Peer Governance and the State

The following is a reprint from P2P News 91, with preliminary thoughts on peer governance.

“In 3.4.A, we have used the typology of intersubjective relations by Alan Page Fiske. Two points are important here: First, no society or civilization can survive through reliance on any one mode, they have always co-existed. But we can also see that the different succeeding modes of civilization are dominated by one particular mode, and this particular mode will put its mark on all others, molding them on its own image. For example, the tribal mode of organisation, the gift economy, was based on reciprocity, i.e. Equality Matching. The agrarian mode was mostly based on Authority Ranking, and capitalism is of course the society where Market Pricing becomes dominant. If there is to be a Peer to Peer Era, our hypothesis is that it will be dominated by Communal Shareholding. That the dominant form recasts the other forms to its image can be seen for example in how the common property of the Church was embedded in the hierarchical structure of the Church institution. And in capitalist society in how the hierarchical state apparatus is subsumed by the defense of private property.

We can therefore expect that peer to peer will mold not only autonomous peer production, but also the market and the state. We therefore want to distinguish pure modes of peer governance, from the adaptation of existing governance models to the peer to peer mode. In the intermediary phase we are living at present, the opposite is also through: the dominant capitalist mode tries to mold P2P to its own advantage.

The first aspect is to be found in the increasing amount of peer governance of autonomous groups. Peer production is not just an economic process, it is a political process, as these projects have to be managed, albeit in a distributed way. The principle of self-regulation of peer groups, which by definition create new use value for the commons, should of course not be confused with the self-regulation by the market, where individual agents are only looking out for their own interests, and not for the public good, which is of course not to say that it should be rejected in all cases. Nevertheless, even for P2P groups we can envisage a role of arbitrage by the state, to make sure that P2P groups do not damage the public interests, however defined.

One of the strengths of the liberal tradition today is that it speaks to the desire for autonomy of democratic subjects, who in many cases, feel this autonomy is more threatened by the bureaucracy of the state, than by the behaviour of for-profit companies. Finding alternatives for bureaucratization is therefore an important part of the evolution towards P2P models.

How then will the state be molded by peer to peer? Peer governance is characterized by the relational paradigm[i]. Rather than seeing itself as sovereign master, the state must be seen as embedded in relationships, and as in need of respecting these multiple relationships. This is probably best translated by the concept of multistakeholdership. We can probably excpect that the nation-state, along with the newly emerging sub- and supraregional structures will continue to exist, but that their policies will be set through a dialogue with stakeholders. The key will be to disembed the state from its primary reliance of the private sector, and to make it beholden to civil society, i.e. the commons, so that it can act as a center of arbitrage. Despite the recent greater subsumption of the state to private interests (in the neoliberal era) – which of course has never been total since the balance of forces is not based on a complete defeat of the citizenship — many supraregional institutes, and in particular non-state governance institutions such as the standards bodies, but also policy-making at the U.N., already exhibit many features of multistakeholdership.

The market will also be greatly influenced (and of course already is), and will change more radically in a P2P-dominated political economy. It is to be expected that the recent evolution from a market economy to a market society, in which every social relationship is in the process of being monetized, will largely be undone as civil society re-asserts itself. New types of businesses will emerge that embed more clearly P2P principles. It is to be expected that in many areas the authoritarian structures and practices will have to adapt, as the age of participation will want to extend the principle of self-rule to the productive sphere. As the concept of multistakeholdersship will be more strongly asserted, corporate governance will no longer be able to ignore its workers, consumers, and associated communities, including the voices of the natural environment. The increased demands for transparency, and their enablement by technology, will also impose changes in corporate behaviour and structures. There are of course many aspects to this question, such as whether an alternative to the current capitalist system is possible or even desirable, but this will be discussed elsewhere.

But peer governance remains a clear alternative. If market allocation and corporate hierarchy are the governance model of the market, associated with private property; and if bureaucracy is associated with the state model of governance, then peer governance is clearly the alternative being forged by civil society. It will emerge in its pure form in P2P groups, but its associated values such as relationality (and transparency) will clearly force an adaptation of both market and the state. This is why we will say elsewhere in the text that one of the key goals of a P2P movement will be, or should be, ‘For a Commons-based Society with a reformed market and state’.

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