Michael Albert’s conclusions on the P2P approach

This is the final contribution in this debate from Michael Albert, my conclusions still need to be written.

We featured the first four contributions in our blog but they are also all available here, on the right hand side of the page.

Soon, we will feature the similar debate on the Parecon ideas, now featured on the left hand side of the ZNet page.

Michael Albert’s conclusions:

“For me the issue regarding p2p is how does one pursue it in a manner that pushes toward benefits for all workers and consumers. For that reason, I wonder why p2p doesn’t assert (1) to forego getting paid for socially valuable labor is a severe limitation rather than a defining feature of a good project, and (2) self management requires means of decision making and a division of labor and allocation system that convey appropriate influence to all actors.

In describing the deep aims of p2p you highlight that p2p work is “driven by an inner goal” but I don’t think this is very special, unless it means more than it appears to.

Suppose Joe is working to reach an inner goal such as dignity, stature, or income and also agrees to get no income for his labor. Joe is p2p. However, if Sarah works for Bill Gates, and Sarah does so because she desires a livable income to enjoy – she is also fulfilling an inner goal, but not via p2p activity. For that matter, if Kunte Kinte, to stay alive, works as a slave and even rejects going free if offered that option (for fear of starvation), then Kunte too is pursuing an inner goal, though again not via p2p. Of course, Sarah and Kunte’s inner goals are sought in contexts that grotesquely limit options – which causes you to rightly reject Sarah and Kunte as instances of free labor. But it seems to me Joe’s choice also occurs in a limiting context, and in his case that context says he can work on what he wants, but only if he agrees to get no income for his efforts. Why downplay that that is a very severe constraint on choice by making it part of the p2p definition? Why elevate volunteering as part of the definition rather than being deeming it a problem to at most put up with for a time? If you doubt that it is a severe constraint, go into an auto plant or nearly any workplace, and tell a worker there that she can continue to work, and even to control his or her own pace of work, but she has to forego payment for the labor and even pay for all inputs.

When you say, inner goals are “what peer production is about,” doesn’t it overlook that you haven’t eliminated people’s need for income, which is certainly an inner goal, and is not met? You say that in the limited domain of nearly costless production done by people who have other income and where the outputs too are made freely available, operating in your preferred p2p way will be a highly productive passionate outgrowth of people’s desires. Okay, but in your examples, the p2p worker avoids direct subordination, which is good, but he or she does so by eschewing income and perhaps also forgoing having appropriate say over determining if the output is of good or poor quality. Accepting the income limitation and even celebrating it as part of the definition, seems to me to be defeatist and even anti-social due to implying that these sacrifices are unavoidable. I favor “passionate engagement” too, but let’s seek it without freely giving up income.

In short:

(a) Why limit self-managed labor to people able to work for nothing? Why curtail equitable remuneration to attain passionate involvement? Wouldn’t defining p2p as seeking equitable remuneration and self management be better than defining p2p as self managed volunteer labor?

(b) Why limit self managed labor to freely available goods – why not propose and pursue a desirable way to allocate all production and say p2p seeks to self manage the allocation process itself, for p2p output and the whole economy?

(c) Why not address division of labor and decision making procedures that are essential to having true self management inside p2p so that that we each get a say in decisions proportionate to the degree we are affected and pose these as goals for all production, too.

I know you think classlessness is unattainable today, but that has no bearing on the above queries seen as aims. If, however, you think the aims are permanently unattainable, that would certainly be relevant. On the other hand, if you think the aims can be attained at some point, why not say they are what p2p seeks, for everyone, so that p2p speaks beyond narrow borders?

P2p requires computers, electricity, books, and other inputs and that producers have food, etc. The fact that p2p producers pay for all costs doesn’t mean the costs don’t exist. It just means p2p workers are an elite who can pay the costs to get self-management for themselves – but not for others – and that they are willing to accept that constraint. Why not do that in the short run, if need be, but also ask how costs of production should be met more generally and then pose p2p as moving toward universally desirable remuneration and allocation aims, so p2p is about everyone and not just about a narrow elite in position to partially implement some of its aims sooner?

The only reason p2p advocates can self manage without addressing remuneration, is that they have independent income and forego remuneration, and also pay all costs. Saying that that is a limitation, doesn’t reject p2p activity – it just highlights a limit and suggests that transcending that limit, without becoming insular and dismissive of those outside the world of information production, is critically important.

