The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Michel Bauwens. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Michel was the founder and vision coordinator of the P2P Foundation, and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance and property. Cool title Michael, what is a vision coordinator?
Michel: Well, the way we were organized is that we had five streams of activity. So one was visioning. Then we had communication, operational, [inaudible 00:00:33]. Anyway, the idea is that each of these streams is relatively autonomous. And so we had a little extra budget last year, so we divided equally over the five groups. And then they decided themselves, how to spend it. And so basically what I do is on the one hand, I’m kind of a librarian. So I spend quite a substantial amount of time, what I call creating, which means, what is happening. And then the second step for me is to make sense of it, right? To theory in that sense. So how can I make sense in an integrated way, what’s the largest narrative I can make of what I see, that gives certain coherence to what I’m seeing?
Michel: And it’s a bit related to that idea of Ken Wilber, when he talks about Vision-logic. So it’s just something that I do naturally, organically. I’m a big picture person. So I like macro history, I like to put things together. And I’ve also been librarian for almost all my life. So putting these two together, these two aspects together is a bit second nature for me.
Jim: That sounds like a great job. Certainly it beats being a CEO, right? I’ve been that a few times. That’s a pain in the ass, right? So let’s start with P2P, which for our audience, stands for peer to peer. You can find a lot more here at the P2P Foundation.net. And as usual, we’ll have links to everything we talked about, every organization, every book and most articles on the episode page at jimroadshow.com. So feel free to go there and get the link to these things.
Jim: So let’s start with the simplest level, the simplest level description, we’ll dig into considerable detail. But what is peer-to-peer? What does that mean?
Michel: All right. So, I’ll first give you a short explanation, but I do want to give some historical background why it is important. So peer-to-peer was used about 15 years ago, I think when Napster came out. And so the idea was that we could have computer systems where every computer was autonomous and could freely communicate with other computers without passing through a server. It’s like the founding principle of the internet, if you like. And it has changed, it’s become more hierarchical as these big companies took it over.
Michel: But originally, the idea, the people who invented the internet was to make it a peer to peer system. Now, if you take that idea and apply it to people, then you have really the same dynamics. So what if we had a system where every person could freely communicate, self organize and make projects with any other person freely without any intermediaries or gatekeepers? So that’s the definition, right?
Michel: So any system where any individual can connect, organize, and even produce value together, on this basis of free contribution would be a peer to peer system. But I want to give you some historical idea because, for me, it’s anthropological revolution, and I want to explain why that is so. When we started the human adventure in the Neolithic times, most People lived in small groups. And there is this idea from a anthropologist called Dunbar that, like primates, people can remember and trust about 150 people. So imagine you live in a tribe in a village, in a nomadic group. And everybody’s kin is skin with you, is family, uncles, and whatever.
Michel: And so whenever there is an issue, you go talk to them basically. So, it’s easy to solve problems in a convivial way. But as soon as we got scale in human society, and had larger groups, that didn’t work anymore. So we also had to invent a hierarchy in terms of streamlining communication and transaction costs in society. And what that then creates is a conundrum, because people what they love most, is to live in family, be with friends and have this convivial lifestyle. But in order to exist and compete with other predatory and competing entities, then the hierarchy will impose very strict limits on what can be done.
Michel: So in this kind of context, and with 5000 years of class based societies behind us, the fact that we invented technology that allows people to virtually connect with each other and actually coordinate in a global scale, like Linux or Wikipedia, right? So, thousands of people are collaborating, and yet the average team level of a group is four people. So what that tells me is that you can have another form of conviviality which can co exist with our territorial organization. And so that’s the promise of peer-to-peer is that we can organize ourselves around common projects. And because you and I will be contributing out of the free accord, that means a lot of things in terms of organization, because why should I listen to you. Tell me what I should do if we both freely contributing to this project. So we will have to invent other ways of working together. And so that’s where the other words come from.
Michel: So you have peer production, the capacity to freely produce together. You have peer governance, the capacity to govern this collaboration and peer property, the capacity to create mutual pools of knowledge and resources, which can help us work together. So that’s in a nutshell, why I like peer-to-peer.
Jim: Very good. We recently had on the show Rich Bartlett from spiral and he talked a lot about the self organizing aspects of it. And for people that are interested in that, I’d recommend they go check out that episode as well. Closely related, now that you mentioned it. One of the things I think is probably useful for our audience and probably for both of us to get on the same page is that, when people think of peer-to-peer naively in the current world, they mostly think about non rivalrous goods. Things like open source software or a music file back in the Napster days, that could be copied for a tiny fraction of a cent. But economics can, in one cut on the world of goods, isn’t a rival risks and non rival risk.
Jim: My favorite example for rival risks is a ham sandwich. Either you eat it or I eat it, we can’t both eat it, right? We could cut it down the middle, but it’s essentially a non rival risk good. Once it’s been eaten, whoever ate it has done the job. On the other hand, a non rival risk good is a good that can be reproduced very inexpensively, like a music file or most medicines actually, are very inexpensive to make. So that if it weren’t entangled with intellectual property constraints, there would be no reason that everyone who wanted it could have it.
Jim: And there’s a third class who are called public goods. For instance, law and order as a public good, we all take part in it for both good and evil as it’s turning out, I suspect. But in terms of exchange and more traditional economics, rivalrous and non rivalrous are important divisions. Can you speak a little bit to the applicability of the peer-to-peer idea in the rival risk domain in particular, where I think people are less used to hearing about it?
Michel: Yes. So I actually want to tell you first, that peer-to-peer can be used in a market exchange. And some people would argue that the market is a kind of a peer-to-peer system because peers can exchange. And of course, we have these platforms that are privately owned, but where people can exchange, supply and demand can meet each other on a platform. The peer-to-peer I use is more in the sense of your questions. So it’s using these peer-to-peer dynamics to create commons.
Michel: And actually, I am going to disagree with you, because the first commons, and the commons are defined in three ways. So it’s a shared resource that is produced or maintained by a community or a group of stakeholders, and that is self regulated. So it’s a resource, it’s a group of people, and it’s a form of governance. And that’s how Elinor Ostrom, who was the first really study the commons, defined it broadly. And if you look at the history of the commons, the first Commons were actually physical resources. So if you look at forests, and river basins and fishing communities, before we had a capitalist system, most of these resources were commons.
Michel: So for example, if you travel in Japan or Austria and Switzerland, and you ask yourself, “Why is everything so green in the mountain flangs of these countries?” It’s because they are commons. In other words, the villagers themselves are the ones that manage the use of that resource. And they do so with a long term perspective. So because they all depend on it, they will manage it collectively in a way that seven generations can still use it.
Michel: So that’s the first phase of the commons. And I want to give you an historical example. The most important Catholic ritual in medieval Europe, next to Christmas and Easter, was called the [inaudible 00:10:33] procession. And this was when all the people of the parish would collectively circumvent, it’s called perambulation, I think in English. Say they would go around the parish and confirm their commons. They would say this is from all of us. So this is important, but it means that in the middle ages, if you were a farmer in a parish, your identity was actually constituted by your collaboration in these commons. So yes, of course, on the one hand, you have the feudal system. So you had a bit of land of your own, you had the land of the Lord, which you worked and gave part of it to the Lord in exchange for protection. But you also had this common resources that you could use.
