Charlie Stross on the Dystopia of our near future

My friend Dave linked me to this blog post by Charlie Stross about how to write fiction for the near future. Charlie states that there is a bit of a boom in young adult dystopian fiction (the Hunger Games, etc.) and what the near future could look like for people born today as they enter their 30’s. Of course, Charlie discusses the U.K. but the future sounds about right for the U.S. as well.

I have talked a little about our grim future at different times on this blog. I am not ready to stockpile canned food just yet, but when I think about the lives my parents led and I compare it to my own, I do notice a sharp decline in material success. I grew up thinking that if I did what my father did (go to college, get a white collar job, marry a white collar woman) I would enjoy the same success that he did. Given that my father had to overcome a tough rural upbringing and fighting in the Viet Nam war, it was not unreasonable to expect that I could actually see more material success than that of my father.

The key difference between my father’s generation and mine, is that my father’s generation had a direction, and mine really doesn’t. 9/11 proved to me and everyone younger than me just how uncertain the future will be. The results, a decade of economic uncertainty, political polarization, and police statehood have permanently altered the course for me and for my children.

The reason that I’m not in survivalist mode is because I have faith in the maker movement. Inspite of (or perhaps in order to spite) the poor policy decisions made by our myopic oligarchy, I do not fear social collapse. If society as we have come to know it does collapse under its own weight we can use the wreckage as raw material for a new, freer and more open society using open source design, peer-to-peer infrastructure, and old fashioned punk rock DIY ethos. The same goes for the economy. In the vacuum created by another economic collapse, we can use new tools (cryptocurrency, crowdfunding, microfinance) to build a newer and freer economy.

The only thing I fear about the future is timing. I worry that I, and others like me, will not have enough time to spread our ethos.

More Scary Shit from Vinay Gupta

A while back I posted a video by Vinay Gupta about economic change that got pretty scary. In light of the whole NSA Prism thing, Gupta’s writing has gotten even scarier. Suddenly, being enamored with strong crypto doesn’t make me feel like a delusional paranoid like it used to.

Gupta’s recent blog post links to a Guardian article that ought to scare the bajeezus out of you. It touches on the idea that climate change, energy security, and the economy could be stitched together. According to the article, all of this surveillance state crap is our military-industrial complex attempting to reign in a kind of activist uprising against events pertaining to climate, energy, and the economy:

Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

This reads kind of like an extension of The Master Meme that I have mentioned here before: the US cannot maintain its current way of life and our corporate overlords are pushing the government to abuse its military might in order to prop it up, despite the toll that it has taken on our climate, our energy stores, and the global economy:

FBI documents confirmed “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” designed to produce intelligence on behalf of “the corporate security community.” A PCJF spokesperson remarked that the documents show “federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

Before you dismiss this as a conspiracy theory, consider the fact that this sort of thing has been happening since at least the mid 80’s via events like the Private Sector Bust. Also, consider the tremendous lengths that the film and music industries have gone to, in order to combat what they believe to be the threat of piracy, when they are really fighting against the end of an age. Film and music were profitable as large scale industries due to a 70-odd year fluke of production and distribution technologies. Once consumer technology evolved to enable cheaper production and distribution, those big industries become outdated and inefficient. The same may be true for post WWII America: the 100 year fluke that was the industrial revolution – cheap energy directly translating into economic growth with few if any ecological consequences – may well be at an end.

The threats of climate events, energy shocks, and economic crises are scary enough on their own, so the idea that they could become (or may already be) a unified front, an axis of upheaval if you will, ought to ratchet the fear up at least another notch.

In my mind, the fear associated with energy and climate being stitched to the economy is that each individual issue is very polarizing from a social and political standpoint. To a casual observer, these issues all sort of scream for progressives or conservatives to take action, which just isn’t a solution any more in this age of political partisanship and crony capitalism. Conservatives can’t fix the problem because progressives will violently oppose any solution proposed or backed by a conservative ideologue. The reverse is also true, progressives can’t fix anything because conservatives will fight to the death to stop anything proposed or backed by a progressive. What’s worse, is that these sociopolitical philosophies are not even the right tools for the job. The state of our nation is such that there isn’t anything left to conserve (so tax cuts won’t help), and there isn’t anything left to progress toward (so government programs won’t help). Even worse, both political approaches have contributed, in whole or at least in part, to these problems. I liken it to watching two sports teams tackle/scrum over a ball that has been moved to an empty field. If you take that political gridlock, and put it up against the three issues bundled together, the situation goes from bleak to apocalyptic.

