Wealth of the Commons

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* The Wealth of the Commons. A world beyond market and state. Ed. by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich. Commons Strategies Group. Levellers Press, 2012

URL = http://www.wealthofthecommons.org


Contents

Introduction

David Bollier:

"I’m pleased to report that the English edition of a new anthology of essays, The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, is now available! I’ve been working on editing the book with my German colleague Silke Helfrich for nearly a year and a half, so it’s wonderfully satisfying to see the book in its final, printed form.

Let me immodestly state: Never before have so many different international voices about the commons been brought together in one volume. The Wealth of the Commons consists of 73 essays by a diverse roster of international activists, academics and project leaders. It consists of descriptions of specific commons innovations, essays on the theory and economics of commons, accounts of different types of enclosures around the world, and much else.

There are accounts of fishing commons off the coast of Chile; fruit sharing from abandoned orchards in Germany; and an overview of subsistence forestry in Nepal. There are many accounts of market enclosures, from dam-building in India to mining in South America to the international land grab now underway in Africa and Asia. The book also features a series of essays on knowledge commons and more than a dozen essays focused on commons-friendly policy innovations.

The soft-bound, 442-page book is published by Levellers Press, a small, innovative publisher here in Massachusetts that is also a worker coop and itself ardently committed to the commons. I love the fact that a book on the commons is being published by a publisher that truly honors the Levellers, one of the great movements of commoners in the seventeenth century. The book can be bought from the Levellers website for US$22.50 plus shipping and handling. More about the book can be found on its website, www.wealthofthecommons.org.

One of the purposes of The Wealth of the Commons is to show the depth, breadth and rigor of commons-based activism these days. Silke and I wanted to showcase the diverse international voices now speaking about the commons and show the enormous breadth of commons themes being addressed, much of it beyond the gaze of the mainstream media. Commons activism is especially active in Germany, Italy and India, but it can also be seen among peoples of the global South and among certain affinity groups of commoners such as free/open source software hackers, Wikipedians, defenders of water, locavores, urban activists, among many others.

A German version of The Wealth of the Commons was published in April as Commons: Für eine neue Politik jenseits von Markt und Staat, edited by Silke Helfrich and the Heinrich Böll Foundation and published by transcript verlag. The German edition is slightly different from the English edition, which dropped a few of the German-specific chapters and added a few new ones. It’s been especially encouraging to see how the German edition has attracted considerable mainstream interest and acclaim there. For a sampling (all in German), you can check out here and here.

Indispensable support for the book came from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, especially its President, Barbara Unmüssig, and the head of its department of international politics, Heike Löschmann. I’d also like to thank the dozens of contributors to the volume and their patience during the editing and production process.

We’re hoping that the book will help open up some broader, more robust discussions in political, policy and activist circles that (as the subtitle suggests) move beyond market and state as the only feasible solutions.

You can help us expand the public conversation. If you know of any receptive websites, blogs or media outlets (from talk radio to syndicated columnists), let us know. Suggest that your local library or university library acquire a copy. Take advantage of a bulk discount to buy copies for your book group, Occupy network or church group. Or simply read the book and ponder its implications with your friends and colleagues. We'd love to hear of your reactions to the book and any news of its use." (http://bollier.org/blog/now-available-wealth-commons)


Contents

"Part I, entitled ‘The Commons as a New Paradigm’, contains some seriously interesting and original thinking about the natural world and the implications, in terms of governance, of the fact that humans are part of the natural world. Nature is a commons. It operates as a commons. We are part of that commons. There are scholarly essays here, by authors not afraid to challenge conventional assumptions.

The title of Part II, Capitalism, Enclosure and Resistance, speaks for itself. It is not that commons regimes have failed due to any inherent failings; they have been destroyed by government-backed forces of enclosure, commodification and privatisation, as seventeen experts describe here. The natural human ability for cooperative governance has not however been entirely extinguished. In fact it’s alive and kicking.

Part III describes a wide range of cooperative systems as examples of commons flourishing today.

The digital world has seen some of the most exciting commons-based innovations, described in Part IV, obvious examples being GNU/Linux (90% of the world’s 500 fastest computers use Linux) and Wikipedia (English edition has three million articles and there are Wikipedias in over 200 other languages).

Part V concerns various institutional issues, relevant, but not all related directly, to commons regimes." (http://www.feasta.org/2013/01/04/the-wealth-of-the-commons-review/)


ToC

INTRODUCTION, BY DAVID BOLLIER & SILKE HELFRICH

PART I: THE COMMONS AS A NEW PARADIGM

  1. My Rocky Road to the Commons, by Jacques Paysan
  2. The Economy of Wastefulness: The Biology of the Commons, by Andreas Weber
  3. We Are Not Born as Egoists, by Friederike Habermann
  4. Resilience Thinking, by Rob Hopkins
  5. Institutions and Trust in Commons: Dealing with Social Dilemmas, by Martin Beckenkamp
  6. The Structural Communality of the Commons, by Stefan Meretz
  7. The Logic of the Commons and the Market: A Shorthand Comparison of Their Core Beliefs, by Silke Helfrich
  8. First Thoughts for a Phenomenology of the Commons, by Ugo Mattei
  9. Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, by Silvia Federici
  10. Rethinking the Social Welfare State in Light of the Commons, by Brigitte Kratzwald
  11. Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created, by Silke Helfrich
  12. The Tragedy of the Anticommons, by Michael Heller
  13. Why Distinguish Common Goods from Public Goods?, by James B. Quilligan
  14. Subsistence: Perspective for a Society Based on Commons, by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen
  15. Technology and the Commons, by Josh Tenenberg
  16. The Commoning of Patterns and the Patterns of Commoning, by Franz Nahrada
  17. The Abundance of the Commons, A Conversation with Brian Davey, Roberto Verzola and Wolfgang Hoeschele


PART II: CAPITALISM, ENCLOSURE AND RESISTANCE

  1. Enclosures from the Bottom Up, by Peter Linebaugh
  2. The Commons: A Historical Concept of Property Rights, by Hartmut Zückert
  3. The Global Land Grab: The New Enclosures, by Liz Alden Wily
  4. Genetically Engineered Promises & Farming Realities, by P.V. Satheesh
  5. The Coming Financial Enclosure of the Common, by Antonio Tricarico
  6. Mining as a Threat to the Commons: The Case of South America, by César Padilla
  7. Water as a Commons: Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us, by Maude Barlow
  8. Dam Building: Who’s “Backward” – Subsistence Cultures or Modern “Development”?, by Vinod Raina
  9. Belo Monte, or the Destruction of the Commons, by Gerhard Dilger
  10. Subtle But Effective: Modern Forms of Enclosure, by Hervé Le Crosnier
  11. Good Bye Night Sky, by Jonathan Rowe
  12. Crises, Capitalism and Cooperation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo De Angelis
  13. Hope from the Margins, by Gustavo Esteva
  14. A New German Raw Materials Strategy: A Modern Enclosure of the Commons?, by Lili Fuhr
  15. Using “Protected Natural Areas” to Appropriate the Commons, by Ana de Ita
  16. Intellectual Property Rights and Free Trade Agreements: A Never-Ending Story, by Beatriz Busaniche
  17. Global Enclosures in the Service of Empire, by David Bollier


