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The neoliberal background to the Greek crisis

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th July 2015


The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

Excerpted from George Monbiot:

“The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.

Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics, only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation were kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

Those sober, suited, serious people turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult
All this is but a recent chapter in the long tradition of subordinating human welfare to financial power. The brutal austerity imposed on Greece is mild compared with earlier versions. Take the 19th century Irish and Indian famines, both exacerbated (in the second case caused) by the doctrine of laissez-faire, which we now know as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism.

In Ireland’s case, one eighth of the population was killed – one could almost say murdered– in the late 1840s, partly by the British refusal to distribute food, to prohibit the export of grain or provide effective poor relief. Such policies offended the holy doctrine of laissez-faire economics that nothing should stay the market’s invisible hand.

When drought struck India in 1877 and 1878, the British imperial government insisted on exporting record amounts of grain, precipitating a famine that killed millions. The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices”. The only relief permitted was forced work in labour camps, in which less food was provided than to the inmates of Buchenwald. Monthly mortality in these camps in 1877 was equivalent to an annual rate of 94%.

As Karl Polanyi argued in The Great Transformation, the gold standard – the self-regulating system at the heart of laissez-faire economics – prevented governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries from raising public spending or stimulating employment. It obliged them to keep the majority poor while the rich enjoyed a gilded age. Few means of containing public discontent were available, other than sucking wealth from the colonies and promoting aggressive nationalism. This was one of the factors that contributed to the first world war. The resumption of the gold standard by many nations after the war exacerbated the Great Depression, preventing central banks from increasing the money supply and funding deficits. You might have hoped that European governments would remember the results.

Today equivalents to the gold standard – inflexible commitments to austerity – abound. In December 2011 the European Council agreed a new fiscal compact, imposing on all members of the eurozone a rule that “government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus”. This rule, which had to be transcribed into national law, would “contain an automatic correction mechanism that shall be triggered in the event of deviation.” This helps to explain the seigneurial horror with which the troika’s unelected technocrats have greeted the resurgence of democracy in Greece. Hadn’t they ensured that choice was illegal? Such diktats mean the only possible democratic outcome in Europe is now the collapse of the euro: like it or not, all else is slow-burning tyranny.

It is hard for those of us on the left to admit, but Margaret Thatcher saved the UK from this despotism. European monetary union, she predicted, would ensure that the poorer countries must not be bailed out, “which would devastate their inefficient economies.”

But only, it seems, for her party to supplant it with a homegrown tyranny. George Osborne’s proposed legal commitment to a budgetary surplus exceeds that of the eurozone rule. Labour’s promised budget responsibility lock, though milder, had a similar intent. In all cases governments deny themselves the possibility of change. In other words, they pledge to thwart democracy. So it has been for the past two centuries, with the exception of the 30-year Keynesian respite.

The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Empire, P2P Hierarchy Theory, 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 »

The Corporation: Full Length Documentary

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
30th April 2015


The part about the enclosure of the commons starts at 57:57.

“The Corporation is a 2003 Canadian documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The documentary is critical of the modern-day corporation, considering its legal status as a class of person and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person. This is explored through specific examples. The Corporation has been shown worldwide, on television, and via DVD, file sharing, and free download. Bakan wrote the book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, during the filming of the documentary.

The documentary shows the development of the contemporary business corporation, from a legal entity that originated as a government-chartered institution meant to effect specific public functions, to the rise of the modern commercial institution entitled to most of the legal rights of a person. One theme is its assessment as a “personality”, as a result of an 1886 case in the United States Supreme Court in which a statement by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite[nb 1] led to corporations as “persons” having the same rights as human beings, based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The film’s assessment is effected via the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV; Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia psychology professor and a consultant to the FBI, compares the profile of the contemporary profitable business corporation to that of a clinically-diagnosed psychopath. The documentary concentrates mostly upon North American corporations, especially those of the United States.

The film is in vignettes examining and criticizing corporate business practices. It establishes parallels between the way corporations are systematically compelled to behave and the DSM-IV’s symptoms of psychopathy, i.e. callous disregard for the feelings of other people, the incapacity to maintain human relationships, reckless disregard for the safety of others, deceitfulness (continual lying to deceive for profit), the incapacity to experience guilt, and the failure to conform to social norms and respect for the law.

