Democratic Marketplaces

The Proposal

The problem: One of the underlying causes of inequality around the world is the absence or severe lack of consumer decision-making power in the production and distribution of goods and services. This means individuals and communities are subject to three factors of consumer inequality: (1) price inelasticity, i.e. accepting high prices or going without necessary or desirable goods and services; (2) artificial scarcity, i.e. having fewer goods and services provided than are actually available; (3) high quality to price ratios, i.e. accepting high prices for low quality. This lack of consumer empowerment leads to social, health, environmental and economic costs, which are subsequently shifted onto the consumers and not the top-level decision-makers of producing institutions.

The solution: Create public, online institutions that put decision-making power into the hands of individuals and communities, so that individuals and communities have a direct, democratic means by which they can control which goods (and services) are produced (or provided), how they are produced, who produces them, how much is produced and at what cost. These democratic marketplaces shall be controlled by both consumers and producers of goods and services, employing the aid of impartial third-party overseers and managers, with the following aims:

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On the side of consumers:

  • Information: Lowering the cost of information, so that consumers know more about the goods and services they buy, including who makes the products, where the products are made, where the raw materials for the products come from, as well as assess the social, environmental, health and economic impacts of such products and their production process.

  • Direction: Empowering consumers to make informed decisions that directly reflect themselves in the goods and services they also buy. In other words, instead of “voting” for or against a product by paying or not paying for it, consumers collectively shape the product through direct voting methods, while maintaining their right to boycott or buy less of the product. They will on a continual basis be able to decide if the product meets the standards they set, and if the price truly reflects the cost of its production.

  • Expertise: Facilitating dialogue between consumers, so that they can share product ideas and designs and ultimately know about each other’s needs and wants. This recognizes the consumer’s role primarily as a user — someone who uses the product and has a certain degree of expertise as to how the product is used in a real-world setting — and secondarily as a developer — someone who can make products or improve upon existing products.

On the side of producers:

  • Information: Lowering the costs of information, so that producers can produce what it is that consumers will in fact buy, and not waste time, labour and resources on products that do not fulfill the needs and desires of consumers. No longer would producers need to rely on market mechanisms and research to know what it is that consumers want, because that information will be given to them directly in both statistical reports and personal testimony on a continual basis.

  • Direction: Empowering producers to make informed decisions that directly reflect themselves in the goods and services they also produce. In other words, instead of decisions being made by small groups of individuals at the top of hierarchical production structures, all workers will have a say in where the products are made, where the raw materials for the products come from, as well as whether the social, environmental, health and economic benefits of such products and their production process outweigh the costs. In other words, the producers will be organized along the lines of Self-Directed Worker Enterprises (WSDEs) or similar structures.

  • Expertise: Facilitating dialogue between producers, so that they can share product ideas and designs and ultimately know about each other’s needs and wants. This recognizes the producer’s role primarily as a developer — someone who can make products or improve upon existing products — as well as a user — someone who uses the product and has a certain degree of expertise as to how the product is used in a real-world setting.

On both sides (through non-biased third parties):

  • Information: Raising overall transparency and accountability within communities, so that both developers (producers) and users (consumers) make decisions that reflect the other side’s own decisions and input. This transparency and accountability would reflect itself both in the price users are willing to pay, since people are more willing to pay for products they have influence over, as well as the wages of developers, since people are more willing to work for less if they can see that it is for the good of the community.

  • Direction: Removing the dictatorship aspect of decision-making, which in most institutions of production are directed by top-level decision-makers (such as owners and boards of directors) who have the final say over almost all aspects of production and sales. Without top-level decision-makers who have the power to to cut corners and raise prices for their profit benefit the price-quality ratio of goods and services will fall, and without top-level decision-makers who fire workers or lower their wages at the threat of termination the overall higher wages for developers will rise.

  • Expertise: Facilitating dialogue between communities, so that they can share product ideas and designs and know about each other’s needs and wants. This is ultimately so that both users and developers become more in tune with the social, environmental, health and economic needs and wants of the community as a whole, and communities become more politically conscious. This recognizes the role of all individuals who participate in upholding standards and investigating marketplaces and enterprises as agents — individuals who possess specific, autonomous capacities to gather information and facilitate democracy and have certain levels expertise either as non-invested users or as non-interested developers — the role of top-level decision-makers as dictators — individuals who possess broad decision-making powers over other individuals but have expertise relevant only to their own self-interest — and the role of users, developers and agents as democrats — individuals who share decision-making powers (no one individual having decision-making power over others) and whose expertise necessarily extends to the interests of others.

