Towards a Global Open Ledger for Contributory and Ecological Economics
* Provisional title: Great Transition Initiative: Filling in the Commons Gap
Draft for the Great Transition Initiative.
With thanks to Jason Lee Lasky for editorial suggestions.
Michel Bauwens, Chiang Mai, 29/12/2021
Technological determinism or human agency
Whether we believe or not that technology itself has its own determinism, i.e. it has its own relative agency independent of collective human wishes; or whether we believe or not that technology is shaped by material interests, i.e. designed by the ruling classes, there is always a residue of human agency to transform technological tools in the service of social change, and even in particular the interests of the greater number. This is what we propose to do here with perhaps the most unlike candidate: the bitcoin-generated blockchain. Our contention will be that the blockchain can be used as an essential tool to construct the next cyber-physical infrastructure that will allow humanity to produce for its own needs, while respecting the material and ecological planetary boundaries, and its interdependency with the web of life.
Bitcoin blockchain & distributed ledgers: from an internet of communication to an internet of transactions
Bitcoin and its attached ledger is the recipient of many legitimate critiques by progressives. It was designed with Austrian economics and anarcho-capitalist values (1) in mind, is very energy-intensive in its production, and has a very unequal distribution in terms of income and property, a distribution that is not accidental in view of the ‘oligarchic protocols’ that is has chosen as incentives for its stakeholders. But is it important to distinguish the existence of a global distributed ledger, i.e. a open and interoperable accounting and logistical system that can be used to coordinate production on a global scale, from its first iteration as the ledger of Bitcoin. We now have different post-blockchain distributed ledgers that attest to this, and a number of these ledger projects are operated not according to libertarian values and rules, but by integrating the insights of Elinor Ostrom (2).
The question to answer is the following: what becomes possible once we have such technology at our disposal ? My contention is that an interoperable blockchain becomes the vehicle for global mutual coordination of human production within planetary boundaries.
A ledger is first and most a accounting tool, recording transactions. The peer production communities (i.e. open systems of production and distribution of value, based on the free association of participants who can enter and exit such ecosystems of collaboration). This is obviously not trivial: the first accounting systems in Sumer, with temple administrations recording the flow of grain and debts, stands for the origins of the state apparatuses; the double entry accounting system for private competitive units streamed by a Franciscan monk in the Italian city-states, stood for the emergence of private forms of capitalism which would eventually become dominant.
Accounting for cosmo-global emergence
Blockchain ledgers have current inaugurated various forms of post-capitalist accounting which seem to be just as non-trivial:
• Contributory accounting (3), which can record, value and recompense non-commodified forms of contributions to ecosystems and networks, already signify the recognition of value outside the commodity form; it is a crucial took signifying a transition to contributory regimes of value
• Flow accounting, such as the Resource-Events-Agents software, allows every transaction to be recorded as an event in a network, and has abandoned double entry; it is an accounting for externality-aware ecosystems, not externality-ignoring closed entities.
• Thermodynamic accounting directly record the flow of matter and energy into an accounting system, such as the systems pioneered by R30.org and the Global Commons Alliance, who use a ‘global thresholds and allocations’ approach to determine the maximum allowed flow in particular contexts.
These ledgers are linked to tokens and intelligent current-sees (4) which can allow for expanded and complex value regimes. We now have access to local currencies, which can protect and regulate local economies, domain-specific intelligent monies such as SolarCoin generated by renewable energy, or FishCoin which regulates the maximum volumes for the fishing industry. Local-geographic currencies, domain-specific virtual currencies, transformed nation-state currencies can co-exist in a regime of monetary biodiversity that is both socially aware (contribution and impact aware), ecologically aware (thermo-dynamically informed), linked to full-activity supporting national economic policies, and a global regulatory currency that insures the economy stays within agreed upon ecological limits.
Three layers: stigmergic coordination, generative market exchange and thermodynamically informed planning frameworks
With these tools at hand, integrated in a cosmo-global cooperative ledger, it becomes possible to transcend the violent competition between economic coordination systems that plagued the 20th cy, ie. The fight between centrally planned economies and private-capital run economic systems. What we propose is an integration of the best of markets, transformed into generative market mechanisms that work for human and extra-human commons; the best of planning, which incorporates vital protection mechanisms for the survival of the planet, without being top-down authoritarianism, but a system which allows the maximum of local choices; and the free coordination in open transparent systems, i.e. stigmergy, the gift of open source peer production, i.e. the practices of the contemporary productive commons communities.
Here is what is envisageable:
- The primary layer of human cooperation becomes ‘stigmergy’, the gift of the commons economy that has been operating successfully within the open-source economy for two dozen years by now: open and transparent systems allow participating producers to freely coordinate their work effort in view of the needs and possibilities of the ecosystem as a whole, without needing central command. Collective agreements then result from negotiated coordination. The agent of this are the contributive communities, and the for-benefit associations that maintain their infrastructure of cooperation. In this particular context, the blockchain economy is best seen as an extension of this movement: it enables the creation of open and glob al coordination systems, in which a substantial amount of the income is devoted to paying open source developers.
- The secondary layer consists of the generative market exchange mechanisms, post-capitalist market forms that regulate genuine exchange, within planetary limits; this is necessary for the flow of all the resources that need investment and need to be renewed. The agent for this are generative and cooperative market entities, that add value to the commons economy. Commons Stack focusing on commons regulations, and RadicalXchange focusing on the creation of generative market systems are amongs the initiatives dedicated to this.