You wonder if parecon will favor closed knowledge and subvert p2p and then say, “the choice is yours, friend or foe?” Perhaps you have missed something or I have been unclear.

(1) Parecon has no copyrights for ANYTHING. All knowledge in a parecon is open. Information production in a parecon would be p2p, as would all other production, in the sense of having equitable remuneration, being self managed, and with outputs getting to rightful recipients, not to mention each participant being a peer of, not a boss over or an underling beneath, all other participants. But in a parecon workers doing information production would no more forego getting a share of the social product than any other type of worker would. So will p2p say all knowledge should be open? I assume it will so that on that score parecon and p2p are friends!

(2) But now parecon additionally asks, does p2p agree that self management should apply to all workers, that everyone should have a fair share of the social output, that everyone should have conditions of work that are comparably empowering, that all workers should be peers in every project, and that allocation should occur by way of cooperative negotiation that accounts for all social and ecological costs and benefits? Are we friends on those axes of concern, too?

Why do you wonder if parecon will “refuse to recognize and work with peer producing communities?” Of course advocates of parecon would happily work with p2p communities – trying, however, to imbue desires for classlessness and equitable remuneration for all socially valued labor, to extend p2p’s benefits to all. Similarly, you bemoan that I “object to the freedom of production that is inherent in peer production,” but you don’t address the actual substance of what I say. That is, I object to the lack of freedom to gain income not to having self-management, which I want universalized rather than available only for an elite. Surely you don’t think that if we had a revolutionary transformation of the economy it would make sense for information workers to have to do their tasks as volunteers, do you?

You say, “Parecon is like the market,” and worry that I wish to “generalize the rules of scarcity to the realm of abundant non-rival and anti-rival goods,” adding that “this is a grave mistake.”

I am not sure why we are discussing parecon, now, instead of p2p, but markets use a competitive dynamic that is driven by pursuit of the narrow self-interest of immediate buyers and sellers who are confined to using perverse valuations to arrive at allocations. Participatory planning, in contrast, uses self managed cooperative negotiation that is driven by workers’ and consumers’ freely expressed individual and collective preferences taken in light of full social costs and benefits. Thus parecon is no more “like the market” than democracy is like dictatorship. Democracy arrives at decisions, so does dictatorship. They have a few things in common but are profoundly different. Markets are an allocation institution and so is parecon’s participatory planning. They have a few things in common but are profoundly different.

But yes, participatory planning weighs full and true social costs and benefits including for public goods. You seem to think that is bad – but in fact it is essential for arriving at a sensible apportionment of time, energy, resources, intermediate goods, and final products among all possible uses. Even programmers, designers, and artists have only so much time available so there is an opportunity cost to using their labor one way instead of another. Inputs like energy, computers, and office space are also limited. A parecon accounts for all of these as well as the benefits that accrue from production and environmental effects. But in parecon there are only what you call “non-rival” and “anti-rival” goods because there is no way for one party to get ahead by restricting others or by outdoing them. There is no enlarging market share to increase income so there are no rivals competing for market share with two opposed camps trying to aggrandize themselves by cornering resources and promoting their rival products by hook or crook. But there are alternative uses – whether we are discussing labor, energy, resources, or intermediate goods.

The difference between p2p and parecon on this score is that p2p forgoes trying to have self -management in the domain of costly production. Parecon says, instead, in all domains we can have the real gains typical of p2p and many more gains, as well, and we should seek that via taking diverse paths forward from where we are.

When you say to me. “what you call anything goes, i.e. free productive choice prior to acceptance by any community governance mechanism, is not posturing but actually an essential part of its hyperproductivity,” one of us is missing something.

First, I said it was posturing because it obscures reality. Yes, sure, I can labor here on my computer and send the code somewhere as a contribution to Linux, but it won’t be used, and rightly so, because it will be crap. More, I have to pay for the computer I use, the electricity, the books I need, and the space I work in, and I will get no income. More, I may have no say in judging the worth of my product.

Clearly there are production related decisions, including what income is deserved by workers and what labor is not worthy or viable, that your p2p person is not self managing. In other words, the freedom you are touting is that in p2p I would be free to try some pursuit if I pay for the inputs myself and do the work free. Saying it can be coupled to any kind of governance, including, presumably, one that violates self management, undercuts the whole project, potentially making it little more than a narrow organizational choice for enlarging output in a particular domain and leaving little reason why an information worker would want to do it.

