--- Appendix F ---

The ascendency of the
self-organizing moneyless economy

Ben Seattle speculates on some of the ways that
the self-organzing moneyless economy may unfold
as it overtakes and overwhelms the commodity economy
in the period following the overthrow of bourgeois rule

Daniel asks:

If you still believe that exchange itself is the origin of exploitation, then explain precisely how it is that we go from exchange-economy to gift-economy. You have stated that this will happen, but as far as I can tell havenít explained how.

Ben replies:

There is no way it is possible to be precise. I can present some speculative ideas for how this may be likely to unfold. At the best, this would be intelligent guesswork because the particular methods of transition that work best will likely be determined experimentally as a result of many thousands (or millions) of competing projects--most of which will fail.

From theoretical grounds, I have concluded that the gift economy (ie: the self-organizing moneyless economy) represents humanity's future. An economy without any kind of exchange is the only way to achieve final liberation from the laws of commodity production and create an economy on the basis of Marx's principle: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

It is also clear that the transition will be in the context of a workers' state which carefully uses the resources of the commodity-based economy (which it will inherit from bourgeois-dominated society) to nourish the long-term growth of the gift economy--in the same way that the white of an egg nourishes the growing chick.

But that's the easy part.

The particularities of the transition are enormously more complex and I doubt that they can be understood very well on the basis of theory alone. Clauswitz (a theorist of warfare in the 1800's) said it best: "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

So what follows will, at best, be vague and include a lot of guesswork.

1. Information sector likely to emerge as working class fortress

Even under bourgeois rule there will be a lot of information-based projects that will be very successful. The success of Linux against against Microsoft's Windows will be followed by the success of progressive, democratically-run interactive news networks against those of the mainstream corporate media. I would expect that, even under bourgeois rule--there will be many successes in the entertainment sector--as the revolution in communications brings us cheap, unlimited bandwidth and small, cheap, portable and easy-to-use devices of every description.

Bourgeois-funded entertainment is not aimed simply at making a profit--but performs a social function: keeping the masses passive and ignorant--and sometimes terrified--and always ready to buy products from advertizers or go out shopping. (There are exceptions of course--but I am discussing the more typical stuff.) Entertainment created by worker-controlled networks will also have a social function: to raise the consciousness of the working class about how society works: about history and science and, in particular, the class struggle and the historic mission of the working class to push the bourgeoisie aside and create a world of peace and abundance for all.

This trend will continue after the overthrow of bourgeois rule and I consider it reasonable to expect that the information, software and media sectors will be among the first to be dominated by worker-controlled projects that are part of the gift economy--and that this strategic sector will then function as a working class fortress that will help the decades-long assault on the commodity economy.

2. Funding levels--will start small

But most of the goods and servives that we need are not based on software or information alone. After the overthrow of bourgeois rule the workers' state will fund numerous experimental projects that create material goods and services.

What will the level of funding for support or subsidy be? My guess is that in the first decade or two it might be somewhere between 5% and 20% of the national budget (ie: the budget of the workers' state--derived from tax revenue). And probably closer, at first, to 5% (or less) because it would be very easy to throw money away on projects that are poorly organized and run by unreliable or incompetent people (or not run by anyone at all because of constant infighting and squabbles). After experience is gained and lessons learned and the majority of the population has seen tangible results (in the form of useful products or services created by the gift economy) popular sentiment may be willing to increase the funding to the 20% level. My guess is that this level of success might take ten years to achieve. (Note: I picked ten years mainly because it is a round number--and because five years seemed too optimistic and twenty years too pessimistic--but this is still nothing but guesswork.)

3. Who runs the show?

We can ask in what ways some of the early projects of the gift economy might be similar to (or different from) the "publics works" projects that were organized in the US during the 1930's Depression.

Many of these projects would be likely to:
(a) focus on useful tangible things for public consumption: maybe building public housing or parks
(b) make use of a workforce that is either part-time volunteers (who, for example, hold a regular job in the commercial sector of the economy) or full-time workers who will receive a standard, uniform substinence allowance.

The main difference between these types of projects and Depression-era public works projects--will be who runs them. These projects will be run by the people who work on them together with guidence from the population at large (who will follow the successes, or failures, of these projects with more interest than is currently given to stupid TV shows like "Survivor").

