Book of the Week: Towards an Economy of Contributions (2)

We continue the publication of some extra excerpts from Christian Siefkes important book on physicalizing peer production: From Exchange to Contributions.

Today we start by discussing Problem 2:

How to Allocate Limited Resources and Goods?

Note that Stefan Meretz offers an alternative explanation to this process of Task Auctioning here.

Christian Siefkes:

Generally, sharing does not scale quite as efficiently as the sharing of information. A spaghetti-cooking project will hardly be able to share the output of their activities with everybody who wants spaghetti; when in doubt, they will prefer to eat the cooked spaghetti themselves instead of staying hungry. So, [people] producing something that cannot easily be shared with everybody else will often share only among themselves.

In which ways can they organize this internal sharing? [Several possible models are shown in the Figure below (and explained in more details in the book).]

Effort sharing models for non-copyable goods

These modes do not necessarily conflict with each other and can be combined. Which of these modes makes most sense depends on what is produced and on the preferences of the prosumers. […] Both the weighted labor model and [these allocation models, including the] preference weighting model ensure that everybody’s preferences have free play. Nobody is forced to do a task they do not really want to do or to live in conditions they don’t really like. You can freely choose whether you prefer more luxury (and of which kinds) or more laziness; whether you prefer spending more time doing the things you want to do, or working for the things you want to have, or whether you prefer living in a simple style or doing some “quick-and-dirty” tasks so you can spend most of your time in wholly other ways.

Of course, if you want luxury of all kinds and a life of idleness that doesn’t involve any activities which are useful to others, you might be out of luck—unless you can convince others to provide everything for you. In general, you will have to make a decision that involves some kind of trade-off. But this decision will be based on your own free choices; it won’t be made for you by other people, nor by luck or fate (say, based on lot, or the income or social position your parents happen to have).

Society as a Big Project or a Multitude of Projects

An excerpt on the generalization of peer cooperation from a single project to society at large:

Considering the generalization of peer production from a single peer project to a whole society, there are two complementary views of such a society we may take: Society can be considered as a multitude of peer projects, each deciding on its goals and its internal organizing. But society can also be considered as a kind of big project (very big, indeed), where mechanisms for sharing efforts and assigning produced goods (such as discussed in the last chapter) are applied to society at large.

We suppose that, to understand how the people living in such a society will organize their lives, both these views have some validity—neither of them would be sufficient in isolation, but together they might give us a good picture. A society based primarily on peer production will comprise a multitude of projects; but between them, the people involved in these projects are likely to establish some institutions that will make society itself—or some smaller or larger parts of it—resemble a big project in some ways. […]

Peer projects can join their forces in large distribution pools that use a shared auctioning system for tasks, products, and resources, allowing everybody access to a wide range of goods without having to contribute to a multiplicity of projects. Aside from such interest-based cooperation, the people in any given area can cooperate locally, forming local meta-projects to coordinate the public services and infrastructure they desire to have in their area. And projects active in the same sector of production will often choose to coordinate their activities and to share their experiences in prosumer associations. [The book motivates and explains these different forms of cooperation in detail.] Thus, a society based on peer production will be characterized by manifold cooperation both within and between peer projects.

Comparison With Market-based Production

An excerpt on what’s new and different about the peer economy:

Today, the globally dominant economy is clearly the market-based mode of production, also known as capitalism. Due to the important role of auctioning, which is also employed in market-based production, the proposed model might appear to be similar to the market. Indeed, the usage of auctioning has effects that are similar to some effects of the market, since both remove the need for hierarchical planning and/or extensive discussions that would otherwise be necessary to distribute tasks, products, and resources. Nevertheless, the differences are striking.

The fundamental difference—the one difference that causes all the others—is that the peer economy directly achieves the goal which the market achieves only indirectly (if at all): fulfilling people’s needs and desires, making it possible for them to get what they want to have and to live the way they want to live. In the peer economy, you cooperate with others to get the goods you like to have, while in the market economy you produce one thing to get money which then allows you to get other things.

Peer production cuts out the middle layer—the need to sell so you can buy. This change goes very deep, since in capitalism the apparently harmless middle layer (the need to make money) takes over and becomes the primary goal of production, shifting the original goal (fulfilling people’s needs and desires) into the background.

In the market, you need money to get the goods you like to buy. If you don’t have enough money, you need to sell something, and if you don’t have anything else, you need to sell your own labor capacity. But if nobody wants your labor, you are out of luck. […]

In peer production there is no need to sell, neither your labor capacity nor anything else. You will often be expected to invest some labor to get the things you like to have, but this is only to contribute your share to the overall effort. If there is nothing left to do, there is no reason to work, hence the term “unemployment” does not even make sense in the context of a peer economy.

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