Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Peer-to-Peer Governance, Democracy And Economic Vision: P2P As A Way Of Living - Part 2

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"Our current political economy is based on a fundamental mistake. It is based on the assumption that natural resources are unlimited, and that it is an endless sink.

Photo credit: Maxim Malevich

This false assumption creates artificial scarcity for potentially abundant cultural resources.

This combination of quasi-abundance and quasi-scarcity destroys the biosphere and hampers the expansion of social innovation and a free culture.
In a P2P-based society, this situation is reversed: the limits of natural resources are recognized, and the abundance of immaterial resources becomes the core operating principle. The vision of P2P theory is the following:

  1. the core intellectual, cultural and spiritual value will be produced through non-reciprocal peer production;
  2. it is surrounded by a reformed, peer-inspired, sphere of material exchange;
  3. it is globally managed by a peer-inspired and reformed state and governance system.

Because of these characteristics, peer to peer can be said to be the core logic of the successor civilization, and is a answer and solution to the structural crisis of contemporary capitalism."

In this second part of P2P as a Way of Living (first part here), peer-to-peer planetary evangelist Michel Bauwens looks at the political and economic foundations of peer-to-peer governance and democracy concepts of peer governance, production and property, analyzing their traits and characteristics.

By deeply questioning the false assumptions on which our present economic and political systems are based one can easily see how critical a change would be if governments were to become partners rather than controllers and enslavers, and if peer communities were provided with the economic means to support their social cooperation efforts.

Again, adoption of alternative monetary systems, taking away some of the extraordinary controls that private organizations have taken over the issue of money and providing the basic resources for all individuals according to their natural vocations and passions rather toward than being enslaved by economic and production mechanisms that alienate them, is the future for which I am here for.

As I wrote before, let me re-iterate: "Peer to peer governance, if supported by new socio-economic regulations, including a universal subsidy to all, could be the means by which individuals would be able to govern themselves while engaging in the pursuit of their best interests and passions."

Intro by Robin Good



The Political Implications of the Peer to Peer Revolution - Part 2

by Michel Bauwens

5. P2P Theory as the Emancipatory Possibility of the Age

Photo credit: Kostantin Inozemtev

Indeed, because an infinite growth system is a logic and physical impossibility with a limited natural environment, the current world system is facing a structural crisis for its extensive growth. Currently consuming 'two planets', it would need four planets if China and India would obtain equity with the current Western levels of consumption. Because of the ecological and resource crisis that this causes, the system is ultimately limited in its extensive expansion.

However, its dream for intensive development in the immaterial sphere is equally blocked, since the sphere of abundance and direct social production of value through peer production, creates an exponential growth in use value, but only say a linear growth in the market opportunities in its margins.

The current world system is facing a similar crisis to that of the slave-based Roman Empire, which could no longer grow extensively (at some point the cost of expansion is greater than the benefits of added productivity), but could not grow intensively either, since that would demand autonomy for the slaves. Hence, the feudal system emerged, which refocused on the local, where it could become much more productive and grow 'intensively'. Serfs, which were tied to the land but now had families, a fixed part of their produce, and a much lighter taxation load, were substantially more productive than slaves. The lords took a substantially lesser part of the surplus. Today, extensive growth is ultimately blocked, but intensive growth in the immaterial sphere requires a substantial reconfiguration which largely transcends the current system logic.

Similarly, the current structural crisis causes a reconfiguration of the two main classes (just as the slave owners had to become feudal lords, and the slaves had to become serfs).

At present, we see the emergence of a netarchical class of capital owners, who are renouncing their dependence on the present regime of immaterial accumulation through intellectual property, in favour of a role as enablers of social participation through proprietary platforms, which cleverly combine open and closed elements so as to ensure a measure of control and profit, while knowledge workers are reconfiguring from a class that was dissociated from the means of production, to one that is no longer dissociated from its means of production, as their brains and the networks are now their socialized means of production. (However, they are still largely dissociated from autonomous means of monetization.) It would be fair to say that currently, peer production communities are collectively sustainable, but not individually, leading to a crisis of value and widespread precarity amongst knowledge workers.

