P2P, markets, cooperatives, the state, and altruism

I have a continued admiration for the quality of thinking of Kevin Carson in the Mutualist Blog , which is why I asked him to specify his comment on markets. At issue is the insistence of libertarians to call the internet, and even peer production, a market, even though 1) there is no tit for tat exchange; 2) there is no pricing and no supply and demand for non-rival goods that are per definition abundant; 3) there is no corporation or corporate hierarchy. Peer to peer, as I see it, is non-reciprocal ‘communal shareholding’, using Alan Page Fiske’s Relational Model.

Kevin Carson recently specified his thoughts on what specifically are markets, and though it is recommended reading, I’m still frustrated since it does not address the non-reciprocity issue. So I guess the use of markets is in many way a result of sensibility: liberatarians like free markets, and post-socialists like me might reluctantly accept them, but not really love them.

A good argument though is to deny that it is possible to have no exchange at all. Actually, value is exchanged in peer to peer social processes, but not directly, since all can contribute and consume at will. What is exchanged is one form of value for another: as peer producer as exchange my energy, not for any other product or commodity, but for the emotional and spiritual value I derive from my engagement. It’s wrong to use a binary opposition of self-interest and altruism, but rather, it is more useful to see human moral growth as a change in the kinds of values that are appreciated. By my effort in the common goal, I am being both altruistic and selfish, because helping the Commons is actually a need.

A previous post by Kevin Carson relays our discussion on cooperatives (see here and here), and is equally interesting as an overview of the whole debate comparing Peer production to cooperative production.

You have to read it for yourself, but of interest is Carson’s take on political strategy, based on the ideas of constructing a network of counter-institutions. As far as I can see, I concur with his conclusions:

How can we avoid that
“cooperatives take on the characteristics of capitalist enterprises and even become subject to hostile takeover and demutualization, has been remarked on before (I’m currently reading Race Matthews’ Jobs of Our Own). The answer is 1) for consumer cooperatives to network with producer co-ops and other countereconomic institutions in a coherent countereconomy, aimed at supplanting the capitalist one, instead of trying to succeed by imitating it; and 2) for the countereconomic movement to engage and roll back the state, to reduce the state-conferred competitive advantage of the state-capitalist model of enterprise.

In other words, our strategic goal should be for producers’ and consumers’ co-ops, LETS systems, p2p, and the barter and household economies to coalesce, so that these individual components function within a coherent and increasingly self-sufficient countereconomy of their own, rather than floundering about individually in a larger system organized on a hostile basis.”

This is the point of view I espouse in P2P Theory: that if the state continues to exist, it cannot do so as an arm of corporations, but as at least a neutral arbiter between the various modes of production (state-collective, private-corporate-cooperative-and P2P).

A point that Kevin and his brand of mutualist libertarians are continuously stressing and which I think is valid: the state as is, is geared to support large corporations, hence the competitive advantage they enjoy is not natural, but structural, and the state incentives such as taxation and subsidies are supporting ‘bads’ (pollution, etc…) rather than ‘goods’. In a level playing field, where markets absorb the true cost of production, many processes that are unproductive today (such as clean energy, organic agriculture, small scale local production) would be in fact more productive.

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