Topics addressed include the Business Plot, where in 1933, the popular General Smedley Butler exposed a corporate plot against then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt; the tragedy of the commons; Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning people to beware of the rising military-industrial complex; economic externalities; suppression of an investigative news story about Bovine Growth Hormone on a Fox News Channel affiliate television station; the invention of the soft drink Fanta by the Coca-Cola Company due to the trade embargo on Nazi Germany; the alleged role of IBM in the Nazi holocaust (see IBM and the Holocaust); the Cochabamba protests of 2000 brought on by the privatization of Bolivia’s municipal water supply by the Bechtel Corporation; and in general themes of corporate social responsibility, the notion of limited liability, the corporation as a psychopath, and the corporation as a person.

Provoking, witty, stylish and sweepingly informative, THE CORPORATION explores the nature and spectacular rise of the dominant institution of our time. Part film and part movement, The Corporation is transforming audiences and dazzling critics with its insightful and compelling analysis. Taking its status as a legal “person” to the logical conclusion, the film puts the corporation on the psychiatrist’s couch to ask “What kind of person is it?” The Corporation includes interviews with 40 corporate insiders and critics – including Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Milton Friedman, Howard Zinn, Vandana Shiva and Michael Moore – plus true confessions, case studies and strategies for change.

Along with the groundbreaking 145-minute theatrical version of the film, the two-disc DVD has eight hours of never-before-seen footage. In addition to two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and Q’s-and-A’s, 165 new clips and updates are sorted “by person” and “by topic.” Get the details you want to know on the issues you care about. Then, check out the web links for follow-up research and action.”

Further reading:

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Videos | 1 Comment »

Reclaiming the ‘real’ sharing economy

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
25th April 2015


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How vehicle makers are trying to lock out farmers and drivers from ownership

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th April 2015


Excerpted from Kyle Wiens:

“JOHN Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.

(This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment.)

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software that powers the products they buy.

In recent years, some companies have even leveraged the DMCA to stop owners from modifying the programming on those products. This means you can’t strip DRM off smart kitty litter boxes, install custom software on your iPad, or alter the calibration on a tractor’s engine. Not without potentially running afoul of the DMCA.

What does any of that have to do with copyright? Owners, tinkerers, and homebrew “hackers” must copy programming so they can modify it. Product makers don’t like people messing with their stuff, so some manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock, making the copy, and changing something could be construed as a violation of copyright law.

And that’s how manufacturers turn tinkerers into “pirates”—even if said “pirates” aren’t circulating illegal copies of anything. Makes sense, right? Yeah, not to me either.

It makes sense to John Deere: The company argues that allowing people to alter the software—even for the purpose of repair—would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.”

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Benkler on the Uber-ification of Services

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
24th April 2015


Yochai Benkler

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

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

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

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

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


Originally published in bollier.org

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

Ongoing Commodification of the Commons

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
15th April 2015


By Stefeun. Original article at Doomstead Diner here.

Reverse Engineer kindly invited me (1) to develop here one of the comments I posted on Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World. It was a link to a very good article by Cory Morningstar on her blog “The Art of Annihilation”(2).

To summarize it, she says that the non-governmental organizations, and especially the environmental activists, are in fact working for Big Corp, voluntarily or not.

In this purpose, the capitalism is trying to find new resources, as standard/traditional ones are depleting.

Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:

“(…)

It’s ironic because the divestment campaign will result (succeed) in a colossal injection of money shifting over to the very portfolios heavily invested in, thus dependent upon, the intense commodification and privatization of Earth’s last remaining forests (via REDD), water, etc. (environmental “markets“). This tour de force will be executed with cunning precision under the guise of environmental stewardship and “internalising negative externalities through appropriate pricing.”

The commodification of the commons will represent the greatest, and most cunning, coup d’état in the history of corporate dominance – a fait accompli extraordinaire of unparalleled scale, with unparalleled repercussions for humanity and all life.

Further, it matters little whether or not the money is moved from direct investments in fossil fuel corporations to so-called “socially responsible investments.” The fact of the matter is, all corporations on the planet (thus all investments on the planet) do and will continue to require massive amounts of energies (including fossil fuels) in order to continue to grow and expand ad infinitum – as required by the industrialized capitalist economic system.

