Archive for the 'commons' Category

Pirates, commons and finance

Friday, December 11th, 2009

A friend alerted me about this news about Somali pirates establishing a stock exchange and I thought it is worth posting it in a day in which President Obama — in his Nobel prise acceptance speech — referred to the pirates along the coast of Somalia as if they were among the world scum bags justifying the US use of force to promote world peace

“I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America’s commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come. (Obama)


Somali pirates show instead to be quite sophisticated, they establish a stock exchange so communities and expatriots can pool resources to sponsor their policing of their waters/piracy against foreign exploitation. As my friend argues,

“this is a community using a financial logic to articulate a common agenda (sponsoring their unofficial “security” against foreign exploitation) and using an exchange market to reclaim value from the transnational pirate cartels of capital. On the other, this is primitive accumulation and high finance rolled into one. I suspect the ROI here is very high, partly because the “costs” of this extremely dangerous labour are so minimal - investors do not have to compensate workers for the dangers of piracy, especially where there is such competition for the positions! Of course, I don’t expect Berkshire-Hathaway to make a big investment in this piracy market quite yet, but there is something deeply allegorical here.”

It is not only traditional finance they use. It looks like the stock exchange they set up is a means to pull all types of resources, and not only monetary and financial. Incidentally resource pulling is the first moment of a constitution of commons. As the articles says

“The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.”

so, you do not need liquidity to be part of the business . . . it would be interesting to see what conversions and weights exist — I read a great novel in Italian last summer by Valerio Evangelisti about story of old pirates at sea, which illustrated the negotiation/struggle within the community to measure ones contribution in kind … Melvin’s Moby Dick had some similar illustration of measuring of labour in the cooperative and hierarchical structure of the whale ship.

In any case, not bad return for a donated rocket propelled granade:

“I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,” she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.
“I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the ‘company’.”

Atmospheric commons and social justice

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Literature on commons is abounding, and the term is increasingly seen as referring to practices that are alternative to both states and markets. The case of the “atmospheric commons” shows that states and markets are not alternatives to commons, but modalities of its management. Very problematic modalities to be sure, since the result of state and market access to the “atmospheric commons” in the context of capitalist production create hierarchies of power, reproduce social injustice and is leading us all to environmental catastrophe.

This interview with Angelica Navarro on Democracy Now!, the chief climate negotiator for Bolivia at the Copenhagen climate summit, makes the point very clear when she says:

“developed countries have over-consumed atmospheric—common atmospheric space. Twenty percent of the population have actually emitted more than two-thirds of the emissions, and as a result, they have caused more than 90 percent of the increase in temperatures. As a result, developing countries, we are suffering. Bolivia’s glaciers are melting between 40 to 55 percent. We have extended droughts. We have in the lowlands more flooding. And we are losing between four to 17 percent of our GDP in the worst years. That is climate debt.

And what we are asking is repayment. We are not asking for aid. We are not asking—we are not begging for aid. We want developed countries to comply with their obligation and pay their debt. “

Commons are not a substitute for justice. Injustice, and the struggle for justice, also occurs within commons. In the “atmospheric commons”, as in any commons, justice involves taking responsibility, and this is the basics for a relation of trust. Memories of past injustices can be put aside in moving on to a new terrain of commoning only after they have been truly recognized as injustices.
Instead, the idea that the North owes to the South a “climate debt” has been rejected at the COP-15 meeting by Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change. As if he was pleading insanity in a court of law, he defended himself by saying industrial countries did not know that CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution would provoke climate change (but theoretical knowledge of this exists since 1824).

Furthermore, the recently secret draft agreement leaked to The Guardian newspaper known as the “Danish text,” and worked on by a group of individuals known as the “circle of commitment” to include Britain, the United States and Denmark and a handful of countries — shows world leaders next week will be asked to sign an agreement that both in terms of decision making process among “commoners” and in terms of the projected outcome is quite problematic. In terms of process, it hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations. In terms of outcome, is sets unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for rich and poor countries in 2050, meaning that people in the former would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much as those in the latter countries.

Atmospheric commons is a commons, but the relation among the “commoners” — which at this scale and in the given political configuration is mediated by governments — is one in which equity and justice are foregone principles.

This is well captured by  Angelina Navarro

“What the Danish text seems to do is . . . [to] impose new obligations to developing countries. So we are the ones who are supposed now to be mitigating. And I’m asking, what will a developing country, rural men or women—indigenous women in Bolivia doesn’t even have electricity—will mitigate? And for what? So that developed countries can even have still have two, three cars? Or just like four times change their clothes in a year? What are they asking? Do they want all us to finance the problems they are causing? Why should I pay for them? But on top of that, why should we choose between building a school, a bridge or a hospital, and adapt? So that is what we think.

