Interview by Simone Cicero and Stina Heikkilä. Originally posted at Platform Design Toolkit.
Michel Bauwens believes that because societies are complex adaptive systems, the only way to move towards a new, stable system is through a chaotic transition. The current pandemic shock will serve as a wake-up call, exposing the fallacies of our current systems. What we need forward are strong commons-based institutions that can provide a complimentary, counter-balance to powerful nation-states and existing multilateral organisations.
In this with Michel Bauwens, we explore both the epistemological and political/regulatory layers of the transition from the “old” to the “new” ways of organising society. We dig into concepts like “trans-national institutions” and explore the changes we could expect in both regional and international governance of the economy and society.
Michel Bauwens is founder and director of the P2P Foundation, research director of CommonsTransition.org (a platform for policy development aimed toward a society of the Commons) and a founding member of the Commons Strategies Group.
Michel is a real lighthouse when it comes to collaborative, commons-based production models and works tirelessly since more than a decade in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property.
Here are some important links from the conversation:
> Michel Bauwens, Corona and the Commons http://liminal.news.greenhostpreview.nl/2020/03/23/corona-and-the-commons/
> Michel Bauwens and Jose Raomos, “The pulsation of the commons: The temporal context for the cosmo-local transition” (Draft), https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sHhuecKxfB8HRH8o9aOfdlKNqaPQ8lc91502FXXv8e4/edit#heading=h.99i7fcsrn7tf
> Bologna regulation for the care and regeneration of the urban commons, https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Bologna_Regulation_for_the_Care_and_Regeneration_of_Urban_Commons
> P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival — Commons Transition, https://commonstransition.org/p2p-accounting-for-planetary-survival/
> REPORTING 3.0, https://reporting3.org/
> Robert I. Moore (2000), The First European Revolution: 970–1215, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/712195.The_First_European_Revolution
> Bernard A. Lietaer, The Mystery of Money, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8198838-the-mystery-of-money
> Material flow accounting, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Material_flow_accounting
> Resources, events, agents (accounting model), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resources,_events,_agents_(accounting_model)
> David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets and Networks, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/papers/2005/P7967.pdf
> Jamie Wheal in Rebel Wisdom: War on Sensemaking 3, the Infinite Game, https://youtu.be/mQstRd7opv4
> French land trust “Terre des Liens”, https://terredeliens.org/
> Bernard Stiegler, The Neganthropocene, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40203892-the-neganthropocene
1. There are two main layers of the transition from the “old” to the “new”: Epistemological and Political/Regulatory:
– The epistemological layer needs a new educational approach, since the current one is largely reductionist and rooted in the “old” system.
– The political and regulatory space need stronger commons-based institutions and governance protocols, where the nation state becomes a “partner state” and you have a public commons protocol, like for example in the Bologna regulation for the care and regeneration of the urban commons in Italy.
– We will also see the emergence of trans-national institutions that connect local constituencies globally and virtually and which are able to protect planetary boundaries.
2. We’re moving towards a mutation of consciousness where Western countries are increasingly questioning modernity/progress paradigm, while many Asian countries still think they can get capitalism right (modernity-nature). Nonetheless, the fact that we’re currently consuming five times our planetary resources to maintain the capitalist economic model might indicate that we’re moving towards a next “pulsation”, or regenerative reaction, to a period of unsustainable extraction.
3. There’s a need of coherence driving decision-making mainly based on accounting using energy flows, which go beyond double-entry accounting — creating winners and losers — making transparent the three-dimensional, real impact of activities.
🌐 Boundaryless Conversations Podcast is about exploring the future of large scale organising by leveraging on technology, network effects and shaping narratives. We explore how platforms can help us play with a world in turmoil, change, and transformation: a world that is at the same time more interconnected and interdependent than ever but also more conflictual and rivalrous.
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This episode is hosted by Boundaryless Conversation Podcast host Simone Cicero with co-host, Stina Heikkilä.
The following is a semi-automatically generated transcript which has not been thoroughly revised by the podcast host or by the guest. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Michel, is such a pleasure to have you on this podcast! We know each other I think from, you know, the early 2010s, probably something like that. So it’s almost 10 years, maybe more. And, you know, when we started this podcast, we really wanted to have the conversation on the on the commons and P2P commons based production into this conversation into this podcast. And, you know, as you know, I am also personally very much passionate about this idea of open source, for example, and open collaboration, based on the commons. So my question for you as a starting point, say to explore the world of P2P commons based production is is much more related to try to understand with you why this is not as big a deal as it should be, you know. And so, what are the structural issues that, as for your understanding, are harnessing the further development of these paradigms in the world?