Michel: So that’s the first phase. And capitalism, whatever you think of it as a system, is really based on the destruction of the commons. So this is called the enclosures, right? It’s when people start fencing in. And what you have to remember, that originally property was not absolute individual property. But in this context, it was something that belonged to your family. And as the patriarch of your family lineage, you couldn’t do what you want with the property, you had to protect it for all the descendants that would come after you.
Michel: But once you have property that you can sell whenever you want, that’s when the enclosure started, because what people then found was that they could make more profit, which shared with people. And the enclosures is this whole process of fencing the common property and making into private property.
Michel: So the second face of the commons was social common. So all these farmers, expelled from their farm, they become workers in the early manufacturing cities like in England in 19th century. They have no protection whatsoever. They die when they’re 30, on average. And so they create the mutualization of their life risk. And this is what gave us the welfare system, the new deal type of organizations that you have in the US. They weren’t invented by Roosevelt, he looked at what the people were already doing and then decided to generalize, and beverage in the UK, they did the same.
Michel: So this is the second phase, when the social commons became dominant because the physical resources had been privatized. And the welfare state is the nationalization if you like, of these social commons. Are you still with me? Then I…
Jim: I am.
Michel: Because then I go to the third phase, which is what we know in our generations, which is the digital commons. And so the internet showed people were no longer familiar with what commons were, that while we can work together, we can create a Wikipedia free software open design. So culturally, that was very important for people to realize that it’s actually easy to work together. But we didn’t stop there, Jim, because the fourth phase, which I studied in Gent, in 2017, in northern Belgium, is the urban commons. And they have increased tenfold, from roughly 2006 to 2016. You can take any city in the West, even in Latin America, and you’ll see studies that showed enormous exponential rise of urban commons.
Michel: So that means that people for example, if you want organic food, are going to create CSAs, Consumer Supported Agriculture, community land trusts, energy coops. So we’re actually going back to material commons because in many cases there is either market failure or state failure, and people who are motivated, will say, “Okay, why don’t we do it together, pull our resources to make sure that we all can eat organic foods.” And I would say, and this I’m concluding, the phase that we are now is what I call cosmo local production. Think about permaculture, there’s thousands and thousands of plots nowadays, so they’re very local, but all the people who do permaculture learn from each other in their network, where they pull their knowledge together.
Michel: And then you have for example in Europe, 120, what we call multi factories, where crafts people look for an old factory they can use, they mutualize the space. So each craftsperson has his own space, but they manage it together, they use open source principles. And all of them working together, work for the invisible factory. That’s how they call it. And this is everything they do together and pool together. So there you can see that a commons is very much also potentially related to the market. And I would argue that the medieval markets in the free European cities of the Middle Ages, were markets that were working with the guilds, which were commons. So they created these ethical economies that would protect the worker guilds against, and divide the power with the church and the feudal lords and the kings. And they succeeded this for a few centuries.
Jim: Yeah. Very good. In fact, when I was saying that what we think of when we think of peer-to-peer these days tends to be electronic and internet, you’re absolutely right. The real history of it goes all the way back to the dawn of time. When all of our production was essentially peer-to-peer.
Michel: Yeah, the difference is only that now because we have virtual tools, we can create virtual territories on top of the physical. That’s the big revolution. So it existed, but it was bounded, in time and space, to smaller communities. And what we’ve achieved with the internet is the potential to have global projects that are coordinated to these commons.
Jim: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that a little later. I’m just going to add a little personal note, which I do from time to time. I happen to live in a county in the United States, which does not have the fence-in law for property. It’s one of the few in the United States that still has a fence-out law, essentially. So in principle, the common still exists, and there are lots of mountains, a fair amount of government owned land, that in principle, you can put your hogs out in the fall and run on the common land, and it’s legal sort of.
Michel: That’s interesting.
Jim: Yep. And the law literally is still that, it’s your duty to fence animals out if that’s what you want to do. Not everybody understands that, which produce some hurt feelings, particularly from newcomers who don’t understand this older tradition. But within US law, it is legal, at least in the state of Virginia, for a county to choose to be a fence-out county rather than fence-in. I think there’s three or something, out of 125.
Michel: I’m fascinated, I want to learn more about this. I didn’t know this. This is so interesting. Because just this week, I saw several things passing by about common land pastures in Europe. And I was actually surprised that so much of it is still existing. So for example, in Galicia, which is one of the Spanish provinces, one third of the land is still common land. And in France, and I didn’t expect this at all, there’s 100,000 people in association of community common. So these are in the Alps and the Pyrenees regions. Common river management, common forest management. So they do still exist even though they disappeared from consciousness of most city dwellers and everything.
Jim: Yeah, that’s good, we should definitely catalog those for people to learn about. Okay, let’s move on here a little bit. One thing I want to reference is, that a fair amount of what follows, but not all of it. I dug out of a book, Michael wrote with Vasilis Kostakis and Alex Pazaitis, called Peer to Peer the Common’s Manifesto. If you want to dig in a little bit deeper than we’re going in the show, grab that book. It’s available. I got my copy on Amazon. I think it’s also available for free from the P2P Foundation website.
Michel: And at the University of Westminster, they have a freely downloadable book copy in Creative Commons.
Jim: Very good. All right, talking about Creative Commons, I think a very nice little swing to my next topic. One of the things you have on your website, is that part of what you’re working on is universal access, guaranteed through licenses such as Creative Commons GPL, pure production license, et cetera. Do you have thoughts about that? What licenses are good for peer-to-peer and creating a commons? And which ones tend to be used to exploit the process for personal or corporate wealth? Any thoughts on that?
Michel: Yeah, I’m a bit of a heretic in that sense, because, so basically, today you have the choice between two extremes, which is copyright and copyleft. And copyright is, of course, it’s mine. And if you want to use it, you need my permission, you need to pay me. And then copyleft, exact opposite. Is everybody can use it. But my view is that, if you want to create better ethical and generative markets, so non predatory markets, is that you need some defense mechanism. And that’s why in the book, I propose something called copy fair, which kind of sits in between.
Michel: So what is copy fair? Is the idea that, around these productive communities which are open collaborative systems, where everybody can collaborate to Linux and another new blockchain systems and the same principle. But if you want to create an economy which is not controlled by big multinational corporations, you have to protect the ethical firms. And so, copy fair is the principle that the knowledge can be shared as much as you like, but if you want to make money, then you need to show some form of reciprocity with the community who has produced that knowledge.
Michel: And so an example of a group that does that is the Fair Shares Association, which is actually a property format in the UK. And so what they do is, everybody can use the work they produce with a creative commons non commercial license, which is like a restriction. But If you pay the membership fee, and so you reciprocate in the production of that knowledge, then you have the Creative Commons license, which also allows commercial use, right?
Michel: I think that this is interesting, and what I’m seeking is some kind of convergence between the co-ops model, the solidarity economic models, the big corporations, the social entrepreneurs, the not for profit sector. And if they would use these licenses, they could then create this ethical, generative, entrepreneurial coalitions, which I call [inaudible 00:21:35], because entrepreneurial actually means that haemologically taking in between. And I would like to see the kind of markets that we had in medieval cities, which were generative markets with issues like just pricing. Where there is this consciousness also in the market players, that they’re there to serve society.