PART III: COMMONING – A SOCIAL INNOVATION FOR OUR TIMES

  1. School of Commoning, by George Pór
  2. Practicing Commons in Community Gardens: Urban Gardening as a Corrective for Homo Economicus, by Christa Müller
  3. Mundraub.org: Sharing Our Common Fruit, by Katharina Frosch
  4. Living in “The Garden of Life”, by Margrit Kennedy and Declan Kennedy
  5. Reclaiming the Credit Commons: Towards a Butterfly Society, by Thomas H. Greco, Jr.
  6. Shared Space: A Space Shared is a Space Doubled, by Sabine Lutz
  7. Transition Towns: Initiatives of Transformation, by Gerd Wessling
  8. Learning from Minamata: Creating High-Level Well-Being in Local Communities in Japan, by Takayoshi Kusago
  9. Share or Die – A Challenge for Our Times, by Neal Gorenflo
  10. The Faxinal: A Brazilian Experience of the Commons and Its Relationship with the State, by Mayra Lafoz Bertussi
  11. Capable Leadership, Institutional Skills and Resource Abundance Behind Flourishing Coastal Marine Commons in Chile, by Gloria L. Gallardo Fernández & Eva Friman
  12. Community Based Forest and Livelihood Management in Nepal, by Shrikrishna Upadhyay
  13. Salt and Trade at the Pink Lake: Community Subsistence in Senegal, by Papa Sow & Elina Marmer
  14. El Buen Vivir and the Commons, A Conversation between Gustavo Soto Santiesteban and Silke Helfrich


PART IV: KNOWLEDGE COMMONS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

  1. The Code is the Seed of the Software, An Interview with Adriana Sánchez
  2. The Boom of Commons-Based Peer Production, by Christian Siefkes
  3. Copyright and Fairy Tales, by Carolina Botero and Julio César Gaitán
  4. Creative Commons: Governing the Intellectual Commons from Below, by Mike Linksvayer
  5. Freedom for Users, Not for Software, by Benjamin Mako Hill
  6. Public Administration Needs Free Software, by Federico Heinz
  7. From Blue Collar to Open Commons Region: How Linz, Austria, Has Benefited from Committing to the Commons, by Thomas Gegenhuber, Naumi Haque and Stefan Pawel
  8. Emancipating Innovation Enclosures: The Global Innovation Commons, by David E. Martin
  9. Move Commons: Labeling, Opening and Connecting Social Initiatives, by Javier de la Cueva, Bastien Guerry, Samer Hassan, Vicente J. Ruiz Jurado
  10. Peer-to-Peer Economy and New Civilization Centered Around the Sustenance of the Commons, by Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella
  11. Knowledge is the Water of the Mind: How to Structure Rights in “Immaterial Commons”, by Rainer Kuhlen


PART V: ENVISIONING A COMMONS-BASED POLICY AND PRODUCTION FRAMEWORK

  1. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Commons, by David Bollier and Burns H. Weston
  2. The Common Heritage of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries, by Prue Taylor
  3. Ideas for Change: Making Meaning Out of Economic and Institutional Diversity, by Ryan T. Conway
  4. Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, by Michael J. Madison, Brett M. Frischmann and Katherine J. Strandburg
  5. The Triune Peer Governance of the Digital Commons, by Michel Bauwens
  6. Multilevel Governance and Cross-Scale Coordination for Natural Resource Management: Lessons from Current Research, by Helen Markelova and Esther Mwangi
  7. The Atmosphere as a Global Commons, by Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and Bernhard Lorentz
  8. Transforming Global Resources into Commons, by Gerhard Scherhorn
  9. Electricity Commons – Toward a New Industrial Society, by Julio Lambing
  10. The Failure of Land Privatization: On the Need for New Development Policies, by Dirk Löhr
  11. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative, or The Complex Construction of Utopia, by Alberto Acosta
  12. Equitable Licensing – Ensuring Access to Innovation, by Christina Godt, Christian Wagner-Ahlfs and Peter Tinnemann
  13. P2P-Urbanism: Backed by Evidence, by Nikos A. Salingaros and Federico Mena-Quintero


Status

David Bollier, May 1, 2013:

"The essays in the English edition of the anthology, are now posted online at http://www.wealthofthecommons.org! If you go to the website and click on the "Contents" tab, you can find an online posting of your essay. Each essay has its own permanent link, so we invite you to share the link with others. The English edition is being posted online thanks to a special agreement with the publisher, Levellers Press, six months after publication of the print edition.

The German edition of the book is also available online thanks to an enthusiastic reader who produced a website featuring the essays: http://band1.dieweltdercommons.de The Wealth of the Commons has so far been a big success in its German version, and we strongly hope that it will enter more university libraries there. (If it is not already available in yours, please drop a note to the librarian!) Another German reader took the trouble to create a downloadable e-book version: http://thomaskalka.de/commons-ebook

For those people who prefer to read their books on e-readers, it is now possible to buy The Wealth of the Commons in Kindle and Nook formats. A free epub digital version is also available for downloads. (Links to these e-book formats are posted on http://www.wealthofthecommons.org.)

We are hopeful that several translations of the book will be made (and perhaps "adaptations" that include new, country-specific essays). We are currently in touch with publishers in Italy and France, for example, and commoners in a number of other countries have expressed an interest in adapting the book.

Please recall that the entire book is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, which means that the essays can be copied and shared without permission provided that credit is given to the author of the essay and to "The Wealth of the Commons." It is preferable that you link to the book website (www.wealthofthecommons.org) and to the "deed" for the CC BY-SA license (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed)."

Excerpts

THE COMMONS AS A TRANSFORMATIVE VISION

By David Bollier & Silke Helfrich:

"It has become increasingly clear that we are poised between an old world that no longer works and a new one struggling to be born. Surrounded by an archaic order of centralized hierarchies on the one hand and predatory markets on the other, presided over by a state committed to planet-destroying economic growth, people around the world are searching for alternatives. That is the message of various social conflicts all over the world – of the Spanish Indignados and the Occupy movement, and of countless social innovators on the Internet. People want to emancipate themselves not just from poverty and shrinking opportunities, but from governance systems that do not allow them meaningful voice and responsibility. This book is about how we can find the new paths to navigate this transition. It is about our future.

But since there is no path forward, we must make the path. This book therefore is about some of the most promising new paths now being developed. Its seventy-three essays describe the enormous potential of the commons in conceptualizing and building a better future. The pieces, written by authors from thirty countries, fall into three general categories – those that offer a penetrating critique of the existing, increasingly dysfunctional market/state partnership; those that enlarge our theoretical understandings of the commons as a way to change the world; and those that describe innovative working projects that are demonstrating the feasibility and appeal of the commons.

