The Cooking Pot Market

In this world, desire is infinite and the means to satisfy desire is finite.  As we watch socioeconomic circumstances change with the global market, an efficient and just mechanism for allocating goods is increasingly difficult to devise.  Cultural divides and social stratification bear down on attempts to level out the playing filed in an international economy.  The information economy, however, blurs class distinction and has served as a catalyst for globalization. The concept of the Cooking Pot Market could be conceived as the buttress of this emerging economy, in that the interchange of ideas and information within the context of the Internet, for instance, is fueled not my monetary motives but rather communal interests and the reputation economy.  The discourse fashioned by Rishab Aiyer Ghosh in Cooking pot markets: an economic model for the trade in free goods and services on the Internet dissects the possibilities of building an economy within the conceptual framework of the trade model which was revived in tandem to the growth of the Internet.  However, when this paradigm is shifted from the technological sphere to that of the socioeconomic, its flawed and idealistic nature is revealed.  The surplus of information does not equate to the issues encountered in the case of surplus goods.   With this said, the aspiration underpinning this dialogue is to construct a micro foundation for the emerging market that will iron out the creases that will inevitably arise.

The failure of the Cooking pot Market can be extrapolated to what Rishab Aiyer Ghosh terms as “the tragedy of the commons”[i]. The shortcomings of this socioeconomic structure mirror those that arise when a common reserve is depleted as in the case of a field over-grazed by chattel.  In a similar vein, raking the ocean of fish may benefit some but proves ultimately detrimental to the world at large. The laws aimed at regulating the expenditure of natural resources are relatively ambiguous.  For instance, the Japanese alone harvest from the Indian Ocean twenty one percent of the yellow fish tuna[ii].  Yet, as this fish slowly slips into extinction, what incentive does a fisherman have not to catch the endangered species as much as possible- especially considering its status as a culinary rarity? The two aforementioned instances delineate why the aspiration to erect an international distribution model that facilitates the communal allotment of goods ultimately fails due to the absence of an overarching community.  Human nature behaves in a manner where entitlement undermines reciprocity.  The diminishing global fish stock and uneven consumption of natural resources attest to the reasons why the paradigm of the Cooking Pot Market is complicated by the subdivisions of pride and undercurrent of greed that fuels the market economy.

So the question is, can the Cooking Pot Economy transcend the unequal distribution of goods and depletion of common resources?  Perhaps. Let’s consider that the Internet renders a socioeconomic condition split between two systems. With economists and the public alike struggling to reconcile the market with the non-market sphere, the relationship between the two remain polar.  For instance, giving music out for free creates a market of demand in the non-market realm, while at the same time a fan base is cultivated this way and monetary return ensues.  However, the intercourse between these differing economic models is complicated by the disparity in the motivation fueling the public’s participation.  For instance, the incentive behind involvement in the non-market domain is hinged on the concept of the reputation economy, wherein financial compensation comes secondary and value is tied to social position within a niche community.  This reputation economy monitors a market that resides outside of the monetary sphere, wherein communal sharing, social organizations, authority ranking (based on reputation) and reciprocity thrive.  All of the above are not only fundamental characteristic of the Internet, but are also essential attributes of the Cooking Pot paradigm[iii].

Although one cannot attach a concrete value to reputations, it can be argued that “like money, they represent things of value, as proxies”[iv] (Ghosh).   Just as money is a vital element in regulating the contemporary market economy, reputation plays a role in sustaining the Cooking Pot Market.   The assumption is that the reputation economy motivates the masses to work without solely a monetary incentive. The growth of the information economy, which over the past several years has built tremendous momentum thanks to the Internet, is rooted in the exchange of ideas. Technological advancements have meant that information is not only free, but also that it is accessible to many more people than ever before.  The Internet can almost be described as a postmodern barter market wherein the transactions between two parties has been usurped by a shared bounty of information and ideas that are asymmetrically contributed and reciprocated by the masses. This mechanism mirrors the Cooking Pot Market, which like the Information economy is fueled by neither altruistic nor monetary motives.  It is this asymmetrical exchange that is intrinsic to “the infinitely reproducing Internet that makes the cooking-pot a viable economic model.”[v]

