Friday, August 18, 2006

Informed Consensus - what is it ? part 1

This is the first of a series of entries about Informed Consensus (IC) - a form of market anarchist decision-making.

Why do we need a specific form of decision-making ? Because the two methods most used today by statist systems - democracy and autocracy - do not follow market anarchist values. We need to organize ourselves in ways that follow market anarchist values, if we are to be consistent.

Market anarchists already do agree on a method of individual decision-making, and that is individual consumer demand. People buy the service that they see as the best to fulfill their own values, and profit is the resulting accountability. People who are less productive in terms of helping the fellow man fulfilling his values reap less profit. Standards are determined by what individuals actually want, not by received popular beliefs, or the beliefs of the strongest and most powerful.

To us, demand-based processes are an already-accepted replacement for autocracy, and I don't dispute that it is a far superior alternative. But we also need a replacement for democracy, that is to say, in terms of how to make group decisions. This is what IC is - it's a superior replacement to democracy. It's equally scalable, more inclusive, more conductive to dialogue, and most importantly it is in line with market anarchist values.

To make this clear : IC is not a replacement to demand-based processes. They are harmonious, like democracy and autocracy are harmonious (at least, the way statists see it). IC is enhanced by the incentives provided by consumer demand, and the process of consumer demand is enhanced by the incentives provided by IC.

So what is IC ? Here is my stab at a definition.

Informed Consensus (IC) is a class of decision-making processes which rely on :
1. Selection of participating agents for a committee, based on their relevance and possible contribution to a problem.
2. Approval or collaboration from all participating agents, usually through a process of dialogue, and in large-scale committees through the concept of draft documents.

IC processes may contain mechanisms to arbitrate intractable disputes, and others (democratic or autocratic processes may be included without necessarily compromising the IC nature of the parent process).

To illustrate this perhaps abstract topic, let me give some examples from real life.

Just like market anarchy, we use IC in most of our daily lives. For example, when deciding what restaurant to go eat at, few groups or families are going to take votes. They are going to discuss tastes, dislikes, a variety of issues, and then typically one person will express a general consensus or choose from the options that people favour. The consensus is the proposition that a certain restaurant is the most desirable choice.

Apart from our personal lives, there are several domains where the IC model is already in effect, the most important being open source development and engineering design teams. Many scientific and technological developments involve a marketplace of ideas where one solution is reached by the team - even if your idea is not chosen, the result benefits from the open exchange. It is the informed input of the informed team that is the powerful aspect.

The more interesting example is with software development. Large pieces of software (the consensus) are being writen by volunteers from every part of the world. The resulting product is almost always better than anything coming out of proprietary development.

In part 2, I discuss real-life examples, as well as scalability and central documents.


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Anonymous said...

When you describe systems to create individual thinking and methods for group decisions, you are not describing anarchy, regardless of what prefix you add. (Sounds more like communism to me.) Drop the pretense and stop bastardizing anarchy.