Quotes on Commons Economics

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Dil Green on Establishing a Bridge Between Capitalism and Post-Capitalism

Dil Green:

"The idea of the Bridge is inspired by a section in Yanis Varoufakis’ “Talking to my Daughter about the Economy”, in which he talks about the birth of capitalism through the lens of the wool trade in England. Feudal landlords had the assets – the land, the serfs and beasts that lived on the land. And they acquired and held them by deploying power; land was not for sale, and neither was labour. Wool merchants, though, convinced landowners to throw the serfs off the land and to rent it in exchange for gold so that the merchants could grow wool and sell it for even more gold.

The lords thus gave over control of the key asset of the feudal economy – land – in exchange for the key asset of the new economy – gold. In order to realise the value of that gold, though, they had to spend it into that same new economy. The feudal lords both funded the development of market economies by providing land, and then helped to expand their scope by spending investment returns into those same market economies. Thus over time the new asset – gold, became more desirable than the old – land, because it was useful in many more ways, until eventually land itself became a saleable asset – enabling it to be allocated to more productive uses through peaceful trade rather than violent struggle.

We can now see how we can use the two planks above to build an equivalent bridge from the current, extractive economy into the new, collaborative economy.

If we raise investment in pounds and dollars, which we use to build the new economy – most obviously, to finance the development of new, collaborative enterprises – and pay fair returns on those ‘fiat currency’ investments in the currency of the new economy – in UCO and MCU – then in order to access the value of those returns the investors will have to become participants in the New Economy.

Again, as with the transition from feudalism to capitalism, this will be a welcome move for many – the simple fact of being wealthy does not mean that an individual does not care about the damaging impact of an extractive economy on the biosphere. " (https://digital-anthropology.me/2020/10/17/two-planks-and-a-bridge-to-the-new-economy/)

From Value-Added to Value-Restorative

"The present political economy is geared entirely toward "value-added" operations within a worldview of exponential growth. As you identify policies or activities that are geared toward *value-restored* or *value-replenished* operations within in a framework of logistic growth (e.g., carrying capacity), I think we may find the leverage points we are seeking."

- James Quilligan [1]

The historical pivot for the P2P Mode of Production

"We’re seeing something that is historically shocking—the reduction to zero of the cost of an especially valuable part of capital, which materializes directly knowledge (free software, free designs, etc.). And above all we see, almost day by day, how the optimum size of production, sector by sector, approaches or reaches the community dimension.

The possibility for the real community, the one based on interpersonal relationships and affections, to be an efficient productive unit is something radically new, and its potential to empower is far from having been developed. This means that we are lucky enough to live in a historical moment when it would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves in a new way and contributing autonomy to our community.

Today we have an opportunity that previous generations did not: to transform production into something done, and enjoyed, among peers. We can make work a time that is not walled off from life itself, which capitalism revealingly calls “time off.” That’s the ultimate meaning of producing in common today. That’s the immediate course of every emancipatory action. The starting point."

- David de Ugarte [2]

Using the Abundant Human Element

"In designing a truly symbiotic model for the preservation of future generations, we could benefit from the dynamism of a third stock: we humans. Indeed, it is the only one to develop and regenerate quickly: we will soon go from 7.6 billion to 10 billion people in the twenty-first century. Could this be good news rather than the scary perspective often described? We are not only abundant, but also available immediately in a new goal: to be in charge of the regeneration of our ecosystem. If we analyze it with a “circular” angle, this one also seems to generate all kinds of energies in a continuous way, namely renewed daily. In order to move away from the current resource-depleted model, we could consider the totality of stocks and flows available in the eco-systemic design of a positive future for all. And this, on the condition that these stocks and flows are based on a notion of renewed abundance in order to bring the level of resilience necessary to the systems on which we depend. In addition, we will need to understand them from an innovative angle allowing real optimization to meet the needs of future generations."

- Alexande Lemille [3] from the Circular Humansphere project

The virtuous cycle of collaboration

"Scarcity is primarily a mindset and lack of collaboration not a biophysical reality! Competition creates scarcity, which in turn is used to justify competitive behaviour (a vicious circle). The natural limits of bioproductivity and healthy ecosystems functions don’t create scarcity as such. Collaboration can turn these natural planetary limits into enabling constraints to create abundance for all within healthy ecosystems and a healthy biosphere. Collaboration creates shared abundance, which in turn invites more collaboration (a virtuous circle)."

