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

Hi StefanMz, Christian, all!

I'm now slowly coming to this debate. Reading StefanMz's review I
think it is better to hook in here - though I saw that there are a few
more threads about this topic. However, there are a lot of comments
coming to my mind here which might get lost if I don't write them down

4 months (127 days) ago Stefan Meretz wrote:
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.

A few mails ago I wondered whether there really is a general
difference between information goods and other physical goods. I
argued that information goods need to be bound to a physical carrier
to be of any use for humans. In that respect information goods are not
so special compared with other goods which need the manipulation of
matter. At the moment they are special in two respects:

* Universality

  Digital information is universal in that it is able to encode very
  many types of information.

  In the material world this could map to a kind of matter which is
  similarly universal and a kind of energy which is similarly
  universal. At least the universal energy we have already: electrical

* Coypability

  I.e. we have machines which make it easy to produce new information
  goods. Or to transform the information contained in one source
  information good in an exact copy. And by the advance of technology
  the human effort needed for this is often marginal - because of
  which it disappears from the equations.

  The step to material production is only a small one: We need
  machines which transform information into some material form. And we
  have these. In a way every machine manipulating matter is such a
  thing - though probably only the more advanced like robots, fabbers
  or all those other cool machines making more and more people
  unemployed have the potential we are looking for.

  And as a side note: We need raw materials for both: Material
  production as well as copying digital goods. Only for digital goods
  they are meanwhile more or less part of the general infrastructure.

I can not see why any of these aspects is generally limited to digital
goods. I mean there are already machines which are able to move single

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.

I think this starting point is wrong. Effort as an economical category
seems to me a mostly capitalist notion and thus not very helpful for
other economic systems like pre- or post-capitalist ones. Effort in
this abstract sense maps to abstract labor - which I think is not a
useful category for peer production projects.

And from my experience I also can not see that effort plays much of a
role in peer production projects.

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,

Of course distribution is an important point for peer production. It
is one result of the openness.

but the effort to produce them.

Sorry, but this wording implies that there is some external goal which
needs effort which is then distributed. I don't know even one Doubly
Free peer production project where this is the case.

This is the perspective of someone who stands outside the society and
tells society what there should be and what effort is worthwhile and
which not. I don't think such a perspective is of any use for peer

Doing this it will only be produced what is needed---

That is not true. There are many reasons to produce. If the only
reason would be to produce what is *needed* than there would be only
Emacs. However, there is a plethora of editors out there (and I really
see no need for and other editor besides Emacs ;-) ).

If this relates already to a suggestion by Christian then it needs to
be clear that this is in contradiction to existing peer production
phenomenons. I think this is not by chance.

the relationship
between needs and products is »direct«.

True. But in the first place it does apply only to the needs of the
producers - not the consumers. That is what Franz criticized many
times before. But I do not agree that this is a grave problem. Given
enough producers the needs of all consumers will be supplied.

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.

Right - at least for Doubly Free peer production.

make contributions to a project to bring it to success.

Well, at least not in the sense that it should become a big public
project. It totally suffices to create something usable.

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.

I don't think peer production projects to "everything to be attractive
for participation". From my experience it is far more important to
attract *the right* contributors. And being attractive for one type of
contributors may mean to be totally unattractive to another type of
contributors. Just take Oekonux as an example...

Besides being attractive for participation as such would also be an
alienated goal and thus a danger for peer production projects.

Peer production bases on so called Commons being ressources without
owner controlling the usage.

That's at least not exact. Copyleft controls ways of use and most
licenses do.

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.

Only half-true. The means of production are meanwhile part of the
common infrastructure. In that sense they are not special any more
like a industrial robot still is.

Also the networks used to communicate with each other are not owned by
the producers. They are rented.

Free cooperation is an additional fundament of peer projects.

I have serious trouble with the term "free cooperation" as coined by
Christoph Spehr. I prefer "voluntary cooperation" much more because
this contains the essence of what we are talking about already and is
not so loaded with all that teenage rebel appeal of "free

as a mean to organize the production does not exist, because means of
coercion are absent.

They are not absent - what should remove them.

But they are counterproductive for wanted volunteers - and this is why
they are not applied to wanted volunteers in Doubly Free peer
production projects. On unwanted volunteers, however, coercion is
applied regularly. And this is good.

Participation is voluntary and there are no
sanktions when leaving a project.

The sanction thing seems to come from Christoph Spehr. I don't think
it makes any sense here.

Inside peer projects formal status
and its symbols, but also other criteria like gender, origin, age etc.
don't play a role.

I always thought that women see this differently...

Also education plays a major role here. That is often also used for

What counts are the contributions one makes. They
determine reputation, credit, and confidence one gets.

