Franz Nahrada: Can we produce for physical abundance or sufficiency?

Here is the context to the contribution below by Franz Nahrada, which originally appeared in the Oekonux mailing list.

Peer production as we define it is a form of non-reciprocal engagement, combining free contributions with universal availability of the resulting material. This can work because there are plenty of people with an abundance or surplus of intellectual/cultural resources which they can now share ‘cheaply’ through the new technological affordances that we have created. It still poses the important problem of finding a way that peer producers can continue such activities, on the condition that any remuneration does not crowd out the free engagement and self-unfolding of peer production. This can be solved through various forms of unconditional income, not through conditional income, as this re-introduces alienated forms of motivation.

The problem for physical production is more serious, since here we are not dealing with non-rival or anti-rival goods that can be shared ‘for free’, but on the contrary, cost-recovery mechanisms are crucial, since we are dealing with rival goods. However, we can imagine various combinations of open design combined with physically-based economic models, both within and without the current economic structure. But if we want a ‘peer to peer society’, then clearly we have to find a systemic answer.

This is what Franz Nahrada attempts to address below, in his argument about ‘biomorphical production’.

Franz Nahrada:

“The secret is in the word “rival”. So, material goods need to be made “non-rival”. Another word for this is “abundant” or (since some seem not to like this word) “sufficient”.

At this point there is only one solution, and it is not one that depends on the external economy and its scarcity of value. You are right that there should be a sharp distinction between cooperatives and p2p production, but at the same time it is imagineable that cooperatives work out arrangements that lead to a circulation of material goods and therefore enable mutual supply in a circular process, to some degree eliminating the need for monetary income. This economy would work in a biomorphical way, the surplus on one point being the input on others.

I think this is not a mere utopian vision, but the tendency of automation is that production is becoming increasingly biomorphical (as I laid out in OS yearbook) – . Increasingly material goods can be produced wherever they are needed, with miniaturized production equipment. Why should there not be a tendency from sharing designs to arranging material flows that enable some parts in the network to provide specialized kinds of goods and have them shared with others, knowing that more and more nodes in the network are doing the same? Automation is the key to reduce the factor of labor drastically, to embed production in units of the right size to establish a circular exchange.

I have recently seen images of the perfect organisation of the feeding of Buddhist monks by the general population somewhere near you. Now imagine an “order of technoscientists” constantly improving the tools and the flows between production units which are controlled and run by general population. Of course this is just a mental model, we do not like to create an exclusive elite, but for the understanding of the process its very vital to see that the material system feeds into the system of culture without expectation of equivalent exchange. Software developers are the Buddhist monks of tomorrow, but the general population has not understood yet that feeding them provides abundance.

In the moment when the system of production is sufficiently close to natural processes like photosynthesis, driven by design intelligence and the general intellect of the global communities of practice (which now replace our mental image of the monks),, the sharing and moving of material goods could be done in similar ways like filesharing. You get a taste of this when you look at peer networks like bookcrossing or couchsurfers, which are allready doing it – use the abundance of the existing capitalist production process which allready often provides us with much more than we need – to undermine the monetary exchange which is clumsy, boring and without fun.”

Once we really get a grasp of really efficient home production, the rules of the games will change drastically. In this respect I share Stefan Mertens optimism, allthough I hate to bring it all down to the notion or image of the fabber. There are very interesting intermediate schemes which work at community level – technologically possible, but neglected from the point of view of capitalist production. These are the ones that carry quality and potential to encompass substantial areas of human needs.”

6 Comments Franz Nahrada: Can we produce for physical abundance or sufficiency?

  1. Sepp Hasslberger

    I believe we will still need some form of monetary system to mediate exchange, even if much of our production can be peer-to-peer.

    But such a monetary system should be different from what we have today. It should have an anti-interest mechanism built in à la Silvio Gesell (he called it rusting money, that is, money that needs to be spent because with time it gradually loses value by virtue of a monthly charge on monetary mass). This way, there is little incentive to charge interest, and thus little incentive to continue the senseless exploitation of the environment that comes with the growth imperative inherent in the current monetary system.