Why should a “commoner” pay for the abuses of another, especially when this other has far more means than the victims of these abuses?
Discourses on commons are often discourses that highlight the important questions of “responsibility”, “stewardship”, “trust” and “community”, but with a little or no preoccupation with the underlying power relations and hierarchies that construct these questions in the real world. I would go as far as to say that without making the questions of power relations and hierarchies as central to the issue of commons constitution in terms of both process and outcome, we risk to make of commons what previous generations have ended up making of democracy: ineffective in terms of outcomes and corrupted by money and power in terms of means.  And the catastrophic indication is already there. To put it again with Angelina Navarro:

“the level of ambition that was what is proposed in the Danish leaked text is definitely not enough. It will not solve the problem. It will not solve the climate change.”

Work for the poor, commons put to work: the next market wave.

Friday, November 20th, 2009

The next disciplinary market wave — if it will come at all — will likely be greatly dependent on commons at every scale of social action. For this reason, a reasonably strong political recomposition wave around commons to contrast this market wave is the minimum that is necessary for social justice and for saving the planet,

. . . if only . . . .

Take this account on venture capital drying up and web companies start-ups looking somewhere else for their development. As the financial crisis intensifies, small start-ups companies mobilise circles of friends to type up code. If they are not able to mobilise enough commoners to turn into social capital, they will then subcontract to the poor. Non profit companies like samasource are devoted to this task, with an incredible zeal, self-confidence, creative-corporate cool image, and conviction of doing good. Just check them out for what a friend has defined an “unbelievable hubris.” They go out and train refugees, poor women and youth into microwork. This is part of a growing phenomenon quite interesting and scary at the same time. Like in those cases, in which reproduction services like reading bed time stories or helping children in their homework can be subcontracted to poor workers on the other side of the world, eager women- and men-fridays mobilised by With some strong coordinated policy commitment this stuff could be part of a possible way forward for capital: the mobilisation of commons either directly (through the production of commodities), or indirectly (through cheapening of reproduction of labour) for the expansion of markets and diffusion of capitalist work. In this sense, microwork would complement microcredit as a strategy to put the planet to work masked as “war against poverty” . (By the way, on microcredit, it is crucial to remind of the riots it provoked in Nicaragua not long ago.

In short, innovation will be either “financed” by commoning — in the hope to reap a reward through creation of a competitive advantage — or it will be subcontracted to the poor, who in turn depends heavily on commons circuits for their livelihoods, something that gives them the “competitive advantage” vis others cyber workers. But not all is lost. Here an interesting hint on a spill-over affect of this training of the poor for microwork: the discovery of facebook.

Nobel price, commons and growth

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Maybe the “smarter factions of capital” knows that capital is doomed, but if that is the case, why do they insist on finding ways for “growth”, even if only through the oxymoron of “sustainable development”? Their intelligence, demonstrated for example by the awarding of the Nobel price to Elinor Ostrom, is to see the commons as the basis for new capitalist growth . . .yet you cannot have capitalist growth without at the same time capitalist enclosures. Their intelligence thus risks to push us all to be players in a drama of the years to come, the civil war of the XXIth century: capital will need the commons and capital will need enclosures, and the commoners at these two ends of capital will be reshuffled in new planetary hierarchies and divisions.

Elinor Ostrom Nobel price helps giving legitimacy to the discourse of the commons. After decades of neoliberalism this is certainly a victory. Elinor Ostrom gives us in principle all the elements we need for a discoursive counterattack, if we link her stuff to a sharp understanding of capital. Her basic point is that self government in commons is not only a viable solution, but preferable on many accounts to markets and states (sustainability, democracy, justice). Yet she also teaches us that for commons to work, they require basic conditions to happen. When you think about these conditions within broader dynamics of capitalism, you realise that many of these conditions are threatened by the working of global competitive markets, the wealth polarisation they create, the regimes of state intervention to limit in many occasions grassroots empowerment through commons, and the necessary enclosures than any regime of capitalist growth require. There is a strong incompatibility between a regime seeking economic growth and the universal creation of conditions that facilitate the development of commons. This incompatibility must be stressed and debated, and in this debate we cannot avoid to stress the role of capital in undermining the conditions for commons for all.

A nobel price for the commons

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Here are the reasons given by the Nobel price committee for the award to Elinor Ostrom. For the general public and for who wants to know about the scientific background of the decision.