This book begins by offering a number of theoretical analyses of the importance of the commons to the contemporary political economy. Part I includes essays that explore, for example, the “tragedy of the anticommons” dynamic in which excessive, fragmented property rights impede innovation and cooperation; the important differences between “common goods” and “public goods”; and the ways in which the commons challenges some elemental principles of modernity, liberalism and law. New thinking in theoretical biology suggests that the methodology of nature itself favors the commons as a stable, self-sustaining paradigm. The commons, then, is a paradigm that embodies its own logic and patterns of behavior, functioning as a different kind of operating system for society. While many of its dynamics are still hidden to minds steeped in market culture, learning about particular commons can help us recognize the commons as a useful, general paradigm.

The essays of Part II focus on the commodification and privatization of shared resources – the enclosure of the commons – one of the great, untold stories of our time. Enclosures are dispossessing tens of millions of farmers and pastoralists whose lives depend upon customary land commons in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are disenfranchising urban dwellers whose parks and public spaces are being turned into private, commercial developments; and Internet users who are beset by new copyright laws, digital encryption and international treaties that lock up culture; as well as ordinary citizens whose access to credit is limited by private banks.

Happily, as we see in Parts III and IV, a rich explosion of commons-based experimentation and innovation can be seen around the world. Commons-based models of provisioning represent the building blocks for a new sort of economy, a Commons Sector. Such models can be seen in “collaborative consumption” systems for swaps, barter and sharing; Chilean fishing commons that have stabilized declining Pacific fisheries; fruit-picking commons in Germany that allow people to pick from local fruit trees that have been abandoned; and an ingenious scheme to establish a new type of international trust to save a biodiverse-rich region of Ecuador from oil drilling.

Some of the most recent and exciting commons-based innovations are related to the digital world, as we see in Part IV. Among the examples examined here are the rise of Creative Commons licenses throughout the world; the creation of a regional digital commons in Linz, Austria, designed to reinvigorate its local economy and civic life; and the peer-to-peer economy’s powerful role in reinventing societal institutions.

Part V explores how the viability of bottom-up commons often depends upon supportive institutions, policy regimes and law. This is the new frontier for the Commons Sector: developing new bodies of law and policy to facilitate the practices of commoning on the ground. For this, the state must play a more active role in sanctioning and facilitating the functioning of commons, much as it currently sanctions and facilitates the functioning of corporations. And commoners must assert their interests in politics and public policy to make the commons the focus of innovations in law.

There is a simple, practical reason for developing new types of law and policy to support the commons. As the dysfunctionalities of the state become more evident – as seen in its inability to solve the financial crisis or curb ecological destruction – the state has an affirmative interest in helping commons perform tasks that it cannot perform itself. It is important that the state begin to recognize the varieties of collective property regimes (an indigenous landscape, a local agricultural system, an online community) and empower people to be co-proprietarians and co-stewards of their commons as a matter of law.

This book does not attempt to present a “unitary perspective on the commons,” which would be oxymoronic in any case, but rather to offer the rich kaleidoscope of perspectives that we have come to expect of the commons. As the reader will soon realize, the commons can be seen as an intellectual framework and political philosophy; it can be seen as a set of social attitudes and commitments; it can be seen as an experiential way of being and even a spiritual disposition; it can be seen as an overarching worldview. But the truth of the matter is that the commons consists of all of the above. It offers a fresh vocabulary and logic for escaping the deadend of market-fundamentalist politics, policy and economics and cultivating more humane alternatives.

It bears noting that this book is neither a how-to manual nor an encyclopedia. It is a selective survey of some of the more prominent vectors of thought and activism around the commons at this point in history. Necessarily, some perspectives and topics are missing. This volume does not address, for example, the role of arts and the commons, enclosures of outer space and broadcast media, organized labor and the commons, or the impact of technologies such as nano-technology and geo-engineering. That said, the great virtue of the commons framework is its ability to make sense of new phenomena. Once you have learned to see the world through the lens of the commons, you will naturally apply that perspective to your own encounters with topics we could barely address.


BEYOND THE MARKET AND STATE

For generations, the state and market have developed a close, symbiotic relationship, to the extent of forging what might be called the market/state duopoly. Both are deeply committed to a shared vision of technological progress and market competition, enframed in a liberal, nominally democratic polity that revolves around individual freedom and rights. Market and state collaborate intimately and together have constructed an integrated worldview – a political philosophy and cultural epistemology, in fact – with each playing complementary roles to enact their shared utopian ideals of endless growth and consumer satisfaction.

The market uses the price system and its private management of people, capital and resources to generate material wealth. And the state represents the will of the people while facilitating the fair functioning of the “free market.” Or so goes the grand narrative. This ideal of “democratic capitalism” is said to maximize the well-being of consumers while enlarging individual political and economic freedoms. This, truly, is the essence of the modern creed of “progress.”

Historically, the market/state partnership has been a fruitful one for both. Markets have prospered from the state’s provisioning of infrastructure and oversight of investment and market activity. Markets have also benefited from the state’s providing of free and discounted access to public forests, minerals, airwaves, research and other public resources. For its part, the state, as designed today, depends upon market growth as a vital source of tax revenue and jobs for people – and as a way to avoid dealing with inequalities of wealth and social opportunity, two politically explosive challenges.

The financial meltdown of 2007–2008 revealed that the textbook idealization of democratic capitalism is largely a sham. The “free market” is not in fact self-regulating and private, but extensively dependent upon public interventions, subsidies, risk-mitigation and legal privileges. The state does not in fact represent the sovereign will of the people, nor does the market enact the autonomous preferences of small investors and consumers. Rather, the system is a more or less closed oligopoly of elite insiders. The political and personal connections between the largest corporations and government are so extensive as to amount to collusion. Transparency is minimal, regulation is corrupted by industry interests, accountability is a politically manipulated show, and the self-determination of the citizenry is mostly confined to choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee at election time.

The state in many countries amounts to a partner of clans, mafia-like-structures or dominant ethnicities; in other countries it amounts to a junior partner of their market fundamentalist project. It is charged with advancing privatization, deregulation, budget cutbacks, expansive private property rights and unfettered capital investment. The state provides a useful fig leaf of legitimacy and due process for the market’s agenda, but there is little doubt that private capital has overwhelmed democratic, non-market interests except at the margins. State intervention to curb market excesses is generally ineffective and palliative. It doesn’t touch the underlying problem, moreover; it acts instead to legitimize the procedures and principles of the market. In consequence, market forces dominate most agendas. In the U.S., corporations have even been recognized as legal “persons” entitled to give unlimited amounts of money to political candidates.

The presumption that the state can and will intervene to represent the interests of citizens is no longer credible. Unable to govern for the long term, captured by commercial interests and hobbled by stodgy bureaucratic structures in an age of nimble electronic networks, the state is arguably incapable of meeting the needs of citizens as a whole. The inescapable conclusion is that the mechanisms and processes of representative democracy are no longer a credible vehicle for the change we need. Conventional political discourse, itself an aging artifact of another era, is incapable of naming our problems, imagining alternatives and reforming itself.