Right. Well, I guess to start with, I’d like to basically maybe even challenge what you just said. Because, you know, you have to remember where it came from right, where basically we just had open source movements in the early 2000s. Now we have urban commons — and I did a study in Ghent which show the tenfold increase in urban commons from 50 to 500 in just one city — that’s one thing. Then we have the makerspaces, the fab labs and something that’s called a multi factory. There’s about 120 of them in Europe right now already and this is like real production, where craftspeople mutualise their you know, production in a common space using open source principles. And also, I would like to say that there’s already a lot more political expression of this, right, there is the regulation in Italy in 250 different cities, there is a whole plank of activity in France around the municipal elections, and you know, with a real commons political program at the local level. So, of course, we’re not where we want to be, but I just want to stress that we also have been growing at the same time. So I just want to make sure that that is said.
Yeah, yeah. But so I, you know, I think of course one of the issues and that’s one of the statements we wanted to discuss is, is about the value regime, right? So my analysis is that we live in a world that only recognizes extracted value. So in other words, in order to create value, you either work with people or with natural resources and you extract a surplus. And that surplus is translated in financial wealth. And then we are going to do philanthropy or we’re going to do taxation. And so we’re doing redistribution. And this, this has a number of paradoxical effects. And one of the profound effects is that if you do generative work, if you do care work, you don’t get funded unless you get this redistributive money. So a typical example would be, you have in France a community land trust called Terre des Liens. They have 775 million Euro in capital and you know, they buy land from the markets and put it in a trust and then they give cheap rent and ecological contracts with organic farmers. They have already in 2016 published a report showing that the fact that they don’t use toxic pesticides in their form of agriculture means that they’re saving the French state 300 million euros per year. So that’s, you know, amount of money in water pollution, depollution that is not spent, because they do this generative activity. And I hope you can see the problem there. Right. So if you’re a farmer, and you’re destroying your soil year after year, and some studies say there’s like 60 harvests left in Western Europe, you know, if we continue with this, de-substantiation of minerals in our soils. You’re going to be basically getting, you know, billions in European funding from the agriculture program, but if you’re an organic farmer you’re not going to get this. So I want to say this is important because the common in some ways and an alternative to capital, but you still need capital. So capital privatizes the commons, that’s how capitalism emerged. And so what people are doing right now, I would say is using the commons as an alternative to capital because they don’t have capital. Right? So if you don’t have capital, then you’re going to use mutualization as an alternative. This combined idle sourcing, combined many, many, many small contributions to try to, to get at a substantial amount of infrastructure. And so, why is this important because as long as the current system works, as long as the extractive system works even if it is destructive, it kind of creates a structural situation where generative activity is marginalized. And this is just, you know, a fact of life. Right? And now, if you agree with me — or maybe don’t agree with me — that we are reaching a point of no return in the current system. In other words, continued extraction at this scale, an overuse of the planetary resources at this scale, creates resource issues, creates future problems with food and water, creates climate change and — as we see nowadays — creates a huge issue around pandemic distribution. So, I would say that it might be that the time you know before these alternatives, you know, become more important is not so far away as we think. Now, so the first argument would be around structural weaknesses for me is the value regime, right? In which value regime are we operating? And what is it favoring? And what is it de-favoring?The second issue, though, I think, is that we live in a hybrid economy, in a hybrid society. So we have different ways of exchanging value. We have the pricing system, which you know, only is dominant for the last two centuries. It wasn’t before; it was a it was itself marginal until two centuries ago. You know, we have maybe 10% people in the cities and 90% people in the countryside were almost not affected by the pricing system. We have the gift economy, which is, I think, quite marginal. Then we have commoning, which is working on a shared resource, and then we have redistribution. So those are four different ways of exchanging value. And I think one of the critiques you know, like self-critique we could make of the commons movement is the idea that it’s a, it’s a totalistic alternative, right? So what I would argue differently is that the commons on its own is not sufficient, just as the market on its own is not efficient, sufficient. And the states on its own is not efficient. Even more so, I would argue that believing this is a form of totalitarianism, so you’d have fascism and communism as an absolutism of the state. We have a bit of right wing libertarianism and neoliberalism as a absolutism of the market. We also could have commonism as some kind of absolutism of you know, of horizontality. And so I think it’s much more fruitful to think of combinations. In other words, if you’re a market player, you could start thinking, you know, how can we use the commons. And actually, of course, we see that capitalists actually doing that, right. I mean, all the new — the things you do with your platforms and, you know, normally most of the platforms are capitalistic, what I call net article platforms — that’s exactly what they do. And they have become commons extracting economic systems. They directly,you know, get value from cooperating humans, right? So if you look at Uber, Airbnb, they no longer just hire people to produce, they actually let us exchange and then they get taxed from our exchanges, broadly speaking. So capitalism is certainly doing that. And so what I’ve been suggesting for the last 10 years is that commoners should do the same. One of the historical theories about capitalism is that it emerged in Europe because we had, you know, medieval cities, free medieval cities where the merchant guilds had autonomy, which didn’t happen in any other region in the world, because always the market forces were subsumed and dominated by the Empires and the Royal, the monarchic forces. But in Europe, we had a distributed system, fragmented system, of power in the Middle Ages and that allowed the merchant classes to slowly create a world that worked for them. And so basically, what I’ve been suggesting is that commoners should do the same; that we should be thinking not about, you know, doing on our own 100% pure way, but we should be thinking: what kind of markets work for commoners? What kind of state form works for the commons?