The revival of this economy of free exchange is a postmodern phenomenon that has become a focal point of scrutiny and discussion.  Rishab Aiyer Ghosh’s discourse is taken further in Michael Bauwen’s essay, P2P and Human Evolution[vi].  Delving into the complexities of the Cooking Pot Market, Michael Bauwen develops a detailed outline of what he terms as ‘inter-subjective relational dynamics’ that he reckons to be necessary if the paradigm of “peer to peer production” is to succeed[vii].  Swaying in between the gift and market economy, Peer to Peer is ultimately a social formation that initially stemmed from the futile terrain of the technological field.   Along the same lines as Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Michael Bauwen conceptualizes a network of social interactions wherein financial gain does not serve as the catalyst behind human relations[viii].  The article develops the theoretical framework of an economy formulated on an open source model. The shift from the market economy to a domain of decentralized social intercourse will lead to what Bauwen describes as the “third mode of production”[ix].

This “third mode of production” is defined by the accessibility of information, the absence of a hierarchy within the system and the fact that worth is not determined by its exchange value in the monetary market but rather by its use-value in the information economy[x]. The proliferation of goods who’s worth is hinged on its use-value rather than its monetary value in the market sphere has evolved in tandem to the emergence of the technological developments.  ‘Peer to Peer’, abbreviated by Bauwen as P2P, can be understood as the relationship between a widely distributed network that is decenteralized and interconnected. In “The Political Economy of Peer Production”, Bauwen argues that “peer production is highly dependent on the market that produces use-value through mostly immaterial production, without directly providing an income for its producers[xi].”  With the proliferation of blogs, file sharing and online chat communities emerging, the technological field has become a space of nonhierarchical relations established on like interest. The agency of those who participate is an underlining aspect of the widespread process. Characteristic of this network is the concept of “pro-sumer”- meaning that the interchange of capital relies on the mutual cooperation of the community of participants. Examples of these emerging social network of pro-sumers are, as mentioned before: blog sites, global communities like ‘facebook’ and wikipedia.

P2P production relies on an interdependent system that is fueled by reciprocity and egalitarian participation.  This societal shift towards networked relationships harbors unpredictable, yet exciting, implications for the years to come.  The concept of Peer-to-Peer Production has shed light on the possibility of a new social order that transcends the “tragedy of the commons”[xii]. Outside of the hegemonic order of the private sphere, “the new forms of universal common property transcend the limitations of both private and public property models and are reconstituting a dynamic field of the Commons[xiii]”.   The entangled web of relationships forged between individual computers is a fundamental aspect of the system’s infrastructure. This technological domain relies on the incessant intercourse of ideas donated and distributed across the constellation of participants. In observation of the global flows of information and media, the technological developments have facilitated communication on a transnational scale.  However, as humanity shifts into a new age, a dialogue regarding the structural constraints and potential consequences must be hatched.

Due to the absence of monetary exchange, P2P can be conceived as a market only insofar as it lends a terrain wherein individual collectively contribute and take information. Whereas markets are driven by the exchange value of a good, the P2P production operates on the use-value of information.  Furthermore there is a disparity in the dynamic of reciprocity within the two spheres of exchange.  Yet, with this said, there is an interdependent relationship between P2P production and capitalism in that peer production has been “created through the interstices of the market”[xiv] not to mention that fact that “there is a very tangible market dynamics to the free economy of the Internet, and rational economic decisions are at work. This is the “cooking-pot” market: an implicit barter economy with assymetric transactions.” [xv] In response to Michael Bauwens essay, Chris Stewart of the Integral Foresight Institute writes, “what Michael Bauwens has achieved in a very short space fulfills the same function as the Communist Manifesto once did: a call for a worldwide movement for social and political change, firmly rooted in the objective and subjective changes of contemporary society, and articulated as a practical and insightful model of human value and power relations that is ahead of its time.[xvi]” The inter-subjective dynamics that buttress the ethos of this process “molds reciprocity modes, market modes and hierarchy modes”[xvii] yet the question remains, “can peer to peer be expanded beyond the immaterial sphere in which it was born?”[xviii]