How Democratic Marketplaces Work

In order to ensure smooth production and the guarantee of rights to all democrats, the following is a list of reasonable tools and guidelines that democratic marketplaces may implement.

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Research and Development Lab — an online forum for users and developers alike to propose features, discuss their usability and feasibility, inform each other of costs and prices, and rank each feature according to an agreed upon rating system. R&D may be split into two parts:

  • Minting Lab — where new products and features are put together;
  • Finishing Lab — where already-existing products are altered and improved upon.

Stack Office — a form where collections or “stacks” of features are approved both by users as usable and developers as feasible through an agreed upon rating system. Here the final costs and prices may be set. As a safeguard, this forum may be open to members of the democratic marketplace who have paid a nominal fee or into a monthly or yearly subscription, which goes to funding the developers.

Elections Board — not a group of individuals but a set of stacks that have been deemed both usable by the users and feasible by developers, and which share the same cost and price. Users will be asked to vote for their favourite stacks through proportional voting, and developers will likewise vote on whether to produce the most popular stack only, the first five most stacks, or — depending on demand — all stacks. As a safeguard, the elections board may be open only to those individuals who have already bought into the product.

Crowdfunding Tools — online tools in order to finance the production of the elected stacks. Users fund the production of their product with a guarantee that it will be shipped within specified period of time. Once a stack leaves research and development and the stack office, the developers may wish to promote the product and appeal to users who may not already have bought into the product. Users, furthermore, may wish to donate more than the price of a product because they want to support the marketplace or the developers. To prevent corruption, users and developers may not be permitted to donate directly to individual agents, who receive their funding either through a percentage of  a subscription payment or from a “usage” fee that developers pay into, or else from general donation funds. Thus there are four forms of funding:

  • Usage Fees — either one-time or subscription payments to help pay for running the marketplace;
  • Pre-orders — money paid by users up front in order to buy a stack that they will receive later;
  • Principal — money that users, developers and agents may have in order to start a democratic market place or else to invest in the foundation or expansion of a WSDE, which they will be returned with interest;
  • Donation — money that users, developers and agents may give to democratic marketplaces or WSDEs out of feelings of goodwill and generosity.

Abundance Production — any WSDE may choose to produce more of a popular product in order to satisfy on-demand purchases for people who have come across the product when it has already been produced. WSDEs may elect to calculate a set amount of overabundance and include the cost of this extra production into their projected costs at the stack office.

Information Wikis — a set of pages that make information about stacks, features, technologies, working conditions, environmental impact, costs and prices, etc, transparent and easy to follow. For accountability reasons democratic marketplace members may “demand” certain aspects of information and can have access to and write the information themselves. Here third-party agents may be hired to write and review information based on expertise and first-hand viewing of production institutions. Information provided may include: 

  • Origin of raw materials;
  • Wages and roles of developers;
  • Production costs for individual stacks or features;
  • Certifications;
  • Plans for WSDE expansion;
  • Sustainability statistics;
  • Number of products produced and ratio of pre-ordered to surplus products.

 

Direction Bill of Rights — a set of pages that stipulate legally binding rules and regulations for both users and developers. For all users, developers and agents a guarantee to privacy of information. For user rights emphasizing that stacks voted upon by paying users will in fact be produced and that they will receive the stack that they actually paid for or get their money back. For developer rights emphasizing that they own the means of production and can choose to organize production as they see fit, or cancel production (with a refund) if they see that a stack is indeed too expensive, too dangerous, or simply infeasible. For agents emphasizing that they are guaranteed access to enterprises and relevant information about users and developers, will be recompensed for their roles in facilitating democracy and gathering information, and are ensured freedom of press protections. These rights will ensure that there are no dictators or other people who can exploit or freeride.

