For decades, our economic system which values above all profits, revenues and growth has been the backbone of extractive corporate capitalism. Today, with inequality on the rise and environmental degradation reaching crisis levels, it is clear that the current system is unsustainable. A new report entitled P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival provides a template for a new accounting system that values sharing, human knowledge, and planetary health over growth and resource extraction. It could enable a new and dramatically more sustainable economy, one appropriate for the climate change era.
“This is a paradigm-making vision for how to flip the future of the economy right side up,” said Nathan Schneider, a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, in a statement.
The report is from the P2P Foundation, based in the Netherlands, which studies the impact of peer to peer technology and thought on society. The foundation has support from the Guerrilla and Schoepflin Foundations. The lead authors, Michel Bauwens and Alex Pazaitis, are noted for their P2P experience.
The report highlights two problems with the current economic accounting paradigm – that it assumes infinite materials growth is possible on a planet with finite resources, and it relies on the artificial scarcity of knowledge due to an excessively restrictive intellectual property system. In addition, the current system does not properly account for externalities such as pollution, the costs of which are borne by local communities, governments, and future generations, nor the new economics of gig work. In fact, companies that can push more of the external costs of doing business to society or the planet are often the ones who get more venture capital funding or see their stock prices rise. That is unsustainable for the planet and the economy.
To shift that, the report’s authors call for a whole host of new tools and methods that all promote mutual integration, from distributed ledgers that promote shared supply chains to circulation and exchange mechanisms that procure and allocate both human cooperation and material and energy resources. What makes this possible at a global scale is technology, which is an important tool in Bauwens and Pazaitis vision, but not, as is often argued, the solution in itself.
For example, the report recognizes that the potential for blockchain-style open and distributed ledgers are in how it empowers governance or allows for collaborative accounting. For P2P accounting, they propose using a Holochain, a distributed ledger which is organized around principles of biomimicry – the imitation of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems – rather than extractive capital flows as is the case with most cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
While the economic theories and mathematical principles underpinning the authors’ proposals are complex, its applications are deeply relevant for our increasingly digital, interconnected modern economy. Their goal is to provide the theoretical framework to underpin a more collaborative and sustainable 21st-century economy, designed to deliver social and ecological health for all of society.
With growing momentum for cooperatives and other forms of shared ownership, P2P accounting could soon be used by an engaged and increasingly connected global sharing community.