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Re: [ox-en] Re: Material peer production (Part 0: Traits of Peer Production)

Hi Stefan,

Stefan Merten wrote:
2 months (85 days) ago Christian Siefkes wrote:
Well, if you make unconditional "free availability" of the produced goods a
condition of peer production, then, as you say yourself, material peer
production is by definition impossible.

Why is free availability *by definition* impossible for material
goods? (Especially as there are material products which are freely
available - such as roads.)

I think you need to substract capitalist (i.e. alienated) logic from
the equation. What people can actually use is always limited. This
applies especially if you refer to possession. Only on capitalist
markets with it's built-in infinity of money (there is never an
"enough" for money while there is for everything else) free
availability automatically means depletion of resources which are made
for being used up. But if you substract money logic from this why
should there not be freely available material goods which just supply
the concrete needs?

Goods don't come into existence just by chance, they are produced. The
question we have to answer (and which I do answer) is how and why this
production takes place if you subtract money logic. "Selbstentfaltung" is
part of the answer, but it's not the full answer -- you cannot just let ill
people die because the people who could care for them feel more
selbstentfaltet by doing some other things instead. That's the first problem
I discuss in my book: how to "bring the consumer side of the people (who
want or need certain tasks to be done) in accord with their producer side
(who prefer doing certain tasks over doing others)."

You conveniently ignore this problem, just like you ignore the second
problem I discuss: "How to allocate limited resources and goods?"
As I say myself, scarcity is a necessary outcome of the market, but this
does not mean that scarcity will miraculously be replaced by plenty if you
do away with the market. I don't doubt that production _can_ be organized in
such as that everyone can get what they want, but this is a process that
needs to be taken care of. If people want to use more of a natural resource
than is available, they cannot _all_ get what they want, so you need some
way to arbitrate between their conflicting desires. And if more people want
bicycles than happen to be around, then you have to produce more bicycles so
everyone who wants one can get one, or else you need again to arbitrate
between the conflicting desires.

These are problems that _can_ be solved, but ignoring them is not a
solution. If you have better solutions than the ones I propose, I will most
interested to learn them.

A project producing software can
make the produced software freely available to everyone who wants it, since
doing so doesn't cause them any additional cost.

That's not completely true and I think this small difference is
important. So far there is no automatic process which makes a piece of
software available to the general public. So there is some effort
which must be taken to make it available. For instance you need to put
your project to SourceForge or set up your own web page.

So there is some effort taken even in Free Software projects to make
things publicly available. This fact must not be neglected.

The same holds for a
project producing bicycle designs. But a project producing actual bicycles
will hardly be able to do so (even if it was willing to try):

If the effort for a material project to make its products publicly
available is the same as for Free Software then I see no general
difference between a material project and a Free Software project.
What do you think?

Yes, if everything can be copied at almost marginal cost, the problem of how
to handle the production of goods that _cannot_ be copied freely (or almost
freely) disappears. But I'm not interested in wishing away problems, I'm
interested in _solving_ them.

Well, bicycles are a bad example because they are relatively
elaborated things and thus need a lot of outside resources.

You're funny :-) Peer production needs to produce much more complex things
than bicycles if we want to out-cooperate the market.

I think it is not by chance that the GNU project started with
developing a compiler (gcc) an editor (Emacs) and necessary parts of
an operating system (like grep). Those things are the most basic
things you need to make a computer run (forgetting the BIOS for a
moment). For those you don't need much resources from outside.

or the people assembling the
bicycles whose loose interest and stop producing even more bicycles for

Why should they? I guess you answer is: Because it is a repetitive and
boring task. But machines are great at repetitive and boring task. Why
then not automate the human labor away? Again I can not see a general
point here why this should be fundamentally different from Free

Automation is indeed part of my answer (read the book!), but it's not a
complete answer. I suppose indeed that is is possible to either automatize
many tasks away or else to make then as pleasant (if they aren't already)
that sufficiently many people will like to do them. But it's just wishful
thinking to claim that this is necessarily true for _all_ tasks which people
need to have handled (especially since you have to start somewhere and
automation needs to be organized as well).

Or take Wikipedia. The authors who write articles don't need to write
them - they already know what they write. So they are writing only for
others. Still they don't stop doing it. They are doing it only for a
common goal (creating the greatest encyclopedia mankind ever saw). No,
I don't think your point is valid in this generality.