- The third layer is the planning layer. This is where thermodynamic accounting systems come in, by rendering visible the flows of matter and energy in a economic system, and where the ruleset of ‘global thresholds and allocations’, allows for specific ‘maximums’ that are context-specific.
Three possible futures for the world system: neoliberal wokism, national protectionism, and cosmo-localism
Of course, to a sceptic, the description so far will sound like an utopian description of a unlikely feature, given the current balance of forces. What could be the agent of sufficient change that would lead to the adoption of such a global infrastructure ?
Our answer is that the commoners are the agents of such a change, following cosmo-local models (5), which we see as the ‘third possible future’ for humankind.
The first future is the continuation of multicultural neoliberalism, from now on under the hegemony of the Successor Ideology (i.e wokism), as proposed by the World Economic Forum, it is a world run by public-private partnerships, with weak national governments, strong transnational capital, and instrumentalized global NGOs. It’s political preference is for alliances of the elite fractions of urban cognitive elites, organized under group allocation rules so that they get their piece of the unequal pie, which can be used to manage the unruly popular classes. This is a win-lose game in favour of the elite.
The second model is protectionist retreat, which aims for re-strengthening sovereign nation-states. creating solidaristic citizen-based class coalitions internally, and attempts to control global flows of capital and labor to benefit a competitive nation. This is based on alliances between the more business-oriented middle classes, with the national working classes, against 'external (and internal) threats'. The danger of the second model is armed confrontation between states aiming for control of scarce resources. This is another version of a win-lose game.
The third model is the cosmo-local model: in this model, we aim for a subsidiarity of material production (i.e. intelligent relocalization 'that makes sense'), based on distributed manufacturing models, producing on demand using the maximum amount of biodegradable materials, and preferable using cooperative models with distributed governance and property features. In such a model, local production units are linked to global open design communities, which we call ‘protocol cooperatives’, and that are the depository of global learning for that particular domain. The partner state concept stands for a ‘community state’ that enables and empowers individual and collective autonomy at the local scale, guarantees the equality of contributory capacity, using multi-stakeholder commons institutions, following the quintuple helix governance model pioneered for the Italian urban commons. Local alliances of public authorities, the commercial sector, the formal civil society and research organizations support commons-centric public initiatives; they are mirrored, in a fractal way, by similar transnational institutions that support a domain-specific commons institutions, which we call the ‘magisteria of the commons’.
Addressing the ‘commons gap’ at the global level: towards Magisteria of the Commons
This addresses the ‘commons gap’ that is the main feature of the current global world order, which confronts a strong globalized financial capital, to weak nation-status and a subordinated civil society. Trans-local and trans-national magisterial are the vehicles needed to legitimize the global limits necessary to protect planetary boundaries, the web of life and the needs of coming generations, all ill-served priorities today. The cyber-physical infrastructure is the means to the end of organizing such a new cosmo-local order, and the commoners, the networked working class, is its agent.
We see these networked workers, organized in common third spaces, i.e. revamped makerspaces, as both local agents, rooted in their communities, and as agents that are linked to the global open design communities which are the vehicle of their social and technical knowledge. The digital nomads, are the equivalent of the medieval guilds, with the travelling knowledge workers who create cultural unity across geographic space.
Barring or awaiting the emergence of political forces which can represent this cosmo-local order, the priority is to network the productive nodes, and to construct the necessary transnational layer which can represent the counterforce to transnational capital. Partner state organizations are a vital link to facilitate the connection of local producers to the global streams of shared knowledge, and the new domain-specific value streams (the token economies governing domains of production).
(1) To see how this differs from a commons-centric design, see the comparison table: Contrasting the Propertarian Blockchain with Commons-Based Ledger Systems, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RQXhk83jrRTuWXKzPC6R5pxcbm-hqA-WiRgsfjU9NIs/edit#heading=h.cfglx2edur25
(3) The P2P Value project found that 75% of the 300 studied peer production projects were using, experimenting or researching such accounting conventions and tools, https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/P2P_Value
(4) The concept is from Arthur Brock, founder of the Holochain post-blockchain ledger, a open and p2p-based interoperable ledger system that doesn’t require a world computer but is based on the free interconnection of autonomous ledgers.
(5) Cosmo-local production models are described in a new book by the P2P Foundation, which contains 40 case studies of initiatives combining local material production with globally shared open designs: The Cosmo-Local Reader. Ed. José Ramos, Sharon Ede, Michel Bauwens and Gien Wong. P2P Foundation, 2021, https://clreader.net/
The ideas expressed in this editorial are derived from the following in-depth report:
- P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival: Towards a P2P Infrastructure for a Socially Just Circular Society. By Michel Bauwens and Alex Pazaitis. Foreword by Kate Raworth. P2P Foundation, June 2019.
URL = http://commonstransition.org/p2p-accounting-for-planetary-survival/ ; draft illustrations
How shared perma-circular supply chains, post-blockchain distributed ledgers, protocol cooperatives, and three new forms of post-capitalist accounting, could very well save the planet.
- Chapter 1: The Background to this Study
- Chapter 2: Tools and technologies for integrated, fair, and sustainable ecosystems of production
- Chapter 3: Evolution of Accounting