Category:User Owned

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User Owned organizations contrast with Worker Owned in that the *Consumers* are in control.

See also the related category on Source Freedom:

User Ownership is a mode of production and ownership designed to generalize the concepts of the GNU General Public License into the realm of Physical Production.


Richard Stallman's Ideas

The GNU GPL is very clear in it’s goal to insure the virtual Means of Production (source code) should be in the hands of the CONSUMERS.

When RMS speaks of freedom it is always about the User (consumer), not developer, author, producer, worker or owner.

For instance, says “‘Proprietary software is an exercise of power. Copyright law today grants software developers that power, so they and only they choose the rules to impose on everyone else—a relatively few people make the basic software decisions for everyone, typically by denying their freedom. When users lack the freedoms that define Free Software, they can’t tell what the software is doing, can’t check for back doors, can’t monitor possible viruses and worms, can’t find out what personal information is being reported (or stop the reports, even if they do find out). If it breaks, they can’t fix it; they have to wait for the developer to exercise its power to do so. If it simply isn’t quite what they need, they are stuck with it. They can’t help each other improve it.’”

And the recent interview “Three Minutes with Richard Stallman” at,137098-c,freeware/article.html says “‘With free software, the users are in control. Most of the time, users want interoperability, and when the software is free, they get what they want. With non-free software, the developer controls the users. The developer permits interoperability when that suits the developer; what the users want is beside the point.’”

If a Mode of Production is defined by who controls the Means of Production, then the GNU Mode of Production is one in which the Consumers and NOT the Producers are at the helm.

Patrick Anderson's proposals

The GNU General Public License relies upon initial investing owners (developers) choosing to retain Copyright so they may apply the constraint: Virtual Sources must be made available "at cost" to any User with whom you share or trade Objects. This Inter-Owner Trade Agreement is then perpetually held in place by Instance owners (anyone owning a copy of that Object).

The physical realm is much different, but a variation of these concepts can be applied using regular private property law.

The GNU General Public Law would similarly rely upon initial investing owners (often called developers by the way) to choose to add a constraint to any Object (whether physical or not) of: All Profit (and in fact any amount of Price Above Cost) must be treated as an investment for that paying customer in more Physical Sources for the future production of that same kind of Object so that competition is perfected and democracy becomes direct. Wages are one of those costs. Wages are not profit, they are payment for work as arranged between current owners and potential workers.

See our entry on the Inter-Owner Trade Agreement.


User Ownership is a special case in economics that has some interesting properties:

  • Abundance and real solutions are goal and never thought 'destructive'.
  • Scarcity is not sought and those physical sources are real insurance.
  • Unemployment is not a problem, it is the second goal.
  • Work is to be eliminated as a hurdle on the road to riches.
  • Low prices are always good and tend toward cost.
  • Profit is meaningless except as consumer growth.
  • Entire production chains are finally localized.
  • Development is solved instead of being sustained.

As an example, when you pay for the costs of copying an apple, which would you say is better:

1. An arbitrary, non-working group of Owners control the care (they may spray the orchard with dangerous chemicals) of those Sources, and can charge a price above cost to profit limited only by other competing Owners.

2. The Owners are the collective Workers that plant, water, maintain and harvest the fruit. They control the Sources similarly to the Owners in #1, but at least they can pay themselves a higher Wage. The consumer still has little control, is not allowed to do any of the work himself, and is still at the mercy of those who Own.

3. The perfect* Mode where the collective Owners are the Consumers themselves. They can make the copies themselves (tend their portion of the orchard in the manner they see fit - and within the constraint of realistic divisibility), or they may hire others to work for them, but either way we (the users/consumers) are in complete control. Such a mode also causes Price to be the same as Cost, as Profit has no meaning when the consumer Owns the Sources - or in other words, if the Consumer did pay profit it, he would be paying himself.

(*)Option 3 is not achievable in a perfect or static manner (especially during the initial growth period) because the consumer may not yet Own the Sources that were used during the round of production that created that exact object, but this Mode can always be "approached" by Owners who choose to apply an inter-owner contract that requires any profit paid by consumers be an investment in more sources, or toward paying-off some current investments, and that that those shares become the semi-divisible property of that very same consumer."


Please add your own question(s) to the top of this list

Q: What's the big deal about ownership?
A: Owners rule. Private property already insures privacy, but humans also need public property to maximize their economic efficiency. Representative government is one way to manage joint holdings, and collective private ownership is another way. The advantage of collective private ownership is the opportunity for the initial investors to add any constraint as a "Term of Use" for that property while retaining full control.

Q: Constraint? Are you saying freedom must be restricted?
A: It is power that must be bridled so that freedom and abundance can grow through cooperation. Usury (misdirected profit) relies upon artificial scarcity through power to concentrate larger individual gains while retarding communal growth. This is the same pattern described by the Nash Equilibrium and can be resolved through a legally binding inter-owner trade agreement that insures each consumer grows according to the amount they are willing to invest as measured by the price above cost (profit) that they pay.

Q: The market has already chosen capitalism.
A: The same could be said of feudalism during that age. The future will prove or disprove the point, but only if we can get booted. An ecocomics simulation could also help verify or disprove the claim.

Q: What do you mean 'booted'?
A: There must be some initial investment in physical sources by those who are willing to apply this contract.