Yeah, that’s, sorry I’m interrupting you, but I want to bring you some first reflection that reconnects with some older interviews that we’ve been recording the last few days. So, for example, when you say that the commons doesn’t need to be totalistic, you know, not approach that somehow like we need to do it alone outside of the society of markets, but more something that can appear on top of existing markets. It reminds me about David Ronfeld’s tribes, institutions, markets and networks. So this idea that essentially they evolve on top of each other and this is something that we also had the chance to discuss quickly with John Robb a few few days ago. And if I connect with your remarks at the start, that it’s a value issue and also you say, you know, as long as we have extracted value, it’s hard to imagine that, you know, something different comes up as long as society somehow praises this kind of extractive approach. And this is really interesting, I think. I mean, when you say for example, care work is not funded, it makes me think about Bernard Stiegler’s Neganthropocene idea, that care needs to become central. And, and so somehow this brings us this reflection that if we don’t see more commons based production, you may also be an epistemological problem. We may also be dealing with to this idea of, you know, as Heidegger’s said we face the world as standing reserve that we just want to consume or basically we just can think about consuming. So it’s these big, these huge epistemological issues related to science and rationalism. And so this is one of the big issues. And on the other hand, that is a political issue. Because when you say, you know, basically, if this information needs to come on top of existing institutions and markets, it means that we need to take it politically, we need to have a political discussion on how we run our markets and what kind of production we, I would say we encourage with our policies. So there are these two topics. And you also mentioned the point of no return so at some point, we were going to figure it out that if it doesn’t change, we’re gonna have very hard times and we are already living through hard times. You mentioned the pandemic. It’s crazy, today we are all three of us at some level of lockdown, you know, you’re locked down in a room because you’re finishing your quarantine, and me and Stina we’re locked in our houses in Paris and Rome. So I feel like the point of no returning somehow is already here, for some reasons, but so the question is: how do you see that happening? Is the epistemological transformation really key? And is this aspect of cosmology and integrating the technology and the cosmological vision as we are seeing for example in China somehow, something needed? Is it something that you see happening? How do you see that unlocking? Is it a political procedure? Epistemological? That sort of thing.
Let me give you some examples. So I just finished writing an essay, which I really happy about is called “The pulsation of the commons”. And so I’ve been looking at different schools of thought like biophysical economics and cliodynamics, which is a historical school, and the cognitive cycles and the movement of Karl Polanyi. And they all come to a very similar conclusion, which is basically saying that history moves In waves, in pulsating pulsation, so you have extractive moments in history and then you have regenerative reactions, and typically for regenerative reaction is the revival of the components. So in, you know, 10th century 11th century Europe in 12th century Japan in 15th century China, what you see is that the extractive regime has done so much damage that there is a huge popular revolt that in that time takes on a religious and spiritual language. And so, basically, you know, we can take Japan also in the 16th century and happen again. So, you have like a completely deforested country, which will be subject to civil war and then, you know, so many people have died and then the Shogun takes power. And for three centuries, Japan has succeeded in creating it’s called the Tokugawa period, a nation that lives within its regional planetary boundaries. And it has a stable population. So it can be done right, it’s actually possible to have a civilizational form that lives within natural boundaries with a stable population. It’s been done in the past. And so that’s that’s like something that you see happening all the time. So for example, I was reading a book is called the first European revolution, it’s in 975, after the period of capitalization and you know, all these feudal lords are fighting and killing each other and raping their the women in their population and everything and stealing the gold from the churches. You have the monks and the people organizing demonstrations and within 70 years, the whole of European Society has changed. And so this kind of pulsation between extraction and regeneration is not unusual. It’s actually I would say the rule now with capitalism because of technology, because of oil, you know, we kind of thought we were out of it, right? We thought we escaped this, but this is no longer the case. We can’t escape it. We, you know, we use four or five planets, use five times more resources than the earth can regenerate. We have climate change. So basically, I believe we have now reached that point on a global scale. Now there is a difference between Asia and Europe, in Asia, in Europe, we already have at least one third of the population in Europe that questions all the ideals of modernity. So there’s already kind of a mutation in consciousness, I would say. In Asia, they are still much more believing in the system, and they think finally they can get there. So they, so that I would say that the the majority of the people in Asia believe in capitalism, and that a majority of the people in Europe are losing their faith in capitalism. And so you see all these people changing how they do health, how they do, you know, think about young people in work today. I mean, this is a real issue, where most young people cannot find meaning in a traditional job, or they they want something else, they want to live other values. So I would say in general, that we actually see mutation of consciousness. And let me end with one example because I think it’s important. So mutation in consciousness is not just a continuation of the old. So when we have the Christians coming after the Roman Empire, in the Roman Empire workers or slave work is something bad, is something that a free person doesn’t have to do. But in the Christian world, in a feudal world, Ora Labora, so you have to pray and work at the same time. So actually working is transforming the world, is making the world a better and more divine place. So that’s a complete complete shift in consciousness. And I think today, a lot of people want to care for the earth, want to be at the surface of the planet. And the system hasn’t yet changed to make that possible. But I think the desire is already there.
