Why Anarchist Economics Are Inevitable*

(*yes, yes, I know.)

Newspapers are crumbling—people get their news from the internet, simple as that. So the papers are moving to online only. The thing is, there isn’t a strong enough business model to support them there, either. People are trying out other models, like charging for online content, or withholding news from the internet for a few days. But those models aren’t going to work… information tends towards freedom. So journalists are screwed, there isn’t any way to pay them anymore.

People who primarily create information for a living, such as professional authors, journalists, designers, and many musicians and artists, are either in crisis or will be approaching crisis. Honestly, even though I am currently part of it, I don’t think the world needs a class of professional artists. I think that in a sane and functioning society (which we are most certainly not in), it is likely that we would need to put our creativity elsewhere, such as into recycling. But journalists? Indymedia paved the way for citizen reporting, but reporting was soon buried under the blogosphere’s focus on commentary and relinking.

It’s possible that we’re going to have a period without news. It’s possible that the old system will die before a new method replaces it. But when I think of what can possibly replace it, I think again and again that the only thing I can imagine working is a system of mutual aid… either of gift economics or of localized economic systems. A system of anarchism. (Yes, yes, I’m an anarchist, of course I say this.)

The internet makes copying something that can be done essentially for free. This means that a copy of information no longer has inherit worth… there is no reason to pay for a copy of a PDF file, as that individual copy cost nothing to produce. Subscription-only content online is not holding up. So how is a journalist to be paid?

Maybe they aren’t. Gift economics is the idea of decentralized cultures that support one another by free exchange (that is, giving without keeping track of direct reciprocation). It works quite well in practice, even if it takes a bit to wrap your head around logically. As long as any given member of society is giving in to the system through whatever they are capable of doing (waste management, gardening, dentistry, cooking, etc.), there are no real “gaps” that resources escape out of, since everyone who receives from the system gives to the system as well. Of course, minor resource leaks like feeding travelers can usually be accommodated, depending on the general level of wealth of the society. The general level of wealth of the society would also determine what kind of specialization they can afford: can people get away with doing something non-essential, like composing music, as their source of income?

Another option is a Localized Economic System. They’re kind of like gift economics, only people keep track, usually through a database of some kind. These differ greatly from capitalism, even though money is still involved: there is no ability to use money (capital) to make more money. The only way to earn LETS (as the money is called, at least locally here in Asheville) is to actually receive them from someone, or by doing something that receives LETS from the system itself, like managing the LETS system, or potentially, by doing journalism. By doing something that provides for the entire community.

Traditional methods of payment are becoming obsolete. It’s time to try something new anyhow. Might as well try anarchy.

2 thoughts on “Why Anarchist Economics Are Inevitable*”

  1. Devil’s advocacy:
    We’ve talked about this before, but this post makes me want to raise a few points which I’m not really convinced about, but bear consideration.
    First, while arts and journalism are certainly not necessary for the survival of a species, they are absolutely essential to the intellectual life of a critical, informed society. To function in any way as self-determining and autonomous, a society needs information, critique, and dissent. Arts and journalism are to a large part whence this food for thought comes. While it is certainly possible for that work to be done on a non-professional basis, art and media do require specialized skills, time and dedication. Probably more time and dedication, really. But I imagine the quality and depth of both reporting and arts would suffer if it was only being generated on the side as a hobby, just as I’d be hesitant to go get my teeth drilled by a hobby dentist.
    Gift economics I really do believe in wholeheartedly, in theory. In practice, I have no idea how to insulate a system of exchange with no record from greed and exploitation. There will always be opportunists.
    Local economies I believe in as well, and they serve well as an alternative to capitalism in a capitalist society, but are really just one step away from being capitalism. If one person could horde enough LETS either through cunning or generating high demand for their skills, they could certainly use those LETS to hire other parties to make LETS for them, or fund an upstart’s business in exchange for a return on the LETS, or lend LETS for interest. Which is back to capitalism, no?
    Thoughts?

  2. Hrmm… firstly, I had actually meant to come across as saying that journalism is necessary for a society, but perhaps I hadn’t made that clear. I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversations of last fall, too, about the role of art, etc. in a society. I think that perhaps it is up to the community, to see what they consider necessary. To see what kind of abundance there is. I expect that in times of severe famine, not even doctors and waste-managers would be off the growing food expectation, but that it would rather quickly loosen up to allow more professions.
    As for the localized economic system, I was talking to one of the asheville LETS organizers, and she pointed out that the one here differed from many of the others with the degree to which is worked to prevent capitalism from growing within it. First of all, a negative balance is not considered a bad thing. It’s not “debt”, and the social considerations encourage someone to have a fluctuating number of LETS. I haven’t wrapped my brain around that 100% yet, and apparently it’s one of the harder concepts to get across to new members. I think that there are controls in place to prevent most of the things you spoke about, as well… if they aren’t physical barriers that are able to be put in place, they are certainly outside the guidelines of the system, and I think that the inherently small-scale nature of the project would prevent people from doing it.

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