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Expertise Badges — a method of weighting users, developers and agents (democrats) in terms of expertise and experience so that democrats can determine whether any information is trustworthy. Some such information can be gathered through stats: As a condition of participating in a democrat marketplace, the site may gather usage information on such as number of votes, comments posted and wiki-pages read or written, and democrats are awarded experience points accordingly. Some such information can be gathered through upvoting: Democrats who post good comments or write good wiki-pages may be promoted by other users who find the information useful, and each promotion corresponds to a set number of experience points. Other such information can be gathered through credence: Democrats who volunteer information such as age, occupation or education level may upload scanned documents that are then verified by agents at a centralized agency that then shares this information with democratic marketplaces. As an extra precaution there may even be an office where all democrats may certify their expertise levels in person and are issued a number that they can share with different marketplaces. Two important caveats:

  • Levels of expertise shall not in any way affect the right to vote, so that the vote of a newly registered user is the same as a veteran agent is the same as a master craftsman.
  • Amount of money invested or donated shall not in any way affect the level of expertise or right to vote, even if some democratic marketplaces deem it acceptable or desirable to display such information.

Meta Feedback — users, developers and agents alike may be dissatisfied with the implementation and facilitation of the democratic market itself, in which case paying members of a democratic market shall have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and vote for changes in a democratic manner.

Open Markets — while users, developers and agents alike may create their own democratic marketplaces, they may find it advantageous to list existing marketplaces in centralised sites around specific industries or technologies. Watchmakers and lovers may, for instance, gather under a single domain so that their democratic marketplaces are easy to find. Open markets may on the other hand offer webspace and services as well as tools for people to build democratic marketplaces regardless of industry or technology. Hosting site nozama.dm may, for example, offer to host the democratic marketplaces of butchers, bakers, brewers, bicycle manufacturers and battery makers alike so that users, developers and agents can “shop around”.

Portals — human beings like to be out and about in the world, to see and feel the products that they buy and to share information and expertise in person. Thus physical marketplaces — mom-and-pop shops, malls, exhibition halls and department stores alike — can have have portals to corresponding online marketplaces in the form of computer terminals, where individuals can quickly inform themselves about the products that they want to buy, looking at information wikis and ratings of users. Entire shops may indeed be set up for research and development, stack office or election board purposes alone, so that users can interact with prototypes, see live presentations by WSDEs, and hear from relevant expert agents, and then vote on site while logging experience points to go towards their own expertise.

Examples of Needed Marketplaces

Device Software and Hardware

There are thousands of smartphones, tablets and computers on the market, which range in price from under 100 dollars to several thousand dollars. All of these are accompanied by a variety of operating systems and for each of which there are thousands of applications, some of which are free and open source, others free and proprietary, others paid for through intrusive advertising, and still others non-free, proprietary as well as intrusive. Furthermore, except in very rare cases, both hardware and software are only sold to users on condition of signing a lengthy, difficult-to-understand, legally binding contract, meaning users often surrender their rights to data privacy and their rights of full recompense in case the product does not meet specifications, breaks, crashes or is otherwise unusable. Finally, except in the open-source market, many devices and applications are designed to be incompatible with other devices and applications without paying a premium or voiding any existing warranty, which is to the detriment of collaboration and diversification, and ultimately to productivity as a whole. Add to this that many products are designed to break easily or expire so that they have to be repaired or repurchased.

Groups of users could benefit from collectively deciding on sets of features that device software and hardware should provide. Users who have higher degrees of expertise through experience with using or creating the products could over time chose the features that are more efficient and useful, benefiting any users with lower degrees of expertise who will use a product for the first time. On the other side, groups of developers could benefit from collectively deciding to create those products that have features users want and that are feasible. Analogous to users, developers who have higher degrees of expertise through experience could over time chose those features that are most wanted and feasible, benefiting any developers with lower degrees of expertise who will be creating a product for the first time. Finally, agents could help coordinate and inform much of the development process, so that users who share similar desires or concerns will be referred to existing technologies or WSDEs who are willing to implement those ideas, and developers who share similar interests can be referred to existing marketplaces looking for certain products.