So we can say maybe that, for your understanding, we are witnessing this epistemological change. So maybe it’s the time to see how it plays out to the political level?
Well, it plays out I think at the moment, first of all, with a total lack of trust in the institutions, right. 20 years ago, 70% of people were saying, I trust politicians, I trust doctors, I trust hospitals. Today’s more like 17%. So they, I think the majority of the people do not see it, have not a clear vision of the alternative. But they already have a clear vision of what they reject. And you probably remember this quote from Gramsci where it says the old system is dying but is not dead yet and a new system is being born but it’s not born yet, so it’s a time of monsters. You know, citation like that and he was living in the same moment we are living now because at the moment he was living is you had in the 19th century had Smithsonian capitalism, which was a total domination of capital over labor and why workers in the 1850s were dying at 30. And, you know, World War I and World War II were a transitional periods where two new regimes — fascism and communism — were competing to offer something new because the old system wasn’t working. And then we got a huge change which was the welfare system, right. So after 1945 we have a compact between capital and labor, and it creates — at least in the western states — it creates a welfare state. Well, then the way I formulate this is that the change now is, we need a compact with nature, because the compact between capital and labor was done at the expense of nature by not recognizing externalities. And then so politically — and this is one of the terms that we wanted to discuss — is we don’t have a nation state system that’s territorial. So people live in a territory they, they like their locality. So at least some people do, they feel attached to the region, a lot of people feel attached to their nation. And then we’ve built a multilateral system that is on top of that. And that is, so we have political and economic institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, that were mediating institutions, and they’re not working anymore. They’re not working well anymore. Then we have another world, which is the word that I think you and I work with, which is a transnational trans-local world, which is where people live in virtual territories. So let’s say you do permaculture so you at some level you’re local. You’re you know, you’re doing your garden. But then when you communicate about permaculture you’re communicating with the global permaculture community. And in that world, the nation state doesn’t even exist. It’s just invisible. It’s not part of your view. Right. And so that second world for me is the word that we’re building with the commons with Knowledge Commons. And so we talk about Cosmo local, global order, which is everything that’s global is everything that’s light is global and shared and everything that’s heavy is local, which is an alternative to both neoliberal globalization which is a globalization of matter and people moving around the world all the time. We spend three times as many on transportation, I’m making things now. And then we have a world of national protectionism of “okay, let’s keep the foreigners out. Let’s do everything locally”. And so what we try to present is a third view, right, is a view of “Yes, we need to re-localize a lot of our production”. Because if you look at corona, the reason we are such a mess is that we have neoliberal just-in-time systems that are totally dependent on the weakest link and then when China you know, got in crisis, we didn’t get our medications. And there’s no supply line to create the making of ventilators and masks and so we lost every resilience that we had in terms of combating disruption anyway. So, yes, so what I’m saying is that the open source germ form shows how we can do it. We have a global cooperation of experts globally about ventilators. And then we need to find local places where we can make it. What we don’t want is to isolate ourselves, you know, from the knowledge that’s available in all of humanity.
Thank you. I will jump in with a question. I thought it was — you already answered to some of the questions that I had — but I was reading the other day your a piece that you wrote in Liminal on the corona and the commons. And there were some interesting remarks that you made about, you know, that for sure the systems that we have are sort of failing, like the nation state and, and the multilateral system. There’s a lack of trust that is growing but still, that things might have been even worse if we didn’t have these systems in place, because somehow they are doing their role. So I’m curious to hear about that coexistence and how you see that will pan out. What will be the frictions between the old and the new?
