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07 December, 2015

New Zealand ready for a new post-capitalism era?

A new economic system inspired by the internet is coming into being, according to Michel Bauwens

Will Harvie

The transition to a post-capitalist, sustainable economy will not happen overnight, or even in a few years,” Belgian political and economic theorist Michel Bauwens told web-magazine Commons Transition in June. “It is a long process.

But progress will be visible by about 2030, when a major ecological, social and economic crisis will happen, and it's important to have structures in place to replace extractive and destructive capitalism, he said.

And happily for New Zealand, there's a “perfect example” of an alternative, post-capitalist organisation in this country, Wellington-based Enspiral.

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Bauwens' theories were inspired by the internet, especially peer-to-peer networking. In computer lingo, P2P is a “decentralised communications model in which each party has the same capabilities and either party can initiate communication”, according to this website. It is different from the client-server model, which is hierarchical and command driven.

There's much more to these technologies; what's important for understanding Bauwens is the metaphor.

The future economy, he believes, will be P2P. That is, autonomous agents freely determining their behaviour, economic and cultural, within open networks. “Projects are open to all comers provided they have the necessary skills to contribute to a project,” he explained in the seminal 2005 essay The Political Economy of Peer Production.

That essay is 5000 words so there's plenty more depth to P2P. To understand how this works in real life, look to Enspiral. It got going in 2010 as a handful of computer programmers doing contract work that had a positive social impact, said Enspiral Foundation director Alanna Krause.

Quickly it attracted other professionals with similar social values and is today something like 300 folks, some overseas, working projects like Enspiral Accounting, which provides accounting services; Lifehack a collaboration between Enspiral and the Ministry of Social Development that aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people; and ActionStation, which enables petitions, social media swarms and mass emails to decisions makers.

There's no chief executive, although offshoots such as Rabid, a web development company, have leaders. Importantly, Enspiral “runs businesses and competes in the market”, Krause said. Post-capitalism isn't marxism or socialism, although it's progressive.

This way of working is better because the outcomes are more effective,” said Krause. “It's a better way to do business.

Bauwens acknowledges this sort of structure is never going to replace, say, Big Oil companies. But they'll meet a fate. “It is more than likely that the whole regime will come tumbling down, not in one day of course, but gradually,” he told Shareable.net.

Bauwens' P2P Foundation fondly quotes Buckminster Fuller: “To change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to ... change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.

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