Las Indias in English

Since 2002 opening ways towards a New World

las Indias Cooperative Group

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ July 22nd, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 1

The tortuous path towards abundance

Natalia Goncharova el ciclista 1913

For two decades now, it’s a rare month that newspapers don’t surprise us with a multi-million-dollar valuation of some enterprise, website or mobile app. The famous “rounds of financing” of start-ups, media hype when someone announces a public offering, and the eternal discussions about their “lossifits” have become part of business folklore and media hubbub. They’re really an obscene example of the growing difficulties of capital to find a place in real production. They are one more symptom of the overscaling of financial capital which is really one side of a process whose other side is that we have never been so close to abundance. But that deserves an explanation.

The shortcut that failed

industrializacion sovieticaAt the end of the nineteenth century, two states, Prussia and Japan, discovered a shortcut to development: authoritarian State planning. At first, it worked, and worked so well that the progressive political forces of the time—social democracy, a large part of liberalism, nationalism, and even sectors of conservatism‐built their economic models on it. At the limit, the Soviet State born of the ruins of Russia and its empire after the civil war, for the first time, attempted the “total nationalization” of production: a system planned and oriented to maximize the training and activation of the large masses of capital needed to create the modern infrastructure of a continent, to teach a population to read, and satisfy its basic needs.

And at first, it worked. So much so that it became the path to follow for most of the European colonies that achieved statehood, and the magic formula to develop regions of the central countries that had been left behind. Recent examples outside the socialist States would include the industry developed by Francoism in Asturias or Peron’s five-year plans. Everything was based on quickly reaching large scales in use of capital, and no one better than the State, through public or nationalized enterprises, to reach it.

In reality, as theoreticians of bureaucracy in Europe or Galbraith in the US would soon point out, State businesses were not that different from what big businesses had become in economies where the market called the shots. Success consisted of having large-scale businesses, with lots of capital, able to import or create new technologies, hire tens of thousands of people, and of produce the industrial goods that would make it possible to increase the general productivity of the economic system.

Business over-scaling and crisis

ScalesThe problem, as would become clear to economists like Boulding as early as the ’50s, is that to try to reach development, and ultimately abundance, with hyper-scaled productive units is like trying to reach heaven by climbing a tree. At the beginning, it looks like you’ll go very quickly, but as you go higher, the branches are more fragile, and finally, all your effort—still very far away from the objective—ends up focusing on not falling.

Every era has an optimum size of scale that depends on technology and the dimension of the market. The better the technology, the smaller the optimum size for a given dimension. Beyond that size, the inefficiencies created by the form of organization itself make every increase in capital or in people hired counterproductive, and the value produced is reduced.

In the first stages of capitalism in each place, with all the large basic infrastructure to make—highways, telephone lines, railways, sewers, etc.—the optimum size was gigantic for the levels of resource accumulation allowed by the pre-capitalist agrarian economy. It seemed that “the greater the scale, the greater the growth”… but precisely because it worked, the first symptoms of crisis would soon come.

The first great collapse

nasa-computer-1970In 1955, when the USSR starts to talk about “peaceful co-existence” with the American bloc, it’s really talking about “peaceful competition.” At that time, the accelerated development of the USSR, the extension of its model first to Eastern Europe and soon to a good part of the decolonized countries of Asia and Africa, and even Cuba, create the impression that the most centralized forms of state capitalism are the owners of the future. But soon, by the beginning of the 60s, the numbers start to not work out. Political and cultural factors were blamed, but the fact is that gigantism is beginning to fail… on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

In the West, the market will prioritize a change in technological orientation: information technology grow to become an industry. It is clearly oriented towards improving management, which is to say, to reducing inefficiencies of scale. But it’s not enough. Markets must expand to justify the sizes already reached: the “European Community” progressively becomes a “Common Market,” and in 1973, Great Britain is integrated, once the preferential market in its former colonies is no longer enough.

Beginning with the crisis of ’73, the numbers of the Western nations and the results of their big businesses don’t give any reason to be optimistic, either. By the ’80s, the inviability of the industrial businesses on the largest scale, the public scale, is obvious. Industrial overscaling has become a danger to the survival of the State itself. This is the time of “reconversion” in regions like Asturias or Flanders, and the moment when the numbers of eastern Europe—but also Cuba—really begin to break down.

thatcher y gorbachovIn the US and Great Britain the first political response to the crisis of scale emerges: neoliberalism. Basically, it consists of racing forward: finance is deregulated and financialization appears as a way of homogenizing, and therefore expanding, the market for capital, the speculative use of which is growing more and more as it becomes more difficult use it in capital-intensive big businesses. The State restructures its relationship with big businesses: the rents they receive actually increase, but on a new basis: legislation on intellectual property becomes hardened. Management and informatization become a true “cult” in the attempt to reduce inefficiencies.

When the Soviet bloc finally collapses, “globalize” becomes the new mantra. The neoliberal strategy looks to the East and see the volume of extension of markets that has been made possible as a triumph: it has reformed the world to rationalize the over-scaled sizes of its companies.

Globalization and the globalization of the small

fabrica textil pequeña en chinaAlong the way, in the ’90s, technological development had accelerated, and with it, the optimum size of enterprise had been reduced even more. The Internet and large cell-phone networks appear, liberalization drastically reduces the costs of transportation both of cargo and of people, and we start to see the first glimpses of abundance.

But in the first phase, the dismantling of trade barriers looks like it’s going to basically favor multinationals by allowing them reduce size, gaining back at least part of the efficiency lost to overscaling. It’s a time for “breaking value chains“: production is divided into phases that are subcontracted to SMEs in peripheral countries. From the viewpoint of the developed countries, it’s a “dislocation” of production, and a real threat to industrial salaries. Unions abound with the idea that businesses change production sites to be able reduce salaries. The fact is that what makes that salaries are low in subcontracted businesses in these countries is that their productivity is, initially, lower than that of Europe, and therefore they have to compensate for their lack of knowledge and technologies by reducing other costs.

manuel p2pBut that changes in two ways: the first is that peripheral SMEs learn to coordinate their own chains, without depending on brands from the central countries, by taking advantage of the reduction of transportation costs and the new accessibility of central markets. The second is that, especially in the consumer-goods market, they benefit from one of the first products of emerging abundance: free software. In less than five years, the volume of this movement exceeds the sum total of all aid to developed countries since World War II.

The result, which is known as “globalization of the small” when seen as a whole, is an unprecedented rise in world trade and a way out of extreme poverty for hundreds of millions of people, most of them in Asia. In quantitative terms, it is the greatest leap towards abundance in the history of humanity. With it, the productivity of the industrialized nations will grow steadily, also increasing salaries and improving living conditions.

The crisis of the center and the P2P mode of production

banqueros wall streetBut for capital, times are hard. The scale of the leaders of the change is too small, and that of the great financial centers too big, for capital to be invested efficiently in the new productive economy. The result is a speculative rush towards anything “commodifiable,” which hits a ceiling in 2007. It is no coincidence that the fall of Enron, the company that did business by turning things like bandwidth or electricity into “commodities,” shortly precedes the collapse of the financial system in the developed countries, which was tangled up in financial products whose complexity was nothing more than the result of try to homogenize risks beyond what’s reasonable.

bq cervantesThe longest crisis in the history of capitalism, however, showed the path of abundance. While the financial system collapsed, the business model that had leading the globalization of the small was developed and universalized into what John Robb called the direct economy. The direct economy is the meeting point of the vectors of change of the moment: it basically means the substitution, to the highest degree possible, of necessary financial capital with the free and communal use of knowledge and the capital needed to pay everyday costs through advance sales that often times take the form of “crowdfunding” on virtual platforms.

The intensive use of free software also turns the cycle of P2P production into a model to follow for a whole set of industries in which the reduction of optimal scales is made evident by the impact of the direct economy. The appearance of 3D printers, the rudiments of free multipurpose hardware (like Arduino), and the evolution of good part of the hacker movement into the “maker” movement describe a situation today in which, more than ever, we can talk of the path towards abundance not only in the world of the immaterial, but also in traditional industrial production.

Conclusions

fabcafeBeyond the crisis, we’re living in a fascinating historical moment. Before our eyes, technological development has reduced the optimum size of businesses to a level that in more and more occupations can be carried out efficiently in a local setting or community, and can even be distributed globally. Many of them are supported to a greater or lesser extent by the result of a productive cycle of a new kind in which capital and market are being redefined, dissipating rents and creating abundance.

The path towards abundance is no longer a proposal or a utopian dream. It is a real course, an economic and social movement happening in parallel to the decomposition of the old ways and which offers us a new promise of overcoming scarcity, war and collapse.

But like every promise of every historical age, isn’t destined to become reality, and has no existence outside of the willpower and actions of people and real communities who must make it present. It’s only a possible result, a horizon to move towards and to struggle for. The question that we will try to respond in the following installations is how.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ July 17th, 2015 ~ 1

Biomedical patents reduce innovation by 30%

As much as the official discourse would like it to be, the debate on intellectual property is not about whether authors or inventors would earn the same thing or more if this legal monopoly was abolished. The question is whether we need rents from a monopoly that only exists thanks to legislation for innovation to exist and whether more innovation is created with protection from intellectual property or without it.

In the field of theory, Michele Boldrin made a fundamental contribution which is now part of the corpus of economic theory by demonstrating that under certain conditions, which are common and widespread today, that incentive is not necessary.

Emprical evidence however, in fields like the biomedical and pharmaceutical industry, was scarce, though it did point to the innovator having incentives beyond patents that would be sufficient to justify and profit amply from R&D.

The type of evidence necessary is two similar innovations, one patented and the other not, coexisting in the market from the outset. The record current for illicit duplication is two years, accused but never proved in the case of the Warfarin, the generic version of an anticoagulant called Coumadin, originally patented by DuPont Pharmaceuticals Inc. What’s interesting about the Coumadin case is that it continues to create revenue of some 500 million dollars annually for DuPont. According to the Wall Street Journal, the monthly expense per patient is $35.50, compared with $28.60 for the generic. However, in spite of the difference in prices, Coumadin continues to have almost 80% of the market. Today, Coumadin remains DuPont’s flagship product, and central to the multinational’s bank accounts, in spite of having been one of the few cases where the nearly simultaneous appearance of a generic creates a situation comparable to the absence of patents.

The definitive case: the human genome

We surely owe the definitive empirical proof to the recent paper by Heidi Williams, a Ph.D. student in Economics at Harvard University.

Williams analyzes the consequences of the Human Genome Project, whose results from the sequencing of the genome belong to the public domain, with those of Celera, a business that hoarded its results under patents.

What’s interesting is that there are genes that were originally protected by Celera, which, by being resequenced through public effort, then became patent-free. This way, Williams could really do two different studies: in one, she compared the impact of patented genes with genes in the public domain from the moment of their sequencing, and in the other, the result of genes that were originally Celera’s being devolved to the public domain.

