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The Pirate Party’s solution for the global job crisis: valuing the swarm economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
29th March 2011


The job market is never going back to lifetime employments. Industry-critical work such as free software or Wikipedia is not counted as value at all. Today’s economic model has failed at reflecting real value and at promoting industry-critical fundamentals. Job policy and economic policy is based on this faulty model.

Excerpted from Rick Falkvinge :

“Apart from the growth of the information society, there is a parallel and strongly related development happening on the job market. Lifetime employments are no more. The information advantage of today’s citizens enable them to become skillful jacks of all trades, never staying at a job longer than three years, and quite frequently entertaining at least one profitable and one nonprofitable job. Often several more.

Just as frequently, the nonprofitable job is a value-enabler of epic proportions, such as editing Wikipedia or contributing free software code to the world. If it hadn’t been for such contributions, we would not have had the Internet nor Android mobile phones. And yet, these contributions to the economy on a global scale count as non-production, just because skilled world-class craftsmen are not paid for them. That is insane.

There is an obvious and strong and growing disparity here between reality and the political model which is used to establish policy. Industry fundaments are undervalued or not valued at all, while specialized work that depends on the fundaments but are useful to only a few people is considered valuable.

At the same time, people entering the workforce are more disloyal than ever and seek out positions where they are able to build something that also develop them as individuals, only staying as long as it does, which isn’t rewarded at all in the current system.

This doesn’t work and the Pirate Parties are in a unique position to champion adapting policy to a new reality, since we have the most experience with the volunteer work that is reshaping our civilization’s industry.

The industrial model is dead and it is not coming back.

The Iron Law of Wages is being dissolved: currently, no employment can pay less than the minimum required to pay food and rent. But imagine for a moment if it could? If we could abolish this law? How can we, as a society, promote all the nonpaid work that creates the fundaments of our next-generation industries?

In addition, there is severe doubt whether we will be able to employ people at the rate we previously had. When Europe industrialized, we “got rid of” the excess people through extensive emigration to American colonies. Where are we going to put the leftovers this time? The moon colony isn’t finished yet, so we’ll need another solution.

It is a very real problem and there is no solution that has been successfully tried in this environment.

It is important that this is not a left-to-right issue; it has nothing to do with socialist-or-liberal policies. Rather, it is an observation that the industrial society that defined those ideologies is gradually ceasing to exist, and something else is replacing it.

One model for the swarm economy could be a basic unconditional income for every citizen. This would solve many problems, such as the Iron Law of Wages, and promote the industry-fundamental nonpaid work. It would not fundamentally change society’s economy model, as everybody is already guaranteed basic food, board and necessities through welfare systems, but making it unconditional would remove a whole lot of costly red tape.

This would enable society as a whole to remove the Iron Law of Wages and allow entrepreneurs to employ people for five hours a week, as well as allow somebody to work five hours a week paid and the rest on nonpaid but society-positive contributions, if they prefer. I don’t believe in doomsday prophecies that nobody will want to work when guaranteed a basic sustenance: again, Wikipedia and GNU/Linux, and case closed.

It is true that about 10% of the population will choose to not work and become “professional slackers”. On the other hand, these are — if I am allowed to be blunt — people that don’t work while employed either, people that employers would rather keep out of the workforce, so it doesn’t really change anything in terms of actual production. They avoid work already where they can.

I am sure that there are other models of making noncounted production count as production. I would be interested in hearing and understanding them. However, my main point is this:

The world’s Pirate Parties are in a unique position to understand the coming Swarm Economy, having firsthand experience with its unpaid fundamental production. We are able to make meaningful policy around this and bridge the gap between the industrial society and its successor, and today’s parties aren’t. My question is: should we?”

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6 Responses to “The Pirate Party’s solution for the global job crisis: valuing the swarm economy”

  1. Sepp Hasslberger Says:

    This is certainly an important discussion to have.

    As industry is no longer the driving force in economics, and as there is less and less need for human contribution, the question indeed becomes: Where do we send the people that are left over? Nowhere to go, but into the swarm economy. And in order to do so, we need to provide for basic sustenance, a “basic, unconditional income for every citizen”, and reward only the individual’s contributions to actual for-profit economic activity.

    Great article!

  2. Cheshiremythos Says:

    The biggest questions that I can think of are how do we pay for it and/or how can we manage to enact this idea on a national or regional scale? The idea works great from a local perspective really because shipping food around is easy and you can use the unemployed locals to help build basic housing. I think it should be a bottom up organization personally, getting the local groups started and then finding surplus and where it is needed.

    Despite asking the question of how to pay for it I think that we should be looking at how to cut out the idea of ‘cost’ altogether by working this into the idea of non-paid work (The farmers and builders should be the first people to get this swarm wage because they are the first contributors).

  3. Sepp Hasslberger Says:

    How we pay for a guaranteed basic income is entirely a question of how we look at money.

    If we can take tens of billions of funds to give to the banks for *no* return in terms of the real economy, we certainly can give everyone a basic income for a fraction of that amount, with real return in terms of increased economic activity (people can spend again) and quality of life (they don’t have to live under the bridges any more).

    It really depends whether we consider the abstraction of financial markets to have more importance than the real economy of people working, having a home, having to eat and to live and to enjoy. As long as the financial world is considered to be of paramount importance, we will throw all our resources in that direction. Finance should properly be at the *service* of the people economy, not the other way around.

  4. happyseaurchin Says:

    i prefer flocking
    rather than swarming

    there must be a better word
    swarming indicates hive mind in some way
    flocking conjures up starlings and swallows as well as geese migrating
    what of fish schools or herds of antelope?

    multi-agent modelling
    mam

    confluence is the more abstract metaphor
    which also implies convergence of course

    please shift from swarm :)

  5. Shane Says:

    The issue is how to value labor that adds to the commons, particularly knowledge or software. It seems there are three choices: (A) No IP, (B) The current time-limited patent/copyright/tm system, or (C) a new model. Choice A does nothing to incentivize adding value to the commons, but maintains freedom and increases productivity in some cases – for example look at free software and the SaaS industry. Choice B creates incentives and time limits avoid the long-term anti-commons tragedy that would occur with perpetual IP. However, Choice B is subject government monkey business and restricts access/usage of knowledge. Additionally, people dislike IP in biotech where restricted rights on medical treatments seem cruel. Choice C is really a mystery. Can anyone envision a parsimonious legal contract that strikes the right balance? I have some ideas, but none that I like.

    The article bounces around talking about basic income and work hours regulation, which is a completely different economic and political topic. Believe me, they cannot and should not be intertwined with solving the IP problem. That basic income would create unemployment only among inert workers is silly. Inert workers are passed along until they find suitable work in agriculture, steel, military etc. where the labor component is unavoidable. Well, this is true in US,CA,AU,HK,SG,CH,BS where welfare is meager, but probably not some parts of Europe.

    I’m always surprised how work hours decreased in the 1800s from 17 hours per day to 10, but only from 10 to 8 in the last century – probably high taxes, regulation, holidays, vacations, schooling, etc. Or maybe it’s rampant consumerism!

  6. happyseaurchin Says:

    @shane: your stat suffers from the condition that nearly all stats do… i believe there are many on the planet now who work as long as 17 hours a day…

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