[P2P-F] Fwd: [Networkedlabour] Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy

Michel Bauwens michel at p2pfoundation.net
Sat Jan 3 07:42:11 CET 2015

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Jan 3, 2015 at 4:49 AM
Subject: Re: [Networkedlabour] Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy
To: Michel Bauwens <michel at p2pfoundation.net>, Pat Conaty <
pat.commonfutures at phonecoop.coop>, Stacco Troncoso <staccotroncoso at gmail.com>,
Kevin Flanagan <kev.flanagan at gmail.com>
Cc: e-mail robinmurray <robinmurray at blueyonder.co.uk>, John <
restakis at gmail.com>, margie mendell <mendell at alcor.concordia.ca>, David
Bollier <david at bollier.org>, Michael Lewis <Lewiscccr at shaw.ca>, Ed Mayo <
Ed.Mayo at uk.coop>, Jason Nardi <jason.nardi at gmail.com>, "
networkedlabour at lists.contrast.org" <networkedlabour at lists.contrast.org>

Hello everyone -

Best of the season to all of you and thanks for the stimulating emails! I'm
a little slow with the back-and-forth because I can only discuss these
things in a kind of long-winded way, sorry about that. I would like to
respond to Vasilis and Pat Conaty. And I would like to ask some questions.

Vasilis wrote:

 1) We chose to use the techno-economic paradigm shifts theory, and the
   Perezian framework in particular, because: i) it helps us to recognize
   the dynamic and changing nature of the capitalist system; ii) it
   embraces a mild-technodeterminism that reflects how we understand the
   various p2p-based developments; iii) it allows to develop both capitalist
   and post-capitalist scenarios (apparently, we are more focused on the
   latter) following, say, a "bird's-eye view" approach; iv) it is a well-
   established theoretical framework understood and discussed even by
   mainstream scholars (therefore, it can arguably promote the discussion
   in other circles); v) I have been a student and a collaborator of Perez

Well, I think your approach is spot on. I would be very curious to hear
from you, Vasilis, and maybe also from Robin Murray about how Perez sees
current technological and institutional developments. Although it is a bit
complicated to understand all that's implied in a long-waves perspective,
it's totally important politically and practically. Long wave theory gives
us the best framework for understanding how society changes in periods of
crisis like the present one, and also how new balances slowly emerge (or
so-called "metastabilities," that is, more or less predictable dynamics).
In my view, Perez has made a fundamental but incomplete contribution.
Perhaps her most important paper is "Structural Change and Assimilation of
New Technologies in The Economic and Social Systems," where she says this:

"We propose that the capitalist system be seen as a single very complex
structure, the sub-systems of which have different rates of change. For the
sake of simplicity we can assume two main subsystems: on the one hand a
techno-economic, and on the other a social and institutional, the first
having a much faster rate of response... A structural crisis (ie the
depression in a long wave), as distinct from an economic recession, would
be the visible syndrome of a breakdown in the complementarity between the
dynamics of the economic subsystem and the related dynamics of the
socio-institutional framework."

The reason I suggested you might gain from the ideas of Trotsky and Mandel,
as well as the historian Giovanni Arrighi, is that the socio-institutional
system has been downplayed by her, while the geopolitical or geoeconomic
framework has been left out entirely. The latter is a giant gaping hole,
since what I prefer to call the techno*political* paradigm of  Neoliberal
Informationalism has been thoroughly transnational, with a complex and
veiled economic relation between the US and China at its heart. Similarly,
Neoliberal Informationalism has depended on precarious labor and the
rollback of corporate taxation that Pat Conaty is so rightly concerned
about. At worst, the result of these ommissions in Perez's recent texts is
a kind of boosterism, which appeals to governments to provide the
(unspecified) conditions for corporate growth. Or at least, that is what I
can gather from her published work.

