A crucial aspect of peer to peer theory, the attempt to produce a theory that aims to understand peer to peer processes, and also a key differentiator between the more liberal and the more radical interpretations, is whether peer producton, the common production through communities, as evidenced in free software, linux and wikipedia, can be expanded to the physical sphere, and additionally, whether that expansion can be enclosed in the money economy.
My own take at the P2P Foundation is of the more expansive school of thought, we think that peer to peer has the potential, and even likelyhood, of becoming the new core of the next political economy, the one that will arise to save us from the very success of capitalism, and its corollary: the destruction and depletion of the biosphere.
Today, as if often said, we treat physical resources as if they were infinite, and the market does not bear most of these costs of negative externalization, and we artificially attempt to make infinite non-rival (even anti-rival) resources, scarce. A P2P-based society would simply reverse that trend, it would treat scarce resources as being scarce, and would free the natural abundance of a free culture. The key, in terms of human identity and desire, is to have a successfull shift from the accumulation of physical assets and resources, to the accumalation of immaterial ‘assets’.
If we ask ourselves, through what strategies and trends could we see an expansion of peer production to the material sphere, I usually give two answers, one is the ‘distribution of everything’. To the degree we succeed in expanding the distributed format, in intellect, productive capital, financial capital, we expand the space where peer production can thrive. Additionally, if we can envisage a process whereby the design phase of industrial production is separated from its physical production space, there is no limit to the use of open source methodologies in the design phase. We can easily imagine for example, the design of a car that would be vastly superior to the car designs by corporations. But the question remains on how to finance its physical construction. But we already see companies in the software industry, who successfully link their market-based aims and behaviour, with a dependence on a intellectual commons and an open source community, fruitfully building a ecology from which all parties profit. It’s a model that can be expanded to other sectors of the economy.
All of this above is a summary of my views so far, and a preparation for my review of an important contribution by Martin Springer, which is the subject of the next entry.