The result in both cases was similar: patents decreased innovation and its results by 30%. Additionally, in the cases where Celera enjoyed a brief period of monopoly, the negative effects on innovation were maintained, though at a smaller scale, after the gene sequencing was released. That is, the negative effects of intellectual property on innovation tend to persist even after the end of legal protection.

If we extend these conclusions to other settings of intellectual property, we’ll understand, for example, why books in the public domain lead to new editions and translations with more regularity that those under Creative Commons.

Consequences

We already knew from theoretical models and the scarce empirical evidence available that a pharmaceutical market without patents would, in all likelihood, see greater investment in R&D because only innovation would guarantee temporary extraordinary rents close to those of monopolies. But it also would see a rapid expansion of innovations, in the form of generics, in less-developed nations.

Now we know also that biomedical patents reduce innovation by a third, but also that as short as the period of monopoly may be, the social cost tends to be maintained over time.

If we add up both results, the political consequences are clear: the political and social objective should no longer be the reduction in time or place for exclusive use, but rather its total elimination.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ July 13th, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 2

The ethics and politics of abundance

estudia y ama la ciencia
Until recently, the words “progress” and “progressive” reflected a relationship with concretely making abundance. “Progress” was that which advanced us on the path towards a society of abundance, and “progressive” that which drove that development. If “progress” was associated with a set of policies, “progressivism” was an ethic, a way of being that presaged a new culture and human experience. Progress was what opened factories or what led a country to leave the the regime feudal behind and modernize. Progressive was defending universal suffrage, women’s equality, or universal schooling. The whole Left and a part of the Right—classical liberals and industrialists—were considered progressive. The opposite of progressive was “reactionary,” the word that defined those who longed for the world before the French Revolution: Carlists [royalists], clerics. Soon, in practice, it became an insult.

picasso, aragon, etc con stalinBut if it was pretty clear in the 19th century what “progress” meant, shamefully, those who made the most use of the term in the twentieth century were doing so from a strategy that was concrete… and wrong. For them, there was a shortcut towards abundance: state capitalism. In practice, from the ’30s to the ’80s, because of the influence of the Communist Parties, everything that gives more powers to the State or puts more and more parts of social life under its control and guardianship is considered “progressive.” This equates progressive with statist, and nationalism and “struggles for national liberation” are legitimized independent of whether or not they serve development. Only in the ’70s, when the Left starts to incorporate feminist demands, does “progressive” start to gain nuances that are favorable to personal freedoms and sovereignty over one’s own body, which will be expanded in the ’80s to include early environmentalism. With the collapse of the totalitarian States in the Soviet orbit, and with them, the Communist Parties that were affiliated with them, “progress” and “progressive” were blurred definitively. It went to describe more of a “who,” a social group defined aesthetically, than a “what.” With the new century, the destruction of meanings reached the point of including in the term the partisans of degrowth, the radical opposite of abundance.

How progress got away from progressivism

victor_manuelAn example of how “progressivism” distanced itself from progress at the turn of the century is the debate on intellectual property. Since the ’30s, an essential part of the positions of the pro-Soviet Communist Parties in Western Europe was representing themselves as a “front of the forces of work and culture.” In practice, the inclusion of intellectuals meant defending all manner of State rents for artistic creation: subsidized culture, but also a reinforced copyright system. The argument for this was purely conventional: State monopolies for creation and invention would favor innovation and therefore “progress,” since the consequent development of productivity would bring us closer, step by step, to abundance. But the emergence of distributed networks will demonstrate the opposite. This will be obvious even for academics, when, beginning in 2000, Boldrin and Levine’s theoretical models first and Heidi Williams’ empirical evidence about the effects of patents later make it clear that in the world we live in, intellectual property only serves to create shortages artificially.

edificio solarGenerally, everything about centralization or monopoly means rents. And by now, we know that abundance is fed by distributed networks and the dissipation of rents. The famous “progressive policies,” today, would be practically the opposite of the traditional ones from the “progressives” of Left and Right: rather than feeding rents, reinforcing monopolies and building larger business scales and reinforced national identities, which is to say, rather than create scarcity artificially, they would be about removing obstacles to abundance. Progressivism today would take devolucion seriously, work for a distributed electrical system, confront State rents and the regulations custom-made for big businesses… and of course, pursue freedom of movement for everyone throughout the world.

Because the truth is that, as in days gone by, possible “progressive measures” exist, but not a “politics of abundance,” a certain way of understanding the State and society’s relationship to it, that make it possible to turn it into an tool of development, thanks to a well-defined ideology. In reality, only concrete measures exist, derived relatively easily from economic analysis, that would seek to avoid having its regulatory power became a brake on social transformation.

Abundance as an ethic of knowledge and emancipation

Propaganda-style posterThat’s why, more than developing a political theory, accepting the logic and the objective of abundance asks us look deeper into its consequences from the ethical point of view.

The starting point should be establishing that if abundance can appear as an attainable objective in History, it is through the development and extension of knowledge. Every ethic of abundance, and by extension every emancipating ethic, must revolve around it.

Such an ethic cannot be predatory or individualist, because is not Nature or others we are trying to free ourselves from, because we’re part of a common metabolism, but from scarcity. It is scarcity that introduces uncertainty in our life and forces us to know, and to know, as Dewey said, “effectively.” That’s why knowledge is both the result and the main tool of the human experience and that’s why an ethic of knowledge is also a life ethic, a way of being that express the desire and the enjoyment of living.

But knowledge—and especially social knowledge—is a community act, a distillation that exists in the framework of an experience and contexts that are not, in themselves, universal. An ethic of abundance is a community ethic, oriented to shaping the real community and understanding it not as a constriction of the individual, but as the essential condition of their own development. Because, as the cyberpunks said, “life is a package deal,” a unique thing, a necessarily transformative activity.

KibutzAnd that means two things: the most obvious is that there is no such thing as “living time” differentiated from and opposed to “working time.” Work, transformative activity, is knowledge in action and the action of creating knowledge—theory and practice that are aware of each other. An ethic of abundance is a work ethic motivated by knowledge. The view of work as subjugation, as slavery, is the result of alienation, a separation of ourselves into arbitrary parts, which should not be tolerated, but overcome by providing meaning through making and changing the conditions we live in.

Secondly, it implies that, given that both work and knowledge are community deeds, the essential freedom of the individual is not a impossible “individuality” affirmed at the cost of, or to the exclusion of others, but the freedom to leave any community that does not satisfy us, to create new ones, or to participate in as many as may want to accept us; and also, the freedom to access and use knowledge without obstacles or tolls. Beyond any political or economic arguments, restrictions on the access to and use of knowledge are detestable because they deny the very heart of individual freedom. Said with even more clarity: intellectual property is immoral in itself.

villa locomunaAnd while from this, not only can ethical legitimacy be derived, but the desirability of the greatest community diversity—as long as communities are not coercive and permit members to leave with the greatest ease—it also leads to an understanding of why an ethic of abundance does not look to the State as the main subject of the collective. If knowledge is a community act, and it is, it does not make sense to ask any external entity to do the things we want or provide us with what we need, because we would be depriving ourselves of the experience of making them, which, from the point of view of knowledge, is often as important as the things themselves. Freedom is the possibility of making them ourselves and if it makes sense to demand anything, it would be the withdrawal of obstacles of any kind that prevent us from communally building the tools of change.

Work, which is what we call effective knowledge in action, is the only transcendent possibility for the human race and for the individual. In the human race, it is the thread that unites History and Nature, making abundance possible. As individuals, the only way that we have of transcend our main limitation, death, is to develop that which unites us with Nature through the rest of the species: knowledge. Knowledge that is created or transmitted is, therefore, the true “soul of the human race,” and the only legacy that we can leave as individuals.

ComplicidadThat is why the centrality of possession, “having” things individually and exclusively, can only be seen and felt as another form of alienation, of separation from what’s truly important in life.

Consumption, in such an ethic, is not in itself “bad,” “immoral,” or “unfair,” but simply necessary, if it is significant, if contributes genuine enjoyment to each. Or, it may be unnecessary, incomprehensible, and alienated, if it is not carried out for enjoyment, but as part of social climbing, or as status symbols or markers of belonging. So, yes, by the same logic, it would be immoral to limit the consumption of others, ignoring their tastes and preferences, in the name of certain values. An ethic of abundance sees consumerist behavior as an erroneous substitution, a mistaken response to the loss of meaning in work or one’s community development. It does not, however, see it as something morally bad in itself and rather would respond with classic minimalist “why do you want to have more needs?” A life oriented to the construction of abundance, an interesting life, cannot be based on deprivation or the desire to deprive others. That is a life in poverty, and a life in poverty ends up being a poor life.

And in the same way, a good environment is not an opulent life, but the communal “good life” that, as Juan Urrutia says, “has more to do with the self-realization of the members that make it up that with their material wealth.”

Conclusions

Such an ethic is not a chimera or a luxury reserved for a few. While a “politics of abundance,” a theory of the state, doesn’t exist, there does exist the possibility of living in accordance with an ethic of abundance. The ethics of abundance is an ethic of emancipation, because it seeks serve us by emancipating us from scarcity and uncertainty. It is therefore an ethic of knowledge which values the communal, an ethic which reduces transcendence to contribution, and which is expressed in a “good life” that blurs the difference between time for enjoyment and working time into a significant total time, which is creative and pleasant.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ July 5th, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 1

A history of abundance

La edad de Oro por Lucas Cranach
Few ideas have been as powerful and subversive as abundance. For thousands of years, we humans have projected our desires onto it, we’ve been inspired by it to transform our forms of organizing, and we’ve raised it as the banner of a better future. Free food, the end of labor forced by need, and the end of conflicts and violence due to scarcity have been the image of the world that humans deserve to inhabit for hundreds of generations.

The Golden Age

In hundreds of mythologies all over the world, the myth of the “Golden Age” appears again and again: a remote historical period in which humans, as Hesiod tells us,

[…] had known neither work, nor pain, or cruel old age; they had always kept the vigor of their feet and hands, and were charmed with festivals, far from all of the evils, and their death was like falling asleep. They possessed all goods; the fertile ground produced by itself in abundance; and in profound tranquility, they shared this wealth with the masses of other irreproachable men.

Tiempo de Armonía por SignacSurely, Plato’s insistence on the absence of social classes and State, or perhaps that of Ovid in The Metamorphosis on the absence of agriculture, has been interpreted as a idealized “memory” of the primitive community, which was nomadic and dedicated to hunting, fishing and gathering. But among the many versions, there are those that locate the Golden Age in an agricultural world. And in fact, today, when we know that settling may have had a long “communal” period, it would be fitting to date its origins to a later era and link the myth to the vindication of commonly held lands.

