets out their vision for a ‘new social settlement’ for the United Kingdom. The working paper is the culmination of a series of discussions and publications on this theme by the London-based think tank from the past two years, and is intended to contribute to broader debates about the future of the welfare system and a new economics.

Although the scope of the report is limited to the UK and a predominantly Western European perspective of social policy, there is much to draw and learn from its framing on what it calls ‘sustainable social justice’. In simple language, the introduction and first section explains the three main goals of a new social settlement that needs to deliver social justice, environmental sustainability, and a more equal distribution of power. All three of these themes are framed in terms of the principle of sharing either directly or indirectly, and they form the outline of a new narrative that challenges conventional economic assumptions about the role of governments and market forces in shaping society.

For example, the concept of social justice is explicated in terms of both the need for wellbeing and equality, which requires a systemic approach that can tackle the fundamental causes of economic inequality (i.e. disparities in income, wealth and access to resources). Drawing on NEF’s extensive research into the self-evident desirability of pursuing greater equality, they outline why government policies need to tackle the major drivers of poverty and inequality at root. This is particularly because economic inequality is self-perpetuating, as the political influence of wealthy elites mitigates against the equitable sharing of a society’s wealth and resources through redistributive measures.

The second goal of a new social settlement – environmental sustainability – goes far beyond the challenges addressed by the post-war welfare state in 1940s Britain, and is premised on the need to share resources more equally within safe environmental limits. In no uncertain terms, the report asserts that the twin goals of social justice and environmental sustainability cannot be achieved through market mechanisms or individual action alone, and depends on pooling resources, recognising shared interests and acting together. Civil society, it states, has “no inherent mechanisms for achieving equality”, which therefore calls for strong action from the state to regulate, tax, invest and redistribute in order to curb and reverse trends towards environmental catastrophe.

Shared power and collective action

All of this will be impossible to accomplish without the final goal of a more equal distribution of power, which the report recognises is central to determining “how far social, environmental, economic and political resources are nurtured or exhausted, sequestered or shared”. To achieve this goal, it argues that a new social settlement has to reverse current trends towards deregulating markets and privatising services, and instead ensure collective control of the public over “access to the means of achieving fair shares” of society’s resources. The principles of subsidiarity and equality are cited as pivotal in this regard, where power is exercised at the lowest level possible to achieve defined goals.

This again has definite implications for the role of the state which, unlike charities or businesses, are “deemed to represent the popular will and are subject – in theory if not always in practice – to democratic control”. Where the state is clumsy and overbearing, the report asserts that “the answer is not to roll them back and leave more room for markets, but to reinvigorate the mechanisms of democratic control and safeguard state power in the public interest”.

In accordance with the overarching goal of creating a fair and equitable distribution of resources between people, places, and even generations while at the same respecting planetary boundaries, one of the main objectives of a new social settlement is to “plan for prosperity without relying on economic growth”. Drawing particularly on the work of Professor Tim Jackson to argue that continued growth is incompatible with a socially-just and ecologically-sustainable future, the report sets out its possibly most radical message: that a new social settlement must therefore be designed to function well with little or no additional public funds.

Subsequent broad recommendations are made in line with this objective, namely to shift investment and action upstream (i.e. for governments and civil society to focus on preventative approaches and the systemic causes of social, economic and environmental problems); to nurture the core economy (i.e. tap into uncommodified human and social resources, which is predicated on the need to share time and strengthen relationships outside of the money economy); and also to foster solidarity. The latter objective is said to feature too rarely in contemporary debates about social policy, and yet is foundational in creating a new social settlement that needs to be based – as emphasised earlier in the report – on “people getting together, pooling resources, and acting collectively to support each other”.

In this way, the concept of solidarity as outlined by the NEF is clearly associated with the ethic and practise of sharing in both an interpersonal and collective sense, resting as it does on people expressing sympathy and responsibility for one another, and offering active mutual support in pursuit of a shared purpose. In their view, society needs to nurture a kind of solidarity that is “inclusive, expansive and active, both between groups who are ‘strangers’ to each other, and across present and future generations. The ‘common challenge or adversary’ is not specifically other people, but the systems and structures that shore up inequalities, foster short-term greed, plunder the natural environment, and blight the prospects of future generations”.

