10 Ways to Accelerate the Peer-to-Peer and Commons Economy

September 20, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Let’s engage in a way to produce goods and create value that is free, fair, and sustainable! What is peer production and commons economics? More importantly, how can they help bring about a thriving economy that work for people and planet?

The following 10 ideas for action are the result of 10 years of research at the P2P Foundation on the emerging practices of new productive communities and those ethical entrepreneurial coalitions that can create livelihoods on top of shared resources. Together, they emphasize the emerging practices that can bolster the resilience of a new ethical economy. Our goal is to encourage the creation of new entities that overstep the traditional corporate form and its extractive profit-maximizing practices. What we need, instead of extractive forms of capital, is generative ideas that co-create value with and for commoners.

These 10 ideas already exist in some form, but need to be used more widely and integrated. We present them below in three sections addressing each concern (free, fair and sustainable). Each recommendation is followed by links to related resources.

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1. Practice open business models based on shared knowledge.

Traditional closed business models are based on artificial scarcity. In contrast, open business models are market strategies based on both the recognition of natural abundance and the refusal to generate income and profits by making it artificially scarce.

Knowledge is a non- or anti-rival good which gains in use value the more it is shared. Although it can be shared easily and, when in digital form, at very low marginal cost, many extractive firms still use artificial scarcity to extract rents from the creation or use of digitized knowledge.

Through legal repression or technological sabotage, naturally shareable goods are made artificially scarce so that extra profits can be generated. This is particularly grievous for life-saving or planet-regenerating technological knowledge.

The first action is, therefore, an ethical one, with three elements: share what can be shared; only create market value from resources that are scarce; create added value on top or alongside of these commons.

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2. Practice Open Cooperativism

Many new ethical, generative forms are being created that are better aligned with the contributory commons. The key is to choose post-corporate forms that can generate livelihoods for contributing commoners. Cooperatives are one of the potential forms that commons-friendly market entities could take.

Open cooperatives are cooperatives with the following characteristics:

1) Mission-oriented, with a social goal related to creating shared resources.

2) Multi-stakeholder governed, including those affected by or contributing to the particular activity.

3) Constitutionally committed by their own rules to co-creating commons with the productive communities.

4) Along with other cooperatives, global in organisational scope, in order to create counter-power to extractive multinational corporations.

We see the emergence of more open forms, including “neo-tribes” (eg. the Ouishare community), or more tightly organized “neo-builds” (eg., Enspiral.org, Las Indias or the Ethos Foundation).

Even more open is the network form chosen by the open scientific hardware community Sensorica, which allows all micro-task contributions to be accounted in the reward system through open value or contributory accounting (more below), thus more tightly coupling those contributions with generated income.

3. Practice open value or contributory accounting

Peer production is based on an open, community-driven, collaborative infrastructure, with freely contributed, distributed tasks.

The most appropriate way to reward those contributing to such a process may not be the traditional salary, and so open value accounting (or contributory accounting) have emerged.

Sensorica, mentioned above, practices this in the following way. Any contributor may add their contributions (tasks performed) into the system, logged by project number. The contributor is then assigned “karma points” after a peer evaluation. Income is then flowed to these contributions which have been accounted-for and weighted (valued), so every contributor is fairly rewarded.

Contributory accounting and similar solutions avoid situations where only a few contributors — those more closely related to the market — capture the value co-created by the much larger community. Open book accounting also insures that the (re)distribution of value is transparent for all contributors.

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on open value accounting and streams, see our section on P2P Accounting

4. Insure fair distribution and benefit-sharing through CopyFair licensing

Copyleft licenses allow anyone to re-use the knowledge commons they require, on the condition that changes and improvements are added back to that commons. This is a great advance, but should not be abstracted from the need for fairness.

In physical production, which involves finding resources, raw materials and payments to contributors, extractive models benefit from the unfettered commercial exploitation of these commons.

Therefore, while knowledge sharing should always be maintained we should also demand reciprocity for the commercial exploitation of the commons. This would create a level playing field for the ethical economic entities that presently internalize social and environmental costs.

