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Key Theses on P2P Politics

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th April 2013


Written in 2007 but still valid:

“1. Our current world system is marked by a profoundly counterproductive logic of social organization:

a) it is based on a false concept of abundance in the limited material world; it has created a system based on infinite growth, within the confines of finite resources

b) it is based on a false concept of scarcity in the infinite immaterial world; instead of allowing continuous experimental social innovation, it purposely erects legal and technical barriers to disallow free cooperation through copyright, patents, etc…

2. Therefore, the number one priority for a sustainable civilization is overturning these principles into their opposite:

a) we need to base our physical economy on a recognition of the finitude of natural resources, and achieve a sustainable steady-state economy

b) we need to facilitate free and creative cooperation and lower the barriers to such exchange by reforming the copyright and other restrictive regimes

3. Hierarchy, markets, and even democracy are means to allocate scarce resources through authority, pricing, and negotiation; they are not necessary in the realm of the creation and free exchange of immaterial value, which will be marked by bottom-up forms of peer governance

4. Markets, as means to to manage scarce physical resources, are but one of the means to achieve such allocation, and need to be divorced from the idea of capitalism, which is a system of infinite growth.

5. The creation of immaterial value, which again needs to become dominant in a post-material world which recognized the finiteness of the material world, will be characterized by the further emergence of non-reciprocal peer production.

6. Peer production is a more productive system for producing immaterial value than the for-profit mode, and in cases of the asymmetric competition between for-profit companies and for-benefit institutions and communities, the latter will tend to emerge

7. Peer production produces more social happiness, because 1) it is based on the highest from of individual motivation, nl. intrinsic positive motivation; 2) it is based on the highest form of collective cooperation, nl. synergistic cooperation characterized by four wins (the participants x2, the community, the universal system)

8. Peer governance, the bottom-up mode of participative decision-making (only those who participate get to decide) which emerges in peer projects is politically more productive than representative democracy, and will tend to emerge in immaterial production. However, it can only replace representative modes in the realm of non-scarcity, and will be a complementary mode in the political realm. What we need are political structures that create a convergence between individual and collective interests.

9. Peer property, the legal and institutional means for the social reproduction of peer projects, are inherently more distributive than both public property and private exclusionary property; it will tend to become the dominant form in the world of immaterial production (which includes all design of physical products).

10. Peer to peer as the relational dynamic of free agents in distributed networks will likely become the dominant mode for the production of immaterial value; however, in the realm of scarcity, the peer to peer logic will tend to reinforce peer-informed market modes, such as fair trade; and in the realm of the scarcity based politics of group negotiation, will lead to reinforce the peer-informed state forms such as multistakeholdership forms of governance.

11. The role of the state must evolve from the protector of dominant interests and arbiter between public regulation and privatized corporate modes (an eternal and improductive binary choice), towards being the arbiter between a triarchy of public regulation, private markets, and the direct social production of value. In the latter capacity, it must evolve from the welfare state model, to the partner state model, as involved in enabling and empowering the direct social creation of value.

12. The world of physical production needs to be characterized by:

a) sustainable forms of peer-informed market exchange (fair trade, etc..);

b) reinvigorated forms of reciprocity and the gift economy;

c) a world based on social innovation and open designs, available for physical production anywhere in the world.

13. The best guarantor of the spread of the peer to peer logic to the world of physical production, is the distribution of everything, i.e. of the means of production in the hands of individuals and communities, so that they can engage in social cooperation. While the immaterial world will be characterized by a peer to peer logic on non-reciprocal generalized exchange, the peer informed world of material exchange will be characterized by evolving forms of reciprocity and neutral exchange.

14. We need to move from empty and ineffective anti-capitalist rhetoric, to constructive post-capitalist construction. Peer to peer theory, as the attempt to create a theory to understand peer production, governance and property, and the attendant paradigms and value systems of the open/free, participatory, and commons oriented social movements, is in a unique position to marry the priority values of the right, individual freedom, and the priority values of the left, equality. In the peer to peer logic, one is the condition of the other, and cooperative individualism marries equipotentiality and freedom in a context of non-coercion.

15. We need to become politically sensitive to invisible architectures of power. In distributed systems, where there is no overt hierarchy, power is a function of design. One such system, perhaps the most important of all, is the monetary system, whose interest-bearing design requires the market to be linked to a system of infinite growth, and this link needs to be broken. A global reform of the monetary system, or the spread of new means of direct social production of money, are necessary conditions for such a break.

16. This is the truth of the peer to peer logical of social relationships: 1) together we have everything; 2) together we know everything. Therefore, the conditions for dignified material and spiritual living are in our hands, bound with our capacity to relate and form community. The emancipatory peer to peer theory does not offer new solutions for global problems, but most of all new means to tackle them, by relying on the collective intelligence of humankind. We are witnessing the rapid emergence of peer to peer toolboxes for the virtual world, and facilitation techniques of the physical world of face to face encounters, both are needed to assist in the necessary change of consciousness that needs to be midwifed. It is up to us to use them.

17. At present, the world of corporate production is benefiting from the positive externalities of widespread social innovation (innovation as an emerging property of the network itself, not as an internal characteristic of any entity), but there is no return mecachism, leading to the problem of precarity. Now that the productivity of the social is beyond doubt, we need solutions that allow the state and for-profit corporation to create return mechanisms, such as forms of income that are no longer directly related to the private production of wealth, but reward the social production of wealth.”

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