Rather than being run by secretive bureaucrats with hidden agendas--these projects would be the focus of very intense mass involvement and emotion in which fundamental disagreements are sorted out in an intensely public way.

4. Opposing priorities and intense competition

The disagreements that emerge will be political in many ways and reflect differences concerning what priorities are the most important. Should limited support be given to this project--or that one? Does the environmental usefulness of this project outweight the educational impact of that one?

Projects will thus compete against one another for volunteer labor, material support and attention from the masses. We should note that, in this competition, there will not necessarily be any easy or unambiguous way to measure success or determine what projects are best or which create the greatest social wealth while using the least social resources. This calculation is easy in the money economy (ie: what's the "bottom line"?) but nothing in the gift economy can be reduced to a single number.

There will often be disagreement not only concerning which projects are most deserving of resources--but also concerning the distribution of the goods and services created by the gift economy projects. Distribution will generally be free (with exceptions I will discuss below). But where (or to who) should these free goods and services be distributed so that the greatest social good is achieved? Resolution of these (sometimes intense) political and economic disagreements will involve the people who do the work--as well as the masses.

There will be no "ownership" of the resources involved in a project. These resources will not be owned by the workers who use them--but the views of these workers will have great weight (in the political and economic contests of strength which are focused on their projects) because their "closeness to the action" will give them knowledge and passion that will lend them greater credibility and authority in the discussion and debates.

Discussion and debate may also (when passions are sufficiently intense) be backed up by strikes and boycotts of various kinds. Why work for nothing (or close to nothing) on a project which you believe embodies a mistaken attitude toward the environment, education or long-term investment? Why consume goods or services that are created or distributed in a way that sets a negative example? Why support projects which are allied to projects that you oppose?

5. Development and evolution of discipline

Successful projects will develop and evolve many forms of discipline. This is a non-trivial topic. In the commercial world, market discipline tends to weed out the inefficient performers, the naive, the foolish, the unrealistic, and the lazy. Discipline in the gift economy will also develop and result in a higher productivity of labor. But this labor productivity will be far more difficult to measure than in the commercial economy. How do you measure the impacts across the entire spectrum of resources (ie: consumption vs. investment, geographical, environmental, educational) so there are few externalities?

My only answer is that, as society accumulates experience with a large number and wide variety of projects under mass scrutiny and public discussion and debate--the masses will develop a feel for these kinds of things--and will learn to recognize (and support) improvements in labor productivity when they see them.

6. Key to higher labor productivity will
be improved "relations of production"

The "secret weapon" that will enable projects that are part of the gift economy to develop a higher productivity of labor than commercial efforts--will be what marxists call the "relations of production" (ie: the character of human relationships that are shaped by the social nature of the production--ie: whether based on slave, feudal, capitalist or gift relationships).

In the commercial economy, based on commodity production, there is a permanent material conflict of interest between the workers and the stockholders. This conflict of interest penetrates everything and is represented in the conduct of both managers and workers (whether consciously or not) who each find it advantageous to withhold important information from each other. This "information barrier" undermines a unity of effort to redesign production processes and engage in the continuous improvement that is necessary for higher labor productivity.

The gift economy will enjoy more advanced relations of production, characterized by more open, sincere communication and a sharing of all information relevant to production processes--including the intangible (but ultimately decisive) arena of emotions and motivation. Human relationships in the gift economy will be more equal and less hierarchical and characterized by the militant spirit of a community fighting for a just cause. Commercial outfits often try to create such a spirit amongst their workforce--but it always falls flat--because it stands in contradiction to the material conflict of interest that runs thru everything.

I believe that most projects in the gift economy will end up with leaders and people in positions of authority--but these leadership positions will tend to be chosen in a more democratic, bottom-up way based on widespread recognition of passion and abilities--and the authority of the leaders will be of a different kind (based on respect rather fear) than is often found in the commercial economy. The example of Linus Torvalds (the leader of the Linux movement) is instructive: People who work with him can tell him that is wrong about this or that in public forums without fear of retaliation (much less being fired) because it is the nature of such a volunteer project that everyone's help is needed and appreciated.

7. Gift economy projects will outcompete commercial rivals

Just as Linux is destined to win against Windows--so too will various gift economy projects, with their higher productivity of labor, outcompete commercial enterprizes and drive commercial rivals into the ground. At this point the gift economy may absorb workers and equipment and "customers" (more on that in a bit) from the defeated commercial enterprizes which will have served their economic and historical purpose.