In any case, it was possibly the most influential political myth in Antiquity: by associating abundance with the absence of State and property, it served to present the injustices and miseries of each age as the fruit of a mythic “fall” from which Humanity would recover by abolishing private property and the State… the ultimate program of the social revolutionaries in every age.

papua nueva guineaWe are well aware that primitive human societies did not know abundance. On the contrary, the study of the last groups and cultures that have maintained an economy of hunting and gathering speaks to us of systems where scarcity imposes a total subordination of the individual and their desires to the always precarious and difficult survival of the community. That’s why the myth of the Golden Age is so interesting: it doesn’t talk about a “more just” society, it talks about a society of abundance, an abundance that could only be intuited briefly when the Neolithic Revolution started to create the kind of surpluses that had been unknown until then, when the State appeared, and with it, the first public works, and the productivity of human societies multiplied for the first time.

The Christian Era

Ravena capilla del arzobispo, arte paleocristianoCuriously, while they were born together, egalitarian social ideals would soon be divorced from the dream of an abundant society. Early Christianity would be centered on sharing and would have its glimpses of abundance, but would not be able imagine a world of broad needs covered for everyone. Its monastic versions and its heresies would accentuate this egalitarianism of scarcity to its limits.

The commercial “revolution” of the tenth to thirteenth centuries and the instinctive rejection of the Church of the first commercial bourgeoisie, is seen with ever-greater frequency in this Christian reflection. At first, the Church condemns the artisan merchant and commerce itself, as articulated in theologies of poverty and their rejection of misery. But this misery was produced by the resistance to change in the nobility of which the Church elite was part.

The Church would present the Second Coming as the move to Messianic society where, sated, “the wolf will graze with the lamb.” From there, it kicked the can down to an indefinite future. But fewer and fewer were willing to wait around. New groups sought to promote the arrival of Christ by going to live in community, raising up the egalitarian society of the Gospel. In short order, groups began to slip thorough the Church’s hands: Waldenses, Joachimites, fraticellis, Beghards, flagellants… What’s interesting is that the theological praise of poverty soon became, in the hands of the popular classes, identarian recognition (the imagined community of “the poor”). And this self-identity, accidentally promoted by the ecclesiastical message, in turn, quickly became a rejection of poverty and violent vindication of abundance. The Church soon responded by turning the Franciscans into an order (giving an internal organizational space to poverty), advancing the Dominicans, and the creation of the Inquisition to “repress excesses.” We can glimpse the troubles and confrontations of these “communisms of poverty” with royal and papal power in The Name of the Rose, the novel in which Umberto Eco ironically commented on the Italian Left.

Werner Tübke Batalla de Frankenhausen Detalle con Thomas MunzerThe theologies of poverty would be spread in the Protestant Reformation and would blossom in the peasant wars that would follow it in Germany. The tension between egalitarianism and scarcity would soon become obvious: when Thomas Munzer attempts the immediate establishment of the Kingdom of God, making work and property common, the results would be poor. Like the Anabaptist Hutterites who would follow him and the “Diggers” of the English revolution, who would appear later, everyone—in the case of the Hutterites, down to our days—would distrust technology and its use, and would only be able to build shared poverty.

Of course, we can explore this historical scenario in Q, another parable about the Italian contemporary Left written by the group of writers known as “Luther Blissett” and then as “Wu Ming.”

The era of discoveries

jaujaBut while Christianity continued its own evolution, the development of the first major commercial routes and European fairs would bring a new kind of popular myth that, while it wasn’t really about abundance, was at least about opulence. Then stories begin to appear about the “Land of Cockaigne” and of “Schlaraffenland.” These tales would merge as of of the second half of the sixteenth century with the stories of fabulous wealth that would follow the Castilian conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, giving way to the stories of the “pais de Jauja” that are still told to children in Spain.

It is then, around the middle of the sixteenth century, when the lower classes of Europe begin to dream of abundance as such. It continues to be significant that this abundance appears as a “deposit” or as a “gift of nature.” Although it is an era of accelerated technological development, innovations are concentrated in sailing, war and engineering, rather than the direct production of goods. The popular classes thus understand abundance as unlimited access to meeting needs and the storehouses of an ever-more powerful crown, not as the development of capacities of their own work.

Vespucio en América, grabado de Théodore de BryIt also links this idea with the Jewish and Christian myth of paradise, a “garden” where it is not necessary to work, not even at gathering, to be sated with as much as one needs. And it shouldn’t be forgotten how far the idea and desire went that the Indies, recently discovered on the first transatlantic voyages, would be no more and no less than the earthly paradise itself. This myth became so influential after Columbus’ first stories that the Castillian crown soon prohibited those who were “of impure blood,” which is to say, the descendants of converted Muslims and Jews, from emigrating to the king’s new lands. And in fact, this association between “original cultures” and “Adam, free from sin,” would have a long run, until, two centuries later, it become Rousseau’s “noble savage,” who, still today, can be sensed behind more than a few narratives exalting the “wisdom” of indigenous peoples.

This environment at the dawn of the European expansion in the Americas would also lead, among the educated classes, to a new political-literary genre. In 1516, Thomas Moore publishes his Utopia. Utopia is not the land of abundance, it is a democratic and patriarchal country, organized as a confederation of cities in which private property doesn’t exist. But, by reviving the idea of egalitarianism and joining it with certain democratic forms, and above all, with material well-being, it would have a tremendous influence on all European political thought. That thought was fated to again encounter abundance.

The era of revolutions

blakeStill, it wouldn’t be until early industrialization and the French Revolution that abundance reappears. Once more, it would not be from the hand of egalitarianism. In all the works of Baubeuf, there is not one reference to abundance. The first reference would not be in rich revolutionary debates, but in an external observer who describes his times with the voice of a prophet. Between 1790 and 1793, William Blake, “mad Blake,” publishes “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” For the first time, abundance appears as the result and objective of a revolutionary process.

[…] the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.

But what’s really interesting is that he imagines the change to abundance as a leap to a whole new form of human experience, radically different from that of the world of scarcity in which

Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things
thro’ narraow chinks of his cavern.

To the extent that he understands that scarcity is alienating in itself, he imagines the transition to a new world as a change in the very way that we feel and experience the world:

This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. (…) If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

población vs producciónThe world that immediately follows Blake’s book seems to point in just the opposite direction, however. The world at that time is experiencing an accelerated process of specialization and an unprecedented increase in income per capita in the first industrial nations: Great Britain and the US first, and northwestern Europe later. Around 1800, production starts to grow more than the population. Productivity, which had been relatively stable until then, takes off. Early on, it’s a consequence of the application of the new mechanical technologies and of the organization of labor: the steam engine and the factory system are expanding. Growing British power assures a certain freedom of market within their own borders and demolishes the commercial barriers of the old empires, from Spanish America to China. Economic development leads to a true blossoming of science and technology which, in turn, drive knowledge and productivity.

The productive leap is so great that anything seems possible. Abundance seems around the corner, and for the first time in human history, economic crises are not from underproduction, but overproduction. It is in this context that we should understand Marx.

marxMarx places abundance at the end of the historical process, as the necessary result of the evolution of productivity, which he calls “productive forces.” In his model, the history of human societies is the history of the development of their productive capacity and the moments of political and social transformation, the result of the adaptation of the political and legal systems to the needs imposed by those capacities, by those forces, defended in every historical moment by a characteristic social class committed to making revolution. For Marx, the class of wage laborers was called to “liberate the productive forces” unchained by capitalism from the restrictions that the system of private property and nation-States impose on them. The result, communism, would be a society where productivity would be developed even more rapidly, to the point of making abundance a reality for all.

Despite the monumental size of his work, Marx didn’t leave many texts dedicated to describing the characteristics of the society of abundance. From what he did leave, we can say with certainty that he was the first to imagine a society where the development of productivity would be so high that not only would make possible the end of wage labor, but also, as he writes in some reading notes, could turn work itself into “a free manifestation of life, an enjoyment of life.” The idea, which he develops in The German Ideology (1845), is that, as of a certain level of development of productivity, specialization would simply disappear, and with it, alienation, the new name for that restriction of perception that Blake already denounced.

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Marx would develop the idea of Blake’s “opening of the doors of the perception” and would add to his idea of a society of abundance the dream of the artistic vanguards of the beginning of the twentieth century. The human experience in a society of abundance would be, to a certain extent, an artistic experience.

The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labour. […] In any case, with a communist organisation of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from division of labour, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc.; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labour. In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities.

In his most famous work, Capital (1867), he points out that the development of productivity that capitalism creates “contributes to creating social time available for recreation by each and every one,” even if is through forced unemployment, and that the path towards a society of abundance, the development of productivity, leads to “appropriating” the increases of productivity in a progressive reduction of the time dedicated to produce goods:

[…] on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.

In the same book, he would return to this idea of the society of abundance as a hyperproductive society in which human capacities are such that it does not make sense to maintain a life divided between between leisure and work.

It goes without saying, by the way, that direct labour time itself cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy. […] Free time—which is both idle time and time for higher activity—has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.

And in one of his last works, the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), he would insist on portraying the society of abundance as a stage of socioeconomic development produced by the sustained growth of productivity in which

[…] the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.

derecho a la pereza lafargueLet’s stick with the idea that abundance opens a new kind of human experience, a “multifaceted development” of each one, because it will return in the twentieth century as the center of the ideas about abundance. But for the time being, we should underscore Marx’s emphasis on productive capacity. His son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, ended his personal manifesto, entitled The Right to Laziness, with a simplification of this idea:

[…] the machine is the redeemer of mankind, the God who will rescue humanity from the sordidae artes of wage slavery, the God who will give us leisure and liberty.

This vision of the society of abundance as a liberation of humanity made possible by technology wasn’t exclusive to Marx and his milieu. In 1892, Kropotkin publishes The Conquest of Bread, which confronts the Malthusian narrative that sees “indefinite growth” as impossible with the same underlying ideas:

[…] the productive powers of the human race increase at a much more rapid ratio than its powers of reproduction. The more thickly men are crowded on the soil, the more rapid is the growth of their wealth-creating power.

kropotkinKropotkin, like Marx, thinks that capitalism would be succeeded by a transitional period—certainly, without a State—in which the implantation of a decommodified economy guided by the needs of people through free confederation, would assure a “good life” to everyone and would develop even more productivity, to the point of reaching abundance, that stage where humans would dedicate themselves fundamentally to “the high pleasures of wisdom and of artistic creation”:

Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity—that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold—the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.

Leaving off production for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.

Inspired by a new daring—thanks to the sentiment of solidarity—all will march together to the conquest of the high joys of knowledge and artistic creation.