This has some consequences on your own theoretical framework, of course,
and I understand from the call to papers in triple-C that you have realized
this. The paper by Christian Fuchs that you reference is great, and it
really illustrates what the informational mode of production entails in
terms of global social relations. Fuch writes: "Variations of work within a
specific mode of production will be articulated, including slavery in
mineral extraction, military forms of Taylorist industrialism in hardware
assemblage, informational organisation of the productive forces of
capitalism that articulates a highly paid knowledge labour aristocracy,
precarious service workers, imperialistically exploited knowledge workers
in developing countries, along with highly hazardous informal physical
e-waste labour." For sure, many people working on commons-based initiatives
are aware of this, and that's often why they do it in the first place, so
it's important to theoretically characterize what we are really involved in
with ICTs, in order for the theorizing to be of any help in actually
getting out of those exploitative relations.

However, there is in my view a further problem in Perez's approach, which
directly affects the way she understands the present moment. If you go back
to her 2002 book, from which the figures you use are derived, you will see
a curious anomaly in the way she defines the different long waves of
industrial development. First, 1771 to 1829, the first wave calculated from
the very first steam engine - a period actually dominated by water power,
with strong technological development only at the end. Then, the Age of
Steam and railways, 1829 to 1875, or 36 years. Then, the Age of Steel,
Electricity, or Heavy Engineering, 1875 to 1908, or 33 years. Then, the Age
of Mass Manufacturing, 1908 to 1971 - that is, 63 years! Why the

What's happening here is that she has conflated what most other theorists
(notably Freeman, but also Mandel) consider to be two separate waves: one
based on steel, electricity and chemicals and extending from the end of the
1890s depression to the end of the Great Depression in the late 1930s; and
then another one extending from the early 1940s to the crisis of the 1970s.
The period of "institutional change" that she would like to see the
information economy go through right now is modeled on a moment in history
whose actual characteristics, alas, she never mentions. It's World War Two.
Creative destruction, indeed...

Well, once again, I respect Carlota Perez and think she has tremendous
insights into many things, but her idea of a mass manufacturing period
extending from 1908 to 1971, and her use of it as a model for what is
happening now, are totally unworkable for me. What's valuable in her
approach is that she is trying to bring in the importance of institutional
change, or what someone like Michel Aglietta would call a change in the
mode of regulation. Clearly this kind of change happened in the United
States during the 1930s, resulting in a new form of the industrial state
which then became hegemonic in the developed world, and served as the basis
for what we commonly think of as the Keynesian Fordist welfare states in
Europe and also in Japan. What's at stake there, however, is not just
welfare and mass manufacturing, far from it. Under the successive pressures
of the depression and then the war, the US evolved a completely new kind of
social order, essentially a corporate welfare-warfare state.

Crucially, this involved public funding and centralized coordination of
both scientific research and industrial development. Vast deficit-funded
investments were made in industrial sectors including aviation, rocketry,
nuclear weapons and power, synthetic materials, electronics (eg radar) and
the beginnings of mainframe computing. All of this provided the basis for
the capitalist expansion at the end of the war - the famous "postwar boom,"
based not just on mass manufacturing a la Henry Ford, but also on all the
new sectors which I enumerated above. Added to that was the Thirties-era
practice and ideology of the social state, with public works (notably
transport infrastructure), welfare insurance, mass education,
counter-cyclical spending, etc. This produced the globally dominant
American hegemony which is described so well by people like Robert Cox. Of
course the postwar order also included international institutions such as
the Bretton Woods monetary framework (with the IMF and World Bank) as well
as NATO, the Cold War nuclear buildup and the staggering quantity of US
troop deployments around the world. So those are some of the "institutional

It should be clear that what I have just described cannot be successfully
reduced to a schematized "turning point" between the "frenzy" and "synergy"
phases of a "mass manufacturing paradigm." Instead, in the 1930s and 40s
you are looking at an historically singular process whereby the old
organizational form (assmbly-line manufacturing, Ford's crucial innovation)
can only be maintained and developed through the introduction of new
institutional / governmental logics and new technology sets. In my view,
something on a similar scale happened in the 1970 and 80s, and it's
happening today. Under very different conditions, with very different
contents, but with comparable risks and uncertainties.

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