8. Expansion into different sectors

As the gift economy begins to find its feet--it will seek to expand and establish a presence in all sectors of the commercial economy so that experience can be gained in the widest possible range of industries. Each sector will have its own features--and gift economy methods that work in one sector may fall flat in another.

9. Rate of growth

My chart (ie: the supposed "blueprint") guessed that within 40 years half of the goods and services in the economy might be created by the gift economy. Is that overly optimistic--or overly pessimistic? I don't know. (It is only a guess making use of a round number.)

10. Two "traps" to watch out for

As the gift economy expands there are at least two ways in which the laws of commodity production could sneak into the gift economy--and undermine humanity's effort to create an economy without exchange or exploitation: (a) incestuous trade relationships and (b) corrupting relations with the exchange-economy. (see points 11 and 12 below)

The masses will keep a close watch on both of these dangers and, when necessary, engage in spirited struggle to keep the gift economy clean of both kinds of corruption.

11. No incestuous trade relationships

One potential pitfall would be the development of incestuous trade reltionships where project A creates goods or services that are used by project B which, in turn, creates goods or services used by project A. I think that readers can see the possibility of an exchange circuit forming--and the danger of a defacto trading relationship developing.

In my essay on the self-organizing moneyless economy I describe how the masses would oppose (ie: intervene to break-up) the development of such quid pro quo arrangements (which they would consider to be corrupt). (See the distinction between "ownership" and "degree-of-control" described in: Joseph's Islands (paragraphs 230 - 247))

12. "ministry of foreign trade" will mediate relations
between gift-economy and exchange-economy

Another interesting question concerns the relationship between the gift economy and the commodity economy.

As the gift economy develops it will become necessary for it to develop trade or money relationships with companies that are part of the commodity economy. For example: how will the gift economy learn how to make airplanes? It will have to start by learning how to manufacture aircraft parts. And this means that it will need to enter into a relationship with an aircraft manufacturer that it part of the commodity economy. In the US this would probably mean a company like Boeing.

(Now, we should note that, by this time, any company of Boeing's size and strategic importance would certainly have been expropriated by the workers' state. However, from the point of view of theory, even if owned by the state, the company would still be part of the commodity economy because it would be creating jets in exchange for money.)

How would the gift economy be able to create aircraft parts for a company like Boeing without becoming part of the commodity economy? Isn't the creation of aircraft parts for Boeing (in exchange for money from Boeing) commodity production?

Yes, this is commodity production. The gift economy would be compelled to engage in commodity production in order to have relations with the commodity economy and to gain positions in all industrial sectors.

But if this is the case, how could the extremely powerful actions of the laws of commodity production be preventing from exacting their revenge and, so to speak, turning this noble effort (ie: to create an economy without exchange) into shit?

The solution (ie: the way to defend against the powerful effects of the laws of commodity production) would be for the gift economy to conduct its relations with the commodity economy in the form of a single, unified entity. From the point of view of the companies in the commodity economy--the gift economsy as a whole--would assume the form of a single giant corporation. So if some project within the gift economy (let's call it "Project Landing Gear") were to produce parts for Boeing--this would be the result of the gift economy as a whole (ie: under the supervision of the masses) negotiating with Boeing and accepting money from Boeing. Boeing would not be able to negotiate directly and privately with Project Landing Gear--nor would Boeing be able pay money directly to it.

From the point of view of theory, we can recognize that, under this relationship, exploitation is taking place. The surplus value that is created by the workers in Project Landing Gear would accrue to the gift economy as a whole (or the workers' state which is subsidizing the gift economy). So this concentrated surplus value would create soil for corruption--which is why the masses would need to be armed with the weapon of transparency and supervise the distribution of this concentrated surplus value--and be prepared to take action to weed out the nasty things which will occasionally sprout in this soil. And this also illustrates why, as long as a commodity economy exists--there is a danger of corruption and the danger that one section of society might attach itself to this soil and attempt to recreate a class-divided society.

A scenario ...

I don't know if it is clear to readers how what I have described (ie: essentially a "ministry of foreign trade" that handles relations with the commodity economy) helps to protect against the concentration of surplus value that so strongly tends to corrupt everything it touches. It would make it easier for the masses to supervise the entire process and become aware of conflicts of interest, distortions or externalities that emerge--and to subject to a conscious and democratic process decisions that would overwhelm a smaller entity.

