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Worker-owner at Agaric web development collective, co-author of the Definitive Guide to Drupal 7, and person who gives a damn about justice, liberty, and gaining the most power possible for all people over our own lives.

benjamin melançon

On putting in effort under conditions of equality

6 min read

It's nice to find a rather definitive answer to some of the sillier questions routinely gotten about worker cooperatives, such as 'how do you deal with people not doing their share of the work?', or 'what's the incentive to put in the effort?' Now, a worker cooperative could use any incentive structure it wants for pay, from hourly wages to piecework to salary, so long as each worker has a vote in deciding things and any surplus that is defined as patronage is distributed to each worker, though even that is based on 'economic participation', that is, work put in, but at Agaric and most worker cooperatives we pay ourselves mostly the same, because it works, for reasons John Stuart Mill explained in 1848:

The objection ordinarily made to a system of community of property and equal distribution of the produce, that each person would be incessantly occupied in evading his fair share of the work, points, undoubtedly, to a real difficulty. But those who urge this objection, forget to how great an extent the same difficulty exists under the system on which nine-tenths of the business of society is now conducted. The objection supposes, that honest and efficient labour is only to be had from those who are themselves individually to reap the benefit of their own exertions. But how small a part of all the labour performed in England, from the lowest-paid to the highest, is done by persons working for their own benefit. From the Irish reaper or hodman to the chief justice or the minister of state, nearly all the work of society is remunerated by day wages or fixed salaries. A factory operative has less personal interest in his work than a member of a Communist association, since he is not, like him, working for a partnership of which he is himself a member. It will no doubt be said, that though the labourers themselves have not, in most cases, a personal interest in their work, they are watched and superintended, and their labour directed, and the mental part of the labour performed, by persons who have. Even this, however, is far from being universally the fact. In all public, and many of the largest and most successful private undertakings, not only the labours of detail but the control and superintendence are entrusted to salaried officers. And though the “master’s eye,” when the master is vigilant and intelligent, is of proverbial value, it must be remembered that in a Socialist farm or manufactory, each labourer would be under the eye not of one master, but of the whole community. In the extreme case of obstinate perseverance in not performing the due share of work, the community would have the same resources which society now has for compelling conformity to the necessary conditions of the association. Dismissal, the only remedy at present, is no remedy when any other labourer who may be engaged does no better than his predecessor: the power of dismissal only enables an employer to obtain from his workmen the customary amount of labour, but that customary labour may be of any degree of inefficiency. Even the labourer who loses his employment by idleness or negligence, has nothing worse to suffer, in the most unfavourable case, than the discipline of a workhouse, and if the desire to avoid this be a sufficient motive in the one system, it would be sufficient in the other. I am not undervaluing the strength of the incitement given to labour when the whole or a large share of the benefit of extra exertion belongs to the labourer. But under the present system of industry this incitement, in the great majority of cases, does not exist. If Communistic labour might be less vigorous than that of a peasant proprietor, or a workman labouring on his own account, it would probably be more energetic than that of a labourer for hire, who has no personal interest in the matter at all. The neglect by the uneducated classes of labourers for hire, of the duties which they engage to perform, is in the present state of society most flagrant. Now it is an admitted condition of the Communist scheme that all shall be educated: and this being supposed, the duties of the members of the association would doubtless be as diligently performed as those of the generality of salaried officers in the middle or higher classes; who are not supposed to be necessarily unfaithful to their trust, because so long as they are not dismissed, their pay is the same in however lax a manner their duty is fulfilled. Undoubtedly, as a general rule, remuneration by fixed salaries does not in any class of functionaries produce the maximum of zeal: and this is as much as can be reasonably alleged against Communistic labour. That even this inferiority would necessarily exist, is by no means so certain as is assumed by those who are little used carry to their minds beyond the state of things with which they are familiar. Mankind are capable of a far greater amount of public spirit than the present age is accustomed to suppose possible. History bears witness to the success with which large bodies of human beings may be trained to feel the public interest their own. And no soil could be more favourable to the growth of such a feeling, than a Communist association, since all the ambition, and the bodily and mental activity, which are now exerted in the pursuit of separate and self-regarding interests, would require another sphere of employment, and would naturally find it in the pursuit of the general benefit of the community. The same cause, so often assigned in explanation of the devotion of the Catholic priest or monk to the interest of his order — that he has no interest apart from it — would, under Communism, attach the citizen to the community. And independently of the public motive, every member of the association would be amenable to the most universal, and one of the strongest, of personal motives, that of public opinion. The force of this motive in deterring from any act or omission positively reproved by the community, no one is likely to deny; but the power also of emulation, in exciting to the most strenuous exertions for the sake of the approbation and admiration of others, is borne witness to by experience in every situation in which human beings publicly compete with one another, even if it be in things frivolous, or from which the public derive no benefit. A contest, who can do most for the common good, is not the kind of competition which Socialists repudiate. To what extent, therefore, the energy of labour would be diminished by Communism, or whether in the long run it would be diminished at all, must be considered for the present an undecided question.


benjamin melançon

Modern Monopolies: What it Takes to Dominate the 21st-Century Economy

1 min read

by Alex Moazed & Nicholas L. Johnson

Picked up at the Spry Group HQ. Only read a few pages. It would be well worth reading with in general and specifically in mind.