Bruce Sterling describes our political and business leaders as “cheer leaders, not leaders” meaning that political leaders like Barack Obama, and business leaders like Steve Jobs have put themselves at the center of all discussion, but are unwilling or incapable of actually creating any actual infrastructure. Really, the answer to the triple threat of climate, energy, and economy is an overhaul of the American Dream to require significantly less infrastructure: less energy, less money, and having less ecological impact. Unfortunately, despite massive deficit spending by our government, the only new infrastructure that has been created is a military-industrial surveillance state aimed at propping up the great suburban ponzi scheme :-(

Instead of being fearful, however, we should do what hackers do best and really dig into the problem in spite of the challenge it poses, in order to spite those who are making these problems worse. As in, we should be building the necessary infrastructure ourselves in a deliberate act of defiance. Gupta talks about the cipher-punk response to the surveillance state, and I think is a good first step to get “regular” people thinking and acting outside of the corporate/government/media machine. The cypher-punk response is only a start. The long term hack should be to get people to understand and embrace a life of civil disobedience by needing and using less centralized infrastructure. Decentralizing, economizing, and building new infrastructure without support from government institutions, and with minimal support from large corporations and mass media. It means living a life with a much smaller foot print, not just on the environment, but also on the global economy and your local energy grid and watershed.

I think that the main reason for enforcing this Master Meme with such vigor is that Joe and Jane Undecided Voter are likely to see a zero-growth/small-footprint/super-urban lifestyle as reduction in their quality of life. This is where we as hackers can really shine: by making the small-footprint-lifestyle look edgy and rebellious. We have already convinced people that computers and networks are edgy and cool and that greedy 20th century industries like record labels, big box retailers, and newspapers deserve to wither away. We’ve done such a good job of this that people are carrying computers around in their pockets in order to update their own webpages. People are even considering wearing computers. We made compute power and data distribution sexy, it’s time to make low impact life sexy as well.

I see the small footprint world as something like Bruce Sterling describes in his Reboot 11 talk (from 2009 no less):

I wish I could sum up the important points, but I really think it would be faster to just watch the video. The first half of the video is a bit of the doom and gloom that Gupta and Kunstler talk about, but the second half is some life-altering advice for how to fix the environment, the energy situation, and the economy by shifting our lifestyles away from consumerism and toward something more like real meaning. He wants us to stop buying tons of cheap crap and start buying small amounts of high quality things made by real craftspeople. Sterling wants us to prune the physical and metaphorical clutter from our lives, and in doing so, we can reduce the amount of light, heat, and space that the American lifestyle calls for.

Sterling also mentions that the wreckage of the unsustainable is our only heritage. I think that this is a tremendously important idea. As institutions of the 20th century continue to collapse over the next decade, their remains will hopefully serve as the raw materials for a new age. I liken it to the way a sunken ship can serve as the foundation for a new coral reef, or how bees can chew up wood and plaster to make the paper for their hives.

This is where elements of the Internet of Things and IR2 come into play. It will mostly be retrofitting our new low-impact infrastructure into the skeletal remains of the 20th century, but it could also mean enhancing those efforts with smart designs and new technology with an eye for sustainability. Hopefully one of the smart technology enhancements will be building strong crypto in the roots of everything, because I can’t imagine a 20th century institutions like oil and telecommunications companies (and by proxy their government enforcers) would let this sort of thing happen without a very dirty fight.

Facing 13 Years in Prison for Anti-Bank “Vandalism”

UPDATE: Jeff Olson has been acquitted :-)

I guess Free Speech doesn’t mean what you think it means in San Diego. A man is currently facing up to 13 years in prison. When I read the first article, I figured it was some tinfoil hat thing. According to the HufPo they have heard from the city prosecutor’s office and the 13 years has more to do with draconian anti-graffiti laws than pro-bank corporatism.

In either case, the city being pro-banks or anti-graffiti (and by proxy, anti-at-risk-youth) is probably not sending the right message.

