Archive for October, 2009

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.

Carbon Trading receive a new boost from UN-REDD program.

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Below is the “agenda-setter” video on REDD, which was sponsored by the UN-REDD Program, produced by the London based Television Trust for the Environment ( and shown as a curtain raiser at the United Nations Secretary-Generals High Level Event on REDD held on September 23rd at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Read also these two short pieces (from CNN and intercontinentalcry) reporting some of the problems with these programmes. In particular what is interesting here is that the REDD programme is a case of distorted commons, i.e. one in which the “sharing” is functional to capitalist growth and therefore it is a locus of frontline contradictions (such as preventing indigenous to self-manage their forest in the name of climate change). Interestingly, if existing (and not only newly planted trees) forests are given monetary value, and these in turn are turned into tradable credits that can be purchased on the market, a carbon credit glut seems inevitable with a consequent fall in price, making the entire carbon credit scheme even more of a farce.

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.

China poeple’s hero

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

A corrupt party official is killed. the young killer becomes people’s hero. . . . set in the context of the recent history of rapid urbanisation and land enclosures. As one man says at the end about 60th anniversary of the People Republic of China the other day: what was that, a celebration or a funeral?

from Channel 4 7pm news on 5 october 2007