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"P2P Foundation" - 3 new articles

  1. The revolt against financial predation in Greece is a historic turning point in the awakening of European peoples
  2. Kevin Carson on Bitcoin and the Phyles: dystopia or utopia?
  3. Blue Labour’s relational state, a partner state?
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The revolt against financial predation in Greece is a historic turning point in the awakening of European peoples

“First they went for the Irish, and we did nothing; then they went for the Greeks, and we did nothing; then they went for the Spanish, and we did nothing; then they went for the Portuguese, and we did nothing; then they went for the Belgians and we did nothing … this is how Europe was destroyed and invaded, after the enemies of the people captured the EU and the European state forms.”

- history book, 2025

No, the above scenario is not going to pass, and the Greeks are fighting for all of us!

Excerpted from a very important editorial by Jerome Roose in ROARmag:

(full article with links here)

“While the world holds its breath, some smart people are finally starting to realize that this is not just a Greek crisis. Even the Wall Street Journal now seems to recognize what we have been repeating endlessly on ROAR, namely that this is not a fiscal crisis in Greece, but a financial crisis in the European banking sector:

What we have come to call the Greek crisis is, first, an international banking crisis. Like Lehman Brothers, Greece is definitely not too big to fail. It is too interconnected to fail, too interconnected to the international banking system … What we are calling the Greek crisis is also a crisis of structural economic dysfunction.

Similarly, in an editorial yesterday, The Guardian wrote that:

Discussions of the Greek debacle commonly assume that it’s a disaster made in Greece that now requires the rest of Europe to step in and sort it out. Wrong: this is a crisis of the eurozone, in which Athens is not a leading actor but merely a stage set.

Only dimly aware of the structural problems in the eurozone and the looming insolvency of some of Europe’s largest banks, EU leaders met up with some of the continent’s richest and most powerful bankers last night. In the luxurious comfort of a Roman palace, they debated how the private sector could contribute to a ‘real’ solution for the crisis.

One of the options put on the table by the French was to roll over some debt, buying Greece more time to get out of this mess. But while the idea sounds appealing in theory, even the Financial Times has recognized that “you’d have to be dropping acid to think that [this approach] is even going to do its job of buying time for the next few years.”

As the German Green Joshka Fischer pointed out in an op-ed yesterday, this leaves us with only one realistic policy option: to prepare for a controlled default. But since Europe’s leaders seem unwilling and/or incapable of even considering this as a legitimate policy option, the people are going to have to drive this option home themselves.

Unfortunately for Greece and for Europe, the only way to demand a sane solution to this overwhelming crisis right now is through a full-blown revolt against the Greek political establishment and the foreign powers to which it has been so beholden. From Syntagma Square, we are hearing nothing less than a cry for revolution.

As Costas Douzinas just put it in The Guardian:

Syntagma has become Tahrir Square in slow motion. It is a peaceful, democratic revolt that was easier to start because the fear of brutal repression is smaller, but will be harder to complete as it faces the enormous might of the European Union and global finance capital.

Whatever the outcome, in the next 48 hours, the future of Greece, Europe and the world hangs in the balance.”


Kevin Carson on Bitcoin and the Phyles: dystopia or utopia?

Kevin Carson‘s take on Bitcoin, as reproduced from The Bitcoin Sun :

“Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” was set some years after encrypted currencies and e-commerce removed most economic transactions into darknets beyond the government’s capability of monitoring and regulating, and thus caused tax bases around the world to implode. This was followed, in short order, by the collapse of most nation-states. In the ensuing Interregnum, the defunct nation-states were replaced by city-states and by networked global civil societies called “phyles.” The major phyles leased enclaves in most major city-states around the world, much as the Venetian merchant guilds leased “Venetian quarters” in the major port cities of the Mediterranean.

Membership in the phyles was voluntary, and the provision of the kinds of public services and social safety nets formerly associated with states was generally tied to voluntary membership subscriptions of some sort. This is, incidentally, the model of service-provision in some unions like the Screen Actors’ Guild. Unemployment benefits and health insurance are covered by a sliding scale premium, paid as a percentage of income when a member is working.

This has been promoted as a real-world model for darknet economies and resilient communities, in the impending age of hollow states, by such thinkers as Daniel de Ugarte and John Robb.

So you can imagine my reaction to Bitcoin, the “Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.”