Let's see if we can describe these dynamics in a scenario involving the relationship between Boeing and Project Landing Gear. An official from Boeing informs the workers of the project that if they are able to significantly lower their price (ie: how much Boeing has to pay to the "ministry of foreign trade" of the gift economy) then Boeing will be able to triple the number of landing gears that it orders each month--but that if they don't lower their price--the number of landing gears that Boeing orders will go to zero--because one of Boeing's suppliers is now able to produce at a lower cost. But, in order for the project to be able to produce landing gears in such a way that they can be sold to Boeing at a lower cost--the project would need to create the gears by a different process--a process that creates more pollution, or reduces the opportunity for training workers in useful skills, or makes use of a more "top-down" production process that would delay the amount of time it takes project workers to learn how to create self-moving, self-directed production teams.

Now, a company in the commodity economy, if faced with such a decision, would have little choice but to cave in. A company that is part of the commodity economy would have to choose the cheaper production process in order to stay in business. But the landing gear project is part of the gift economy and, as such, is not so easily pushed around by the laws of commodity production. If Boeing drops its orders to zero this will represent a loss for the gift economy as a whole--but the gift economy as a whole may still decide to reject Boeing's ultimatum because they may decide it is better to hold the line on pollution and maintain a focus on production processes in which workers build self-moving production teams. And in making this decision--the gift economy will be guided by the consciousness and the passion of the masses--who will very much be part of the decision-making process and will be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages from a different persective than that of a company in the commodity economy fighting for its survival. In this way the masses will exercize effective social control over the production process.

The gift economy as a whole will be large enough and powerful enough that it would be able to accept the loss and dissolution of Project Landing Gear knowing that, in the long term, it will be able to build its abilities--and eventually drive Boeing out of business by building entire jets with fewer social resources than Boeing.

The principles here are simple. It would not be difficult for someone to break one of your fingers. But if you close your fingers into a fist--they are harder to break. And we can successfully defy the laws of commodity production if we approach them with a conscious, scientific attitude. The analogy that fits here is the law of gravity. If we try to ignore the law of gravity (ie: pretend it doesn't exist) and jump off a cliff--the result will be bad news. The analogy to jumping off a cliff--is the tens of thousands of co-ops that have been created over the last 150 years--in the hopes of creating an alternative economy without exploitation. In terms of the goal of creating such an economy--every one of these co-ops has been a failure. But if we understand gravity--if we are scientific--we can successfully "defy" gravity. That's what jets do. Humanity learned to "defy" gravity in the 20th century by building things like jets. And humanity, after the overthrow of bourgeois rule in the 21st century, will accomplish a more impressive feat--we will "defy" the laws of commodity production by learning how to build jets without exploitation.

Freedom of action retained ...

It is important to understand that, in what I have described above, the various projects within the gift economy will always continue to have complete freedom of action in their relationships with one another: they would only be prohibited from engaging in direct relationships with companies in the commodity economy.

Within the gift economy, social wealth is created all the time (it is created by human labor power) but this social wealth is not controlled or concentrated (either by an individual or a group) in such a way as to escape social control by the masses. There is no need for an individual or group to capture the wealth that is created. Within the commodity economy, if I grow a peach, I must exchange that peach for another commodity in order to be certain that the wealth embodied in the peach will flow back to me. Within the gift economy, if I grow a peach, I give that peach to someone and I do not need to be concerned with capturing the flow of wealth because I know that somehow, without a need to carve a particular channel to constrain the flow of wealth--that the wealth will flow back to me (or to someone I love) because "what goes around comes around".

13. All labor must be voluntary

Final victory would require better conditions of work so that more people enjoy work and want to work--and a minimal standard of living for everyone, whether or not they choose to work. As long as someone works simply in order to survive--their motivation will be different and their heart will not be in the project: they will not be truely passionate and focused about the direction their project is taking. So the development of a society in which all work is voluntary will not simply require an increase in labor productivity to compensate for those who choose not to work -- but will itself make possible a much higher productivity of labor by unlocking the most deeply felt passions which are the product--not of a carrot or stick--but the inner compass of the conscience.


Read more of Ben's work on the
Self-organzing Moneyless Economy