Renewable Energy

High energy costs are the bane of users and developers alike. A large portion of household expenditure goes towards heating and cooling homes, and while some people may choose to go without, some, such as the elderly or disabled individuals, are highly susceptible to temperature fluctuations and experience severe discomfort and even the threat of death when heating or cooling bills cannot be paid. Furthermore, as access to technology increases so to do household energy costs as more and more individuals have PCs, tablets, cell phones, plasma televisions, etc, that consume high levels of electricity. Developers — WSDEs and other productive firms — also rely on electricity as an input into their production and are subject to fluctuations in the cost of energy which may drive up their costs and run them out of business. Furthermore, while most individuals and enterprises are already interested in renewable energy, and all things remaining equal they would choose such energy over carbon and nuclear energy, they have only very limited means to influence the increased production of such energy.

In a democratic marketplace users could monitor their own energy usage from their computer or a smartphone app, compare their usage to average usage in their community, inform themselves about energy-saving techniques as well as choose to have their monthly electricity bill go in part to building new plants or expanding existing plants. This way they can help make informed decisions that will keep prices stable in the short term and lower prices in the long term.

Public Transportation

Cars are a two-edged sword: on the one hand they increase personal freedom and productivity, on the other hand they produce congestion and air pollution, thereby hindering their own usefulness and posing a danger to members of society. Public transportation relieves congestion and lowers air pollution, and depending on the source of energy may even be carbon-neutral in its implementation. Yet communities are unwilling to invest in public transportation if such transportation will not be utilized, or if there is a threat of too many freeriders abusing the system. One problem is that while most individuals do not need their own cars most of the time, the prospect of having a car on hand means they forego public transportation even when the latter is more efficient and practical.

In a democratic marketplace public transportation could take on some of the the on-demand aspect of personal cars while allowing for the efficiency of traditional public transportation. While most individuals may opt to use public transportation most of the time, they can nonetheless vote to have a certain number of public cars and trucks available in order to accommodate specific needs such as moving large objects, going on vacation or quickly getting to more remote places. Users can furthermore vote to create new routes and increase the frequency of stops and volume of vehicles, so that those areas that have high public transportation needs see correspondingly high levels of public transportation. Furthermore, users of democratic marketplaces may choose to invest a portion of their spending in high speed trains and aviation, in order to lower the costs of long distance travel and to lower the carbon footprint of those industries.

Healthcare

One of the most common complaints by users of healthcare goods and services are the high prices of healthcare goods and services. These high prices correspond directly to the inelasticity of such products: Either users buy the products or face pain, short- or long-term impairment, or even death. Furthermore, while prevention products may in the long run be less expensive and more beneficial than treatment products, they are nonetheless subject to high information costs, and the benefits in the future might not be entirely visceral or salient to users who have to make the decision to buy the products at the moment. Finally, lack of information and familiarity with proper healthcare leads users to purchase products with no benefit or only placebo benefits, such as homeopathic medicines and questionable alternative practices, which is not only a waste of money, time and resources but also potentially detrimental to individual health.

Single-payer healthcare systems are more efficient and less costly than market healthcare systems partly because they the implement some of the mechanisms of a democratic marketplace. Single-payer healthcare systems have a more needs-based approach to their product inelasticity: instead of raising prices to profit from the all-or-nothing ultimatum users face in either receiving expensive treatment or going without, prices are set to cover the costs of providing healthcare products as they are needed. This means that such systems opt for, for instance, so-called generic medicines that are exactly as effective as proprietary medicines but at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, single-payer systems seek to lower the costs of healthcare products by lowering the costs of information that allow users to make informed decisions both about treatment and about preventative care. Finally, because much of the cost of healthcare corresponds to repeated use and the medium and long-term natures of treatment, providers have an incentive both to use tried-and-true methods and medicines instead of ineffective alternative methods and homeopathic medicines, as well as to explore the development of new methods and medicines that will lower the overall time and intensity of treatment. Nonetheless, single-payer healthcare systems could benefit from more democratic methods in that developers — doctors, nurses, researchers, medicine producers, etc. — who have expertise and experience can share information to produce better products, while users — both people with acute or chronic health problems or people seeking preventative care — can more openly and honestly inform developers and each other about their healthcare concerns, so that they are more willing and able to receive the proper treatment. Finally, agents help users find the right doctors, can monitor hospitals and medicine manufacturers, and can review complaints by users to ascertain whether they are founded and justified in order to reduce malpractice on the one hand and protect the reputation of doctors on the other.

