Re: [ox-en] Review of peerconomy book
- From: Christian Siefkes <christian siefkes.net>
- Date: Sun, 21 Sep 2008 21:35:29 +0200
[Aargh, the mail got broken and another copy got hanging because of a wrong
sender address. Trying again... Stefan, you can delete that hanging copy.]
Hi Stefan, hi all,
Stefan Merten wrote:
Last week (11 days ago) Christian Siefkes wrote:
I won't respond to where your analysis goes wrong, since I have other
things to do and this has all been discussed before.
Thanks for your ignorance. You really make me feel sorry for spending
so much effort in trying to debug your work. May be I should have done
like you and dismiss your whole stuff from the start. However, to me
that is not the way to move forward.
sadly, I, like anybody else, have only limited time on my hands. This is not
the first time we've discussed my ideas. You've criticized them before, and
I've responded before, and in your review you didn't come up with any new
points (as far as I could notice). So we can either turn in circles and lead
the same discussions again and again, or we can conclude that we've found an
issue were we can't reach agreement on and leave it at that.
Anyway, let's try it one more time...
I'll quote one randomly picked piece from my "Disguises" section and
step by step ask you where I missed the important difference. If I'm
so wrong then it is probably easy to point at it.
However, there is a sharp distinction between the contributions
which are done in the division of labor model of capitalism and in
peer production projects. In peer production projects the doubly
Free contributors contribute because it is Selbstentfaltung to them.
They don't need any compensation for this because they are not
loosing anything - in the contrary.
I guess you'll agree with me until here.
Hm, I rarely use the "Selbstentfaltung" concept because it sounds too
vague for me. When we look at motivational studies of why people participate
in free projects (a German-only overview can be found at
), we find a variety of reasons:
- People produce goods they like to have ("scratching an itch")
- People do something they enjoy doing
- People want to give something back to the community or support the
community goals ("software should be free")
- People want to learn something or expand their skills
- People want to increase their reputation (this last reason seems to be
rare, in spite of what Raymond thought)
So when you mean by "no compensation" that they don't get money in return,
than you're right, but when you mean that they don't get anything in return,
than you're wrong -- they can get the goods they have produced, enjoyment,
new/improved skills, reputation, or a mixture of these. (In case of "giving
back to the community", things work the other way around: people feel that
they have already got something worthwhile, and now they want to give back.)
In capitalism on the other hand
contributors are structurally coerced to contribute because they are
payed for their contributions and money is what they need for a
I guess you'll agree with that, too.
People are forced to earn money in order to live, yes.
This is exactly the point where concrete work differs from
abstract labor and abstract labor becomes subject of exchange. This
is an important source of alienation in capitalism and as such the
reason for a lot of problems.
I could imagine that you agree with that but I'm not sure. If not I'd
like to know where you disagree.
Hm, here you seem to misunderstand Marx' theory. "Concrete work/labor" and
"abstract labor" aren't two different _kinds_ of labor, they are just two
different _aspects_ of labor. _All_ labor/work is concrete in so far as it
produces some concrete use value; when we ignore the specific use value
produced and just consider labor as "expenditure of human labor power",
what's left is "abstract human labor" (cf. Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_labour_and_concrete_labour ). In
capitalism this abstraction from specific use value is very important since
it forms the basis of _exchange value_ (or just _value_): the value of a
commodity depends on the amount of abstract human labor that's necessary to
produce it. The abstraction therefore is a "real abstraction": it takes
place in the real world, not just in our minds.
While it is clear that _all_ work, in any society, is always "concrete
useful labor (or work)", it's a matter of debate whether it makes sense to
speak of "abstract human labor" in regard to non-capitalist modes of
production, where production is not based on (exchange) value and where the
"real abstraction" doesn't take place. I'm inclined (but with no strong
feelings one way or the other) to think that we can always speak of
"abstract human labor", but that we should carefully distinguish whether
this abstraction takes place in the real world ("real abstraction", as in
capitalism) or whether it takes place in our minds only (as when we regard
the work of somebody writing free software or a Wikipedia article as
abstract "expenditure of human labor power", disregarding the concrete use
value they're producing -- since they aren't producing any exchange value,
this abstraction takes place in our mind only, it doesn't have an effect on
the real world).
