p2p is EITHER Pay to Peer OR it is Peers to Precarity


Paul Krugman is right to say that the cancellation of Google Reader provides yet another demonstration of the failure of private profitability to provide for the maintenance of public goods, even though I disagree that it seems hard in the least "to envision search and related functions as public utilities," which is indeed "where th[is] logic will eventually take us." Although such conclusions do take us far afield from the assumptions and aspirations that drive the common wisdom of the catastrophically failed generation of neoliberal digital-utopian irrational exuberance, it is just as true that they return us to terms that should be familiar from Econ 101.

I argue that the free creative content provision, collaborative problem-solving and editing, citizen journalism and criticism facilitated by peer-to-peer networks provides public goods the ongoing support of which more than justifies the provision of a universal basic income guarantee (BIG). I argue, further, that a long history of public subsidization of communications infrastructure (the post office, roads, telegraphy, telephony, the internet) and of public education to facilitate continental-scaled good governance among a well-informed citizenry since the founding era offers a congenial context for the comparable case for a public subsidization of "free time" for citizens in the expectation that enough of them would fill it with innovative problem solving and network maintenance that it would more than compensate the public investment. In the past I have called arguments of this kind an advocacy of pay to peer.

I still think this case is a good one, but since a basic income guarantee would also happen to function, as Erik Olin Wright has pointed out, as the public subsidization of a permanent strike fund for all people who work for a living, this means that any such public recognition of the value of peer-to-peer collaboration is more or less tantamount to establishing socialism of a sort. Again, I personally think this consequence is perfectly acceptable, even welcome, but the experience of a lifetime of advocacy for single payer healthcare in the US makes me doubt that this logically inescapable optimally beneficial outcome is even remotely politically possible here at any rate.

However, I think the contours of this kind of argument also do provide new justifications for considerably expanded public grants for research in professional, academic, and amateur contexts with the proviso that all the results are placed in the public domain. This is a policy that might yield plenty of wholesome benefits without unleashing the stoopids. Given the resulting invigoration of public education, funding for the arts, re-stocking of the creative commons, I think virtuous circles arising out of this more modest form of pay-to-peer are more than worth the effort of the fight for it and, heck, might even get us closer to BIG anyway after all (no doubt, as usual, Michele Bachmann will grasp this dire consequence before anybody else does).

I think this rhetoric provides an unexpected added rationale for lowering the retirement age, since publicly valuable p2p-mediated creativity is such a likely recourse for retirees seeking new forms of fulfillment. (By the way, lowering the retirement age and expanding Medicare eligibility by from two to six years is something I think should be done as a straightforward spur to employment in our present flabbergastingly urgent jobs crisis, precisely the opposite of the macroeconomically illiterate and pathologically cruel recommendations of a consensus of well-off experts whose misplaced concern with long-term deficits supplemented by phony futurological handwaving about techno-utopian eternal youth are demanding instead, of course, a raising of the retirement age for chronically under-paid under-benefited folks who actually have to work for a living.)

I would note that in the absence of public subsidization of p2p-mediated creativity and problem solving what has taken place instead is the perfectly predictable intensive corporate capture via crowdsourcing of unpaid disseminated labor. MOOCs, the latest idiotic fad of the ever more corporatized university represents, of course, an effort to apply this kind of wealth capture in the context of the hitherto stubbornly unprofitable ivory tower, transforming vital and unique face-to-face collaborations in classrooms into indefinite distributions of syndicated network television.

As a corollary to my advocacy of pay-to-peer -- that is to say, my advocacy of public investment and subsidization of peer-to-peer creative problem solving, expressivity, criticism, and network maintenance whether in the strong form of the provision of a universal basic income guarantee or in the modest form of massively expanded public grants for actual peer-to-peer efforts the results of which are entered into the public domain -- I have also proposed that all contemporary consumers might well be conceived of as de facto experimental animals in a vast and ongoing experiment concerning the long term health effects of complex combinations of pharmaceutical treatments coupled with exposure to innumerable artificial substances. It seems to me that since we experimental citizen-subjects provide indispensable data supporting the profitability of pharmaceutical and other manufacturing concerns the reasonable demand for compensation provides yet another justification for a basic income or at any rate for a single-payer healthcare system.

