ox4 - Final Version

Free Software and Beyond
The World of Peer Production

Smári McCarthy
Day 2
Room Humanities Bridgeford G7
Start time 12:00
Duration 01:30
ID 37
Event type Lecture
Track Theories on peer production
Language English

The End of (artificial) Scarcity

The Failures of the Materials Economy and How We Fix Them

What is the functional model of our society and how can subtle changes to it's underlying principles alter it significantly? Are the assumptions we make, often unknowingly, correct, and if not, why are they so readily accepted and what can be done to change that? In this talk I aim to dismantle our conceptions about our sociopolitical reality and propose five alternatives fueled by a single uniting factor, providing a roadmap towards a new monetary system, a new economic model, a new legislative system, a new judicial system and a new executive authority system.

The modern materials economy has been marked by an unwillingness to face the subtle repercussions of the industrial revolution. In this talk I intend to play out this future drama of mankind in three parts. First, I will set the stage by showing that we have perhaps unknowingly built several political assumptions into our society in such a way that we cannot see these foundations, let alone replace them when they are sinking into the mire. Secondly, I will show that the failure of these foundations is not merely inevitable, but that it has already happened. Finally I intend to try to describe a couple of methods we can use to build new egalitarian foundations for our societies.

By using tools provided by cybernetics I intend to construct a functional abstract model of our social system and show that everywhere in this system, scarcity is being manufactured to insure the profiteers against the dangers of abundance. Working from Malthus' Lie, the myth of scarcity is being upheld quite vigorously as a fundamental truth about the nature of the universe, while elsewhere in the system people are hard at work disposing of excess production and obstinate themes, color schemes and styles in favor of new. Working from Hobbes' Lie, the myth of chaos is being upheld as a fundamental truth about the nature of man, while elsewhere in the system people are superseding that truth on the basis of manufactured authority which they use to control the actions of people.

In fact, the foundations for the current society are the myths that underlay our entire economy, the lies that structure our mental models, that guide us through the state space. That without a centralised government our civilisation will fragment into particles and humanity will devour itself in a war of all against all, and that without regulations on the distribution of goods we will consume faster than we can produce and exterminate ourselves.

These myths have been compounded, mostly in good faith, by consolidation of power and legislative systems that diminish people's ability to self-governance on the one hand and effective utilisation of resources on the other, effectively the opposite of what these systems were meant to prevent. The resulting system has has five core institutions:

The first of these is the monetary system. We live by a monetary system that has, as Bernard Liataer pointed out1, four core features: money is created out of nothing and have no material backing, money is created as a result of loans between banks, currencies are defined geographically, and interest is paid on loans. These features mean that the sum of the entire monetary system (all debit plus all credit) is much less than zero, and it grows smaller constantly. There is no way to repay all the debt in the system, and as a result money itself becomes a rival good – we are playing a game where the goal is to pay all debts. In this game, to loose is to go bankrupt. If many bankruptcies occur simultaneously we suffer a Markovian explosion of sorts called a depression or crisis.

The second of these institutions is our economy. This is different from the monetary system: the monetary system is the means for exchange, while the economy is the exchange itself. Because the means for exchange are rival goods, the economy adapts by assuming rivalry and scarcity in all goods even when there is abundance. Competition replaces cooperation as each strives to pay off his debts, and companies and individuals use missing information – that is to say, secrecy – to their advantage, to increase their chances of winning, to get the competitive edge. Secrecy causes an inability to accurately measure the state of the economy, an inability to relatively estimate demand and supply, so all companies guesstimate their production requirements and invariably squander resources as a result. Companies are then punished for this by the legislative system for certain types of waste while other types of waste are not punished.

The third system is the legislative system itself: Small groups of people make decisions about a set of rules that guide societies through the state space, and all are made to comply. The law represents the needs of the most influential persons in the economy and legislation is guided by their need to not go bankrupt. With every law which is passed, the Hobbesian lie is strengthened, and the capitalists reinforce their insurance policy at the cost of the poor. Instead of the legal system being a small set of simple rules that everybody can agree to it has become a behemothic beast, our very own Grendel.

The fourth system is the executive authority system. A small group of people is selected to make decisions about the execution of all the ideas they have about how society as a whole ought to be run, and this authority reaches to every niche of society. With regulations and exact control individuals are made to suffer their own individuality, trapped within a vicious cycle produced for that very purpose in concordance with the Malthusian and Hobbesian principles.

Finally, the judicial system has been erected to divvy out punishments to those who act against society, even in some cases for its own good. The executive authorities select judges who make decisions about how arguments should be resolved and these decisions, in many countries, become quite as authoritative for future discourse as the law itself. Judges have become monks who none may question.

This may be done differently. And I intend to show how.