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In support of the “No” in the Greek Referendum: 5) James Galbraith

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
4th July 2015


only the “No” can save Greece – and by saving Greece, save Europe. A “No” means that the Greek people will not bend, that their government will not fall, and that the creditors need, finally, to come to terms with the failures of European policy so far. Negotiations can then resume – or more correctly, proper negotiations can then start. This is vital, if Europe is to be saved.

James K. Galbraith very usefully deconstructs 9 myths that are peddled about the Greek crisis:

“The citizens of Greece face a referendum Sunday that could decide the survival of their elected government and the fate of the country in the Eurozone and Europe. Narrowly, they’re voting on whether to accept or reject the terms dictated by their creditors last week. But what’s really at stake? The answers aren’t what you’d think.

I have had a close view of the process, both from the US and Athens, after working for the past four years with Yanis Varoufakis, now the Greek finance minister. I’ve come to realize that there are many myths in circulation about this crisis; here are nine that Americans should see through.

1. The referendum is about the Euro. As soon as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the referendum, François Hollande, David Cameron, Matteo Renzi, and the German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told the Greeks that a “no” vote would amount to Greece leaving the Euro. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, went further: he said “no” means leaving the European Union. In fact the Greek government has stated many times that – yes or no – it is irrevocably committed to the Union and the Euro. And legally, according to the treaties, Greece cannot be expelled from either.

2. The IMF has been flexible. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde claims that her institution has shown “flexibility” in negotiations with the Greeks. In fact, the IMF has conceded almost nothing over four months: not on taxes, pensions, wages, collective bargaining or the amount of Greece’s debt. Greek chief negotiator Euclid Tsakalatos circulated a briefing on the breakdown that gives details, and concludes: “So what does the Greek government think of the proposed flexibility of the Institutions? It would be a great idea.”

3. The creditors have been generous. Angela Merkel has called the terms offered by the creditors “very generous” to Greece. But in fact the creditors have continued to insist on a crushing austerity program, predicated on a target for a budget surplus that Greece cannot possibly meet, and on the continuation of draconian policies that have already cost the Greeks more than a quarter of their income and plunged the country into depression. Debt restructuring, which is obviously necessary, has also been refused.

4. The European Central Bank has protected Greek financial stability. A central bank is supposed to protect the financial stability of solvent banks. But from early February, the ECB cut off direct financing of Greek banks, instead drip-feeding them expensive liquidity on special “emergency” terms. This promoted a slow run on the banks and paralyzed economic activity. When the negotiations broke down, the ECB capped the assistance, prompting a fast bank run and giving them an excuse to impose capital controls and effectively shut them down.

5. The Greek government is imperiling its American alliance. This is a particular worry of some US conservatives, who see a leftist government in power and assume it is pro-Russian and anti-NATO. It is true that the Greek Left has historic complaints against the US, notably for CIA support of the military junta that ruled from 1967 to 1974. But in fact, attitudes on the Greek Left have changed, thanks partly to experience with the Germans. This government is pro-American and firmly a member of NATO.

6. Alexis Tsipras called the IMF a “criminal” organization. That was, charitably, an overheated headline slapped by Bloomberg onto a very moderate parliamentary speech, which correctly pointed out that the IMF’s economic and debt projections for Greece back when austerity was first imposed in 2010 were catastrophically optimistic. In fact, every letter from Tsipras to the creditors has been couched in formal and respectful language.

7. The Greek government is playing games. Because Finance Minister Varoufakis knows the economic field of game theory, lazy pundits have for months opined that he is playing “chicken” or “poker” or some other game. In Heraklion two weeks ago, Varoufakis denied this as he has done many times: “We’re not bluffing. We’re not even meta-bluffing.” Indeed there are no hidden cards. The Greek red lines – the points of principle on which this government refuses to budge – on labor rights, against cuts in poverty-level pensions and fire-sale privatizations – have been in plain view from day one.

8. A “Yes” vote will save Europe. “Yes” would mean more austerity and social destruction, and the government that implements it cannot last long. The one that follows will not be led by Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis – the last leaders, perhaps anywhere in Europe, of an authentic pro-European left. If they fall, the anti-Europeans will come next, possibly including ultra-right elements such as the Greek Nazi party, Golden Dawn. And the anti-European fire will spread, to France, the UK and Spain, among other countries.

9. A “No” vote will destroy Europe. In fact, only the “No” can save Greece – and by saving Greece, save Europe. A “No” means that the Greek people will not bend, that their government will not fall, and that the creditors need, finally, to come to terms with the failures of European policy so far. Negotiations can then resume – or more correctly, proper negotiations can then start. This is vital, if Europe is to be saved. If there ever was a moment when the United States should speak for decency and democratic values – as well as our national interest – it is right now.”

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Property Rights, Inequality and Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
4th July 2015


Private property

I recently spoke at a conference, “Property and Inequality in the 21st Century,” hosted by The Common Core of European Private Law, an annual gathering of legal scholars, mostly from Europe.  They had asked me how the commons might be a force for reducing inequality.  Below are my remarks, “The Commons as a Tool for Sharing the Wealth.”  The conference was held at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, on June 12-13, 2015.