This, truly, is why the commons has such a potentially transformative role to play. It is a discourse that transcends and remakes the categories of the prevailing political and economic order. It provides us with a new socially constructed order of experience, an elemental political worldview and a persuasive grand narrative. The commons identifies the relationships that should matter and sets forth a different operational logic. It validates new schemes of human relations, production and governance – one might call it “commonance,” or the governance of the commons.

The commons provides us with the ability to name and then help constitute a new order. We need a new language that does not insidiously replicate the misleading fictions of the old order – for example, that market growth will eventually solve our social ills or that regulation will curb the world’s proliferating ecological harms. We need a new discourse and new social practices that assert a new grand narrative, a different constellation of operating principles and a more effective order of governance. Seeking a discourse of this sort is not a fanciful whim. It is an absolute necessity. And, in fact, there is no other way to bring about a new order. Words actually shape the world. By using a new language, the language of the commons, we immediately begin to create a new culture. We can assert a new order of resource stewardship, right livelihood, social priorities and collective enterprise.


THE TRANSFORMATIONAL LANGUAGE OF THE COMMONS

This new language situates us as interactive agents of larger collectivities. Our participation in these larger wholes (local communities, online affinity groups, intergenerational traditions) does not eradicate our individuality, but it certainly shapes our preferences, outlooks, values and behaviors: who we are. A key revelation of the commons way of thinking is that we humans are not in fact isolated, atomistic individuals. We are not amoebas with no human agency except hedonistic “utility preferences” expressed in the marketplace.

No: We are commoners – creative, distinctive individuals inscribed within larger wholes. We may have many unattractive human traits fueled by individual fears and ego, but we are also creatures entirely capable of self-organization and cooperation; with a concern for fairness and social justice; and willing to make sacrifices for the larger good and future generations.

As the corruption of the market/state duopoly has intensified, our very language for identifying problems and imagining solutions has been compromised. The snares and deceptions embedded in our prevailing political language go very deep. Such dualisms as “public” and “private,” and “state” and “market,” and “nature and culture,” for example, are taken as self-evident. As heirs of Descartes, we are accustomed to differentiating “subjective” from “objective,” and “individual” from “collective” as polar opposites. But such polarities are lexical inheritances that are increasingly inapt as the two poles in reality blur into each other. And yet they continue to profoundly structure how we think about contemporary problems and what spectrum of solutions we regard as plausible.

Those either/or categories and the respective words we use have performative force. They make the world. In the very moment that we stop talking about business models, efficiency and profitability as top priorities, we stop seeing ourselves as Homo economicus and as objects to be manipulated by computer spreadsheets. We start seeing ourselves as commoners in relationship to others, with a shared history and shared future. We start creating a culture of stewardship and co-responsibility for our commons resources while at the same time defending our livelihoods.

The commons helps us recognize, elicit and strengthen these propensities. It challenges us to transcend the obsolete dualisms and mechanistic mindsets. It asks us to think about the world in more organic, holistic and long-term ways. We see that my personal unfolding depends upon the unfolding of others, and theirs upon mine. We see that we mutually affect and help each other as part of a larger, holistic social organism. Complexity theory has identified simple principles that govern the coevolution of species in complex ecosystems. The commons takes such lessons to heart and asserts that we humans co-evolve with and co-produce each other. We do not exist in grand isolation from our fellow human beings and nature. The myth of the “self-made man” that market culture celebrates is absurd – a self-congratulatory delusion that denies the critical role of family, community, networks, institutions and nature in making our world.

Many of the pathologies of the contemporary economy are built upon this deep substrate of erroneous language. Or more precisely, the elite guardians of the market/state find it useful to employ such misleading categories. The corporation in the US and many other nations, for example, likes to cast itself as a “private” entity that hovers above much of the real world and its problems. Its purpose is simply to minimize its costs, maximize its sales, and so earn profits for its investors. This is its institutional DNA. It is designed to ignore countless social and environmental harms (primly described by economists as “externalities”) and relentlessly pursue infinite growth.

And so it is that language of capitalism validates a certain set of purposes and power relationships, and projects them into the theaters of our minds. The delusions of endless growth and consumption are encoded into the very epistemology of our language and internalized by people. It is only in recent years that large masses of people have understood the alarming real-world consequences of this cultural model and way of thinking: an globally integrated economy dedicated to the proposition that humans must indefinitely exploit, monetize and financially abstract a finite set of natural resources (oil, minerals, forests, fisheries, water). The rise of Peak Oil and global warming (not to mention other ecosystem declines) suggest that this vision is a time-limited fantasy. Nature has real limits. The drama of the next decade will revolve around whether capitalism can begin to recognize and respect these inherent limits.

The premises of “democratic capitalism” extend to information and culture as well. But here, in order to wring maximum profit from intangibles (words, music, images), the logic is inverted. Instead of treating a finite resource, nature, as infinite and without price, here, the corporation demands that an essentially infinite resource, culture and information, be made finite and scarce. That is the chief purpose of extending the scope and terms of copyright and patent law – to make information and culture artificially scarce so that they can then be treated as private property and sold. This imperative has become all the more acute now that digital technologies have made the reproduction of information and creative works easy and essentially free, and in doing so undermined the customary business models that made books, film and music artificially scarce.

The commons – a vehicle for meeting everyone’s basic needs in a roughly equitable way – is being annexed and disassembled to serve a global a market machine which treats nature as a brute commodity. Commoners become isolated individuals. Communities of commoners are splintered and reconstituted as armies of consumers and employees. The “unowned” resources of the commons are converted into the raw fodder for market production and sale – and after every last drop of it has been monetized, the inevitable wastes of the market are dumped back into the commons. Government is dispatched to “mop up” the “externalities,” a task that is only irregularly fulfilled because it is so ancillary to neoliberal priorities.

The normal workings of The Economy require constant if not expanding appropriations of resources that morally or legally belong to everyone. The Economy requires that all resources be transmuted into tradeable commodities. Enclosure is a sublimely insidious process. Somehow an act of dispossession and plunder must be reframed as a lawful, common-sense initiative to advance human progress. For example, the World Trade Organization, which purports to advance human development through free trade, is essentially a system for seizing non-market resources from communities, dispossessing people and exploiting fragile ecosystems with the full sanction of international and domestic law. This achievement requires an exceedingly complicated legal and technical apparatus, along with intellectual justifications and political support. Enclosure must be mystified through all sorts of propaganda, public relations and the co-optation of dissent. This process has been critical in the drive to privatize lifeforms, supplant biodiverse lands with crop monocultures, censor and control Internet content, seize groundwater supplies to create proprietary bottled water, appropriate indigenous knowledge and culture, and convert self-reproducing agricultural crops into sterile, proprietary seeds that must be bought again and again.

