But peer networks, Mr. Johnson emphasizes, "are much older than the Internet." The creativity of the Renaissance, he asserts, was catalyzed by the free flow of ideas in trading centers such as Venice, Genoa and Istanbul, cities that "lacked both big government and big corporations." He sees peer networks at work today in the grass-roots management style of employee-owned businesses; in schools that reward faculty members for sharing teaching ideas with each other; in "participatory budgeting" that empowers poor communities to decide how to spend tax dollars; in programs that improve the nutrition of Third World villages by disseminating diet tips culled from healthy families.
Mr. Johnson envisions a new political movement that embraces the potential of peer networks to improve government, medicine, education and journalism, among much else. He distinguishes "peer progressives" from both libertarians and liberals. The former have too much faith in markets and too little in government, he says, and the latter vice versa. Peer progressives, though, believe that good can be accomplished by all organizations, in any combination, if they harness the power of peer networks.