In the case of the city acting as the enforcement arm of B of A’s PR department, I guess the jury is still out, but the most damning bit is this little nugget:

Olson and his partner, Stephen Daniels, during preparations for National Bank Transfer Day, the two were confronted by Darell Freeman, the Vice President of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security […]

Public records obtained by the Reader show that Freeman continued to pressure members of San Diego’s Gang Unit on behalf of Bank of America until the matter was forwarded to the City Attorney’s office.

On April 15, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard contacted Freeman with a response on his persistent queries.

“I wanted to let you know that we will be filing 13 counts of vandalism as a result of the incidents you reported,” said Hazard.

TL;DR – The City of San Diego is probably too uptight about graffiti, but Bank of America is apparently staffed entirely by dicks.

Why call them dicks? I will defer to the great philosopher MC Frontalot:

Oppose Strengthening the CFAA and Support Aaron’s Law

I wrote about Aaron Swartz and his difficulties with the U.S. Government almost a year ago. Since then Aaron killed himself, due in no small part to the strain put upon him by his pending criminal charges. Cory Doctorow gave a talk at a local bookstore a couple of months ago that felt like a call to arms.

Since then, I have been doing my best to make people aware of the problem posed by the vague language of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and it’s misguided use as a club to prevent people from doing things with a computer that threaten the status-quo of our government’s favorite corporations.

Rather than post one of my trademark walls of text, instead I would like to direct you to a film about two others who saw mistreatment and abuse as a result of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And keep in mind that both of these gentlemen actually defrauded and abused computer systems, unlike Mr. Swartz, who did no such thing.

Tools Don’t Create Movements

This unflinching criticism of the Silicon Valley tendency to ignore the social change (or upheval) that their tools and applications can create has struck a chord with me. Last semester I took a course on activist writing and community organizing and in that class I met with social justice activists from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. I even had one of my papers printed in a local independent newspaper.

In the class, I spent a fair amount of time advocating for the use of technology with my professors, fellow students, and the activists who came to speak to the class. I have suggested in the past that people with technology skills should get involved in their pet social and political causes and help them, technologically. After meeting several social services types, I have come to the conclusion that we can’t completely lay the blame at the feet of the hacker community, and at some point the social justice activists of the world are going to have to meet us half way.

With that said, as hackers and pirates, most of us are probably guilty of being what the author describes as “a bunch of Stanford guys making tools to fix their own problems.” I have faced similar attitudes getting my fellow Hive13 members to get involved in more community outreach. Most of them are really only interested in working on their projects. In fact, events for anything other than soldering or reverse engineering are often not well attended because our community is almost exclusively the Queen City equivalent of “the Stanford Guy” and not looking to step too far outside of their community. It’s not that the hacker community in general, and Hive13 in particular are not open to, or welcoming of a diversity of people or ideas, it just doesn’t seem to happen very often. Conversely, just about every social justice activist and educator I have spoken to has not taken me up on my invitation to come to Hive13 and see what we are doing. I see two groups who could help each other significantly, but aren’t really looking outside of their respective camps.

It’s a complex problem with many factors that include but are not limited to, the pitiful state of local and national STEM education, access to technology for low income individuals, and the the caste system of race, gender, and sexuality that causes us to make assumptions about other people and them to make assumptions about us.

While the author bemoans the lack of political engagement among denizens of Das Valley, I think that it mostly comes down to the technologists’ pragmatic belief in the right to fork, or the tendency to avoid conflict in a project by spinning off your own version and going your own way.

Personally, I see our current crop of political probelms as systemic and intractable. The cronyism and corporatism that makes up the iron triangle is institutional: whatever real constitutional governance that originally happened has rotted away and all that remains is the corruption. Rather than fight the machine, I would rather create an alternative and wait for the corrupt institution to decay to the point that it can be torn down and replaced.

While I agree that more tech-types need to become political, I think that it’s just as important for political types to improve their understanding of technology, and the people who use it, so that they can make better use of both technology, and technical people.