Jason Calacanis and his colleagues at LAUNCH describe it as “The Most Dangerous Project We’ve Ever Seen” (May 15, 2011). Not only is it “the most dangerous open-source project ever created,” but “possibly the most dangerous technological project since the Internet itself.” It “could topple governments, destabilize economies and create uncontrollable global bazaars for contraband.”

The beauty of it is there’s no central server network to shut down. Just as with file-sharing, Bitcoin is traded from one desktop or mobile device to another via public key encryption. So, short of catching and prosecuting end-users with harsh punishments, there’s no way to stop it. And we all know how well that’s worked out for the proprietary content companies.

There are currently 6 million bitcoins, with a total value of around $40 million. Bitcoins are generated by a complicated algorithm, with the total number to top out at 21 million. After that, increases in exchange of goods and services will be offset by the appreciation of bitcoins in value and the deflation of bitcoin-denominated prices.

This fixed upper limit and the requirement for price deflation thereafter is one ground on which Bitcoin has been criticized. Another is that, since it’s not denominated in a familiar unit of measure like dollars, it’s confusing as an instrument of exchange for the average person.

As an alternative currency geek, I’d add that you can only engage in bitcoin-denominated exchange if you’ve already obtained bitcoins from previous transactions. This is definitely a downside, compared with the kinds of “mutual credit clearing networks” proposed by Tom Greco. Greco’s mutual credit isn’t a store of value from past transactions — just a measure of value for denominating exchanges of present or future goods and services. The backing comes entirely from the goods and services themselves. Even if neither party to an exchange has any credit, one party can incur a debit to her account by purchasing a good or service from another, and then remove the debit by selling a good or service of her own. The floating bank balance works exactly like a checking account, except the system permits limited negative balances for limited periods of time. Like the many local barter networks that flourished during the Depression, it’s a system for facilitating exchange even when there’s “no money.”

Despite my reservations, I consider Bitcoin to be grounds for enormous excitement. Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge calls it “the Napster of Banking” (May 11, 2011).

As Falkvinge argued, it’s usually not the most feature-rich version of a new technology that achieves the critical mass needed for popular acceptance. Rather, it’s the most user-friendly. “…It takes about ten years from conception of a technology, or an application of technology, until somebody hits the magic recipe in how to make that technology easy enough to use that it catches on. And when it does, boy, does it catch on.”

Technologies for sharing digitized music had been around for ten years when Shawn Fanning launched Napster. Video sharing had been possible for geeks for a decade when YouTube came along. Falkvinge thinks Bitcoin will do the same thing for encrypted e-currency. Bitcoin will do to banking what BitTorrent is doing to the music industry.

Here’s how Falkvinge describes the ramifications:

“The governments of the world are on the brink of losing the ability to look into the economy of their citizens. They stand to lose the ability to seize assets, they stand to lose the ability to collect debts. No application of force in the world is going to help: everything is encrypted, and destroying a computer with any amount of police firepower will accomplish zilch.

All the world’s weapons in all the world’s police hands are useless against the public’s ability to keep their cryptographic economy to themselves….

….The decentralized, uncontrollable economy where one lifetime employment is no longer central to every human being is something I’ve called the swarm economy, and I predict it will redefine society to an immensely larger extent than the ability to get rap music for free.”"

This is vitally important to a central theme in my work: the emergence of non-state spaces within which the low-overhead informal and household economy can function, outside the state’s ability to create entry barriers, impose artificial capitalization and overhead costs on low-overhead producers, and collect rent on artificial scarcity rents. It’s the enforcement of their iniquitous “laws” that prolongs the corporate dinosaurs’ feeble grip on life, and enables the usurers, landlords and proprietary content owners to collect tribute from us.

There are all sorts of possibilities for the alt economy, with a major part of economic activity taking place via an encrypted e-currency.

Until now, patents have been enforceable largely as a result of the low transaction costs involved when a handful of oligopoly producers in a given industry (who’ve often exchanged or pooled the patents) market a limited number of models of goods through mass-distribution retail chains. What happens when a garage micromanufacturer produces knockoffs of patented mass-production goods – much like the Shanzhai job shops today running knockoffs on the third shift, but with only 10k worth of homebrew CNC machinery that can be bought for three or four months’ factory wages – and there’s no verifiable record of the purchases?

