Why is society based on money

A world without money?

How equitable and voluntary production can be. By Christian Siefkes, published in issue # 8/2011

Money plays such a big role in our society that it is difficult to imagine a world without money. Don't people just work to make money?

Would companies produce anything without expecting a profit? Probably not. But money does not play as big a role in what people do as is usually thought. Less than 40 percent of the work performed in Germany is paid for, the greater part is not paid: household chores, private care and support services as well as voluntary work. Precisely because they are unpaid, these activities are usually not taken very seriously in our society, but without them everything would collapse. And they impressively demonstrate that people do useful things for others, even if they are not "bribed" with money.
On the Internet, too, largely money-free forms of production play an important role. I don't have to pay anything for free software, such as the Linux operating system or the Firefox browser, and free content, such as the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia or the OpenStreetMap project. I can use it, pass it on to others, and even - if I have the appropriate knowledge - expand and improve it; and none of that cost me a penny.

Demand-oriented production
Sometimes free software is produced by companies that earn money with it indirectly, e.g. B. through the sale of support contracts, documentation or suitable hardware. In many cases, however, there is a community of people behind such projects who volunteer and unpaid because the product they create is important to them or because they enjoy the job. Others want to learn something, demonstrate their knowledge or give something back to the community. There are many reasons why people get involved - even without money.
Corresponding to the ideas of modern, neoclassical economic theory, companies are created in order to reduce so-called transaction costs (Ronald Coase). That means, as an entrepreneur, commissioning my employees is cheaper for me than buying in every single service. The employees have the advantage of knowing in advance what income they can expect instead of having to prove themselves daily in the market, but they are part of a hierarchical system and have to follow the instructions of the management. Relationships in the market, on the other hand, take place between formally equals, but are purely functional: I am only interested in the others as exchange partners who can sell or buy something from me.
Neoclassicism knows no other forms besides the market and the company, but communities of people who produce something together show that there is another way. Unlike in companies, everyone is there voluntarily, nobody gives orders. This is why this mode of production is called peer production: the participants work together on an equal basis (as »peers«).
And unlike in the market, the others are not potential exchange partners, but people who, together with me, contribute to a goal that is important to us. Projects like this are about contributing instead of exchanging. In contrast to swapping, contributing is not a zero-sum game: If I've got a "good deal" while swapping or buying, it all too often means that someone has been ripped off. If, on the other hand, someone makes good contributions, everyone involved wins.
As long as the producers are sellers and the users are buyers, everyone tends to work against each other: the income of one person is the cost of the other. And a higher market share for a producer reduces the income of the one who produces the same, which is why the producers inevitably compete with one another. The same conflict of interests as between sellers and buyers exists between employees and owners or management of a company: The former want to sell their labor on the most favorable terms possible; the latter want to get a maximum of manpower for as little money as possible. These opposites disappear in the need-oriented peer production, since my needs do not have to come at the expense of the needs of others. On the contrary: everyone involved supports each other in satisfying their needs, which is an advantage for everyone.

The various monetary functions and who takes on them
So production does not only take place for the sake of money. But is a world possible without any money? To do this, we have to look at the three functions of money and ask ourselves what could possibly take their place: money is the driving force of production in companies, money is the motivator to go to work, and money regulates the distribution: who has money , can buy resources and goods, if you don't have any, you get nothing.
We have already seen that the first money function does not apply to needs-based production. Needs also play a role in capitalism, because no one can sell a product for which there is no need. But here the needs are only a means to the end of increasing money, so that companies try to awaken the need for their products in potential customers in the first place.
Need-oriented production must not be misunderstood to mean that each and every one produces for himself. Peer production often begins where its developers care, as Eric Raymond, one of the pioneers of free software, said, but at the same time, useful goods are always created for other purposes. And people often participate not because of consumer needs, but rather because of productive needs: They do something because they like to do it, because they learn something or because the people for whom they do it are important to them.

Casual production for others
The fact that peer production is always production for others also contradicts common economic ideas, according to which the alternative to the market is a kind of Robinson model: everyone would only produce for themselves or their families; Cooperation on a larger scale would no longer take place. It is clear that you will not get very far with such an isolated model. The centralized planned economy - the past »real socialism« - is mentioned as a further alternative: the whole of society functions according to the model of a company. The management and the planners specify what has to be done, distribute the tasks to be done and monitor that they are done properly. Historically, this alternative has not worked particularly well and does not sound very attractive: You are still a dependent employee, but now for the state, and you have to do what your superiors say.
Peer production, on the other hand, is production for others that is not forced and does not take place for the sake of money. Peers produce for others because they can and because it is an opportunity to find other supporters. Because the more people use the results of a project, the more potential contributors there are, as the contributors usually gradually join the group of users. Anyone who does not share a project with others and co-produces for others is depriving it of the chance to attract “young talent”.
The distribution of tasks in peer projects takes place in an open process, for which the term »stigmergy« has become established. Those involved leave hints (Greek stigmata) about work they have started or desired, which encourage others to take care of it. These symbols, such as to-do lists and bug reports in software projects or “red links” to articles in Wikipedia that do not yet exist, form an important part of communication.
All those involved follow the traces of the drawing that interest them most and in this way ensure that the open tasks are automatically prioritized - something that is more important to more people is generally done more quickly - and that the different knowledge and skills of the Contributors are used almost optimally. Most of the time you work on what you think you are most likely to do. And since you choose whether and where and how much to work, those involved are more motivated than people who are assigned a task or who, as employees or self-employed, have few alternatives on the "free market". This means that the second money function can also be dispensed with. Peer production shows that money is by no means the only motivator.