Noam Chomsky and Vinay Gupta, two great tastes that taste kind of scary together

This is recent talk by Noam Chomsky that intersects two ideas that I have been thinking about for a long time: corporatism/corporate evil, and American Exceptionalism. The talk is an hour long, it’s pretty dry and fairly academic, but it’s well worth watching:

There’s a lot of stuff in the talk about nuclear annihilation to the U.S.’s hypocritical relationship with Israel. It’s a lot to take in, but through it, there is a central idea of a shift in the global balance of power and the US taking a backseat to Asia. There is a lot of this talk from a great number of sources, but what is unique about this talk is the history of the American rise to power following World War II, and the tremendous amounts of energy and money spent on the ascent to that postion and the subsequent defense of it. I am reminded of Vinay Gupta talking about how the first world is essentially the product of colonialism, which is the result of military imperialism:

A central theme in both talks is that the western culture of financial and military imperialism is not sustainable, especially if Eurasia, led by Russia, India, and China, ascend the way that Chomsky and a lot of other naysayers seem to believe that they will.

UPDATE 2/2013:This blog post captures a some of the subtext that I gathered by comparing the two videos. Kunstler says the our nation is “lost”:

Apparently, there are moments in history when nations just get lost. I maintain that things would go a whole lot better for us if we acknowledge what is actually going on, namely: a major shift of direction into economic contraction after 200-plus thrilling years of expanding energy resources and easy-to-get material riches.

Gupta’s “collapse of civilization” or the sudden and unwelcome shift of the first world into the economic conditions of the third, seem to be a dramatic version or Kunstler’s economic contraction. Gupta sees the west as abusing its military might to prop up a lifestyle that is no longer viable and in doing so, is maliciously wasting the rest of the world’s resources. Kunstler seems to be in that lifestyle calling for us all to stop the madness before it’s too late.

Before you dismiss the idea of western civilization as unsustainable, I would like you consider this “Master Meme” in the context of the copyright wars. The big media conglomerates who oppose peer to peer file sharing and remix culture are using corrupt lobbies and poorly thought out legislation to put the digital copying genie back in the bottle. Their business models, fee structures, and outstanding debt are no longer sustainable given the revenues of the post-iTunes and post-YouTube market. These media moguls cannot accept the fact that the music industry, from around 1955-1995 was a 40 year fluke. They do not see that those days are gone and they’re not coming back. They are so desperate to get back to the “good old days” that they are willing to endanger our essential liberties of privacy and free speech in pursuit of their futile quest.

Now take that level of denial and willful ignorance, turn the volume up to 11, and boost the affected population into the billions, and you see how Gupta can call it a collapse with a straight face.

Corporate Evil Remixed

While searching youtube for a link to one of my corporate evil talks to send to someone, I found something curious. I discovered that unbeknownst to me, part of my SkyDogCon talk on corporate evil was remixed into someone’s “Basics Of Underground Politics” documentary.

My part is at the beginning and it’s edited to highlight the crooked games that corporations play, followed by my criticism of mainstream media corporations and finishes with the Iron Triangle. What’s conspicuously absent is anything about non-profits and my call to use those same games to help our personal causes.

I’m then followed by some Zeitgeist/NWO stuff. It features some clips from Infowars and PrisonPlanet, but it sticks to bashing the Council on Foreign Relations the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The whole Alex Jones thing gets a little too close to tinfoil hat country for my taste. I guess that reading the Illuminatus! Trilogy in my formative years forces me think that all conspiracies that implicate Bavarian death cults are works of fiction.

I am not far enough yet in my studies in economics to know if the World Bank and the IMF are good, evil, or simply necessary evils. I can tell you from my studies that while the Federal Reserve dropped the ball in recent years in terms of monetary policy, it isn’t the vast conspiracy that some would have us believe.

The docu then ends with an interview with Aldous Huxley. While I certainly don’t buy into with the aforementioned world domination conspiracy, I am flattered to have my talk included in the same work as that of Huxley.

This isn’t the first time one of my talks has made it outside of the hacker community. Earlier this year, I got a thank you note from a high school English teacher for my Notacon version of the talk:

In both cases, the talks were remixed without my permission and I’m glad for it :-)

AT&T’s latest Anti-Neutrality Jack-Move

AT&T is a hundred year old monopoly, whose logo is the Death Star, so it’s not much of a surprise when they act like an evil empire. In case you aren’t a Star Wars fan and think the argument is invalid, the AT&T building in Nashville looks just like the Eye of Sauron. Fantasy and Sci-Fi agree that AT&T is bad news. It’s pretty tough to argue with that logic.