More, sometimes you seem to be saying that only each individual should decide to work, or not, or when, or how much, etc., able to change at any time. But suppose you and I and a team of five are working on some software module. Even though we aren’t getting remuneration, we will presumably have shared agendas and my work will be essential to yours, and vice versa. So now what if I say, well, okay, I know I said I would do x, and that you all who work with me are expecting and depending on x and you can’t do your work without my doing x, but nonetheless, I am going to do y instead. If our work is p2p, can I make that choice, unilaterally? Would that option be a sign of freedom, or of organizational incoherence and hyper-antisociality?

I think you count some whole firms in the broad p2p community, yes? Do the custodians in those firms get to not clean up if they decide they don’t want to? Are there, for that matter, custodians who do nothing but clean up? Do they have the same access to influencing decisions as other participants, including access to information, skills, etc.? What remuneration do they get?

When a group of people agree to work together, and abide mutual arrangements, I wonder why you think that is violating freedom of productive choice? And that is what happens in a parecon – and yes, it means that if I work with a bunch of people building bicycles, or programming a new operating system – we all have responsibilities that we are expected to live up to, having together agreed on them.

You charge that instead of favoring free productive labor “I want to constrain the choices by empowering a collective, or its representatives to decide a priori, thereby limiting the field of possible solutions, condemning yourself to more limited productivity.”

Again, I don’t know why we are talking about parecon, but in parecon there is no group above other groups, imposing decisions. Who is empowered is those affected. Second, why would you think the main debit in a case of authoritarian control is reduced productivity – as compared to reduced self-management? If in some particular type of work process having a coercive authority would increase productivity, I assume you would still oppose it, wouldn’t you?

I can’t imagine that you don’t have collective agreements in p2p firms that are then carried out in p2p work. Suppose we are working together in a bicycle factory. In a parecon we put in a plan that we cooperatively arrive at with consumers and other producers and then we workers arrive in our self-managing council at some agreed decisions about associated scheduling etc. Then we do the work, abiding the self-managed decisions. Is there a problem with this?

More, a bicycle plant needs inputs and it makes no sense to plan to produce related outputs if those needed inputs won’t arrive. So production and consumption are entwined. There is no escaping this, nor should we want to. Freedom isn’t for me to be able to do whatever I want regardless of implications for others – but rather that we all have influence in proportion as we are affected while arriving at entwined decisions we are mutually responsible to fulfill.

You repeatedly urge that parecon “aims to have a monological mode of production based on parecon exchange as the one and only solution for humankind.”

Why when I say that no economy should have wage slavery, markets for allocation, a corporate division of labor, profit seeking, or any kind of class rule, it is okay for you to call it monological? Okay, then I add a positive claim – not yet borne out – that once you remove these various horrible institutions from an economy’s definition and you additionally say that it should be classless, you are left with a need to adopt a few specific institutions without which either economic functions won’t be accomplished or classlessness will not be attained. Why is it okay to call this monological? Parecon isn’t specifying everything, but only some things – and, indeed, precisely those things that ensure the most diverse actual social outcomes.

You say p2p is hyperproductive so parecon will all have to abide p2p where p2p is applicable. I reply, I prefer the aim of classlessness and meeting needs to the aim of maximizing productivity, though I will happily take the latter when it can be done consistent with the former, though not otherwise.

You say, that you “propose a pluralist economy and civilisational order.” Okay, is there someone who doesn’t? Parecon makes diversity a central aim.

You say, p2p workers may be “funded by the entities which benefit most from [their output available in the commons]; or through a basic income,” I say, okay, if income is provided by companies that benefit from the common, at what level and with what terms? Similarly, if p2p work is funded by a basic income – for who, and how much? Answering and then working to get the sought results would move p2p in the directions I am trying to push.

You say, “coercion in the material field is inevitable, since it is important to make choices as to where to direct the needed resources.”

I think this is the heart of our difference. Why does making choices inevitably entail coercion? That seems an incredibly pessimistic outlook. You seem to think there is no way to conduct economic life cooperatively and in a self-managing way – other than in a very limited domain including low costs and no incomes. I don’t see why.

If people with comparably empowering circumstances exercise self-managing say to arrive at and then responsibly implement shared agendas – why would you call that coerced? That is no more coerced than you are coerced when you work with a group of p2p folks, having agreed on something, and then carrying it through.

I wonder, will mature p2p operate with full solidarity toward other workers in society? How? Will it operate, internally, with full self-management? How? Will it address the need for income of its own workers and more broadly? How? Will it admit that allocation entails decisions that all parties respect or refine together? How?