Jim: Yep, that sounds very good. And I’ve been engaged with these licensing standards for many years. And I agree with you that the current models, GPL is just strange and weird, not really practical for a lot of real world projects. And yet on the other side, copyright is not what we’re really looking for, for trying to build a world around sharing. I’m glad to learn about new hybrid forms that have some more critical thinking about real world applications, and not off the check out fair shares. That’s really interesting.
Jim: I tend to normally recommend people look at the MIT licenses, they give you a lot of room to, pretty much, dial in what you want, and are less prescriptive than things like GPL. And might be that, I don’t know, find out maybe fair shares is built on top of the MIT licensing scheme, but it’s really important. And when people are going to do a project, particularly, in the non rivalrous world, I always tell them, “Think long and hard before you choose your license, because the license actually can empower or can constrain what you’re trying to do.”
Michel: Yeah. There’s a paradox, right? If you define the word communism, like Marx did, which means everybody contributes what he wants and uses what he needs. That was the official definition in the 19th century before the totalitarian Soviet systems changed the the meaning. If you use that definition, and paradoxically, the GPL is that kind of license. But then the paradox is that it also allows big companies to use that knowledge. And so what you get then is these open source economies that are totally dominated by big companies.
Michel: Now, it works for free software. But what if you start making designs for machines? Right? Then you’re really worried that some big company will just take that design and mass produce that machine, and they will out compete you in a matter of months and you’ll be dead. You see what I mean?
Jim: Yep, absolutely.
Michel: So in those cases, like for coops and seeing, I think the idea of copy fair would really serve their needs. Because then they could share the knowledge, but be secure that it couldn’t be used by bad actors that just take the knowledge and then destroy them in the process. So that’s the kind of basic ideas. It’s a principle. Is that, yes, knowledge can be shared, but if you make money, you should share a bit of it with all the people that have co created that knowledge. That’s also the idea, by the way, I don’t know if you still see that in my book, but what we call contributive accounting.
Michel: So I did a study with the P2P Foundation and other organizations in, that was even before 2016, so we looked at 300, what we call peer production communities, and we found that 75% of them, so that’s a pretty high number, were either experimenting or already using contributive accounting. So what that means is, if you have a commons community, you have All kinds of people contributing, but only a few are actually able then to make money with it. And so it creates a question of equity and fairness. And so the idea then, is that you create this second form of accounting internally. And so the money comes in from the outside, you have a membrane in between, and inside, it’s redistributed in a different fashion. Right?
Michel: And for example, if you’re interested or our listeners are interested, they can look at the open value system of Sensorica in Montreal, which has been working for years on a quite sophisticated system of contributive accounting. So it’s basically declaring that your community can choose what is valuable for your community. And then, especially now that you have these intelligent crypto monies, you can actually design a currency that reflects the value of your community. And so you have on the one hand, the cold currency, if you like, the extractive currency, and you can also have your warm currency that represents this broader recognition of collective value.
Jim: Yep, very good point. And I like to point out to people, at least in the United States, where I’m very familiar with the internals of corporate law, you can actually do those kinds of things within an ordinary corporation or LLC. That’s the one of the interesting and odd things about English and American style law, is that you can put almost whatever you want in the bylaws of a corporation, as radical and cooperative, and a communitarian, and peer to peer as you want. And it’s really, frankly, a matter of imagination. And you don’t have to go through the B court process, so that has some benefits, has no real legal significance. It basically takes the fact that we can do this within the idea of law as code and create what we want.
Jim: I’ll give you an interesting example of something that we did that actually touches back on something Michael spoke about earlier. A group of us started a maker space in the small city that I live, about an hour outside of. And we ran it nominal, as a not for profit for about two years, but with the intent that it would never be profitable and we would plow the profits back into the organization. But eventually got big enough that we said, “Well, let’s make it clear that this will be a not for profit forever.” So we decided to go through the paperwork of converting it to a United States style, not for profit and get the tax authorities, the IRS 401(c)3 designation, so it could receive tax deductible gifts, et cetera.
Jim: And then we said, “How do we want it governed?” And we jammed on it for a while. And one of the people who jammed on it’s extremely a creative young woman who’s an anarchist, and another one who was a medievalist, and I who had some sympathy for both of those but also knew a lot about how to craft corporate organizational forms. And so we created what we call the Council of Guilds Means of Governance, and it’s legal, it’s in our bylaws. It was approved by the state of Virginia and it was approved by the US IRS as a legal means to govern an entity.
Jim: And essentially, each of the skill areas that are maker space, we have a very extensive wood shop, we have a pottery shop, we have laser cutters, we have a bunch of 3D printers, we have Digital Arts Center, each of those areas can organize itself as a guild. And they basically put one person on the Council of Guilds, which from a legal perspective, acts very much like a board of directors would in a normal corporation, and there’s a whole mechanism for new guilds to be proposed and approved and such. And the guilds are self managing internally within themselves. People say, “How the hell did you do that?” And I said, “Easy. It’s just law as code.” So one thing I would encourage people who are thinking about doing these things, at least in the Anglo sphere, where we have the English Common Law, is to realize that a lot of these very cool ideas can be done within the old structures, if you allow yourself a blank piece of paper to design from.
Michel: I’m amazed to that Jim, because I didn’t know that. And I’d like to make a little remark, because it’s a bit of a historical dynamic that, I think [inaudible 00:29:16] also sometimes speaks about this. So basically once you have class society and welfare and everything, what an empire does, is it creates peace within and war outside, right? It conquers, and it fights on the outside. But in principle, you have like the Pax Romana inside.
Michel: So the Middle Ages was a period of time in Europe where there was no central authority or very weak central authority. So this was a very distributed system with nuclear power where you had the church and the local lords, and then the cities came up, right? And so that’s a very interesting period, because it shows you how a distributed system society can work with competing power centers. And so that’s how the free medieval cities were created when the farmers started leaving the countrysides and became workers, skilled workers, and created these solidarity mechanisms within the city, and then also economic ideas that were describing the 12th and 13th century.
Michel: But the thing is that, because the elites were always nostalgic of the Roman Empire. So when in the 16th century, everybody wanted to go back to centralization, right? But now, we’re exactly again in a period of time, where centralization is getting a very bad reputation, where we are de globalizing. And so looking at the Middle Ages becomes interesting as a historical example of how things can work in a distributed society. So I’m fascinated by the fact that you do that and even call it guilds. Because I’ve been talking to some friends about this, and one of my ideas was we have to look at how guilds worked. Not to copy it point by point, but that does inspire us by prior experience of people.
Jim: Yap, that was our thinking.
Michel: Yeah, I would love to get material on what you’re doing there. This is really interesting to me.
Jim: Yeah, we’ll do it. And I’ll send you the link and I will post it on the episode page where I’ll actually send you the actual legal document that we created to instantiate our maker space as a council of guilds, that it goes into quite a bit of detail. And the thing was, it passed legal muster at both the state and federal level. So it’s something people can feel free to take and use. We have decided that as far as we’re concerned, that intellectual work we did, which was quite a bit, is in the commons and free for anyone to take.
Jim: And I don’t know if you know this, Michael, but I’ve been involved from the very beginning with a group called Game B. I was one of the original Game B team. And we’ve been thinking about very similar things, very, very similar things. And we do believe that this current crisis is going to open many ears to hear that perhaps driving for the last penny of economic efficiency by building this world spanning machine that’s optimized for short term money on money returned and nothing else is not such a good idea. And then we’re also looking back at some of the older models.