The solution would in my opinion point in the following direction:

  1. the private sector recognizes its increasing dependence on the positive externalizations of social cooperation, and together with the public authorities, agrees to a new historical compromise in the form of a basic income; this allows the sphere of cooperation to thrive even more, creating market benefits
  2. the sphere of the market is dissociated from infinite-growth capitalism (how this can be done would require a separate article, but the key would be a macro-monetary reform such as those proposed by Bernard Lietaer, associated with a new regime that extends the production of money from private banks to the social field, through open money systems)
  3. the sphere of peer production creates appropriate 'wealth acknowledgment systems' to recognize those that sustain its existence, and systems exist which can translate that reputational wealth in income.

6. Peer Governance and Democracy

Photo credit: Jarno Gonzalez

As peer to peer technical and social infrastructures such as sociable media and self-directed teams are emerging to become an important if not dominant format for the changes induced by cognitive capitalism, the peer to peer relational dynamic will increasingly have political effects.

As a reminder, the p2p relational dynamic arises wherever there are distributed networks, i.e. networks where agents are free to undertake actions and relationships, and where there is an absence of overt coercion so that governance modes are emerging from the bottom-up. It creates processes such as peer production, the common production of value; peer governance, i.e. the self-governance of such projects; and peer property, the auto-immune system which prevents the private appropriation of the common.

It is important to distinguish the peer governance of a multitude of small but coordinated global groups, which choose non-representational processes in which participants co-decide on the projects, from representative democracy. The latter is a decentralized form of power-sharing based on elections and representatives. Since society is not a peer group with an a priori consensus, but rather a decentralized structure of competing groups, representative democracy cannot be replaced by peer governance.

However, both modes will influence and accommodate to each other. Peer projects which evolve beyond a certain scale and start facing issues of decisions about scarce resources, will probably adapt some representational mechanisms. Representative and bureaucratic decision-making can and will in some places be replaced by global governance networks which may be self-governed to a large extent, but in any case, it will and should incorporate more and more multistakeholder models, which strives to include as participants in decision-making, all groups that could be affected by such actions. This group-based partnership model is different, but related in spirit, to the individual-based peer governance, because they share an ethos of participation.

7. Towards a Partner State Approach


Photo credit: Juri Arcurs

Partner state policy is an approach in which the state enables and empowers user communities to create value themselves, and which also focuses on the elimination of obstacles.

The fundamental change in approach is the following.

In the modern view, individuals were seen as atomized. They were believed to be in need of a social contract that delegated authority to a sovereign in order to create society, and in need of socialization by institutions that addressed them as an undifferentiated mass. In the new view however, individuals are always-already connected with their peers, and looking at institutions in such a peer-informed way. Institutions therefore, will have to evolve to become support ecologies, devising ways to create infrastructures of support.

The politicians become interpreters and experts, which can guide the issues emerging out of civil society based networks into the institutional realm.

The state becomes a at least neutral (or better yet: commons-favorable) arbiter, i.e. the meta-regulator of the three realms, and retreats from the binary state/privatisation dilemma to the triarchical choice for an optimal mix between:

  1. government regulation,
  2. private market freedom, and
  3. autonomous civil society projects.

A partner state recognizes that the law of asymmetric competition dictates that it has to support social innovation to it utmost ability.

An example I recently encountered was the work of the municipality of Brest, in French Brittany. There, the "Local Democracy" section of the city, under the leadership of Michel Briand, makes available online infrastructures, training modules, and physical infrastructure for sharing (cameras, sound equipment, etc...), so that local individuals and groups, can create cultural and social projects on their own. For example, the Territoires Sonores project allows for the creation by the public of audio and video files to enrich custom trails, which is therefore neither produced by a private company, nor by the city itself. In other words, the public authority in this case enables and empowers the direct social production of value.

The peer to peer dynamic, and the thinking and experimentation it inspires, does not just present a third form for the production of social value, it also produces also new forms of institutionalization and regulation, which could be fruitfully explored and/or applied.
Indeed, from civil society emerges a new institutionalization, the commons, which is a distinct new form of regulation and property.

Unlike private property, which is exclusionary, and unlike state property, in which the collective 'expropriates' the individual; by contrast in the form of the commons, the individual retains his sovereignty, but has voluntarily shared it.

Only the commons-based property approach recognizes knowledge's propensity to flow everywhere, while the proprietary property regime requires a radical fight against that natural propensity. This makes it likely that the commons-format will be adopted as the more competitive solution.

In terms of the institutionalization of these new forms of common property, Peter Barnes, in his important book Capitalism 3.0, explains how national parks and environmental commons (such as a proposed Skytrust), could be run by trusts, who have the obligation to retain all (natural) capital intact, and through a one man/one vote/one they would be in charge of preserving common natural resources. This could become an accepted alternative to both nationalization and deregulation/privatization.