Retroactively poor branding judgement aside, AT&T has been known to be technologically duplicitous in the past, and it appears that they are up to their old tricks once again. Back when they were SBC, CEO Ed Whitacre bitched about Vonage’s attempt to “use my pipes free”. Now that they are AT&T once again, the mobile division is angry about Apple’s Facetime application. AT&T mobile would like to disable the Facetime app on AT&T iPhones unless the subscriber pays for a more expensive text and data package. Given AT&T’s sensitivity about who uses their “pipes” this latest move might sound logical, except that Facetime only works over wifi. This means that Facetime doesn’t use AT&T’s 3G or 4G network, but ONLY works over a wireless network connection to a residential or commercial broadband internet service. Facetime doesn’t touch AT&T’s mobile network, but AT&T still wants to demand users pay more to them to be able to use it. but it’s just them wanting to be paid twice for delivering the same data.

UPDATE: it turns out that iOS6 will do FaceTime over mobile broadband. The current implementation, iOS5, only works over WiFi, regardless of your carrier. This doesn’t let AT&T off the hook, however. According to this article, the proposed new voice and text plans actually offer 66% LESS data than current plans, in exchange for an almost 30% INCREASE in price:

AT&T also implies that forcing you onto plans with unlimited voice minutes in order to use FaceTime is absolutely necessary, because these “Mobile Share” plans were “designed to make more data available to consumers” (emphasis in original). But today, an AT&T customer with an iPhone 4S who is a moderate data user would likely opt into AT&T’s $70 plan, which includes 3 gigabytes of data and 450 voice minutes each month.

AT&T won’t allow that customer use mobile FaceTime. But if he or she “upgrades” to the low-end $95 Mobile Share plan, they’ll get unlimited voice, text and just 1 gigabyte of monthly data, and be free to use FaceTime. So it appears how much data you buy from AT&T actually has nothing to do with the company’s decision to block FaceTime.

Just like with Vonage, you paid for the data, and AT&T wants to charge you more for using it the way that you want to. This is, and always has been, about keeping people subscribed to expensive voice and text services that are being obsoleted by free/low cost IP-based solutions.

This isn’t a new business model. It’s the same model that North American organized crime works off of: extortion. Mexican cartels also employ a similar model, known as ransoming. AT&T wants to hold the FaceTime app hostage until you pay them off.

Depicted below is’s infographic on the issue. However, in my mind, the two main issues are that 1) Facetime doesn’t use AT&T’s network subscribers are already paying for data and should be allowed to use it as they see fit. This is simply a money grab and nothing more. And 2) this is what monopolies do. Aren’t you glad we all opposed AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile?

Before you breathe a sigh of relief and say “whew! I’m sure glad I went with VZW/Android/Skype, be aware that the only reason that your shit works is because VZW and Skype worked out a deal a couple of years ago.

Can Capitalism Survive Open Source Abundance?

I read a couple of fascinating opinion pieces by Michel Bauwens on Aljazeera (because I love my country, but I hate its news media) about the emergence of networks as apolitical economic forces.

In part 1, Bauwens talks about Facebook as an example of a growing phenomenon of people working together producing useful things in order to gain the value of their usefulness rather than for a wage. This idea of people producing things without a clear and quantifiable profit is difficult to adjudicate in a capitalist market system:

It is important to understand that this creates a huge problem for a capitalist system, but also for workers as we have traditionally conceived them. Markets are defined as ways to allocate scarce resources, and capitalism is in fact not just a scarcity “allocation” system but also a scarcity engineering system, which can only accumulate capital by constantly reproducing and expanding conditions of scarcity.

As a student of economics, I have found a number of things in our supposedly perfect capitalist market system that I do not agree with, but I have never really thought of capitalism as a system that deliberately creates scarcity where there was none before. As a filthy scumm pirate, to me artificial scarcity is like the Axis of Evil. In the past, I have associated the creation of artificial scarcity with ignorance or malice on the part of entrenched industry players. Blue Gold: World Water Wars is a good example of the practice of creating scarcity where it didn’t once exist, at the expense of other people, for no other reason than to generate profits for large multinational corporations. I had not previously considered the idea that this is not simply the work of bad players, or a bug in the system, but instead it is a feature of the capitalist platform. This new idea, that capitalism is a platform for the perpetuation of scarcity rather than a mechanism for efficient allocation to offset scarcity, to me at least, is an original thought.