Now, the real abstraction in capitalism is an automatic process, it happens
"behind the back of the producers" as a result of price negotiation between
market participants. On the other hand, abstraction in the peer economy, as
I describe it, is the result of a conscious decision of people. A decision
that they make in order to deal with a problem that they'll doubtlessly have
to face, namely: how to distribute tasks that don't distribute themselves
automatically, i.e. that nobody wants to do out of pure "Selbstentfaltung".
I mention in my book that other solutions to this problem are possible --
you don't like this solution: that's fine, so go on and propose better ones.
My book was meant to start a discussion on these issues, so any alternative
proposals for dealing with this problem are welcome.
Now Christian deals with the problem that there might be tasks in a
peer production project which are for some reason not done out of
That's the basic idea of your book - right? If all tasks would be
handled by Selbstentfaltung then nobody would be required to
contribute to get a product. We would have ampleness instead and we do
not need ca. 70% of the things you are discussing in your book.
My approach is a problem-driven one: if people will be faced with this
problem, they'll have to deal with it, and I discuss a possible way of
dealing with it. If the problem never arises, so much the better--in this
case, that part of my book would be unnecessary, which would still leave
about 30% that would be useful. However, I don't think that a transition to
a post-capitalist society will be possible without dealing with this
problem. A society where all demands are satisfied through Selbstentfaltung
may be possible, but I doubt that such a society could grow immediately out
The simple answer he finds is: Coerce others so
they contribute by doing these tasks. Instead of paying them with
money Christian suggests exchanging products of the project for the
abstract labor done by a coerced contributor.
That is probably the point where you will say that I'm missing an
important difference. However, I can not see it. I'll try to pin down
the pattern I recognize.
If I want to acquire some product in your system I can not simply take
it - as in existing peer production projects. Instead I am required to
contribute something - right? This something is work I need to do
though I do not want to do that work because of my Selbstentfaltung -
right? I'd call this work abstract labor because of the lack of
In so far as current peer production tends to go, my solution is the same as
of current peer production processes: you can take anything, without having
to give anything back, as long as you don't take it _away_ from others. That
means that you can freely take information and anything else that can be
copied freely. Current peer production tends to end here.
The problem that arises next is how to organizing taking when taking does
mean taking away: say if I want to take a bicycle, but somebody else wants
to take it too -- if there's only one bicycle, and if one of us would take
it, she would take it away from the other (she would deny her the
possibility of taking it). My problem to this solution is basically:
"arrange production, through social agreements, so as to avoid that taking
becomes taking away -- i.e. arrange production so as to ensure that there is
one bicycle (etc.) for everyone who needs one." People thus enter a joint
agreement to help each other produce what each of them needs.
Realizing this common goal requires effort, and the agreement must therefore
find a mode for distributing this effort--my proposal here is either to
distribute effort evenly among participants (flatrate model), or to
distribute it roughly proportionally to the effort it takes to satisfy
everyone's wishes ("the more you want, the more you have to give"), plus
some further details and possible modifications. The decision to regard
effort as "abstract human labor", disregarding the specific useful goods it
produces (except that they must of course be useful, i.e. somebody must want
them), is therefore the result of an social agreement, it does not happen
"behind the back of the producers."
The important thing, I believe, is that people enter a joint agreement to
help each other produce what they need--the details of the agreement (how to
distribute effort etc.) will be a matter of experimentation. Feel free to
propose better solutions for these details, if you know any.
But please stop ignoring the difference between freely copyable and other
things: if you take a copy of Linux, nobody else loses a thing, but if you
take the last bicycle, other people lose the possibility to take it. That's
a difference that must be dealt with, merely wishing it away won't help you.
