Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy

Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy

Interesting read, was originally tweeted by @thesunnyk

TL;DR version:

Why do its owners and shareholders have to be the main benefactors of such platform-based labor brokerage? Developers, in collaboration with local, worker-owner cooperatives could design such a self-contained program for mobile phones.

With the greatest respect, call them owners/shareholders/or co-operative members it is only fair that parties with actual skin-in-the-game should share in the benefits of any enterprise. Bosses, on the other hand are merely a kind of uber-employee (though they almost never see it this way) and ought to be rewarded in terms of their actual labour contribution, and certainly should not as such be entitled to an unfair reward as a result of growth in the said enterprise.

It all boils down in the end to the old chestnut: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” And the answer almost never involves a sensibe use of the expression “fair.”

Not sure what exactly you are trying to say. Cooperatives are by definition joint ownership enterprises between all the participants, the idea is that by working there, you get an equal say and an equal stake in the company.

Who watches the watchers? Well you need transparent operations and finances as we advocate, then anyone can because it is all open book.

I obviously did not make myself clear and in hindsight perhaps it was a point not really worth pushing in any case. I was attempting to highlight the problem of “double-dipping” where a party is rewarded for their input to an enterprise and then later decides that growth in the enterprise itself somehow entitles them to further reward without regard to which they have bot submitted themselves to any kind of risk.

Shareholders, owners or cooperative members submit themselves to a degree of downside risk (e.g. failure of the enterprise) and as a result are entitled to a fair share of upside reward (growth of the enterprise.) Developers, workers or managers who have been contractually recompensed for the effort they put into tasks on behalf of the enterprise should have no further “right” of reward beyond that (but see below.)

The two models ought to be quite distinct, but are famously muddled together in practice (e.g. the eponymous CEO who receives income/“free” share options as well as golden parachute.)

And of course for the sake of argument I have conveniently skipped the rare occasional “nice guy” who divides company wealth with their employees without incuring the ire of other owners who may feel slighted. Human nature is frequently petty.

I repeat: the point was probably not worth the confusion caused in attempting to make it.

The article is not wrong, but it doesn’t get to the heart of what’s happening. The collaboration it talks about has much bigger implications than changes to ownership structures. Traditional markets and profits are actually under subtle siege. The book industry is a great case study- ebook technology is wiping out all the markups and middlemen that sit between the author and the reader. Creative industries and telecommunications are on a similar trend, creators and consumers are forging direct connections and “prosumers” are emerging. Same trend with power grids - people are on the cusp of being able to produce their own power and traditional centralised power grid infrastructure is devaluing by the month. Additive manufacturing means people will even be able to produce goods in their homes using designs shared and collaborated on over the internet.

In all the core pillars of the economy (energy, logistics and communications) traditional profits and markets are being nibbled away by the spread of the collaborative commons. When the record labels cry that they “can’t compete with free” - they’re right - profit-making opportunities are eroding right away. To focus on ownership structures misses the point. We’re going through change that runs to the heart of the market economy itself. I think it’s kind of exciting.

Along with improving democratic structures in the political sphere, I think the biggest social improvement we can hope for is democracy in the economic sphere. IE workers having some democratic control over the use of their labour.

We are in a situation where a few people control too much of the world’s wealth and use their power to influence governments. We see this with agreements like the TPP. This also happens directly with NewsLtd campaigning for the Liberal Party, the political influence of Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer being able to buy his way into parliament (even though he seems to be less bad than the Liberal Party) all demonstrating the undue influence of wealth on politics. Co-operatives give people a way to participate without someone getting fat off their hard work.

I think the nature of ownership is quite an important aspect of the changes possible with new technologies and want I a more equitable future for everyone.

Here is an article about ownership of Uber and how the business model makes the owners rich, whilst they actually contribute very little to the running of the company. It also explains a little about how co-operative models work.: Socialize Uber

Follows on well from the original article.

I don’t think people can show up after a company becomes successful and say the profit should be shared. The latecomers didn’t share the risk and effort that got things to that point, and private risk/socialised profit is as defective as the (admittedly more familiar) paradigm of private profit/socialised risk.

Having said that, if 20% of uber’s revenue is being leached by do-nothing owners a collectively owned competitor business should be able to triumph easily since it won’t have to carry that burden. As a customer I’d pick the collective brand over the hierarchical one any day.

Yeah, I just thought the article explained the alternative quite well. Posted it as I was rushing off to work so didn’t have time to hammer out any commentary. Agree with what MarkG said.

I would like to see more collectively run enterprises competing against private companies. The difficulty, as I see it, would be that you need to convince the original staff to take on the responsibility and risk in return for an equal share. Would definitely be easier with younger employees. People who have to pay a mortgage and look after a family probably need a bit more security.

Falkvinge had some interesting thoughts on that recently too. In short, the idea that if we have a tax system which socialises a proportion of profits, we should also have a basic income guarantee to socialise a proportion of the risks. You’ll see more growth in collectively run, risk taking enterprises if people know they won’t end up being homeless.

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