    That said, it’s true that a good part of the economy could also run on the idea of p2p or giving away what one can easily produce. A current example in my life is that I have various fruit trees that produce more than I can eat. Neighbors and friends are always happy for some of that fruit…

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  3. Patrick Anderson

    Decreasing work through automation is dangerous except when the product consumers (whether of software or of bread or of cars) are the owners of the physical sources of production (the land and capital) required for that production.

    Automation is the key to reduce the factor of labor drastically, to embed production in units of the right size to establish a circular exchange.

    Fabbers may seem amazing, but they will not solve the problems we face. We have always had slow-motion, self-reproducing Fabbers that require only land (surface area), soil, water, sun and the rotting material of previous such Fabbers to produce the raw materials of food, cloth, soap, ointments, fuel and many building materials, yet so many on earth go without these necessities for other reasons.

    One reason is that while collective ownership has great advantages over purely individual action, the organizations that are created for that complicated production tend to NOT distribute the ownership of the investments they make in more physical sources as that community grows. This causes democracy to become less and less direct.

    It is good to treat profit as an investment in future production, but the ownership of that property should eventually come under the control of (should vest to) the very consumer who paid it. In other words, “price above cost” (profit) is a plea for growth, and must be respected as such for a system to scale.

    Ownership of new investments is not currently distributed because to do so would hamper the (unfortunate) goal of Capitalist owners to keep consumer price above production costs in the name of profit, or (in the case of non-profit corps.), to retain ownership for the purpose of keeping the wage paid (say to the board-member of a non-profit hospital) artificially inflated – essentially absorbing what would otherwise have been labeled ‘profit’.

    If all employment within an organization were truly available for reverse-bid on the open market, then the ‘overpaid’ CEO would never be safe. This can happen when each user of the product is also a partial joint owner of the land and capital (physical sources) needed in predicted amount required for the production of that specific user’s future demands (needs and wants).

    All industry require material production already. Neither genetics nor software, nor mechanical design (such as of a car) can be utilized without space, time, mass and energy to *host* that information.

    Videos from Google and spaces they call ‘My’ may *seem* free as in beer, but the arbitrary restrictions and requirements are already above the real costs.

    Building washing machines ( is just as costly as social networking. The problem is not solved for products with infinite potential (software, genetics, mechanical design, music, video, etc.) because all of these require space, time, material and energy to use, modify, copy and share them.

  4. Sepp Hasslberger

    To transform our economy into a p2p one or at least to get much closer to that ideal, we might profit from the radical ideas of German/Argentinian businessman and monetary reformer Silvio Gesell. In his work “The Natural Economic Order”

    Gesell imagines and actually maps a way to a society where the economic system allows for all participants to receive a basic income that pays the expense of living. This would be the kind of “unconditional income” mentioned by Michel in his introduction to the article. People would be free, in a Gesell-inspired economy, to engage in p2p production. There would be no necessity to hold down a 9 to 5 job just to make ends meet.

    The heart of Gesell’s monetary system is a currency that, through a demurrage charge, practically eliminates the need to charge interest. Money is being kept in circulation not because someone pays interest but because there is a built-in mechanism that makes spending money more profitable than keeping it in the bank. The demurrage on all outstanding money also permits the continuous re-distribution of buying power down to the people.

    Such a Gesell-inspired system would allow for the emergence of a true p2p society, as all of a sudden, workers would become the real peers of entrepreneurs. Not having to work for survival, everyone could chose the activity they are best suited for.

    Physical production would still be subject to economic interchange and direct payment, but there would no longer be the overriding profit motive that comes from a necessity to “service the debt”. This necessity is inherent in our present monetary system, because banks create money and we accept that money as a debt, implying we owe the banks and must pay interest for all the money we need, practically for all of our economic activities that necessitate money as a means of exchange.

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