Exactly one month ago I casually noticed that Michel Bauwens was about to give a talk in Helsinki, an initiative of Pixelache and the University of Helsinki (along with the online journal Commons.fi and Helsinki Timebank). It was worth attending, the conference was dense with information and examples of cooperation from all over the world: e.g. The Nutrient Dense Project, from Tasmania or Wikispeed (US), a collaborative process for car making.
While US prepare for presidential elections, in this small country like Finland today is municipal election day. Also the Pirate Party is present, with a high number of candidates. A good moment for talking about Peer-to-peer and the Commons.
Bauwens is the founder of Foundation for P2P Alternatives: ex-entrepreneur, he has been developing a thought for “a new mode of civilization, where the core of decision-making should be located in civil society, and not in the market or in the State”. In the actual crisis of representative democracy there is space for new forms of horizontal egalitarism, on the model of computer networking, alternative to the classical hierarchical mode of organization. Renewing with the forms of cooperation of the past, of workers and peasants, a new economic thought can be developed.
According to Bauwens, the current system is based on a false idea of abundance of resources, supposed to be infinite, underlying the ideology of infinite growth. And on a false idea of scarcity, which makes us believe we always need to buy more. As we realize day by day and globally, sustainability is more and more necessary. The cost of this relentless expansion is the current stagnation.
New modes of production are being invented, such as peer production: “a for-benefit model” opposed to the “for-profit one, with a more positive impact on social happiness”. “A bottom-up mode of participative decision-making”, complementary to the democratic institutions but working for a “convergence between individual and collective interests”.
In a rapid and fascinating historical survey, Bauwens pointed out that the Roman Empire tried to get out of its crisis by re-localizing the productive resources. The emerging new system was fostered by the young Catholic Church, an open-source movement anti-litteram! Well before the Renaissance, the Templars in 12th century “moving money for pilgrims, invented the first bank accounts”.
While in capitalism the market relationship is based on unequality, in gift and/or exchange economy the relationship is more balanced, involving individuals voluntarily contributing to common projects. Even new currencies are being experimented, such as BitCoin (valid to buy a Wikispeed car) and other alternative currencies.
With open-source softwares such as Wikipedia, Linux and Arduino, shared property forms are increasing their weight (being in the US already 75% of the total). The underlying idea is universal availability, which implies the free circulation of knowledge. Under the pressure of the Internet, our world is becoming more and more controlled, copyright laws becoming more and more restrictive (the same fear which closes our frontiers?)
According to Bauwens and others, knowledge should be comprised among the Commons, that is a resource belonging to everyone. Intellectual property is a resource exactly as forests, atmosphere and ecosystems. New forms of licenses are already existing, such as General Public and Creative Commons Licenses.
“We need an entrepreneurial coalition to sustain the Commoners (…) Open business models go hand in hand with sustainable living”.
As it happened “with the Industrial Revolution, the arise of capitalism came along with a social change, the main system being in crisis. As at the end of the Roman Empire, when the pressure of Germanic tribes compelled to rethink a local strategy, in an emerging new system of values (Christianity); farmers were expelled by their lands, there were massive exodus: then peer-to-peer activities permitted to survive”.
Nowadays countries as Brazil succeed thanks to “a new way of thinking, solidarity economy”: Lula, as a ministry of Culture, encouraged open logistics projects, e.g. small coffees in the favelas with music, cinema and so on. Open research and crowdfunding make these experiences grow.
Bauwens wonders what the future political impact of this all will be: if sub-cultures need politics to defend themselves, a young generation of social entrepreneurs is emerging, “turning capitalism upside-down for social goals”. An ex. is the French Fair Trade Electronic, processes which imply “a direct intervention in the productive system”. As in the cases of the Greek potato movement, or the musical network in North-Eastern Brazil, its poorest state, with its internal currency.
With the end of welfare state and the subsequent devastation of civil society, good public infrastructure are needed; an ethical market place may be an answer to the decomposition of society, as capitalism was an answer to three centuries of religion civil wars.
We need to shift from the idea of scarcity to that of balance, optimize the resources, as in eco-villages or car-sharing agreements.
Nowadays it´s evident that “national States are uncapable to deal with the problems, a global orientation is needed, to p2p energy and technology”. We need to “manage the existing resources instead of fighting for scarce resources”, which may lead to “big social upreavals” in the near future. 50% of German energy is already produced cooperatively. With the support of the State the change may go double fast.
This process will lead to a transformation of the State in perspective, institutes for the Commons are needed, as Tommaso Fattori points out.
According to Bauwens, even “the invention of money has been a political choice, depending on a decision. In Middle Ages taxes did not depend on currencies. Money is design, not something given, and we can redesign it!”
The challenge is to create new practices (as the Time Bank), de-monetized activities where people and nature come first. Creating an alternative circle to the current financial system.
If you are still curious, you can watch Bauwens´ talk here.