Part 1 then goes on to talk about open source and open design as a means for creating commons-based economic models, where new ideas are poured into a shared pool of assets:

We have to link this emerging social economy, based on sharing creative expression, with the more authentic field of commons-oriented peer production, as expressed in the open-source and “fair use” open-content economy, which one estimate said made up one-sixth of US GDP.

When I think about open source vs. proprietary software, I often default to the ages-old comparison of Linux and Microsoft Windows. Doing this paints a picture that Linux, as a movement, targeted Microsoft and has failed to impact the market for Windows desktops in a meaningful way. This conveniently [for Microsoft and anyone else in the business of selling shrink-wrapped software] ignores the commercial Unix market that was all but destroyed by Linux. The Internet facilitated the creation of software that has value represented by usefulness and saleability. While you can make money from selling Linux, Linux actually displaces monetary value by providing significantly more usefulness than revenue. The value of Linux is the money that it frees up, not in the money that it generates. The commercial Unix market shrank dramatically once Linux came on the scene because companies spent less on their infrastructure. This reduction in costs is largely what drove ISP’s and web hosts to build and grow businesses in while facing intense competition in the field.

Disruptive Innovations happen all the time, and most of the Big Biz vs. Teh Internetz drama (Net Neutrality, SOPA et. al.) stems from industries trying to convince the world they are no longer obsolete (see: landline phones, newspapers, music, etc.) What I hadn’t considered before is that the “network effect” of connecting people via the Internet could create new patterns of consumption where people work together to make better use of products and services:

What will happen with capitalism given social media-based exchanges, commons-based production of software and hardware, and collaborative consumption, on an increasingly massive scale? …This is not just a problem for the increasingly precarious working class, but also for capitalism itself, which is seeing its opportunities for accumulation and expansion dry up.

Accumulation and expansion is an essential piece of capitalism. It’s the manifest destiny of “growth at all costs” that fuels these boom->bust cycles:

I feel that a critical flaw in using money as the only way to value things is that when the only tool that you have is a dollar, everything looks like a commodity. Likewise, when you measure the value of a nation only by its Gross Domestic Product, your valuation method is set up to ignore the things that capitalism isn’t good at delivering, like meaning and happiness. To me this is a major failing of our modern interpretation of capitalist system, since we invest so much in terms of time, money, and politics, in the idea that working hard and buying things will make us happy when it actually doesn’t.

Part 1 then wraps up by calling this rise of networks a crisis for capitalist societies:

Not only is the world faced with a global resource crisis, it is also facing a crisis of intensive development, because value creators are increasingly income-less. The knowledge economy turns out to be a pipe dream, because what is abundant cannot sustain market dynamics.

That snippet stopped me cold. For a couple of years now, I have been trying hard to get my head around this very large idea that the life my father lived, of getting a good university education that leads directly to a good upper-middle-class job (and the gooey suburban predicament that comes with it) is gone and might never have existed in the first place. It’s the idea that “Designed by Apple in California” is a non-starter because the Information Economy isn’t about movies, music and microcode, it’s always been [and always will be] about Real Actual Work(tm).

Real Actual Work(tm) is a term I made up to describe making things and helping people. Real Actual Work(tm) is a category of activities that yields a useful or enjoyable asset, or a service which provides a direct, measurable and quantifiable benefit to a person or a group of people. I think this distinction is important because I believe that too much emphasis is placed on the profits generated by corporate middlemen, lawyers and petty bureaucrats. Monopoly rents, regardless of their form or profitability are not nearly as important as making things or helping people.

In part 2 the author talks about the “Open Software Economy” and how people go about doing the Real Actual Work(tm) that goes into making things like Linux:

In commons-oriented peer production… core value creation occurs through contributors to a shared innovation pool, a commons of knowledge, software or design. The contributors may be volunteers or paid employees. Importantly, even paid contributors add to the common pool. Why? Because shared innovation makes an enormous difference in costs (give a brick, get a house), and it is also hyper-competitive…it doesn’t matter whether you are a “commonist” free software developer, or a capitalist shareholder of IBM. Both sides benefit and they outcompete or “outcooperate” traditional proprietary competitors.