The windmills and solar panels serve as the beautiful (marketing) imagery, yet they are somewhat illusory – the veneer for the commodification of the commons, which is the fundamental objective of Wall Street, the very advisers of the divestment campaign.

(…)”

Then I started looking at it in a broader view, and realized that in fact our whole economy is actually about, and based on, Commodification of the Commons.

Indeed:

– the Primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining) takes what is “given by Nature” (i.e. for free), and exchanges it for claims on whatever has been given a price (i.e. money).

– then the Secondary sector (manufacturing) turns it into refined or consumer goods or tools, and the Tertiary sector (services) helps dispatch the stuff and information.

The cost we take into account is only the amount of energy spent for the extraction, the transformation or the distribution(3). The “real” cost of a given product is therefore the total energy embodied in it. Apart from heating or cooling it, which obviously uses thermal energy, most of the embedded energy is mechanical energy (= Work) used to move it. Wether this work is hours of human labor or barrels of oil or kWh consumed by a machine only matters for the order of magnitude.

The material itself is counted zero (!!).

Both material and energy are considered infinite (!!!).

Each and every single operation is using energy and generating waste (entropy).

The waste isn’t taken into accout and “the economy” considers that either Nature, or the Society as a whole, should take in charge the burden of recycling it or making it disappear no matter how.

The size of the dustbin must be infinite too!.

Of course most of this waste doesn’t just disappear, as it cannot quickly reintegrate the natural cycles. It isn’t manually or mechanically recycled either, even when possible, because doing it requires energy (often more than the valuable output could buy) and therefore is accounted as a net cost nobody wants to take in charge (as an example, look how successful the carbon-tax is).

This process is transforming the Earth into a huge garbage dump.

Back to the main point, what we call “the economy” is thus a process of appropriation, which first step consists in taking hold of something that primarily doesn’t belong to anybody, for a private profit(4).

We’re stealing from our environment, and in return vomit rubbish that cannot be reused neither by humans nor by Nature, unless spending huge amounts of energy or waiting several years, if not millenia. Steve Ludlum says that what we proudly call “wealth-production” is in reality an organized destruction of our real capital, that cannot be recreated. There’s no substitute, and what is gone, … is gone forever(5). The economy is a component of the natural environment, not the other way round.

Such a “steal & waste” system can work as long as sufficient resource is available for all, and requires only a reasonable effort (i.e. low energy cost) for its extraction. Not to mention the rate of waste-production that must remain low, and with high level of recyclability. In other words, the human population density and the technological level must both be very low, in order to acheive something in which equilibriums are evolving slowly enough to resemble a “steady-state”(6).

As soon as a risk of scarcity appears, the rules of property prevail and there’s a fight over the resource (arable land, fresh water, mineral ores, fossil fuels as required in bigger quantities to compensate the depletion, etc..).

These property laws are being reinforced and are becoming overwhelmingly important as we’re approaching the limits. Once the resource is depleted in a given place, we must take over areas where it is still available.It started with “this land is mine” (colonization), continued with “this subsoil is mine” (oil-wars), “this water is mine”, etc…

By the way, the ownership is progressively shifted from public to corporate (while debt flows in opposite direction), see e.g. landgrabbing(7). Big Corp is more flexible than Nations, thus better adapted to changing environmental & economic conditions.

Then, because of diminishing returns and finiteness of the planet, it becomes increasingly difficult to find new land to conquer, good seams to work, oil-fields to take over. Therefore, in an attempt to catch up with the loss of usual resource, Big Corp is currently expanding its property claims onto patents on the living, rights on species(8), intellectual property, information (big data), etc…

All these examples of new resources, enlarging the pool of valuable ones (IOW the reckless race for privatization of whatever-can-be), are aiming to compensate the decline of traditional ones, if not feed the mandatory growth.

Beyond the likely irreversible changes triggered and the increase in savage destruction caused by this process, the main problem here is that the laws of diminishing returns also apply to the energy, most of it being fossil fuels for which we don’t have any substitute nor expandable source.

So, in the end of the day, finding new “fields to mine” is pointless (not to mention dangerous), since we won’t have the sufficient energy to exploit them.