Conceptualizing the idea of “Inter-subjective Dynamics”, contemporary anthropologist Alan Page Fiske contructs a relational model theory in his work, Structures of Social Life that ultimately illustrates how “people use four fundamental models for organizing most aspects of sociality most of the time in all cultures. These models are Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching and Market Pricing” [xix]. Building his argument on a synthesis of studies stemming from a range of fields, Alan Page Fiske unveils what lies fundamentally behind social interaction[xx].  Alan Page Fiske believes that the greatest catalyst to human evolution and adaptation is social interaction.  An individual’s position within a community, social organization or network has powerful implications on one’s speech, behavior, and one’s inter-subjective dynamics.[xxi] Although his discourse provides a broader framework with which to conceptualize human interaction, it feeds into what underpins P2P production and what lies behind the failure of the Cooking Pot Market. Within the framework of Fiske’s relational model, the repercussions recent technological developments have had on the concept of community and shifting understanding of social interaction can be explored.

Alan Page Fiske first introduces in his article the concept of communal sharing, which refers namely to the relationships that tie people together due to a domain of resources that are held in commonality. In this case, there is a communal consumption of a certain resource.  There is a shifting of the unit of identity from the individual to the community at large.  In short, it can be understood as an individual who builds his identity as an extension of a whole, forging a relationship with society that is undifferentiated.  En suite, Alan Page Fiske proposes the importance of preserving a social hierarchy of power, as the relationship between superior and inferior ensures order within the system.  “In Authority Ranking (AR) people have asymmetric positions in a linear hierarchy in which subordinates defer, respect, and (perhaps) obey, while superiors take precedence and take pastoral responsibility for subordinates.”[xxii] This authoritative model is present in both the socioeconomic and political domain as well as the technological field, however in the latter is rooted solely in an individual status in the reputation economy.

In “Equality Matching” which Fiske goes on to suggest in tandem, “people keep track of the balance or difference among participants and know what would be required to restore balance”.[xxiii] It is ultimately referring to a relationship defined by reciprocity and equal share distribution.  The idea of reciprocity is a splintered concept, as it can be extrapolated to the idea of the gift economy, to the market economy and also the information economy wherein the exchange is asymmetrical. For instance, as in the case of the Internet, the contributor “receives not one thing of value in exchange – indeed there is no explicit act of exchange at all – but millions of unique goods made by others.”[xxiv] The last component of the relational model that Fiske formulates is ‘Market Pricing’ which is the monetary exchange of goods and services. “Market Pricing relationships are oriented to socially meaningful ratios or rates such as prices, wages, interest, rents, tithes, or cost-benefit analyses,”[xxv] however, in not all cases is money monitoring this system of relations.  According to Fiske, all four of these characteristics of the relational model are present to varying extents within the postmodern socioeconomic structure, they dictate how we interact with one another as well as how society functions as a whole.

A good example of how the aforementioned dynamics interrelate can be extrapolated to the domain of a domestically owned bodega, wherein the intercourse of communal sharing, authority ranking, market pricing and equality matching are all present to varying degrees.  Yet, the interdependent relationship that structures a family owned business relies on a model built on trust and communal interest that is far too ambitious to implement on a global scale.  However, Alan Page Fiske argues that although market pricing and authoritative ranking may seem far more visible within the contemporary socioeconomic landscape[xxvi], the onslaught of technological developments has unveiled the presence of the other dynamics of which one could argue the Cooking Pot market is hinged on.  Furthermore, the paradigm of peer-to-peer production thrives in the sphere of the Internet due to the fact that the information and reputation economy rely primarily on the first three dynamics rather than the market economy.  However as the technological domain becomes increasingly important in the socioeconomic sphere, the possibility of a Cooking Pot Market emerges, especially if P2P production proves able to transcend the intangible sphere from which it came from.  Yet, this postmodern aspiration to redefine to structural design of the market is complicated when confronted with the issue of surplus.  To elaborate: the surplus of information in the technological sphere has no harmful implications, whereas the surplus of goods or money is laced with complexities.

