Notes from the Fourth Oekonux Conference I
From March 27th to 29th, the Fourth Oekonux Conference (announcement) took place in Manchester. It was great to meet some nice people again and to meet many nice and interesting people for the first time (in real life, that is, since I knew many participants already from virtual communications and it was a good experience to finally meet them in person).
Here are some quick notes which I wrote down during the conference sessions and polished and extended a bit afterwards.
During the first day, I didn’t took many notes, since I was busy as session helper (moderating the discussions and so on). Stefan Merten talked about Current limitations of peer production, and ideas on how to overcome them. Since Stefan doesn’t like the idea of social agreements between producers which might involve a coupling between giving and taking (as I discuss in my book), he is stuck with having to hope for technical solutions. Computers are machines for making perfect copies of digital goods, and Stefan hopes for machines can take make perfect copies of physical goods—the old Replicator dream.
Among other things, this completely neglects how to get the resources necessary for production, and how to organize tasks that cannot be handled by machines, e.g. health and elder care or education. I don’t think that such an approach could ever be sufficient—both technical solutions and social agreements are necessary and need to be interwoven.
The second and last session of the first day was given by Jacco Lammers, who talked about the c,mm,n car, which has already been discussed (in German) in the Keimform blog. Cars, of course, are a very individualistic and somehow “capitalistic” way of movement; accordingly, Jacco’s talk was quite business-oriented, too. Still, it’s an interesting project—one of the most ambitious open hardware endeavors which has made some reasonable progress so far.
After the session, I talked with Jacco about licensing issues—most open hardware projects use licenses designed for software (e.g. the GNU GPL) or content (Creative Commons). These are quite inappropriate for hardware, since the license covers only the designs, not the hardware itself—a manufacturer who produces and sells open source hardware wouldn’t be bound by the copyleft clause of the GPL, for example. Jacco said that they have found a license that seems to solve this issue and are now in the process of evaluating it—I’ll have to check that out.
The second day started with a joint introduction by Michel Bauwens and Stefan Merten, who explained the goals and philosophy of Oekonux and the P2P Foundation, the two projects organizing the conference. Stefan again expressed his belief that physical production is to become a mere appendix of information production—well, we’ll see. Michel talked about the “distributed production of money,” a toy topic of his I don’t believe in. Still, they’re both doing great jobs in inspiring and leading these organizations and the world would be much worse off without them and their dedicated work. Thanks, Stefan and Michel, for doing what you do and for making this great conference a reality!
In the next slot, it was my turn to talk about Peer Production Everywhere (cf. my submission). In the first part of my talk, I introduced the core ideas of my book about how a society based on commons and peer production might look like; in the second (and shorter) part, I discussed some ideas and approaches for how to get there. (I prepared my talk slides using the S5 file format; they’re designed for viewing on a 1024×768 display in full-screen mode.) The discussion was quite lively and there were the usual questions about whether and when coupling between giving and taking is necessary, and whether it is compatible with the peer mode of production. The general reception was quite positive, I think.
This report will be continued in a few days; there is also a report by Michel Bauwens: Extraordinary fourth Oekonux conference marks milestone for P2P movement. Audio recordings of some of the sessions are already available; more are to come.
- Part 2: Open Hardware Challenges and Ambitions
- Part 3: Money and Patterns
- Part 4: Case Study of a Large Free Software Project
Thanks for this report and your excellent presentation. I’ll leave it to Stefan to eventually defend his ideas, but want to make one important point. I am not against tying contributions and rewards, but do not want this to be a monopolistic activity. In other words, I want to preserve the communal shareholding logic of p2p practice: contributing what you can, using what you need. Obviously, as you point out, this cannot work for everything, especially for processes involving physical material requiring cost-recovery, but it can work, as it does today, for many areas of immaterial production. So we do not need, one system, but a plural economy, appropriate to where activities are situated in the abundance-scarcity continuum. I think your system could work in certain areas, but it needs to be tried out to convince me it’s not just a neat idea.
Another comment on distributed money. As long as there is scarcity, and no fully alternative system of distributing resources, money will re-appear, as shown whenever it was tried to abolish it. In this very concrete and realistic context, communities striving for autonomy can absolutely not rely on a global money system that is rigged for infinite growth and accumulation, but can socially produce there own exchange system, and therefore, built complementary systems that can assist them in surviving global dislocation. With today’s software, using a meta-currency platform (currently in the works), this becomes an entirely necessary and realistic scenario.
Otherwise you end up with the paradoxical situation, that the most radical people, like yourself, are the ones defending exclusively ‚capitalist‘ oriented money.
I am very interested in the hardware licence stuff. Is there more to read?
That’s very true. Indeed, I believe I said so myself, discussing the principles of a commons-based society in my talk:
Re “distributed money”: true, money will always re-appear as long as production and distribution are primarily based on exchange between independent producers. So, instead of abolishing or modifying money, the trick is to get rid of exchange altogether. There is no exchange within a factory or workshop, nor within a family or a group of friends, nor within the free software community or the Wikipedia, nor in the pool model I discuss in my talk and book.
The modern state-controlled central bank money differs in some ways from the old commodity money (gold money or silver money) that was used until the abolishment of the Bretton Woods system, but they are still very similar in purpose and function. But commodity money is clearly not “capitalistic,” it precedes the emergence of capitalism by thousands of years. So I don’t think you can talk about “capitalistic” or “non-capitalistic” money. Exchange leads to capitalism, whenever a society is primarily based on exchange, but that’s a property of exchange, not of money. Money is merely a tool for exchange. It’s a symptom, not the root cause of the problem, and you cannot cure an illness by only dealing with its symptoms.
@Reto: check this page in the C,mm,n wiki: http://www.fridayafternoon.org/wiki/index.php/License — it links to a copy of the license draft they’re evaluating. Skimming over it, I’ve found many things in the draft that look dubious to me, but I haven’t yet studied it in detail…
@Christian: thanks fo rthe hint. Found in the meantime The TAPR Open Hardware License which seems already to be in use.
@Christian: I don’t see anything wrong with mutual credit exchange systems such as Time Banks, LETS, Bartercard etc. What is your critique of them?
Sometimes I think an optimum system made needs 3 different economies for goods/ services with different properties. Gift economies for all that is abundant, mutual credit for stuff that is sufficient and money as we know it for things that are truly scare.
They don’t address the problem that needs to be solved, namely how to get rid of commodity production and exchange. See Marx’ Theory of Value and Why Exchange Can Be “Equal” and Still Bad and Copyfarleft — a Critique (esp. sec. 4) for more.
I’ll have a read and let you know my thoughts 🙂
But before I do, I’ll quickly note that I don’t think I agree with Marx‘ Labour Theory of Value. To my mind, the things of most value are not created by human labour at all (e.g. fertile soil – although we could and should direct more labour todays increasing the fertility of soils, its the „labour“ of soil life such as bacertia, mycorrhiza and worms that are adding the real value).
But its possible I don’t have a deep enough understand of the theory…
That’s not value, it’s wealth. Marx differs between wealth, which is the sum of all use values (of everything which is used by humans), and wealth is indeed produced by both humans and nature together.
“Value” is the sense of Marx has nothing to do with wealth (which you are talking about), it flows from the division of work between people who exchange/trade the results of their work. So when Marx talks about “value,” he is interested in how division of work takes place in exchange-based societies, and how the results of work are divided up. Because it’s about the division of human work, value is a purely inter-human thing, therefore only human labor can be a source of value. That doesn’t mean that nature is unimportant, merely that is doesn’t take part in the inter-human division of labor.