_____________________________

PS about the economic system: IMHO, capitalism is undeniably speeding up the whole process, especially when financialized, but I’m not sure that another system would have given a better result in the long run, unless it would have considered that a- the resource is finite (the only net input in our system is the energy from the sun, all the rest is -or should be- recycled), b- taken into account the waste management (entropy production), and c- deeply questioned the property rules (to promote cooperation and avoid wealth concentration).

Unfortunately, such a no-growth system is an utopia, because Life is a succession of unexpected shortages, and the winner is always the one who burns most energy, according to the MEP principle (Maximum Entropy Production, aka 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, acc.to F.Roddier/R.Dewar), or the simpler MPP (Maximum Power Principle, as described by Jay Hanson in http://dieoff.org/).

________________________________

Footnotes:

(1): I discovered Our Finite World by end of 2013, that was a few months after I decided to jump off the industrial workforce because I had less and less understanding of how it worked and what I was doing there. I had already grasped parts of the story here and there, but Gail sort of opened my eyes and helped me connect many dots by clearly explaining the interactions within our complex system, which should always be considered as a whole and not studied as independant parts.
(3): I don’t consider here the financial costs. After all, capital and debt are claims on amounts of energy that has been or will (never) be consumed elsewhere.
Note that I’m talking about cost, not price. The price is a result of power struggle, and can be lower than cost in some -temporary- cases (e.g. barrel of oil today).
(4): Michael Parenti, in “Against Empire”, states it as follows:
“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.”
See http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/695226-against-empire ; also quoted in Cory Morningstar’s article linked at (2)
(5): I assume that most of the DD readers know Steve Ludlum better than I do (many articles and podcasts available here on the Diner).
(6): Gail Tverberg explains why a steady state isn’t realistic: http://ourfiniteworld.com/?s=steady+state
(8): speaks for itself: http://www.speciesbanking.com/
The mother-site is… drumroll here…: http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/
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What is Shared is Loved

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
11th April 2015


IF ONE THING, MORE THAN ANY OTHER, distinguishes a real neighborhood from the corporate machine-architecture of the 20th-century developer, it is the fact that real people have — together — conceived it, planned it, and built it. It is this human reality which makes it worth living in, pleasant to be there, and valuable. Christopher Alexander

I do so often hear the claim that people care most about what they own. That’s a myth. As everything is interwoven, only a shared creation can be loved.

The Western view of property was created out of the destruction of the Native North Americans, using the philosophy of John Locke for all its worth. Well, Locke was actually arguing for the property rights of the nobility, but the settlers adapted his teaching for justifying their takeover of Indian land.

What the settlers did was that they destroyed the beautiful commons of the Native Americans, replacing it with a Cartesian hell of property rights. This is also the reason why Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” found such a fertile soil in the Western mind, and became like our civilization’s parallel to Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount”.

Read more about this in David Bollier’s essay: The Fateful Choice: The Pilgrims Assign Private Property Rights in Land.

The sad truth is that with this atomized worldview, where everybody does their own thing on their sacred property lot; in the end everything will be destroyed. And this way we lose the goal with our lives, the meaning of our existence. And we commit a terrible sin to the Earth.

Read more about this in my essay: Let’s Make Our World Whole.

In the world today we only find a few places created out of shared value. One of these is Damanhur in Italy. I hope to someday bring my family there for a period, to experience how our insane world of property could have been like if it was shared. If Me were We!

But even our world is no longer shared, but owned, the commons has again set new sprouts in these darkest of times.

Our societies have become a nightmare of disconnected parts, where we hate our lives and hate each other. As I just read in a Norwegian newspaper, never before have Norwegians quarreled more in the courts, and newer have there been more lawyers in Norway than today. To be sure, our Lockean/Cartesian society has become a paradise for the lawyers. When the commons is destroyed, the lawyers become fat.

It’s time to make a change! Let’s wreck John Locke and replace him with Ellinor Ostrom. Let’s learn from the commons the settlers destroyed. What is strange to think about, the settlers did not just destroy the USA; with their achievements they also destroyed my own country, Norway, which is now nothing but a slum of modernity.

