Material peer production—Part 3: Commons and Possession
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Previous part: Free Cooperation.
Peer production is based on commons and possession, not on property. As long as you use something (by yourself), there is no obvious difference between possession and property. The difference only becomes visible when you stop using it: your property still remains your property, allowing you to sell it to someone else (in return for money or some other equivalent). But possession is bound to usage—if you no longer need something, you cease possessing it and somebody else can start possessing it.
One issue where this becomes relevant is the question of long-term vs. short-term usage. When projects expect people to make contributions in order to get the things they want, there are cases where the length of usage should be taken into account. Otherwise, people who want to use something for a limited period of time would be put at a serious disadvantage, since they would have to contribute just as much as if they wanted to use it “forever.” When the expected “lifespan” of a good exceeds the expected time of usage by any given person, it might thus be appropriate to tie the required contributions to the length of usage, sharing the overall effort between all who use it over time. For example, a project or local association organizing housing for its members might prefer to require contributions for living in a house or apartment for a certain amount of time (instead of for living there forever), thus spreading the effort necessary for building and maintaining houses among all the people who live there over time.
The difference between property and possession is also relevant for the problem of resource allocation. In an economy where everything is based on commons and possession instead of property, it would not make sense to treat natural resources as property—to rely on buying and selling to allocate them. In fact, it would not even be possible: if nothing apart from resources is sold, how should those who lack them be able to buy them?
The alternative is to treat resources like everything else: as commons and possession. Since specific resources are typically bound to the location where they occur, they might be managed by the local associations (cf. previous part) they are in, but they won’t be owned by anybody. Instead, they are commons when they are not used; they become the possession of some person or project using them for some purpose; and they revert to the commons when they are no longer used (provided they haven’t been used up).
Since resources are commons, and since any local association is unlikely to have enough of all the resources its members need, it makes sense for the various local associations to pool their resources. They can do so by using the shared allocation system of an existing distribution pool (cf. previous part) to distribute the available resources of all participating local associations among all their inhabitants.
When resources are pooled, they can be allocated to those who want them in a similar way to other goods distributed through a d-pool. When there is enough of a resource available for all who want to use it, everybody can get what they want for free, which is essentially a flat rate model. If there is more demand than can be satisfied, resources can be “auctioned off” in the same way as products: the resource will be assigned to the people or projects willing to contribute most weighted labor to the d-pool in order to get it (preference weighting). If a project acquires resources that are not available for free (flat rate), it can add the weighted labor necessary to get them to the tasks the project members need to handle, so this additional labor will be distributed among them in the usual way.
Remember that resources are considered as commons, not as the property of the local associations where they occur. They are just made available as additional goods to be distributed through a d-pool. If a resource is auctioned off at a high cost, the association of origin won’t benefit in any special way; instead, all the other goods distributed through the same pool will become slightly cheaper. This follows from the fact that resources are treated just like other goods that are distributed through a d-pool: if a project successfully distributes one of its products through the pool, the effort (in weighted labor) required to produce it will be recognized as a contribution to the pool. But natural resources are not produced, they just exist, so the production effort to be recognized is zero.
Next and concluding part: What Difference Does It Make?