Telephone interview with Elinor Ostrom following her award.

National Academy of Science Profile of Dr Ostrom

Here you can find summary of Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons.

Here is an interesting post from a colleague offering his congratulations.

I also find it very interesting that Oliver Williamson shared the price with Elinor Ostrom . . .

Below is an extract from the Nobel committee justifying the award.

“Traditionally, economic theory has by and large been a theory of markets or, more precisely, about market prices. However, there are at least two reasons why economic science should extend beyond price theory. First, markets do not function properly unless suitable contracts can be formulated and enforced. Hence, we need to understand the institutions that support markets. Second, considerable economic activity takes place outside of markets – within households, firms, associations, agencies, and other organizations. Hence, we need theories to explain why these entities exist and how they work. This year’s Laureates have been instrumental in establishing economic governance as a field of research. Elinor Ostrom has provided evidence on the rules and enforcement mechanisms that govern the exploitation of common pools by associations of users. Oliver Williamson has proposed a theory to clarify why some transactions take place inside firms and not in markets. Both scholars have greatly enhanced our understanding of non-market institutions.” (

In a nutshel, one author (Ostrom) studies the commons outside capital, while the other (Williamson) studies the rules defining when it is convenient to have firms or markets as a main organisational context for production. Notice that this “convenience” in Williamson argument has to do with the minimisation of the cost of conflict, i.e. with the condition for “efficient conflict resolution”:

“In the early 1970s, Oliver Williamson argued that hierarchical organizations sometimes dominate markets because they provide a cheaper way to resolve conflicts. If two employees quarrel about the allocation of tasks or the distribution of revenues, a chief executive is entitled to
decide. In a market, on the other hand, negotiations have to continue until both parties agree. Haggling costs can be substantial, and there is no guarantee that the final agreement will be either immediate or efficient.” (

But firms, i.e. capitalist firms, also rely on some sort of commons. According to Ostrom, “even the best functioning markets are undergirded by an array of collective institutions which order people’s market interactions, and that in the absence of such rules, self interested behaviour will have highly adverse consequences.” (see Thus I wonder whether one could expand Williamson problematic and apply it to commons rather than firms. His theory then would also guide decisions on when it is “economically rational” in terms of “efficient handling of conflict” to rely on markets or when on commons linked to markets, i.e. commons set in competition with one another.
I feel that the two approaches combined or linked in some way could give a workable theoretical framework to advance capital by coopting commons and commons discourse. There are some signs that a “discursive recomposition” of capital is occurring along these lines. As a very minor indication see for example The Economist’s interest in workers co-operatives, especially in moment of crisis and austerity.

Childcare sharing is a crime in UK

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Crazy as it sounds, this is the story of two working mothers. Funny that the women in questions were two policewomen and the one who reported them a colleague of theirs. Also interesting that the pedophile fobia was instrumental in crafting a legislation that dig deep into undermining basic condition of trust. In recent years childcare sharing has risen, as reported here.

Uninsured Travel from Across the Land of the Free for Free Healthcare from Relief Group “Remote Area Medical”

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Thousands of Americans line up to receive free healthcare provided by a relief organization called Remote Area Medical.

watch this Democracy Now video

The Independent had this story
August 15, 2009
The brutal truth about America’s healthcare

An extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena that has been turned into a makeshift medical centre

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain’s National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an “evil and Orwellian” example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed - for eight days only - into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat solid food for several years.

“I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began rotting my teeth. I’ve had several jobs since, but none with medical insurance, so I’ve not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed,” she told The Independent. “I’ve not been able to chew food for as long as I can remember. I’ve been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a food mixer. I’m in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it. So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I’ll do it. This will change my life.”

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can’t afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. “It’s a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “I’m one of the working poor: people who do work but can’t afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor.”

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can’t afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn’t cover commonplace procedures. California’s unemployed - who rely on Medicaid - had their dental care axed last month.

Julie Shay was one of the many, waiting to slide into a dentist’s chair where teeth were being drilled in full view of passers-by. For years, she has been crossing over the Mexican border to get her teeth done on the cheap in Tijuana. But recently, the US started requiring citizens returning home from Mexico to produce a passport (previously all you needed was a driver’s license), and so that route is now closed. Today she has two abscesses and is in so much pain she can barely sleep. “I don’t have a passport, and I can’t afford one. So my husband and I slept in the car to make sure we got seen by a dentist. It sounds pathetic, but I really am that desperate.”

