Building an Economy of the Commons Through Open Distributed Manufacturing Structures

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  • FLOK Society Report and Proposal. Building an Economy of the Commons Through Open Distributed Manufacturing Structures. George Dafermos, May 2014.



This document examines the application of social knowledge economy principles to the secondary economic sector, with an emphasis on manufacturing. The first part of the Introduction dissects the concept of the knowledge economy, highlighting the role of access to knowledge as the fundamental criterion for determining the character of a knowledge economy: in contrast to capitalist knowledge economies which block access to knowledge through the use of patents and restrictive IP rights, social knowledge economies use inclusive IP rights to provide free access to knowledge. In the second part of the Introduction, we look at how the use of restrictive IP rights has been theoretically justified: in short, IP rights are supposed to promote innovation and increase productivity. However, the available empirical evidence on the effect of IP rights on innovation and productivity furnishes no such proof. On the contrary, looking at the way in which capitalist firms actually use IP rights reinforces the conclusion that they do not promote innovation but are in fact hindering it.

The next section, Alternatives to Capitalist Models, as its title implies, introduces the FLOK (Free, Libre and Open Knowledge) model, which has emerged in the course of the last two decades as a powerful alternative to cognitive capitalism and describes briefly its main features: (a) the practice of free sharing of knowledge undergirding it, (b) the pervasive involvement of the surrounding community and (c) the use of the Internet as a platform for distributed collaboration.

In the follow-up section, Open knowledge commons in the secondary economy sector,we illustrate the FLOK model and its features through two case studies based on the RepRap 3D printer and the Wikispeed car project respectively, which are paradigmatic of how the secondary sector could be transformed in the direction of a post-fossil fuel economy through the development of distributed manufacturing structures enabled by the open design commons.

In the next section, Preliminary general principles for policy making, we sum up the conclusions drawn from the case studies in the form of general policy principles, which, as the follow-up section demonstrates, are aligned with the Ecuadorian policy framework, as reflected in the aims and policies put forward in the Constitution and in the National Plan for Good Living. The concluding section develops these policy principles into a set of policy recommendations for the development of a decentralised and inclusive social knowledge economy founded on the knowledge commons of science and technology.

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