The environment for this abundance of cooperative+competitive “commons-oriented peer production” is basically the opposite of capitalist-centric economics which is dominated by supply and demand. Supply and demand are how you allocate scarce resources. Once a resource becomes abundant, like digital media in a massively connected Internet age, supply and demand go out the window.

It is at this intersection between the traditional capitalist-centric view of economics, and the commonist-centric view of peer production, where we see the problem with Facebook. In the open source community, the community (network) comes together around problem solving (the product). In social networking, the network (community) IS the product (problem solving). We are trading out time and attention to Facebook in exchange for the infrastructure that helps us effortlessly maintain our weak personal connections to each other. The Facebook business model is based on selling access to the infrastructure AS a commodity, rather than providing the infrastructure as a means of enabling the production of a commodity. Facebook is a remarkable force for social change, but it’s commercial DNA often makes it the wrong tool for the job:

To improve the situation in social media, we need peer-producing communities to create their own social media infrastructure – as Occupy is now undertaking with its ambitious Global Square project, whose aim is to ultimately replace Facebook with a civic network.

Not only does the author recommend replacing Facebook with purpose-built “civic networks”, he recommends replacing for-profits and non-profits with a new breed of “civic enterprise”:

But in peer production, we need a further hack as well. Instead of associating with shareholding companies, why not create our own entities: ethical company structures, in which the commons values are embedded within its legal structure, and do not have to be imposed from the outside? In other words, where the “invisible hand” needs not be theorised as an outside force, but is a clearly active “visible hand” that drives each individual, but commons-oriented, enterprise

This, to me, is another original thought. It’s the idea that the advent of open source as a business and civic-enterprise model could require a new form of organization that is different from both the traditional capitalist for-profit, and the quasi-socialist non-profit. Both for-profits and non-profits seem to fall short of enabling the kind of large cooperation that makes open source work:

Today, we assume that value is created by for-profit companies and conceive of civil society as a “remainder” category: it’s what we do when we come home, exhausted after our paid work. This is reflected in the language we use to describe civil society, when we call them non-profits or non-governmental.

Civic enterprise seems to be different than the non-profit social enterprise. In my studies into public administration I have learned that non-profit organization, as a discipline, seems to focus on fixing the failures of business and government, rather than doing innovative things. When you look at large non-profits, especially those focused on medical research, they often look and act like the companies and agencies that they are cleaning up after. Neither government nor business seems to be able to find a cure for breast cancer, and so social enterprises have stepped in, which is good, but in doing so, they seem to have adopted the same money driven, top-down, central planning approach as their government and business predecessors, rather than adopting new approaches that do more with less. It seems that either by coincidence or causation, government and business use similar approaches (centralized management) and have sort of dissolved and congealed into this weird symbiosis:

…the social democratic welfare state has increasingly become a corporate-welfare state, in which the gains are privatised and the losses socialised. In other words, the state has become an extension of the corporation and is less and less a servant of the citizenry.

In theory, the non-profit is the citizenry’s first line of defense. Non-profits rely on neither business, nor government to keep running so there should be at least some measure of protection against the gravitational pull of government/corporate corruption. I for one, am not convinced, because of the non-profit’s use of the same leadership and management techniques that led government and business into co-dependence.

I am intrigued by Bauwen’s idea of the civic enterprise. I am intrigued by the idea of using networks of citizens to cooperate their way through problems, and having those networks serve as a check and balance against abuses of and by the corporate welfare state:

Occupy and open-source models illuminate a new possible reality, in which the democratic civic sphere, productive commons and a vibrant market can co-exist for mutual benefit:

* At the core of value creation are various commons, where innovations are open for all to share and to build upon;
* These commons are protected through non-profit civic associations, which empower that social production;
* Around the commons emerges a vibrant commons-oriented economy comprised of ethical companies, whose legal structures tie them to the values and goals of the commons communities, not to creating private profit.

Where these three circles intersect, citizens decide on the optimal shape of their provisioning systems.