Kropotkin, like Marx, thinks that little can be imagined of a society of abundance: the human experience would be so different, as would the stories that humans would tell about life, which constantly limits itself to proposing forms of organizing for the transition period. He insists that the main task to reach abundance would be to reduce the number of hours of “work considered necessary to live,” which he initially puts at five, as productive capacity is developed and the division of labor is eroded.

los desposeidos ursula k leguinSurely the closest contemporary literary reference to the communities Kropotkin imagines would be those described in 1974 by Ursula K. Le Guin in The Dispossessed. Le Guin shows us a decommodified society, with deep-seated individual and egalitarian freedoms, but—because of external conditioning—basically poor, with a certain centralizing tension and without continued growth like that imagined by the “anarchist prince.” It continues to be interesting, because Le Guin approaches anarchism not from the perspective of abundance, but of egalitarianism. A similar thing would occur with the person who is usually considered the principle intellectual heir of Kropotkin, Enrico Malatesta. Malatesta, in contrast to Kropotkin, doesn’t understand the future society as the result of a possibility opened by the development of knowledge and the transformative capacities of the human race over time. He argues that anarchy is a system possible in any historical moment. That is why he does not associate it with either abundance or technological development, which, in turn, leads him to lose the view of a more complete and complex human liberation, accepting obvious needs imposed by scarcity, like the division of labor:

Certainly in every large-scale collective commitment there is a need for a division of labor, for technical direction, administration, etc.

And in the first half of the twentieth century, marked by the Russian disasters and two world wars, the revolutionary and egalitarian narrative would again separate from the dream of universal abundance. Trust in a horizon of abundance and its path—progress—was linked in the nineteenth century to a sense of wonder about science. But science and technology, which are associated in the 19th century with Verne’s dreams and Pasteur’s vaccinations, in the twentieth would also be associated with war gases, civilian bombings, the greatest genocides in history, and the atomic bomb.

dada berlinSurely because of this, the vindication of abundance during the first half of the new century did not come from scientifist philosophers like Marx or from philosopher scientists like Kropotkin, but from the heterogeneous group of artists and critics that formed the artistic “vanguards,” surrounded by the emergence of the new political movements and marked by the vital urgencies of a society plunged into war. But above all, they are quite conscious that, after the appearance and popularization of photography, art is first and foremost a narrative about the human experience in a historical context. In the first half of the twentieth century, that means proposing a new society. The artist goes from interpreter to prophet.

What the vanguards were pushing was the importance of “multifaceted development” of the individual as a fundamental feature of any society that would proposed to advance towards “true abundance.” This is an element that would gain more and more prominence as the totalitarian development of the Soviet State and the character of its economy become more and more obvious, but also as the economic cycle begun by the period after WWII reaches its end.

The era of well-being

herbert-marcuseIn 1933, while the last vanguardist manifestos are still fresh, Herbert Marcuse, a young German philosopher who had participated as a twenty-year-old in the Sparticist uprising, joins the new “Institute of Social Studies.” He publishes and comments on Marx’s Philosophical Economic Manuscripts. He discovers in them the “young Marx,” enlightened by abundance and the criticism of alienation, but that same year, he would have to leave the Institute—which was already beginning to be known as the “Frankfurt School”—to emigrate to the USA. There, he would work for the war machine and would end up being the head of intelligence analysts for Central Europe of the State Department. In 1952, after being widowed, he begins a life as an academic that would take him through some of the most famous Ivy League universities and would allow him to write two of the most influential books in the ’60s in the US: Eros and Civilization (1955) and One-Dimensional Man (1964).

In the framework of the opulent and conformist US society of the ’50s and ’60s, Marcuse takes up Marx’s old argument, leaving aside all the material needs that make up the “good life” that Kropotkin imagined. He accepts that that “good life” of the road towards abundance continues to be the main philosophical objective for historical change.

Analyzed in the condition in which he finds himself in his universe, man seems to be in possession of certain faculties and powers which would enable him to lead a “good life,” i.e., a life which is as much as possible free from toil, dependence, and ugliness. To attain such a life is to attain the “best life”: to live in accordance with the essence of nature or man.

But Marcuse is aware that capitalism of the postwar period is developing productivity in a way that both Marx and Kropotkin thought would only be possible after the revolution. The “good life” of US well-being—which would soon have a European social-democratic echo—produces an acritical and demobilizing consensus that is too similar to a diffuse and generic totalitarianism to be able to find in it a promise of true abundance. Tied to the limitations of Marxist economic theory, Marcuse finds himself in a basic contradiction that his readers in the French May would turn into a famous slogan: “be realistic, demand the impossible.”

At its most advanced stage, domination functions as administration, and in the overdeveloped areas of mass consumption, the administered life becomes the good life of the whole, in the defense of which the opposites are united. This is the pure form of domination. Conversely, its negation appears to be the pure form of negation. All content seems reduced to the one abstract demand for the end of domination—the only truly revolutionary exigency, and the event that would validate the achievements of industrial civilization. In the face of its efficient denial by the established system, this negation appears in the politically impotent form of the “absolute refusal”—a refusal which seems the more unreasonable the more the established system develops its productivity and alleviates the burden of life.

Fearful of economic development in itself, he equates abundance to what puts Marx in line with Blake and the vanguards: the beginning of a new sensibility, a new form of perception. To emancipate oneself from culture—an idea for which he resorts to Freud—and turn life, as the vanguards said, into an artistic project, would be a development beyond the rationality of today’s relations of production.

The advancing one-dimensional society alters the relation between the rational and the irrational. Contrasted with the fantastic and insane aspects of its rationality, the realm of the irrational becomes the home of the really rational—of the ideas which may “promote the art of life.” If the established society manages all normal communication, validating or invalidating it in accordance with social requirements, then the values alien to these requirements may perhaps have no other medium of communication than the abnormal one of fiction. The aesthetic dimension still retains a freedom of expression which enables the writer and artist to call men and things by their name—to name the otherwise unnameable.

The movement towards abundance, for Marcuse, can only be an artistic movement of those who feel dispossessed, not of basic well-being, but of the hope of find meaning in life and the world; those who are outside of an economic rationality that Marcuse understands is perfectly capable of perpetuating itself, of exceeding all limits. The central idea in Marcuse is that the development of knowledge and science no longer brings us closer to abundance, but rather, pushes it further away, substituting it with the control of a totalitarian consensus based on consumerist well-being.

Boulding en 1956What’s interesting is that, not very far from Marcuse, and while he is writing his most relevant works, an economist as far as possible from the Marxist economy is laying the foundations to disassemble the theoretical “ceiling” the “Frankfurters” have reached.

Kenneth Boulding, the father of the General Theory of Systems, a Quaker and pacifist, had a spirituality that was greatly influenced by Teilhard of Chardin. Following the path of his teacher, he would be the first theoretician to incorporate the evolutionist perspective into economic analysis.

In radical opposition to Marcuse, Boulding rescues the role of knowledge and in Economic Development as an Evolutionary System (1962) restores its centrality, allowing him to articulate the relationship between History and Nature.

This whole process indeed can be described as a process in the growth of knowledge. What the economist calls “capital” is nothing more than human knowledge imposed on the material world. Knowledge and the growth of knowledge, therefore, is the essential key to economic development. Investment, financial systems and economic organizations and institutions are in a sense only the machinery by which a knowledge process is created and expressed.

In this context, the important thing about the analysis, like for every evolutionist influenced by Chardin and his omega point, is what happens at the “limit,” wherever the trend leads us. For him, the limit, which occurs in the definable limits of a system, is especially important. And at the limit, the omega point of an economy of perfect markets is the end of the economic problem: abundance.

That same logic of the limit would allow him to define the key of why and how capitalism of over-scaled corporations that intimidates Marcuse is not an endless alternative path, but only another moment on the road towards abundance. In The Organizational Revolution (1953), Boulding had already given us the tools to understand what, decades later, we would call crisis of scale, modeling how macro-organizations, in spite of the development of communications technology, create inefficiencies as of a certain point of criticality that move into the whole economy through the rigidity of prices, weakening the ability of the market to reach efficient equilibria and placing the weight of the economic system in such a state that Big Businesses would see it more and more as an objective to capture, as a source of the regulatory and direct rents on which, in the end, they depend.

The Network Era

pekka himanenThe final decades of the twentieth century would be marked by the emergence of information technology and distributed networks. Originally born of the need to reduce the inefficiencies created by excessive scale, their massive popularization in the ’90s creates new social phenomena and makes visible the first cybercultures that had been maturing since the ’70s at the crossroads of the libertarian counterculture and technological exploration.

In 2001, Pekka Himanen publishes The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. In it, he describes the culture of free software developers: A set of values in which the idea of private property is dispelled, knowledge is in itself the principle engine of work, and in which the separation between leisure and work seems to have been overcome. The hacker world becomes a myth of abundance. It is still seen as a big island in the middle of an industrial world, but it shows the promise of abundance at the end of the world the Internet is creating.

juan_urrutiaBut Himanen is not the only one who knows how to see the promise contained in the new cultural forms. At the end of the ’90s, a chance meeting happens: Juan Urrutia, a disciple of Boulding and Marcuse, is beginning to work with the cyberpunks, with whom he would later found las Indias.

The first result of those conversations would be “The logic of abundance” a essay published at the beginning of 2001. In it, distributed networks and network effects appear for the first time as the economic foundation of abundance.

Urrutia would take up the Bouldinian idea of the importance of the limit and therefore of abundance as a result at the limit of a capitalism cleansed of corporate rents in The Coming Capitalism, published in installments between 2003 and 2008. A new concept, the dissipation of rents then serves as a link between the glimpses of abundance that characterize the emergence of distributed networks and the “de-marketized economy” with which Urrutia has characterized the economic analysis of a society of abundance, and which serves to address “Boredom, Rebellion and Cybermobs” (2003), processes of forming and changing consensus in identarian networks.

But Urrutia is not satisfied with building this unique bridge between the changes that he is experiencing in the first person and the society that he glimpses as possible. He extends the hacker ethic first to a “spirit of the bricoleur” that goes far beyond the world of software related by Himanen. He thus precedes the first narratives about “maker” world by nearly a decade, and foresees a growing “multi-specialization” that brings the “bricoleur” to the world of production. At the limit, this movement means the end of divisions in production and with them, the “change in perception” that we saw begin in Blake. This scenario leads him to give a progressive importance, beginning in 2014, to the distinction between knowledge^—born of the need to transform, and wisdom—the result and objective of the “good life” that the glimpses of abundance of a new communitarianism make more and more possible.

Sistema de producción p2pIn parallel and almost as publicists, the Indianos publish the Network Trilogy, whose first installment, “The Power of Networks” accentuates the influence of network topologies on forms of social and political organizing throughout history. This trilogy, published between 2005 and 2010, would culminate with The P2P Mode of Production (2012), a manifesto that presents productive examples of Urrutia’s model of “identarian communities” and their “confederalism,” an idea already present, as we saw, in Kropotkin’s society of the abundance—following Proudhon in this—but also in Hayek. The Indianos would also pick up on Boulding’s idea of the crisis of scale to explain the dependence of corporations on rents and explain the simultaneous destruction of markets and state that characterizes the social decomposition that is being made even more visible with the crisis beginning in 2008.