Through such processes, the very idea of “The Economy” has been constructed, complete with dualisms about what matters (things that bear prices or affect prices) and what doesn’t (things that have intrinsic, qualitative, moral or subjective value). Over time, The Economy comes to be seen as a universal, ahistorical, entirely natural phenomenon, a fearsome Moloch that somehow preexists humanity and exists beyond anyone’s control. This image begins to express the nightmare of enclosure that afflicts so much of the world – a world where natural ecological processes, communities and vernacular culture have no legal protection or cultural respect.


THE COMMONS AS A GENERATIVE PARADIGM

A major point of the commons (discourse), then, is to help us “get outside” of the dominant discourse of the market economy and help us represent different, more wholesome ways of being. It allows us to more clearly identify the value of inalienability – protection against the marketization of everything. Relationships with nature are not required to be economic, extractive and exploitative; they can be constructive and harmonious. For people of the global South, for whom the commons tends to be more of a lived, everyday reality than a metaphor, the language of the commons is the basis for a new vision of “development.”

The commons can play this role because it describes a powerful value proposition that market economics ignores. Historically, the commons has often been regarded as a wasteland, a res nullius, a place having no owner and no value. Notwithstanding the long-standing smear of the commons as a “tragedy,” the commons, properly understood, is in fact highly generative. It creates enormous stores of value. The “problem” is that this value cannot simply be collapsed into a single scale of commensurable, tradeable value – i.e., price – and it occurs through processes that are too subtle, qualitative and long-term for the market’s mandarins to measure. The commons tends to express its bounty through living flows of social and ecological activity, not fixed, countable stocks of capital and inventory.

The generativity of commons stewardship, therefore, is not focused on building things or earning returns on investment, but rather on ensuring our livelihoods, the integrity of the community, the ongoing flows of value-creation, and their equitable distribution and responsible use. Commoners are diverse among themselves, and do not necessarily know in advance how to agree upon or achieve a shared goals. The only practical answer, therefore, is to open up a space for robust dialogue and experimentation. There must be room for commoning – the social practices and traditions that enable people to discover, innovate and negotiate new ways of doing things for themselves. In order for the generativity of the commons to manifest itself, it needs the “open spaces” for bottom-up initiatives to occur in interaction with the resources at hand. In this way, citizenship and governance are blended and reconstituted.


CREATING AN ARCHITECTURE OF LAW AND POLICY TO SUPPORT THE COMMONS

For too long commons have been marginalized or ignored in public policy, forcing commoners to develop their own private-law “work-arounds” or sui generis legal regimes in order to establish collective legal rights. Examples include the General Public License for free software, which assures its access and use by anyone and land trusts, which establish tracts of land as commons to be enjoyed by all yet owned as private property (“property on the outside, commons on the inside,” as Carol M. Rose has put it).1 The future of the commons would be much brighter if the state would begin to provide formal charters and legal doctrines to recognize the collective interests and rights of commoners. There is also a need to reinvent market structures so that the old, centralized corporate structures of capitalism do not dominate, and squeeze out, the more locally responsive, socially mindful business alternatives (a trend that the Solidarity Economy movement has been stoutly resisting).

There is an inherent tension in seeding new sorts of commons initiatives, however, because they must often work within the existing system of law and policy, which risks a co-optation of the commons and the domestication of its innovations. Despite this real danger, commons initiatives need not lose their transformative, catalytic potential simply because they work “within the system.” Among commoners, there will invariably be debates about the strategic “purity” of commons-based initiatives, especially those that interact with the marketplace in new ways. Such scrutiny is important. Yet it may also highlight deeper philosophical tensions within the commons movement – namely, that some commoners prefer to have little or no intercourse with markets while others believe that their communities can better thrive if they interact with markets.

This is a creative tension that will never go away, nor should it. But the critical question for commoners to ask is, What is production for? Unlike market capitalism, which requires constant economic growth, the point of the commons is to propagate and extend a commons-based culture. The goal is to meet people’s needs – and to reproduce and expand the Commons Sector. Throughout history, civilizations have always had a dominant organizational form. In tribal economies, gift exchange was dominant. In pre-capitalist societies such as feudalism, hierarchies prevailed and rewards were allocated on the basis of one’s social status. In our era of capitalism, the market is the primary system for allocating social status, wealth and opportunities for human development. Now that the severe limitations of the market system under capitalism have been made abundantly clear, the question we must confront is whether the commons can become the dominant social form. We believe it is entirely possible to create commons-based innovations that work within existing governance systems while helping bring about a new order.

We hope that the essays of this book encourage new explorations and initiatives in this direction. This is a rare moment in history in which old, fixed categories of thought are giving way to new possibilities. But any transition to a new paradigm will require that enough people “step into history” and make the new categories of the commons their own. Hope for the future lies in people creating their own distinctive forms of commoning throughout the world, and the gradual emergence and confluence of new social/economic practices.

Anthropologists, neurologists, geneticists and other scientists confirm the critical role that cooperation has played in the evolution of the human species. We are hard-wired to cooperate and participate in commons. One might even say that it is our destiny. While the commons may seem odd within the context of 21st Century market culture, it speaks to something buried deep within us. It prods us to deconstruct the oppressive political culture and consciousness that the market/ state duopoly demands, and whispers of new possibilities that only we can actualize." (http://www.wealthofthecommons.org/essay/introduction-commons-transformative-vision)


Full-text articles

General

  • The Structural Communality of the Commons, by Stefan Meretz [1]
  • The Logic of the Commons and the Market: A Shorthand Comparison of Their Core Beliefs, by Silke Helfrich [2]
  • Why Distinguish Common Goods from Public Goods?, by James B. Quilligan [3]
  • The Commoning of Patterns and the Patterns of Commoning, by Franz Nahrada [4]
  • The Abundance of the Commons, A Conversation with Brian Davey, Roberto Verzola and Wolfgang Hoeschele [5]
  • Crises, Capitalism and Cooperation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo De Angelis [6]
  • Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created, by Silke Helfrich [7]


Land and Nature

  • Resilience Thinking, by Rob Hopkins [8]
  • The Economy of Wastefulness: The Biology of the Commons, by Andreas Weber [9]
  • Subsistence: Perspective for a Society Based on Commons, by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen [10]
  • The Global Land Grab: The New Enclosures, by Liz Alden Wily [11]
  • Water as a Commons: Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us, by Maude Barlow [12]
  • A New German Raw Materials Strategy: A Modern Enclosure of the Commons?, by Lili Fuhr [13]
  • Using “Protected Natural Areas” to Appropriate the Commons, by Ana de Ita [14]
  • Community Based Forest and Livelihood Management in Nepal, by Shrikrishna Upadhyay [15]
  • The Atmosphere as a Global Commons, by Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and Bernhard Lorentz [16]


Labor and care

  • El Buen Vivir and the Commons, A Conversation between Gustavo Soto Santiesteban and Silke Helfrich [17]


