[ox-en] Peer Economy. A Transition Concept.
- From: Stefan Meretz <stefan.meretz hbv.org>
- Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2007 17:09:39 +0100
recently I wrote a review about the peer economy book of Christian
Siefkes, published in the small Vienna journal named "Streifzuege".
Now, here is a quick translation of this review. However, it is not a
replacement of reading the book;-)
Corrections due to my limited english usage are welcome:
Peer Economy. A Transition Concept.
by Stefan Meretz
Inside the critical left there is a small group refering to free
software and free culture movement being already start points (»germ
forms«) for new possibilities beyond commodities, money, market, and
state. Such approaches on their part are critized as to be limited to
reproducible information goods and being unable to reach the world of
Christian Siefkes now has presented the »Peer Economy« concept dealing
with this central critique of germ form ideas. In his english
book »From Exchange to Contributions« Siefkes generalizes the
principles of free software and free culture production into the
Starting point is the consideration, that people have to spend efforts
during the production of their living conditions. While capitalism uses
the market as an »indirection« to allocate produced goods---although
afore it is not clear, if they are needed or can be sold---peer
production does not distribute goods, but the effort to produce them.
Doing this it will only be produced what is needed---the relationship
between needs and products is »direct«.
How can this work? Here the peer principle comes into play. The
term »peer production« was introduced by Yochai Benkler in order to
describe the open and cooperative type of production of free
information goods. Individual people (»peers«) work together on a
voluntary basis, in fact from a single reason: they want to do it. They
make contributions to a project to bring it to success. Intensity,
extent, and duration is determined by each person themself. On the
other side peer projects depend on contributions and will do everything
to be attractive for participation.
Peer production bases on so called Commons being ressources without
owner controlling the usage. As a rule results of peer project are on
the other hand part of the commons. Currently this does not apply to
physical means of production, they are private property of the peers
Free cooperation is an additional fundament of peer projects. Coercion
as a mean to organize the production does not exist, because means of
coercion are absent. Participation is voluntary and there are no
sanktions when leaving a project. Inside peer projects formal status
and its symbols, but also other criteria like gender, origin, age etc.
don't play a role. What counts are the contributions one makes. They
determine reputation, credit, and confidence one gets.
Now, how can needs of the producers be coordinated with the needs of the
consumers? Today peer projects can function, because peers dispose of
production means and because non-physical goods being once created can
almost arbitrarily be reproduced. This does not apply to the physical
world. Peer projects of physical goods have to demand an adequate
compensation for the taking of goods requiring each time anew an effort
to produce them.
But which contribution is adequate? This question is decided by the
project. It weights the contributions using the time duration inversely
proportional to its popularity: unpopular tasks only require a small
contribution, while popular tasks require a big contribution. This
sounds similar to role the economic value is playing in market economy.
The economic value maps complex actions on simple once. However, while
always complex actions are manifolds of simple once---resulting in less
volume of spending---a generalized peer production tend to function the
other way around: Simple tasks no one likes to do will be highly
weighted to guarantee its execution, while popular and often highly
qualified tasks get a lower weight. The weighting---according to the
proposal---is nothing static, but is permanently adjusted. This
adjustment is done automatically using an »auctioning system« mediating
demand and supply. Thus one hour garbage removal can thoroughly
correspond to one week writing computer programs.
Concerning the allocation of the goods peer projects join together and
form distribution pools, in order to be able to provide a larger
bandwith of useful goods. At the same time the project extent should
(but not need to) be straightforward, problems should be handled
directly »peer to peer«. Everybody contributing something to a local
project can gather goods from the respective distribution pool.
Depending on the type of goods the ways of disribution differ, from
flat rate allocation to preference weighting.
It is remarkable, that Siefkes concretely discusses a number of critical
questions, which are usually avoided by refering to a future »where
everything will be solved«: How will limited resources and goods be
distributed? What about infrastructures and meta-tasks? How will
decisions be made, how conflicts be solved? How will global projects be
organized? What about people being not able or willing to make a
contribution? Who decides what a »contribution« is? What about
migration? Are laws further on necessary?
To my opinion the presented concept is a pragmatic transition model, not
a general model of a post-capitalist society. Main limitation is the
interlinking of contribution and taking. However, it is well
imaginable, that the strict interlinking between contribution and
taking during the phase of competition to capitalism will be resolved
after its overcoming.
Christian Siefkes has not written his book in terms of a notion
critique, but pragmatically oriented at discourses of the english
language area. As the text is released under a free license a german
translation should be possible soon. A set book!
Christian Siefkes, From Exchange to Contributions. Generalizing Peer
Production into the Physical World, Berlin, Edition C. Siefkes, 2007,
9.50 Euro, Web: peerconomy.org.
Start here: www.meretz.de
Contact: projekt oekonux.de