Here is the context to the contribution below by Franz Nahrada, which originally appeared in the Oekonux mailing list.
Peer production as we define it is a form of non-reciprocal engagement, combining free contributions with universal availability of the resulting material. This can work because there are plenty of people with an abundance or surplus of intellectual/cultural resources which they can now share ‘cheaply’ through the new technological affordances that we have created. It still poses the important problem of finding a way that peer producers can continue such activities, on the condition that any remuneration does not crowd out the free engagement and self-unfolding of peer production. This can be solved through various forms of unconditional income, not through conditional income, as this re-introduces alienated forms of motivation.
The problem for physical production is more serious, since here we are not dealing with non-rival or anti-rival goods that can be shared ‘for free’, but on the contrary, cost-recovery mechanisms are crucial, since we are dealing with rival goods. However, we can imagine various combinations of open design combined with physically-based economic models, both within and without the current economic structure. But if we want a ‘peer to peer society’, then clearly we have to find a systemic answer.
This is what Franz Nahrada attempts to address below, in his argument about ‘biomorphical production’.
“The secret is in the word “rival”. So, material goods need to be made “non-rival”. Another word for this is “abundant” or (since some seem not to like this word) “sufficient”.
At this point there is only one solution, and it is not one that depends on the external economy and its scarcity of value. You are right that there should be a sharp distinction between cooperatives and p2p production, but at the same time it is imagineable that cooperatives work out arrangements that lead to a circulation of material goods and therefore enable mutual supply in a circular process, to some degree eliminating the need for monetary income. This economy would work in a biomorphical way, the surplus on one point being the input on others.
I think this is not a mere utopian vision, but the tendency of automation is that production is becoming increasingly biomorphical (as I laid out in OS yearbook) – . Increasingly material goods can be produced wherever they are needed, with miniaturized production equipment. Why should there not be a tendency from sharing designs to arranging material flows that enable some parts in the network to provide specialized kinds of goods and have them shared with others, knowing that more and more nodes in the network are doing the same? Automation is the key to reduce the factor of labor drastically, to embed production in units of the right size to establish a circular exchange.
I have recently seen images of the perfect organisation of the feeding of Buddhist monks by the general population somewhere near you. Now imagine an “order of technoscientists” constantly improving the tools and the flows between production units which are controlled and run by general population. Of course this is just a mental model, we do not like to create an exclusive elite, but for the understanding of the process its very vital to see that the material system feeds into the system of culture without expectation of equivalent exchange. Software developers are the Buddhist monks of tomorrow, but the general population has not understood yet that feeding them provides abundance.
In the moment when the system of production is sufficiently close to natural processes like photosynthesis, driven by design intelligence and the general intellect of the global communities of practice (which now replace our mental image of the monks),, the sharing and moving of material goods could be done in similar ways like filesharing. You get a taste of this when you look at peer networks like bookcrossing or couchsurfers, which are allready doing it – use the abundance of the existing capitalist production process which allready often provides us with much more than we need – to undermine the monetary exchange which is clumsy, boring and without fun.”
Once we really get a grasp of really efficient home production, the rules of the games will change drastically. In this respect I share Stefan Mertens optimism, allthough I hate to bring it all down to the notion or image of the fabber. There are very interesting intermediate schemes which work at community level – technologically possible, but neglected from the point of view of capitalist production. These are the ones that carry quality and potential to encompass substantial areas of human needs.”