Relying on the intercourse of reciprocity, communal sharing, authority and the market, the stability of Cooking Pot paradigm is threatened by the variable of surplus, which is an interesting counterintuitive shift when the issue of satisfying needs is replaced with the crisis of excess.  George Bataille criticizes Western nations for handling the predicament with a methodology that is arguably backwards.  In capitalism, surplus is oftentimes reinvested, which consequentially generates a larger surplus – merely postponing the problem. For Bataille, the Western world has forgotten how to sacrifice surplus in constructive and useful ways[xxvii]. Once again we are back to where we started- struggling to formulate an ideal mechanism for the allocation of goods and natural resources, which even (or perhaps especially) in the case of surplus proves to be a trying feat.  The profane nature of excess is the catalyst behind why the Cooking Pot paradigm falters when extended into the socioeconomic sphere.  The bottom line is that the problems shadowing a glut of goods far exceed those encountered in the circumstance of having excessive information at one’s disposal.  Furthermore, human nature lacks selflessness. The fetishism of market pricing and the hegemonic hierarchy outweighs the aspiration of reciprocity and communal sharing– especially in the context of capitalism.  Entitlement extinguishes the possibility of a market where a somewhat balanced equilibrium could be met among the four inter-subjective dynamics.

There is a thread of hope, however, in the discourse that sacrifice in the context of the reputation economy is beneficial to both parties in that it eradicates the crisis of surplus while also serving as a catalyst to elevate an individual socially within the reputation economy.  This factor could sustain the stability of the Cooking Pot market. Sacrifice, in whatever form, is ultimately a false gesture of selflessness and kindness disguised and acted out for ulterior motives.  Hear me out: a philanthropist donates to a museum or hospital usually to have his/her name inscribed on the wall, just as people of religious conviction give to the poor hoping to escape the possibility of ramifications in the afterlife. The same can be said about the growth of the Internet insofar as those participating in the global community are ultimately capitalizing on the reputation economy. Given that “a crucial component of the cooking-pot market model is reputation,”[xxviii] it’s evident why the paradigm thrives within the technological sphere.  Although self-interested sacrifice undermines the concept of selfless giving, it diffuses the issue of surplus and breathes life into the possibility of a Cooking Pot market transcending its present domain.

Aside from coveting eminence within the reputation economy, the primary motivation fueling the public’s participation in the technological realm of the Internet is still laced with ambiguity, as it appears that neither altruism nor hope of financial gain serve as a catalyst behind involvement.  The asymmetrical dynamic of the Net renders the framework of a free market economy that mirrors the Cooking Pot Market paradigm. The Cooking Pot model exhibits the potential of generating immeasurable “value through the continuous interaction of people at a numbing speed” in fact, “the cooking-pot market already exists, it is an image of what the Internet has already evolved into, calmly and almost surreptitiously, over the past couple of decades.”[xxix] However, the aspiration to apply this structure to the socioeconomic sphere may be in vain.  The disparity between a surplus of goods and a surplus of information is great, thus the only possibility in sight would be if the reputation economy underpinned the systems stability.

[i] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’


[iii] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[iv] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[v] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[vi] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[vii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[viii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[ix] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[x] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xi] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xiii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xiv] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xv] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[xvi] Amsterdam Media Research Center ‘Institute of Network Cultures’

[xvii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xviii] Michel Bauwens, ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’

[xix][xix] Structures of Social Life, Alan Page Fiske

[xx] Human Sociality, Alan Page Fiske

[xxi] The Evolution of Culturally Diverse Social Psychologies, Alan Page Fiske

[xxii] Human Sociality, Alan Page Fiske

[xxiii] A. P. Fiske. Structures of Social Life: The Four Elementary Forms of Human Relations. New York: Free Press (Macmillan), 1991.

[xxiv] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[xxv] Human Sociality, Alan Page Fiske

[xxvi] A. P. Fiske. Relativity within Moose (“Mossi”) culture: Four incommensurable models for social relationships. Ethos 18:180-204, 1990.


[xxviii] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’

[xxix] Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ‘Cooking Pot Markets’


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