A new political narrative

The proposals for change that follow are all measures that can help to strengthen solidarity, which also depends on abandoning a neoliberal ideology that is preventing society from moving in the direction of “shared power and responsibility, and collective action to meet common goals”. This includes measures to narrow inequalities, devolve power, promote co-production, strengthen the core economy, foster collective forms of ownership and control, build an inclusive social security system, and develop state institutions and actions that encourage collaboration between groups and organisations. Their proposals for transforming public services may not be revolutionary in themselves, even though they indeed represent a radical shift away from current policy and practice – acknowledging as they do the substantial dangers of market-led reforms, and the need for greater participation from public and civil society organisations in which relationships must “cease to be driven by competition and profit-seeking”.

At a public event to launch the NEF’s work on the new social settlement, there was a lively and interesting discussion among the panellists and audience about the value of writing reports of this nature, especially when government policies in most countries are generally moving in the opposite direction of the NEF’s vision. Greenpeace’s UK political director, Ruth Davis, argued that what really matters is the “politics of persuasion” as logical arguments and clearly-written policies will never be enough in themselves to challenge the powerful and change society. The NEF report’s author, Anna Coote, responded that the report is intended as a framework with pointers that can be built upon, as we also need a new narrative about what can and can’t be changed. She recognised that stories are useful in convincing and motivating people, but emphasised that we need the politics too.

This is perhaps the major contribution of the NEF’s latest phase of research, as spelled out in a section of the report titled ‘a note on ideology and narrative’. The prevailing political narrative – based as it is on an outmoded view of human nature, false assumptions about public institutions, and a blind adherence to endless economic growth – is so entrenched that it is now considered “common sense, apolitical, and incontrovertible”. We cannot simply graft onto this neoliberal worldview an additional set of ideas that favour social justice, environmental sustainability and a more equal distribution of power. Instead, it is necessary to challenge the old dominant narrative altogether with an entirely new set of economic and political assumptions. And this new framework of ideas that are being proposed by the NEF are all premised on the need for a more equal and sharing society, one that “serves the interests of people and the planet, not the other way around”.

As the report states, it “won’t work if we simply use evidence, moral claims, and reasoned debate to refute the neoliberal story. We need to build a more powerful story, with a new framework. A first step is to bring ideology out and to rehabilitate the notion that policies can be, and usually are, grounded in systems of ideas and ideals”.


Read the full report by the New Economics Foundation: People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement

Photo credit: Fabricator of Useless Articles, flickr creative commons

 

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Essay, Original Content, P2P Healthcare, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

André Gorz on the Exit from Capitalism

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David Bollier
23rd February 2015


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In an amazingly prescient essay, “The Exit From Capitalism Has Already Begun,”journalist and social philosopher André Gorz in 2007 explained how computerization and networks are causing a profound crisis in capitalism by making knowledge more shareable. He argues that shareable knowledge and culture undercuts capitalist control over the global market system as the exclusive apparatus for production and consumption (and thus our “necessary” roles as wage-earners and consumers).

The essay, translated by Chris Turner, originally appeared in the journal EcoRev in Autumn 2007 and was reprinted in Gorz’s 2008 book Ecologica. It’s worth revisiting this essay because it so succinctly develops a theme that is now playing out, one that Jeremy Rifkin reprises and elaborates upon in his 2014 book The Zero Marginal Cost Society. 

Let’s start with the conundrum that capital faces as computerization makes it possible to produce more with less labor.  Gorz writes:

The cost of labor per unit of output is constantly diminishing and the price of products is also tending to fall. The more the quantity of labor for a given output decreases, the more the value produced per worker – productivity – has to increase if the amount of achievable profit is not to fall. We have, then, this apparent paradox: the more productivity rises, the more it has to go on rising, in order to prevent the volume of profit from diminishing. Hence the pursuit of productivity gains moves ever faster, manpower levels tend to reduce, while pressure on workers intensifies and wage levels fall, as does the overall payroll. The system is approaching an internal limit at which production and investment in production cease to be sufficiently profitable.

Over time, Gorz explains, this leads investors to turn away from the “real economy” of production, where productivity gains and profits are harder to achieve, and instead seek profit through financial speculation in “fictitious” forms of value such as debt and new types of financial instruments. The value is ficititious in the sense that loans, return on investment,  future economic growth, trust and goodwill are social intangibles that are quite unlike physical capital. They depend upon collective belief and social trust, and can evaporate overnight.