Jim: Right now we have some folks looking into the Kibbutz movement in Israel, for instance. Another one I’ve looked into, and in fact I look at my bookshelf, now I’ve got five books on the topic, are the Amish here in the United States, the Anabaptist German immigrants who still to this day run an alternative society embedded inside of American society that has their own banking, has their own replacement for insurance by religion. They do not allow insurance, but they’ve created kind of a community will take care of you rule that allows someone to operate fairly risky enterprises like farms without insurance. And they have a whole lot of things that we can learn from. And we’re amazed that these living relics are still functioning and are quite interesting as sources of material.
Jim: Take note, I would not want to become Amish, thank you very much. But some of the ideas, I’ll give one example. You’ll hear about the Amish not using electricity or not using this or not using that. And they’re not nearly as black and white as you might think. As it turns out, let’s call it the broader Amish and Mennonite community, because they’re closely related, all descended from the German Anabaptists. There’s a group that’s approximately like a parish in more traditional Christian religion, that’s 25 to 50 families. That is where the decision is made about what technologies to use and how.
Jim: I’ll give you an example of one form of old order Mennonites that I know of, they have decided after a couple of years of deliberation, that it’s okay to have electricity in your barn so that you can run milking machines for your cows and refrigeration for the milk. But it’s not okay to have electricity in the house. And again, nuance, while other groups of Mennonites say no electricity or Amish typically, will say no electricity at all. But sometimes they’ll allow telephones. So I can call the vet if the animals get sick. So they do it by deliberation at a fairly quite local level, 25 to 50 families. And those ideas might actually be interesting for our Game B movement, that we could produce, what we call [inaudible 00:34:30], which are small communities, and each one may be quite different.
Michel: I’d like to give you another framing that I’ve been thinking about. So there’s, and it’s related to what you just said. So the basic idea, and it’s called with a difficult word, wave pulse theory. So these are historians from different schools. So you have biophysical economics, so that people think about the economy in thermodynamic ways, matter and energy flows, You have cliodynamics, which is looking at the rhythms in history, Peter Turchin and his school of historians. You have World Systems Theory, [inaudible 00:35:08] and others, Karl Polanyi, the Double Movement idea, so different ideas. And here’s the idea. So, human history evolves between two polarities of extraction and regeneration. And typically, a class society which competes with other peers. So nation states with nation states, empires against empire, because they’re in competition, they will overuse their resources, not as an exceptional thing, but as a regular thing. And that’s why, historically, all civilizations that existed have disappeared. And so typically, they do this to the point of collapse. And that ucers in the pulse for a period of regeneration.
Michel: And so my thesis is that in this periods of regeneration, it’s the commons that saves the day. So the commons are used as a healing mechanisms for societies and economies which have overused their resources. And the principle of the Commons is mutualization. Right? So think about this, you have this highly predatory slave base Roman Empire, which becomes too complex and start disintegrating. And what happens? Well, what happens is the Catholic monks mutualize their lives, so they have food and shelter and a rich spiritual life in a common setting, freely chosen. They mutualize their knowledge, because there wasn’t copyrights. And like the sister [inaudible 00:36:41], which is one of those congregations that was created by St. Bernard’s, they were responsible for 90% of the technological innovation in the 11th and 12th centuries. They were the engineers of their time, right? And then re localization of the economy around the feudal domains.
Michel: So I think You can see what I’m trying to say is that, when there is an overreach of a civilization, people go back to the commons, because it’s one of the ways to dramatically lower the human footprint while actually maintaining a good resource level. And psychologically, let’s say we all have a fenced garden, if I’m unlucky, I’m hungry, you know what I mean? But if we have an agreement that there is some reciprocity mechanisms, then you know that if your garden doesn’t function, you will still get what you need. So this is what the Commons are psychologically, right? It mutualizes resources, so that there’s an insurance that people can use it.
Michel: So that brings me back to your idea of the Amish, they came from these periods where it was necessary to do that, and they had to really simple as being good enough so that it could persist over these long periods of time.
Jim: Yeah. That’s quite amazing, and how well they do. We have number of Mennonites very close to us, in fact our county’s now probably 10%, Mennonite. And their farms are beautiful. They take care of their animals, they take care of their soil. And they do it generation after generation. And they’re able to live within the Game A, as we say in Game B. And I know that’s a very important theme that we’ll get to later as we dig deeper into your book how peer-to-peer Commons and other forms of alternative organization can actually embed itself within the current structure, at least for the time being, until working together we eventually all eroded away, right? Which is really an important point.
Jim: Let’s stop here a little bit. And let’s dig in a little bit more into the idea of commons. We’ve touched on it three or four times, but we haven’t really fleshed it out a lot. This is very important. In fact I’m reading, in bits and pieces of time, between my readings for my podcast, a book called Free, Fair and Alive by guy named David Bollier, and some other folks, that really digs into the concept of the commons. And I’ve really become more interested in it than before.
Jim: But anyway, so I’ll let you talk about your vision of the commons. But one thing that we’ll have to put on the table, whenever Commons comes up, you certainly have to address Garrett Hardin and the idea of The Tragedy of the Commons and how that’s not mirrored well. Anyway, I’d love to hear your view on that. I have my view and I’ll speak after you’re done.
Michel: Yeah, so the ancient Romans already made the difference between what they call, [inaudible 00:39:38], what belongs to no one, and [inaudible 00:39:41], what belongs to a group of people or a community. And so basically the mistake of Garrett Hardin, which he later on recognized, is that what he called the commons were actually not commons but open access resources. So this is not like a mountain flank in the Swiss village, which is managed by the community, but an open area that everybody can use. And he was right that open access resources often lead to this tragedy. But it was mistaken to call it a tragedy of the commons, because the commons by definition, is governed to exactly avoid that. Right.
Michel: So he wasn’t really talking about Commons, he was talking about open fields that were from no one. And those are by definition not Commons, but open access resources. So as soon as people realized that if they do this selfish thing, that the resource will be destroyed, they can make agreements amongst each other to preserve that resource, and then it actually becomes a commons, and then they can preserve it over generations. So that’s kind of the nuance.
Michel: And I’ve seen that Garrett Hardin actually said that, he apologized for making a mistake, because unfortunately this mistaken kind of framing became one of the key ideas of neoliberalism and the idea that the only thing that works is a private market. So they used his ideas to basically go to war even more against the commons. And that’s a very sad thing. And this is still happening in Africa and Asia and Ukraine, where the World Bank and the IMF are pushing this idea everywhere of privatizing these mutual resources. And often it doesn’t work the way they intend to do. And that’s a real problem.
Jim: I agree 100% with what you said. You hit it right on the nose, that people were about Garrett Hardin, are like a weapon sometimes, right? Even though what he was talking about was not anything like the normal socially managed commons. And of course we know Elinor Ostrom actually got a Nobel Prize in part for her analysis of how commons are and ought to be managed. And so there’s just a very different regime, they are managed. So they’re managed in a way that isn’t money on money returned capitalism, it’s another one of these alternative ways to do things.
Michel: May I mentioned one difference I have, potentially with the book that you just mentioned? And I have to say, these are friends, I work with them. So we actually part of the same group for a while, which was called the Commons Strategies Group. And so with David Bowie and [inaudible 00:42:26], the three of us, we would organize what we call deep dives. And these were like fairly confidential meetings where we would put two groups of people together who didn’t know each other. For example, commoners and cooperatives, or the commons and ethical finance.
