Alternative exchange systems furthering GPL society? (was: Re: [ox-en] New economic model for free technology?)
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 09:15:33 +0200
Hi Michel et al!
I had a couple of thoughts I'd like to add to this thread. I know this
is a bit rambling but to understand things this is necessary IMHO.
3 days ago Stefan Merten wrote:
2 weeks (16 days) ago Michael Bouwens wrote:
one hour of labour equals another.
It is ideal for the
exchange of services, while market exchange works
better with products.
Well, I think this is mostly phantasy. There is no fundamental
difference between labor time done for service as labor time done for
producing a product. (Well, service labor doesn't produce exchange
value but I'd rather not expand on this here.)
I guess when you say service then you are talking of personal services
like cutting hair or teaching a language. The type of things usually
traded in LETS. But this is only a small part of the labor in
services. Industry knows *a lot* of services which are not personal in
The point I'm thinking of for some time now is the following: Personal
services are hard to alienate. They are bound to the individuals
servicing and being serviced. This is why LETS can easily trade these
services and there is no way to convert them to standard money.
Non-personal services are much more like what you call products,
however. They can be organized in a capitalist way and they can be
sold by an entrepreneur. When you are at this point it doesn't matter
whether you prefix your dollar with "time" or not.
I thought about this longer and I think I was partially wrong here or
at least this needs some addition. What I was thinking about above was
this: If you receive a product in an alternative exchange system there
is nothing which stops you from selling it for universal money.
Thus you can convert "time dollars" into universal dollars easily.
This is not so easy with personal services where the servicer needs to
be present in the moment the service is traded.
However, this is only part of the point.
In the following my point of departure is what actual LETS (IIRC:
Local Exchange Trade Systems) projects do at present. I understood
that this is the fundament on which a lot of the alternative money
scene relies so it makes sense to analyze what happens here.
As far as I can see existing LETS projects basically exchange personal
services like those mentioned above. In the reports I know about it is
always emphasized that there is also a personal relationship between
the serviced person and the servicer. In particular I understood that
the person being serviced directly pays the person servicing. I.e. the
servicer receives time dollars the serviced person has acquired
before. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Anyway this is what mislead me to think that it is the personal
service which is the point. If I think longer about it I think rather
it is the direct relationship without any intermediating persons which
is the point and in particular the direct payment. Meanwhile I think
these are the points which together with the personal character of the
service reduce the potential for big scale alienation.
Capitalism as the most advanced exchange system we know of is grounded
in selling and buying labor time. Labor time / work force must be sold
by those who need to survive because in developed capitalism they are
separated from other means to survive (like rural subsistence). LETS
schemes change nothing here (which is good because any type of
subsistence can only be thought of as a big scale societal crash).
They are also separated from the means of production when we think of
big machinery - workers are simply not owning the big machinery they
are using for production. This is where it starts that some people buy
work force (to operate the big machinery they own somehow) while other
people sell it. This is the point where alienation reaches a new
level: You are not only working to get money for it (instead of
producing a certain use value) but also work for someone else.
This also is where personal services (and Free Software for that
matter) come into play. Often they need little machinery, litte means
of production beyond those found in every household like a scissor for
hair cutting. The entry barriers are low here and thus there is a
chance to reduce alienation by dropping the capitalists - called
self-employment (Selbständigkeit). In a second step there is also the
potential to drop the exchange thing altogether: If you have the means
of production anyway you are Free to use them for whatever you want
and do not need to look for any exchange in return for your activity
or to pay the machinery.
However, services can and are organized in a capitalist way. There are
capitalists who buy work force from people and use it to earn money
which then is partly payed back to the workers. This means that there
is no general limit in integrating services in the capitalist mode of
The question for alternative money systems now to me is how they are
going to prevent such a development. Actually I see no way if you are
not going to forbid the role of capitalists (i.e. the role buying work
force). In personal services like those typically traded in LETS this
is easier because there are the personal relationships based on moral
grounds (which means that the communities must be relatively small)
and because they can be done without much means of productions.
But what about services which need more means of productions? As long
as you are operating in an exchange based mode: What can prevent
things into turning into the classical capitalist mode with
capitalists and workers *and* at the same time be more successful than
this capitalist mode? Actually I think this is not possible and that
is why I still think:
More and more I think this is why for personal services LETS may work
but if you try to scale it up you either fail or end up with the
standard money system.
For peer production to succeed or expand, I think
1) the basic income for pure P2P in the immaterial
Well, so far Free Software worked without it. Why do
you think it is
necessary in other areas?
Free software has mostly worked with salaries derived
from the capitalist market economy, or from government
jobs or welfare payments. I'm talking of taking it out
of the hobby sphere,
to make it a generalized
phenomenon that is widely accessible to the population
on a full-time basis.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I understood that you think that
alternative exchange systems can make peer production on a full-time
basis more likely.
Again I think it makes sense to expand a bit. What we are talking
about here? You regret it that people have not enough Free time to
work in peer production mode. Or with my words: They need to spend too
many time in alienated modes like working for a wage or for a market
How is another exchange based system going to change this? As far as I
understood none of these systems does include reduction of alienated
work modes at all. So whether I spend my time to earn universal money
or to earn time dollars makes not much of a difference as far as peer
production modes are concerned. In both cases I'm forced to sell my
work force to buy things I need.
I think the only way to really solve the problem of working more time
in non-alienated modes is to resolve the necessity of alienated work
modes altogether. The best way to this, however, has nothing to do
with exchange system or not but with the organization of work and the
advancement of technology. Only automation can free humankind from
alienated modes of work. Is there anything in alternative exchange
systems which furthers this?
Also I'd like to add one general remark about alternative exchange
systems. I urge everyone who promotes features of alternative exchange
systems to ask *why* these features are not realized in the existing
exchange system. I mean it is not by chance that the existing exchange
system is like it is but there are reasons for this and these reasons
more often than not have to do with the fact that an exchange system
is an exchange system. Thus an alternative exchange systems either
goes down the same street or is not as successful at the existing
Mit Freien Grüßen
 Actually there could be ways by forbidding to sell it for
universal money. We thought about such an idea some time ago on
the German list when we talked about gratis shops. This would
require some special license which is the basis on which some
product could be used and no transfer of ownership.
Please note this message is written on an offline laptop
and send out in the evening of the day it is written. It
does not take any information into account which may have
reached my mailbox since yesterday evening.
Contact: projekt oekonux.de