Dr Liz Elliott

The Commons is our birthright and legacy. If the Commons is well regulated by its coowners it flourishes, nourishes and lifts the spirit. The Commons means sharing: resources, knowledge, wealth and land. The “tragedy of the Commons” caused by privatisation can be overcome. Tougher, effective regulation is needed, not the enabling of big business and corporate control of money and credit.

A Kinder, Resource Efficient World
The Commons is shared resources, for which there is no single decision maker. The oceans, the climate, the village green, food forest, cyberspace, knowledge, mangrove coastal barriers, are all examples of the Commons.

The Commons is not just the left overs from private enclosures. It is even more fundamental than the State. It preceded the State as in tribal culture, and in thousands of European townships. It preceded kings and their protection racket taxation systems.

Balinese culture for example relies on their banjar organisation of irrigation and forests. The Commons is a space beyond both. A space which can become the basis for a kinder and more resource-efficient world.

A new generation is arising of internet-trained people who have a deep grasp of the ease and efficiency of sharing. For example, ten cars can be taken off the road by one shared car and better public transport, along with reduced commuting and less food transport. Medical discoveries can benefit poor people as well as patent holders. The internet should serve all.

Halting the Tragedy of the Commons
The glib quip “the tragedy of the commons” refers to supposed overuse of unregulated spaces.
Commercial fish exploitation is one of too many examples. However, traditionally, the Commons was tightly regulated by those who benefitted from the precious shared resource. In smaller scale efforts, all the cattle owners using a village green observed who was overgrazing. Similarly communities close to polluters and miners suffer the effects of unsustainable practices.

Powerful mechanisms need to be introduced into the international and national regulation of such behaviour. Current ecological oversight is generally poor at enforcement. Mere fines are not enough when giant corporations can access fortunes. Prison terms for corporate bosses such as those responsible for the 2008 bank meltdown are essential.

New Democratic Forms
New democratic forms need to evolve that allow lay persons with a stake in the ecological future to express their “non-expert”, non-vested interest opinions. Sociocracy is one such form. This is a system of governance aimed at creating harmonious social environments, as well as productive organisations and businesses.

Privatisation has been a gradual theft of the Commons for centuries. We see it more recently in Africa, as well as the worldwide theft of water rights, DNA ownership and internet platform domination. If people are limited in their access to farm machinery, forests and drug patents for example, great inefficiencies and unemployment result. The privatisation frenzy- the so called “tragedy of the commons”- proves to be just as wasteful as the formally unregulated Commons.

In outback NSW amalgamated land holdings are managed by Aboriginal groups as wild meat prairies, and become particularly important during climatic extremes when mobs of kangaroos and wild pigs must be mobile.

Privatisation of Money
The most powerful privatisation is that of creating money or credit. The State sanctions private corporations to create 95% of credit, enabling these groups to determine policy and power. Most people are held in debt subservience - often just to live somewhere or start a small business. Unsustainable credit practices drive up prices for ordinary people and render their lives a treadmill. Compound interest drives the growth imperative that threatens our ecological survival.

The privatisation of former state-run banking, energy, transport and health systems is not only expensive for the consumer, but causes increased financialisation of the economy, as private operators typically take on huge loans at high interest to buy up state assets. So called efficiency gains by privateers are usually slender at best. To reclaim sanity and resilience, we must reclaim the creation of credit both by public banking and through diverse currency forms such as mutual credit clearing between businesses and local currencies; perhaps even the volatile cryptocurrencies.

Collective Ownership Systems
Recent academic works by Michael Heller and James Buchanan and others have modelled a more nuanced variety of ownership systems. For example, like those currently seen in some high tech industries, composite music creations and cooperative land use such as Via Campesina in Brazil. It is not a simple dichotomy.

As the State is no longer the opposite of Big Business, but its enabler and advocate, it is time for the new internet-savvy generation and those who believe in network rather than hierarchy, to seize the power and beauty of collective ownership of the Commons.

Ngara InstituteComment