The Zero Marginal Cost Municipality

Robotic arm as illustration to Zero Marginal Cost Municipality article

Zero marginal cost municipalities. It seems like a strange thing to write about, but Jonathan Korsár makes the theme exciting. In his essay in New Compass’ latest book, Social Ecology and Social Change, Korsár elaborates why capitalism is unable to manage new “extremely productive” technologies in a collective beneficial way, and dwells upon how democratic municipalities could realize the liberating and ecological potentials of such technologies.

The concept “zero marginal cost” refers what occurs when it costs nothing, or next to nothing to produce more goods once the necessary productive equipment and organizational framework exist. One of the many examples Korsár uses in his chapter are the drastic improvement of harvesting powers on new wind and solar energy. Already in 2011, the cost of generating electricity with solar panels became lower than the cost of generating electricity with diesel generators, and industry analysts forecast that within 20 years, wind and solar energy installations will be as cheap as cell phones and laptops.

However, capitalism has not been able to utilize this potential and continues to invest in dirty fossil fuels. Moreover, when using these technologies, it is normally not able to empower people in neighborhoods and towns, but rather concentrates them in large scale facilities. 

Like Jeremy Rifkin, who coined the term “zero marginal cost society”, Korsár believes that new technology, cooperatives, and commons structures can create a foundation for an altogether new society marked by “extreme productivity,” resource sharing, and production controlled by the people, in place of property rights, mass production, and concentrated capital. In addition he maintains that municipalities must play a central role in this process.

Video: Korsár has adopted the concept “zero marginal cost society” from Jeremy Rifkin. In this video Rifkin explains what the concept means. 

Here is a short extract from Korsár’s article:

Innovation is needed on many fronts in the economy, with environmental issues in general, and the climate issues in particular, driving the discussion. There is already plenty of activity on the margins of the economy. There is a large interest in open source programming, open source hardware, reuse and recycling, agroecology and “farm hacking,” carbon agriculture to deal with excess CO2, the “maker” movement, and a widely felt desire to be more self-reliant. On the other hand, there are ongoing innovations and developments inside more conventional businesses. The municipality could, if managed intelligently, make all this come together in a massive popular movement focused on producing the most creative and high quality culture possible.

Car and bike sharing schemes. Land sharing schemes in the cities. Health oriented commons initiatives. Buying clubs. Couch surfing and other forms of sharing and utilizing space more efficiently. The sharing of cultural wealth in the form of music, literature, theater, or movies. MOOCS, or free online high quality education. The sharing of radio bandwidth and network resources locally and globally. Sharing tools, work spaces, and other means of production. The list could go on. This explosion of sharing promises to provide an affordable, or even better, an accessible way to make life decent for everyone in the world, as well as a very potent means for cutting thermodynamic waste, thus increasing the capacity of society to operate within ecological boundaries.

Video: Jonathan Korsár recommends Social Ecology and Social Change

Buy Social Ecology and Social Change on Amazon. Soon also available in kindle and epub formats.