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[ox-en] Peer Economy. A Transition Concept.

Hi all,

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 
physical good.

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 
physical world.

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 
being contibutors.

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:

Start here:
Contact: projekt

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