Essay of the Day: Transforming the Productive Base of the Economy Through Distributed Manufacturing

* Article: Transforming the Productive Base of the Economy Through the Open Design Commons and Distributed Manufacturing. By George Dafermos. Journal of Peer Production, 2015

From a special issue of the JPP journal, dedicated to the FLOK Society Project proposals, which are now continued by the Commons Transition Project.


“This policy document examines the application of social knowledge economy principles to the secondary sector of the economy, with an emphasis on manufacturing. The Introduction dissects the concept of the knowledge economy, highlighting the role of access to knowledge as the fundamental criterion for determining its character: In contrast to capitalist knowledge economies that block access to knowledge through the use of patents and restrictive IP rights, social knowledge economies use inclusive IP rights to provide free access to knowledge. In the next section, A critique of cognitive capitalism, we look at how the use of restrictive IP rights has been theoretically justified: In short, IP rights are supposed to promote innovation and productivity. However, the available empirical evidence on the effect of IP rights on innovation and productivity furnishes no such proof. On the contrary, looking at the way in which capitalist firms actually use IP rights reinforces the conclusion that they do not promote innovation, but are in fact hindering it.

The next section, Alternatives to capitalist models, introduces the FLOK (Free, Libre and Open Knowledge) model, which has emerged in the course of the last two decades as a powerful alternative to cognitive capitalism and describes briefly its main features: (a) the practice of free sharing of knowledge undergirding it, (b) the pervasive involvement of the surrounding community and (c) the use of the Internet as a platform for distributed collaboration.

In the follow-up section, Knowledge commons in the secondary sector of the economy, we illustrate the FLOK model and its features through two case studies based on the RepRap 3D printer and the Wikispeed car project, respectively, which are paradigmatic of how the secondary sector could be transformed in the direction of a post-fossil fuel economy through the development of distributed manufacturing structures enabled by the open design commons.

In the next section, General principles for policy making, we sum up the conclusions drawn from the case studies in the form of general policy principles, which, as the section demonstrates, are aligned with the international policy framework, as reflected in the universally-endorsed policy objective of developing a knowledge-based economy. The concluding section develops these policy principles into a set of policy recommendations for the development of a collaborative knowledge economy founded on the knowledge commons of science and technology.”

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