Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Cooperation, Sharing And Social Networking As Emergent Economic And Production Forces

"Co-operation, especially when repeated, can breed reciprocity and trust, to the benefit of all."

The choices we make, as a society, are greatly connected to the technological context we live in. In the Middle Ages we would have not based our economic system on the principles of mass production, marketing and distribution, as the socio-economic and technological context didn't provide the premises for such a change.

Photo credit: Paulo Pereira

But what we do need to ask is: are the technological opportunities in the era of digital information economies the same as the ones that dictated the socio-economic systems we are in? Has the socio-technological context changed so radically that we should be looking at economic and production systems that leverage, instead of resisting, the opportunities offered by the new eco-techno-system we live in?

What a Yale professor suggests is that a growing body of literature on social norms, social capital, common property regimes, and the emergence of peer production, outline the contours of social sharing as a third mode of organizing economic production, alongside markets and the state.



"The characteristics of information--be it software, text or even biotech research--make it an economically obvious thing to share. It is a "non-rival" good: ie, your use of it does not interfere with my use.

Better still, there are network effects: ie, the more people who use it, the more useful it is to any individual user. Best of all, the existence of the internet means that the costs of sharing are remarkably low. The cost of distribution is negligible, and co-ordination is easy because people can easily find others with similar goals and can contribute when convenient."

Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law at Yale, focuses on these very issues, and in a challenging essay entitled "Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production" brings forward the rationale supporting the fact that sharing economies are part of our near future.

Professor Benkler argues that a third system of production, beyond market and state, is embedded into social networks and it is at the heart of a large and increasing volume of socio-economic exchanges. But the critical point he makes is that this third system of exchange is strongly technology-dependent. And when technology generates increasing numbers of socio-exchange systems and tools that are easily available and immediately productive, things start to change significantly.

Think of Skype, P2P, RSS syndication, open source software and you have an idea of what we are referring to.

He also writes:

"As capital requirements have declined and access to the relevant capital goods has become widely disseminated in advanced economies, the scope of sharing as a modality of production has increased.

This requires that we invest greater effort in further research into the internal dynamics of social sharing and exchange systems, focused not so much on their characteristics as modes of social reproduction as on their characteristics as transactional frameworks and modes of economic production.

The anthropology of gift and economic anthropology literature, the sociology and economics of reciprocity, and the literature on common property regimes seem particularly valuable sources for further exploration of these modes of cooperation.

It is crucial that we understand this fundamental change in the material conditions of production in the networked information economy.

We find ourselves faced with policy and design questions that assume that the role of market production is fixed, rather than technologically contingent. We observe in many contexts policy choices and design impulses that take assumptions appropriate to the capital requirements of industrial economies and try to force behavior in the networked information economy into the social and market behavioral patterns that were appropriate for that
technological stage and capital structure, rather than for the one we live in

We must learn instead how to adjust our expectations, assumptions,
and, ultimately, policy prescriptions to accommodate the emerging
importance of social relations in general, and sharing in particular, as a
modality of economic production.

Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of
Economic Production
(PDF 86 pages)

Yochai Benkler - Professor of Law, Yale Law School.

See also: The economics of sharing
The Economist - Feb. 3th 205

Reference: Yale Law Journal [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, February 8 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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