Still, it is generally easier and more profitable to invest in these (fictitious, speculative) forms of financial value than in actually producing goods and services at a time when productivity gains and profit are declining.  No wonder speculative bubbles are so attractive:  There is just too much capital is sloshing around looking for profitable investment which the real economy is less capable of delivering.  No wonder companies have so much cash on hand (from profits) that they are declining to invest. No wonder the amount of available finance capital dwarfs the real economy. Gorz noted that financial assets in 2007 stood at $160 trillion, which was three to four times global GDP – a ratio that has surely gotten more extreme in the past eight years.

Meanwhile, climate change adds yet another layer of difficulty because it virtually requires an abrupt retreat from capitalism, as Naomi Klein argues in her recent book This Changes Everything.  Gorz made this point quite clear:

“It is impossible to avoid climate catastrophe without a radical break with the economic logic and methods that have been taking us in that direction for 150 years. On current trend projections, global GDP will increase by a factor of three or four by 2050. But, according to a report by the UN Climate Council, CO2 emissions will have to fall by 85% by that date to limit global warming to a maximum of 2° C. Beyond 2° C, the consequences will be irreversible and uncontrollable.

“Negative growth is, therefore, imperative for our survival. But it presupposes a different economy, a different lifestyle, a different civilization, and different social relations. In the absence of these, collapse could be avoided only through restrictions, rationing, and the kind of authoritarian resource-allocation typical of a war economy. The exit from capitalism will happen, then, one way or another, either in a civilized or barbarous fashion. The question is simply what form it will take and how quickly it will occur.

“To envisage a different economy, different social relations, different modes and means of production, and different ways of life is regarded as “unrealistic,” as though the society based on commodities, wages, and money could not be surpassed. In reality, a whole host of convergent indices suggest that the surpassing of that society is already under way, and that the chances of a civilized exit from capitalism depend primarily on our capacity to discern the trends and practices that herald its possibility.”

This is where the many initiatives and movements that revolve around the commons, peer production, the solidarity economy, co-operatives, Transition Towns, degrowth, the sharing and collaborative economy, and much else, come in. These are all harbingers of a different way of meeting everyday needs without becoming ensnared in utopian capitalist imperatives (constant growth, ever-increasing productivity gains, profits from the real economy). Pursuing this path ultimately destroys a society, as we can see from years of austerity politics in Greece.

In other words, the most promising way to resolve the capitalist crisis of our time is to start to decommodify production and consumption – i.e., extend and invent non-market ways to meet our needs.  Indeed, we need to reconceptualize “production” and “consumption” themselves as separate categories, and begin to re-integrate them — and our role as actors in them — through commons-based peer production.

Fortunately, the Internet and digital technologies are enormously helpful in this process.  They are already converting proprietary knowledge, know-how, and branded products into freely shareable public knowledge, via commons. This is the basis for a different kind of economy, one that can transcend the anti-social, anti-ecological imperatives that prevail today.

Gorz reminds us that innovation is less about meeting real needs than about creating monopoly rents:  “The proportion of the price of a commodity that is rent may be ten, twenty or fifty times larger than its production cost. And this is true not only of luxury items; it applies also to everyday articles like trainers, T-shirts, mobile phones, CDs, jeans, etc.”  That is why so much innovation is focused not on utility or even profits per se, but on inventing new forms of rent:

“Everything in [the proprietary market] system stands opposed to the autonomy of individuals, to their capacity to reflect together on their common ends and shared needs, to agree on the best way of eliminating waste, to conserve resources, and to develop together, as producers and consumers, a common norm of “the sufficient” – or of what Jacques Delors has called a “frugal abundance.” Quite clearly, breaking with the ‘produce more, consume more’ trend and redefining a model of life aimed at doing more and better with less presupposes breaking with a civilization in which we produce nothing of what we consume and consume nothing of what we produce; in which producers and consumers are separated, and in which everyone is opposed to herself in as much as she is always both producer and consumer at the same time; in which all needs and all desires lead back to the need to earn money and the desire to earn more; in which the possibility of producing for one’s own consumption seems – wrongly – out of reach and ridiculously archaic.

“And yet ‘the dictatorship over needs’ is losing its power. Despite the explosion of expenditure on marketing and advertising, the hold that corporations have over consumers is becoming more fragile. The trend towards self-providing is gaining ground again as a result of the increasing proportion of immaterial contents in the nature of commodities. The monopoly on supply is gradually slipping away from capital.”

Read the whole essay. Gorz’s impressive, big-picture analysis helps explain why we need to extend or create non-market alternatives such as commons-based peer production: It’s the only sustainable way to build a more humane, ecologically benign order.