What happens when the unemployed and underemployed start taking advantage of the technical possibilities for low-overhead household microenterprise, in defiance of zoning and licensing and bogus “safety” and “health” standards whose real purpose is to impose artificially high capitalization and overhead costs and make it impossible to stay in business without a sufficient revenue stream to amortize them? Say hello to household micro-bakeries using ordinary kitchen ovens, home-based cab services using the family car, household daycare and beauty salons, raw milk and meat from animals without RFID chips, etc. — all bartering with each other and with those above-mentioned garage manufacturers in an encrypted darknet economy. And all while the state, aka the executive committee of the ruling class, blindly gropes in the dark to prevent it.

The biggest effect of file-sharing was to destroy all the artificial scarcity rents of the content owners and cause an entire sector of the economy to implode to marginal reproduction cost. As Chris Anderson said, atoms also want to be free — they’re just not as pushy about it.

Bitcoin’s importance can’t be exaggerated. Encrypted currency has been at the Altair stage of development. If Bitcoin isn’t actually the Apple II – and it may not be – we’re very close to it. If Bitcoin isn’t the Messiah of the darknet economy, at the very least it’s John the Baptist preaching its immanent arrival.”


Blue Labour’s relational state, a partner state?

Jon Wilson explains the relational bias of Blue Labour and its conception of the state, which is quite related to our own conception of the Partner State.

Excerpted from a Open Democracy debate:

“The problem is that left-liberal politics imagines abstract values rather than strong relationships bind us to act together for the common good. The purpose of Blue Labour is to remind us how weird that is. Practically and theoretically, it points out what it might be like to live a Labour politics based on reciprocity and solidarity rather than abstract norms that have no real meaning in people’s lives.

For me, Blue Labour combines a challenge to capitalism with a belief that the state doesn’t have all the answers. That’s an attractive political philosophy for an activist and academic who’s never sure whether he’s on the left or right of the Labour party. But it isn’t just about political thought. It’s also about renewing real relationships that stretch across the Labour party and beyond. As a participant in discussion which led to the Soundings e-book ‘The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox’ and since, its been an honour to be part of some of the new connections and conversations that have the greatest chance now of renewing the Labour party. As a historian, my role in the Blue Labour enterprise has been to remind the politicians and political theorists of something which Saul Alinsky and Michel Foucault would have agreed: power has always only ever been relational. It’s relationships, not just values, which change real people’s lives.

Alan Finlayson argues in his wonderful post ‘Making Sense of Maurice Glasman’ that Blue Labour’s emphasis on relationships and reciprocity rather than abstract values makes it disconcerting for many Labour people. For both Finlayson and Stuart White, it is Blue Labour’s hostile relationship to liberal universalism that is at issue. Finlayson suggests that this hostility will ensure Blue Labour’s take up is limited. As he notes, “Blue Labour has inadvertently proven just how hard it is in England to think beyond the assumptions of the Liberal tradition”. White, by contrast, asks for Blue Labour’s celebration of the history of local political struggle to be blended with a left-liberal tradition of universal rights, that has Thomas Paine at its centre. Neither are right, I think, because they over-estimate the power of liberal concepts to explain how people actually live their lives.

To judge when and how it should act, what I’d call the Liberal/Fabian state relies on abstract values that impose universal rules. These days, its sole criteria for success are statistics. As I was told by the Chief Executive of the authority where I was once a councillor a few years ago, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.

Maurice Glasman and the group who’ve come together under the banner ‘Blue Labour’ argue that this political philosophy is, literally, worthless. The free market and the centralised, statistically-obsessed state try to subordinate the local peculiarities of life to universal values, whether those values are established by the price mechanism or a language of universal rights. In reality our lives only make sense within concrete contexts and relationships. If the market or centralised state annihilate those local contexts, life literally loses its meaning. Happily – and this is our source of hope – such devastation happens rarely.

Following Karl Polanyi, Glasman goes on to argue that local organisation doesn’t only sustain the skills and virtues which makes life meaningful, but the cash values that allow the market economy to work. Markets are only sustainable when they’re driven by what Finlayson describes as “real production carried out by real people making things that they care about”.

Alan Finlayson’s sharpest point is to note that this is an ‘ontological’ critique of capitalism: to believe money is the source of value or power is to believe something wrong rather than bad. But the point can be extended to encompass the critique that Glasman and others offer of liberal politics more generally. The problem with the liberal idea of the identical, relation-less self-determining individual is not that it is bad (although it is that) but that it is a false description of the way human beings act.

My point here is that Blue Labour is not offering an alternative vision of how the world should be, nor is it harking back to a by-gone past. What it argues is that politicians should use the resources of a forgotten Labour tradition to describe the way the world is now. Its realistic capacity of describing how people actually are is why I’m far more optimistic than Finlayson about its chance to politically succeed.”