Michel: And so we did that for a number of years to create bridges between these various communities. But there’s one point where I think we differ, and this is the notion of the relation between the commons and the market. Because I’ve seen passages where they explicitly say that there can be no relation to the market, I could be mistaken. So I would have to recheck it.
Michel: But okay, whether they say it or not, I just want to critique that position. As long as you say that commons are only for volunteers that cannot have any relation with the market, you put yourself in a position where you don’t have any resources, and you are marginal. And what usually happens is after five or 10 years, the first generation is exhausted. And if they’re not replaced, that’s the end of the project. So I’m actually for institutional redesign, in which you think about the commons and then you think, “Okay, how can we create ethical livelihoods so that our commons can persist over time?” And I think this is a very important time.
Michel: So first, at the micro level, you have to think about, how do we do this for the long term, what kind of income streams. And to do that in a way that doesn’t endanger the commons, right? So I call it, reverse co-optation. And I think you mentioned Richard Bartlett, and maybe there was before recording. So Richard Bartlett is or used to be with Inspire, which is a coalition of coops and social entrepreneurs in New Zealand. They did something very interesting, which I call transvestment.
Michel: So, investment is using capital to generate more capital, transvestment is using capital to create more commons, right? You go, you switch, you transform it from one value system to another. And so they took a million dollars to produce Loomio, which is an open source free software. They guaranteed 5% return for 10 years, but then they did a ritual to give the resource to the commons.
Michel: So this is very interesting, because at the same time they satisfy the investor, but by really creating a wall between their entity and the investment, so they were not kind of in a slave like position to capital, and at the same time they created more commons. So this is something I described in the book is, how do we do what I call, reverse co-optation? Right. So how do we protect ourselves as commoners? How do we maintain our ethics and values and create equitable and fair livelihoods without being overrun by more predatory instincts? This is a problem that coops many times have, right? Coops have two big problems. One is called managerial ism, which is overtime there’s an elite that becomes managers and they’re not really involved of the members anymore, but also what’s called worker capitalism, which is yes, you’re distributed differently but you behaving the same as a competitive firm.
Michel: And so my concern is how do you avoid this? How do you create commons that are in relation with generative market functions, so that both can continue to exist in equilibrium over a longer period of time? So that’s what you find in my book, it is attempt to kind of do institutional design. So the communist institution, the market institution ar the state institution, first at the micro level, where you have the productive community, the entrepreneurial coalition, and what I call the, for benefit association. You will note that most open source projects have some association which manages the infrastructure and the collaboration infrastructure. Linux Foundation, Drupal Association. And I projected at the level of society.
Michel: So can we imagine a society where civil society is considered to be productive because every citizen, every inhabitant actually contributes to the common good, and we recognize that. Can we have a market that doesn’t destroy communities and natural resources? And can we have an enabling, what I call partner state, which creates the conditions that every citizen can equally participate in this contributory economy? So that’s my, what I call post capitalist dream, is to have healthy markets, healthy civil societies, and healthy state forms, which can create a bit what the Amish do, right? Is create long term stability within planetary boundaries. And we have examples on a large scale. And I recently discovered this, which is the Tokugawa periods in Japan, which lasted, I think, two to three centuries. I’m not sure about the timing. But they have a balanced economy with a stable population that live within the regional planetary boundaries of Japan.
Michel: So we know we can do it and we know that we need to commons to really do this. Because actually what happened was that the Emperor, the Shogun, had taken over the land from these rival feudal boards, and created rules to avoid deforestation. So that’s really interesting, these kinds of macro solutions that use the commons as a tool to maintain stable societies.
Jim: Yeah, and I think what we just talked about here, which, as you say is in your book, and you give some good examples in chapter two, which we’ll get to in a bit, at least two of them. That a key question is not only long term, but also how do you get there? I was in my earlier days, a startup entrepreneur, that I was an investor in startups, et cetera. And one of the rules I used for my own ventures and investing and others and such is, to realize that nobody ever jumps up a cliff, right? It just doesn’t happen. You got to find a hill to walk up. And here we are, surrounded on all sides, by this amazingly powerful, if stupid and brutal machine, which we call Game A, that is driven by money on money return, but also has a lot of freedom in it. And one of the freedoms is to be able to build your own thing inside of it.
Jim: And in fact, in our Game B concept. We’re less doctrinaire about commons per se, that we do understand that commons have to be a driving concept at the highest level with respect to the global systems. But we are interested in commons, we’re interested in co-ops, we’re interested in almost any kind of organizational form that can make people sovereign and be highly coherent and, here’s the most important thing, be able to out compete Game A entities at least in some sectors. Because you can’t jump up a cliff, we can’t get to this post capitalist world immediately. And Probably the only roads there immediately would be through violent revolution, where we’re more likely to end up with feudalism or Neo fascism than we are what you and I want.
Jim: So we’ve been thinking about, how can we assure that these entities are realistic? And as you say, provide real livings for themselves, some of which may well be engaging with Game A at some level, but doing it in a way that you’re able to live true to yourself in a Game B or commoner way, and yet define those, you used the word membranes, and I refine that word a little further and call it semi permeable membranes. In the biological realm, every cell has a membrane but the membrane has been designed by evolution very carefully for what it both let’s in and what it puts out.
Jim: And so if we think in terms of semipermeable membranes being our operating entities at around the Dunbar number, maybe some collection of cells at the Dunbar number, that they have around them a semipermeable membrane, which is maybe we make stuff to sell in the Game A world, but yet we live like Game B.
Jim: One of the examples I give, just because it’s so absurd seemingly, especially the white people who come from the hippie dippie kind of point of view, which is, could you want to imagine a Game B auto repair business? Right? “What?” Fixing those pollution belching demons, I go, “Hey, the world is full of auto repair businesses and most of them are very out, not most of them, but many of them are very unethical,” right? They rip people off, they charge them for parts they don’t put in, they buy cheap knockoff parts from China and charge you as if it was the ones from the original car manufacturer. It’s a terrible business. Most people have a catalog of abuse they’ve had at the hands of auto repair.
Jim: So imagine a Game B auto repair business where people live together in a physical community and govern themselves through a series of rules and share their economics with another set of algorithms. But much of the energy for the Game B proto B, which is our lowest level of organization, is actually funded by our chain of auto repair businesses that we all work at. And how do we out compete? Well, we out compete by being ethical, by having worker management of the floor, I happen to have worked in the auto business when I first got out of college, well probably why I know about this example. But within an auto repair business, there’s a horrible tension rivalry and fighting between the service writers, are the ones who interface to the customer, and typically the ones trying to rip you off. And the workers, the mechanics, the people who turn the cranks, who mostly want to do a good job, and then the parks department who’s always trying to pressure the mechanics to buy as many parts as possible or embed as many parts as possible in a repair job, whether it’s necessary or not. You wonder why all they do these days is just replace parts, because it’s the parts department trying to muscle the mechanics to do so.
Jim: So our view is that, or at least my view I should say, this is purely my crazy idea, is that if you were to organize using Game B principles in this very Game A business, you’d out compete the Game A players in your town, very quickly the word would get out, “Wow auto repair business, totally ethical, probably 10% cheaper and they don’t sell your crap you don’t need.” And you could use that economic profit from the Game A world to basically keep the Game B world going until gradually we build our own economy and trade with each other.
