George Monbiot on resurrecting Commons
I liked this so much, I wanted to share it more widely. The March 2018 talk where where he goes further, turns this into a Story of Restoration for college students live is here https://www.monbiot.com/2018/04/03/how-to-really-take-back-control/
For the active links in this piece, see the original at the link at the end.
… Raymond Williams said “to be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing”.
… this column is the first in an occasional series whose purpose is to champion new approaches to politics, economics and social change. There is no going back, no comfort in old certainties. We must rethink the world from first principles.
There are many points from which I could begin. An obvious one is this. The market alone cannot meet our needs, nor can the state.
Both, by rooting out attachment, help fuel the alienation, rage and anomie which breeds extremism. Over the past 200 years, one element has been conspicuously absent from the dominant ideologies, something neither market nor state: the commons.
A commons is an asset over which a community has shared and equal rights.
A commons in principle, can include land, water, minerals, knowledge, scientific research and software. At the moment most of these assets have been enclosed: seized by either the state or private interests and treated as any other form of capital. Through this enclosure, we have been deprived of our common wealth.
Some commons still exist. They range from:
- community-owned forests in Nepal and Romania,
- to lobster fisheries in Maine,
- pastures in East Africa and Switzerland,
- the Internet,
- journals published by the Public Library of Science,
- the timebank in Helsinki,
- local currencies and
- open-source microscopy.
Yet these are exceptions to the general rule of private and exclusive ownership (enclosure).
In his book Land, the community organiser Martin Adams urges us to see the land as something at once belonging to everyone and no one.
What happened ? Land has been acquired by a minority, excluding other people from its enjoyment. He proposes those using any land exclusively, should pay a “community land contribution” as compensation.
- partly replace income and sales tax,
- prevent land hoarding and
- bring down land prices.
The revenue could help to fund a universal basic income. Eventually we might move to a system in which land is owned by the local community and leased to those who use it.
Similar principles could apply to energy. The right to produce carbon by burning fossil fuels could be auctioned (a smaller pool would be available every year). The proceeds could fund public services and a transition to clean energy.
Those who wish to use the wind or sunlight to generate power should be asked to pay a community contribution. Or the generators could be owned by communities — there are already plenty of examples.
Rather than allowing corporations to use intellectual property rights to create an artificial scarcity of knowledge, or (like Google and Facebook) to capture the value generated by other people, we could move towards a “social knowledge economy” of the kind promoted by the government of Ecuador. A share of profits could (with the help of blockchain technology) be exchanged for helping to build online platforms and providing the content they host.
The restoration of the commons has great potential not only to distribute wealth but also to change society.
As the writer David Bollier points out, a commons is not just a resource (land or trees or software) but also the community of people managing and protecting it. The members of the commons develop much deeper connections with each other and their assets than we do as passive consumers of corporate products.
Managing common resources means developing rules, values and traditions. It means, in some cases, re-embedding ourselves in the places in which we live. It means re-shaping government to meet the needs of communities, not corporations.
In other words, reviving the commons acts as a counterweight to the atomising, alienating forces now generating a thousand forms of toxic reaction.
More explicit commons is not the whole answer. My hope is, after exploring a wide range of potential solutions, with the help of your comments and suggestions I can start to develop a synthesis: a new political, economic and social story, which might be matched to the demands of the 21st Century.
Realising it is a further challenge, on which we also need to work. But first we must decide what we want. Then we decide how to get it.
from www.monbiot.com “The Fortifying Commons” (Dec. 2016)