 

Thank you for inviting me to speak today about the relationship between property law and inequality – a topic that receives far too little attention.  This should not be surprising.  Now that free-market ideology has become the default worldview and political consensus around the world, private property is seen as synonymous with freedom, economic growth and human progress.

Oh yes, there is this nasty side issue known as inequality.  Malcontents like the Occupy movement and renegade economists like Thomas Pikketty have brought this problem to the fore after years of neglect.  Their success has been quite an achievement because for years the very existence of inequality has been portrayed as an accident, an aberration, a mysterious and shadowy guest at the grand banquet of human progress.

I wish to argue that hunger, poverty, inadequate education and medical care, and assaults on human dignity and human rights, are not bugs in the system.  They are features. Indeed, market ideologues often argue that such deprivations are a necessary incentive to human enterprise and economic growth; poverty is supposedly needed to spur people to escape through the work ethic and entrepreneurialism.

Property rights lie at the heart of this dynamic because they are a vital tool for defining and patrolling the boundaries of private wealth, and for justifying the inevitably unequal outcomes.  So it’s important that we focus on the role of property rights in producing social inequality – without ignoring the many other forces, including social practice, culture and politics, that also play important roles.

I’d like to focus on the obsession in modern industrial societies to propertize everything, including life itself, and to use law as a tool to impose a social order of markets and private property as expansively as possible.  This cultural reflex is known as the enclosure of the commons.  The term describes how property owners assert sweeping rights – often with the active complicity of governments – as a way to appropriate collectively owned resources for private gain.

We can see this dynamic in the international land grab now underway, the incessant attempts to privatize groundwater and municipal water systems, the grotesque expansion of copyright and patent law to privatize scientific knowledge and cultural works, and the use of the Earth’s atmosphere as a free waste dump by polluters.  The mania for privatizing the world has reached such an extreme stage that even intangible wealth as public spaces, microorganisms, genetically created mammals, artificially created nanomatter and human consciousness itself are claimed as objects of private property rights.

Unfortunately, traditional property law is based on a woefully obsolete worldview and antiquated economic premises about human beings and social and ecological realities. It sees all of these expansions of property law as a form of wealth creation – when in fact it often amounts to wealth destruction (monetizing nature), redistribution from the have-nots to the haves, or a transformation of the intrinsic use-value of something into exchange-value (price).  It presumes that value is only created by individuals trucking and bartering in the marketplace, and the Invisible Hand does its magic.

Property law does not generally acknowledge the actual value generated by social collaborations, by complex natural systems and by inherited knowledge and culture.  It is blind to non-economic relationships such as gift economies, informal relationships, social communities and care work.  You could say that property law generally simply does not recognize the commons and its significant role in generating value.

What exactly do I mean by the commons?  Well, the term has been so poisoned by conservative ideologues and economists over the pasts two generations that the first idea that leaps to mind when you mention the word “commons” is the tragedy of the commons. Let me quickly dispense with this annoying distraction.

The tragedy parable, as I call it, was launched by biologist Garrett Hardin in his famous article in the journal Sciencein 1968.  Hardin said:  Imagine a pasture that can be used by anyone, and in which no individual farmer has a rational incentive to hold back his use of it.  Hardin declared without any empirical evidence that every individual farmer will of course put as many sheep on the pasture as possible.  This will inevitably result in the over-exploitation and destruction of the pasture and produce a tragedy of the commons.

The “tragedy parable” is regarded as such an economic truism that it has become a cultural cliché – an idea drummed into the heads of every undergraduate.  Champions of “free markets” have invoke the tragedy meme to celebrate private property rights and so-called free markets — and to fight government regulation and any collectivist alternatives.

The only problem is, Hardin was not describing a commons.  He was describing an open-access regime that has no rules, boundaries or indeed no community.  This is not a commons.  It is a free-for-all.  A commons is a social system for managing resources that has a bounded community, specific rules for accessing the resource, mechanisms to monitor that usage and punish free riders, and so on.  In fact, the situation Hardin was describing – in which free riders can appropriate or damage resources as they wish — is more accurately a description of unfettered markets.  You might say Hardin was describing the tragedy of the market.

The late Professor Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University powerfully rebutted the whole tragedy of the commons fable in her landmark 1990 book, Governing the Commons:  The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.  Her fieldwork and creative theorizing shows that it is entirely possible for communities tomanage natural resources as commons without over-exploiting them.

So the commons can actually work and work well.  How can that be possible?  Contrary to the Hardin parable and its many prisoner’s dilemma offshoots, people in real life tend to actually talk to each other.  They negotiate rules to protect community interests.  They build systems to identify and punish free riders.  They cultivate powerful cultural values and norms.  And so on.