“You’d think, with the money in this country, that we’d be able to look after people’s health properly,” she said. “But the truth is that the rich, and the insurance firms, just don’t realise what we are going through, or simply don’t care. Look around this room and tell me that America’s healthcare don’t need fixing.”

President Obama’s healthcare plans had been a central plank of his first-term programme, but his reform package has taken a battering at the hands of Republican opponents in recent weeks. As the Democrats have failed to coalesce around a single, straightforward proposal, their rivals have seized on public hesitancy over “socialised medicine” and now the chance of far-reaching reform is in doubt.

Most damaging of all has been the tide of vociferous right-wing opponents whipping up scepticism at town hall meetings that were supposed to soothe doubts. In Pennsylvania this week, Senator Arlen Specter was greeted by a crowd of 1,000 at a venue designed to accommodate only 250, and of the 30 selected speakers at the event, almost all were hostile.

The packed bleachers in the LA Forum tell a different story. The mobile clinic has been organised by the remarkable Remote Area Medical. The charity usually focuses on the rural poor, although they worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now they are moving into more urban venues, this week’s event in Los Angeles is believed to be the largest free healthcare operation in the country.

Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the organisation. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. “People come here who haven’t seen a doctor for years. And we’re able to say ‘Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this’,” said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team’s time. “It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Healthcare needs reform, obviously. There are so many people falling through the cracks, who don’t get care. That’s why so many are here.”

Ironically, given this week’s transatlantic spat over the NHS, Remote Area Medical was founded by an Englishman: Stan Brock. The 72-year-old former public schoolboy, Taekwondo black belt, and one-time presenter of Wild Kingdom, one of America’s most popular animal TV shows, left the celebrity gravy train in 1985 to, as he puts it, “make people better”.

Today, Brock has no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.

Though anxious not to interfere in the potent healthcare debate, Mr Brock said yesterday that he, and many other professionals, believes the NHS should provide a benchmark for the future of US healthcare.

“Back in 1944, the UK government knew there was a serious problem with lack of healthcare for 49.7 million British citizens, of which I was one, so they said ‘Hey Mr Nye Bevan, you’re the Minister for Health… go fix it’. And so came the NHS. Well, fast forward now 66 years, and we’ve got about the same number of people, about 49 million people, here in the US, who don’t have access to healthcare.”

“I’ve been very conservative in my outlook for the whole of my life. I’ve been described as being about 90,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun. But I think one reaches the reality that something doesn’t work… In this country something has to be done. And as a proud member of the US community but a loyal British subject to the core, I would say that if Britain could fix it in 1944, surely we could fix it here in America.

Healthcare compared

Health spending as a share of GDP

US 16%

UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)

US 45%

UK 82%

Health spending per head

US $7,290

UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)

US 2.4

UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)

US 10.6

UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7

UK 2.6

Life expectancy:

US 78

UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7

UK 4.8

Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009

Granting vs confirming rights; commons and commoning; invisibility.

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Few days ago I posted I video of Louis Wolcher’s talk on the meaning of the commons, a discussion that find inspiration from The Charters of Liberty as studied by Peter Linebough in his book The Magna Carta Manifesto. I have extracted here the central part. This extract develops four points. 1) The importance of seeing the state not simply as “granting” rights, but as confirming rights; b) For the state (king) to reach a point of confirming commoners’ rights, implies the commoners were already commoning , i.e. took their own life into their own hands: “”to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful”; 3) commoning or the memory of commoning as a different life was central in building resistence to the later enclosures; 4) the problem is today that — in “ordinary people” at least in the US — there is much little memory of commoning, hence people instinctual reaction to “market failure” and crisis is “the market, more markets, different markets.”

Point 1, 2 and 3 are brilliant and simple points that could be put in the first pages of any handbooks on “how to change the world” if there was such a thing. I think that point 4 is problematic. Not in the sense that it does not reflect some true. It certainly does. But because the commoning is not lost in our lives: it permeates them to a variety of degrees as much as it is “invisible”. There is commoning among workers in offices and factories. There is commoning in schools and hospitals. In neighbourhoods, in social movements milieus, in domestic spheres and there is definitively both commoning and a memory of commoning among the indigenous people, the migrants from the global south and in their original communities. How can we recognise it, how can we reclaim it, how can we “own it” and how can we turn it into a social force?

Anyway, here is the text on “The meaning of the commons” by Louis Walker.