The Butcher, the Baker and the Brewer

It is difficult to imagine an industry where democratic marketplaces cannot at the very least lower the price-quality ratio of its goods and services. While the butcher, baker and brewer in Adam Smith might well be acting in their own economic self-interest, it is abundantly clear that they would not come very far if they were not helping to fulfill at least some of the interests of others. There would be no butcher, after all, if people did not desire meat, no baker if people did not desire bread, and no brewer if people did not like the fantastic taste of beer. Presumably each of these producers went into their prospective professions because they had some idea that others will purchase their products. Furthermore, presumably any gain in new or repeat customers they have is the result of at least some general knowledge among consumers that the products are good, or at least a lack of knowledge of their poor quality. Selling gamey meat, gritty bread and groggy beer might be a short-term way to increase profit, but, unless the products are well-marketed or seen as the only alternative, this strategy will be detrimental in the long-run. Instead of relying on the invisible hand of the market to figure out which products may or may not sell, the butcher, baker and brewer could engage in a democratic relationship with their customers, matching exactly the products they, as developers, are willing and able to produce with the products that consumers, as users, are willing and able to buy. Such a relationship, which includes increasing trust and lowering costs of information, can only benefit the butcher, baker and brewer, as users will be more sensitive to the interests of the developers who are in turn more sensitive to their own needs.

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Coordination Costs and Benefits

Market supply and demand is meant to control the quality of products and keep down their costs, but tying the market mechanism to cost and price alone adds an artificial step between the actual interaction of supply and demand curves. Even under perfect market conditions, reliance on the invisible hand of the market is at best an indirect and after-the-fact method of deciding what to produce, who gets to produce it, who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits — and under existing conditions it is the lead cause of famine in a world that throws away half its food, falling levels of education in a futuristic world of tablets and smartphones, and debt and unemployment in the richest world we have ever known. This indirect market mechanism leads to market inefficiencies: On the one hand the coordination costs required for users to influence the market through their own individualistic purchasing power are higher than the coordination costs required for dictators (boards of directors) to make those decisions directly. On the other hand the costs of non-coordination on the part of the users become higher as dictators shift the costs of their own non-coordination (externalities) onto the users.

The costs of a democratic marketplace are lower, because the democratic marketplace utilises existing and familiar technologies as well as programming skills that most of us can master within a matter of weeks. Most of us have already participated in online surveys, support forums, Q&A sites and online shopping of some form or another, which means most of us already possess a level of expertise that is well above that needed to participate in an intuitively designed democratic marketplace. With sites such as amazon.com, which implement many tools and guidelines similar to those stipulated above, we are in fact most of the way to achieving such democratic marketplaces — all we need is the democracy!

Public, Private and Club Institutions

It becomes evident that democratic marketplaces are quite different from traditional marketplaces, which favour the freedom to buy and sell over price regulation and the protection of rights, and central planning systems, which favour the restriction of buying and selling in order to regulate prices and (ideally) protect rights. Democratic marketplaces are in fact a form of decentralised planning, which protects the rights of individuals and regulates prices while at the same time allowing for the full freedom to buy and sell one would find in a traditional marketplace. The decentralised nature of planning means that such marketplaces take on the role of public, private and club institutions all at once. Nonetheless, it is clear that some democratic marketplaces may in fact take on some roles to a higher degree than others. The following are some examples:

Single-Payer Healthcare would necessarily become a more public institution due to the rights and guarantees that users, developers and agents have when receiving, implementing or coordinating healthcare. When we break our foots — other complications notwithstanding — we all need similar levels of care corresponding to the severity of our injuries and not to our desires or pocketbooks. An individual user may decide to opt for surgery instead of a cast, therapy instead of medication, etc, but these treatments should have the same prices and standards across the board, and not be subject to the socio-economic inequalities that plague private or two-tiered systems. Furthermore, any decision for instance to use contraceptive, have an abortion or undergo sexual reassignment surgery should be subject to the individual and their healthcare provider alone, and the decision should be based on sound medical advice and the personal medical history of the individual patient, and not coercion or pressure from the community. Thus while certain healthcare products such as medicine and splints may be manufactured in privately run WSDEs, single-payer health care must be provided and regulated at a public level in order to ensure that all of our rights to healthcare are guaranteed.

