3.4.B. P2P and the Market
3.4.B. P2P and the Market
Quite a few American authors, especially libertarians such as Eric Raymond, but also ‘common-ists’ such as Lawrence Lessig (Lessig,2004), through his arguments for a Creative Commons, says in effect that P2P processes are market-based. Is this a correct assumption. Perhaps a useful distinction is the one made by Fernand Braudel in the 'Wheels of Commerce' (Braudel, 1992), where he distinguishes the ordinary economic life of exchanges at the local level, the fairly transparent market of towns and cities, and monopolistic capitalism. It is only the latter which has a 'growth' imperative . Growth is a feature of capitalism, not of markets per se.
P2P exchange can be considered in market terms only in the sense that free individuals are free to contribute, or take what they need, following their individual inclinations, with a invisible hand bringing it all together, without monetary mechanism. Thus, it is a market only in the sense of the first and perhaps second level of distinction in the Braudel interpretation, not the third. What Braudel notes is that small markets function as 'meshworks', i.e. distributed networks, but that capitalism was always-already based on large hierarchical companies rigging the market (large relative to their markets, as was already the case in 14th century Venice). Market vendors are price takers, following supply and demand; but capital functions as a price setter, controlling the market and keeping out competitors. Thus the latter -- and in the contemporary era of financially-dominated capitalism these aspects have been exacerbated to an unprecedented degree – can better be called 'anti-markets', as has been suggested by Manuel DeLanda. A market can be a necessary condition for P2P processes to occur, but the anti-markets created by capitalism are anti-thetical to it.
Though an increasing number of programmers get paid for commons-based peer production, it is not in general their main motivation. P2P products are rarely made for the profit obtained from the exchange value, but more often and more fundamentally for their use value and acceptance by a user community. So what Lessig means by with his notion of a market-based solution is simply to say that producers are free to contribute or not, that users are free to use them or not. All this means that it is hard to pin down P2P within the old categories of left and right ideologies, it is a hybrid form with market-based and commons-based aspects. Since we have shown how P2P is in fact inextricably bound with the idea of a Commons and the intersubjective typology of communal shareholding, the equation of P2P with a market is mostly misleading.
Indeed, note how P2P differs in important aspects from a market, even genuine ones in the typology of Braudel, (Market Pricing in the typology of Fiske):
- Markets do not function according to the criteria of collective intelligence and holoptism, but rather, in the form of insect-like swarming intelligence. Yes, there are autonomous agents in a distributed environment, but each individual only sees his own immediate benefit .
- Markets are based on 'neutral' cooperation, and not on synergistic cooperation: no reciprocity is created.
- Markets operate for the exchange value and profit, not directly for the use value.
- Whereas P2P aims at full participation, markets only fulfill the needs of those with purchasing power.
Amongst the disadvantages of markets are:
- They do not function well for common needs that do not assure full payment of the service rendered (national defense, general policing, education and public health), and do not only fail to take into account negative externalities (the environment, social costs, future generations), but actively discourages such behavior.
- Since open markets tend to lower profit and wages, it always gives rise to anti-markets, where oligopolies and monopolies use their privileged position to have the state 'rig' the market to their benefit.
- Though market forces (in fact 'antimarket') increasingly adopt P2P-like functioning, as we have demonstrated in chapter 1 (technological base) and chapter 2 (economic usage), and as it own organizational format (as demonstrated in Empire by Negri and Hardt), in this case the distributed meshwork will always be subordinated to hierarchy or market pricing.
P2P in contrast, has a teleology of participation, leading to the opposite characteristic: if centralization or hierarchy or authority models are used, they are in the service of deepening participation. Market forces will apply P2P-like protocols which are proprietary, secret, restricted, and are opposed to this aim of participation.