Originally published in Bollier.org

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Essay of the Day: Peak Inequality and the Impoverishment of Society

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Michel Bauwens
31st January 2015


The conditions for a peer to peer society are being severely undermined.

* Essay: Peak Inequality: The 0.1% and the Impoverishment of Society. David DeGraw.

The excerpt below is adapted from the book, The Economics of Revolution.

The conclusion of the study about the evolution in the U.S. is clear: “the In the present economy, under current government policy, 70% of the population is now sentenced to an impoverished existence.”

Excerpts

The essay presents a shocking case about inequality in the U.S that has been climbing in recent years and the deteriorating conditions for the unfortunate 99%:

“The latest comprehensive look at wealth distribution data reveals that the “ultra-rich” economic top 0.01% of US households now has an all-time high 11.1% of overall wealth. The next tier, the 0.1% – 0.99% has 10.4%, and the top 1% – 0.9% has 18.3%. In total, the top 1% now has an all-time high 39.8% of wealth.”

“In the present economy, it is impossible for 70% of the working age population to earn enough income to afford basic necessities, without taking on ever-increasing levels of debt, which they will never be able to pay back because there are not enough jobs that generate the necessary income to keep up with the cost of living. For every 3.4 working age people, there is only one that can generate an income high enough to cover the cost of living without taking on debt. In total, only 20% of the overall population currently generates enough income to sustain the cost of living. As a result, poverty and declining living standards are much more prevalent throughout US society than the government and corporate media report.”

“Beyond unemployment and underemployment, the percentage of full-time working poor has grown significantly. US workers are presently producing twice as much wealth per work hour than they were in 1980. Instead of median incomes doubling since then, they have stagnated. The gap between wealth production and median income is now at an all-time high.”

To make inequality worse there is more wealth that is hidden:

“However, to get a more complete understanding of how corrupt the global economic system is, we also need to factor in wealth that is hidden from public view. Disregarding trillions of dollars in hidden wealth just because the wealthy have the ability to illegally hide it is an absolute injustice.”

and a new form of aristocracy formed:

We now live in a neo-feudal society. The evidence is undeniable. The indentured servant is now the indebted wage slave. A recent scientific study revealed that the United States government is subservient to the whim of the .01%. Political office is now merely a stepping-stone and initiation process that politicians go through to be accepted into the aristocracy.”

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Essay of the Day: Free Software and the Law

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Michel Bauwens
28th January 2015


* Article: Free software and the law. Out of the frying pan and into the fire: how shaking up intellectual property suits competition just fine. By Angela Daly. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 3, July 2013

From the Abstract:

“Free software is viewed as a revolutionary and subversive practice, and in particular has dealt a strong blow to the traditional conception of intellectual property law (although in its current form could be considered a ‘hack’ of IP rights). However, other (capitalist) areas of law have been swift to embrace free software, or at least incorporate it into its own tenets. One area in particular is that of competition (antitrust) law, which itself has long been in theoretical conflict with intellectual property, due to the restriction on competition inherent in the grant of ‘monopoly’ rights by copyrights, patents and trademarks. This contribution will examine how competition law has approached free software by examining instances in which courts have had to deal with such initiatives, for instance in the Oracle Sun Systems merger, and the implications that these decisions have on free software initiatives. The presence or absence of corporate involvement in initiatives will be an important factor in this investigation, with it being posited that true instances of ‘commons-based peer production’ can still subvert the capitalist system, including perplexing its laws beyond intellectual property.”

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Essay of the Day: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States

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Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


* Report: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States Contexts. World Bank, 2014

From the Summary:

““[The report serves] as a primer on crowdsourcing as an information resource for development, crisis response, and post-conflict recovery, with a specific focus on governance in fragile states. Inherent in the theoretical approach is that broader, unencumbered participation in governance is an objectively positive and democratic aim, and that governments’ accountability to its citizens can be increased and poor-performance corrected, through openness and empowerment of citizens. Whether for tracking aid flows, reporting on poor government performance, or helping to organize grassroots movements, crowdsourcing has potential to change the reality of civic participation in many developing countries. The objective of this paper is to outline the theoretical justifications, key features and governance structures of crowdsourcing systems, and examine several cases in which crowdsourcing has been applied to complex issues in the developing world.”