The commons is in fact a flourishing system of self-provisioning around the world, mostly operating outside of the market and state.  Here’s an amazing fact:  An estimated two billion people depend on various natural resource commons for their everyday survival– farmland, fisheries, forests, irrigation water, wild game.  This role of the commons is largely ignored by economists, however, because the self-provisioning of the commons takes place outside of conventional markets and is therefore considered without value.  No money is changing hands; there is no boost of GDP.  How could anything worthwhile be taking place within these commons?

Professor Ostrom — an Indiana University political scientist who spend her career studying the dynamics of effective cooperation in managing resources – won the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work in 2009.  She was the first woman to win the award.  I don’t think this was incidental.  Unlike her (male) economist colleagues who treat property as an inventory of objects to be shuffled around, Ostrom opened up the discussion by exploring the rich potential of social relationships and collaboration in meeting needs.

But here’s where the story starts to get interesting.  In recent years, independent of the Ostrom-inspired academic scholars, a burgeoning international movement of commoners have arisen to build their own commons – and to challenge attempted enclosures of their shared wealth.  This eclectic, sprawling movement goes way beyond the small natural resource commons in the global South that Ostrom studied.  This movement consists of food activists trying to rebuild local agriculture through such means as permaculture, community-support agriculture, Slow Food and cooperatives.  It includes techies writing free and open source software programs that are now standard elements of most commercial software.  It includes universities and scientists and academic disciplines that are committed to sharing their research and data on open digital platforms, often with Creative Commons licenses.

The commons can be seen among seed-sharing farmers in India who wish to avoid GMO crops and practice a kind of open-source agriculture.  You see the commons in the explosion of open design and manufacturing – which is product design that is globally shared but locally manufactured and inexpensive, modular and accessible to anyone, in the style of open source software.  This movement has produced the Wikispeed car that gets 100 miles per gallon of fuel….the Farm Hack community that has produced dozens of pieces of affordable farm equipment…. and the scores of hackerspaces and Fablabs of the Maker movement.

The commons can be seen in new projects to build “shareable cities” in which urban residents play significant roles in managing parks and water systems, kindergartens and urban planning.  The commons is at work in cities that host participatory budgeting processes that let ordinary people deliberate about budgets.  It’s also at work in alternative currencies, such as the Bangla-Pesa in Kenya, which has made it possible for poor people in slum neighborhoods to exchange value with each other.

What unites these highly diverse communities?  They are all asserting a different universe of value.  They all share a basic commitment to production for use, not market exchange.  They are asserting the right of communities to participate in making the rules that govern themselves.  They want fairness and transparency in governance.  And as commoners, they are asserting a responsibility to act as long-term stewards of resources.  The commons also consists of a certain ethic – a commitment to protect everything that we inherit or create together, so that it can be passed on, undiminished, to future generations.

Far from a “tragedy, the commons should be understood as a vibrant social and political system for managing shared wealth.  It is a system of self-governance that emphasizes inclusion, fairness and sustainability.  It empowers ordinary people while avoiding crippling dependencies on the market or state.  We know how the market, by contrast – at least in its globally integrated, highly concentrated and socially disconnected and amoral forms – tends to transform customers into dependent vassals.

Now, historically, most commons have not needed nor sought formal protections of law.  Their self-organized customs and relative isolation from outside capital and markets, were enough to sustain them.  This has changed dramatically over the past thirty or forty years, however, as global commerce technology and conventional property law have expanded relentlessly, superimposing the logic and values of markets on nearly every corner of nature and social life.

Our common wealth is vulnerable because typically the state has no formal, clear property rights protecting them.  Indeed, the state has little interest in granting or clarifying collective property interests because it would prefer to collude with investors and corporations to privatize this collective wealth.  As usual, invoking the tragedy parable, the state presumes that only the private appropriation and monetization of common wealth can produce prosperity and human progress.  Expansive private property rights are crucial instruments in advancing this process.  And inequality, Pikketty and others have documented, is an inevitable result.

I wish to suggest, therefore, that – apart from some of the redistributionist strategies mentioned yesterday – the commons is a vital tool for assuring a more equitablepredistibution of wealth for all.  By that, the commons provides the most durable, structurally effective way to ensure that people’s basic needs are met – and this in turn will foster greater political equality.  Citizens must have legally guaranteed access to and use of the resources that they require for their survival, dignity and cultural identity.

If we truly wish to address inequality, then we must find ways to reclaim the commons and reinvent the Law of the Commons.  (Re)inventing the Law of the Commons may sound way ambitious, but consider this:  People in the thirteenth century arguably had stronger legal rights to subsistence and survival than people do today.  Thanks to Magna Carta and its companion document, the Charter of the Forest, people had guaranteed legal access to the forest to gather firewood, water for drinking and planting, acorns for their pigs, the right to hunt wild game and collect fruit, and much else.

Commoners had legal access to the means of production and subsistence – which is more than contemporary markets and many states are willing to guarantee today.  If you ain’t got the do re mi, as Woody Guthrie put it, you’re out of luck.

