Policies for Community-Owned Platforms
* Draft Proposal: Tech New Deal: Policies for Community-Owned Platforms. By Nathan Schneider.
"At a time when regulators are seeking new responses to the dilemmas of world-spanning digital platforms, forms of communitownership such as cooperatives and trusts offer attractive benefits for workers and other users. Yet if economic democracy is to provide a counterweight to investor ownership in the online economy, it will require an appropriate policy framework. This paper argues that such a framework can come from radically generalizing and expanding on pre-digital successes in local and industry-specific policies from various countries and contexts—including policies for incorporation, financing, and collective action. Such an agenda sets out to ensure that community ownership is at least as available to the online economy as investor ownership has been."
"In August 2016, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn unveiled a Digital Democracy Manifesto that called, among other things, for “the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services” (Corbyn 2016). This came in the wake of the first “Platform Cooperativism” conference in New York City the previous November. Since then, policymakers in several countries have expressed formal or informal interest in the idea, including the German Social Democratic Party leader Andrea Nahles (Scholz 2018a), the Innovation Committee of the Italian Parliament in Rome (Sifry 2016), the city of Barcelona (Morell and Espelt 2019), and US senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Scholz 2018b)."
"My intent is not simply to carve out the Internet as yet another special case in which a distinct and bounded cooperative sector might emerge. Rather,I set out to draw on successful cooperative policies in various countries and industries and propose ways of generalizing them broadly across the economy — including to the online economy. The New Deal era was an especially generative time in the United States for visionary, targeted policies for democratizing ownership, from housing to financial institutions. These, in turn, took inspiration from earlier, small-scale experiments (Knapp 1973; Curl 2012). The “Tech New Deal” I propose here draws on the New Deal and related policy legacies as test runs for a more ambitious agenda, one capable of undergirding economic democracy for a time of global networks that are at once embattled in controversy and pregnant with possibility. This agenda sets out to ensure that community ownership is at least as available to the online economy as investor ownership has been.
In the United States, policy interventions have been essential (and effective)in bringing community ownership to scale, such as through the Farm Credit System (Knapp 1969), credit unions (Taylor and Goodman 2019), rural electric cooperatives (Doyle 1979; Spinak 2014), and widespread employee ownership (Speiser 1977; Kroncke 2018). Each of these interventions involved either direct government financing or indirect inducements for private capital markets, such as insurance guarantees and tax incentives. Yet each case serves only very particular kinds of markets.
Examples of past successes in financing community ownership can inform an array of generalized policies capable of putting cooperatives and their ilk on par with investor ownership throughout the economy, including in the realm of online platforms. In order to do so, it will be necessary to update earlier risk-mitigation strategies—generally, the replication of tested, local models—in order to protect public investments. This might be done, for instance, through more strenuous diversification or the use of revenue-based financing to recoup greater returns from successful efforts"
Recommendations in brief:
•Make available throughout the economy the kinds of financing mechanisms that have been successful in specific sectors—such as with insurance pools, direct government lending, and appropriate taxation
•Develop digital infrastructure on the basis of ownership by participant communities
•Target incentives toward capital acquisition for under-capitalized people
•Policy should encourage cross-industrial associations for community-owned enterprises
•Ensure that antitrust law protects legitimate collective power to counteract corporate power
•Use government resources to study and promote community ownership alongside other forms of business