Patrick Meier discusses the findings:

“The research is grounded in the philosophy of Open-Source Governance, “which advocates an intellectual link between the principles of open-source and open-content movements, and basic democratic principles.” The report argues that “open-source governance theoretically provides more direct means to affect change than do periodic elections,” for example. According to the authors of the study, “crowdsourcing is increasingly seen as a core mechanism of a new systemic approach of governance to address the highly complex, globally interconnected and dynamic challenges of climate change, poverty, armed conflict, and other crises, in view of the frequent failures of traditional mechanisms of democracy and international diplomacy with respect to fragile state contexts.
That said, how exactly is crowdsourcing supposed to improve governance? The authors argues that “in general, ‘transparency breeds self-correcting behavior’ among all types of actors, since neither governments nor businesses or individuals want to be caught at doing something embarrassing and or illegal.” Furthermore, “since crowdsourcing is in its very essence based on universal participation, it is supporting the empowerment of people. Thus, in a pure democracy or in a status of anarchy or civil war (Haiti after the earthquake, or Libya since February 2011), there are few external limitations to its use, which is the reason why most examples are from democracies and situations of crisis.” On the other hand, an authoritarian regime will “tend to oppose and interfere with crowdsourcing, perceiving broad-based participation and citizen empowerment as threats to its very existence.”
So how can crowdsourcing improve governance in an authoritarian state? “Depending on the level of citizen-participation in a given state,” the authors argue that “crowdsourcing can potentially support governments’ and/or civil society’s efforts in informing, consulting, and collaborating, leading to empowerment of citizens, and encouraging decentralization and democrati-zation. By providing the means to localize, visualize, and publish complex, aggregated data, e.g. on a multi-layer map, and the increasing speed of genera-ting and sharing data up to real-time delivery, citizens and beneficiaries of government and donors become empowered to provide feedback and even become information providers in their own right.”

According to the study, this transformation can take place in three ways:

1) By sharing, debating and contributing to publicly available government, donor and other major actors’ databases, data can be distributed directly through customized web and mobile applications and made accessible and meaningful to citizens.

2) By providing independent platforms for ‘like-minded people’ to connect and collaborate, builds potential for the emergence of massive, internationally connected grassroots movements.

3) By establishing platforms that aggregate and compare data provided by the official actors such as governments, donors, and companies with crowdsourced primary data and feedback.

“The tracking of data by citizens increases transparency as well as pressure for better social accountability. Greater effectiveness of state and non-state actors can be achieved by using crowdsourced data and deliberations* to inform the provision of their services. While the increasing volume of data generated as well as the speed of transactions can be attractive even to fragile-state governments, the feature of citizen empowerment is often considered as serious threat (Sudan, Egypt, Syria,Venezuela etc.).” *The authors argue that this need to be done through “web-based deliberation platforms (e.g. DiscourseDB) that apply argumentative frameworks for issue-based argument instead of simple polling.”

The second part of the report includes a section on Crisis Mapping in which two real-world case studies are featured: the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map & Mission4636 and the Libya Crisis Map. Other case studies include the UN’s Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA) initiative in the Sudan, Participatory GIS and Community Forestry in Nepal; Election Monitoring in Guinea; Huduma and Open Data in Kenya; Avaaz and other emergent applications of crowd-sourcing for economic development and good governance. The third and final part of the study provides recommendations for donors on how to apply crowd-sourcing and interactive mapping for socio-economic recovery and development in fragile states.”

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Essay of the Day: The Role of Technology in the Circular Economy

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Michel Bauwens
20th January 2015


* Paper: A systems and thermodynamics perspective on technology in the circular economy. By Crelis F. Rammelt and Phillip Crisp. real-world economics review, issue no. 68

From the Abstract:

“Several discourses on environment and sustainability are characterised by a strong confidence in the potential of technology to address, if not solve, the ecological impacts resulting from physically expanding systems of production and consumption.
The optimism is further encouraged by leading environmental engineering concepts, including cradle-to-cradle and industrial ecology, as well as broader frameworks, such as natural capitalism and the circular economy. This paper explores the viability of their promise from a biophysical perspective, which is based on insights from system dynamics and thermodynamics. Such an ecological reality check is generally ignored or underestimated in the literature on aforementioned concepts and frameworks. The paper ultimately reflects on what role society can realistically assign to technology for resolving its ecological concerns. While environmental engineering undoubtedly has something to offer, it will end up chasing its tail if the social and economic forces driving up production and consumption are not addressed.”

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