Extracting value from the Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

Show me. Don’t tell me. Show me that sharing and challenging are important enough to keep a clear promise to a 2/3 to 1/3 split between sage-on-the-stage and audience interaction.

Alternatively, if you’ve no intention or capability to enforce a 30 minute/15 minute split between talking and Q and A, then don’t promise it. It’s very very simple. Just say ‘x is going to talk for 45 minutes. You can email him (or, less likely, her) if you like.’ If you do this beforehand, then people can make an informed adult decision about what they will attend. If you lack the honesty or competence to keep your promises, don’t be surprised if someone calls you out for poor chairing. Actually, be surprised, because most people are far too polite, which is part of why the bad behaviour (and it is bad behaviour) persists.
</End of rant>

Right, Michel Bauwens. Several people whose judgement I trust rate him very highly. And they are right to. He’s clearly able to give a clear, compelling and fruitful overview of the long duree. He’s read prodigiously, and is able to communicate clearly, even while giving you flashbacks to Donald Pleasance circa The Great Escape (“take me with you, I can see perfectly!”)

Bauwens started out by looking at three nurses all doing exactly the same job of caring for an elderly person. One is doing it via a family/church situation, and has no ‘GDP’. The next is a public sector nurse, and this is seen as a drag on the economy. Only the third, private sector, nurse is ‘generating income (i.e. surplus value for shareholders/investors). Bauwens points out that this is weird – three people doing the same job where only one counts as ‘profitable.’ This is his ‘way into’ the notion of value regimes, and they change more often than you might think.

Citing a book called The Structure of World History: From modes of production to modes of exchange by Kojin Karatani, he lays out four value regimes (and none exists in a pure state). In a nomadic tribe, there is simply a sharing/pooling of resources (and the hunters were often the last to choose what they got). In villages you have reciprocity/gift economies. After ten thousand years of this, you get to conquer, plunder and redistribution – i.e. feudalism. And then the market (thanks to double-entry book keeping, the printing press and the Reformation).
The book looks at this in detail, with the end of the Roman Empire (5th Century) the persistence f the class structure, Charlemagne’s tries to re-establish it. In the 9th century you get knights stealing from the church, nobles stealing from the peasantry – a plunder economy. But then the monks of Cluny start confronting the knights with their sins… and it worked! So along comes feudalism and ‘noblesse oblige, ‘primogeniture etc.
Bauwens argues that there are two ways of creating wealth today – extraction from land/soil etc and extraction from people. But these are radically unsustainable ecologically – climate change, resource depletion, the sixth great extinction) and also socially (rising inequality since the 80s, recent rise of radical right in Poland and Hungary, possibly France and Austria too, with inequality destroying the middle ground. In the UK the calculation is that there are only 100 harvests left thanks to soil exhaustion

Clearly a generative regime, that creates wealth by adding, is required. Bauwens points out that something like Facebook is valueless without the input of its users. He points out that the new companies like Uber and Airbnb are not investing in their own infrastructure, or hiring workers, and that we are moving from a salary worker economy to freelancers. Give it another 15 to 20 years and you’ll see a lot of pauperisation (16m in UK with less than 100 quid in saving).

So, what is to be done? Bauwens points to the “commons. He talked about networks as ‘nomadic technologies, with the Internet making people independent of place, and more able to pool resources. (Bauwens spoke of ‘commons-bound-peer production and the self-organising ability to organise production and distribution via ‘open contributory systems’. He cited the wikihouse and wikicar – a 1/5th of the fossil fuel usage, apparently.
Bauwens pointed out that entre-preneur means ‘taking between’, an extractive mode, and the word should instead by entredoneur – giver between. He bigged up ‘Enspiral: more people working on stuff that matters’, 300 New Zealanders with an open source decision-making process (loomio) and also co-budgetting. This is all ‘infrastructure of cooperation.
He pointed to the ‘capital-nation-state’ formulation of Karitani (nation as in the imagined community created when the State and Capital had screwed over the older ways of being). He then segued into Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, and its narrative (the “double movement”) of how the market tries to get its own way, succeeds and then 20-30 years later there is a revolt of the nation – popular protest creates social movements that force the state to re-regulate the market. Has happened a bunch of times, but now capital is truly transnational, states don’t have the power to discipline the market.
So, where is the productive civil society going to come from? Depends what you mean by productive, doesn’t it!

So, Bauwens argues for value sovereignty (think back to the three nurses), and the need to create a ‘membrane’ around ourselves has value flowing in and sticking around.
After further arguments, he proposed we all take a closer look at the website he’s part of helping grow – 21 thousand articles, 40 million views, trying to “observe and take not, and try to learn”.

Books he suggests we read:

There were three minutes for questions. Three minutes. I asked about what the vested interests might do in response, to defend themselves. I also pointed out the gap between the rhetoric of sharing versus the reality of talking for 42 out of 45 minutes which drew predictable gasps and jeers from some of the audience (the sheep, basically).
Came the answer ‘if all citizens take action, they can’t all be stopped. Choose your battles carefully. Do things in the interstitial spaces until strong enough’. He gave two examples – of AirBnB being fought to a standstill in Barcelona, with the battle leading on eventually to a new politics.
The second example was of ‘the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons’ of roughly ten yeas ago.

The second brief question was about the outcomes of system change efforts/advice in Ecuador. Bauwens impressed me with his frank appraisal that the efforts having not succeeded, (the national state decided ‘nope’ and so it’s moved to a city level). Commons Transitions Coalition in Melbourne

Other things to read-

From October 2016  – P2P REVOLUTION AND COMMONS PHASE TRANSITION: NOTES ON THE NATURE OF THE REVOLUTION IN THE P2P/COMMONS EPOCH

 

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