You ask, “are there any mechanisms that can be offered to the free software coops, and the entities based on manufacturing open designs, that can free them of some of the constraints of the current market frame?”

Yes, I think so. P2p efforts could adopt balanced job complexes, favor and move toward cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs, propose universally applicable equitable norms for remuneration and, in light of those norms, determine relations with other economic actors, for example.

You say, “if you want to create a broad social movement for change, the more pluralist you are, the more accepting of different social choices, the more chance you have of creating that broad movement.”

Up to a point, I agree. But I think you would agree, in turn, that abolitionists should not have said sure, slavery is fine too, just to get smiles from slave owners. It would have been morally grotesque, and also precluded serious support from slaves, especially if we are talking about a movement to replace slavery. Well, I think the same is true regarding what relations to have with owners if we are talking about a movement to replace capitalism.

You say, “You designed an ideal system which people should follow; you also clearly indicate in this text, though I think you will have to change your mind , that you reject free productive choice; your system aims to replace the current system by a unique new logic.”

Parecon is a model of a few key institutions, and yes, if those will deliver classlessness as I claim, I think they would be a good to achieve. Does parecon have a different logic than market competition and profit seeking – yes. Is it a “unique new logic”? I don’t know what that means, honestly. In any event, it isn’t that I reject free productive choice, it is that I think what you are calling free productive choice is severely limited or incoherent. Am I free if I can barely impact decisions about how my work will be used, can’t have inputs without myself paying for them, and can’t get an income for my labor? I say why not seek self managed work for everyone without having to bribe owners to put up with it by doing volunteer labor.

Then you say, “I see p2p evolving from a seed form today, through parity, towards a phase transition that would be an implementation of broadly the same value system as Parecon.”

Excellent. But in that case, why not propose that inside p2p there should be full self-management, balanced job complexes, and equitable remuneration? Why not urge p2p people to think in terms of all workers and the whole economy, even as they keep elaborating a project that is only partial for now?

Put differently, if you were to decide that self-management at work requires balanced job complexes or it will be subverted, would you then urge p2p communities to incorporate balanced job complexes?

If you were to decide that parecon’s equitable remuneration norm is in fact the way to morally address needs and simultaneously elicit effective effort, including passionate effort, would you urge pareconish remuneration to p2p communities?

If you were to decide that participatory allocation can occur for costly as well as nearly costless items including capturing the benefits of passionate labor and delivering accurate valuations, would you then urge p2p communities to think in terms of this type allocation as a goal?

If your answer is yes to each of these questions, we have only to further assess the claims about these proposed features of a new economy. If your answer is no, however, then we have a different type of disagreement – that I suspect would be pretty intractable.

You suggest that “Parecon is a utopia” but one that “doesn’t seem to want to be actualized in examples.”

Parecon does not claim to solve all problems, even hypothetically, and it is not unrealistic. More, parecon very much seeks to be actualized in workplaces as well as in partial efforts at planning, etc. If the Linux community, as an interesting example, said, hey, let’s try transforming Red Hat, or whatever other firm, into a parecon workplace, of course we would love that “actualization.”

You wonder “do you intend to let [p2p] exist, or do you want to abolish it? If you choose the latter road, obviously the increasingly numerous peer producing communities will not regard your movement and proposals as a friend of their hard won productive freedom.”

Those communities haven’t won productive freedom, rather they have simply left the field of seeking income to operate as volunteers. What they have won, in some cases, is battles against copyrights, and when they utilize it, self managed procuedures. Also, p2p communities so far seem to have a limited view of what freedom at work should/can mean, and who can/should enjoy it. My attitude is to engage with p2p to learn about specific possibilities but also to suggest that it ought to be concerned about more than just information workers, and that it ought retain a right to income. In short, p2p has, I think, a limited view of productive freedom. Parecon goes much further.

Then you say, presumably to mark a contrast that you “choose a road of systematic pluralism,” seeking “common ground with many other social forces.”

You seem to think of parecon as narrow, imposing one logic, averse to alliance, etc., and I don’t know why. We seek common ground and alliances, too. The difference is – or may be – who with, and on what terms.

I would guess that you would not ally with groups arguing the desirability of information copyrights including accepting those views as valid because you would presumably feel that to do that would be hypocritical and undercut prospects of communicating with information workers imbued with a free information ethos. Okay, in the same way, I would think most parecon advocates would be very happy to seek common ground with all kinds of social democrats, free software people, p2p people, solidarity economy people, people in the coordinator class, Leninists, and even owners in some instances, but parecon advocates are not likely to ratify or agree with views that are antithetical to parecon’s future to pursue such ties. P2p and Parecon are in this regard different only in what we seek and reject.

