[iDC] Agency (was Re: THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO)

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Mon May 7 09:41:30 EDT 2007

Hi Robert,

We may not share the same framework of reference, so I'll be just rambling

(first, in case I haven't mentioned it before, for a rapid overview of the
p2p meme, there is now a 4-minute videa at

I will start with some arguments as why agency is indeed so efficient in the
p2p model, and conclude with a short paragraph as to why the principal-agent
logic does in fact not apply in distributed models.

I am of the opinion that, in certain circumstances, which have to to with
either an abundance of resources (true in the immaterial sphere), or a
distribution of resources (i.e. slicing it up in so many small pieces that
the supply becomes a matter of sovereign individual choices which can create
a semblance of abundance, i.e. an infinity of choices even in a finite
environment) - thus when these conditions are met, that the economic and
political productivity is essentially higher, and almost inevitable creates
asymmetric competition that will make the distributed network stronger than
its centralized or decentralized rivals.

In terms of cooperation, p2p's synergestic cooperation model (1+1>2) seems
stronger than either neutral (the tit for tat exchange of capitalism) or
adversarial (feudal and tributary models)

In terms of game theory the four wins of p2p cooperation (win for the
individuals involved, for the community, and for the world at large) will
trump the individual-wins-only of capitalism, and the win-lose model of

In terms of motivation, the peer production model simply eliminates the less
efficient motivations, i.e. the extrinsic negative of adversarial models
based on fear, and the intrinsic positive remunerations of the for-profit
model. Unpaid passionale production only caters for the intrinsic positive
motivation, which has been shown to be the most productive.

(But it comes at a price. While it is collectively sustainable (as long as
the passion capital of those who leave the project can be replaced by
newcomers), it is not individually sustainable. This key problem requires
social institutional solutons).

I'm not sure what you mean by representation, but peer production is
essentially non-representational, and can only be such because we can now
globally coordinate micro-teams that stay under the Dunbar number limitation
of hierarchical necessity.

Peer production is economically more productive for the above reasons, and
is politically more productive because of this intrinsically higher
participation, while it is more productive in terms of distribution of the
wealth creation, through its commons-oriented licenses.

I used to think that the model of peer production would essentially emerge
in the immaterial sphere, and in those cases where the design phase could be
split from the capital-intensive physical production sphere. Von Hippel's
work is very convincing in showing how widespread the model of built-only
capitalism already is.

However, as I become more familiar with the advances in Rapid Manucturing
(see http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Rapid_Manufacturing) and Desktop
Manufacturing (see
http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Desktop_Manufacturing), I'm becoming
increasingly convinced of the strong trend towards the distribution of
physical capital.

If we couple this with the trend towards the  direct social production of
money (i.e. the distribution of financial capital, see
http://www.p2pfoundation.net/P2P_Exchange_Infrastructure_Projects) and the
distribution of energy (http://www.p2pfoundation.net/P2P_Energy_Grid); and
how the two latter trends are interrelated (see
then I believe we have very strong grounds to see a strong expansion of
p2p-based modalities in the physical sphere. See also Kevin Carson's book
manuscript about trends in decentralized production technology (

I'm not suggesting that all these trends automatically lead to an
egalitarian society, but I'm suggesting that these trends are very
favourable to all those working on counter-institutions and new types of
social relationships, and unprecedentally so.

How is this all evolving in terms of the principal-agent problem, especially
when there is no principal and agent involved? (and indeed no asymmetric
information 'in principle', though it may occur 'in practice' because of
dysfunctions). As far as I can see, the nature of peer governance is that
leadership becomes both invitational a priori, and one of arbitrage a
posteriori, and the main problem is for leadership to become a bottleneck
rather than a facilitator. I believe the essential logic of such emerging
governance systems is the avoidance of the emergence of collective
individuals. A recent example is the conflict at couchsurfing, and how it
generates, not a forking, but an open movement to go beyond the core
leadership as bottleneck, see

On 5/7/07, R Labossiere <admin at klooj.net> wrote:
>  Thanks Sam for the summary of David Bollier's paper, which is itself a
> summary of his notes from an Aspen Institute round table. I remember the
> buzz around "push" vs. "pull" models -- the ever finer articulation of
> consumer demand that becomes determinative of production -- but hadn't
> thought about it lately, esp. in relation to social networks.
> More people creating more themselves and being more active in creative
> processes is a good thing, like education, lesbian moms and apple pie:) One
> problem, much discussed here and on other lists, is about effectiveness
> and exploitation; and that's where I'm thinking agency theory might be
> useful.
> What I'm interested in is the link between creation and reception, between
> creator and audience, where are a number of agent-like tasks:
> a) contact and relationship building
> b) presentation and promotion
> c) value judgments
> d) aggregation of responses, and
> e) publication of response results.
>  Agency theory has, in my very limited understanding of it, arisen to
> resolve problems between principals and agents due to incomplete and
> asymetric information, inefficiencies that stifle effective representation.
> (Bernard Roddy pointed out that the theory is 'burdened' by the business
> context where these issues tend to have critical economic consequences, but
> I don't see that as a reason to discount the theoretical apparatus as such:
> an "agent" that fails to build good networks, misrepresents the work or
> improperly values it, or who doesn't appropriately provide feedback or
> celebrate success needs to held accountable, whether we're talking about
> Chrysler or MySpace:)
> So the question that arises is whether in the p2p environment of the
> Web, agency is as efficient and effective as we tend to think it is.
> Speaking strictly from personal experience, within relatively small
> networks like this one, I feel represented and, in terms of the esteemed
> audience who I hope have read this far down in this post, it seems quite
> efficient.
> anyway, this is intended only to open discussion...
> Sam's summary of Bollier's paper:
> http://www.cooperationcommons.com/Documents/EntryView?id=129
> Bollier's original paper:
> http://www.aspeninstitute.org/atf/cf/%7BDEB6F227-659B-4EC8-8F84-8DF23CA704F5%7D/2005InfoTechText.pdf
> The principal-agent problem on Wikipedia
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal-agent_problem
> - Robert Labossiere
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Basic essay at http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499; interview at
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