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Two Economies, or maybe more…

Lawrence Lessig writes about two kinds of economies:

One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from the work of Benkler, von Hippel, Weber […], and many others is that the Internet has reminded us that we live not just in one economy, but at least two. One economy is the traditional “commercial economy,” an economy regulated by the quid pro quo: I’ll do this (work, write, sing, etc.) in exchange for money. Another economy is (the names are many) the (a) amateur economy, (b) sharing economy, (c) social production economy, (d) noncommercial economy, or (e) p2p economy. This second economy (however you name it, I’m just going to call it the “second economy”) is the economy of Wikipedia, most FLOSS development, the work of amateur astronomers, etc. It has a different, more complicated logic too it than the commercial economy. If you tried to translate all interactions in this second economy into the frame of the commercial economy, you’d kill it.

Being the balanced thinker that he is, Lessig points out that there might be problems in the opposite effort of hoping that the rules of the second economy would apply to all content production. This is the argument for creative commons. There might be a point there: “the second economy” model has worked best for software, wikipedia, and science, where the definiton of an improvement is relativelyt clear for a relatively stable community. Other types of more “artistic” content may be harder, at least in some contexts.

I wonder, however, whether we should be talking of these things in terms of “economies”. Is the fact that you open the door to somebody or that you smile to a passer-by a fact of “economy”? Does not the term “economy” level down the phenomena we are talking about? Like a school of economists has pointed out, the “first” economy works only on the basis of a huge non-quantified and non-commercial sea of basic human culture & kindness that is not in any realistic sense produced or part of the “first” economy. Maybe, if want to use the term economy, we should consider the difference Bataille makes between a closed or special economy and a general economy. The lwas of special economies (“first” economy et.) work under specific favourable conditions of the general economy, as semi-isolated pockets. Thye work only in so far as they are porous enough to be sustained by the general economy, which, in any case, eventually washes away and reorganises the special economies from time to time.

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