Yes. In that respect they are similar to capitalism.

Now, how can needs of the producers be coordinated with the needs of the

What for? At least on a general basis. If one wants to create a
question here then it needs to be something like "How can it be made
sure that all needs are supplied?". Which in this generality probably
can not be answered at all and there probably never was a society who
answered that question...

Today peer projects can function, because peers dispose of
production means and because non-physical goods being once created can
almost arbitrarily be reproduced.

As I mentioned above this is because a certain technology is
available. If similar technology is available for other types of
production I can not see a general argument why this can not be

This does not apply to the physical

I don't think this is generally true. It's more a matter of the
current level of inventions.

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.

No, not in general. The main difference is that for digital goods the
means are part of the common infrastructure and are nearly as
available as natural ressources - i.e. for free. I can see no general
distinction why this is not possible for less virtual goods.

I agree, however, that the means of production for less virtual goods
are not as distributed as for digital goods. Contract producers
("Lohnfertiger") are a step in the right direction, however. Or some
of the examples given by Eric v. Hippel.

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.

I'm not sure I understand this. Anyway: The duration a contribution
took needs to be made more specific.

If you think of abstract time like in abstract labor then from my
experience I'd refuse this: The bare time spent for a contribution
doesn't matter much - and why should it.

Even when you refer to the concrete time spent for a task it doesn't
matter much. I mean if a bloody beginner does something in six weeks
which someone skilled could do in five minutes - which in software is
not completely impossible - then why honor the ineffectiveness of the

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.

I think this is really wrong. It reduces the manifold reasonings and
consideration in any(!, also capitalist!) real world project to a
single number. This is purely capitalist logic but IMHO only useful
for capitalism - and even there it can be questioned very well.

One point is that whether or not someone considers a task
Selbstentfaltung is a very individual thing. Similar to "given enough
eye balls all bugs are shallow" (Eric S. Raymond) I'd say "given
enough Selbstentfalting people all tasks are a pleasure".

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.

I don't know what this exactly relates to. However, in open projects
it is one of the key factors that everyone can take - not only those
who contribute. Otherwise it is a closed project anyway and thus
hardly a peer production project.

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«:

Sorry, but from this review I think Christian is more trying to map
capitalist logic to peer production. I outlined above where I think
this happens.

How will limited resources and goods be

At least in the review there is only talking of abstract labor.
However, in the contemporary state of capitalism there is not a lack
of abstract labor - in the contrary.

What about infrastructures and meta-tasks? How will
decisions be made, how conflicts be solved? How will global projects be

Questions which in the realm of Free Software are resolved since long.
If those questions are interesting at all then whether there are
inherent limitations why the solutions can not be used for other types
of peer production projects.

What about people being not able or willing to make a

Sorry, but I even don't understand the question. Where is the problem?

Or are you referring to a situation where you need to force people
into abstract labor like in capitalism? But this has little to do with
peer production.

Who decides what a »contribution« is?

To accomplish what? Again a very abstract question I can not see it
leads anywhere.

What about

What type of migration?

Are laws further on necessary?

As laws are part of the super-structure of capitalism I'd say it's
hard to decide this now. Also in that isolated form it is hard to
answer because laws do not fall from heaven but need a lot of a
certain type of government (like a state).

What certainly *will* be necessary is that social systems need rules.
But that is so common wisdom it is really an uninteresting statement.

To my opinion the presented concept is a pragmatic transition model, not
a general model of a post-capitalist society.

For a pragmatic transition model the questions posed are wrong. For a
pragmatic transition model I don't need answers for the most
fundamental and abstract questions I can think of. I just need
solutions to just the next problem. This is a key difference.

I'm also not a fan of general models of a peer production based
societies. I think we are not in a position to even think about it -
because there will be so many things different. In particular I'd
leave this set of most fundamental questions to those who need to
answer them. And I'm absolutely sure that they have different ones
than we have.

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.


And as everyone knows real-existing socialism is the first step to


Why not simply leave the things where peer production is not yet able
to deliver to capitalism? Capitalism is great in dealing with abstract
labor so why should it not continue (given we find ways to stop it
from destroying the planet).

I don't think it is doing anyone a favor to project capitalist logic
onto peer production.

Christian Siefkes has not written his book in terms of a notion
critique, but pragmatically oriented at discourses of the english
language area.

I find it really a pity that Christian decided to not discuss this
here. "Release early, release often" is useful not only for software.

I guess Christian is not very pleased with my reply - which is
understandable after all the effort he took in his book. But had he
given a chance for early comments then it would have been able to
correct major flaws right from the beginning and improve his effort
from the start.



Contact: projekt

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