Berlin Commons Conference/Workshops/ValueInACommonsEconomy

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Report by Marco Berlinguer

This report is based on uneven and partial notes. Since the argument was complex, the presentations were radically different and the time for discussing both the presentations was short, these notes catch very poorly the two main arguments and the following discussion. Maybe, since both presenters followed written material, we could ask them to make it available to improve the spread and the understanding of their approaches.

    • Note: I hope for intensive use of the discussion page . Franz Nahrada, wiki editor

Veronika Bennholdt - Thomsen: Value versus Exchange Value

Veronika's presentation started by distinguishing exchange-value, the form of value today hegemonic, from value as such. The distinction is necessary to lay the basis for a radical cultural change in our basic concepts around value.

She then distinguished three kinds of commons, depending if they are: 1) both local and global; 2) only local; 3) global. Commons are different. But, despite that, they share one economy based on one type of value, which is not the exchange value, but “value for the benefit of all”.

Veronika then argued that the co-existence of exchange value and common value is unsustainable. It typically produces mechanisms of extraction of value from the local to the global. This has been historically the role of money and taxation, for example in the former colonies. It wasn't direct violence, nevertheless it produced compulsory developments and extraction of value from the local economies and exploitation. Exchange value produces exploitation and exclusion.

To fund a “commons value logic” we need a revolution in our understanding of value.

Value as conceived in a “subsistence economy” is use value; basic needs of all; local, moral values.
This is the direction followed by experiments like the “Transition town” and the “LETS”.

In a more systemic approach it is possible to envisage a process of “value circulation” in the economy of the commons based on the principle of giving and of “benefit of all”. Also it could be described a circulation from the global (as in the commons of the knowledge) to the local; or, in the other way, from the local (as in the reproduction of natural commons) to the global. Commons value is based on de-commercialization.

Adam Arvidsson: Value as social synthesis

Adam's presentation started by sharing the Veronika's idea that we need a revolution in the value system, but – in his vision - this revolution is already taking place in the network economy. The economic logic of capitalism itself changed and works differently. Adam's also premised that he was going to talk only about exchange value, that is “social and institutionalized value”.

Individual, local values don't scale the problem of measurability and commensurability; they don't found any social and general equivalent. Institutionalized social value (that is exchange value) has been the base – better the “iron cage” - which permitted modern efficiency. What is at stake today is a new exchange value: a new iron cage, for example, eco-compatible.

In industrial capitalism, the reference in the system of value was the working time necessary to basic reproduction. Today this convention doesn't work anymore. It doesn't work neither in the immaterial production; nor in the diffused and networked forms of production, which are not anymore enclosed within private companies borders but socialized in the general intellect. It doesn't work in a condition of both material and immaterial abundance.

Scarcities and relative values today are of a new kind. They turn around time, flexibility, innovation, reputation and brands.

  • Value is about keeping coherence in complex networks; to create and re-create working productive relations without relying on hierarchies, in environments of heavily socialized and abundant resources.
  • Value creation turns around trust, reputation, shared conventions about qualitative differences, attraction of not-monetary-rewarded gifted work and affective attachment. It can be said to be about “civic virtues”; or about an emerging “ethical economy” and an “ethical value”.
  • These forms of value – which don't have objective foundations, but rely on deliberative negotiations - are already at work in brands, P2P productions, open economies, knowledge work, even within financial operators deliberative mechanisms. New social media give the opportunity to democratize these deliberative processes about social value definition, enlarging the number of actors involved in the deliberation, while giving them tangible measures. Their institutionalization could objectify these process and give a new foundation to financial operations, creating new conventions more democratic and socially rational.

The Discussion

The discussion which followed the presentations within the working group has not been easy.

  • Both the approaches were about the need of a paradigm shift in value understanding, they shared the search of new metrics and of new institutional media of value.
  • But the two presentations didn't have common assumptions and followed two different logics. Sometimes the discussion in the group has been nervous. “No mediation seemed possible” said somebody, commenting at the end. It was anyway a useful opportunity to bring out and take a measure of existing differences in the approaches to commons.

One recurrent clash have been between on the one hand, the logic of quantification, rationalization, institutionalization, the search of a global, general value – however re-defined – and on the other hand, the logic of individual and localized experiences, embedded in feelings and moral and social values. The clash brings in certain cases to reject the idea that the logic commensurability, equivalence, mathematics, abstraction, should be seen as basic foundation of value.

Such a logic in many interventions was perceived as a new way to colonize the commons with exchange value, prices and commercialization pursue (like with carbon credits trade).

A similar clash turned around the role of reputation, as a new basis of value, which some perceived as a new way to introduce competition.

On the opposite side, the foundation of a new institutionalized convention on socially defined exchange value, through enlarged deliberative processes allowed by social media, was instead defended (even if not ideal) as potentially more democratic and rational of the existing one.

The possibility of a plural system of value(s) was either rejected (as a potential source of colonization of the commons) or not explored.

Another conflict highlighted was between a logic of maintenance characteristic of the commons and a logic of extraction and accumulation of capitalism or exchange value system.