Knowledge, Culture and Science

  • Intellectual Property Rights and Free Trade Agreements: A Never-Ending Story, by Beatriz Busaniche [18]
  • The Code is the Seed of the Software, An Interview with Adriana Sánchez [19]
  • Copyright and Fairy Tales, by Carolina Botero and Julio César Gaitán [20]
  • Creative Commons: Governing the Intellectual Commons from Below, by Mike Linksvayer [21]
  • Freedom for Users, Not for Software, by Benjamin Mako Hill [22]
  • Move Commons: Labeling, Opening and Connecting Social Initiatives, by Javier de la Cueva, Bastien Guerry, Samer Hassan, Vicente J. Ruiz Jurado [23]
  • Knowledge is the Water of the Mind: How to Structure Rights in “Immaterial Commons,” by Rainer Kuhlen [24]
  • Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, by Michael J. Madison, Brett M. Frischmann and Katherine J. Strandburg [25]


Money, Markets and Values

  • Reclaiming the Credit Commons: Towards a Butterfly Society, by Thomas H. Greco, Jr. [26]


Infrastructures for Commoning

  • Institutions and Trust in Commons: Dealing with Social Dilemmas, by Martin Beckenkamp [27]
  • Technology and the Commons, by Josh Tenenberg [28]
  • Practicing Commons in Community Gardens: Urban Gardening as a Corrective for Homo Economicus, by Christa Müller [29]
  • Shared Space: A Space Shared is a Space Doubled, by Sabine Lutz [30]
  • Transition Towns: Initiatives of Transformation, by Gerd Wessling [31]
  • Capable Leadership, Institutional Skills and Resource Abundance Behind Flourishing Coastal Marine Commons in Chile, by Gloria L. Gallardo Fernández & Eva Friman [32]
  • Public Administration Needs Free Software, by Federico Heinz [33]
  • From Blue Collar to Open Commons Region: How Linz, Austria, Has Benefited from Committing to the Commons, by Thomas Gegenhuber, Naumi Haque and Stefan Pawel [34]
  • The Common Heritage of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries, by Prue Taylor [35]
  • Transforming Global Resources into Commons, by Gerhard Scherhorn [36]
  • Electricity Commons – Toward a New Industrial Society, by Julio Lambing [37]
  • Equitable Licensing – Ensuring Access to Innovation, by Christina Godt, Christian Wagner-Ahlfs and Peter Tinnemann [38]
  • P2P-Urbanism: Backed by Evidence, by Nikos A. Salingaros and Federico Mena-Quintero [39]

Reviews

1

by John Jopling:

"This book is a remarkable collection of some 72 articles written by academics and activists on a variety of topics related directly or indirectly to the theory of ‘the Commons’ and the practice of ‘commoning’. The book explores the possibility that the concept of the Commons provides us with the model we need to build just and sustainable human societies in place of the currently dominant unjust and unsustainable economic/political system. It has left me convinced that the Commons is indeed an important model, or paradigm, which is probably more apt. The book is certainly a ‘must read’, indeed, if you can afford it, a ‘must have’, so you can take in the wealth of information and ideas at your own pace, going back to re-study at your leisure. Most of the articles are a ‘good read’ too. It may not even occur to many people that the subject of commons is worth studying. Are not commons of little more than historical importance? Were they not nearly all wiped out by centuries of forcible enclosures, surviving only in distant places like tropical forests and coastal fisheries? And are they not somewhat problematical due to Garrett Hardin’s famous ‘tragedy of the commons’? The concept is surely too weak to be of much practical use today, faced as we are with governments in thrall to corporate big business, not least the fossil fuel and the arms industries. What possible relevance can an ancient concept such as the commons have to dealing with global scale problems such as climate change? Well, read this book and you will discover that today another story is emerging. This book rescues the concept of the Commons from obscurity and places it at the fore-front of creative thinking about the future of human societies, establishing it, in my view, as a crucial paradigm for thinking about humanity’s future and for the work of building the institutional frameworks necessary for survival, including those needed at the global level.


Part I, entitled ‘The Commons as a New Paradigm’, contains some seriously interesting and original thinking about the natural world and the implications, in terms of governance, of the fact that humans are part of the natural world. Nature is a commons. It operates as a commons. We are part of that commons. There are scholarly essays here, by authors not afraid to challenge conventional assumptions.

The title of Part II, Capitalism, Enclosure and Resistance, speaks for itself. It is not that commons regimes have failed due to any inherent failings; they have been destroyed by government-backed forces of enclosure, commodification and privatisation, as seventeen experts describe here. The natural human ability for cooperative governance has not however been entirely extinguished. In fact it’s alive and kicking.

Part III describes a wide range of cooperative systems as examples of commons flourishing today.

The digital world has seen some of the most exciting commons-based innovations, described in Part IV, obvious examples being GNU/Linux (90% of the world’s 500 fastest computers use Linux) and Wikipedia (English edition has three million articles and there are Wikipedias in over 200 other languages).

Part V concerns various institutional issues, relevant, but not all related directly, to commons regimes.

So what is a Commons? One perhaps thought of a common as an area of land, like the common across the road from my home as a child, which was presumably called that because it was, in days gone by, managed as a Common. But no, a Commons is not the land or other natural resource, it is a system, a regime defining the relationship between people and a natural resource on which they depend, it is the rules which users agree between themselves. David Bollier and Burns H Weston define a Commons as “a regime for managing common-pool resources that eschews individual property rights and State control”.


The commons paradigm thus has these key features:

  • It refers to a regime regulating people’s use of a natural resource
  • The purposes are fairness between the users and preservation of the resource
  • The regime is created by the users, not states or governments
  • The process of making the rules is cooperative and participatory
  • The regime excludes ownership, property rights, commodification and privatisation.
  • ‘Commoning’ refers to the practice of creating or participating in commons.


As the editors point out, the Commons paradigm “embodies its own logic and patterns of behaviour, functioning as a different kind of operating system for society”. Just as today the currently dominant paradigm requires everyone to take it for granted, for example, that governance is the prerogative of nation-state governments, that governments must be elected, that ministers are in charge, that of course we need economic growth and that property rights must be protected; so the Commons paradigm makes certain assumptions, for example, recognising people as essentially social beings, members of communities rather than isolated individuals, all being dependent on the preservation of the natural systems they are using, Where the current economic paradigm sees people only as workers, consumers and voters, the Commons paradigm sees them as participating directly in the creation and operation of the commons regimes that affect them.

Whilst corporations including vast multinationals are key players in the dominant global economic system, their non-human DNA excludes them from participation in the Commons because the Commons is based on who we are as human beings. Where the current system is blind to natural limits, a crucial purpose of the Commons is to preserve the rest of the natural world for future generations and other species. And it recognises that, for that, clear rules are needed and must be complied with.

As this book illustrates again and again, the Commons is a rich concept, far from exhausted by the 438 pages of this book – as the editors point out, several relevant topics are not included. As a paradigm the commons has amply proved its scope and flexibility in relation both to local natural resources and in the digital world. Does it also have the potential to be a paradigm that enables humanity to co-create the just and sustainable societies we need to build? Can it be applied at the global scale? The claim the editors make is that “Once you have learned to see the world through the lens of the Commons you will naturally apply that perspective to your own encounters with topics we could barely address”. I agree. Here is an example.

