Place: Conde Duque
First work session of the Commons Lab
Ramón Guardans (Ecology and Biology) and Carmen Otero (International Economic Law) will respectively address writings by Alberto Corsín (Anthropology) and Juan Carlos Salazar (Economic Theory) about the commons and cooperation, the theme of the session. Afterward, the authors will respond to their remarks and then there will be a Q&A session and discussion.
If anthropology is the comparative study of societies and of what is “common” to humanity, then might one argue that of all the social sciences, anthropology is best suited to deal with the problems of an (apparently) emerging phenomenon like “the commons”? Playing with some of the suppositions of what it means to think “anthropologically”, this talk aims to shed some light on the problem of the commons as an anthropological matter. Alberto Corsín
The development of communication networks has made production coordination schemes possible, based on the decentralization of some of the contributions to production. In this sense, certain producers opt to stop controlling part of the production process in favour of coordination schemes that offer better solutions to problems such as the dispersion of the human abilities suited to that process. One of the problems a producer must face in decentralizing production, in addition to releasing a certain amount of control over the process, is designing mechanisms that motivate the cooperation of potential independent collaborators. A successful solution in many projects currently underway is to relax the traditionally exclusive hold on the use of resources (primarily information). That is the case, to cite an example, of some software producers who let users modify and distribute their improvements to the product. The free access such users have to certain information (like the source code, among other factors) lets other interested people to join in the production process due to the drastic reduction in the costs of cooperation. These decentralized productive processes have led to the resurgence of a desire for coordination schemes that are reinforced through defining more inclusive rules about resource use. Many authors have decided to reclaim the old concept of the "the commons" ("procomún”, in Spanish) as an ambiguous way to refer to that set of rules.
It is possible to study these decentralized production processes and the agreements that lend them cohesion (which include the attitude of agents toward the exclusion of others from resource use) from the perspective of an economic theory of industrial organization. I suggest that the pioneering attempt of Yochai Benkler in his essay Coase's Penguin (2002) to include these coordinated schemes in an economic theory of organizations is unsatisfactory. Given that he views those productive processes as a "new kind of organization, an alternative to the firm and the market", he does not manage to capture the role of cooperation in productive organization and he misinterprets coordination in markets (for example, by assuming that markets are characterized by the fact that their participants are motivated by monetary profit). I will attempt to develop a simple plan for classifying types of coordination for production which allows us to obtain an operative definition of cooperation. I will also briefly explain how, as I see it, these forms of cooperation are reinforced, which will permit us to examine matters such as changes in certain producers’ attitudes regarding the appropriation of their production results. The aim of this discussion is to move toward the creation of a more solid and formal basis for studying how productive activities can be coordinated (if that is indeed achievable) among uncountable individuals whose behaviour is the vehicle that should take them toward realizing their personal objectives, whatever those may be. A better understanding in this field is vital for developing recommendations on economic policy, in order to stabilize desirable schemes for resource use rights. Juan Carlos Salazar Elena