If I want to acquire some product in capitalism I also can not simply
take it. Instead I am required to pay for it. The payment is usually
done by money, but money ultimately results from abstract labor. So
money is just an intermediary which does not change the basic
principle that I need to do abstract labor to acquire a certain
So I can really not see the difference. As a result if you say that in
capitalism there is structural coercion then it is the same in your
system. The coercion lies in the fact that I can not simply take what
I need but am required to do abstract labor for it.
I don't think the problem in capitalism is that you don't get everything for
free. On a deep level, the problem that you have to work in order to consume
even exists in any society, since only goods that have been produced can be
consumed. Thus work (production) is always a necessary precondition for
consumption--maybe not for you personally, but definitely for society as a
whole. (Of course, the people doing it may perceive this work not as
necessity, but as Selbstentfaltung, as something they're doing voluntarily
and with pleasure--that's the best outcome a mode of production can hope to
achieve. But it can only be an outcome, not a precondition for a mode of
production. Otherwise needs which, for whatever reasons, cannot be satisfied
by pure Selbstentfaltung would simply be neglected, and that wouldn't be a
The problem in capitalism is that production only takes place if there is
_profit._ The goal of all capitalist production is to make profit, i.e. to
turn money into more money. So, in order to get the things you need, you
cannot just "work a little"--no, you have to convince some capitalist that
they need you, i.e. that employing you allows them to make more profit than
they would make otherwise. Your mere willingness to work is entirely
unimportant--you must be useful for some capitalist, too. But capitalists
only need a limited number of personnel, much less than there are people on
Earth, so that's the big hurdle which most people fail to overcome (when
speaking on a global scale).
The second aspect of this problem is that, as a worker, you don't sell the
results of your labor, you sell your _labor power_ (workers, or would-be
workers, are people who don't have anything to sell than their labor
power--most people haven't). The deal by selling your labor power is: you
get paid the value of your labor power (what else?), and the value of your
labor power is what you need in order to survive (according to your local
community standard of living); in return, you have to give your full labor
power (according to the local standard for the length of they work day/week,
say, 8 hours a day/40 hours a week). If the production of the goods you need
for your standard of living takes 20 hours a week, you still have to work 40
hours--the other 20 hours are the "surplus"--they go to the capitalist,
become their profit and are, in fact, the only reason why they employed you
in the first place.
In the peer economy, you don't need to be useful for a capitalist, since you
can join, without any preconditions, the general agreement to help each
other produce what they need. And since work is simply divided up, there is
no surplus--if producing your standard of living takes 20 hours a week, you
work 20 hours (assuming a proportional model), if you want a higher
standard, you have to work a bit more, say 25 hours, etc. (In fact, your
workload would probably be even lower, since in capitalism there is much
duplication of work and overload work which would be unnecessary in a peer
economy.) The general agreement to help each other produce what they want
and to divide the necessary work among those that can contribute means that
everybody who can has to work a little, but nobody has to work very much.
(And if you can't contribute at all, then you don't have to. That's how I
describe it, at least, and I believe that rule to be very important, since
the goal of dividing up the labor is to allow everyone to get what they want
with the least possible effort, not to exclude anybody.)
That's the difference between capitalism and the peer economy. For many
people in our society, it would mean the difference between life and death,
or at least between having to live in misery or being able to live a good
life. And for almost everybody else it, it's the difference between having
to work very much (and often with the fear of losing that precious, if
unloved job and the advantages it entails) and having to work much less (and
without fear of dropping out). And that's not even speaking of the fact that
in the peer economy you're part of a equal community of co-producers with a
common goal (produce for everyone what that like to have), while in
capitalism you must subjugate to the command of some boss whose goal (making
profit) has nothing to do with you...
|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian siefkes.net ---------
| Homepage: http://www.siefkes.net/ | Blog: http://www.keimform.de/
| Peer Production in the Physical World: http://peerconomy.org/
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions
is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my
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-- Alan D. Sokal, A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies