June 29th, 2017 17:28


Kenneth Baumann

Kenneth Baumann June 30th, 2017 15:24

Seems like the standard lecture by Dr. Wolff. The bonus here is the Q&A at the end.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 12:15

Good stuff, as usual! The talk being at Google made me more aware than usual that the examples and terminology tend to be for physical goods producing corporations, with an occasional mention of 'services'. And it's not just the tech world that may find this approach doesn't resonate; as Prof. Wolff acknowledges in answering the questioner from China, capitalism's productive center has moved out of the US and other places where it grew up. Even while acknowledging that fact, and keeping the Marxian emphasis on production (though given the importance of marketing, sales, cleaning, and other support services to producing the experience that is intertwined with goods and services in a modern, Seth Godin-esque economy, perhaps this distinction should be de-emphasized), it would be good for more workers in the US to see their experience reflected in stories about the economy.

Slightly related, i've been talking to tech audiences about reclaiming economic rents. In particular, who should control the power, money or not, that comes from having a monopolistic position in a sector with strong network effects. This opens up the question of value, and where it comes from, in a way that is useful to thinking about economic control in the US.

Many platform businesses (Google, Facebook, Uber or Lyft, AirBnB) are natural monopolies in that network effects are very strong: the more people on the platform, the more value that the platform has to everyone on it. Google, to pick just one sector, has almost as large a share of the mobile OS market as Microsoft had (and still has, for now) of the desktop OS, and the more users the more developers building tools that work on it. A social network obviously derives its utility directly from the people on it. A ridehailing service needs both drivers and riders on its platform; a distributed room-letting service needs both people who have rooms and people who need rooms.

In any such case i don't think it should be workers alone who control what is done with this power, this capture of value (whether realized in monetary form or not), and am advocating for platform cooperatives in this context. Just as decisions affecting millions of workers, customers, and community members shouldn't be made by a few dozen people empowered by a the corporate form, the worker cooperative form seems the wrong approach when it would mean, say, a few thousand workers controlling a communication network, transportation network, or shelter network relied on by millions.

Once we start asking the question "who should be in charge of this?" in various contexts, however, it's sure to support worker cooperatives in most instances and other assertions of democratic control in the rest.

Matt   Grantham

Matt Grantham July 4th, 2017 14:36

The natural monopolies you refer at the moment have neither worker cooperatives or democratic control though you seem to be referring to them in a positive light Is the capitalist marketplace democratic in your vision of things?

Not to mention there are cooperatives where the members are both producers and consumers

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 4th, 2017 17:32

@mlncn You are referring to the phenomena of a very large company with a huge market share being run by just a handful of people which we see often in the tech sector (millions of users and 10 employees). Although this scenario is more lopsided than the standard/traditional company, it will become more pronounced as automation progresses. However, it still doesn't mean an employee-owned coop is not wanted here. More importantly it stresses the need, as Wolff points out often, of democratizing not only the workplace but the consumer side as well. The big push is to democratize not only the production side but the consumer side. At the moment workplaces are not democratized and the consumer side is inferred to be democratic merely by how one spends his/her dollars. The dollar-vote scheme needs to end. In place needs to be real voting and real discussions about needs and resource management. In the end, democratizing the economy will be complete when businesses, consumers and resource planning will merge and become one via democracy and science. The next really big big game changer in the tech sector will be a platform/app that will address just that. The tech giants have an opportunity here and am baffled why they are not going Gung-Ho on it. They are scared to lose control and wealth. It's a pride thing I'm sure but it will not last.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 18:56

@mattgrantham To be clear, i described natural monopolies based on network effects without a value judgement (in economics jargon, that is in fact called a 'positive' statement, heh). Then i ask who should be in charge of rents flowing from network effects, and at no point is the answer capitalists! Given the Democracy at Work context of this group and Wolff's statements and affiliation, that enterprises should be democratically controlled by workers is taken as baseline. The value judgement (normative statement, in economic jargon) is that we the people should take control of rents flowing from network effects, and i further suggested that those who are most affected by the operations of a venture should be in control, which for a small business would be the workers but for any natural monopoly should be a larger slice of society.

I am familiar with hybrid coops and we are considering forming https://drutopia.org as one, but it's really hard for us to decide how different classes of membership should share power. The cooperative principal of one member, one vote ultimately makes the most sense and so no reason to have different classes of members. The Black Star Co-Op is accepted as a worker coop because it has democratic self-management for the workers, but it's technically a consumer cooperative: http://www.blackstar.coop/cooperate/ That's the model i personally find most intelligible for platform cooperatives also.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 19:28

@johnrhoads Absolutely! But we shouldn't underestimate the difficulty of coordinating, well, anything. Power is organization, and it's hard. I don't think we've paid enough attention to how to make democracy work at scale, but i'd love to be pointed to the resources that prove i'm wrong. Worker cooperatives and platform cooperatives are so exciting in part because we'll have to figure that out, and then there's little limit to what we can do.

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 4th, 2017 19:39

BTW, Loomio/Enspiral and it's founding members are involved in other groups on Loomio which you may find helpful - search on Alana Irving and Matt and Rich Bartlett. Also Nathan Schneider and Michel Bauwens are regulars here among others. If you look around Loomio, you will find some really relevant groups and content. My new favorite besides D@W is Commons Transition. A few other mentions here are P2P Foundation, The Internet of Ownership and Platform.coop.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 20:03

Yes, Loomio and Enspiral are pretty great but Loomio as a tool, a couple of the makers have made clear to me, is never meant to scale to mass democracy. The Platform Coop community isn't tackling this head-on yet, and i hope we do, but i hope we can learn a lot from worker cooperatives and maybe the handful of more democratic unions out there.

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 4th, 2017 20:08

My take on scaling is more like the idea of modularity. Create a local system that works and then replicate it. That's how I see scale happening. We are accustomed to thinking top-down when it's much simpler than that. Instead of one giant monolithic system, it's a collection of lots of little ones. Another quick link is to the Sociocracy people which have a good idea on scaling. In other words, Loomio instances will be unique and local and eventually scale. What eventual hierarchical system gets employed is unknown at this point but the meat and potatoes is local.

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 4th, 2017 20:12

Lots of good commentary going on with this thread. Hope we can keep this moving.

Matt   Grantham

Matt Grantham July 4th, 2017 21:15

Positive light came from the term natural monopolies A euphemism in my opinion

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 21:44

Not going to say that even brief contact with studying economics doesn't leave a person impaired, especially in ability to communicate, but look at it this way: any sector considered a 'natural' monopoly (electricity distribution, Internet tubing, social networks) are sectors that even standard capitalism-friendly economics has to acknowledge cannot be left to the private market.

One could argue that apparently oil refining is a natural monopoly, but here the case is stronger i think that it is a euphemism, and there's nothing natural about the monopolistic achievements of Standard Oil or its ever-merging descendants. Again, though, even from a a pro-capitalism economic perspective any honest economist is either looking at what unnatural conditions or unnatural practices are giving rise to monopolies and seeking to remove those conditions or stop those practices, or that same hypothetical honest economist acknowledges a sector will tend towards monopoly and therefore advocate for removing it from the private market and put people in charge.

There are Marxian and other economists who argue that all industries tend toward monopolistic practices in capitalism, and there's some evidence for that, and that does indeed serve to condemn capitalism. I tend to think that much of the time it's inequality, not markets, at fault, but markets without inequality wouldn't likely be called 'capital'ism.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon July 4th, 2017 21:47

To be specific: Wealth inequality is an unnatural condition encouraging monopoly. Laws that favor aggregations of people serving capital over aggregations of people serving people is another unnatural condition encouraging much that is horrible, including monopoly.

Matt   Grantham

Matt Grantham July 4th, 2017 23:36

Glad to see we both have some trepidation of traditional economics Though I will say the examples you gave are of a different character since they generally refer to a resource which needs extraction and distribution whereas the share economy issues are generally fixed resources or services I am not sure if we are clarifying or just digging in heels at this point I don't like the idea of calling these networks natural monopolies especially since it seems to imply those at the top should naturally have arrived to that position

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 4th, 2017 23:37

Monopolies are a logical extension to the rules of capitalism. Capitalism dictates that consolidation of competition and the process of elimination be the guiding principle toward some delusional Nirvana where there can only be one authority and one beneficiary (i.e. tyranny). It's pure narcissism and vanity and is very polarized into one leader and many followers. However, I think humans aspire to be more than followers of an absolute top-down authority. Capitalism enshrines the idea of one absolute top-down authority and abhors decentralization and distributed (democratic) authority - although it didn't start off that way. It really does resemble the desire of an egotistical person to be exalted and worshiped by all while in a perpetual state of orgasm. From King to capitalist, it's the same except for one step removed from absolutism but as we see now is probably just as absolutist. Nothing has changed.

I see the idea of democracy as relatively incompatible with capitalism now although it was the force that instituted capitalism. IMO democracy became highlighted when feudalism gave way to capitalism. Authority through democracy became decentralized one step beyond feudalism but not quite to the individual level (potential for tyranny still exists). Even though capitalism started off with this democratic mind set, it has veered quite heavily away form it and back to a feudalistic style of centralized authority and hence tyranny. Socialism, however mislabeled, miscalculated or misconceived in the past, will soon highlight yet another step removed from centralized authority and will make democracy whole down to the individual level - finally. If done properly, the neo-socialism will avoid the pitfall of regressing back to an absolutist and centralized authority like we saw with capitalism.

Matt   Grantham

Matt Grantham July 5th, 2017 00:12

Obviously I agree with that point of view, though I do get what Benjamin is saying that the extent of the network in Airbnb, and the others is a critical part of its success I think the disagreement with Benjamin and I is mostly semantic. One possible alternative would be for communities to hold the information for Airbnb hosts in that given community, and as long as their were reciprocal agreements with other communities you could still have a comprehensive network but with decentralized control I know there are those who have given various names for having elite control of the network removed but i cannot think of them at the moment

John Rhoads

John Rhoads July 5th, 2017 02:13

It's looking like two separate things. One being the principle of strength in numbers (law of averages?). Two people can dig a ditch must faster than one and so on. The other thing being how decisions are made as to the ditch digging. At best, the ditch would be dug based on "best practices" or most efficient means. The point is decisions do not always have to be made every single time an event takes place (free will is not always necessary). Once an agreed procedure is codified, the decision has been made in a kind of perpetuity only to be changed as circumstances or consensus change. In this way, the ditch diggers are no more than paint-by-numbers artists where maybe one has really studied the procedure more than the others and is delegated to facilitate or guide the digging. In the AirBNB example, the workers would all get together and decide what "best practices" would be and then codify it. Thereafter, the system runs without much supervision as long as people are well versed in how the system came to be and why. It is important to teach people the history of this system so that it can be intelligently perpetuated. The network is only as good and efficient as its underlying system which in the end is always fairer when controlled by all its members democratically. It is true a system can be good and efficient if a single authority has deep wisdom but this wisdom is most often guaranteed when reached collectively. The risk of tyranny becomes less and less the more democracy is utilized. I believe people are not stupid and will likely make good decisions if taught or informed properly.