One of the big, unanswered questions in our political economy today is “what constitutes value?” Conventional economics sees value as arising from market exchange and expressed as prices. A very simple, crude definition of value.
But how, then, to account for the many kinds of value that are intangible, social or ecological in nature, and without prices – activities such as child-rearing and eldercare, ecological stewardship, online peer production, and commoning? There is an urgent need to begin to make these forms of value explicitly visible in our political economy and culture.
Two new reports plunge into this complicated but essential topic. The first one – discussed below -- is called “Value in the Commons Economy: Developments in Open and Contributory Value Accounting,” The 49-page report by Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Niaros focuses on socially created value on digital networks. It was co-published yesterday by the Heinrich Boell Foundation and P2P Foundation.
Another important report on how to reconceptualize value – an account of a three-day Commons Strategies Group workshop on this topic – will be released in a few days and presented here.
The P2P Foundation report declares that “society is shifting from a system based on value created in a market system (through labor and capital) to one which recognizes broader value streams,” such as the social and creative value generated by online communities. The rise of these new types of value – i.e., use-value generated by commoners working outside of typical market structures – is forcing us to go beyond the simple equation of price = value.
Michel Bauwens and sociologist Adam Arvidsson call this the “value crisis” of our time. Commons-based peer production on open platforms is enabling people to create new forms of value, such as open source software, wikis, sharing via social networks, and creative collaborations. Yet paradoxically, only a small minority of players is able to capture and monetize this value. Businesses like Facebook, Google and Twitter use their proprietary platforms to strictly control the terms of sharing; collect and sell massive amounts of personal data; and pay nothing to commoners who produced the value in the first place.
This is highly extractive, and not (re)generative. So what can be done? How could open platforms be transformed to bolster the commons and serve as a regenerative social force?