Economic Commons Sense

Danfox Davies's picture

2007 Todmorden Boundary Walk

This picture is by me, from 2007 Todmorden Boundary Walk. (Sun, 06 May 2007  11:46:51). The Boundary Walk is held annually as a symbolic reminder of those who trampled the enclosures - and theoretically for the purpose of doing so again, should the need arise, though the commons' boundaries have remained fairly stable for some time now. This particular image shows the tiny figure of a hiker by the Stoodley Pike Monument (built in the time of the 1800s' disputes about commons enclosure) on Langfield Common, from the vantage point of a road forming the boundary on the other side of the valley. The marked difference between the medieval fields, the larger later enclosures with their straight edges on the hillsides and the remnant, one-time acid rain damaged common peat & millstone-grit moorland above, is striking.

 

“Sharing is Caring!” We proudly proclaim on our t-shirts, banners, posters, websites and all manner of other things. How?

Surely, as those poor old record companies gasp for financial breath and Hollywood makes its last films before its studios shut, we should take good long hard looks at ourselves. Home taping DID kill music, after all, right?

“Internet killed the video star, but telepathy killed the internet star!” - Men Without Hats

Let's have a reality check here. Sweep aside all the FUD, the lawyers and meaningless claims of theoretical lost wealth, of gains never made somehow being pulled from beneath the feet of these businesses, sweep aside the rhetoric and the condescending 'you wouldn't steal a car' adverts and let's call this what it is. It's economics, stupid. Let me explain.

Supply and demand. These two are always coupled in economics, the yin and yang of capitalism. Too much of one without enough of another disrupts industry. Every industry in the world is currently either on the brink of or in the midst of disruption. Why? Supply. Lots of supply. 'Mountains' of food being artificially held back and destroyed, plenty of clean, renewable energy giving oil firms a rush to sell off their reserves before the price of oil hits zero, and information that is in infinite supply as soon as it is created. Let me say that again:

ALL INFORMATION IS IN INFINITE SUPPLY

the moment it is created, because someone will put it on the internet.

What happens when you have an infinite supply? Well, it would not mean a lot if you had infinite demand. The thing is, although our population including the proportion of them which is connected to the net is increasing very fast, very fast does not an infinity make. The only thing limiting supply of information on the internet is the appetite to take it, the demand (and a few doomed artificial demand modifiers such as repressive dictatorships, TPP, TTIP and so forth). The price of information has not just dropped to zero, it has become negative. We have reached an age where your time and attention are paid for by companies, but instead of paying you they pay for the increasingly meaningless promises of ever-more desperate advertising and PR agencies. The reason Google is so big is because it found a way to couple your attention with a useful service, searching through that vast supply of information. However, as search itself is now an infinitely available type of information, Google is only still existent by its own inertia, and the same goes for all companies that try to profit from information this way. Google's moonshots are as desperate as they are interesting and amazing. It as a company knew it was doomed in the long term from the off. So kudos, Google, I presume you must have a plan for this data ubiquity demise, whereupon you are hoist by your own petard. Other industry giants and associations, alas, are somewhat less prescient or at least less willing to act on their realisations that the future contains no status quo for them.

AARON SWARTZ WAS RIGHT

And you can't handle that if you're a scientific publisher, can you? Not only does the information come to these publishers through the compounded efforts of science too thick and fast to print, such that this information is basically free, but because of wanting to filter which information they present based on their own flawed (by way of 'prestige', arbitration with the potential for bias and artificial capacity limitations) idea of what the world at large needs to see with their official name put to it, these publishers charge scientists to be printed. And I don't want to kill peer review as a credible, unbiased system of information dissemination; publishers have already done that. “You have an informational (near-) infinity? You'll have to pay us to shift it”. Now that seems fair enough, but what you DON'T then do is charge for the distribution of that information on the other side as if your filtration is somehow more valid than that of your reader-customers. You have basically acknowledged that the price of information is LESS THAN ZERO, so HOW DARE YOU CHARGE TWICE for it? Even eBay, classic intermediaries (and up for disintermediation themselves), don't charge twice for the same sale, they place the fee on the buyer OR the seller's side, not both. If you, the scientific publishers, are charging people to buy your infinitely reproducible PDFs, it is only out of trying to create an artificial bottleneck in the supply and not out of a natural limitation. History teaches us that time and again, such bottlenecks are always doomed.

Even the 'series of tubes' analogy of the internet is flawed, as it suggests a limited capacity. Funny, given that the cable company keep just dialling the speed on up on those same copper cables they always had. These tubes don't keep growing wider, there's just someone sat on the taps. Why are there even taps? Well, I'm sure you can tell from the rest of this article what I am saying about ISPs. The thing is, again, we will [various links to decentralised internet systems eg. Tor, Zeronet, etc route around these (link is just an example) imposed bottlenecks.