Q: What claim is being made? That an owner can apply arbitrary restrictions to their property?
A: The claim is that freedom is determined by access to sources and that access is determined by ownership. Instead of condemning private ownership, we show how it may be used to apply an agreement that insures the plea for growth (a consumer's payment of price above cost = what is usually called profit) is treated as an investment from that very same user - so control remains in (flows to) the hands of the users, even while their choices and membership are dynamic.

Q: Isn't scarcity an integral part of a vibrant economy?
A: Scarcity only increases Profit, never Wages nor Product. Treating profit as user investment removes that faulty incentive from owner options while very likely increasing wage since the consumer already pays wages + profit in normal capitalism, while this contract drives profit toward zero as price meets cost.

Q: But who will invest without profit?
A: Citizens already invest in public utilities through taxes expecting only product, never profit. Likewise, commercial product consumers also expect (and receive) only product while paying those costs plus the externality of usury.

Q: Why are you trying to protect the consumer instead of the worker?
A: We are all consumers.

Q: But how can you claim workers won't be exploited when they are not the owners, and therefore have no control?
A: Those workers are also consumers of their own needs. We must protect their ability to consume, but working is not a need in itself - it is a hurdle to be eliminated on our road to leisure.

Q: Are you claiming unemployment is good?
A: When the owners of physical sources are the only consumers of those objects there is never a concern about automating that production because to do so only decreases the cost of production while eliminate the drudgery of work. But when the owners are a random set of initial investors seeking to keep profit as some sort of reward, the workers become human resources to be exploited as though they were just another input of production.

Q: We already have competition; there are no true monopolys.
A: It is true that monopoly is rarely perfect, but neither is competition. Profit also measures monopoly, otherwise why would a consumer ever pay more than cost?

Q: If profit is the problem, then why do non-profits not prevail?
A: The payment of profit is not a problem in itself, as it is simply an inverse measure of development. The payment of profit should be allowed; it is only the misapplication of that payment that keeps each user from growing. The trouble is a general form of usury caused by the misappropriation of profit by owners which then constructs the inverted incentive of artificial scarcity. Non-profit corporations do not solve this problem either because the profit is still not treated as user investment, but is instead "turned into" wages or invested by the current owners in whatever way they see fit as so-called 'representatives' of the users instead of control flowing to those users as real ownership which would allow them to replace board members that attempted to overpay themselves and also implements direct democracy with vote weighted by holdings.

Q: May I charge money for Free Objects?
A: Yes, the GNU General Public Law is a "'commercial grade'" free (as in freedom) trade agreement.

Q: How much may I charge?
A: There is no limit. Some sort of auction system might help maximize resource utilization to keep object prices above cost only during high demand.

Q: As an owner, how much of the price can I claim as costs (including wages)?
A: There is no limit. Profit is separated from wages as the number of owners per physical source increases. Workers are then hired by the collecitve owners explicitly instead of the labor being 'assumed' by some of the owners who may otherwise overpay themselves.

Q: Can I apply the GNU General Public Law to a physical source such as a rototiller and then rent it to customers?
A: Yes, in this case the 'Object' becomes the ephemeral 'Objective' of that User or the rivalrous slice of time as the duration of that rent. Allowing users to bid against each other for time slots will maximize profit (the winning user's investment).

Q: So if a car factory were under such a contract, anyone could just wander in off the street and try to build their own automobile?
A: No, no. Shareholders will protect their investments from strangers and/or vandals and normal wear as usual by requiring a rent floor be paid - even if the renter is a part owner, and may also require such things as tests or insurance to qualify. The restrictions each group of owners impose over that particular physical source are arbitrary and there is no limit, but the currency issued against those physical sources will decrease as non-owning users assess those objects as being not worth the claimed costs.

Q: Why are you doing this, why not just maximize you own profit?
A: Because if we don't stop these profiteering feudalists they will eventually hire vassals to come take all of our resources for the purpose of stopping our production. That is the ultimate problem with allowing any form of usury: it finally creates war to destroy capital for the purpose of further increasing usury.

Q: Why would owners tie their own hands in this way to forgo profit?
A: So the physical sources of production (such as land, water, plants, animals, buildings, tools) that they need for production are available to them without paying tribute to another. It is the price we pay for freedom through cooperation.

Q: But isn't profit the prime motivator of human society?
A: Product is the only valid purpose of production. A portion of price, interest and rent are initially meaningful and useful for reclaiming the labor expended, resources lent or opportunity lost, but these are almost always taken to far, and at the instant that an owner is paid just because they won't let the users have "at cost" access to the sources, they have begun 'earning' usury. Most humans only expect to get paid for the work they do, but after they begin hiring employees, and as their business grows, the owners usually find there is much to be made (taken) by disallowing source access. We must eliminate those externalizing actions before the beast destroys the entire earth in the name of progress.


Patrick Anderson: It is the difficulty in organizing large collective investments that keeps Users (Consumers) from Owning the Physical Sources of Production that would allow us to then have "at cost" access and full control of the Objects of that Production.

The idea is: An initial group of potential Users joint purchase some physical Sources and voluntarily put that property under a contract that requires Owners treat all Profit each object trade be an investment for that new user into User Ownership of more physical Sources in that same corporation.

This causes growth to wax and wane according to the demand of those consumers.

  • User demand includes covering the costs of the last round of production.
  • User demand also contains the desire to grow represented as profit.
  • User lack of demand is the user's desire to shrink or sell by not paying costs.

More Information

See for a more thorough analysis