Dialogue with Wim Nusselder on Quarternary Economics and P2P

Reprinted from P2P News 91, this refers to our previous entry on Quarternary Economics.
Two comments on the relationship between P2P theory and the quarternary economics of Wim Nusselder, which we featured before. My comments are in between the comments of Wim.

Comment 1:

Wim: “I have the impression that there are essential differences between my ‘quaternary economics’ and your ‘3rd mode of economics’ (from reading only bits and pieces on your website and only you e-mail, not the attachments).

MB: Third refers to alternative to the market and the state, alternative to market allocation and corporate hierarchy, alternative to private and public property. But it is also seen as a quarternary economic stage, following reciprocity-based ‘equality matching’ gift economies; allegiance and tributary based agricultural civilizations, i.e. ‘authority ranking’; exchange based market economies, i.e. “Market Pricing”

Wim: Quaternary economics does rely on unequivalent relationships between ideological leaders and consumers, folllowers, adherents of their ideas alias lay people. Not on peer-to-peer (equivalent) relationships.

MB: P2P distinguishes equipotentiality from reciprocity. P2P projects are ‘anti-credentialist’, i.e. they are based on open participation, and it is the process of cooperation itself which acts as a filter. The selection is a posteriori, rather than a priori, as it would be in peer review. P2P relations are NOT based on reciprocity or equivalence, as everyone contributes according to his capacities and willingness, and uses on the basis of his needs. P2P is distinguished from gift economy projects that are based on reciprocity. P2P has leadership, usually a core leadership who initiated the project and embody the aim and principles of the project, and whose leadership is a consequence of their engagement and their capacity to inspire voluntary cooperation. But the leadership structure is dependent on that communal validation (otherwise people leave) and is intent on increasing participation.

Wim: The core argumentation of my ‘economics of want and greed’ is conscious (planned, evaluated, rationalizable etc.) action is only a small part of people’s behaviour, so they will always need (or be vulnerable to) leadership to tell them what they want and how to organize it. An economy based on peer relationships requires requires a much larger proportion of conscious action than is humanly feasable for most of the people most of the time. Peer-to-peer relationsships can organize only small parts of real life economies where relatively small groups of people do focus their conscious efforts on the same type of wants (e.g. building software for a specific purpose). Your 3rd mode might be a direction to go after quaternary economics, but not a realistic, achievable goal in the foreseeable future.”

MB: Yes, self-managed P2P projects only cover a small part of every individuals life, but overall, they could provide for a very large portion of immaterial needs, and a sizeable portion of physical needs. We’re not claiming that P2P is “everything”, but that it will be eventually be the central mode, which then remodels the other intersubjective modes of hierarchy, market, and reciprocity.

Comment 2:

Wim: “I define different types of economies (or elements of real life economies) by the type of leadership that organize them. I do so, because most of economics, most organizing how people get what they want, is done by some people for other people. Most of what I want and get (bread, habitation, clothing, news, communication facilities etc.) is organized by others for me and I couldn’t possibly organize most of it for myself. The parts of my wants that I consciously choose and for which I organize myself how to get it are a minuscule part of my wants. That’s true for everyone and will be true for everyone for ever. Our brains simply don’t have the capacity to be aware of all our real and potential behaviour and (in order to plan it and organize desired effects) all its real and possible consequences.

MB: I absolutely agree

Wim: Sure, P2P production (by definition characterized by a relative lack of leadership, isn’t it) is a radical and realizable alternative, but only for a marginal part of what we need. I can’t equally and openly particpate in the production of everything I need. If I were you, I wouldn’t present it as an alternative for other ways of organizing production, but rather as (usually) an addition that can only replace other types of production for a very limited range of wants. Production for what other wants besides open source software can be organized in this way? (I should look it up in your writings, but haven’t time to do so now.) I guess that for every example you mention at least 10 others can be found that can’t be organized in a P2P mode. How can you organize a family with (small) children P2P? Or health care that can mend a failing heart? Or the constructions of motorways andelectricity grids?

MB: P2P does have leadership, it is not structure-less, but the leadership is distributed, more ad hoc, and open to phase changes according to the developmental stage of the project. As I have argued, P2P can be a major part of the new political economy, but not all of it. It will be supplemented by reciprocity base schemes, by reformed market behaviour, and a new role for the state. P2P will probably be dominant in the immaterial sphere, can be present wherever the immaterial design phase can be separated from physical implementation, and can expand to the physical economy if and when such physical capital is distributed, which is already the case in computer networks, expanding to the whole area of viral communicators and meshworks of devices. Distributed modes of financial capital are not an impossibility. However, as soon as money is exchanged for a product, we enter the reciprocity and exchange sphere. This is what I mean with the principle that P2P ‘will remodel the other modes of production’. They will be using P2P infrastructures, P2P modes of cooperation, etc…

Wim: I don’t think types of economics (or modes of production) really disappear (or die). They mainly become relatively less important and are replaced for a few wants with newer ones in the course of social progress. It is not as radical as you present it if you take into account those who do not actually participate in the production but nevertheless use the results. They are being led by this smaller group of P2P producers. These are somehow trying to make others pay them for producing something (convince others to use it and somehow make a living of it) or they wouldn’t be able to put so much time and energy in it. Even if only by setting up a foundation to promote it. (-: By stressing the equivalence of relations between producers (as defining the mode of production) you disguise the unequivalent relations between those producers and non-producing consumers. So indeed, P2P production may actually not be different from quaternary economis, but only a subclass of it (or sometimes of tertiary economics?!) with limited applicability and a false claim of being a full alternative.”

MB: So, this is a good conclusion to the difference between my approach and the one of Wim Nusseldorf. For him, P2P is a small subset of quarternary economics, for the P2P approach, it is the core of it: “for a commons-based civilization within a reformed market and state”

1 Comment Dialogue with Wim Nusselder on Quarternary Economics and P2P

  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Purpose-driven media, quarternary economics, asymmetric competition

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