Right, so I think we have a two fold-problem: one is that we have, you know, weak, commons institutions. We don’t have strong commons institutions yet. And the other problem is that we have state forms which cannot cooperate with these commons, right? And I think Italy has given some examples of how this could be done, because after the Bologna regulation, the regulation for the care and regeneration of the urban commons, you have 250 cities which took it over and according to the calculation between 800,000 and 1 million people who are involved in these projects. So you have there already what I call a “partner state protocol”, a public commons protocol. So you have in Italian cities, a way in which citizens can do a project that can be recognized by the state and can be supported in what they call the five, the quintuple governance multi-stakeholder model. So this is a typical thing that exists in Italy but doesn’t exist in other countries yet. And I think it’s a good example of, you know, how you can smooth the cooperation between those two worlds. Because what we have now is we have all these open source communities now with all the expertise that is needed to this ventilators and valves, but we also see that the government are not ready or able to work with them. So there are several issues. And of course, one of the issues is certification regulations, which should probably be relaxed in an emergency time because even if an alternative is not 100% effective, it can still save a lot of lives that you can’t if you don’t have anything. But you know, beyond just emergency measures, what it shows us is that what is lacking today is the interface between the state and the civil society, the state and the commons. There is no interface and I think that’s a huge weakness on both sides, because right now the state would — and also maybe say that in some more theoretical ways I think the state can see territory, it cannot see flows — and so we need a partner state with which is not just the issue of, you know, being a partner with civil society and allowing civil society to be autonomous, but it’s also related to the ability of the state to see things and accept the fact that flows enrich the nation. I am not sure that beyond the neoliberal market flows, commodity flows, that people in the states and traditional politicians are actually able to see how open source and international global maker spaces can enrich a territory can enrich, you know, the wealth of a nation state. I don’t think they see that work well.
That’s a very important point, as for my understanding because so far I think what we have been seeing in the last — you know, basically from forever — is that, you know, gradual (something that you also mentioned), this gradual integration of institutions up until we reach this supranational let’s say multinational transnational state, you know, with the UN, for example, as a way to somehow take over this role of controlling and regulating and at the same time. What you mention is that this trend basically disconnected the citizen from the policymakers and from the regulation, regulatory process itself. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good idea to borrow Daniel Schmactenberger’s considerations on on the fact that when you have this huge power growing at the edge of the system, so where basically every nation state -but within time I would say every individual — has technological potential to create such a big harm and often coupled with Guerilla like, you know, basically biological warfare or like we said, you know, we’ve witnessed that with the drone attacks to the Saudi plants, you know.
Yeah, that was amazing, yes.
So the question is, when these two trends, let’s say generate friction between each other so that they need to to scale our need for a coherent regulation for example, at a multinational transnational level, and at the other hand, we have this need to probably go back into a more indigenous and local context of of creating wealth and managing the commons. Are we left with some kind of, you know, conundrum that we cannot solve?
Yeah, okay. I you know, I won’t imply that it’s easy, but so let’s take the example with corona. So we can criticize the state and there were many failures and everything. But imagine that there is no state, then, you know, in the US, you would have every state out of the 50 states will be competing with each other. They wouldn’t take into account each other. One city would do social isolation and the other wouldn’t. I mean, that’s not acceptable either, right? There are some challenges that do require transnational frameworks. And in some way, you could say that the nation state system already works that way. And that’s not so bad. So the fact of the WHO, you know, was able to advise, and it’s an international organization. And it is followed by a lot of states. But it’s an international expression, right. And I want to say something else, which is that the regime that we are living with is, you know, it’s weak multilateralism, and it’s only economic and political. So the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, and they are mediating institutions to keep the peace because before World War II, they didn’t have them. And so they thought “We want to keep the peace we need these mediating institutions”. Now, one mediating institution that I know we need right now is actually some institution that could protect planetary boundaries. And I’ve done a report last summer called p2p accounting for planetary, was again, “p2p accounting for planetary survival”. And the theme is that we need accounting tools — share the accounting tools — that enable us to see the world differently. And that allows us to see externalities. And of course, they are not externalities, but the economy — our current economy — sees these things as externalities. So the thing is the economy is the center and then these marginal things on the outside, but actually the planet is primary. And we know we are guests. So we are actually at the edges in a certain way. And so that kind of reversal of perspective, I think needs to be institutionally validated. And so one project that I really like and I think is totally on the mark is called Reporting 3.0. And one of their proposals is called the Global thresholds and allocations Council. This is a form of, they call it multi capital accounting. So you don’t financialized but we have to see the metron energy flows in our systems. And so what they propose is basically that this group of scientists and experts, the global thresholds and locations Council, would be in charge of setting the limits in which states and individuals and companies and coops can operate right, because your freedom stops where you endanger the life of another. I think international is not good enough because if let’s take the human rights issue, right, we you have the UN Human Rights Council, but then there’s China and Saudi Arabia are members. And now human rights are very important, but it only affects some people, but the planetary survival affects everyone. And so this is sort of a vision I have is to have this to have globally shared accounting platforms, and shared supply chains where we can actually do Stigmergy, right. And that’s that I would say it’s an institution of the open source movement that works very well in free software. And once we have accounting, we can also apply it to production. That’s a huge, huge shift in perspective.