The more commoditiized a service or profit offering — more commoditized means it "has only a limited number of relevant characteristics that consumers care about" — the less complexity purchasers should have to deal with.

"The hard part is determining how commoditized or noncommoditized a platform really is"

benjamin melançon

You get no bread with one meatball

1 min read

My girlfriend cooked spaghetti and veggie meatballs and i sang "You get no bread with fake meatballs" and of course she had no idea what i was referencing.

When i thought about it, i didn't have anything but that one line that my Dad would sing or say frequently.

Here's the full song:

benjamin melançon

Drupal Contributor Community Survey, Drupal 8 look-back edition

4 min read

... with my answers.

How many hours per week do you spend contributing to the Drupal project, on average? * 1-4 hours

How did you contribute most to Drupal 8? * YES: I helped write code for Drupal core YES: I helped write code for a Drupal contributed module or theme NO: I helped with Drupal information architecture, design, and/or user experience YES: I helped write and/or edit Drupal documentation NO: I helped provide Drupal community support (project management, organizing sprints, and other events, training, mentoring, etc.) NO: I did not contribute to Drupal 8 in any way Other: Project Application Review

If you contributed to Drupal 8, how likely are you to contribute to future versions of Drupal based on your experience? (1 Not at all likely - 5 Very likely) 4

Do you feel like you experienced burn-out during the development of Drupal 8? No

Do you think you would have taken advantage of a formal non-technical support program if one had existed during the Drupal 8 development cycle?

My involvement during the release cycle was very minimal. And it is much more rewarding and easier to self-pace to be involved in the additions to point releases.

Do you feel that there are non-technical barriers to communication in the Drupal contributor community? * Yes

If you answered "Yes", what do you think those barriers to communication are?

Still not enough people empowered / motivated to approve things. Issues stay in Needs Review for long periods of time. There are perceived bottlenecks to various ways of contributing - something is implicitly or formally someone's turf, and the actual bottlenecks - only project maintainers can bring your change to others, only the core committers can get it into core, only the mysterious select group of privileged project application reviewers (i'm one) can give you the ability to share a full module with the world - reinforces the sense of lack of agency even if the bigger problem is getting earlier reviews that technically anyone can do. Or equally demotivating, it's not clear by whom or by what process changes are approved.

The other big, big thing is 'aggregating needs', so changes in fact desired by many, many low-resource organizations and individuals (i'm thinking Drupal's end-users here) can get the level of resources one large organization can put into their needs.

If you answered "Yes", what organizational changes do you think would improve the Drupal contributor experience?

Make clearer how both code and non-code decisions are made, regarding everything, and widen the group of people both actually and ... mentally? ... empowered to approve changes.

What is the number one non-technical change that you feel should be made to improve the Drupal contributor experience?

Whatever we do, we must treat new contributors substantially the same as existing contributors. This refers to the Project Application Review process. If no other contributors in this survey are talking about the Project Application Review process, that is the most damning evidence about how broken and ghetto-ized the process is for crucial new contributors.

We need a whole new system that treats old-timers the same way as newbies, or else whatever system we come up with will be inadequate and won't be fixed. If it affects everyone, it will be fixed.

The new system: Anyone who wants to promote a project to full project status needs one other person with two promoted projects to review and endorse the project. This person approves knowing that their reputation and permission to approve projects is on the line:

A related way to contribute with fewer gatekeepers is forking on d.o; your non-official module is namespaced to your username but it still has the full project name and can be referenced through composer. But this is a technical change.

c: 2016 June 3, Friday, 8:55 AM

benjamin melançon

While i have momentary credibility for working through a huge backlog, my recommendation for fixing Drupal's project application process

1 min read

0. Whatever we do, we must treat new contributors substantially the same as existing contributors.

Someone who got approved for creating full projects a decade ago (like me) aren't necessarily any more versed in best security practices or what modules are already available in Drupal 8. And a long-dormant user could easily have had their Yahoo account hacked, etc.

I want a whole new system that treats old-timers the same way as newbies, but a bottleneck at the RTBC stage seems eminently preventable.

Therefore in the short term i'm pushing to add more people with the power to give people Git vetted user status. In particular, to give kattekrab the power to give people the power to approve project applications and to know the existing people with this permission to ping when there's a backlog.

1. Ideal long-term fix: Anyone who wants to promote a project to full project status needs one other person with two promoted projects to review and endorse the project.

