I get the occasional interview, but I’m particularly happy with the video interview and associated transcript done by Robin Good. We spent a marvelous day on his motorbike in May this year, seeing places I would never see as a tourist, and he created a relaxed atmosphere for a conversation-style interview. I think the value is that the language used is more than usual quite understandable for people unfamiliar with the general P2P ideas.
The interview and videos are here, and below is an excerpt of the text.
As usual, Robin and his crew have done a marvelous production job in presenting the material in a much better way than here on this blog, so please check the video and transcript, nicely ‘chunked’ in digestible parts, at Robin’s Master New Media site.
Transcript: Why P2P Is Better Than Capitalism
I think if you want to know what is wrong with capitalism and how peer-to-peer is an improvement over it, you have to look at the history of motivation and cooperation. Pre-modern societies were based on coercion / force – a slave had to give everything and serf had to give half or more of what was produced.
The dream of capitalism said that instead of forcing you, why don’t we create mutual self interest, so we will just exchange things of equal value with each other. In a way that is great progress because we go from external negative motivation (fear) to external positive motivation (money). The problem with that is that if you don’t have money – if you don’t have positive motivation on the outside, you don’t do it. Also the problem is if you have a system based on self interest then no one looks at the other consequences. No one looks at pollution. And no one wants to do anything that is not paid.
Furthermore if you look at the way innovation works in a company you want to innovate and improve because you don’t want to be buried under competition. If you don’t have competition because it’s a monopoly for example, then you don’t improve. Look at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer…nothing really moved for 5-7 years because Netscape was dead.
Now think about a peer production like Mozilla Firefox. These people want to innovate not to be better than the other guy, but because they just want to make the best possible browser. Firefox doesn’t have to protect its property rights; anyone can make a plug-in. So Firefox is innovating all the time. It is moving all the time.
The genius of peer-to-peer is that it filters out negative outside motivation / positive outside motivation and focuses on internal motivation – voluntary passionate production. Your individual interest in improvement corresponds with the values of everyone within that organization. And the whole project is available to all of humanity via the network.
When a for-profit institution competes with a for-benefit institution, the for-benefit institution like the Mozilla Foundation can draw on a community so the for-profit companies lose a competitive advantage. I think in those ways peer production is an improvement over for-profit production models.
Similarly, if you have two for-profit companies competing, it is the one that opens up and invites user participation that will do better than the one that doesn’t. That means that for-profit companies are adopting peer-to-peer practices. If you take any two communities where one is locked and isolate while the other says we can collaborate with companies and cooperate with others (individuals, corporations) the second will have an advantage. What that points to is that peer production and for-profit are not antagonistic, they are complimentary in many ways.
But I would still argue that peer production is post capitalist because it is not about commodities, wage relationships, or about producing for the marketplace with commodities and exchange value. So in many ways if you do that, part of you is already outside of the market. You are learning to do things differently and not just out of pure self interest.
The Economic Viability of Peer Production
Yes, I just think it’s an interesting proposal to think about. And the way I explain it is the following.
Right now we’re split. We have two sides of our lives:
• We have the side who has to survive… that has to make money and we engage in the formal economy, we get paid, we get a salary. But we also often very much work in an alienated way. We don’t do what we like, we have a boss we don’t like. All kinds of elements which make this not the perfect solution for many people.
• And then we have a surplus. And that surplus of intellect, of computers, of access to the networks, makes that, when we do not have to work for a living, More and more of us are engaging in our passions. And we produce what I call peer production, governors, and property.
Now what we notice today, I think increasingly, is that actually the part of us, our surplus, is more productive than when we are in the system.
Now, that should tell the system something. So the system can start thinking. Well actually when people… let’s assume they’re unemployed… so between jobs you fall in a kind of intermediate period when you’re jobless what before you used to think you’re worthless, you have no value.
Today I will argue maybe is exactly in those moments you actually produce the most value for society.
So the first thing to do is create a system that at least allows people to move more easily from the market to the non-market. It’s kind of life-long career planning which allows people to say I want to engage with my passion and I can do that for a certain time and then I go back to the market.
And I think as we mature in this… as we strengthen peer-to-peer, we discover that actually more and more value is created in the informal economy.
At that moment I think we can start arguing for basic income because then it is no longer welfare. I am not just giving you money to help you. I’m actually recognizing a society that by the mere fact that you’re a citizen engaging in networks and producing value in common, you’re actually giving society crucial value and therefore I give you back what you give.