Can you add a little Michel, on how would you see Stigmergy playing out in progress?
Yes, so if we move to open collaborative systems — and I think the blockchain systems are already that right — so that means like open source, everybody can come in and can leave at any time. So there is no single company that integrates the whole system that dominates our system. It’s an ecosystem. And it’s an open ecosystem. So what we see in these ecosystems is sort of all contributive accounting, which is practiced by different open source systems, which is where you can recognize non market generated activity as having its own value. So if you look at human history, and Bernard Lietaer talks about this in his book, The mystery of money: it talks about Yin and Yang money, male and female, warm and cold currencies. So now we only have cold currencies, extractive currency, he says we need to go back to the double system, which we had until the Middle Ages in the 14th century, which is we need warm currencies, which recognize non market generative care activities. So for example, in Indonesia you have money systems which regulates the watershed: people are paid to care for the watershed, and they can use that currency. So in the system that Reporting 3.0 proposes — this is more like a thermodynamic accounting systems — but again, it’s an open system everybody can see. So the theory is the following: in order to be in a steady state economy, so an economy that keeps the level of resources for the next generations, we cannot grow more than 1% a year otherwise it’s exponential. So basically, you calculate, you know, like the all the chemical elements of the table of Mendeleev. And that already exists. You can find it online. The American Chemical Association follows the flows of matter in these different elements. And so you’d have a commission of experts that would follow this, you know, how much copper is there, how much copper do we expect to find every year? What is the bio-circularity of copper? 70%. Every time you use copper, you re-use it, you can only use 70% of the copper. And that gives you boundaries, right? And within these boundaries, you’re free, but you cannot cross those boundaries. And stigmergy is that if I, let’s say I make shoes and I need leather. I can see all the other leather producers as well. So I can adapt in real time my behavior to the behavior of the ecosystem. And so there is another kind of accounting it’s called flow accounting. REA (resources, events agents), which no longer has double entry, and this is an important point. So if you use double entry accounting, you only see what is coming in and out of your own entity. And it’s a narcissistic accounting because the ecosystem doesn’t exist for you. Once you have flow accounting or REA accounting, you see the whole 3D ecosystem. You see every transaction, how it fits in the 3D ecosystem. Now, I want to go one step further, if you don’t mind. Because what we want to avoid is eco-fascism, right, a kind of planned economy where everybody is rationed. So here’s a potential solution to this. Let’s say you want to decarbonize and what we do now in the neoliberal economy is to do everything with competitive bidding. Competitive Bidding is anti-holistic because you win the competition by externalizing as much as you can. So you solve one problem, but you create anothers. In order to win, you have to be really reductionist. If you do a circular finance, let me explain what that means. You create a public ledger, that public ledger allows every citizens every collective to have its decarbonisation efforts to be verified. So you have it verified, you have been tokenized. And it either through taxation, or through contributions, those who profit from that positive externality, you fund these tokens and you create a circle. It can be very easy. I’ll give you an example Belgium, a small city — 20% of the kids used a bicycle. So it creates pollution because, you know, 80% cars. You create traffic accidents, noise, everything. SO “okay let’s pay these kids mileage mileage based currency” — I forgot the name but, you know, it exists in Bonheiden — they let them then use that currency in the circular economy, the local circular economy, so recycle makerspaces, Fab Labs. So, now they went to 60%. So considering cycling generative as compared to the extractive effects of cars and you recognize it creates value, so you have a priority but you leave people free to choose how they’re going to do it. You know, to use their creativity in answering those societal challenges. I hope that makes sense.