See the proposal to let anyone with an approved project (or two) approve anyone else's project, knowing that their reputation and permission to approve projects is on the line.

benjamin melançon

An idea for dealing with Nestlé's corrupt rip-off of Fryeburg, Maine's water

2 min read

Based on an earlier report i proposed the below; the US Uncut article alludes to so-called absolute dominion laws which may complicate this, but still, here is a way to substitute good policy for horrendous policy which i hope people in Fryeburg will look into.

Pardon the unsolicited advice but if the news reports are accurate in stating that the contract with Nestlé is for the same rate people in the town pay, this is a great opportunity to put a policy in place that should be in place everywhere:

Raise water rates by ten or one hundred times, and provide a universal rebate to every person of their share of 90 percent or 99 percent of the revenue.

The median water user comes out exactly even. Everyone has an incentive to conserve water, but because of the revenue from high-use individuals and businesses, the use of some amount of water less than the median effectively becomes a funded human right.

In general, poorer people get a reward for not wasting resources, funded by richer people who are overusing resources. If you happen to have a multinational corporation extracting your resources, well, not being a person it doesn't receive any rebate at all, and pays the same full fees everyone else pays. It can choose to bestow $120,000 or $1,200,000 a month on the people of Fryeburg, or more likely it can choose to be use less or not at all.

This may take careful legal parsing but if you have some support among the people of Fryeburg, this could be a checkmate move against Nestlé.

benjamin melançon

Make polluters pay... us all

2 min read

SumOfUs told me to start a petition.

Whom are you petitioning?

Federal, state, and local governments

What do you want them to do?

Enact laws and enforce regulations which require people who harm our local and global ecology to pay affected people commensurate compensation. This means when some politician or corporate CEO flies a private jet overhead, we all get money. (Some certainly needs to be put aside for island nations being drowned by global warming, but we can work out the international aspects once we've proven the concept locally and nationally.) We'll be paying more for gasoline and electricity and the like also, but unless we're among the top polluters, which few people in the 99% will be, we'll be getting more money in carbon rebates and other repayment for pollution than our costs increase. And each of us can also decide whether to dump our rebates into paying for as much energy as we would have, or using it to improve our energy conservation and green energy generation.

Why is this important?

We face an unprecedented environmental crises, at the same time that many people are struggling to get by. Compassion requires that we not force the costs of dealing with environmental degradation on those who can least afford it—costs that can come in the form of scorching summers and other extreme weather, as well as in adopting less-polluting technologies—and fortunately basic fairness provides the solution. As long as those who pollute pay the people affected—all of us—in the proportion to the pollution generated, those with the greatest means to pay will be helping the rest of us bail the whole planet out of the mess the richest got us into.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon

In defense of money rewards for cooperative founders

3 min read

[In response to a post on the Internet of Ownership discussion list which posited that money rewards are a slippery slope leading to thinking of incentive in terms of money for a bigger house, flying on holiday, etc., and citing not-for-profits who definitely don't do it for the money.]

Keeping people who are attracted primarily to money and power in check is important in any movement. But that requires a different set of safeguards—which one member, one vote is a major step toward—from not using money as compensation or reward at all. Disentangling founding from leading is one important step, so note that nothing below is an argument for higher compensation for so-called leadership.

I think 'reward for founders' is just as applicable in the not-for-profit sector.

An anecdote: The founder of the Center for the Arts in Natick, Michael Moran, spent five years and several thousands of his own money starting it as a strong community-oriented arts center. Shortly after succeeding in moving from a storefront to the former firehouse with significant town support, the establishment types brought onto the board of directors staged a palace coup with a minority of the board (but the majority at a meeting called with questionable legality) and fired the founder from the Executive Director position. Most of the community-participation events stopped.

Being motivated more by injustice than by art, apparently, that's when i got involved and helped found Amazing Things Arts Center as a community-oriented arts center with Michael Moran as founding executive director and with a board of directors elected by the membership. It ultimately ended up the next town over, and, eventually, in a bigger firehouse. As the Johnny Most would say, and justice prevailed. Amazing Things is technically a cooperative organization, although no one used that term at the time we founded it.

We were necessarily very concerned with just compensation for the executive director who, for the second time, is putting in significant time and resources before the organization had the means to support itself, this time going debt. There wasn't a straightforward legal way to set aside back pay or construe his input as a loan to the organization.

In a world that does not guarantee food, shelter, and medical care to all, it is of great importance that we structure cooperatives so that people involved in starting it — including finding and convincing various sorts of members to join in — have a fairly direct path to replacing lost income, retirement savings, etc.

For cooperatives and particularly platform cooperatives to supplant parasitic capitalist corporations, we do need them to offer both a way to pay back loans that may come from a variety of sources (even if we have an excellent coop loan fund) and, yes, to recompense in material terms what will often be material sacrifice.

Financial reward on top of that is fine too, and what people do with that, from traveling the world to starting another cooperative, is up to them. Cooperatives' historic potential is to eliminate the rents that go to the 1% in perpetuity— reward for actual contributions to society are well within the cooperative frame.

(Incidentally, anyone in the Natick/Framingham/*borough area of Massachusetts, check out !)