I would surmise that in a successor civilization, where the peer-to-peer logic is the core logic of value creation, the commons is the central institution that drives the meta-system, and the market is a peer-informed sub-system that deals with the production of rival physical products, along with a pluralist economy that is augmented with a variety of reciprocity-based schemes.

8. A Renewed Progressive Policy Centered Around the Sustenance of the Commons

Photo credit: BoingBoing

What does it mean for the emancipatory traditions that emerged from the industrial era?

I believe it could have 2 positive effects:

  1. a dissociation of the automatic link with bureaucratic government modalities (which does not mean that it is not appropriate in certain circumstances); proposals can be formulated which directly support the development of the Commons

  2. a dissociation from its alternative: deregulation/privatization; support for the Commons and peer production means that there is an alternative from both neoliberal privatization, and the Blairite introduction of private logics in the public sphere.

The progressive movements can thereby become informational rather than a modality of industrial society.

Instead of defending the industrial status quo, it becomes again an offensive force (say: striving for an equity-based information society), more closely allied with the open/free, participatory, commons-oriented forces and movements.

These three social movements have arisen because of the need for an efficient social reproduction of peer production and the commons.

  • Open and free movements want to insure that there is raw material for free cultural production and appropriation, and fight against the monopoly rents accorded to capital, as it now restricts innovation. They work on the input side of the equation.
  • Participatory movements want to ensure that anybody can use his specific combination of skills to contribute to common projects, and work on lowering the technical, social and political thresholds; finally,
  • the Commons movement works on preserving the common from private appropriation, so that its social reproduction is insured, and the circulation of the common can go on unimpeded, as it is the Commons which in turn creates new layers of open and free raw material.

These various movement come in the usual three flavours:

  1. transgressive movements, such as young and old filesharers, which show that the legal regime has to be changed
  2. constructive movements, which create a framework for new types of social relationships, such as the Creative Commons movement, the free software movement, etc...
  3. reformist or radical attempts to change the institutional regime and adapt it to the new realities

I personally believe that these movements will not create new political parties, but that these networks of networks will indeed look for political liaison.

While peer-to-peer is a regime that combines equality and liberty and therefore potentially combines elements from various sides of the political spectrum, I believe the left is particularly apt to forge an alliance with the new desires and demands of these movements.

There is also a connection with the environmental movement. While the culturally-oriented movements fight against the artificial scarcities induced by the restrictive regimes of copyright law and patent law, the environmental movement fights against the artificial abundance created by unrestricted market logics. The removal of pseudo-abundance and pseudo-scarcity are exactly what needs to happen to make our human civilization sustainable at this stage. As has been stressed by Richard Stallman and others, the copyright and patent regimes are explicitly intended to inhibit the free cooperation and cultural flow between creative humans, and are just as pernicious to the further development of humanity as the biospheric destruction.

There is therefore a huge potential for such a renewed movement for human emancipation to become aligned with the values of a new generation of youth, and achieve the long-term advantage that the Republicans had achieved since the 80s.

9. Conclusion: What Needs To Be Done?

Photo credit: Nicemonkey

Let's recall some of our points, and see how the movement against artificial scarcity and for sustainability intersect.

We live in a political economy that has it exactly backwards. We believe that our natural world is infinite, and therefore that we can have an economic system based on infinite growth. But since the material world is finite, it is based on pseudo-abundance.

And then we believe that we should introduce artificial scarcities in the world of immaterial production, impeding the free flow of culture and social innovation, which is based on free cooperation, by creating the obstacle of permissions and intellectual property rents protected by the state.

What we need instead is a political economy based on a true notion of scarcity in the material realm, and a realization of abundance in the immaterial realm.

Complex innovation needs creative and autonomous workers that are not impeded in their ability to share and learn from each other.

In the world of immaterial production, of software, text and design, the costs of reproduction are marginal and therefore we see emerging in it non-reciprocal peer production, where people voluntary engage in the direct creation of use value, profiting from the resulting commons in a general way, but without specific reciprocity.

In the world of material production, where we have scarcity, and costs have to be recouped, such non-reciprocity is not possible, and therefore we need modes of neutral exchange such as the markets, or other modes of reciprocity.

In the sphere of immaterial production, humanity is learning the laws of abundance, because non-rival goods win in value through sharing.