Michel: Well, what you just saying is a bit what the cooperative movement learned in 19th century. First they tried to build productive coops, but they didn’t succeed because they couldn’t get the capital from banks. So they they moved to consumer coops. And so what they decided, and I forgot to name the Rochdale pioneers, right? They this they knew that they could deliver food to the workers with 30% less than the private shops. But they also knew that if they did that, they would create so much animosity and they will probably be destroyed. So what they did was give 10% discount instead of 30. And so they had a 20% surplus that they invested to grow the cooperative movement, and they were extremely successful.
Michel: And I don’t know if you know this, but there are more people today working in coops or working for multinationals. And there’s a study in France showing that tech coops have a five time less chance of going bust than the venture capital tech startups. The problem is that people don’t know that, right? They don’t know that these things exist. So in terms of strategy, I talk a lot about seed forms, right? The idea that when a system is breaking down, and so this is the idea that we now are entering, this downward spiral. If you remember what I said in the beginning, this kind of wave poles between extraction engine and generative periods, what [inaudible 00:54:52] has achieved to do is to create an extractive period which lasts very, very long, and has culminated in a globalized overuse.
Michel: So that’s an unprecedented situation because there is no escape, we’ve reached this overreach at a global scale. And so, what happens in these periods is that people look for solution, which obviously will not have the same logic than the system that is less than less functioning. And so this is what I call seed form. So for example, you look at the beginning of capitalism, it took eight centuries to prepare for modern capitalist society. But it begins with, and I’m sure you know that story, but I find it interesting, is the invention of purgatory, right?
Michel: So you have Italian cities, and at that time, usury was defined as just asking interest. So if you ask for interest, you go to hell. So then they, because there was a lot of pressure in Italian city states, they started thinking about purgatory, which is a very convenient solution. So they defined lending interests no longer as a cardinal sin, but as a moderate sin. And then you could buy back your sin by buying indulgences which a church used to invest in their Gothic cathedrals. And suddenly Christians could lend money. So that’s like an invention, a pattern, that would eventually enable the capitalists. Then you have double entry book accounting. Then you have the printing press. So you could identify a number of things that, like existing seed form first, and they find each other and they create organization which use two, or three or four or five of these patterns, eventually create a subsystem. And eventually that subsystems take over.
Michel: So this is the way I think, that we’re in the period where we have to create seat forms, and look for niches where they’re viable. And at the same time, we work at changing the rules of society, so that we can do this more and more, right. So what you’ve done is hacking, the example you gave about the guild system. But you can also change legislation in more radical ways. For example in Italy, they have the publics commons Cooperation Protocols. So that started in Bologna, actually it started with a constitutional reform in which they introduced the notion of subsidiarity, so that democracy should be done at the lowest reasonable level. And so, no centralization when it’s not necessary. And they use it in Bologna to create a rule that allows citizens to claim something as a commons.
Michel: So you can say, “I want to take care of the riverbeds. I want to remove innate this old factory which is abandoned, I want to randomize at the park.” And so this was so successful Jim, that it went to 250,000 cities, that now 1 million people are doing urban commons projects in Italian cities. So this is how you get from a niche to a new norm. Does that make sense?
Jim: I like it a lot.
Jim: A couple of interesting stories. I did not know the story that purgatory was a loophole for lending money and interest. I love that actually.
Michel: Yeah, there’s there’s a book by Jack Le Goff, if you’re interested. That he has a whole book about that. And I read it some years ago.
Jim: Quite interesting. Actually more relevant today, is this idea of a seed starting in one place of having the ability to find commons and Bologna and then having that spread across all of Italy. That’s the kind of fan out I think we’re both hoping that our work will lead to over time. Because you have to have existence proofs. I keep coming back this.
Michel: Yeah, exactly. And I call this protocol cooperatives. I’ll let you speak but I want to explain what that means.
Jim: That sounds great. Yeah, just a very short thing. Is that one of my frustrations in some of these social change groups, is a whole lot of people want to spend a whole lot of time talking about theory, which is good. And I like theory, I can go deep on theory when I need to. But to get beyond the 1% elite thinkers of the world, you got to have existence proofs, they’re not going to take anybody’s word, that some high concept way to redo the world is going to make life better for them and their families, you got to see it work. So I’m always looking for tangible, homey, down to earth, and preferably rivalrous examples of things that we can actually show that our theories work. And I’m an empiricist. If our theories turn out not to work, then there’s something wrong with our theories.
Michel: I’m completely on your side on that. And actually, that’s what the P2P Foundation does. So we have 20,000 articles and concepts and examples. And the rule to be in our Wiki is that you have to exist. So the concepts I have are concepts are actually used by communities that exist, and the projects that I use are not plans, but they’re actually communities and project that already exist. Sometimes they exist in experimental form, but they exist. You know what mean?
Jim: Absolutely. And we have to prototype, we have to experiment.
Michel: Right. And I build my theory based on what I see in that reality. So that’s really how I work. So it’s very close to what you’re saying.
Jim: Yeah, and I love it. And I obviously knew about your work and your foundation, but I hadn’t really dug deep into it. And one of the things that I really love about doing my podcast, I do spend about 10 hours per episode digging into people’s materials, the amount of stuff I found on your Wiki, in particular, was holy moly, I could spend a month digging into that. The other resource of yours I’d call out to people, which I now follow, is you have a daily blog post as well, which is well worth following. And I had it written down here, where the hell is it?
Michel: It’s blog.p2pfoundation.net. And then we have commonstransition.org.
Jim: Yep. So there’s a huge amount of very useful material, which actually is a perfect pivot to my next topic, which is actually from chapter two in your book. Two parts to this, first you talk about value and what is value exchange, value versus use value. You talked about that a little bit, but then you dig into four examples. And I’d be particularly interested, again, my bias towards tangible and how do we apply these concepts to the rivalrous domain, to the examples of Wikihouse and Farm Hack.
Michel: Okay. So, I do want to say a bit about value, because I don’t think I talked about this, and this is so important. So somewhere, I think the 17th century, we decided that value could only be created in the market. So you need a commodity that you can sell in the market and that creates value. So to make it simple, you have three nurses, one is a volunteer for the Mother Teresa’s congregation, and she’s not counted anywhere in the GDP. She doesn’t get a salary, she doesn’t exist. Then you have a nurse that works for public hospital. And she’s counted as a cost. So when there’s an economic crisis, we spend too much, the public hospital will be closed, and she loses a job. And then there’s a third nurse, and she works a private hospital. And she’s a positive force in our society, because she creates surplus value for us shareholders.
Michel: So this is what the value resume does, you have three people doing the same job, and only one is recognized as being a value creator, right? And this is a big problem, because what it means is that we can only fund regenerative activity in our society, either to taxation or philanthropy. So first, we have to extract, accumulate profit and capital to our extraction and then eventually, we can invest through taxation or philanthropy in things that are good, more generative for the world. And this means that as long as we are in this value regime, we cannot structurally solve our problems. And so any real change in civilizational paradigm is also a change in value regime, right?
Michel: Just to give another example, you have the Romans, they have slaves, work is for the slaves, work is not good. A free person is a person that doesn’t work, so that he can dedicate his time to philosophy and stuff. That’s the idea of the ancient Greeks and the Romans. Then the Christians come in, and what they say is, “No, no, no, [inaudible 01:03:39], we have to pray and work.” And work becomes seen as a way to bring in divine order on the planet Earth. So, you see that the medieval system is actually a value revolution compared to the Roman system, right?