No, it makes a lot of sense. And I think maybe my last question for this conversation today, or my last reflection that I want to offer — and maybe Stina wants to add more — but, you know, every time that we talk about for example, this moving out of competitive bidding into circular finance, and we speak about, you know, the need for institutional enforcement, you know, multinational institutions to enforce these regulations, which is of course, very meaningful — I find it very meaningful — but, you know, for example you will have witnessed that in the last few weeks, there were lots of people talking about how corrupt is the World Health Organization. So, there is this issue — I’m not saying that — but I’m saying that a lot of people are saying, you know, these are corrupt institutions not telling us for example, that masks are useful, you know, because they don’t want to make us, you know, freak out or something like that. So, in general, I think the question on potentially dealing with the corruption of the institutions, and in general the scarce capability to work, because of the complexity of the matter that they regulate. It is something that should make us think about, you know, what is the other route? And when I was talking with John Robb — we were talking with John Robb a few days ago — he made a reflection with us, basically saying “I want to be able to connect with the global system on my own terms”. If I am, you know, creating a local system — for example, caring about my resilience — I can connect with me on my own terms. And this is quite different as an approach or an epistemological political approach, you know, either we end up with these multinational institutions that everybody trusts, which is I believe a very difficult, you know, a very improbable outcome, or we may end up with these local institutions that connect with, connect between each other on their local own terms. So, maybe these connections that we are going to create, these multinational inter-networks and connections are more like you know, gonna be produced as tools.
Yeah, yeah, I think this is the thing that, you know, fundamentally libertarian people like John Robbs don’t get. This is actually the core of what I’m trying to tell you, that you have the two: we are living through physical bodies, and we live in a territory. And that territory is not just a local, it’s no, it’s a historically evolved situation where the communities that were destroyed by capitalism became the imagined community of the nation states. And we shouldn’t underestimate the attachment of most people to this identity, right? And we see, actually today that forces that represent the revival of the nation state are winning. They’re not losing, they’re winning. And the people who, you know, usually on the left who don’t feel this identity with a nation state, they’re losing. And then on the other hand, you have the libertarian view, right? And it’s all about networks iner-connecting networks. And I think what is missing is that the nation state is a very contradictory institution, but it also represents a “common good” institution. It’s a social contract between different parts of the population. Because what you have in the virtual world is just the same. You know, it’s not an ideal place. It’s a place with hackers — you know, I mean bad hackers now — the kind of people who steal your credit cards and stuff. So, it’s the interaction between the two, right? So we need strong, commons institution. I’m trying to give you a few examples of what I see as potential new commons institutions. And then we need to work on the interrelationship between both. Because for example, you talk about WHO, you say they’re corrupt. Why are they corrupt? They are corrupt because they are international. So Western countries don’t have enough masks. So they want to preserve the masks for the doctors and the hospital systems. So they have an interest in not pushing masks. In Asia where everybody has masks, the information we get is that masks work. In Belgium, I’m getting information that masks don’t work. I checked it: masks actually work. But the corruption of the WHO is because the nation states are the only agents that have power there. So they’re gonna negotiate. And there’s a nice term, it’s called “super competent democracy”. And so I think we need more independence for the trans-national expertise as a way of counter balancing the, you know, the corrupt selfish power of nation states. But we can’t have a completely new system that ignores nation state when the nation state is still dominant and powerful. Does that make sense?
Totally, totally. I think one insight that I’m driving from this conversation is that we probably need to care about the local and indigenous regional, you know, many, many terms we are using to describe these systems where we as citizens, we can be more actively engaged in producing on top of the commons. But we also need to care about these interrelationships, inter-relational institutions that need to connect these nodes. That’s the part that I’m more concerned about, you know.
Yeah, that’s what we’re missing and, you know, we had it in the Middle Ages and was called the Catholic Church. Right? This was an institution that existed in parallel with the regional powers that was organized on a European scale. And so it could identify with, let’s say the interests of Western civilization, not just, you know, not just a local perspective of the regional Lord
This links well into the question that I had also because earlier you spoke about this mutation of consciousness that we can start to somehow see emerging, where people are tired of this endless capitalism that is destroying the planet. So I see the link between what you mentioned in terms of this kind of radical transparency, where you would be able to basically see the impact in real time of a decision, right? So what is the cultural shift in that mutation of consciousness? Like how could we nurture citizens who could, you know, look for the right kind of choices?
