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The Emergence of Benefit Driven Production

The Emergence of Benefit Driven Production

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Published by Ephraim Davis
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Published by: Ephraim Davis on Jul 04, 2012
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The Emergence o Beneft-driven Production
Christian Siefkes
http://www.keimorm.de/
Abstract.
The ree sotware and ree culture movements have radi-cally changed the ways o producing sotware and knowledge goods. Inmany cases, participation in such project is benet-driven rather thanprot-driven. Participants get involved in order to realize some practi-cal or social benet, not because o monetary gains. Another diferencerom market- and rm-based production is that peer production is non-hierarchical: people voluntarily cooperate as peers; there are no xed em-ployer/employee or client/contractor relationships. And peer productionis based on commons: goods which are jointly developed and maintainedby a community and which are shared according to community-denedrules.Peer production is not just about producing knowledge: Hackerspacesand Fab Labs are the rst orerunners o a commons-based productioninrastructure. While commons-based peer production reaches beyondcapitalism, the preconditions o its development are created by capitalismitsel. The paradoxical relationship o capitalism to human labor leadsto developments that might make the concept o labor (as we know ittoday) obsolete, and with it capitalism itsel.
Keywords:
peer production, benet-driven production, commons, com-monism, stigmergy, capitalism
1 Beneft-driven Production
The
ree sotware
and
ree culture movements
have radically changed the waysof producing software and knowledge goods. These changes have caused somemarkets—such as those for Internet software, programming tools and encyclo-pedias—to shrink considerably or disappear altogether. These areas have be-come dominated by free programs such as Apache, Firefox, WordPress, non-proprietary programming languages such as Python, open development environ-ments such as Eclipse, and by the free Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. Theyhave largely driven out competing offers which (as usual in capitalism) are onlyavailable for sale.Sometimes, free software is produced by companies that use it to indirectlymake money, e.g. by selling support, documentation, or suitable hardware. Butmany projects are driven by communities of people that contribute voluntarilyand without pay. Participants may be motivated by the desire to use the softwarethey help creating or they may simply enjoy doing what they do. Others partic-ipate in order to improve their knowledge, to demonstrate their skills, or to give
 
2 Christian Siekes
something back to the community (Lakhani and Wolf 2005). Free software andfree culture projects are thus frequently
beneft-driven 
rather than
proft-driven 
:Participants get involved in order to realize some practical or social benefit (get-ting useful software, learning, getting community recognition, doing somethingpleasurable), not because of monetary gains.Modern, neoclassical economy theory sees companies as a means of reducingso-called transaction costs (Coase 1937). As a company owner, I can assign tasksto my staff instead of having to buy and negotiate each small service individually.The employees benefit by knowing in advance how much they will earn, insteadof having to sell themselves day by day in the market, with uncertain results.But they have to accept subordinate positions in a hierarchy and must followthe orders of the management. Market relations, on the other hand, take partbetween actors who are formally (though often not actually) equal, but they arealways merely functional: I’m not interested in the others as human beings, Imerely see them as potential trading partners, potential buyers and sellers.Standard neoclassical theory doesn’t know ways of interaction beyond themarket and the firm, but the communities of people who produce on the ba-sis of voluntary cooperation indicate that it missed something. Since everybodyparticipates voluntarily, nobody can order the others around. The term
peer production 
has been coined by Yochai Benkler (2006) to express this stark con-trast to the hierarchical nature of firms: participants work together on an equalfooting, as peers.And in contrast to the market, others aren’t merely potential trading part-ners, but people cooperating with me in order to reach a common goal. Peerproduction is based on contributions, not on exchange. And while trade (ex-change) tends to be a zero-sum game, contributing isn’t. If I make a “gooddeal,” it quite often means that my trading partner made a bad one. But if somebody contributes something useful, everybody wins.A world where producers have to sell what they produce and users have tobuy what they want to use, inevitably creates antagonisms. One person’s incomeis another person’s cost. And an increased market share for one producer meansthat the others producing the same goods will earn less, hence producers areforced to compete with each other. The same conflict of interest as betweensellers and buyers in general exists between employees and employers: the formerwant to sell their labor power as dearly as possible, while the latter strive for amaximum of labor at minimal cost. Benefit-driven production doesn’t know theseantagonisms, since fulfilling my needs doesn’t have to come at the cost of yourneeds. On the contrary, peer production works so well because the participantshelp each other to reach their goals and fulfill their needs. Everybody benefits.
2 Voluntary Production or Others
Benefit-driven production shouldn’t be misunderstood as production merely foroneself. It is true that peer producers often begin by “scratching a [...] personalitch,” as Eric Raymond (2001) put it; but at the same time, what they do is also
 
The Emergence o Benet-driven Production 3
useful for others. And people frequently engage not because of their consumptionneeds, but because of their productive needs: They contribute because they enjoythe tasks they are doing, because they learn something, or because they want togive something back to the other contributors.The fact that peer production is always production for others refutes thepopular conception that without a market system, people would have to fallback into some kind of Robinson mode: Everybody would only produce for them-selves or their family and large-scale cooperation would cease to exist. It’s prettyclear that such a solitary way of production wouldn’t get one very far. Anotherwell-known alternative are centralized planned economies—the former “real so-cialism.” In such economies, society as a whole functions like a big company.Management (the planners) decides what should be done, assigns the requiredtasks, and monitors that they are executed correctly. This alternative hasn’tworked well in the past and doesn’t sound very attractive: You are still a de-pendent employee (though now of the state) and must follow the orders of yoursuperiors.Peer production, on the other hand, is production for others which is neitherbased on coercion nor motivated by monetary gain. Peers produce for othersbecause they can, and because it is a way for them to find further contributors.The more people use the results of a project, the more potential contributorsexist, since people who decide to join forces as occasional or regular contributorsare typically already users of the project they choose to support. If a projectdoesn’t share with others by coproducing for them, it endangers its opportunityto win new members.To distribute tasks, peer producers use an open process that has becomeknown as “stigmergy” (cf. Heylighen 2007). Participants leave hints (Greek
stig-mata 
) on started or desired activities, encouraging others to follow these hintsand take care of the desired tasks. Such hints, e.g. to-do lists and bug reports insoftware projects and “red links” pointing to missing articles in the Wikipedia,constitute an important part of the communication.All participants follow the hints that interest them most. This leads to anautomatic prioritization of tasks (the more people care for a task, the more likelyit is to be picked up by somebody). It also ensures that the different talents andskills of contributors are applied in a more or less optimal way (since peopletend to pick up those tasks they think they are good at). And since everybodyis free in choosing the tasks they want to do, participants will generally be moremotivated than in a market-based system or a planned economy, where theyhave to follow the orders of their supervisor or client.
3 The Emergence o a Commons-based ProductionInrastructure
Peer production is thus radically different from the “normal,” market- and firm-based mode of production that dominates our society. Production is mainly for

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