But what’s really interesting from the point of view of the “history of abundance,” is that, beginning with the social experience of free software, for the first time, beyond Kropotkin’s logic of the transition, a new kind of economic cycle is outlined, the P2P mode of production, where capital is substituted by direct knowledge and the market is complementary, to the point that, at the limit, it goes “extinct.” And what’s no less important, this model is linked to the present through the new emerging industrial forms like the direct economy and the metabolisms of generation of knowledge that appear for the first time in those years linked to the overcoming of the intellectual property and academic institutions.

Conclusions

futurismoNobody can yet present “detailed blueprints” of a society of abundance, but our brief tour through its imaginings, from the Golden Age to P2P production, tells us something extremely important. Abundance is not a dream that comes out of nowhere. It is not the fantasy of prophets and enlightened people. It expresses the development of knowledge and of their instrumentation in technology throughout history.

As we humans transformed nature more and more effectively, the more we learned about her and ourselves. And by knowing more about ourselves as a species and as part of that common metabolism, better approximations could be written of the same aspiration, intrinsic to our transformative nature, of a life not kidnapped by scarcity.

The “buts” and dismissals made of abundance and its spokespersons in every age by the “status quo” matter little. The mere imagination of abundance is the first place where we humans have found ourselves as such, as a species and leaders of time and nature. That’s why it is in the story of abundance where gods and supernatural beings were first dispensed with. Because, contrary to what Marx thought, it’s not only when abundance is the norm the human experience would be truly human—on the contrary, the really human experience is that which is oriented to building it.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ June 23rd, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 1

Sharing is a glimpse of abundance

comunidad transgeneracional
To understand the relationship of abundance to marginal cost allows us to see “collaborative consumption” from a new angle.

sharingEconomyLet’s take an example. You and a neighbor work in the same business. He has a car, so he offers to share it, to go back and forth to work together. One fine day, you discover that another workmate also lives in your building. The extra cost from taking him is negligible. For all intents and purposes, zero. Additionally, you could go from three to four, and even from four to five, without the increase in people who enjoy the service meaning an increase in total costs.

What’s happened? We started with a situation where only one person was going to work by car and changed to another where everyone has as much as they want of the product “go to work by car,” and the cost of doing so has been zero. We have had a glimpse of abundance and discovered a simple, everyday example in which the marginal costs are zero.

Limits

compartiendo en peer byBut if we think about it carefully, what we have is really little more than a mirage. If another co-worker moves into the neighborhood, providing him with the service would mean buying a new car. If we write out the marginal costs, we would find that they are zero between one and five people, and rise—by the price of a car—by going to six; then they return to zero from six to seven and will continue on at zero until the eleventh person we want to carry, at which point we would have to buy another new car. And so it would continue indefinitely—between each multiple of five and the following, we’ll have a pretty significant marginal cost.

That is, if we think about growing, about providing for a community or a network of certain size, we cannot think for one moment that we are living in a world of zero marginal costs. And above all, though the ideas is functional for a small community, we are putting the focus on the mere optimization of the use of what already exists and taking it off of what abundance truly means: the development of the capacity to transform our setting to the point of being able to satisfy everyone’s needs.

The moral of the story

This is why collaborative consumption should be understood, above all, beyond the increases in efficiency in consumption, as an element of cultural change, as the limited experience of a possible world which, however, is begin decided on and is built somewhere else.

To look at sharing from the point of view of marginal costs also illuminates some dark corners of the community phenomenon. We know that one of the keys of the capacity for resistance and resilience of the community experience throughout history has been sustained by the ability to enjoy those “glimpses of abundance” continuously. We also know that even though the Dunbar number puts a total limit of 148 members on the size of a real human community, really existing communities tend to have “thresholds” in their growth, the so-called sub-Dunbar numbers (6, 12, 20, 30, 60, 80). Might the sub-Dunbar numbers be related to similar thresholds in our example?

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ June 22nd, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 1

Abundance is the end of divisions in production

fabrica de utopiasThe culture in which we were brought up is the product of millenia of scarcity. That is why it’s easier for us imagine a society of abundance as the negation of a good part of what we know and take for granted than as the affirmation of a project whose elements are within arm’s reach. However, the unprecedented development of productivity during the last two hundred years, the emergence of distributed networks, and the first social experiences of abundance on the Internet have begun to clearly show outlines of the possible world in the present. Today, to imagine the society of abundance is, in more and more fields, to take the present–a present that is radically different from that of the origins of industrialism–to its limits.

The division of labor

Fabrica-FordAn especially interesting example is the division of labor. In classical economics, starting with Adam Smith and his famous example of the production of pins, specialization is understood as part of the social effort for the improvement of productivity. That is, it was part of the road towards abundance. Dividing work into precise tasks and substitute people with machines, to the extent technological development made it possible, was the heart of the Industrial Revolution that transformed the world between the 18th and 20th centuries.

From the manufacturing to the robotic factory, the specialization of tasks not only revolutionized productivity, but also encouraged the specialization of knowledge, and just as it had never been possible to produce so much, neither had so much knowledge been developed ever before.

falansterio de ugineBut with the development of services and the massive incorporation of information technology, knowledge becomes a direct tool of production on a new scale. Production processes are confused with marketing and communication. Businesses begin to demand people with more than one specialty. What had, until then, been reserved for engineers and a few technicians, was multiplied by all of the knowledge that the new industries understand link their more and more sophisticated tools and products. Initially, this tendency, which Juan Urrutia called multipecialization, appears above all in the new technology sector that becomes consolidated in the ’70s.

But the innovation industry linked to personal computing first and the Internet later, is a very particular industry: in the US, its pioneers are openly influenced by hippy understandings of abundance, and in Europe, by a new work ethic centered on knowledge that soon will be expressed in free software. As far back as 1984, the writer Bruce Sterling describes in his novel Islands in the Net the following dialogue full of reminiscences of the classic tales of the society of abundance:

islas en la red“… a sort of hotel manager?”

“In Rhizome we don’t have jobs, doctor Razak. Only things to do and people who do them.”

“My esteemed colleagues of the Party of Innovation Popular might call this inefficient.”

“Well, our idea of efficiency has more to do with personal realization that with, um, material possessions.”

“I understand that a broad number of employees of Rhizome do not work at all.”

“Well, we keep ourselves busy doing our own thing. Of course, much of this activity is outside the money economy. An invisible economy that is not quantifiable in dollars.”

“In ecus, you mean.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. It’s like housework: you don’t pay anyone money to do it, but that’s how the family survives, isn’t it? Just because it’s not a bank doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. As an aside, we’re not employees, but members.

“In other words, your baseline is playful joy before benefit. You have replaced work, the humiliating spectrum of forced production, with a series of varied hobbies like games. And replaced the motivation of greed with a network of social ties, reinforced by an elected structure of power.”

“Yes, I think so…, if I understand their definitions.”

“How long until you entirely eliminate work?”

What makes this scene especially interesting is that the character being interrogated is member of a transnational egalitarian community. Sterling’s intuition connects technologies that had hardly even been sketched out then–in fact, in the novel, the Internet is not used, but a sort of hybrid of fax and e-mail–with the cooperative inheritance and community values held by hippies in the US.

Twenty-first century trends

mariadbThe prophecy will begin to come true scarcely a decade later with the nascent reality of the first industry linked to abundance: free software. Connected to it is the appearance of the first businesses that break with the obsessive hierarchies of the industrial enterprise. As Pekka Himanen argued in 2000 in his famous essay about the hacker ethic, in knowledge industries, work in self-managed teams is simply more productive. Also, by that time, the Internet was already restructuring the forms of relationship. Hackers, used to equality in conversation and to working in networks like equals, practiced “flat” forms of organization based on conversation between “multi-specialized” individuals. Also, networks of relationships between peers that occur in a conversational space will tend to be transnational, limited perhaps by linguistic borders.

falansterioThis incipient movement will not stay in the world of software: consulting, digital publishing, graphic design, and generally all the services that were first commercialized directly via the Internet are the natural point of departure for these first experiments of transnational communities of multispecialists, but not their destination. The development of productivity and new forms will reach the industrial world in their most radical way as the “direct economy“: small groups of friends design products, finance them with pre-sales and crowdsourcing within communities of affinity, send them to be built by the old industry (now converted to 3D printers), and distribute them through the network.

As a result, traces of abundance appear in more and more places in our lives. The tendency can be summed up today as: multispecialization, transnationality, and non-heirarchical organization of business.

If we take them to their limits, we can glimpse the main features of work in a society of abundance: obsessive specialization disappears, and with it, professional identities as we know them. Thus, the ideal of knowledge as a whole is recovered. In correspondence, group projects, formed and motivated by the pleasure of creating and discovering, not by the need to earn a salary, small, non-hierarchical, identarian communities form, which don’t respect borders other than the ones of the affinity for objectives and media.

A society of abundance is a society in which productivity is not separate from research, conversation and knowledge, as if they were different worlds, and knowledge itself is not divided into professional and mercantile knowledge. It is a society where community is directly productive, without divisions.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ June 8th, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 2

The economic foundations of abundance

pais de la abundancia
We all understand that abundance exists when it becomes unnecessary to work out what is produced and what not, and above all, how much access to a given product these or those people will have.

Schlaraffenland - JaujaThat’s why it’s intuitive to understand that abundance is a question of costs. We all understand that if producing something doesn’t cost anything, that something will be abundant. The problem is that it’s hard to think of anything whose production doesn’t cost anything, and even harder to picture a society where it never costs anything to produce anything.

The truth is that a situation like this is not necessary to imagine a society of abundance. We just need to distinguish between value and price on the one hand, and the other, between the different types of costs of production.

Value, price and costs

As we saw in the prior essay, as a species, we humans are obliged to transform Nature to survive. In that transformation, “things” incorporate knowledge and are “humanized” as they are turned into products. This incorporation is none other than the effect of the the transformation itself, the effect of work. That’s what we call value.

Value and price

Schlaraffenland - Jauja 3Value is not price. Price is a measure that attempts to quantify the relationship between different resources within general scarcity. Value, in contrast, is the measure of work, and therefore, of the knowledge “incorporated” into an object or a service.

The difference between value and price is a classic piece of economic theory. The first economists of the 17th and 18th centuries, “the classics,” embraced theories of labor-value and built their models around the differences between “incorporated work” and relative prices over the long term. At the end of the nineteenth century, when the corpus of marginalist economic theory was formed, the economic foundation (value) was left out in favor of an effective explanation of the mechanism of prices. A good understanding of the mechanism of prices and the efficient distribution of scarce resources needed no more than a good understanding of the relationship between supply and demand, which is to say the relative measure of scarcity among resources.

In reality, every object or service, to the extent that is necessarily a product, and to the extent that it always incorporates human labor, has value, but only goods, the scarce products that enter the market, have a price.