Well, I think it should start probably in school because right now, the modern school is an agent of alienation. You know, so we decided in the 16th century in Europe, that the body was separate from the mind that the human was separate from nature. And all our institutions reinforce this. So that’s what you learn in school. You know, you learn all the abstract knowledge. But you don’t know anything about cleaning your room and about growing stuff. And for example, if you live in a country like Thailand, you’d see that all the children of the farmers don’t want to be farmers anymore. Right? So there’s a complete break between tradition and the relationship to the land, local, and then when they go to the school, it’s all about the nation state and science and engineering and you know, all good stuff. But you know what I’m trying to say, right? So I saw this documentary — I’m sorry, I don’t remember the name of the city, but it’s in Finland, I believe, in northern Finland — and it’s the first carbon positive city in the world. And what you see there is that the children are involved in this. So the children think about heating, they think about eco, they think about organizing the school in a way that, you know, it doesn’t use so much energy. So they started building like, how to say, a warming system that works on the floor. And so the kids are inventing all kinds of things. And so they are really growing up with a different kind of consciousness. So I think that, you know, that a large part of the answer is generational. At some point, we’re going to have to educate our children in entirely different ways than ways we were educated. You know, we’re largely lost already, in a way, because we’re so used to consumption and to all these separations. So even if we are ideologically sympathetic to these innovations, to be honest, in our daily lives, very few of us are actually living differently. And so, you know, changing our mind is the first step but to actually change the whole body-mind has to be mobilized. And I think this is something — you have to do some kind of programming of a worldview — and that has to be done very early.
Well, Michel, I think we covered a lot of ground in this conversation. So I’m happy to offer a little bit of a reflection to wrap it up. I think we’re witnessing again and again, the fact that it’s a generational issue, it’s an educational one. And it looks — I don’t want to say that it looks like we understand what needs to be done — but somehow, more and more we understand that aspects of the current system need to change. We need to re-embed most of our economy to our region on a local scale. We need to, you know, develop these regulations and we need to change the educational system, but sometimes it looks like — or at least it was — you know, a trajectory where it was very hard to stop for a moment and to rethink, you know, the new systems. And, you know, sometimes — I was afraid to say that — but sometimes when I see that the systems are recovering, rebounding after the corona first hit, first wave, I’m thinking, you know, maybe in the future we’ll miss the corona times, where we had to stay at home.
So we can reset our thinking, right?
Exactly and like, my question is, are we doing it or not?
Yeah, I think we’re doing it. So here’s the way for me to see it: you have a stable system and the only way to go to a new stable system is through a chaotic transition because societies are complex adaptive systems. So we are ready since 2008 in the chaotic transition. And then what we need is you know, pedagogical catastrophes. We are going to learn because we are going to be shocked. And corona is the first shock, the first true shock — maybe the second if you count 2008 — but corona is a wake up call, and I think that it will have long term effects. I think it is, you know, we’ll try to go back to normal in some way. But I think in many ways people have woken up, for example, to the fact that our state systems no longer work. That you know, we don’t have ventilators, we don’t have masks. How is that possible? The most advanced Western countries are not coping with this pandemic as they should. And they lost tens of thousands of people because they were not organized in the proper way. And a lot of people will lose their income, you know, they will have to rethink their place in the world. So I think this will be a multi year shock and it will have effects but it’s not enough to have one shock. We’ll have more, but maybe this is the first one.
Yeah, I mean, just as a closure, I think, you know, I was listening to Jamie Wheal a few days ago on a podcast and I think he said something interesting: that sometimes, you know, that there’s this conversation now around this idea of “Game B” — also this idea that we need to make transition towards a new civilization. And it’s interesting to say that, you know, parts of this new civilization are already here. And sometimes we iconise, let’s say we imagine this transition as something very different, while the reality is it’s gonna start by steps, you know, through maybe this new disruption that we are living through these days is going to push us in this direction. A little step, and then another one, and then another one. And we end up maybe in a few years with a system that is completely different. So hopefully.
I think that’s how it works, yes, there is no, you know, there is, okay…. So you know, I was quite unhappy as a youth and I went to therapy. And you know, I did it for about seven years, and there is not a single therapy where I felt “this is it”. And yet after seven years, I was different. You know what I mean? So, I suddenly realized that I had changed. But there was no there was no like, revolutionary moment. And I think in the West, we’re too focused on this idea of, you know, the revolution that comes from the French and the Russian revolutions. But actually, even those industrial revolutions were different in every country. And it was a religious civil war in England. It was, you know, the military class which took power in Germany. The Tsar then liberated the serfs in Russia. So it took so many different forms, right? And I think this is going to be the same. We, you know, we shouldn’t wait for this magic moment. You have all these little changes and at some time, it will feel “Wow. Now the logic is already different”.
Yeah, maybe maybe Michel we just need to give up our tendency to try to model everything because this transition is not gonna be modelled very easily. So Michel, thanks very much. That was an amazing conversation. And really, we thank you for this and I’m sure that our listeners will have lots of food for thought. And for sure we had it, so thanks again.
Thank you, thank you. Thank you, Stina, as well.