Public Transportation infrastructure tends to be paid for as a public good, as governments overtake the costs of building train routes, roads, bridges, airports, etc, but the vehicles themselves, the trains, buses and cars, are often run as club goods or — in the case of cars — private goods. In fact, the only type of transportation that would be entirely private is an individual driving a car on a driveway. Thus, while we may equate public transportation to subways and busses, all forms of transportation have some sort of public aspect. Communities may therefore find it more efficient and beneficial to treat high-cost public transportation — such as individuals driving public cars on publicly built roads, high speed trains and aeroplanes — as club goods, so that the costs of such transportation are covered by those who use it, and they are able to democratically influence the production, maintenance and service of such transportation. On the other hand, communities may well treat other forms of low-cost public transportation, such as trams, busses and bicycles as public goods, community guarantees to the public that they will be able to get to where they need to go the most in the face of expanding populations and sprawling towns and cities — similar to the guarantee afforded children in many countries to have a free and safe method of traveling to and from school. We are beginning to see how democratic marketplaces could even democratize traditionally government roles.

Renewable Energy plants such as wind farms and solar power stations are remarkably modular. This means that communities can either have renewable energy plants built to their specific needs, such as putting solar panels on their roofs or investing in a number of turbines proportional to their energy expenditure, or they can choose to expand plants and create surplus energy that can either be stored in various batteries and fuels or else exported to other communities. Renewable energy is the quintessential private good that can be treated as a club good, since its production benefits from large numbers of people who pool their resources to build plants, the price one pays directly corresponds to usage, and the localized nature of renewable energy means communities can allow members to oversee and influence the production in their own communities, but other communities would be excluded from these privileges. Furthermore, communities may in fact choose to lower the prices of energy to the elderly or disabled, or to set a flat subscription rate for energy, turning it into a full club good.

Butcher, Bakers and Brewers as well as Device Developers all across the world provide their products on a more-or-less on-demand basis, meaning that while they benefit from the economies of scale that public and club goods could potentially provide, their one-purchase-per-use nature means that they are sold as private goods. Yet what happens when a butcher sells expired meat, a baker sells maggoty bread, when the beer contains harmful chemicals (besides alcohol!) and when software crashes and wipes a person’s files? Either a government agency has to step in or, as in most scenarios where a product is bad but not harmful, users have to accept a corporate “as-is” policy. Therefore while these goods may be privately sold, a proof of purchase should nonetheless guarantee the user the same rights as the user of a club or public good, including the right to get together with other users and have the product changed or make new products, as well as the right to punish the developers when they do not meet their promises. These rights should be self-evident, and we should not require a government agency that is subject to corruption and inefficiency problems of its own in order to punish bad and dishonest business practices.

Implementation and Feasibility

Democratic marketplace can start as small as single-product/single-firm marketplaces that use a web interface to facilitate crowdfunding, inform users about goods and services that are feasible, and inform developers about goods and services that are desirable. In this stage prospective users or developers can suggest a product to be produced, with desired design specifications. Users can pledge a price they would be willing to pay for the end product, and developers can inform users of foreseeable costs. Both users and developers can pay a fee into the institution so that a non-biased third-party can assess both sides of the equation, giving users the confidence that they will receive the desired and promised product and giving developers the confidence that they will have the revenue to cover the costs of the product and their own livelihoods. As user demand and developer supply grows, these institutions can also grow to encompass larger and larger communities, and use economies of scale to lower transaction and coordination costs. In the end, on a societal scale democratic user and democratic developers will eventually overlap each other, as different decision-making entities become entwined and gain trust among one another.

In a free market, any democratic marketplace, all things remaining equal, will necessarily outcompete any traditionally hierarchical marketplace. This is due to four reasons: First, in order to compete with a hierarchical marketplaces, democratic users can always accept the same quality and price as in hierarchical marketplaces so that democratic developers can stay in business. Second, in order to compete with hierarchical marketplaces, democratic developers can always accept the same wages and working conditions as in hierarchical marketplaces so that democratic developers can continue to buy their goods and services, thus keeping themselves in business; Third, because there is not a class of dictators taking profits, this extra cost of production — the cost of profit to users and developers — can be distributed to further lower prices; Finally, because democratic marketplaces have fewer coordination costs, the costs that are no longer borne by users and developers increase their purchasing and production powers respectively. The marginal output of democratic developers and the marginal purchasing power parity of democratic users will thus always be higher than that of hierarchical marketplaces.