Patents are a stunningly misused example of this imposition of bottlenecks. In effect, a patent is an acknowledgement of the infinite availability of information, be it printed or electronic, and then sets a time limit to the inventor to have control over the use of their design so that they have half a chance to make it do what they want it to do. IT IS NOT a cash cow, IT IS NOT a monopoly to extend as long as you can get away with, and IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FOR SALE. If the original inventor no longer needs a particular patent, it should become public domain, an open patent, because to sell it is to presume gains from something unproven and is to place a value on information that DECREASES its actual worth (and drug patents kill people). If you actually drop the selfishness and think of the survival and prosperity of everybody collectively,

INFORMATION IS WORTH FAR MORE TO US FREE THAN IT IS BEHIND A PAYWALL.

If you want to make a living off making information available, you can cover the ACTUAL COST of that work a little with with donations, but far more with the INFORMATION THAT YOU GET IN RETURN. Everyone who takes part in the internet contributes to it, and cat memes are just as important as cancer-curing science, because who are you to judge whether that cat meme didn't just brighten someone's day enough to prevent a tragedy? The internet needs humour and 'pointless' things. There is a demand, so there is a supply. And because of how the internet connects us all using machines that can copy data infinitely, that is an infinite supply at the same cost to the information's creator as sending the data to one other person.

It is therefore economic common sense that several of the industries we prop up today with our continued patronage are unsustainable, their perceived worth is another bubble and it will pop. We need to get off this drug of artificially restricting our own vital supplies just to feel the buzz of seeing someone get rich, because what is a profit forecast based on sale of information but an artificial bottleneck under construction? Or to put it in medieval terms, it is inclosure of the commons. Things that are available to all ought not be fenced off. Because these (data) commons are infinitely large, this means the industries of this world are virtually building a fence around the people, trapping us in their drip-fed factory-farm so they can milk us for our cash, and feeding to us at a price the ideas and imagination we are so being denied the ability to create for ourselves, through an illusion that anything that costly must be difficult to think of or do! Look at the amazing James Dyson, Richard Branson and Elon Musk! Shh! Don't tell anybody that they actually have the ability to think more freely than any of those people themselves, they might just rise to the challenge!

BUT ISN'T THAT COMMUNISM?

Not like any communism I've ever heard of in practise. Seriously, has genuine communism ever existed on this planet? Even if it did, it would be a flawed notion, because it misses the voluntary aspect out. Communism as we know it isn't what it was supposed to be because it isn't possible for it to work the way it was intended. Instead, it's dictatorships with massive control apparatuses. Capitalism as we know it isn't what it was supposed to be either, it too is a form of soft dictatorship with control apparatuses formed from the corporations. If we had true free markets and if we had true communism, the two would bring us to the same thing!

VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONISM.

Funnily enough, with the advent of cryptocurrencies and peer to peer everything, we are getting to a point now where we can start to circumvent these bottlenecks and inclosures not one at a time, but en masse. The true value of infinite information is not just that it is free due to quantity, but that it sets us all free. The only people who control what information gets on the internet should be the original sources, and the only means of information control should be the private, un-tampered-with individual choice of what is converted one way or another from thought to publicly available. Not money, not secret police silencing people, not extortion or threats, not violence or propaganda, not your government, not your 'boss' (what an old fashioned notion), and not that horrible thing that leaches common sense, 'reputation'! Your reputation is only any good if it speaks the truth, warts and all, and includes those times when people got the wrong end of the stick, rather than hides them. If you manipulate it, you have lost it already. Like all other information, it needs to be free from inclosure. Blockchains and peer to peer cryptocurrencies allow people a way to escape the reputation-laden system to a means of transacting and interacting without the need for trust whilst money and power are still involved.

This does not mean we cannot work together. This does not mean we cannot have companies. This does not mean we cannot persuade one another to unite around common goals to make big ideas happen. It just means it's high time we learn to respect intellectual commons as the common good they do, not as property. Property is a physical object or other thing that can only be made once and that is impossible to duplicate infinitely without infinite cost. Yes, data does cost something to duplicate, in the use of electricity and the eventual replacement of computer equipment and in storage, that's why it is now of negative monetary value. We have so much of it we don't know what to do with it all. But that cost of duplication is a cost to the end user, not to the author, so it's high time authors recognised that they get their value back from the other free information out there and publishers step out of the way altogether as unnecessary intermediaries. What we need instead now are curators, not as guardians of inclosure or reputation, but as unobstructive collectors and sharers of interesting combinations, to find new meanings and ideas and to be inventors themselves. Want a model for civilised sharing and contributions? Look to Opensimulator. We have been simulating free society there for years. It works. People and companies contribute time and effort for no monetary gain. They gain far more valuable ideas and inspiration instead.

Let's roll this out.
Let's share with one another.
Let's be free.
Let's have some Commons Sense.
Let's be Pirates.

(Possible new tagline: The Pirate Party: It's Commons Sense).