Libertarian municipalism is an evolution of Murray Bookchin’s left-libertarian theory, a social theory which is not only the end, but also the means to achieve it. While the basic idea is elegantly simple—communities achieve self-determination by taking political power at the municipal level, and communities group together into federations to build a liberatory power significant enough to challenge the dominant powers—there is significant room to extend the theory beyond its rudiments. There are many places that these extensions can come from, even if they’re not directly associated. The studies of transferics and VIAAC theory, sharing a common origin, can both contribute in different ways to extending libertarian municipalism. This article will go over a few of them.
Freedom of Exchange is not Freedom
Modern anarchist and libertarian thought is rather plagued with market theory. Due to the “failure of socialism”, the “failure” of the left, or the “failure” of alternatives to markets, many today view market ______ as the only viable system of political economy. However, markets are inherently undemocratic and not at all conducive to the creation of libertarian societies, especially if we want to create a libertarian municipalist society which is based at its root on democracy. Transferics and VIAAC theory gives us the tools we need to create a society that is democratic from top to bottom, in a way that can be scaled to the global magnitude necessary to challenge global capitalist hegemony. Using collaborative technology, we can analyze the relations between the people and things that make it possible and worthwhile to live in without relying on markets or market logic.
Transferics essentially began by questioning the need for exchange in the distribution of wealth; exchange always favors those with more wealth to begin with, especially those with wealth that is always needed and hard to obtain by other means. The concentrated power of energy and finance companies is a clear indication of this effect. Because of their possession of resources that are universally needed, the rest of society shows inordinate deference to their wishes. This isn’t a result of merely this or that problem, but because of the fundamental character of depending on one person or party for all activity. This essentially gives them veto power over all productive decisions.
The need for all changes in relations to be exchange-based creates a tremendous drag on material progress—there are only two ways to improve the material circumstances of someone who has nothing: either they can enter into a relationship with someone who can provide for them through exchange, or we can forgo exchange all together and simply provide material relief to the person. In the former case, the character of the relationship changes the closer the one person approaches complete destitution. The likelihood that the relationship will form in the first place diminishes, as they have less to offer anyone else in fair exchange. Besides favoring mere circumstance, this is an inherently ableist social effect that oppresses the disabled and ill. In addition, the likelihood that the relationship will be free of domination or exploitation also diminishes. This is closely-tied to the first effect, as it relates to what the person is really able to contribute when they have nothing, but brings in the element of corruptibility or selfishness to create an effect even more pernicious than the first. Finally, there will be an emergent hierarchy of wealth based on the necessity and attainability of what each person or organization produces and the creation of rates of exchange based on these.
I should note that most of this is unique to a specific type of exchange, quid pro quo (QPQ) exchange (something for something, an exchange in which both parts of the transfer are completed at once). There are many alternatives to an exchange-based social arrangement, and even an alternative to QPQ exchange. A society where people can use everything they want to use is far more attainable by the same material means than one where people can own everything they want to own. This is the difference between freedom and mere voluntarism. A libertarian municipalist community should seek to reduce as much as possible the need for and use of exchange, and exchange should be viewed as inefficiency and unfreedom. Instead, directly-democratic, direct allocation (DA) should be used to create a state of usership, where the chief concern is determining who gets to use something, rather than who owns it.
Democratic Direct Allocation
The production and reproduction of society is an undeniably collaborative process; most people do not live alone, and everyone gets some sort of unrewarded contribution from many other people to their lives, whether labor, creativity, or ingenuity. Even the competitive system of capitalism is unable to function without everyone collaborating. The idea that a process needs to be driven by selfish behavior or individual sovereignty over the means to perform it doesn’t follow from the reality of the collaborative, social nature of production and reproduction. Collaborating to fulfill people’s needs and wants is exactly what we purport to do with markets, but this intention is immaterial to the outcome of continuing to decide to use them, despite their incredible flaws.