How would access to the commons ameliorate inequality?  For starters, it would help people extricate themselves from a dependency on predatory markets by helping them de-commodify their everyday existence.  We can see this among many contemporary commons:

·      Users of Linuxdon’t have to pay tribute to Microsoft, but can control their own software infrastructure and escape the proprietary tax of forced upgrades.

·      Locavoresdon’t have to suffer the costs and risks of GMO foods and industrialized, processed food.

·      People who live in housing owned by community land trusts can avoid the high rents and speculative prices of the open housing market.

·      Students and scholars who use open textbooks and open access scholarly journalscan avoid the exorbitant prices of commercial journals, expensive website paywalls and the surrender of copyright control.

·      Users of cooperative finance and alternative currenciescan mutualize their shared wealth and avoid the predatory practices of commercial banks and privately created fiat money.

·      City dwellers who rely upon municipally owned utilities or commons-based water systemscan escape the costly dependency on investor-owned utility monopolies, and develop more ecological alternatives.

The basic conclusion that I am making here is this:  The commons provides assured structural access to vital resources and services, outside of the market and state.  And in so doing, commons help assure greater equality in societies.  Commons help people reduce their costs, fortify their economic independence, and strengthen their political sovereignty.

To be sure, participating in a commons also entails certain responsibilities and initiative – both personal and social – to protect shared wealth.  But this, too, is a good thing – because it is an emancipation from the whole scheme of producer/consumer relationships that tend to alienate people from each other, promote consumerism and inflict nasty “market externalities” on to the environment.  As stewards of shared wealth, commoners tend to manage resources with a more holistic, long-term and collective perspective.  Commons offer a credible escape from the pathologies of the unsustainable growth economy.

But here is a key question:  What role should property law play in all of this?  If the commons is a richly generative system for meeting people’s needs, then surely property law ought to take account of this fact.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, traditional property law simply does not recognize the actual value of commons.

I am happy to report, however, that there is a massive amount of legal innovation already underway to protect the commons, using property rights and other forms of law.  Our ambitious challenge, I would argue, is to invent a new amalgamated field of inquiry that I call the Law of the Commons. 

This is a complicated challenge, mostly because the modern liberal polity and conventional law are philosophically hostile to the commons.  A system of law focused on individual rights, private property and economic growth, is not especially receptive to the paradigm of the commons.  Most commons-based legal innovations that I’ve encountered amount to hacks – i.e., they are  ingenious subterfuges and creative workarounds to the standard forms of state law.

This is exactly what Richard Stallman and the free software movement did in inventing the General Public License, of GPL, which provided a critical legal foundation for the evolution of free and open source software.  It’s what Larry Lessig and his colleagues did in inventing the Creative Commons licenses, another copyright-based license that turns copyright law inside out to make creative works automatically shareable rather than automatically private property.

Let me quickly review some of the more significant forms of commons-based law that commoners are putting forward these days.

In the global South, in order to subsistence commons, some indigenous peoples have been rallying around a legal instrument known as “biocultural protocols,” which the South African group Natural Justice developed.  The protocols are seen as a way to protect indigenous peoples from the market enclosures that would otherwise be sanctioned by international trade treaties, by declaring agro-ecological and cultural practices off-limits to markets and trade.

In India, ever since its Supreme Court formally recognized commons in a landmark 2012 ruling, Indians have been attempting to work out the legal and political implications of managing all sorts of commons such as forests, farmland and water.  There are also fascinating legal innovations such as the Potato Park in Peru, which gives indigenous peoples near Cusco the right to manage their “agroecological heritage landscape.”

Stakeholder trustsare a new frontier of legal innovation, especially in the US. These are state-chartered trusts to collect, manage and distribute revenues from natural resources such as oil, water, minerals and forests.  The great precedent for this is the Alaska Permanent Fund, which generates about US$1,000 a year for every resident of Alaska – a rare source of non-wage income for ordinary people.  Commons scholar Peter Barnes has expanded this idea to apply to many other common assets, in his book, Liberty and Dividends for All in an attempt to deal concretely, and with direct cash payments, to address in inequality.

New sorts of legal frameworks for digital commonsare a robust field of innovation as well.  There is now an attempt to move beyond copyright based licenses on open platforms, such as the GPL and Creative Commons licenses, to enable digital communities to retain for themselves the surplus value that they create.  Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation has proposed commons-based reciprocity licenses – of what he calls CopyFair – to ensure that digital communities can reap any monetization of their content from commercial users, while allowing non-commercial users to continue to use the work for free.  In a similar fashion, there are now efforts afoot to develop seed-sharing licenses so that farmers can protect their seeds from third parties who might appropriate and patent them.

The blockchain ledger,as pioneered by Bitcoin, may be one of the most revolutionary innovations in the Law of the Commons.  This technology is significant because it allows digital identity authentication and secure transfers of assets without third-party guarantors like banks or governments.  Although Bitcoin has used the blockchain ledger for standard libertarian, capitalist purposes, especially speculation, the technology can be used to facilitate social cooperation in radically new ways – in effect, moving law from the oral and written to digital media.

