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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

So wait, what's your proposal as a solution to the free rider problem?

I don't expect you to solve the complete problem, I'm just wondering what your ideas are.

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anarchist_critic wrote

People aren't self-interested rational individuals, so the free rider problem as formulated in rational choice theory/game theory/neoclassical economics doesn't really exist as far as I'm concerned. People won't overexploit resources or free-ride just because there's an opportunity to free-ride, and it won't necessarily overstrain systems even if they do. There's a meme went round recently about people who get free water (or pay a fixed sum for free water), they don't leave their taps on all day or drink as much water as they can stomach, just because it's free. And I can think of a lot of examples where a small number of people put in all the energy to run projects which benefit a much larger number - everything from Indymedia back in the day, to something like Calais Migrant Solidarity, to social centres where a small core group do most of the work.

However, I think there's a slightly different problem in actual collectives which looks quite similar. If a lot of people are perceived as freeloading then other people sometimes become less emotionally motivated to participate. It doesn't seem to affect all projects the same way (e.g. FNB or refugee solidarity don't fall apart because some recipients "freeload"; it doesn't seem to affect Bushmen or Ilongot hunters) but probably impacts more on projects where there's a goal of building community, or where a few people are doing a lot of work. Communes, festivals, social centres, even black blocs (I remember hearing about an older group getting fed up with younger people expecting them to always take the lead in the bloc). Sometimes community work if it's expected the community will graduate from "service users" to activists and they never do. This kind of reaction seems to correlate with the core group suffering burnout or overwork. So, there can be a social centre run for years by a core group with a lot of "freeloaders", and it isn't a problem, but then the core group get fed up with the situation and stop putting their energy in. When people are buzzing with the energy of a new project or an effective project, they have energy to spare and they don't really care if everyone's pulling their weight. When people are more stressed and frustrated then it becomes a much bigger issue and the recriminations start.

I don't know if resentment of freeloaders is an emotional hangover from capitalism or if it's deeper in human psychology. If the former then it might be enough simply to expect freeloaders and treat it as a legitimate kind of engagement, so it no longer affects motivation. Otherwise it's a question of how to increase motivation to contribute. And there's quite a few possible answers to this, other than the usual ones of economic incentives, coercion, or tying benefits to contributions. Emotional incentives, ludic practices, social status benefits, learnt values, etc. I think if people value a project, and know it needs their contribution, they will usually contribute. I also think the resentment of freeloaders is itself a hurdle we probably need to overcome, so as to enable us to provide and receive free services (which we're gonna need to live without markets and states). Capitalism both encourages us to treat services as provider/user binaries and not contribute, and also encourages us to resent people who don't contribute. So the problem's mainly psychological - abundance versus scarcity mentalities. I'd expect that if participation is rewarding enough for contributors, and there's enough redundant supply/capacity that it exceeds demand from contributors, then the existence of free riders shouldn't be a problem. So, it's a question of how to configure emotional and energetic flows within an assemblage so as to maintain the buzz which makes people want to "contribute". It's not an exact science and I can't theorise it much beyond this, because nobody AFAIK has done concrete research on how these kinds of energies are summoned, maintained, or dissipated.

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

But I think this is a core problem, maybe the core problem, with many community systems or projects.

My kids' soccer teams are at the intramural level, so it's not highly competitive. The children are in it to have fun with their friends. A few parents are actively involved and put a lot of work in. Most just show up. Sometimes the organizations fold for lack of contributors, even though the kids love it.

Or on a larger scale, I think of free software (free-as-in-freedom, open source). A tiny core of contributors do almost all of the work, a larger set of hobbyists do the rest, and hundreds of millions more just use the results.

Or look at the Open Source Ecology / Global Village Construction Set project. There are billions that would benefit from the project when it matures. It, or an equivalent, should be buried in resources. Instead it's a motivated but laughably tiny community.

Now, maybe there is a compelling argument that capitalism poisons everything it touches so much that even these non-business projects crash and burn. Maybe citizens of a capitalist society are unable in some cases to contribute but more importantly just ingrained with a mindset alien to contributing without tangible rewards.

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anarchist_critic wrote

Well, there's lots of reasons people don't contribute. Yes, a belief in rewards is one of them. Others include time pressure (from overwork and social obligations), illness, depression, certain disabilities, lack of "skills", lack of self-confidence, and all kinds of attitudes towards the people doing the work (from hero-worship to resentment and "feeling excluded"). The thing is, a lot of initiatives keep running in spite of a lot of the participants not contributing. Yes, some fold. They fold at the point where the core group burn out, or the resources needed are greater than those the core group can put in. A lot of others keep going. I think there's less energy now than in the recent past, but the main reason is that everyone's overworked and overstressed. It's a lot easier to put energy into projects when you have a stable job with low hours or better still, you're managing to survive without working.

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

I hope you don't find the late response irritating. I think you're right.

I have an outstanding income but all of my time and money goes into my brood. In another fifteen years if medical problems for me or for a loved one don't derail my plans, I'll have the time to contribute to some worthwhile project. But only a painfully small portion of society is in that luxurious position at any one time. And I'll still be working full time.