What I would emphasize is just how closely the logic of this second, apparently unrelated, argument tracks the logic of the initial case I made for pay-to-peer, but also that the absence so far of any institutionalized compensation (apart from sporadic payouts from lawsuits when things go terribly wrong) for the indispensable data we are providing corporate-military interests at the literal risk of our lives has not protected our privacy from unprecedented levels of corporate-military surveillance and targeted marketing practices.

From all of these instances an urgent generalization emerges soon enough: In the absence of its public subsidization peer to peer collaboration is always accompanied by increasing precarity. Whenever and wherever peer-to-peer labor formations are celebrated (for their "open access," for their "flexibility," for their "resilience," for their "innovation"), but this celebration is not just as repeatedly and explicitly accompanied by the recognition that this provision of services and maintenance of public goods is almost certainly unpaid labor, then one must read such celebrations for what they are, as celebrations of exploitation.

p2p means EITHER Paid to Peer OR it means Peers to Precarity. The politics are as stark as that, and the evidence of their urgency mounts by the minute.

Also published at Amor Mundi.


Is this the World Future Society? You're pragmatic! Wow!

Finally, I have found a voice of sanity in the wilderness! I didn't expect it to be here. Most futurists are Kurzweil types. No, that's too harsh; he is humane, decent.

These are the real source of tzuris: The MOOC advocates who say teachers will be superfluous, the exponentially proliferating for-profit 501(c)(4) corporations-cum-private foundations that promote social bonds (a.k.a. venture capitalists without the honesty), the privatizers of public education, of everything. They are dogmatic, and humorless; as self-righteous as Constitutional law scholars are entitled to be, but rarely are. Libertarians, neo-con's, neo-liberal's, whatever, are rarely attorneys or experts in Constitutional law or history. They're usually technocrats or technophiles that condemn all history and liberal arts study as useless! Plenty condemn physics, mathematics and computer science education too.

You don't write like that! I read three of your posts. Sometimes, I worry that members of the ACM, Association for Computing Machinery, who are currently teachers or professors, Lord Rees (Astronomer Royal, but not ethereal at all) and a handful of others, that now includes you, are the only reasonable people left on Earth. It is like a mass delusion, what with Bitcoin and idolatry of "disruptive" technologies such as so-called native advertising, which is a euphemism for (online) newspaper articles that are actually advertisements for products, written by company representatives. Disruption is not inherently good! It can be bad, regressive, recidivist, atavistic instead of progressive. Crowd sourcing is bad too! Sadly, it has become a synonym for unpaid labor by any other name. Jimmy Wales even says so. He's right.

Salman Khan and other soi-disant "innovators" of the "artisan economy" are deluded or exploitative. "Artisan economy" is bad! I don't want feudalism. I don't want to be a serf like my great-great grandparents were in the Ukraine. Nor do I want robot physicians if I'm ill. I don't want hedge fund overlords. Everyone else thinks that's awesome though.

Google is choosing to do what it always had the right to do, i.e. shutting down Google Reader, but rarely exercised, namely, to discontinue free services. Some respond with,

"Adapt or die! Stop being a freeloader!"

That rankles, even when it is applied to consumer users. After all, consumers, and even small business users do pay, with the tracking of preference data collected during use of Google services. Google didn't even choose to make Reader available for purchase, which is my response to accusations of "free loader".

What of organizations such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who depended on Google Reader? That just makes my heart ache, that Sloan-Kettering is left scrambling for a replacement for Google Reader-type services. To any who say, "Adapt or die... it's their own fault for depending on free Google services", remember, Sloan-Kettering is not "them", it exists for "us". The U.S. government has an enormous risk exposure due to dependence on free Google services that are not contractually assured. The same is true with Wikipedia. The Wikipedia risk is different, based on false belief in getting something for nothing indefinitely, without oversight. But it isn't financial exposure. Google is more problematic.

Thank you so much for your posts. You are rational, sensible, compassionate, humorous, congenial! Maybe... there is hope.
~~ lux et veritas ~~

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