One important offshoot that many “computational lawyers” are working on is smart contracts, algorithm-based technologies that would new sorts of network-based contracts that could be negotiated on the fly, online, without the standard written contracts and lethargic court system.  This, too, is an important realm of new types of commons-based law.

Co-operative lawis another form of commons-based law that is reviving many little-used historical models while developing new types of governance.  For example, there are manymultistakeholder co-operatives in Italy and Quebec that go beyond worker and consumer co-op models, to empower third-parties to participate in such things as eldercare and social services.

The Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, California, is exploring new forms of co-operative governance to empower members.  Old forms like community land trusts and “garden cities” – in which the city owns the water systems, land and other infrastructure, which it mutualizes for everyone’s benefit – are experiencing a revival.

There are many important experiments inurban commons underway, many of which require legal innovation.  One of the most significant is the Bologna Regulation in Bologna, Italy, which is remaking local government by inviting ordinary citizens and neighborhoods to self-organize their own projects – urban agriculture, care of public spaces, parent-run kindergartens, “social street” programs – which the city then helps.  The city now has more than 90 “pacts of cooperation” with self-nominated groups in three thematic areas – “living together, growing together and making together.”

Along the same lines, a San Francisco-based group called Shareable has developed a series of papers outlining “Shareable Cities” policies, which are aimed at helping city governments work with residents to develop “sharing projects” ranging from car-sharing to tool-sharing to neighborhood services.  A number of cities such as Linz, Austria, are pioneering open digital platforms for urban renewal by making all sorts of information available online for free.

I have not yet mentioned the many new legal initiatives attempting to strengthen local self-determination, mostly through community ordinances and so-called community charters.  There are also new organizational forms such as “omni-commons,” which provide administrative, fiscal and legal assistance to help incubate small enterprises with a commons orientation.

At an even larger level, there are many legal initiatives underway attempting to re-imagine governance according to commons principles.  Some of these look to the public trust doctrine in environmental law to uphold the interests of commoners, as in a series of lawsuits seeking to force governments to deal with climate change.  Others, such as a project by some Italian jurists, are trying to establish a human right of people to access and use common assets, protecting them from market enclosure.  Just a few months ago, French legal scholars held a conference on European juridicial strategies for the commons.

We are seeing a remarkable burst of creativity to find new structures of law – in contract law, trusts, co-operative law, municipal government, copyright and patents, organizational charters, and more – to protect the social practices of commoning and the values it stands for.

What is this all about, ultimately?  It’s about honoring the sovereignty of people to devise their own forms of governance to meet their needs and local context.  It’s about the importance of bottom-up initiatives and participation, and of transparency and accountability.  It’s about meeting people’s needs without relying on the dysfunctional formalities of bureaucracy, the market/state duopoly of power, or the social inequities associated with markets.

Given the explosion of legal creativity in creating, maintaining and protecting commons, old and new, I have high hopes that this new field of legal inquiry, the Law of the Commons, will help move us beyond the limits of conventional law, governance and bureaucracy.  At bottom, the Law of the Commons is about nurturing the social norms, policy structuresandinstitutional practices that can help human beings flourish.  There is a great deal of research, creative theorizing and activist experimentation that must proceed, but I believe that commoning, as enabled by a reinvented Law of the Commons, will help address some of the most urgent ecological, social and political problems of our time.

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Governance, P2P Theory, Peer Property, Politics | No Comments »

The Real Question of the Referendum: The Enclosure of the Greek Commons

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
4th July 2015


Hand

Being a typical academic, allow me to begin with a definition: the commons is a term used to describe shared resources (such as land, water, air, culture, science, infrastructures) in which each stakeholder has an equal interest.

The devastating enclosures of the English commons, between 16th and 19th centuries, has been labeled as the “revolution of the rich against the poor” by the eminent political economist Karl Polanyi. They forced peasants into the labor market and the factories of the industrial revolution and “marked the beginning of a worldwide process of commodifying the land, ocean, and atmosphere of the earth”.

So, what is the relevance of the loss of the English commons with the imminent Greek referendum?

Much discussion has been taking place around the meaning of a question posed in a relatively technical language. To put the matter bluntly, I would like to argue that the real question of the referendum is whether Greek citizens approve or disprove the enclosure of their commons. The proposed changes in the pension, taxing, labour and insurance systems are supposedly aimed at ensuring that Greece can service its foreign debt. However, these are not the biggest perils although they fill most of the pages of the notorious document the Greeks are called to approve or disprove.

In short, on page 17, the creditors suggest that Greece irreversibly privatizes its airports, harbors, railways, water supply and sewerage companies, energy infrastructures and public power corporations, motorways, post offices, thermal springs, cultural treasures and other properties (seaside land, marinas etc). These are assets which we have inherited or jointly created and, instead of delivering them intact or even enhanced to the next generations, we are called, under the pressure of an economic collapse, to sell them off to the rich. In addition, no hybrid forms of public-private partnership are explicitly mentioned (for instance, OTE, a profitable telecommunication public-private corporation, is to be entirely privatized).