Michel: And so what I’m suggesting to you Jim, is that we’re going to move from a commodity based value system to a contribution based value system. And so that’s absolutely crucial. So we have to find mechanisms that allow us to do this. And I want to give you an example. And this is from the blockchain world, right? So maybe two examples to make it a bit real. One is the idea of a shared public ledger to directly finance generative work. So the example is [inaudible 01:04:33], it’s a community land trust in France with $70 million capital. They’ve proven already in 2016, that they saved the French state 300 million per euro per year in de pollution costs so that the state doesn’t have to de pollute because they don’t pollute the water. And the problem today is we don’t have any mechanism to do this.
Michel: But imagine we have a public ledger, right? Like the blockchain people are doing. And so any person could say, “Here is the proof of my de carbonization effort,” right? So you get verified and confirmed, you get tokenized. And then either the state decides as a priority, or you go to the institutions and companies that profit from your positive externalities as they call it. And that way you have a direct financing of generative work. So this is called circular finance, the circular economy needs circular finance.
Michel: And why is this interesting? Because what you can do is you can build in limits, like planetary boundary limits. And this is something called global thresholds and allocations. The group is called Reporting 3.0. So you have this council that keeps track of all the resources in the world, and how much we can use without destroying the planet. Because you have all the freedoms but not a freedom to destroy the planet. And we can integrate it in our accounting system so that people know the choices that they have. But within that, you are completely free to solve your issues as you see fit as long as you don’t destroy, go over the planetary boundaries.
Michel: Okay, so I just wanted to say this, because this is very important as the underlying system that I described in the book. So the two examples you were asking were Farm Hack?
Jim: Farm Hack and Wikihouse.
Michel: Yes. So instead of Farm Hack, which I don’t know very well, because that case study was written by my co author, there is a similar group in France, it’s called actually [inaudible 01:06:32]. So what they do is, they come together every two weeks, original workshop, and they make a machine together. So because their idea is that agribusiness firms do not make the machines that is more smaller family oriented that farmers need, so they will do it themselves. And so every two weeks they make a machine that somebody needs in their network and they will put the design in a global commons. It’s in French, that’s a limitation. But they had like 2000 designs really like three, four years ago. And they have hundreds of members, they are active in the whole country of France. So this is a very interesting project that I know a bit better. And I think Farm Hack is quite similar.
Michel: So these are just people, young farmers mostly, that they seat to create share designs of things they need in their work. And they hack farm machinery. Because I’m sure you noticed if you buy a John Deere tractor, it’s illegal to repair it. Because you signed a contract, which includes the software of the machine and it’s private software and you’re not allowed to change it. So this creates a new feudalism, that’s what these groups act against.
Michel: So Wikihouse, I know a bit better because I visited them in New Zealand, and basically they want to make zero carbon positive, I think it’s called, house. And again, the idea is to work together in community and to share the design globally, so that if they’re successful, other people can simply then copy the design and do it in another locality and maybe adopt it.
Michel: And so I come back to what I wanted to say before you told your story, this is what I call a protocol corporative. So what is a protocol corporative? It’s creating joint patterns, so that the whole ecosystem can organize themselves around these joint patterns, if you remember, occupy was like that, right? Now, occupy has ultimately failed, had weaknesses, but it did succeed in very rapidly mobilizing a huge number of people, like 15m. In Spain it was like 1 million people on the streets, because they had a common protocol. Like if you do this and this and this, you can call yourself occupied.
Michel: And Wikihouse the same, if you do this, and this and this you can call yourself Wikihoused and then you can also participate in the system. And so we go from economies of scale, which is what we do now, which is by producing more of a single unit, you can make it cheaper. But it also means you are using more energy and resources in order to obtain that competitivity.
Michel: And you go to another model, which is called economies of scale, which is doing more with less. So basically, on the inflammation level, what happens is, in a system like that, any innovation, anywhere in the world can be copied very rapidly by anybody else in the ecosystem. So you can imagine ultimately, what’s it called, Open motors does that. That you have designs for cars, and if a local city decide we’re going to make our own buses, they don’t necessarily have to buy it from a big private company. They can say, “We can make a local biodegradable, renewable buses based on modular repairable systems, we can make them right here.” And this is what I call cosmo local production, where everything that is light is global and shared and everything that is heavy, is local.
Jim: I like that a lot. In fact, I’m going to point this one out the Wikihouse one to our Game B community for people to dig into, because there are groups getting ready to actually create communities, physical ones. And one of the things that people are talking about is what are economic and ethical ways to build good housing. And it looks like this Wikihouse is quite an interesting concept.
Michel: Yes, I have a whole category of housing, category housing in my Wiki. So you’ll see this, there’s a lot more. And so that’s really what I want to push. Is that people have to know these niche seed forums so they can learn from each other. And we have a big problem which is fragmentation. which is that, I went to Tuscany and there were 13 pieces of software to order organic foods from CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture. That’s insane. We have to mutualize our knowledge. And in open source, you can still adapt it to your local situation, but you have this core commonality so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Because that’s a problem when we compete with capitalism, right? If they can make an Uber which is globally scaled based on one pattern, and you are redesigning 10,000 different places something different, how are you going to compete?
Jim: Very good point. Though, of course, in a weird way Uber used your strategy, they did that which is light and did it globally, the software, and that which is heavy-
Jim: The car, and made their drivers pay for the cars, so they didn’t have any capital costs.
Michel: Yeah, brilliant.
Michel: But predatory.
Jim: But predatory. Unfortunately, anything good can be used for bad, which actually gives us a perfect transition to the next topic, and I guess it’ll be probably the last topic because we’re getting short on time. I got a lot of other interesting things to talk about in my notes. Maybe you’d be interested in coming back for a part two, I do this fairly often.
Michel: Yeah, I’d like to. Because yeah, you’re right, there’s a lot to discuss. And I think also for people, it can be too long, because there’s a lot to digest, actually.
Jim: Okay, well, let’s go on. On the last topic that we have time for, and then we’ll have you back for a part two to get into a whole bunch of other things. And that is that you talked about it quite a bit in chapter three of the peer-to-peer book, which is, how are many to many communications and other things that we are creating in this internet world of ours, provide us, what you call new socio technological frameworks? Why don’t we talk about that a little bit, then I’ll probably follow up on that because that’s the area I did most of my business career in.
Michel: Right. Well, so last year, I’ll produce also another report I want to briefly mention, it’s called P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival. And so I proposed a kind of unified global infrastructure to produce for human needs within planetary boundaries. And I have one slide that maybe we can talk about next time, I just want to mention it because people believe technology is neutral, that you can invent something and then it depends how you use it. And I’m thinking this is not exactly true, because the way you design something is already value driven. And you can see that with the internet, right? It starts in the army, where the noncommissioned officers are telling their officers, we need to distribute the system because when the headquarters will be bombed in the war, then we can’t do anything anymore. So DARPA develops this idea. And then scientists start cheating and introducing the internets in their offices. There’s a story about actually making a cable without permission. So the scientists take it over.
