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Hackers and exhange/gift economies

Some thoughts from a session in the ESF's Solidarity Village. Most Free Software is based upon a gift economy. Bounties and exchanges of work in kind, combined with the practises of mentoring and commuting learning, place Hackers in a guild-like system. The fact that Hackers are willing to do a lot of their work with no compensation in a form recognised by today's financial markets, and yet create an exchange value recognised by those markets, opens them to the possibility of developing other kinds of markets with other kinds of compensation, within existing financial markets.

Ideally this would take the form of exchanging labour directly, for example: "I'll write some code for your project if you put together this graphic for mine". Hackers could receive contracts, pull together a team that could determine the relative value of each participants' contribution equitably, and then divide up the financial exchange value they receive in payment accordingly. In this way the company is replaced by (spontaneously formed) co-operatives, with the workers empowered to allocate their workload and timings on an equal basis. The role of capital still underpins the venture, but so long as the outcome is sufficiently good (which the free software movement ably demonstrates is possible) it has no further control over the production process.

As these ventures grow, it would become advantageous for Hackers to begin trading amongst themselves. This would require either setting agreed exchange values upon their labour, so that two Hackers could agree, for example, on how much code a graphic is work, or an extremely amiable code of conduct to emerge. And this space is something that schemes like Local Exchange Trading Systems might be able to fill in the future.