There is obviously one large obstacle in the way of creating such institutions: all things are not equal, but in fact terribly unequal. In the end we can overcome this inequality only through political and economic coordination. Democratic marketplaces can promise us better working and environmental conditions, fairer wages and prices, higher standards of health and more social and economic cohesion, but the down payment is the first political and economic push. As soon as a democratic marketplace is established, hierarchical marketplaces — firms and governments — will work against what they see as a threat to their well-being and very existence.

Our response to those who would work against us is two-fold: First, any democratic transformation of society would necessarily be inclusive of all members of society, and all members of society will necessarily have the same decision-making rights and responsibilities as other members. Those who would choose to give up their disproportionately high power in order to become our equals would not become our enemies, but rather our allies. Second, democratic equality is not a threat to you; hierarchical inequality is a threat to us all. We all stand to lose from the social, environmental, health and economic impacts of inequality, as these lead to destabilisation. We live on the brink of a stabilised world in which even the richest and most powerful among us cannot guarantee their own well-being. We reject the violent and chaotic revolutions of the past that have only ever replaced hierarchies with other hierarchies in favour of a revolution of our minds and our morality. True democratic equality is exactly the absence of any type of violence — reactionary, exploitative or coercive — and a true revolution begins and ends with seeing and treating each other as equals. The first and last step is transforming the who, what, where, why and when of how we provide for ourselves and for others.

Scenarios in the Electronic Device Industry

Scenario 1: Consumers Carla, Christina and Craig and producers Pam, Patrick and Petra create an online forum and questionnaire to develop a smartphone X. Carla, Christina and Craig minimally want a basic phone that can call, send text messages and take photos, and Carla ideally wants it to record video, Christina wants it to surf the web, and Craig wants it to play music. Beyond the minimum preferences, the three consumers are indifferent to the others’ preferences. Let’s say that under existing technology, producers Pam, Patrick and Petra say that they can offer the xPhone-Beta at a low price which includes the basic capabilities as well as video recording and music listening, as well as xPhone-Alpha at a high price, because surfing the web requires extra and costly internet technologies. After consulting device agents Alexis and Andrea, Carla, Christina and Craig may all decide this is a good deal or not. Importantly, neither side is required to invest — the consumers in buying a smartphone and the producers in building a smartphone — unless they have good reason to believe that the investment will pay off, which they do through transparency and negotiation.

Scenario 2: Fred and Georgina are two entrepreneurs with a successful film and photography business. As part of the process of filtering and cutting film, they long ago realized that they need both a Mac and a Windows PC in order to get the job done. Now they are looking to buy smartphones and tablets in order to communicate and share pictures and footage out in the field without having to lug around heavy laptops. These devices must be compatible with both of the computers and, due to the large file sizes inevitable in their industry, they must have both a over-the-cable and a wireless option to transfer files. Ideally, the files and films on the devices, in the computers and in the cloud would all synchronise together at once whether they use cable or wireless. In fact, this feature alone would increase their office productivity by 10 percent, as they no longer have to wait for the other to transfer relevant files. First Fred and Georgina go to a Mac retailer, and then to a Windows PC retailer, and find out that their wishes cannot be fulfilled, because neither Mac nor Windows devices allow compatibility with the their greatest rival, even through third-party apps. Finally, agents Alexis and Andrea inform Fred and Georgina about Pam, Patrick and Petra’s new company, and the latter offer the former to programme the software and build the devices, because they are not bound by the same incompatibility arms race that drives large software companies. Furthermore, because compatibility is one of the products being sold, Fred and Georgina receive software updates  whenever Apple or Microsoft change their software to become more restrictive, information of which is gathered by Alexis and Andrea. They hardly notice the restrictions while other consumers have to pay extra to evade them. The trade-off in the potential profit to be made through non-compatibility for Pam, Patrick and Petra is that Fred and Georgina are now loyal customers.

Robert Pyotr Wolff

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