The intersection between the immaterial and material economies: how can it work?

I’ve been involved in a mailing list debate on the Oekonux list with Dmytri Kleiner, who denies that peer production is non-reciprocal because it cannot sustain itself on its own.

This is a very important point that I would like to clarify.

Peer production indeed has a problem with this, because peer projects are at present only collective sustainable, as long as a relatively same number of volunteers can sustain projects, but they are not sustainable in the long run for the individual who is participating, as these must be able to make a living

In some ways then, we have to acknowledge that peer production is building on (parasitical, some would say), the wealth created ‘elsewhere’. This is true, but the opposite is just as true. In other words, the increasingly social nature of innovation (diffuse, as emerging property of networks, located outside of any organizational boundaries, etc…), makes existing production in the monetary economy just as dependent on peer production, and increasingly so.

So what can I possibly mean when I say that I expect peer production to be the core logic of the coming economy and civilization?

Essentially that, whatever method society uses to produce material goods, this will increasingly be derivative of the value created in peer production, there, in the open design communities, in the knowledge and science that is no longer ‘proprietary’ (in the sense of private exclusionary IP), is where the value will be created; and any ‘businesses’ or organizations (capitalist or cooperative) that integrate open, participatory, and commons oriented practices will be more competitive than those that don’t.

I want to use an analogy of the feudal system to explain how a process of interconnection between the material economy, which has to take care of cost-recovery mechanisms, can work together with a mode of immaterial production that is working with voluntary contributions to a commons of collaborative immaterial goods.

In feudalism, the core economic mode is undoubtedly tributary, i.e. the producers giving part of their produce to their ‘protectors’, but at the same time, the spiritual value core is located in the Church and the Sangha. This is basically what people live for, both high and low social orders. Because of its crucial role in creating ‘value’, in the form of spiritual sustenance, one quarter of the male population, and a significant proportian of the female population, is subsidized by a gifting competition. Both the Catholic Church and the Buddhist Sangha thrive because of the large donations by the noble classes, including vast land holdings.

So, though tribute is the core mode of the material social system, at the same time nobody can deny the core role of religion in these types of societies, both these elements co-exist.

So, back to what this analogy means for today.

We have a core process for creation social value, meaning, technological and social progress, located in freely engaging produser communities working with open designs. This process feeds the material economy. The material economy, recognizing this, creates mechanisms so that this constant process of social innovation can be sustained, and is this way the material economy feeds the ‘immaterial process of value creation”. What the core of this material economy will be remains to be seen, we can only confidently say that it will not be a system of infinite growth in a finite natural system, as this is a logical and physical impossibility.

Most likely, we’ll have a mechanism that will allow produsers to move in and out of the material economy, and into the open immaterial economy. The institutions of the new economy and civilization will practice benefit sharing on the micro-level, making sure to sustain the commons from which their own wealth is derived, and society will also look for macro-solutions, so that the transitions of people can be supported.

What I personally would prefer is that the mechanism for the material economy, will be some form of ‘cooperative production’, rather than dominated by the market mode, though I have no problem with the market as a mechanism to deal with scarce goods, as long as it is not embedded in an infinite growth system that destroys the very basis of human life.

The danger I see in not recognizing this duality, and to look for monist solutions in which they will be only a conditional, exchange or gift based cooperative economy models, is that by doing this, you effectively destroy the potential of non-reciprocal peer production in open communities. So we don’t want an economic model where every body is paid conditionally for his contribution to material or immaterial production, but we need a pluralist model in which the non-reciprocal immaterial economy sustains and is sustained by the reciprocal/exchange based material economy.

What we need there for is a form of cooperative economy, that recognizes pluralism, and that can sustain peer production, rather than replace and destroy it.

2 Comments The intersection between the immaterial and material economies: how can it work?

  1. Marcin

    The answer to the p2p link of immaterial and material economy is integration. This is what we’re testing at our lab, The key summary is: 1. Develop open source design for products voluntarily. 2. Develop fabrication facilities, voluntarily. 3. Optimize everything, voluntarily. 4. Provide goods for market from an open source, optimized, replicable production facility.

    How to do this voluntarily? Funding is needed. That’s where a funding mechanism is needed, and that, to me, is the cutting edge of open source economic development. With this funding mechanism, we fund production facilities, optimize, and everyone benefits: low cost, high quality products, that cannot be matched by standard businesses because the open source variant is lean, mean, and optimal. This is what we’re working on, see notes on the process at:

    and application to our compressed earth block press at:

  2. Pingback: Factor E Farm Weblog » Blog Archive » OSE Product Cycle

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