I don’t think we’re there yet. I think that maturation of peer production might actually lead to the situation where I don’t know, ten, twenty, thirty years from now, this becomes a really debatable issue.
The Potential For P2P To Unite The World
It does happen very rarely. Because most people today have an inner sense that openness is better than enclosure. You know when they hear about free software and open-source development actually most people recognize that it’s a good way of doing things. That if you want to cooperate you have to be open with each other.
So I think that actually peer-to-peer has a potential to unite many people that are politically opposed to each other because it has different values embedded. It has a freedom which liberals like and libertarians like. It has the equality aspect that people on the left like. It has a relation aspect that conservative people like, you know, being embedded in a community.
So what we have to do is look at the common interest of a group of people in advancing concretely the space for this to emerge. And not to overly politicize it and to a create kind of almost artificial oppositions.
How Peer Governance And Democracy Differ
I think there is a difference between peer governance and democracy, direct or indirect. I’ll try to explain it in the following way:
Think about the market. Think about hierarchy and think about democracy. Those are simply three different ways to allocate resources.
• The market says it’s all about the price. The effort will go to the most valuable thing to do.
• Hierarchy says we’re clever, because we know everything so we will organize production for you.
• And democracy says we have different groups with different interests so we’ll negotiate about who gets what.
Peer governance functions in the immaterial environment of intellectual cooperation over the networks. And you are basically self-aggregating your resources. So as long as you’re self-aggregating your resources, you don’t need any other way to aggregate your resources. You don’t need a market, you don’t need a hierarchy and you don’t need democracy. And type of relations you have is I voluntary contributed to other projects, so do you. And you don’t pay me so why should I listen to you. So you need consensus. You need expertise. You need engagement and somehow and we see that it works that people can actually have very complex projects that are organized through peer governance. This is one side of the equation.
The other side of the equation is that in order to cooperate you have a number of fixed cost you need infrastructure of cooperation. You need servers. These servers are a renewable resource so you need a cost-recovery mechanism. So there you are in different domain. You actually need to allocate and protect resources. So what happens in peer production is in that environment people create nonprofits … the Mozilla Foundation, the Apache Foundation, Wikimedia Foundation. And they will manage the infrastructure of cooperation on behalf of the community. But because they have scarce resources, you need the democratic structure.
And so I would say overall a society is dealing not just with immaterial resources, but mostly with scarce material resources… with hunger, food, physical things. We still need democracy.
But to the degree that you did with intellectual cooperation, culture and knowledge, and open design, you are in peer governance. So what I think is happening is that… let’s say that this is the volume of democracy we have in society. This is the volume of peer governance. It is that the space of peer governance will grow but we’ll not totally replace the sphere of democracy. I think it’s impossible as long as we live in a material world.
Peer To Peer Vision For the World
My dream is a world where more and more people can follow their passion… find meaning in their life… express themselves. And that more and more value is created that way.
In the current world we think that nature is infinite, and we think that we have to make things (intellectual, spiritual, cultural things) scarce artificially. My dream is that we turn that around. That we recognize that sharing is infinite and that nature is not infinite. And therefore change the way our civilization, our society runs. Based on that recognition.
I think once you start working peer-to-peer in your field, that you’re following your life’s dreams that you’re passionate about, then you don’t want to go back.
I think more and more people should have a chance than just a minority of people.
Why People Are Afraid Of P2P
I think it is the issue of expertise. The fear of dumbing down. The fear that if you broaden participation the people who know more will be lost in the masses. And I think the more hierarchical a society is, the more power experts have, and the more fear they have of losing it.
I think in some countries for example like in France they get more easily angry than in others. So, there’s this fear that if you open up that the people who know less will take power. And the quality of society will go down. And it’s a fear that I recognize.
I think peer-to-peer runs a danger in some circumstances of having that effect. I don’t think it’s inherent to peer-to-peer. I think it’s bad design, bad governance. that leads to those kind of processes. And now we have value-conscious design, a value-sensitive design that designs for diversity, for autonomy, for selection of excellence. And are the best processes to do that better than even other forms of social organization.
I think this fear is the same fear of democracy. When people started arguing that everybody had the right to vote. There was a very similar fear that democracy would bring the rule of the mob. Now we have had two-hundred years of democracy and democracy is far from perfect. But who wants to go back to an authoritarian state? Not many people want to go back.
It is the same thing with peer-to-peer. Once it’s there… once you’re used to it, when you have problems, you try to solve it in a peer-to-peer way. We don’t want to go back to the old systems.