When something becomes abundant it stops having a price, or rather, has a price of zero. A handy example is free software. It obviously has value: it incorporates knowledge and serves in turn to produce other goods and services. It also has costs: the work hours that thousands of developers have dedicated to coding and the computers they used, the maintenance of the servers from which each program is distributed, etc. And yet, its price is zero. Why? How can it be that something with costs has a price of zero, even when it has established demand and there would be certainly be people prepared to pay for access to it? Is it just a donation?

Price and costs

To answer, we must first understand what costs consist of. Intuitively, when we think about them, we think about the total cost: how much it costs me to produce a given number of copies of something. In reality, this cost has one fixed part–what I have to spend no matter what to start producing–and a variable part, which is a function of the amount produced.

costes variablesFor example, if I want to make sugar, my fixed cost will be (simplifying somewhat) the cost of the sugar-milling machines, while the variable costs will be the sum of the costs of the work hours that I dedicate, the tons of beets I purchase, and the electricity consumed by the machines. The fixed cost, the cost of the sugar-making machine, does not depend on the amount I choose to produce. However, the variable costs will tend to grow as I produce more. Intuitively, we understand that the average cost, the result of dividing the total costs by the amount produced, at least at first, will tend to decrease because by producing more, and the part of the fixed cost built into each cup of sugar will be smaller. As of a certain quantity, however, I would begin to find myself obeying the famous “law of diminishing returns,” and costs would vary (three people working on the machine do not produce three times more than the first, but rather, a bit less).

costes marginalesBut there is still one more measure of cost, which is especially interesting: marginal cost, the extra cost incurred to produce the next unit of product. Mathematically, it is the derivative of the function of total costs, but the interesting part comes from being useful to determine how much a business will produce in a market in perfect competition.

Perfect competition is a model that all Econ students learn in their first year. In it, all the businesses in an industry produce identical goods, there are no barriers to new businesses entering the market or old ones exiting. No business has any trouble acquiring new technologies and no business has the power to set prices on its own. In other words, by definition, none of the participants enjoys rents&madsh;benefits due to some type of differentiation or extra-market advantage.

In reality, in a model like this, the price is set by the business that is capable of producing at the lowest cost, and the others adjust their production to that competitive price, which in the end, is simply the one that reduces extraordinary benefits—rents—to zero. In this model, the supply curve of the businesses is built by thinking about how much different businesses would like produce for a given price.

producción competencia perfectaThe answer would seem to be common sense: as the price is equal to the income that the last unit sold would produce, they would not want produce if the marginal cost was greater than the price, because then that last unit would cost more than the income it would create and would reduce the total benefit. But if the marginal cost was less than the price, producing a little more could still bring in a little more and give a greater total benefit. Result: a business will be situated with maximum total benefits when the amount produced equals marginal cost and price.

And thus, one of the mantras of every economist is born: in perfect competition, which is to say, when rents don’t exist, the price is the marginal cost.

Abundance as child of the market

Schlaraffenland - Jauja 2By introducing time into this model, Econ students learn that predictably, over the long term, in every industry, the curves shift to the right, which is to say, that prices fall over time. But let’s imagine that a series of technologies or forms of production appear that pull the curve of marginal costs down, so that, over the long term, we could think about marginal costs equal to zero.

If we think about it a bit, that’s already happened with some immaterial goods: up to a certain amount, one more person downloading one of our books from our server does not mean any extra cost. The marginal cost of distributing a book in the public domain is zero. And what goes for a book goes for a copy of the latest distribution of Debian.

In markets like free software, therefore, we can talk about having arrived at the paradigm of perfect competition: Zero marginal cost and zero price. The product has reached a point where the efficient price is the zero price. No longer is it exchanged for money, no longer is it a commodity: decommodification has arrived as a product of the evolution of the market.

Criticism and nuances

Distributed networks and abundance

Topologías_de_redThe first criticism of the example above would be that it’s only true for a certain number of copies, because if our server passed a certain critical point, we would have to increase bandwidth and in reality, if it happened long term, we would have a growing variable cost and therefore, a positive marginal cost.

But this is really only true if there is only one server from which to download the product. If we share it on a P2P network, like those created with the BitTorrent protocol, we would be in a radically different scenario: each new download, each new user, would mean a another possible place to download from for the next person. The more people who “consume,” the less each one of those who already are part of the network need to contribute. Not only we would we be well settled with the zero marginal cost, but at the limits, the total cost borne by each person would also be zero.

This is just one example of the logic of abundance produced by distributed networks described by Juan Urrutia in 2001. In addition to the network effects like the one described above, there’s one more important element: the drastic reduction of transaction costs that appears when the real social network unites identarian communities.

bittorrentTransaction costs is another concept from economic theory. They were created to explain why, if markets tend toward efficiency, people don’t just start produce things on their own, hiring the factors of production and even the coordination of the process ad hoc. That is, transaction costs are the primary explanation for the existence of businesses. They include things like the cost of negotiating with providers and customers, the derivatives of the need to get information and those of supervising providers and customers. All of them have to do with asymmetries of information and distrust between people, and it is that distrust that makes it rational to set up a business, which is to say an institution, a set of contracts, that is going to remain stable over time.

But all these costs dissipate within a real community–which is, by definition, a small distributed network–of people based on trust. Unity in large distributed networks of overlapping identarian communities–which is to say that on average, each individual will have more than one identity-based community–is both about the role of models and the reality made much more possible by the Internet, the “primordial soup” where abundance germinates for the first time, even if only in a few environments, on a massive scale.

Other rents

El capitalismo que vieneAnother obvious criticism would remind us that, “in real life,” big businesses do not live in markets with perfect competition, but seek rents of all kinds: rents of position, regulatory rents…

But here once again, the emergence of distributed architectures changes the game. The key is a concept described for the first time in another book by Juan Urrutia: the dissipation of rents. The idea is that the unity of distributed networks and globalization erodes all rents more and more intensely, including regulatory rents like intellectual property.

To understand the ultimate causes, we must add one more factor: the reduction of the optimal scales of production, which is result of technological development. The same movement background that produces a true crisis of scale means that necessary investments are smaller smaller, and it takes less time to replicate an innovation in any industry, including some as complex as pharmaceuticals. That’s why even rents from innovation, the benefit derived from create something new and enjoy a small, temporary monopoly, are more and more brief.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that rents derived from things like the legislation of intellectual property or “custom” regulations for oligopolies like electricity have disappeared or been canceled. It just means that, for the time being, they are being continuously eroded, in an unending cycle of innovations that erode rents and legal repression, new innovations that have already brought down audiovisual industries, publishers, and even energy production, and that, over the long term, seem to reinforce the expansion of technologies and networks that are more and more distributed and opaque to the State.

The fibers of abundance

mosaico abundanciaThe fibers of a society of abundance are already among us. Some, like the dizzying development of productivity or the possibility of zero marginal costs, were already present in the thought of the utopians and economists of the 19th century. Others, like the role of the reduction of scales, distributed networks, and the commons, only have appeared clearly in the last three decades.

Those very elements let us clearly see something that is no less important: what doesn’t lead to abundance, what is truly “reactionary” in our days. We’re talking about strategies like the recentralization of the Internet, and about economic nationalism and the expansion of corporate rents that it entails, which are typically accompanied by the exaltation of over-scaled financial markets, and therefore necessarily destructive. But we’re also talking about narratives that present growth, technological development, and productivity as enemies to beat.

In upcoming essays in this series, we’ll go into more depth on the new basis of abundance, to start them to imagine the possible world that they are drawing for us.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 95 ~ June 1st, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 1

The “why” of everything in just over 1000 words

The nature of the human race

NeoliticoSince the origin of our species, we humans have grouped ourselves to satisfy the needs of our own existence, which is to say, to produce everything that makes our survival possible. By joining into community to produce, humans make it the essence of their social organization to transform nature. However, in the course of time, a new result appears, which surpasses the initial objective of the mere production of tools and food: knowledge.

Applying knowledge allows humans to make their work produce more and more results. Acquired knowledge, by collectively transforming Nature, which is to say, by working, will materialize in new tools and ways of producing: what we call technology. Because production is a social, collective act, technological development will also drive changes in the organization of labor that, at certain times, will call into question the relationships of power between the different groups in each social organization.

Scientific truth and social stories

foucault y sartre mayo 68This inherent conflict makes it necessary to understand and justify alternatives. That is, knowledge of social matters appears as a result of the change promoted by knowledge and the evolution of ways of transforming of Nature through technology. But while the empirical knowledge about Nature that is materialized in science and technology of each age objectively expresses the transformative power of the species as a whole, knowledge of social matters will be always mediated, because in the discussion of social matters, each interest group, each power group, will understand as true those values and stories that effective at transforming or conserving the relations that align with their own interests and uncertainties.

In the same way, every community tends to define itself and explain the world, within the general conditions it lives in, according to a story that is effective for its objectives. That’s why what serves to describe the origins of the great tendencies, motivating stories, and ideas about historical change do not necessarily explain the behavior of the path of a real community in history. The Hutterites of the sixteenth century can be told as a product of the gigantic scenario of politics and class conflicts in the Europe of that time, but their descendants, current Hutterite communities, cannot be explained except as the result of the endogenous dynamic of a series of real communities of their descendants, reaffirming themselves until they are frozen into a set of beliefs and traditions that have been tremendously effective in their setting for almost five hundred years.

The base

cerditoepicureoWe real communities and individuals tend to define ourselves by ideas that are really just a set of answers to questions which we have only partly chosen to ask and which we constructed using the elements we had at our disposal. We have limits on knowledge of our times, on our historical context, and on the place we occupy in society. But also we have autonomy within the limits of the general development of knowledge and of social relationships existing in every age.

A ethic of autonomy, an ethic that can try to be emancipating for individuals and communities, must begin with knowledge. As we saw, knowledge is the result and the central tool of the human experience, our main weapon against uncertainty, and the point of connection between our species and Nature, between technology and society, and between historical change and social relationships. It’s not developed in a sort of big, open general chat, but within given contexts, under certain rules, and starting from a particular identity among those who take part in the conversation. All knowledge is, to some extent, community knowledge. That’s why the projection of an ethic of knowledge is not “political,” a theory of the State, but a theory of human communities that uses them to explain the societies in which they exist. To see the social world not only as an inter-communitarian terrain with many social “truths” in play, and also many kinds of truth, means accepting conflict as inevitable, but also understanding that, most of the time, the framework of that conflict can be agreed on.

Abundance as a goal for communities and species

Crates_e_Hipparchia_ en Villa_FarnesinaNot being “political” in a strict sense does not mean, however, that being founded on an ethic of knowledge necessarily condemns us to a story without a goal.