“The notion of the commons in the Anglophone legal tradition is rooted in the a particular kind of historical memory ⎯ one that goes back to the fuedual era and that took institutional form in two founding documents of the english constitution: Magna Carta in 1215 and the great charter of the forest in 1225. Now, these so called charters of liberty are widely remembered today, but they are remembered primarily in only one of their aspects. The aspect I am referring to that most lawyers are familiar with in this country is the one that drew the attention of the founders of our constitution. It is the idea that the king, the sovereign, grants people certain rights and put certain limits on his power ⎯ and so in the famous article 39 of the Magna Carta we find the origin of the due process of low for example and the idea of habeas corpus. So what we have there is the idea of the king, anointed by god, putting limit on himself, restraining himself, and granting you rights. Forgotten or, I should say, barely remembered, is the other aspect of the charter of liberty. It is the notion that the king did not grant but confirmed certain customary practices that people have been engaging in for hundreds of years and which were under threat. I am referring in particular to the right of the people in common to make use of the forests and the rivers for grazing, for firewood, for basic economic needs in common with other in the community.”

“It seems to me that it is extremely important to draw the distinction that I have just drawn between the state, or the sovereign, or the king granting people rights, and confirming rights that people themselves take. In the XXI century, certainly in America, we have been beaten up so much by a positivistic conception of the law and of the state that it is hard for us to think of “rights” as anything other than creation of people that are more powerful than us, creation that are given to us by the powerful. But the customary rights that were confirmed in Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, were not given by anyone. They were taken by the people, and they forced the king to confirm what they had already taken. The commons, in this sense, as Peter Linebough so eloquently put in his book, is best expressed as commoning, not a noun, but a verb. People actually expressing not a set of property relationships, but rather a form of life in which autonomy and the ability to meet basic subsistence needs, was something that was in the grasp of the commoners themselves, not something that had to be given to them by a superior authority. Compare that for example to the widespread idea that “welfare” in our society is something that is given by the state, controlled by the state, and that can be taken away by the state. Now, the common in this sense ⎯ and I want to stress this as a matter of law, or rather of legal theory ⎯ was not property held in common. This is an important point. The commons in this original sense was not a tract of land or a forest that the king granted a deed to a group of people, villagers for example, to go in and root around and satisfy their basic subsistence needs. It was not held in common because the very notion of property, of private property is what must be put in opposition to the commons in its original sense, in its original historical memory sense. So, commoning, as a verb ⎯ I guess is a gerund ⎯ to common, how is that? ⎯ to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful. This was what was conferred in the charter of the forests and the Magna Carta in their forgotten or nearly forgotten dimensions.”

“Now the point about this . . .is that the people that commoned and that in some sense were confirmed in their commoning in these charters in the XIII century, their joined cultural memory enabled them to form a point of resistance to effort to extinguish what they have done, to estinguish their form of life. And when the landed nobility in England engaged upon the process known as the enclosures, which in our terminology would be the creation of private property rights owning their ultimate force to a grant from the king, there was a resistance possible precisely because people could remember in their life-time, or in the life time of their parents and grand parents, a different form of living.”

“ . . .Now I think that the distinction I have drawn between the commons and commoning goes to the very hart, in my interpretation at least, of the meaning of the commons. And its most important salience for us today in a world that is melting, is its political importance. If we think of the commons as commonly owned resources then we imagine begging government, the powerful, the technocrats, for a solution to our problems, as we cowar in our homes waiting for the floods to raise. On the other hand, if we think of commoning in its original sense of an ungranted, unscripted form of life, then the possibility just begins to open itself. For us to freely create the future in common with one another . . .”

“There is however a very grave problem with this distinction that I have drawn between commons and commoning, the commons as some sort of property concept and commoning as a form of life. In the XIII century in Europe commoning as a social practice was bread into the bones of the people, it was one of the elements of social construction of reality that people did common. They accepted it as normal, as part of life. And so when a threat came to it, they had a memory, something to fall back on. We are in a less fortunate position. Because the enclosures, the marketisation and globalisation of this world with the notion of private property and global capitalism has eclipsed the commons imagination to such a degree that we have lost contact with this earlier memory if ever we had it . There is nothing for us to fall back on, or, to put it differently, for most people, ordinary people, the only solution they can think of to the failures of the markets that are rawling us right now in so many different ways is the market, more market, different markets. And so, unlike the medieval peasants or the medieval commoners we do not have this cultural memory of a different way of being, or at least the average person does not in the United States. And that present a problem”.

The Meaning of the Commons

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Great talk by Law Professor Louis Wolcher. This is the first talk in a one day conference on part of The Law of the Commons Organized by the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild Friday, March 13, 2009. Here is the programme.

Obama meets Lenin

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

. . check it out here