Conditions in Greece today are not only reminiscent of those in Germany in 1933, as Prof. Sachs writes, but also of those in 16th-19th century England and Wales. Another revolution of the ultra-rich is taking place and the endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors might be only the beginning of a new global wave of enclosures.

Crisis


Vasilis Kostakis is Senior Research Fellow at the Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance (TUT), longtime collaborator of the P2P Foundation, and member of the CommonsTransition Team.

Images: (Top) (Bottom) by OpenSource.com

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Commons Transition, Economy and Business, Empire, Original Content, P2P Rights, Politics | No Comments »

An update on the Finnish Basic Income Pilot Project

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
3rd July 2015


Via the Basic Income Earth Network Finland, Otto Lehto:

“This is the situation in our country. Finland elected a new parliament in April 2015. For the first time, the majority of parliamentarians have expressed their support, ranging from mild to strong, for a Basic Income (of some kind or another, since it is not entirely clear whether people understand the term in the same way).

The new government, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä from the Centre Party, has committed itself to setting up a pilot project for the BIG. The details are still forthcoming. The party has traditionally, at least since the 1990’s, been in support of a basic income or a negative income tax.

However, unlike the Greens and the Left Alliance, it has never specified what kind of a BI model it is aiming at. Support for the BIG renewed itself in the party after the new party leader, PM Sipilä expressed his support for setting up a pilot project (September 2014), and after the influential think tank Sitra, which has big impact on public policy, funded a report by Tänk (November 2014), which provided a roadmap for setting up a pilot project study for BIG. However, the leadership of the party is divided on whether this should be a proper BIG or a means-tested, conditional form of BIG.

The other government coalition parties are equally divided on the issue, so it is unclear on whether a “pure” BIG has any chance of even being tried. The new government has, after all, expressed its commitment to increasing the work requirement of social security in order to reduce costs. The same ambivalence is reflected in their statements released to the media.”

The schizophrenic push and pull between these mutually incompatible goals – piloting an unconditional basic income and simultaneously increasing the conditionality of social security benefits – makes the prediction of the future difficult. The BIEN Finland network has strong existing connections to the opposition parties (including the Green Party and the Left Alliance, which are strong supporters of the BIG), but only tenuous, although developing, connections to the government coalition parties, so we have little leverage in the planning of the BIG pilot program. Nonetheless, we will continue to proactively offer our expertise to the government.

We will continue to follow the developments, and inform the European network as soon as we know more about where things are going.”

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A Introduction to the Basic P2P Ideas; Part 4: CopyFair Licenses

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
2nd July 2015


Over the last ten years, the P2P Foundation has produced a sizeable body of material, both original and curated, but none of it is specifically designed as an introduction for newcomers and people who are not so familiar with the P2P approach. Hence Irma Wilson‘s proposal, during a trip which FutureSharp helped organize in South Africa in the two first weeks of June 2015, to produce a number of short videos. With Irma’s assistance, and the help of filmmaker Michel Taljaard, we produced four videos which are being serialised here in the P2P Foundation Blog and which will be compiled in a forthcoming Commons Transition Article.

This fourth highlights the legal and policy suggestions with some emphasis on the CopyFair license

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, P2P Governance, P2P Movements, P2P Theory, Videos | No Comments »

Here’s What a Commons-Based Economy Looks Like

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
2nd July 2015


David Bollier writes:

So what might a commons-based economy actually look like in its broadest dimensions, and how might we achieve it?  My colleague Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation offers a remarkably thoughtful and detailed explanation in a just-released YouTube talk, produced by FutureSharp. It’s not really a video – just Michel’s voiceover and a simple schematic chart – but the 20-minute talk does a great job of sketching the big-picture strategies that must be pursued if we are going to invent a new type of post-capitalist economy.

Michel focuses on the importance of three specific realms that are crucial to this new vision – ecological sustainability, open knowledge and social solidarity. Each is critical as a field of action for overturning the existing logic of market capitalism.

Fortunately, there are many promising developments in each of these realms. Many parts of the environmental movement seek to go beyond the standard “market-oriented solutions.” There is a growing body of open source-inspired projects for software code, information, design and physical production, which is now spawning new types of global sharing of information with distributed local production. And there are many advocates and initiatives for social justice and fairness in the economy, such as cooperatives and the solidarity economy movement.

The problem, says Bauwens, is that these movements do not generally connect with each other or coordinate internationally. He therefore sees the need for “meta-economic networks” to bridge these fields of action. So, for example, we need “open cooperativism” enterprises to bridge open knowledge systems and cooperatives, so that open-licensed systems are not simply dominated by large corporations in the way that Google, Uber and Airbnb have done. We also need to develop an “open source circular economy” to bridge the worlds of eco-sustainability and open knowledge.  We will never address major environmental problems if the technological and product solutions are based on proprietary knowledge; open circulation of knowledge can change that.