While transforming Nature is the original definition of the species, which is motivated by the need to overcome uncertainty and scarcity, the development of knowledge—which turns species time into historical time—is the only creator of meaning in the great macro-story of the human experience. Obviously, this tale is not linear, always ascendant, or predetermined to reach any specific place. Knowledge is a product of the transformation of nature and in good measure is dependent on it. That’s why eras, societies, or communities where that transformation stops end up “forgetting” knowledge and technologies that were previously known and losing skills and structures, until they revert to subsistence economies; societies that, like several tribes still existing today, find a fragile “stationary state” in isolation, or communities like the Amish or the Hutterites, which simply “choose” not to grow. These are not more authentic or “human,” but just the opposite, the most dehumanizing and alienating, because they deny and abort what is central to the human experience on the basis of a social system in which passion for knowledge and diversity suffer what can only be iron control.

futurismoThought founded on an ethic of knowledge has to be projected not only onto the knowledge of a community, but also onto a Socioeconomics oriented towards abundance. Abundance means that knowledge has been developed to where it allows the species to transform and produce to make freedom possible for each of its members. What constrains everyone’s freedom in every social order, what makes such constraint necessary, is the need to organize according to the best technology possible to overcome scarcity. A society of scarce surpluses is a stratified society, supported by the power of the groups that manage it. Abundance as a historical stage would therefore mean the end of uncertainty as a primary engine of knowledge, and the end of conflicts that result from a social structure determined by scarcity.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

las Indias

las Indias 24 ~ May 27th, 2015 ~ 8 ~ 2

OuishareFest 2015: Interview with Juan Urrutia

juan ouisharefest 2015¿What did happen in the nineties? How a distinguished professor of Economics, well known academic writer, got involved in communitarianism and started trying to build a New Economic Theory of the transition towards a society of abundance.

Las Indias and I were bound to come together around the issue of communitarianism. Yes I was a professor of Economics (completely orthodox) but I could not forget

  • May 68 in Europe and USA
  • Frankfurtian ideas (Marcuse)
  • Specific kind of psychology centered on Fritz Pearls¨Gestalt Therapy

And some young people around (members of las Indias today), a bunch of hackers indeed, showed me that something called ICT (Information and Communication Technology) could give rise to a new way of economic thinking called at the time «New Economy».

This New Economy developes around two important ideas:

  • abundance is possible
  • networking is crucial

The Great Recession forgot about the dotcom firms and it is only now that they (the hackers) and I (the old professor) can face the intellectual challenge of building up a new basic model of the workings of the economy build upon, not the I, but the «WE».

But it has to be done unless we are ready to accept to be lost in transition.

Identitarian communities and abundance

ouisharefest2015But in the course of your research you found this «we» is not every possible «we», but a very particular «we» called «identitarian community», product of the modelization of networking. So, in order to be clear, everybody has an intuitive concept of «networking» but… what really networking is from the point of view of formal economic analysis and how does it produce identitarian communities?

We call networking the formation of networks of persons through a process that can be modelled as an evolutionary game among them. The game is played among all pairs of persons formed at random and connected in the network at a given moment, a network that as time goes on increases the number of connections.

The interaction generates «memes» (social habits) that change as the network becomes more and more dense (or closed knit). In the limit this evolutionary game generates an equilibrium called evolutionary stable stategy in which the “memes” attained cannot be changed by mutants.

The corresponding society is what we call an identitarian community.

Both in practice and in economic modeling the distinctive culture of identitarian communities is fraternity, and old philosophical subject from Epicurus to the French revolution and so on. How does fraternity change the game, how does social results become subverted by the kind of fraternity an identitarian community produces?

Fraternity is in its foundations the pleasure of being together as it was already defined by the epicurean concept of «friendship», which in turn sustains mutual trust and credible commitments. And in such a society scarcity is overcome, abundance is possible.

  • Based on changes of costs
    • Transaction costs disappear because of mutual trust
    • There are increasing returns from the demand side. For example the «net effect» also called the «Mathew effect» produces these increasing returns becase “those who have will get more”
    • The economies of scope increase their importance
  • But also based on “rent dissipation”. Monopolies have disapeared because nobody gains anything threatening to leave the identitarian community because this threat is not credible since the equilibrium is mutant’s proof: perfect competition has been reached.

Revolution

ouisharefest 2015 foto julie«Rent Dissipation» is the main concept of your 2003’s book «Capitalism to come», the book in which you defined by first time the possibility of a sharing economy. But little time before you also published a brochure I would like to refer to now. It became very relevant those days because newspapers, specially conservative newspapers, said you cooked in that book the theory for the mobs against the government that followed the march eleventh alqaedas’s attacks. To me the relevant thing of the economic models you worked there is to show how «revolution» happens inside an identitarian community and how it is related to network architecture.

Yes, the identitarian community is always threatened by revolution which is possible or not depending on:

  • The threshold of rebellion: the number of other members of the network who would support the change, something I need to know for eventually changing my behavior myself.
  • The epistemic condition, i.e. who knows what.
  • The density of the network.

And this creates a paradox:

  • Classify communities in conservative (high) or progressive (small) according to its threshold of rebellion.
  • Resulting that in the conservative societies the revolution is easier the less dense is the structure.

An example could be the UK a collection of conservative and isolated overlapping communities in which nobody has sufficient knowledge about the threshold of rebllion of others.

Consumption and producction

So, you modeled how networks and communitarianism defined the horizon of abundance, then in detailed mechanisms of how it tend to happen as rent dissipation, and then you researched social network dynamics explaining revolution in networked behavior. Finally your work in las Indias focused in the creation of «new basic economic model» upon all those pieces…

For our desired new basic model there are two fundamental pieces: consumption and production.

  • On consumption. I know no theory of consumption based on WE and not on I. I only know first approximations like Marx’s Communist paradise, or Marcuse’s 68 ideas in California or, indeed the way of life in the Esalem Institute in Big Sur.

    So, we in las Indias work hard in formalizing the notion of the “good life”.

  • On production. We already know, in the context of abundance, of the Mathew effect and related economies of scales and economies of scope. But we have to take into account
    • Strategies: two well known strategies became impossible:

      • to take a possition.
      • to establish an standard
    • Rules of management. Two are selfdefeating:
      • conservation of clients.
      • education of workers. In fact distinctions between workers and clients disappear.

Commons

juan y david ouisharefest
In the Economics’s and Philosophical tradition, abundance is the opposite to the mere existence of merchandises. Is it possible even to imagine a path towards abundance based exclusively in market dynamics? Markets interchange merchandises and money, so… And on the other hand, markets offer universal solution that probably no other tool different of them could offer…

After Information and Communication Technologies in the New Economy the percentage of non tangible goods has increased heavily. And most intangibles are commons ( communal goods) characterized by non-rivalry and more or less exhaustibility.

Therefore, in our effort To rebuild the Economy, commons are a very important piece, although we cannot forget markets.

There are however no obvious and universal solution to the problem of common goods. All solutions are ad-hoc and local. Some are good solutions and some are bad.

Today’s examples of local bad solutions on commons:

  • Intellectual property laws are examples of local solutions which are already known as bad solutions
  • knoledge in general and how to finance it
  • Ranking of scientist or universities according to sociometrics distort incentives.

Politics

Well, then if you accept commons as a key piece of the path towards abundance, you will agree this way cannot be only an economic or cultural path, it has to be necessary a political path too which has to produce a change in political institutions and relationships

Yes, our basic model cannot be isolated from politics. The Sharing Economy generalization has to be diverse because of the local nature of identitarian communities making the whole. The political form we in las Indias cherish is confederation which preserves diversity. In a confederation there is no ultimate authority. But it is better to accept it than to try to bould one artificially. Remember the Central Bank Syndrome:

  • the only agent which cannot be forced to honor its promises.
  • Unless its promises are based in the common language and correspond to idiosincratic memes.
  • If we accept diversity
    • optimality might not be reached
    • but survival is maximized (as in Biology) under limited rationality and suboptimizing
    • Stochasticity is therefor implanted and his stochasticity lead to an unique equilibrium.
las Indias

las Indias 24 ~ May 21st, 2015 ~ 10 ~ 2

«The book of community» in English

el libro de la comunidadWe proudly present you today The Book of Community which you can buy now in Amazon. It was written by the whole team of las Indias and translated by Steve Herrick.

From the introduction

We know that most people who propose to “create” a community don’t want to “live in community.” They are looking for guides to design a way of life for themselves and their circle based on sharing more than what they share so far, even if they feel like it’s excessively risky to have “too much” in common. We believe that this book can serve them to do better without having to reestablish the borders that have been set. It’s not that the different dimensions are independent from each other — not at all — but what we learned in each one of them will be interesting even for those who only want to go deeper into one.

This book, rather than a typical “manual,” should be read as an “advice book.” Its focus is practical, because it was practice that guided our evolution. Like Borges, who “wrote” Quijote in the middle of twentieth century, discovering that “what was coming out of him” was identical to what Cervantes had written, though he had not read him before, we realized little by little that that that we’d learned by trial and error, what defined the lifestyle that we were discovering, followed the steps of a long tradition that began in the garden of Epicurus and which we recognized in our era in the Icarians and the Israeli kibbutz. Still later, we met other communities in the US, Germany and Austria that, with years, sometimes decades, of history, and dozens, if not hundreds of members, that had arrived at very similar lessons and models to ours. They are productive and egalitarian communities that give special importance to conversation, learning, and debate, but also to production in common for the material needs of all.

Because we didn’t start from any concrete model, and because we didn’t have “blueprints” from which to build, we have organically incorporated tools and techniques that go far beyond the scarce current community bibliography. This bibliography is, almost entirely, of North American origin and suffers from the need to “invent” what was invented in South America and Europe long ago: the forms and practices of the housing cooperative. What’s shocking is that by dressing it with new clothes (“ecovillage,” “intentional community”), it can find a market in places like France, Spain, Argentina or Uruguay, where there’s a very long tradition of this kind of cooperativism. In contrast, there is little, by which I mean almost nothing, written half-decently about the topics that we usually share, when we “communards” from different places in the world meet each other: how to create an environment helps everyone to overcome their fears and laziness, how to enter the market, how to integrate new members, how to avoid community self-absorption, etc.

These will be our central topics on the following pages.

We think that communities that share everything have a treasure of valuable experiences for anyone who proposes to strengthen their real community and the people they value and feel close with, by sharing some dimension of life in common, whether it’s the economic dimension, the intellectual, or everyday coexistence. Unfortunately, these experiences are mostly part of the “oral culture” of each community network. They are shared but rarely written down. This book is one of the first attempts to do so in Spanish [originally]. It does not answer to any ideological label in particular, but attempts to collect learning from many communities that do not hide from such labels. It attempts to collect a “communitarian consensus,” but also make its contribution, except that this contribution has more to do with common sense in caring for the people and things around us than with any political or social theory. It is intended for those that are considering joining a community or who want to experience community practices with their friends.

If we’ve done it well, it will save you time and learning that sometimes can be painful. If we made assumptions or left out important things that are not obvious, we hope you’ll write us so we can improve new editions.

