Gnu Manifesto, Peer Production and the Future of Humanity

I had the opportunity to listen to the father of the free software foundation Richard Stallman whom I greatly admire. The talk lasted close to 2 hrs where Mr. Stallman passionately lobbied for software freedom. The Gnu manifesto like the Bhagavad Gita / Bible preaches good values such as sharing and openness, and is built on the premise that humans are just and altruistic.

My (slightly pun intended) question to Stallman  was if the GNU manifesto was applicable universally in a planet with an economic model based on scarcity, and he in his infinite wisdom dodged the question cleverly with the answer that innovation and growth takes back seat to freedom.


Innovators are great risk takers and rely on a good deal of capital to invent and diffuse their innovations. Coase describes the role of the firm as a way of organizing production by reducing transaction costs, bringing in efficiencies such as : creating long-term contracts, recycling capital efficiently by investing to improve the status quo and at times questioning and changing the status quo through new disruptive innovations. The market and pricing mechanisms on the other hand are useful in estimating the importance of an innovation to the society and has been a compass for organizations and societies in reflecting on the present and creating the future. Some of the major shifts in economic productivity during the agrarian, industrial and  information revolutions were driven by technological change that resulted in efficiency gains and labor reorganization. Kurzweil uses the term “law of accelerating returns ” to describes the exponential growth of technology in the age of the globally networked knowledge economy, where we are collectively journeying towards a point called singularity, here the pace of change would become too rapid to account for. At this point technologies would pass the Turing test and would be employed to solve both the repetitive and intellectual tasks of the present age. Erik Brynjolfsson concurs with this line of reasoning and describes the current transition towards this point where simultaneous economic reorganization and gains in economic productivity due to creative destruction across industry segments are being achieved. Robert Solow, Adam Smith, David Landes and Jared Diamond have identified these patterns across different points in time and describe the role of  productivity,  market mechanisms and technological innovation in wealth creation and success of nations.

The commons based peer production model with an entrepreneurial coalition has succeeded to a certain extent in creating and diffusing new innovation but has been unable to compete with the firm based model of production in generating and recycling capital in vast amounts, which is key for both long term sustained and path breaking innovation. (my research on some of the inefficiencies of the CBPP model here : Some of the leading thinkers on this model of production such as Yochai Benkler, Michel Bauwens and Clay Shirkey describe the role of cognitive surplus and intrinsic motivations in its mass proliferation and rapid progression. This organizing logic in its purest form requires a high level of altruism and self motivation to drive and sustain change as it is part of a globally distributed macro economic model that is based on scarcity. In this macro economic model time equates money and the consciousness of the society is driven by varying degrees of objectivism, where individuals and organizations are incentivized to maximize self interest or profit.

As Maslov suggested, if self actualization is the ultimate goal of the human species, it would require a society based on energy and technological abundance to free the human race from the chains of labor that is based on negative extrinsic motivation. In the words of  Heidegger to eventually reveal life’s existential meaning by becoming the authentic being. This requires efficiencies in creating new capital and recycling existing capital to innovate and reach this point of abundance. De Lillo describes the role of cyber-capital in uniting the world to achieve this goal of abundance, where humanity is tied together in an interlinking web of incentives (profits through arbitrage that exist due to information asymmetries or temporal divergence of price movements) here societies not only experience  altered temporal/spatial consciousness but also increasingly accelerated rates of change. The model that accelerates humanity towards this future will remain the predominant model of production and innovation, today it is the firm ( creates efficiencies through long term contracts, reduces transaction cost and generates profits through product ownership and barriers to entry), market (as a means to raise capital and uses price signalling for course corrections) and CBPP with an entrepreneurial coalition (to tap the global diaspora of prosumers and democratize innovation through firm mediated structured participatory innovation).

Abraham Joshua Heschel provides a spatio-temporal colloquy to Maslov’s idea where he says :  technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence. So until we reach a point of abundance where the system of money becomes irrelevant,  time is conquered by transcending our biological limitations ,  happiness pursued by reflecting on our spiritual inner-self, where people exercise their freewill and self actualize through positive intrinsic motivations in acts of creation and sharing , the adoption of a universal gnu manifesto across fields of endeavor will remain a dream of a distant future for humanity.

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2 Responses to “Gnu Manifesto, Peer Production and the Future of Humanity”

  1. 1 PaySwarm Hacks July 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Have you checked out Dmytri Kleiner’s concept of venture communism? I think it could be the hybrid meet-half-way approach here. Could be a way to merge the current conception of firms with participatory budgeting to create more public goods, especially if we can get the p2p fb-like social platforms and less transactional friction with a universal web payments standard like PaySwarm.

    • 2 Karthik Iyer July 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks for the introduction to venture communism, it is an interesting idea but it seems to rely strongly on the commune. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage being the distribution of value, which is very relevant in the age of mass youth unemployment but the major disadvantage I see is the rule number 3 “The Venture Commune Is Owned Equally By All Its Members”, this assumes that all the members create equal value and have equal skills , this is great in an industrial economy where goods and services do not require extensive intellectual capital or rapid innovation, but in the information economy intellectual capital is the key commodity which is scarce and hence an equal value distribution might not work.

      I see venture communism co-existing to create value within the current capitalisitc free market system but it will be a niche that is employed in specific scenarios.

      Thanks for replying payswarm :)

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