Democratic DA allows people to shape their society directly, to make decisions about what their community is like, rather than having choices handed to them from on high. People would take an active hand in shaping their life and community as a whole, not merely compartmentalized bits of it. For example, rather than restaurants that put its workers into the servitude of people and the market, people can build community kitchens where food can be efficiently stored and prepared and those with a passion for cooking can share their love and talent with others. In other words, the goal is to allow people to self-provision and share with others without having to concern themselves with what the personal cost of giving or getting is. Market logic accounts for costs completely backwards—true personal costs, such as the loss of freedom and autonomy, are unaccounted by markets. Instead, it can only account for the cost of getting materials or time from others, inevitably by giving up freedom or autonomy for the money to acquire materials. Democratic DA seeks to preserve the freedom and autonomy of people, rather than giving it up for hypothetically fair or efficient use of materials.
The use of democratic DA can take many forms, such as informal social agreements, rigorous legalized systems, or free software systems powering an automated means of production held in common. The ideal would be for decisions to be made by agreement of those who are affected by them, to the most reasonable degree possible. No individual’s use of food, water, or clothing should have to be monitored or rationed, unless in egregiously exceptional cases that significantly affect the community. Items that are used by individuals should be obtainable by self-provision, whether by right to take from the common stores of excess production, or the right to produce for oneself. Items that are used by groups can only justifiably be owned by groups, as there is no use or compelling reason for them to be individually-owned (though there is no shortage of ideologically-driven, reductionist moralisms that say they should).
Direct-allocation is used internally by businesses through the necessity of constructing their infrastructure. Cost, the most replaceable of all the purported functions of money, is the only market-based measure that is used for this process. Retail stores or call centers take how quickly customers do/should get service, how long it does/should take the service to finish, and from there work out the number of phone lines or registers to have. Relatively simple statistical formulas were developed for this very task. This exact logic can be used to figure out how many ovens we should have in our community kitchen, how many copies of a book we should have in our library, how many of each tool we should share, and so on. What’s especially interesting about queuing theory is that of all places, Walt Disney World has solved the problem of achieving a uniformly high utilization of an excludable, shared service. A similar process of daily scheduling in “virtual queues” can be used in conjunction with existing queuing theory to estimate and reallocate shared resources to ensure the fairest use for the most people.
Democratic DA lends itself very well to federalist organization, and could be adapted to work with existing property protections while maintaining its municipalist character. A libertarian form of “loanership” could be used to achieve personal and institutional possession while maintaining ultimate sovereignty of the commons: All cooperating libertarian municipalist communities will hold property in a commons trust, provided on loan from this trust to municipalities, who may then loan it to institutions or individuals. In traditional property rights, private property consists of usus, fructus, and abusus—the right to use, benefit from, and alienate (destroy or convey to another person/organization). The right to something obtained in this municipalist way should clearly include the first two. Instead of abusus, however, the loan rights should also provide mutuatus, the right to loan the item for an equal or shorter period of time with equal or less-restrictive terms. The loan from the commons should be considered repayable in kind; if you borrow a car and wreck it, you should return one car to the loaner. This can be taken care of by insurance-like organizations or the municipality itself. Choosing to relinquish the right to collect loss or damage is allowed within mutuatus, allowing communities to ensure that personal cost is not the basis of decision-making except when it should be.
Modern radicals seem to avoid the issue of legal power, preferring to think that technology will somehow make law obsolete. However, until technology actually does make obsolete, if that ever happens, there is a need for formal agreements between people, and therefore a need to consider how law works. There are significant problems with legal power today, namely the need for specialist knowledge and the relative lack of sharing and repeatability. I believe a good path would be simplifying legal language into one not too arcane for ordinary people to understand, and using that to create “programs” of agreements that are built on top of one another like free software. This would be like a modernized form of common law decided by people and not a privileged judicial class, and it could be rendered compatible with existing law using something like a program compiler.
Already programs called document assemblers are changing the way legal services function. These are a rudimentary form of what is possible to create, taking documents and adding the concept of variable bindings to them so that someone wishing to construct a boilerplate legal document need only enter names, numbers, and so on. The recodification of law should seek to generalize the idea of these simplistic templates into a complete, flexible code that can incorporate principles learned through the development of modern software. It should also seek to introduce the ability to interface with computer systems as part of the shift towards the computerized management and robotic labor that will help to bring about a post-scarcity society. This will also lay the foundation for an “internet of society,” a web of mutually agreed-upon standards for definitions, rights, organizations, and other legal structures accessible to anyone, which can then be employed like a software package from Github: Used simply with trust in the developers, or inspected and modified to fit a particular set of requirements.
