Usership, Ownership, Scarcity

“Technocracy is a proposal for a steady-state, post-scarcity economic system. It is intended for industrialized nations with sufficient natural, technological, and human resources to produce an economic abundance.”

Technocracy is a US movement born in the previous Depression of the 1930’s, and seems to undergo a mini-revival, with a European network being launched.

One of the articles on the site gives some interesting insight on the nature of scarcity under a market system as well as on the different effects of ownership vs. usership schemes.

Here are some excerpts:

1. Scarcity under a price system

The reason why there is inherent scarcity is not because of physical restraints in the territorial base, according to the economist, but has more to do with the consumer demand. The assumption is that all demands are equal, that for example the needs of a single mother in a favela in Saõ Paolo in Brazil, is equal to Jay Leno’s wants of a 611th Chrysler with gold plates from year 1958.

In this model, all demands are absolutes and all other infringements upon the demands except poverty are seen as unacceptable as they lead to “inefficiencies”. According to this model, as earlier stated in my article about Energy Accounting, all human needs and wants are equivalent to each-other, and all needs and wants are without any borders, i.e, human beings always want to possess more and more.

Thus, scarcity is actually relative in this model, as a knight with a silver plate armour would envy the knight with a golden plate armour, and it is inherently based on subjective judgements about value, rather than physical scarcity in itself.

Thus, when economists and technocrats are talking about scarcity, the economist is talking about something which is going on inside a person’s head, while the technocrat is talking about the physical constraints of a particular geographical zone. How much fresh water there is, how many minerals, how much capacity to grow food. For the economist, the important thing is rather “how much are people willing to work to get hold on these resources,

Thus, relative scarcity according to the economist will always be absolute.”

2. Ownership vs. Usership

Ownership is by its very nature exclusive. It means that you, granted by society or by your own strength (given if you live in an area plagued by social chaos) holds a physical object, a bit of land or a privilege, and that you have the right to interfere and punish people who also are trying to use that property.

Some things are naturally exclusive, as the food you have been eaten or the (particular) energy you have used in operations of electronic equipment. Some things could be made exclusive through laws or the use of force, like most of the things you are owning – these things are thus exclusable. Some things are naturally inexclusive, like air or a stream of fresh water.

In most of Europe, the usual way to organise the administration of property or land, is to deal it out in the forms of ownerships, which are sellable (and then of course buyable), rentable and possibly to use as a security for debt. By definition, we could then say that Europe works by allocating out ownerships and reaffirming them through legal and physical means (police, courts).

The ownership grants are very different in size and forms, and the rules tend to vary between European countries, but yet, the general tendency is clear. We are supposed to operate the machinery, the water and the living we have through ownership.

Usership, in contrast, means that you have the exclusive right to use something without hindering anyone else from using it as well. One example of a usership is collective travel. Another one is public parks. In Sweden, we have a rule which is called “The Right to Roam” (Allemansrätten) which allows you to enjoy nature and camp almost everywhere you want on the countryside.

Under such a system, you still have responsibilities to not for example vandalise or junk down the service you are utilising.

Thus, we see that usership is actually not something new but something which exists under the current system as well, and which thrives (public travel is increasingly getting popular due to the more environmentally aware urban citizenry).

Not only society is using usership as a mode for operating travel and recreation, but smaller groups within society is doing that as well, like for example sport clubs, youth houses and public educational facilities.

Of course, there is a gray zone between usership and ownership. Sport clubs do not for example allow people who are not members of the group use their equipment. It is therefore sane to speak about a grade-scale characterised by exclusivity. We are not implying that exclusivity is inherently bad either, even though it could be used to discriminate against people (the discrimination is inherently unacceptable if based on factors which the person herself could not affect, like ethnic origin or gender).”

5 Comments Usership, Ownership, Scarcity

  1. AvatarGordon Rae

    If the concept of ‘scarcity’ generates emotional reactions, can I suggest people think about ‘allocation’ instead. If we have to divide three apples between six children, or thirty apples between six children, we still have to relate the resources that are available to human needs and wants. In fact, I would suggest that a lot of the social and political phenomena of the last fifty years have been about learning how to deal with allocation under conditions of abundance.

  2. AvatarZbigniew Lukasiak

    Hmm – I think I get it. Some resources are scarce only for some kinds of usage – think air – there is no need to allocate air for breathing, but it is different when it is used industrially. Or take that camping in Sweden example – the nature will be abundant if only we stick to some rules about how we use it. But if we apply the logic of ownership – we dont discriminated between different kinds of usage – we just assign full scope of usage to the owner and exclude everyone else.

  3. Pingback: Some Links « Thinking About Technocracy

  4. Avatarisenhand

    An interesting article to pick up from our site,a though I would ahve thought from a P2P point of view you would have an interest in our distributed socioeconomic system based on the idea of autonomous holons and the proto-technate as way to move from today’s socioeconomic system to such a futuer system.


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