Kevin A. Carson – The Desktop Regulatory State
The Anarchist Library
Title: The Desktop Regulatory State
Subtitle: The Countervailing Power of Individuals and Networks
Date: March 2016
Source: Retrieved on 8th April 2022 from kevinacarson.org
Like every book I’ve written since the first, this book was inspired by ideas I encountered in researching the previous one but was unable to explore and develop as much as I’d have liked within that framework. In writing the material on crisis tendencies of capitalism in Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, the writings by Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich on the hegemony of bureaucratic culture set a train of thought in motion that eventually lead to writing Organization Theory. Researching the chapter on decentralized manufacturing technology in Organization Theory led, in turn, to a stand-alone book on micro-manufacturing (Homebrew Industrial Revolution).
This book, in turn, is the development of ideas on network organization and stigmergy I touched on in Homebrew Industrial Revolution. It applies many of the same ideas in the realm of information that I developed earlier in regard to physical production in that book. It also ties in some of the ideas I discussed in the chapter on labor organization in Organization Theory, like open-mouth sabotage, but in much greater scope.
This book was a much longer time writing than any of my others, and because so much of its content involved ongoing current news I had much greater difficulty in either finding a cutoff point or setting parameters to filter out excessive detail. In the Appendix I wound up deleting a great deal of detail I’d previously incorporated on the activities of the various networked social movements starting with the Arab Spring, and shifted instead to a greater relative focus on the general principles behind the wave of networked movements since the EZLN uprising in 1994. My judgments on the level of detail to preserve were necessarily somewhat arbitrary; whether the result is satisfactory is up to the reader to decide.
This book, in keeping with the spirit of the subject matter, is far more a product of stigmergic organization and the wisdom of crowds than anything I’ve previously written. In an attempt to adhere to Eric Raymond’s principle that “many eyeballs make shallow bugs,” I first posted the roughly eight-month-old draft online at http://desktopregulatorystate.wordpress.com, warts and all, in March 2011. At the time it was four chapters (which have since fissioned into twelve), consisting mostly of placeholder notes in many places and containing some sections entirely blank except for the title. Since then I’ve automatically updated the online text whenever it was edited. I have benefited from many suggestions and tips from those following the progress of the book, including Steve Herrick’s wonderful job formatting the online word processor template for the online text, as well as all the information I get from email discussion lists (particularly the P2P Foundation, C4SS working group and Networked Labor lists), the leads from friends on Twitter, and the blogs and news sites I follow via RSS reader. And many thanks in particular to my friend Gary Chartier at La Sierra University, who has formatted this as well as two of my previous books for print!
Several parallel developments are driving a trend toward the growing obsolescence of large, highly capitalized, hierarchical organizations, and the ability of networked individuals with comparatively cheap capital equipment to perform the functions formerly performed by such organizations. They include the drastically reduced cost of capital goods required for informational and material production, as well as drastically reduced transaction costs of coordinating efforts between individuals.
For most of the past two hundred years, the trend has been toward increasing capital outlays for most forms of production. The cost of the basic capital equipment required for production—the mass-production factory, the large printing press, the radio or TV station—was the primary justification for the large organization. The economy was dominated by large, hierarchical organizations administering enormous masses of capital. And the astronomical cost of production machinery was also the main justification for the wage system: production machinery was so expensive that only the rich could afford it, and hire others to work it.
In recent decades we’ve seen a reversal of this trend: a shift back from expensive, specialized machinery to inexpensive, general-purpose tools. Although this is true of both material and immaterial production—as attested by the recent revolution in garage-scale CNC machine tools—it was true first and most dramatically in the immaterial sphere.
The desktop computer is the primary item of capital equipment required for entering a growing number of industries, like music, desktop publishing and software design. The desktop computer, supplemented by assorted packages of increasingly che—ap printing or sound editing equipment, is capable of doing what previously required a minimum investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the words of Yochai Benkler: “declining price of computation, communication, and storage have, as a practical matter, placed the material means of information and cultural production in the hands of a significant fraction of the world’s population—on the order of a billion people around the globe.”(Of course since that passage was written the proliferation of cheapening smartphones has probably expanded the latter figure to include over half the world’s population.)