Bauwens also sketches a compelling scenario by which commons-based projects can begin to develop a new politics through such vehicles as a new “ethical entrepreneurial coalition,” a “Chamber of Commons,” and “Commons Assemblies.”  He calls for new types of cooperative finance that can support sustainable production (based on the idea of sufficiency shared by all) as well as the mutualizing of knowledge (vs. its privatization via patents and copyright) and social solidarity (to ensure just and fair distribution of any surplus value created).

While the overall vision may strike skeptics as utopian, the truth is that many of the ideas in Bauwen’s scenario are already underway, if not well-developed.  What’s mostly missing is a wider orientation and commitment to a coherent, shared vision such as this one.  There is also a need for new bridges of social practice and coordination among the three key fields of action.

You can also check out several short short videos introducing the basic concepts of peer production here.

Anyone who is especially interested in this topic should know that the P2P Foundation plans to host a three-day summer school on “The Art of Commoning,” from August 25-27, in Cloughjordan ecovillage in Tipperary, Ireland.  Details here and here.


Originally published at Bollier.org

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Foundation, P2P Theory, Peer Property, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

In support of the “No” in the Greek Referendum: 3) Jeffrey Sachs

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st July 2015


Support from reasonable neoliberal economists in favour of the Greek stance.

Republished from Jeffrey Sachs:

“After months of wrangling, the showdown between Greece and its European creditors has come down to a standoff over pensions and taxes. Greece is refusing to acquiesce to demands by its creditors that it cut payments to the elderly and raise the value-added tax on their medicine and electricity.

Europe’s demands – ostensibly aimed at ensuring that Greece can service its foreign debt – are petulant, naive, and fundamentally self-destructive. In rejecting them, the Greeks are not playing games; they are trying to stay alive.

Whatever one might say about Greece’s past economic policies, its uncompetitive economy, its decision to join the eurozone, or the errors that European banks made when they provided its government with excessive credit, the country’s economic plight is stark. Unemployment stands at 25%. Youth unemployment is at 50%.

Greece’s GDP, moreover, has shrunk by 25% since the start of the crisis in 2009. Its government is insolvent. Many of its citizens are hungry.

Conditions in Greece today are reminiscent of those in Germany in 1933. Of course, the European Union need not fear the rise of a Greek Hitler, not only because it could easily crush such a regime, but also – and more important – because Greece’s democracy has proved impressively mature throughout the crisis. But there is something that the EU should fear: destitution within its borders and the pernicious consequences for the continent’s politics and society.

Unfortunately, the continent remains split along tribal lines. Germans, Finns, Slovaks, and Dutch – among others – have no time for the suffering of Greeks. Their political leaders tend to their own, not to Europe in any true sense. Relief for Greece is an especially fraught issue in countries where far-right parties are on the rise or center-right governments face popular left-wing opposition.

To be sure, European politicians are not blind to what is happening in Greece. Nor have they been completely passive. At the beginning of the crisis, Greece’s European creditors eschewed debt relief and charged punitive interest rates on bailout funds. But, as Greeks’ suffering intensified, policymakers pressed private-sector banks and other bondholders to write off most of their claims. At each stage of the crisis, they have done only what they believed their national politics would bear – no more.

In particular, Europe’s politicians are balking at steps that would implicate taxpayers directly. The Greek government has asked Europe to swap existing debts with new debts to lock in low interest rates and long maturities. It has also requested that interest payments be linked to economic growth. (It has notably not asked for cuts in the face value of its debt).

But debt relief of this sort vis-à-vis European governments or the European Central Bank has been kept off the table. Such measures would likely require parliamentary votes in countries across the eurozone, where many governments would face intense public opposition – no matter how obvious the need.

Rather than confront the political obstacles, Europe’s leaders are hiding behind a mountain of pious, nonsensical rhetoric. Some insist that Greece finish its payment program, regardless of the humanitarian and economic consequences – not to mention the failure of all previous Greek governments to meet its terms. Others pretend to worry about the moral-hazard implications of debt relief, despite the fact that the country’s private-sector debt has already been written off at EU insistence, and that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of precedents for restructuring the debts of insolvent sovereigns.

Almost a century ago, at World War I’s end, John Maynard Keynes offered a warning that holds great relevance today. Then, as now, creditor countries (mainly the US) were demanding that deeply indebted countries make good on their debts. Keynes knew that a tragedy was in the making.

“Will the discontented peoples of Europe be willing for a generation to come so to order their lives that an appreciable part of their daily produce may be available to meet a foreign payment?” he asked in The Economic Consequences of the Peace. “In short, I do not believe that any of these tributes will continue to be paid, at the best, for more than a few years.”

Several European countries now seem content to force Greece into an outright default and provoke its exit from the euro. They believe that the fallout can be contained without panic or contagion. That is typical wishful thinking among politicians. Indeed, it is the type of heedlessness that led US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to let Lehman Brothers fail in September 2008, ostensibly to teach the market a “lesson.” Some lesson; we are still digging out from Paulson’s monumental mistake.