The last part is the biggest advantage to such a project: The ability to collaboratively share legal power with everyone, building upon one another’s ideas and creating strong legal benefits and protections to everyone. Agreements like this can then be used to challenge the established order, even by those outside of the community or even outside of libertarian municipalist practice altogether. Arbitrations over specific clauses or structures should be viewable immediately from the text itself, allowing people to be sure that they have supported or reliable power in their hands. The biggest problem with such a project will obviously be scope, a problem that can be solved in part using GIS technologies. It is difficult to say what level of difficulty such a project would have, since it would be useful long before “completion” and has very beneficial potential.
Lawtran and more “traditional” computing technologies can be used to establish “self-awareness” and other-awareness for the libertarian municipality. This is the basic idea of VIAAC (Virtual Intentional Autonomous Abundance Community) theory, which discusses the use of computer-assisted social organizations to create moneyless, post-scarcity communities. Community-oriented social networks (as opposed to today’s marketing-oriented social networks) will be a much-needed tool for effective libertarian municipalist organization. The biggest problem with social networks is getting members, but a vast array of other problems can be solved very effectively with a wisely-used social network. Existing social networks should be extended as much as possible, rather than attempting to create brand-new ones. Diaspora* is probably the perfect basis for this, as it is an open-source social network with a fairly sizable existing membership, and is designed to be run as “pods”, rather than as a monolithic website.
These social networks should be integrated with ERP technology, to create a common resource inventory for communities to share. This common inventory forms the basis of intelligent democratic planning and a moneyless economy. It vastly expands the power of democratic direct allocation to include the use of priority queues to further assist in conflict resolution. Priority can be used as a theory of value, guided by the idea of a hierarchy of needs; if a community needs to ration water, it should be going to drinking water, food, and sanitation, rather than golf courses, swimming pools, and hydraulic fracturing. As the common resource inventory becomes populated, priority can be more accurately found by graphical/algebraic analysis of the decisions people actually make according to the common resource inventory, rather than trying to predict what they will be or prescribe what they should be. Conflicts over resources within a community are then resolved by observing what is actually important to the community. Conflicts over resources between communities will similarly be resolved by observing what is actually important to the communities.
One especially useful idea in common resource analysis is the idea of closeability—similar to an autarky, a “closeable” community can operate without help from others. This is a necessity for ensuring the community is sustainable. However, unlike an autarky, a closeable community does give and receive help from other communities; this is the power behind libertarian municipalism. People and communities should judge their material progress by how much they are able to help everyone else. In order to prevent unsustainable communities, the first concern of a community should be providing for their survival by their own means. Applying the common resource inventory allows us to very rigorously calculate our closeability; it can be figured based on the ratios of what we produce to what we consume. If the aggregate score of all necessities falls at or above 1, the community is closeable. Priority theory of value applied to the principle of closeability can produce a weighted, more useful closeability score. Closeability can be considered in general terms or in terms of freedom from the market.
There are many theoretical types of organizations from VIAAC theory, one potentially most useful is the crowdfunding bank, also humorously called the “knab”. This is an organization set up somewhat like a credit union that is geared toward achieving closeability by pooling money and expenses. For example, by using a high-bandwidth business internet connection in a community, each person can save a lot of money which can then be used to create a community WiFi network fed by a common pipe. Savings from each project funded through the knab can be used to fund further projects, the general idea of all projects being to replace continual, recurring costs paid to the market with services provided by oneself or other libertarian communities.
Libertarian municipalism as a basic concept is the perfect seed. It’s an idea that can be used to grow just about any type of libertarian community, and allow it to work together with other communities towards the common goals that all libertarians share. Transferics originated outside of libertarian municipalist thought, but applications to it may prove to create a formidable opponent to capitalism. Despite the resurgence in their popularity, markets, even if they are “free markets,” are inherently unfree, and we should seek a way to move beyond them just as we are seeking to move beyond wage labor and fossil fuels. Transferics provides the foundation for the tracks away from the unfree social relation of markets, towards a more communalist way of relating to the world.