You say, you “would like that peer producers, rather than rely on for-profit enterprises, would form their own cooperative arrangements, and internetwork in a coordination council.” And you ask, “Is there any way that a Pareconish approach would offer solutions, that would speed up that uptake in a way that is acceptable to those free software coops?”

Well, it depends. I suspect some p2p advocates would balk at balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, cooperative negotiation, etc. But those folks are not likely seeking generalized “freedom” or “self management” or justice, but rather only their own personal advance, and even that in a limited way. The question becomes, what dos p2p want?

You say you hope I will “seek to dialogue with [p2p] communities, in a way that you have something to offer them, so that the peer to peer logic that informs their voluntary work, can be extended in their paid working life, by more equity-based social forms. Many might reject them, but others will embrace them.”

But that’s precisely why I invited you to this exploration, and why I have sought give and take with other p2p and free software folks as well, though with less favorable response than in your case. I can’t invite myself, but if I were invited to talk at p2p conferences, I would happily accept.

You say, “You are free to propose Pareconish values and alternatives to them; my approach is to extend peer production in a context which is maximally sustainable and just.”

I believe that is what I am doing, proposing pareconish values and institutions, even at this very moment. But as to whether you are trying to extend p2p in a maximally sustainable and just fashion – I think that is open to discussion. Forgoing income is not just or sustainable. Not having a say over the use of your product is not just. Not having self-managing say is not just or sustainable.

We both want to make allies though I am trying to strengthen pareconish understanding and activity, where you are doing it for p2p, and I am trying to ally to more diverse kinds of approach – feminist, intercommunalist, anarchist, libertarian socialist, p2p, etc., whereas I fear the unity you seek is reduced by fear of alienating partial and limited corporate allies and, as well, the least admirable views of your audience of programmers.

You say, “Some [p2p workers] are very happy to follow their passionate pursuits, while making money in for-profit enterprises and couldn’t care less about the people cleaning their offices…. Today, it is the majority, (not because they are mean, but because they think the world works that way) though in conditions of global economic and environmental collapse, that may one day be very different.”

I think they think the world can only work that way – and that is what our big difference is about – rebutting that suicidal belief, ignoring it, or abetting it.

More, p2p folks becoming dismissive of others and narrowly pursuing self interest alone is what I have quite gently been worrying about, and now you say it is the majority orientation. Okay, what does one do about it? Does one challenge such views, with understanding and civility but certainly not acting as though they are worthy and correct? Or does one say, okay, great, as long as you sign on to p2p there is no problem with those other inclinations, we will ignore them?

You suggest that if I “want to reach the emerging peer producing communities” you think “they will be much more open to [my] approach, if [I] do not reject free productive choice, but rather include this new possibility in [the] Parecon framework, and tell them that it will increase it, rather than abolish it.”

But that is precisely what I have been saying. Parecon facilitates all workers people having self-managing say over all work – including how it is used, and who gets it – even as parecon also delivers equitable income to all. Thus parecon does not reduce freedom compared to p2p, but vastly increases it, and does so without requiring people to pay to get that enlarged freedom (which is precisely what foregoing income and covering the costs of inputs amounts to).

Indeed, I am saying to p2p advocates, your desire that outputs of production should be as widely and justly available as possible is exemplary. But Parecon not only makes all potentially public goods public and free, it has an allocation system that generates true social cost and benefit indicators and that don’t privilege private over pubic activity and that allow free cooperative negotiation of all allocation rather than irrational competition or authoritarian dictation. Why not support this?

I am also saying to p2p advocates, your desire that work be self-managed is also exemplary. But Parecon delivers full self-management to all workers rather than solely information workers, which is way more, not less, than what you so far call free productive choice, which persists but is enlarged. Why not support this, too?

Likewise, I am saying to p2p advocates, your desire that information should be freely available to all is also exemplary. But parecon makes all information, all design, all knowledge, freely accessible to all. There are no copyrights. Parecon is again a superset of p2p. Why not support this?

Finally, desire to receive a fair share of the social output that you enlarge by your labors is also exemplary and should not be abrogated. And parecon delivers equitable remuneration for all. No one has to give away his or her labor for it to be self-managed. Why not support this? “

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.