So, with this definition, peer production is only possibly for goods that
can be freely copied -- peer production could only be extended to material
production if the material goods themselves could somehow be copied freely.

Or to put it differently: If the human effort needed to produce a copy
is marginal (for instance because machines are doing the very most
stuff) and readily available (for instance because those machines are
part of the general infrastructure anyway).

Yup. I challenge this assumption that peer production is only possible where
things can be copied at almost marginal cost. The conventional view is that,
because of this assumption, peer production cannot replace market production
at all (but only complement it in some domains). You view is that you hope for a

general infrastructure which provides this functionality.

Both views under-estimate the potential of peer production.

But, while the developments in this area are
interesting, it would still require a huge technological breakthrough to
turn this hope into a reality -- not only would personal fabricators need
to become _extremely_ versatile to produce all (or most) material goods,
they would also need to somehow become freely available to everyone and the
required resources would need to somehow become freely available too.

Neither of this. PCs are not freely available and still you count Free
Software as peer production - don't you.

Free software is peer production, but, as long as you need to buy PCs (or
anything else), it cannot _replace_ market production--you still need the
market to get PCs (etc.). That's exactly my point.

But is this really the only way? Yochai Benkler, who has coined term "peer
production", uses it in a way that doesn't quite match your definition. For
example, Benkler also considers peer-to-peer distribution networks such as
BitTorrent examples of peer production (though in this case "peer
distribution" might be the more appropriate term). But BitTorrent is not
based on non-reciprocal, unconditional free availability -- instead, you
are expected to contribute your part to the overall goal (efficiently
distributing files): the more bandwidth you provide for upload (allowing
others to get the files they want), the more bandwidth you'll get for
download (allowing yourself to get the files you want).

Frankly I don't know whether this is really true and technically
enforced but if so this would lock out for instance persons who live
behind firewalls or simply in a network with NAT. I can not believe
BitTorrent is so dumb (but may be wrong).

It works around firewalls to some degree (if others can't connect you, your
clients connects to them and starts uploading to them), but it works better
if you configure your firewall accordingly.

Anyway I think this reciprocal thing is a legacy of P2P (when I use it
I use it in the narrow sense as a certain technology and the music /
video sharing scene based on this technology). In early P2P networks
such as Napster there were no such reciprocal thing. Only later when
P2P became a dangerous thing to do because of the music industry that
force to make things available became a fashion. Indeed IMHO that was
a result from the legal thing becoming a scarce resource - not the

That's an interesting idea, but I doubt it. I was involved in a very early
P2P project (in 2000), and I remember that scalability was a huge problem
for the first generation of P2P protocols (networks getting slower the
larger they became). That was solved by the second generation protocols by
introducing "sharers preferred" mechanisms. That was years before the music
industry started to persecute _users_ of P2P networks (in the first years,
they only went for the software and service providers).

A first point that is important is that Benkler makes it quite clear that
he considers peer production as a third mode of production that is
fundamentally different from both "market production" and "planned
production" (or "firm production") . Markets are based on equivalent
exchange (buying and selling), while both capitalist firms and the
so-called "socialist" planned economies (such as the Soviet Union) rely on
hierarchies and organized planning to distribute tasks and resources. If
you produce something for selling it on the market, or if your production
follows some hierarchical planning process, you are not peer-producing --

Hierarchy has a couple of meanings. If you mean non-voluntary by
hierarchy then I agree with you.

That's basically what I mean.

If you mean a mode of organizing a complex process then I disagree
with you. In fact I think for each complex process it is absolutely
necessary to have "overseers" on the one hand and "workers" on the
other. If you like you can see this being part of the division of

I don't think the division is as strict as you make it (is Linus an
"overseer"?), but I agree, of course, that "a mode of organizing a complex
process" is necessary. The structures developed in free software projects
are quite fine in this regard, and part of my work is about how they can be
generalized to projects producing or organizing other things.

Best regards

|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian ---------
| Homepage:    |    Blog:
| Peer Production in the Physical World:
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
We are the crisis, we ... who say No!, we who say Enough!, enough of your
stupid power games, enough of your stupid exploitation, enough of your
idiotic playing at soldiers and bosses; we who do not exploit and do not
want to exploit, we who do not have power and do not want to have power,
we who still want to live lives that we consider human, we who are without
face and without voice: we are the crisis of capitalism. The theory of
crisis is not just a theory of fear but also a theory of hope.
	-- John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power

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