As a contributor to the Cap and Share project (http://www.capandshare.org,) and a chapter author of Sharing for Survival, I was well aware of the ‘commons movement ‘. I knew that our work on climate change should be linked to it; but until I read this book I hadn’t realised the huge potential of the Commons paradigm that I have now woken up to. Commons principles have never been applied to global resources such as the atmosphere, but there is no reason why they can’t be. Indeed they must be. The Commons paradigm is directly applicable to the human response to climate change. The atmosphere is a common-pool resource: it has a vital climate regulation role, and is used, currently over-used, by humanity as a dump for disposal of gases from burning fossil fuels, leading to disastrous disruption of the climate regulation role – the ultimate tragedy of the commons. So, applying Commons thinking, we, the global human community, the users of this natural resource, need to cooperatively institute a regime to restrict this use, a regime that’s effective to preserve the atmosphere’s function of climate regulation: a Commons regime. Members of the Feasta Climate Group have taken the first step of designing a system to do that, a global Cap and Share scheme – which we believe would be effective in relation to emissions from fossil fuels and also fair as between the users – to be administered by a global climate commons trust. Now we have to negotiate a collaborative agreement with our fellow humans throughout the world to put that, or something like it, or some other clear rules that are effective and fair, in place, as a Commons project. What I knew before reading this book was that, governments having failed to act, it was left to global civil society to act. What the book has taught me is that Commoning (as opposed to government action) is and always has been the only way the climate, and indeed any other global common-pool resource, could have been managed sustainably. The global Cap and Share proposal is a Commons project par excellence, a Commons project by the global community. The way we work needs to reflect that. That’s a deep lesson.

This example serves to illustrate the kind of creative thinking this book is full of and its potential to inspire. But I must remind myself, this is a book review, not an essay for the next edition of the book! Back in book-review mode, I should mention that whilst much of the writing is informative, some is analytical. It is a good mix and very wide-ranging. Not all of it is about what one might call pure Commoning, some of it is only indirectly relevant, for example there is an essay about multilevel governance and coordination drawing on research into projects within the existing paradigm of governance; as well as a discussion between Feasta member Brian Davey and others about ‘abundance’. Some essays fail in my view to take fully into account the systemic limitations of existing governmental systems, for example, the authors of an essay on the atmosphere as a global commons, whilst recognising the atmosphere as global common-pool resource, advocate working for an inter-nation-state-governmental agreement rather than a new Commons regime of global regulation such as Feasta members propose. But even opinions I don’t entirely agree with are thought-provoking, one example being the rights-based approach of some contributors, another being the view that the Commons movement would benefit from more government support and facilitation as suggested by the editors. I don’t myself think the movement needs any philosophical justification nor assistance from the current system; to my mind the strength of the movement lies entirely within itself; and the more it achieves on its own and of its own validity, the stronger it will become. Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella think it has the power to bring together all existing ecological, social justice and emancipatory movements to create a new world order: I agree, my only worry being whether we’ll make it in time. With climate feed-back systems capable of resulting in global average temperature increases of between 4 and (according to David Wasdell) 10 degrees C by the end of this century, there is no time to spare.

By the way, this book would almost be worth acquiring just as a source of information about the people and organisations you might want to network." (http://www.feasta.org/2013/01/04/the-wealth-of-the-commons-review/)


2

Leo Burke:

"If Bollier and Helfrich had the interest and energy to develop a second volume, I would ask them to expand on three key themes. The first is education. There is a brief article by George Pór on his pioneering work with the London-based School of Commoning. George and his colleagues are attempting to address society’s vast knowledge deficit about the commons. Vibrant and varied educational strategies are needed worldwide to accelerate citizen support for the commons.

Second, we need to understand more regarding strategies that successfully scale. The Internet greatly facilitates ‘horizontal scaling’—how successful commons in one locality or domain can be replicated elsewhere. An example of horizontal scaling is the proliferation of Transition Towns; lessons learned from the Transition movement are discussed in three articles in the book. The more challenging issue is ‘vertical scaling.’ That is, under what conditions can the value memes of successful initiatives at one level of governance be applied at another level? For instance, is there a critical mass of Transition Towns that might give birth to a Transition Region that cuts across international boundaries and, in effect, begins to set up provisional, non-state-based forms of representative governance?

Third and lastly, we need to reflect more deeply on the matter of sovereignty. At present, when we think of the commons, we tend to do so within the context of a fixed set of boundary conditions set by governmental authorities. But such a view reflects an insufficient position. These days, governments tend to represent interests (as in special interests) rather than people. Yet inherent in being human is an intrinsic set of rights and responsibilities. Under what conditions do ordinary people have the right to exercise claims of sovereignty over common resources for the sake of all those affected, including the unborn? In his essay, “Why Distinguish Common Goods from Public Goods?” James Quilligan introduces a provocative notion: “People’s sovereignty for a commons is legitimated through global citizenship, and this global citizenship is legitimated through the local sovereignty of their commons.” Much discussion and debate is needed to unpack this seminal concept. Looking to the future, the courageous assertion of well-considered claims of sovereignty will be essen-tial to establishing broad-scale commons, especially those that transcend national boundaries.

We live in interesting times. Particularly since World War II, the moral authority of the nation-state has steadily evaporated. As a form of governance, it can no longer fulfill its social mandate of providing security and well being for its citizens. Nor is it structurally capable of collaborating with other such entities for the welfare of the totality, e.g., developing workable treaties on global carbon emissions. The market, particularly as a result of unregulated growth in the financial sector over the last thirty years, has imposed an endless-growth-at-all-costs logic on human civilization that is neither environmentally sustainable nor ethically justifiable. Things as they are, are not working. It is time for something new. And this something new will include viable commons at local, regional and global levels. The Wealth of the Commons points the way to a future that is both possible and necessary." (http://www.kosmosjournal.org/articles/book-review-the-wealth-of-the-commons-a-world-beyond-market-state)


3

Caroline Whyte (FEASTA):

"In the first section on the commons as a new paradigm, the chapter by Andreas Weber was fascinating if a little brief considering the controversial nature of its subject-matter. He points out that, contrary to common assumption, nature is actually inefficient, lavish and wasteful. We tend not to recognize this as we are misled by the twin theories of natural evolution and of man’s household of goods and services. These theories borrow and reinforce each other’s key metaphors. He believes that the selfish gene is “not much more than a home economics mirrored back to biochemistry” (p7).

Other misperceptions, according to Weber, include the idea that the biosphere is continually growing. Despite the human obsession with growth as progress, the biosphere does not grow in weight but only ‘grows’ (or shrinks) in diversity of experience. Moreover, new species do not arise through competition, but through random mutations and isolation. Abundance abounds, as does waste, and there is no notion of property in the biosphere. So the building blocks we have to work with may be rather different from what is often assumed.