In this world, we are evolving towards non-proprietary licenses, participatory modes of production, and commons-oriented property forms. Positive forms of affinity based retribalization are emerging. But in the world of scarce material goods, a series of scarcity crises are brewing, global warming being just one of them, that is creating the emergence of negative forms of competitive tribalization.

The logic of abundance has the potential of leading us to a reorganization of our world to a level of higher complexity, moved principally by the peer to peer logic.

The logic of scarcity has the potential of leading us to generalized wars for resources, to a descent to a lower form of complexity, a new dark age as was the case after the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

So the challenge is to use the emergent logic of abundance, and inject it into the world of scarcity.

Is that a realistic possibility?

In the immaterial world of abundance, sharing is non-problematic, and the further emergence and expansion of non-reciprocal modes of production will be very likely. "Together we know everything", is a rather achievable ideal.

In the material world of scarcity, abundance is translated into three key concepts that can change human consciousness and therefore economic practices. The notion of 'together we have everything' seems not quite achievable, we therefore need transitional concepts.

1) The first concept is the distribution of everything.

This means that instead of abundance, we have a slicing up of physical resources and the physical means of production, so that individuals can freely engage and act. This means an economy that moves towards a vision of peer-informed market modes such as fair trade (a market mechanism subjected to peer arbitrage of producers and consumers seen as partners), social entrepreneurship (using profit for conscious social progress).

Objective tendencies towards miniaturization of the physical means of production makes this a distinct possibility: desktop manufacturing enables individual designers; rapid manufacturing and tooling are diminishing the advantages of scale of industrial production, and so do personal fabricators. Social lending creates a distribution of financial capital; and the direct social production of money through software is not far away from being realized in various parts of the world (see the work of Bernard Lietaer); If indeed scarcity will create more expensive energy and raw material, a re-localisation of production is likely, and peer-informed modes of production will be enabled to a much greater extent.

2) The second concept is sustainability.

Since an infinite growth system cannot last indefinitely, we need to move to new market concepts as described by the throught schools of natural capitalism (David Korten, Paul Hawken, Hazel Henderson), capitalism 3.0 (Peter Barnes' proposal to use trust as property forms because they impose the preservation of capital), cradle to cradle design and production processes so that no waste is generated. We need to move to a steady-state economy (Herman Daly), which is not necessarily static, but where greater output from nature, is dependent on our ability to regenerate the same resources.

3) The third concept is that of sufficiency or 'plenty'.

Abundance has not just an objective side, it has a subjective side as well. In the material economy, infinite growth needs to be replaced by sufficiency, a realization that status and human happiness can no longer be dependent on infinite material accumulation and overconsumption, but will become dependent on immaterial accumulation and growth. Having enough so that we can pursue meaning and status through our identity as creative and collaborative individuals, recognized in our various peer communities.

Only a rich experience economy can avoid a culture of frustration and sacrifice, and the repressions and unhappiness that such could entail. This experience economy however, will not just be created by commercial franchises, but there will also be the direct social production of cultural value. Businesses and peer communities, enabled and empowered by a partner state, will have to create a rich tapestry of immaterial value, and the thicker the surrounding immaterial value of being, the lighter our attachment to mere having will be.

End Of Part 2

Here you'll find Part 1.

Originally written by Michel Bauwens and first published by Master New Media as "Peer-to-Peer Governance, Production And Property: P2P As A Way Of Living - Part 2"

About the author


Michel Bauwens (1958) is a Belgian integral philosopher and Peer-to-Peer theorist. He has worked as an internet consultant, information analyst for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum (where he created one of the first virtual information centers), and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine, the Dutch language Wave. With Frank Theys, he is the co-creator of a 3 hour documentary TechnoCalyps, an examination of the 'metaphysics of technology'. He taught and edited two French language anthologies on the Anthropology of Digital Society.

Although a student of Ken Wilber's integral theory for many years, he has recently become critical of aspects of the Wilber-Beck movement, and is a powerful voice for a non-authoritarian peer-to-peer based integral society.

Michel is the author of a number of on-line essays, including a seminal thesis Peer to Peer and Human Evolution, and is editor of P2P News

He now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he created the Foundation for P2P Alternatives and maintains a blog.

He has taught courses on the anthropology of digital society to postgraduate students at ICHEC/St. Louis in Brussels, Belgium and related courses at Payap University and Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

Michel Bauwens -
Reference: P2P Foundation
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posted by Robin Good on Saturday, October 27 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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