English translation already in Amazon

Translation by Steve Herrick

What is «las Indias»?

la Matriz

Natalia Fernández13 ~ ~ February 22nd, 2015 ~ 0

Own the change


A few days ago Shareable published a post about a new documentary that seeks to promote cooperativism and show how local economies based on cooperatives contribute to creating more resilient surroundings. It’s noteworthy in the first minutes of the documentary that the main idea, the drive shaft that connects pieces of the story, is none other than ownership.

A cooperative explained in the very simplest terms is an organization that, in an egalitarian way, practices the formula of one worker, one share, one vote. Our emphasis on this message, without a doubt, has to do with our fascination with discovering a form of organization that, traditionally in the English-speaking world, has been used for consumption. Transferred to production, cooperativism in the US is coming together as a real option to recover the economy of the great industrial cores devastated by the crisis. And also the world of professional services, of commerce, or healthcare.

We discovered it with Evergreen a few years ago. Cooperative pride has a lot to do with making business ownership accessible to many who never dreamed of being able to move on from being employees, or of the possibility of modifying and transforming the productive system. It’s exciting!

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

Manuel Ortega8 ~ ~ February 22nd, 2015 ~ 0

An inevitable collision: Centralizing networks against personal autonomy

warm_bodies-wideIn recent years we have been through “a zombie attack” against the socialization and culture born in the Internet. This is known as the stage of recentralization, whose best-known proponent is the FbT-model. This is a socialization model that cut off conversations, wherever they took root, and the birth of new identities and the abundance of the Internet generally. There was no lack of strategies, and in fact, the distributed world worked for the creation of vaccine against the virus. But the response to this attack finally came from something much more basic and fundamental: Personal autonomy. Already, the debate on net topologies is a debate about the autonomy you have to participate in the creation of information, the definition of your agenda, and the possibilities you have to be authentic. The collision was inevitable, and — just like in the great movie “Warm Bodies,” something was alive in the zombies, they weren’t completely dead — our desire for personal autonomy was still alive. This explains the birth of, perhaps not numerous, but more and more islands in the net that are betting on a distributed world. The key words of the future are autonomy and sovereignty.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Esperanto)

David de Ugarte95 ~ ~ January 13th, 2015 ~ 0

The New Global Militant

ucraniaYesterday I watched a PBS documentary about the rise of ISIS. Around minute 43, a phrase caught my attention. Explaining how ISIS arrived to a tipping point in recruitment, the script noted that the group itself had been surprised at the massive response of a generation who

wants to be part of something special, they want to be part of something successful

Today, an report in “El País” quoting “Le Parisien” includes a statement of the lawyer of one of the murderers of the massacre of Paris describing him as:

a clueless guy who did not know what to do with his life and who met people who made ​​him feel important

I guess it is quite clear in jihadism but in reality is the generalization of these feelings that make militant movements of all kinds reach their tipping point. What happens these days is that we are nearing the time when the new political movements begin to be credible winners. And people are pointing to star in a historic change… the most credible in every different place or circumstance.

Of course will not produce the same results if is ISIS who capitalize that feeling in Syria and Iraq or if it will be the new PKK in Kurdistan. And if we look at Europe Ukrainian nationalism has not the same values than SYRIZA or Podemos. But from the point of view of network analysis it is a very similar phenomenum: The protagonist of the great social movements is changing worldwide.

The time of the young European jihadist who was able to destroy himself as a way to defy an unquestionable power has passed away as the time of the cyberactivist who wanted to change social consensus promoting new social conversations.

Lets remember two slogans from the quotes: “feel important” and “be part of something successful”. Those will be the magic words of all the mobilizing discourses during the coming years.

Manuel Ortega8 ~ August 24th, 2014 ~ 0

“Not-English” is the world’s most spoken language

bla_blaIn many conversations about the expansion of languages and the use of English as a lingua franca, we hear statements about English being the most spoken language in the world. It is important to remember that the reality is quite different, the most spoken language in the world is “not-English,” i.e., all the other languages. The figures, which can be found in “The World Factbook,” clearly reflect this reality. In the light of this fact, it should also be noted that beyond the figures, the important points to note in the discussion about overcoming language barriers and the adoption of a lingua franca, are others, namely the rents and power structures supported by the adoption of a national language as a lingua franca, in this case English, and its limitations beyond superficial interactions.

Functional English, like all jargon, is useful for superficial interactions. For example, when a waiter in a cafe in Antalya describes the view of the sea as very beautiful. But it reaches its limits in the context of university education, a higher intellectual function that fully mobilizes our language skills. Because only on rare occasions do we see the same level of precision and nuance in a learned language as in the mother tongue. That iron law of linguistic competence is confirmed even in countries known for their knowledge of English.

David de Ugarte95 ~ July 26th, 2014 ~ 1

Bruce Sterling against the disguised recentralization of the “Sharing Economy” and “Smart Cities”

brucesterlingWhat happens if the taxis of major cities are replaced by Uber? What if a central part of your urban transportation system depends on an app based on California? Do you think that a city hall could stand up to an multinational with the kind of battles it wages against taxi unions? What happens when your streets and your cars are commodities that are coordinated thanks to software and a set of rules that you don’t control? And perhaps the most clarifying: Do you really think that in California would let its transportation system be run from Barcelona?

All these questions are part of the conclusions Bruce Sterling draws about “Smart Cities.” The discourse on the “Sharing Economy” has detoured the debate and hidden the project of recentralization of networks and the power of the Internet giants. But it’s still there. And as the father of cyberpunk reminds us, it not only has political consequences in the city, but globally, and geopolitically.

So, does Sterling want to close the door on the “Sharing Economy” or the “Smart City?” Absolutely not. He’s simply reminding us that is a battlefield on which the different subjects must recognize what network structures and what architectures of power create a world where we have space. And in recentralization, there’s no space for citizenship.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte95 ~ ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ 2

Community and happiness

imageThe Philosopher’s Mail, the blog of Alain de Botton and the followers of atheism 2.0, published an article about the Epicureans. Its most interesting aspect is that, in a nutshell, it proposes that Epicurean communitarianism is based on its founder’s minimalist definition of happiness:

With his analysis of happiness in hand, Epicurus made three important innovations:

Firstly, he decided that he would live together with friends. Enough of seeing them only now and then. He bought a modestly priced plot of land outside of Athens and built a place where he and his friends could live side by side on a permanent basis. Everyone had their rooms, and there were common areas downstairs and in the grounds. That way, the residents would always be surrounded by people who shared their outlooks, were entertaining and kind. Children were looked after in rota. Everyone ate together. One could chat in the corridors late at night. It was the world’s first proper commune.

Secondly, everyone in the commune stopped working for other people. They accepted cuts in their income in return for being able to focus on fulfilling work. Some of Epicurus’s friends devoted themselves to farming, others to cooking, a few to making furniture and art. They had far less money, but ample intrinsic satisfaction.

And thirdly, Epicurus and his friends devoted themselves to finding calm through rational analysis and insight. They spent periods of every day reflecting on their anxieties, improving their understanding of their psyches and mastering the great questions of philosophy.

Epicurus’s experiment in living caught on. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The centres thrived for generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.

De Botton forgets that that Epicurean, familiar, and mixed monasticism of the 5th century, common and even dominant in places like the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland, was gradually enclosed from Rome and finally removed with the Gregorian reform. The spirit of Epicurean communitarianism would then begin to thrive in a very different environment. But that’s another story.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Spanish original.

las Indias24 ~ May 17th, 2014 ~ 1

Market activism

Aesires en acción (From Indianopedia) Market activism is our term for the design and trade of products with the goal of spreading values and ideas. The name was coined in 2012 by Juanjo Pina from “aesirs,” based on a previous debate on entrepreneuralism held by “las Indias Group of Cooperatives” since 2009, linking the idea of the phyle to the medieval arts and guilds:

We believe the kind of knowledge that enables us to make beautiful and socially useful things cannot be reduced to technical knowledge. It must contain a social meaning, a work ethic and a worldview. Goods offered in the marketplace carry with them a vision of the world, of social projects and a moral points of view.

Some examples

  • In 2007 the indianos combatted «rankism», a narrative on the blogsphere spread by the media that we saw as a danger to its distributed structure. As a response, we developed feevy, the first dynamic blog-roll for blogs. It not only made it easy to link and share audiences between blogs, it made it obvious that the “star blogger system” was just a media myth. Feevy had soon 60,000 users/blogs, making it possible to map hundred of thousands of blogs in Spanish and how they were connected. We called this map the map of flowers, and was, itself, a refutation of the narrative imposed by the mainstream media. Feevy, carefully developed not to use personal data, was programmed as free software, and its platform sold later to a a big firm.
  • Since 2011, the whole “neovenetianist milieu” did its best to transform its knowledge into useful tools to combat the European unemployment crisis:
  • In 2010, Alain de Botton launched his atheism 2.0. His main tool would be “The School of life,” an international chain of stores supplying consumer goods, courses and motivational seminars for businesses

las Indias24 ~ April 22nd, 2014 ~ 0

Vote for Guerrilla Translation in the 2014 OuiShare Awards


Our friends of Guerrilla Translation are among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. You can vote for them or in any case know a little more about them and this Awards.

las Indias24 ~ February 11th, 2014 ~ 3

The fruits of an interesting life

festival-de-las-linternasToday our front page has a new banner: series. That’s what we have called the thematic threads that have been forming since we started to focus “El Correo de las Indias” on the idea of an interesting life. And in fact, the first series tries precisely to answer the question what is an interesting life? This leitmotif that was born in another series, the only one now finished: “Towards a new narrative,” by Juan Urrutia. And of course, we can’t leave out our love of cooking, our pulp heroes, and Go. They all continue growing and will appear again in the future. For the moment take a peek, and we hope that you’ll like them.

(Note from your translator: if there are older posts you want to see translated, please leave a comment!)

David de Ugarte95 ~ February 7th, 2014 ~ 0

What’s left when the state falls?


These days, the press all over the world is talking about the Michoacan self-defense movement, since the Mexican State is confronting them, after letting the “Knights Templar” camp there for years. This mafia was the beneficiary of decomposition, accelerated by the State itself, of the formerly, and sadly celebrated “Michoacan family.” The debate is now the typical trap of decomposition between the defense of the monopoly on violence by the state and the verification of a captured and corrupt state that for years abandoned the life and treasure of thousands of people to a terrible mafia.

So rather than entering the debate, I’d like to draw attention to an element of “self-defense” and the form that its process of legitimation took: the reemergence of a series of forms, like open town councils, which come from the birth of urban democracy in medieval Europe.

These forms are not “natural,” but rather cultural and historical. Born with urban development, they became revolutionary in community revolts, and reappeared in the open crisis of the Napoleonic wars – which led to the birth of the Mexican State – and during the large civilian conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. And now they return in the middle of decomposition. Quijote told Sancho on the path to the island of Barataria to “be careful of your vassals or they will take the government from you or form communities by themselves.” The “Long live the commoners!” shout is heard in the Michoacan town halls. In my view, there are issues here to reflect upon and learn from.

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