I was pleased to see Friederike Habermann bring up Gabor Maté’s work on psychology in order to argue that we aren’t natural egoists. She also makes an interesting critique of money, quoting the philosopher Richard David Precht: “where money rules, everything seems drab and indifferent” (p14). Peer production, as she says, is inherently important to the commons, whereas more stratified societies have fewer peers and less altruism.

Silvia Federici describes how women have historically tended to benefit most from the commons and also lost out the most from enclosures. In fact the witch hunts happened at the time of the land enclosure movement, which may not be a coincidence. In the present economy globalisation separates labour out in a way that is very detrimental to human wellbeing. Reproductive work – the work of raising the next generation – is supposed to be collective, not atomized. I’m sure that any parent of young children could relate strongly to this.

James Quilligan’s well-written chapter explains why common goods need to be distinguished from public good: “In theory, public still means people; in practice, public means government (as captured by elite interests who regularly impede the people’s political rights and capacity to control their common goods)” (p75). The lively discussion between Feasta’s Brian Davey, Roberto Verzola and Wolfgang Hoeschele on “the abundance of the commons” highlights some potential dangers to be aware of; it’s easy to be overly optimistic about what the knowledge commons – including the internet – can achieve.

Peter Linebaugh’s description of the Oxmoor commons provides a powerful foil to the traditional arguments against commons made by commentators such as Garret Hardin, while Harmut Zückrt has contributed a brief but useful overview of the enclosures movement. As with many of the book’s authors they draw upon the seminal work of Elinor Olstrom. Liz Alden Wiley’s important chapter describes land-grabbing practices in the past and at present, particularly in Africa, where they are closely related to the lucrative biofuel market. A handful of states in Africa, and somewhat more in South America, are adopting a more commons-friendly property law in an attempt to counter this.

A chapter by Beatriz Busoniche argues that intellectual property rights should be treated as a commons issue rather than an issue to be handled by the WTO. As things stand, regulations are left in the hands of negotiators operating in secret to advance private commercial interests.

Maude Barlow provides a highly informative chapter on water rights, which as she points out is both a social and an ecological issue, like climate change. More children are killed by dirty water than HIV, malaria and war together. Environmentalists have a tendency to focus on mitigation rather than prevention of such problems, but if they join forces with justice activists there’s a chance that progress could be made. As with climate, a public trust structure could provide a basis for protecting water.

Vinod Raina’s fascinating chapter on dams in India shares much common ground with Brian Davey’s recent essay in which he discusses the different assumptions about the nature of property. For the Adavasi people in India, ancestors’ bones are like ground stations for satellites; they provide bearings. More generally, the commons on which many poor people depend are threatened by ‘development’, hence their resistance to it. Raina contrasts Gandhi’s views with Nehru’s and also brings up Max Planck’s observation that new scientific discoveries are often rejected by ‘rational’ scientists .

In his chapter on modern forms of enclosure Hervé Le Crosnier identifies three threats to the commons: overuse or pollution, threats to those who use the commons, and legal threats to commoning rights. He argues that GMOs are an invasion of the commons, as is some tourism. His description of how tribal leaders and other communing group leaders can sometimes betray their groups could provide a rationale for per-capita-based distribution of rights such as the share in Cap and Share.

Thomas H. Greco Jr makes a compelling argument for reclaiming the credit commons, writing that “we have allowed the credit commons to be privatized so that it can be accessed only by appealing to some bank to grant a ‘loan’.” He points out that credit tends to be the most overlooked aspect of the commons, and suggest that in order to counter this we develop means of payment that are locally-owned but globally useful. “This means giving members of a local trade exchange the ability to trade with members of other exchanges easily and inexpensively, with little or no risk” (p234).

Gert Wessling provides a useful summary of the transition movement and his chapter is complemented by that of Takayoshi Kusago, who describes a Japanese initiative aimed at resurrecting a polluted town which has much in common with Transition Towns.

Esteva provides an intriguing description of the Zapatista movement which led me to wonder how the Zapatistas handle money – do they just use ‘regular’ money or have they figured out some kind of alternative?

We’re given a lightening tour of various other commons-based initiatives around the world, ranging from salt mines in Senegal to fisheries to Chile and communal forests in Nepal. I was particularly interested in the discussion between Gustavo Soto and Silke Helfrich on the political tensions relating to Buen Vivir in Bolivia, where president Evo Morales seems torn between supporting the indigenous we-don’t-need-growth-to-prosper approach, and the assumptions about progress that come from more industrialized countries. The section on intellectual property rights also gave me much food for thought. Carolina Botero and Julio César Gaston undercut the argument that we need copyright law in order to foster creativity. They point out that the cooking and fashion industries exhibit a great deal of creativity despite the fact that they don’t use copyright at all.

Federico Heinz argues that public administrators really should be using free software as opposed than proprietary software. This seems closely related to Thomas Greco’s argument about money.

I found David E. Martin’s chapter on the history of patents very illuminating; I’d been completely unaware of this before. Apparently about 80% of patents are ‘defensive’, meaning that they are taken out in order to prevent anyone from outcompeting the patent holder. They’re never actually used and, in accordance with patent law, eventually they expire. A whole slew of these from the 1970s and 80s have now expired and there are also a great many technologies that were never patented in the most marginalized countries (his preferred term for Least Developed Countries). This provides an enormous potential for innovation in these parts of the world. Martin has established a database to bring all this information together at globalinnovationcommons.org.

Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella’s article on the peer-to-peer economy was well-written and succinct.

It stressed that the current political economy is based on the mistaken assumptions that material abundance, immaterial scarcity and growth lead to social justice. They think that civil society should be dominating the private and public sectors. They do a good job in clarifying the difference between open source software, whose developers stress efficiency and don’t challenge the idea that competitiveness should play a central role, and free software, which stresses the ethical imperative of freedom in both its creative and political sense.

Another important distinction made is between markets and capitalism. Markets predate capitalism and can be compatible with fair trade and just pricing. Capitalism could actually be considered an “anti-market, requiring the separation of ownership and means of production, and infinite growth”.

A final point they make is that the modern conception of commons should not represent a return to previous ideas of the individual being completely subsumed to the community, but rather, “a society that is based on recognition of the need for relationally and connectivity by the free and equal individual”.

Ottmar Efenhofer et al’s chapter on climate and the commons brought up much that is relevant to the work of Feasta’s climate group. I found them rather optimistic about the emissions reductions needed; unlike many climate scientists they believe that we can actually still add some emissions to the atmosphere.

However, they provide a very clear explanation of why the climate needs to be treated as a commons, and they explain why international, national, regional and local initiatives are all needed.

I can’t end this review without mentioning a recommendation made by Rob Hopkins in his chapter on resilience thinking, in the first part of the book. He says that those of us promoting the commons need to “tell a powerful story. This is a cultural process, not an environmental one”. This book should be of enormous help to anyone who wishes to tell the story of the commons in such a way that it sticks." (http://www.feasta.org/2013/09/02/the-wealth-of-the-commons-review-2/)