Similarly, Keynes watched in horror as economic policymakers blundered repeatedly in the years following WWI, through the upheavals of the 1920s, and into the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1925, Keynes criticized the insouciance of those “who sit in the top tier of the machine.” He argued “that they are immensely rash in their regardlessness, in their vague optimism and comfortable belief that nothing really serious ever happens. Nine times out of ten, nothing really serious does happen – merely a little distress to individuals or to groups. But we run a risk of the tenth time…”

Today, Greece’s European creditors seem ready to abandon their solemn pledges on the irrevocability of the euro in order to insist on collecting some crumbs from the country’s pensioners. Should they press their demands, forcing Greece to exit, the world will never again trust the euro’s longevity. At a minimum, the eurozone’s weaker members will undergo increased market pressures. In the worst case, they will be hit by a new vicious circle of panic and bank runs, also derailing the incipient European recovery. With Russia testing Europe’s resolve to the east, the timing of Europe’s gamble could not be worse.

The Greek government is right to have drawn the line. It has a responsibility to its citizens. The real choice, after all, lies not with Greece, but with Europe.”

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Paul Mason and Joseph Stiglitz on the Day a democratic Europe died

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st July 2015


That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers. And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalised those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy.

First an excerpt from Paul Mason, followed by an analysis by Stiglitz on how the anti-democratic nature of the European Union has revealed itself.

1. Paul Mason:

“The problem is, at around 4pm on (last) Saturday Europe changed. Faced with a proposal from the Greeks to extend the existing bailout until after 7 July, the Eurogroup refused.

At this point chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem announced there would be “a meeting of the 18” – that is the Eurogroup without Greece. Asked how such a meeting could issue a communique he replied, according to a Greek witness “we can do what we like since we are an ad hoc body”.

The Brussels press corps dutifully reported that the Greeks had “walked out”. But if the Greek account is right, what happened at that moment was the psychological breakpoint of the Euro.

The political willpower had already ebbed. The Greeks haggled over the fiscal details all week but were minded to sign an €8bn austerity package if it could be sold as (a) redistributional and (b) accompanied by a promise to discuss restructuring the debt.

What changed? By Thursday morning it was the lenders’ document that was the basis of discussions with the Greeks allowed to propose amendments. But when the elected ministers of the Eurogroup saw what the EC, IMF and ECB had proposed they rowed back.

“We can’t get this through our own parliaments” they said: it’s too soft.

Since Alexis Tsipras would have struggled to get any compromise through the Greek parliament, what triggered the breakdown is – in fact – democracy.

So bleak has Europe become, so lacking in solidarity, that an agreement worked on for weeks, embodying further austerity for the Greeks and further financial solidarity by the rest, could not pass through either side.

It was this that led to what Greeks call the “rupture”. The currency arrangements of Europe no longer fit the democratic wishes of its people.

And it is not the only breakdown of solidarity. The Schengen agreement on free movement is breaking down as the European powers refuse to absorb the refugees arriving in Greece and Spain.”

2. Joseph Stiglitz:

“the economics behind the programme that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

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We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies.

But why would Europe do this? Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy?

In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers.

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalised those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: many European leaders want to see the end of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on 5 July. Neither alternative – approval or rejection of the troika’s terms – will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

I know how I would vote.”

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In support of the “No” in the Greek Referendum: 2) Richard Stallman

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th June 2015


A copy of the statement of support of Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation:

“The international banks, and their plutocratist politicians, have brejected the easy course of giving Greece a path back to growth and to repaying most of its debt. They demand Greece accept six months more of the “help” that would leave Greece even more desperate. Apparently they want to make an example of Greece to intimidate other victims others.

With their rejection of Greece’s last offer, their arrogance is now explicit: they demand Greece choose between the disaster of economic
exclusion and the disaster of economic occupation.

It seems to me that it is better to suffer by fighting and weakening one’s enemies than to suffer by surrendering and serving them. It seems to me that these banks oppress all of Europe, so rebelling against them is imperative.

Thus, it seems to me that Greece should choose NO on July 5. No to the banksters’ ultimatum, no to their dominion, and no to their
parasitism.

That’s how it seems to me; but it is easy for me to say such things, since I won’t be the one who suffers. It is for Greeks to say how it seems to them.”

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A Introduction to the Basic P2P Ideas; Part 3: P2P Economics.

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
30th June 2015


Over the last ten years, the P2P Foundation has produced a sizeable body of material, both original and curated, but none of it is specifically designed as an introduction for newcomers and people who are not so familiar with the P2P approach. Hence Irma Wilson‘s proposal, during a trip which FutureSharp helped organize in South Africa in the two first weeks of June 2015, to produce a number of short videos. With Irma’s assistance, and the help of filmmaker Michel Taljaard, we produced four videos which are being serialised here in the P2P Foundation Blog and which will be compiled in a forthcoming Commons Transition Article.

This third video answers the question, what are peer to peer economics?

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Foundation, P2P Governance, P2P Theory, Videos | 1 Comment »