The anti Liberal-Labour Ontology of Blue Labour: choosing relationships and reciprocity over abstract rights and ideals

“So what does this anti-liberal Labour ontology look like? I’d like to emphasise two aspects. First of all, Blue Labour starts with the fact that human existence happens in relationships. Everyday life, from birth to death, is structured by the way we relate to other people, whether our parents, lovers, children, colleagues or friends. The passions and reasons that drive our politics are rooted in the concrete relational connections we have with others. It is only after having a politically relevant relationship that we can talk of abstract moral values to start with, even if that simply means (as is rarely the case) a friend gives us a work of political philosophy which inspires us, or a hostile relationship to a figure in authority. The stories people tell about why they are Labour always begin with an account of the concrete relations with others.

This emphasis on the centrality of relationships does not make Blue Labour a branch of ‘communitarian’ political thought, as both Alan Finlayson and Stuart White think. Finlayson is wrong to suggest Glasman “fall[s] back on the notion of a natural community” for example. Blue Labour’s political philosophers – Jonathan Rutherford and Marc Stears as well as Glasman – use the word ‘relationship’ far more often than ‘community’ in the recent Soundings e-book. ‘Community’ has a nebulous abstraction that contradicts Blue Labour’s concrete sensibility.

Unlike communities, relationships occur all around us, and they provide the basis for challenging the dominance of unrestrained capitalism. Most people most of the time are doing things which are not ruled by the instrumental logic of the market, or its statist surrogate. And both the market and state rely on relationships that contradict the official logic of each. The question is how, in increasingly difficult times, those relationships allow us to do more than barely survive, and create lives in which we flourish and find true meaning and fulfilment.

Blue Labour’s argument is that for that to happen, the kind of relationships which allow the good life to thrive need to be organised in institutions which provide a basis for common action. What matters is not an institution’s formal structure or the abstract principles supposed to rule it, but how far it brings disparate people together in solidarity and friendship to act together for the common good.

Our everyday lives are full of countless moments, in many institutions where there is the potential to do this – where, in other words, relationships of friendship and solidarity exist that might become the basis for common action. Faith groups, which often actively nurture solidarity, are one starting point. It is faith’s distance from the liberal official discourse of politics that makes it such a powerful starting point for political action. But they are many others: the informal networks that young parents create at the school gates; the pub or the coffee shop; the extended family; the alternative family structures of gay and lesbian life; the conviviality which still exists at the margins of the workplace; as Daniel Hodges notes even that most unlikely place, the shopping mall. Faced with the capitalist, bureaucrat and manager’s ever greater demand that we produce abstract, meaningless value, human beings nonetheless possess the remarkable capacity to create meaningful forms of common life.

We aren’t so atomised common action is impossible. There are places where that may be the case – former Labour heartlands where the demise of dominant industries and reliance on nothing but an utterly un-relational state has devastated collective. But in most places, solidarity exists – it’s just the liberal (and neo-liberal) official language of politics make it hard to recognise. The assumption that our polity is made up of nothing but individuals on the one hand and the state on the other allows us to ignore the places where collective action already wields power, for good or ill. It allows us to forget the extraordinary lobbying force of the City of London for example. More importantly, it fails to recognise where people who feel they can’t make a difference are able to develop their existing relationships into power that can challenge the commodification of everything around them.”

The State

“The challenge, I think, is how the state might be organised to nurture common life rather than annihilate it. That needs a democratic central power which strongly leads, but which recognises that its role is to coordinate and balance between institutions that are closer to people’s lives than it is. But ways need to be found to root public institutions within the balance of interests that exist in local society. Maurice Glasman proposes the creation of public bodies owned and controlled by a partnership between the state, workers and local citizens, and the growing number of Cooperative schools have put a similar model into practice. Such a model rejects a simplistic opposition between local and centralised control, and formalises the actual partnership between funders, workers and users which public service delivery in practice relies on. Again, Blue Labour proposes reforms which reflect how we actually are.

What matters is practical relationship-building within public institutions and the real not merely formal incorporation of citizens into decision-making at every scale. What White describes as “a democracy of confident popular self assertion” can only be built by developing strong relationships and common life in the institutions of a particular place – something our short-term political and governmental culture makes almost entirely impossible. As well as constitutional change, local democracy requires stability and the art of good local leadership over the very long term. Instead of political science or management studies, the knowledge which the art of politics relies on is necessarily historical.”


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