- Daniel Christian Wahl [4]

Premises for a True Economics of the Commons

"To belie this tale of conservatism, several voices made themselves heard. Together they came to form another tradition of political economy, rooted in anthropological analysis, which featured some of the most sophisticated economists of modernity, such as Thorstein Veblen, Marcel Mauss, Karl Polanyi, and Rudolf Steiner. This new vanguard taught us to analyze economics from a vantage point that is the obverse of that of classical Liberal economics. Instead of considering economics, as the Liberals do, the problem of managing efficiently resources that are assumed to be scarce, the other school— let us call it “the political economy of the gift”—intimates that resources are not scarce but plentiful, and that the conundrum arising from such abundance (i.e., the surplus), is how best to employ this miraculous gift —the joint bounty of Nature and human ingenuity. "

- Guido Preparata [5]

Towards a Social Insurance Based on the Commons

Peter Barnes:

"The present financial base of social insurance — payroll contributions by workers and employers — has essentially maxed out. Nor is it possible to supplement existing labor income by taxing it. So a 21st century system of economic security will have to be built on a new financing model, which I have proposed to be income from common wealth, in the manner of Thomas Paine and the Alaska Permanent Fund (see With Liberty and Dividends For All). Picture, then, a giant “common pot” into which flows money from multiple forms of common wealth and out of which flow monthly dividends to every American with a Social Security account. Such a pot could begin, as Social Security did, with a relatively small inflow and outflow, and grow over time as Americans become comfortable with it. Its funding sources could include fees on pollution of shared ecosystems and use of socially constructed financial infrastructure, as well as new money created in the manner Mellor proposes.

This system, anchored by the common pot, would serve three functions simultaneously. First, it would address the pressing need for lifetime economic security, a need that will only increase as automation and artificial intelligence replace more jobs. Second, it would create demand for more revenue sources which, if properly designed, would advance one of the key goals of the Great Transformation: internalizing the costs of destabilizing nature. Third and perhaps most importantly, it would supply the political juice for the first two functions. To paraphrase Mary Poppins, rising dividends from the common pot would become the sugar that helps the less palatable transformational pills go down." (comments to: http://www.greattransition.org/publication/money-for-the-people)

Roberto Verzola on Working in Harmony with Nature

Roberto Verzola:

"Let me go back to a common phrase "working in harmony with nature".

I will now extend it a little bit: "working in harmony with the nature of nature".

I will further modify that as follows: "working in harmony with the nature of things", where "nature" is one of those "things", the other being "non-living material goods", and the third being "non-material goods".

- "working in harmony with the nature of living goods"

- "working in harmony with the nature of non-living material goods"

- "working in harmony with the nature of non-material goods"

- "production methods in harmony with the nature of living goods"

- "production methods in harmony with the nature of non-living materials goods"

- "production methods in harmony with the nature of non-material goods"

- "modes of sharing in harmony with the nature of living goods"

- "modes of sharing in harmony with the nature of non-living materials goods"

- "modes of sharing in harmony with the nature of non-material goods"

- "forms of ownership, control and access in harmony with the nature of living goods"

- "forms of ownership, control and access in harmony with the nature of non-living material goods"

- "forms of ownership, control and access in harmony with the nature of non-material goods"

Because living goods (agriculture) are qualitatively different from non-living material goods (industry), which are in turn different from non-materal goods (information), we can expect differences to show up also in the production methods, modes of sharing, and forms of ownership, control and access.

We ignore these differences at our own risk. Today the most common problem is the misapplication of the industrial paradigm in agriculture (mechanization; the whole agrochemical industry; genetic engineering) as well as its misapplication in the information sector (products of intellectual work as private property). But it may be equally disastrous to misapply policies for non-rivalrous goods to rivalrous goods. I think this was a factor in the collapse of the Eastern bloc." (adapted from Commoning mailing list, January 2011)

The tradeoff between efficiency and resilience is confronted by every sector of society.

"Resilience is the capacity to experience an interruption in the supply of a required input without suffering a serious, permanent decline in the desired output. Humanity lives on a finite planet that started with a fixed amount of each resource input. To support population and economic growth, consumption of the planet’s finite resources has increased. As a result, the resources have been continuously depleted and deteriorated. The fertility of agricultural land, the concentration of mineral ores, the quality of surface waters, and the populations of marine fish are among thousands of indicators that show the long-term average quality of resources is declining. Producing ever greater output from ever diminishing inputs has forced production to become more and more efficient. However, even enormous technological advance has not altered the fact that consumption deteriorates resources. It has merely reduced the rate of deterioration by reducing the rate at which we use resources to produce each unit of what we want."