To get inspiration for our fight, in spite of that everything is destroyed, read the essay by Mehaffy & Salingaros: A Vision for Architecture as More Than the Sum of Its Parts.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property | No Comments »

A New Commodity Is Born: Breast Milk

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
6th April 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sharing lies”: five lies about the Sharing Economy

photo of Mayra Rodriguez Singh

Mayra Rodriguez Singh
3rd April 2015


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


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

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

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

  1. airbnb comunidadPlatforms are communities. That’s a lie. Whatever definition of community we use, Airbnb, Uber, Zipcar, Blablacar, and the many clones of all of them are not communities. Adhering to conditions of use doesn’t even point towards “community standards.” Let’s be honest, the large majority of collaborative consumption platforms are markets. Barter markets in some cases, non-profit markets in others, traditional labor markets in still others, and even markets of restoration… but, markets: places where transactions are made, even if some are relatively cheap and others even at zero price. They’re still markets. And a market is something completely different from a community, and the two provide experiences that are nothing alike. Or do we really think the start-up world could be expected anything other than bid us “Welcome to the Jungle?”
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  3. The “sharing economy” creates conscious consumption. That’s a lie. We’re told that it’s better to reuse than to be compulsive buyers, and that it’s time to be conscious of our consumption. And that’s true. But if the boom in the sharing economy coincides with the longest economic crisis in the history of capitalism, it’s not by chance. With the middle class seeing its buying power reduced, sharing has grown because it offers to maintain something like the standard of living of the “good years.” Travel, but stay in a stranger’s room or in a little tourist hotel outside of State regulation. Go out to eat, but to the apartment of a chef who organizes the meal, rather than to a restaurant. Go by taxi, but pay less, because the taxi driver works under the table and the car is private. Now everything’s OK again! But the argument is a fallacy. I don’t believe that consumption is more conscious if it takes advantage of people’s precariousness and the shortcuts that so many people have had to take to survive the crisis.Sure, they’ve painted it with a little amnesia, and they’ve put new labels on it to make sure it’s still cool. One of the many examples is vintage fashion, because sharing clothes with your brothers/sisters is not the same as buying it second-hand. If your jacket was once your cousin’s, you weren’t in fashion. But now, second-hand clothes and accessories have gone from being looked down on to being cool, and you can bet someone will ask you for the address or website of the store you shop at, so they can go get stuff like yours. It’s not that the obsession with buying, the famous consumerism, has disappeared. It’s simply been adapted and started valuing things that used to be seen as being “for the poor.” The longstanding flea market that people used to want to relocate now becomes an obligatory Sunday stroll. Stores that were once on hidden streets now reappear in maps of exclusive sites and are the creme de la creme.
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  5. fabcafeThe “sharing economy” is a new mode of production. That’s a lie. To present the P2P production as part of the “sharing economy” is to confuse things by equating ways of creating wealth that are very different and erasing what P2P really represents.P2P production is centered on the creation of the commons. That’s what transforms the nature of capital and the market. But is that the way it really is in the thousands of “Ubers” that enter the risk-capital market? Does Airbnb create anything resembling a commons? Obviously not. And to confuse things only leads to the things that matter most losing meaning. Quoting Natalia:

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

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  7. airbnb barcelonaThe businesses of the “sharing economy” promote economic activity that displaces capitalism and promotes a new use of the city. That’s a lie. If we study the “Airbnb effect” in a city like Barcelona, we’ll see that it moves us farther away — a lot farther — from the “sharing city.” The difference between Airbnb and Hilton is not not even the difference between a business of the direct economy and a large, inefficient corporation with the strength of over-scaling. Airbnb, Uber, Blablacar and others are not behind the substitution of independent SMEs for the industrial fabric of big businesses whose decomposition is gutting the productivity of cities. In fact, as Bruce Sterling pointed out, by promoting highly centralized models, these business fit into and promote the worst of “smart cities,” deepening precariousness and taking sovereignty from people and the city as a whole. As Sterling asked, “do you think San Francisco or any big American city would let its new taxi system be run by a business located in Barcelona?”
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  9. The activity of the businesses of the “sharing economy” strengthens community bonds and helps resist the social effects of the crisis. That’s a lie. The type of human relations built by the best-known “sharing” platforms are far from creating community or establishing links that strengthen social cohesion. On the demand side, they support the economy of precariousness, shortcuts, and “anything goes,” while on the demand side, they eliminate the need for collaboration and real human relationships, replacing it with interaction through a platform. That is why, as Caro said not long ago in a chat:

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

So, is the “sharing economy” bad?

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

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

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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