The commons: an antidote to globalisation
1st April, 2008
The corporate market has become the institutional equivalent of a compulsive eater. It has a built-in hunger that cannot be filled, and it is hard to stop the damage within the framework of its own game.
Total ownership by the state exchanges one kind of appetite for another. Regulation is a necessary but precarious peace. Taxes and fees – on emissions, for example – can use the price system to turn the reptilian calculus of the corporation in a less destructive direction, but ultimately it’s like asking the crocodile to fly.
There is a need for a different kind of economic institution, one encoded for social stability and the husbandry of resources the way the corporation is encoded for their opposites. Such an institution exists, and has for centuries. It is the commons, and it is making a resurgence today because it produces in ways the market can’t.
The term ‘commons’ can strike the modern ear as a relic from Ye olde England. Yet villages and main streets are old concepts too, and they have taken on a new importance in this globalised age. The commons is a resource to which groups of people have rights even though they do not own it individually. In the past it was mainly land, air and water, but today it encompasses such things as knowledge, culture and social space generally.
Corporations and sometimes governments have a bottomless craving to turn...
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