- Dennis Meadows [6]

The Two Criteria to Increase the Health of the Planet

"Valerie Brown lists two criteria that should guide human behaviour if we hope to avoid serious damage to the natural processes that maintain systemic health. We need to i) “consume nature’s flows while conserving the stocks (that is, live off the ‘interest’ while conserving natural capital” and ii) “increase society’s stocks (human resources, civil institutions) and limit the flow of material and energy” (Brown et al., 2005). Both are central aspects of a regenerative culture."

- Valerie Brown (as summarized by Daniel Christian Wahl) [7]

Without Structural Reforms, Increased Efficiencies are Useless

"Gains in resource and energy efficiency have never led to a sustained decrease in humanity’s raw materials and raw fuels consumption with a stationary level of GDP. Invariably, in waves, the engineers’ contribution to shop-floor efficiency in production processes have been used by the businesses that employ these engineers to save on costs so as to be able to produce and sell more. In fact, what we call economic growth is the long history of the diversion of efficiency gains into production increases. And quite often, this also ends up leading to more, rather than less, raw material extraction and consumption. If any engineer ever had the illusion that they would be working to improve the world through efficiency, he or she should think again — and take a good, hard look at how businesses and industries are, by the very logic of single-minded profit-seeking that moves them, hijacking the efficiency gains and transforming them (when 'successful') into gains in sales and in profits, and usually also into increases in global resource consumption. More fuel-efficient automobiles or airplanes, for instance, are a total scam — not in themselves or as feats of cutting-edge engineering, but because they make driving or flying cheaper per kilometer, so that all of us car or airline users can do more kilometers than before with a 'clean conscience', all the while helping companies reap profits from diverting their engineers’ well-meaning micro-level efforts into ecologically deleterious impacts at the macro level."

- Christian Arnsperger [8], 22/06/16


The potential role of the Crypto Economy for Commons Economics

Excerpted from Dick Bryan and Akseli Virtanen:

(see his Criteria to Evaluate the Commons Capability of Crypto-Economy Projects‎)

  • 1. "Programmable organizations enable production to be organized in a way that makes social criteria the rationale for production; not a constraint on it."


  • 2. "The rise of ‘networks’ as modes of corporate organization breaks down the conventional means that differentiate one corporation from another and challenges the principle of ‘competition’ as the driver of corporate rationale. These are both issues that feature prominently in decentralized applications."


* 3. Mechanisms, like tokens, that allow surplus value to be retained by the workers, not capital.

" Changes in the nature of work (precarization, casualization, subcontracting, the rise of the gig economy) see workers carrying greater risks and break down the attachment of work and living standards to employment. There is growing interest in alternative ways of organizing work." [11]

4. "the real potential is cryptocurrencies as units of account: as modes of measuring economic activity that are conceived differently from those intrinsic to fiat money. Fiat money has become tied to conventional framings of profit and loss, income and expenditure, and a market-centred calculus. Non-fiat monies have the potential for developing new ways to calculate economic activity; ways that represent different social and economic values, and measure performance by criteria other than profit. Think about it for a moment. The unit of account potential signals the importance of the crypto economy developing ways (not a singular way, but coin-specific ways) of accounting and measuring the activities supported by each token. We see this as central to giving tokens a material basis in the crypto economy; not just leaving them as speculative stores of value. .... "Exchange is often between parties of unequal power, so mutual gain cannot be presumed. An important issue of the crypto economy is how blockchain can and cannot countermand asymmetrical power in trade. We see blockchain not facilitating frictionless markets but rather frictionless capital: distributed capital." [12]

Source: https://medium.com/econaut/what-is-a-crypto-economy-155bdbc4ab1d

Neither Bitcoin nor Blockchain will liberate us from an exploitative society, but they may be useful in post-capitalism

"To think that Bitcoin can solve the problem of money, or the problem of the state, is to misunderstand what money is or what states do. Every exploitative socio-economic system is predicated on what the minority running it can make the rest do for them (who does what to whom, as Lenin famously put it). Money and the state are epiphenomena of this system. To believe that you can fix money, or that you can fix the state, is to demonstrate a devastating innocence regarding the larger exploitative system with which they are integrated. No smart contract can, for example, subvert the labour contracts that underpin society’s layered patterns of exploitation. No NFT can change an art world where art is a commodity within a universe of commodified people and things. No central bank can serve the interests of the people so long as it is independent of the demos. Yes, blockchain will be useful in societies liberated from the patterned extractive power of the few. However, blockchain will not liberate us. Indeed, any digital service, currency, or good that is built on it within the present system will simply reproduce the present system’s legitimacy."

- Yanis Varoufakis [13]