Michel: And then the students send the researchers in the academia, right? And then you have the browser and then the people come in. And once the people are there, the businesses then come in and they change the internet into organic line server logic, they go away from the peer to peer, because they can’t control it. And then the third wave is government see the happenings, “Oh, my God, we need to control this.” And then surveillance is introduced. So I just want to say that design, technology is not neutral. It’s based on values and design decisions.
Michel: And so you apply that to peer to peer. And what I described in chapter three is that there are now four competing models, because peer-to-peer is here to stay. It’s kind of the basic paradigm, but then how you implement it is based on values, interests, et cetera. So you have a quadrant with centralized and global versus local and distributed. And you have another line, the horizontal line between for profit and for benefit. So centralized for profit peer-to-peer, what does that mean? Well, that’s Facebook and Uber, and Google. So they allow us to do peer-to-peer on their platforms. But everything in the background is privatized. And so our data becomes a new oil, and they sell our attention. So I call this next article capitalism because it’s the hierarchy of the network. But still enable a lot of peer-to-peer, even though we might criticize them, and I do.
Michel: For example with Facebook, in Austin in Belgium, because I’m originally from there, there’s a community fishing project where the consumers order the fish directly from the fisherman and then pick them up when they come back from the sea. That’s a very positive communities for the fisheries that is actually managed through Facebook, right. Then the second, distributed for profit is basically what I call the blockchain world. So they use things like proof of work, and what’s the other name, proof of stake. They’re all oligarchic protocols. I’m sorry, these are protocols which give more to the people who already have more.
Michel: So you look at the distribution of Bitcoin, it’s more unequal than sovereign money. Right? On the other hand, these people are doing great innovations. They’re creating open collaborative systems. They reserve 40% of the tokens for the workers. There’s some really interesting stuff happening there. And now we move into post blockchain ledger’s, so that’s, I think, very interesting. Then on the other side of the screen and you have two other models, one is what I call urban commons. So local projects, small, open, local and connected, SLOC. This is what I think I told you that, for example, in Gent, in Belgium, we went from 50 urban Commons to 500 in 10 years. So this is also happening. And then the global commons idea is the last one.
Michel: For example, I think that cities should create leaks like in the Middle Ages, and create protocol coops so every provisioning system that needs to be mutualized in the city. So, shared habitat, shared mobility, shared food. And it’s absolutely horrendous that this should happen independently in every city when they could actually create a core of patterns that could be used by all the participants. So this is a way to actually achieve a form of trans local, transnational governance, where the city becomes the tool of global governance. In alliance with ethical fines and coops and whatever any alliance with these communities that produce the code and use the capabilities of these infrastructures.
Michel: So I hope that’s a bit clear. So what I’m saying is they are developing all four at the same time and competing with each other. And right now, though of course and the technical side is winning and dominant, but they are actually very predatory systems. So I don’t think they’re sustainable in the long term, right? Airbnb destroys the inner city, it chases people away. Uber produces more pollution, rather than less. So these are fundamental issues with these models, which are fundamentally predatory. And they don’t pay taxes. And they don’t invest in infrastructure, they use infrastructure that is paid for by their own workers. So these are very problematic models.
Jim: Absolutely. It is interesting that there are a few upstarts against Uber. I know in Austin, Texas, there’s a local, I think it’s a driver own co-op that has almost 50% of the market. But the talks all these CSA software platforms, there somehow need to be a global level of standardization templates or seeds, as you call them, or we call them in the Game B world, x in a box, essentially a turnkey, how can anyone anywhere set up a Uber co-op, essentially? And that seems to be how, at least one way that we could nip away at these over concentrated network predators.
Michel: Yeah, I completely agree. So we have to start with seeds, then become niches and then at some moment, the niches become the norm. And we know this can happen. Because you think about Germany and renewable energy. So you have this one village co-op or maybe 20 years ago, and they have to fight for five years to have the legal right to form renewable energy co-op. So once it’s accepted by the legal system, it starts proliferating, but it never goes more than two to 3% of energy production.
Michel: But then you have Fukushima and the Greens are in the government. And they made a deal with Merkel. And then they introduce a feed in tariff, and within five to seven years 60% of the neural energy market is done by these village co-ops. So in that niche, they have won, you know what I mean? Of course it’s not enough. But if you think at the emergence of capitalism, it took a very long time for them to become the norm.
Michel: Now, we don’t have eight centuries, that’s for sure. So we’re going to have to be, work in accelerated ways. But also the, I don’t find a reference to this, but somebody told me this, that we are learning eight times faster than 30 years ago. So the fact that we have the internet in this collective intelligence, means that innovations are now moving so rapidly. Think about permaculture that went from nothing to now with thousands and thousands and thousands of projects. Also, of course, in a bad way, I read another article about bombs that you can make on the sideways like in Afghanistan, it took them six months to learn about this. And now it’s like two weeks. So this is at the same time of hope, because even though we can do bad things with it, it means that because we have accelerated decline, we also have to learn much more rapidly what the alternatives are. So this is going to be in, some way, a race against time.
Michel: And can I tell you one more thing, Jim, before we end this. So Peter Pogany has a book called Rethinking the World, and I think it’s very important. so he says, “Okay, society is a complex adaptive system.” So it doesn’t change because good people decide to do things differently. It changes because a system breaks down, creates a chaotic transition with a bifurcation. So global system zero for him is a merchant capitalist system before 1789, it’s interrupted by the chaotic transition, or the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. 1815 creates global system one, which is industrial capitalism. But it’s a full domination of capital over labor that is interrupted by World War One and World War Two, which create global system two, the welfare state model, which broke down in 2008.
Michel: So we are now in the chaotic transition. And you take then Peter Turchin, who wrote an article, following his rhythms that I explained in the beginning, he predicted that we would have a cascade in the 20s. And it’s actually happening with COVID. Right? So his idea is that we now have 10 years of downward spiraling with enormous amount of social strife. And it starts in the US with with the George Floyd mobilizations. He says usually after 10 years, elites get tired and start to be more willing to introduce reforms. I think that’s an interesting way to know where we are, you know what I mean?
Jim: It really is. A roadmap for where we are, and then what you talked about earlier, but within the constraint of the fact that this roadmap has to be accelerated, we don’t have a century to make each transition.
Jim: And I noticed that you actually have a collaborator that we share, which is Daniel Schmachtenberger, who’s also a key contributor into the Game B work.
Michel: But he’s not in the P2P Foundation, we communicate occasionally, so I wouldn’t call him a collaborator, but I do follow his work. And I watched the Rebel Wisdom tapes, because his capacity to think about complexity is very deep and I don’t have that, but I think, I don’t know if he’s done this, but what I’m proposing is also to have a sense of the pulse of time, right? Not just to know where we are, but when we are. And I don’t do this to tell people, “This is a deterministic future. It’s going to come automatic.” But I think it can help to position yourself in, “Okay, now we are going through a difficult time. So let’s prepare for what comes next.” Right? Now’s the time for the seed forms.
Jim: Indeed. Well on that, I think we will wrap it up. This has been extraordinarily interesting. I knew it would be after having done my research. And we’ve left a lot on the table, particularly talking about the transition strategies and how P2P and the commons need to couple with governance, law, intelligence, infrastructure, and indeed, values and coherence. And we’ll do a part two and get into those. So I like to really thank you Michael, for an incredibly deep and interesting episode.
Michel: Thank you so much
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Mahler at modernspacemusic.com.