The unpleasant tasks
But is that enough? What happens when you project the model of peer production onto all areas of society? What if there were no volunteers for certain tasks because everyone found them uncomfortable, dangerous or unattractive for other reasons? A money-based system forces the weakest links in society to take on such tasks - those who have no other means of making money. Only cynics would say that this is a good solution - but how can you do it differently?
Some of these tasks would likely prove dispensable; where this is not the case, automation, reorganization and fair distribution remain as solutions. Automation has had enormous effects since the beginning of the “industrial revolution”; ever larger parts of production are fully or partially automated.
In capitalism, however, the wage represents a limit to automation. The worse a job is paid, the more difficult it becomes to automate it without additional costs. Therefore, according to the capitalist calculation, it is not worthwhile for many ungrateful activities, such as cleaning. It is different with peer production: If there are tasks here that all or many are interested in completing but nobody wants to do themselves, then the incentive to automate them in whole or in part is very high. And since the automation of activities is an exciting and challenging activity in itself, the chances of finding volunteers for it are much better.
Where this is impossible, activities can often be redesigned to make them more enjoyable. In capitalism, some work takes place under very bad conditions. Think of an employee who is supposed to clean offices at four in the morning. Equal, voluntarily cooperating people would not organize it that way on their own initiative. Automation and reorganization can also be combined. For example, garbage trucks with gripper arms are used in some Spanish cities today, by means of which the garbage cans can be picked up and emptied remotely from the driver's cab. No one comes into direct contact with the garbage any more, and garbage collection becomes a video game-like skill task for which volunteers can easily be found.
If neither automation nor reorganization work, a pool of unpleasant tasks is conceivable, each of which takes on some of them proportionally. If all or most of them take part in the completion of these tasks, nobody has very much to do with them, and experience has shown that what everyone has to do is also less bad.

Produce commons and possessions
In every society people relate to nature and the products of their actions in a way that corresponds to that society. In capitalism, ideas, products and natural resources are primarily viewed as property that can only change hands with the consent of the owner - and usually for money or some other consideration. In the case of general peer production, on the other hand, they become common goods and property, because where money becomes superfluous, property, that is, the authorization to "turn things into money," loses its meaning. Owning something, on the other hand, means using it: the apartment I have rented is my property, but the property of my landlord.
Common goods are goods that are produced or maintained by a community and that are available to users in accordance with jointly defined rules. Free software and free content are common goods that everyone not only uses, but is also allowed to change and develop. Water, air, forests and land were or are in many societies as common goods that were and are used and cared for by larger or smaller groups.
Peer production is based on commons and in turn creates new commons. That is why the US lawyer Yochai Benkler, who coined the term, also speaks of commons-based peer production. The knowledge produced by peers - whether software, content or free design, free building instructions and construction plans that document the production, use and maintenance of material goods - becomes a common good that others can use and develop further. But peer production can produce not only information, but also infrastructures and material goods. Free wireless networks have emerged in many cities, giving everyone in the area free wireless internet access. These projects are often organized as "mesh networks" that do not require privileged servers - all computers involved have equal rights. By means of such decentralized, self-organized networks, people can not only supply themselves with communication options, but also with energy and water. Self-organized commons-based water supply projects exist in South America, for example.
At the same time, the first open facilities for the production of material goods were created. Hackerspaces and Fab Labs are run by volunteers and often have computer-controlled machines - e. B. milling machines and so-called 3D printers or fabbers - which enable largely automated production of small quantities. The construction plans of the machines used are, if possible, disclosed as free designs, and work is being carried out to ensure that at least equivalent machines can be produced with them. This is how commons-based peer production can spread further.
Where things are produced as common goods and possessions, the question of distribution, the last open money function, becomes much more relaxed. I can sell as much food as I want, but I can only eat a very limited amount. The same applies to all other goods: any need to use them tends to be limited. The only limitless is the possibility and, if necessary, the interest in turning it into money. But this possibility disappears in a world where production is needs-oriented and nobody has to buy and sell.

Make good decisions together
Peers produce for themselves and others. I do something for the others and trust that the others will do something for me. Everyone chooses the areas that are important to him or her or that they like. Even if some do nothing, that's not a problem, as long as enough others are active. Peer production only works if you actually see the others as peers, as equals. Individuals cannot realize themselves at the expense of others because the others are not stupid and will not support them in the process - and without support you won't get very far.
Even a peer-producing society will have to decide how the available resources are used - would it be better to produce food for everyone or biofuel so that some can continue to drive after their oil supplies are exhausted? Do you prefer decentralized renewable energy sources or nuclear power plants for the energy supply, which expose the people in their surroundings to an incalculable risk and burden the coming generations with obligations for millennia? Would you rather build a cultural center at the most beautiful point of the coast that everyone can use, or a castle for someone who thinks they are something better? Anyone who understands how and why peer production works will have little doubt as to what the answers to these questions will be. But most importantly, they can be asked and answered by those who address them - all of us.
 

Christian Siefkes (35) lives as a freelance software developer and author in Berlin. He blogs on www.keimform.de about the emancipatory potential of free software.

Peer production is rampant:
Studies on the influence of peer production on the
Society: http://p2pfoundation.net
Free software: www.fsfe.org
Open source fabber: www.reprap.org, http://fabathome.org

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