CopyFair licenses, which allow knowledge sharing while requesting reciprocity in exchange for the right of commercialization, would facilitate achieving this.

5. Practice solidarity and mitigate the risks of work and life through “commonfare” practices

The power of nation-states has gradually weakened as one result of financial and neoliberal globalization. We are seeing a strong, integrated effort to dismantle the vital solidarity mechanisms that were once embedded in the welfare state models.

While we may yet not have the power to prevent this destruction, it is imperative that we reconstruct distributed solidarity mechanisms, a practice which we call commonfare.

Examples all over the world, such as the Broodfonds (NL), Friendsurance (Germany), and the health sharing ministries (U.S.), or cooperative entities such Coopaname in France, demonstrate new forms of distributed solidarity which can be developed to allay risks to life and work. We are particularly happy about the emergence of labour mutuals like the European cooperative SMart-eu, which represents the missing link between the precariat and salaried workers by offering a mutual guarantee fund and “virtual salariat” (i.e. insertion into social protections) for autonomous workers.

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6. Use open and sustainable designs for an open source circular economy

The practice of planned obsolescence — a feature, not a bug, for profit-maximizing corporations — is alien to people operating in a context of shared, abundant resources. Open productive communities insure maximum participation through modularity and granularity.

Using open and sustainable designs for producing sustainable good and services is highly recommended for ethical-entrepreneurial entities.

7. Move toward mutual coordination of production through open supply chains and open book accounting

What decision-making is for planning, and pricing is for the market, mutual coordination is for the commons.

In a circular economy, the output of one production process is used as an input for another. Closed value chains won’t help us achieve a sustainable circular economy; neither will non-transparent negotiations for any form of cooperation.

But through open supply chains, entrepreneurial coalitions that are interdependent with a collaborative commons can create ecosystems of collaboration. Here, production processes become transparent, and every participant can adapt his or her behaviour based on the knowledge openly available in the network.

There is no need for overproduction when the network’s actual production realities become common knowledge.

8. Practice cosmo-localization

“What is light is global, and what is heavy is local.” This is the new principle animating commons-based peer production, in which knowledge is globally shared and production can take place on demand — based on real needs — through a network of distributed coworking spaces and microfactories.

Studies have shown that up to two-thirds of matter and energy goes not to production, but to transport. Clearly, this is unsustainable. A return to localized production is sine qua non for the transition towards sustainable production.

  1. Article 1 [2015] “Design global, manufacture local: Exploring the contours of an emerging productive model”. text
  2. Article 2 [2015] “Towards a political ecology of the digital economy: Socio-environmental implications of two competing value models”. text

9. Mutualize physical infrastructures

The misnamed sharing economy, from AirBnB to Uber, has shown the potential of matching idle, under- or unused resources, but in the right context of co-ownership and co-governance, a real sharing economy can achieve dramatic advances in reducing resource use.

Our means of production, including machines, can be mutualized and self-owned by all those that create value. Platform cooperatives, data cooperatives and “fairshares” forms of distributed ownership are tools to help us co-own our infrastructures of production.

Co-working, skills-sharing, ridesharing are just a few examples of the many ways we can re-use and share resources to dramatically augment the thermo-dynamic efficiencies of our consumption.

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on sustainable manufacturing, see our section on Sharing
  • P2P Foundation Blog: Stories on Sharing

10. Mutualize generative capital

The 38 percent financial tax owed on all goods and services should be abolished; we must transform our monetary system, and substantively augment the use of mutual credit systems. Generative forms of capital cannot rely on an extractive money supply based on compound interest payable to extractive banks.

In conclusion: What the world, humanity and the environment that sustains us needs is an economic system driven by free, fair and sustainable practices. It is our belief that the holistic adoption of the recommendations and practices above will accelerate this change. We can’t afford to wait any longer, so let’s get to work!

Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens is the Founder of the P2P Foundation and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of commons-based peer production, governance, and property.

Tags: new economy, p2p, the commons