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Archive for 'Politics'

Reclaiming the ‘real’ sharing economy

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
25th April 2015

Romantic Heart from Love Seeds
What does it actually mean ‘to share’? This might seem like an obvious question, but the concept of sharing is increasingly being debated, discussed and redefined in our modern age of rapid technological change and planetary crises.

The rise of the sharing economy in recent years has given particular impetus to this debate, in which many academics are now analysing how sharing is a conflated economical concept that has been co-opted by corporate interests. It’s interesting to observe how savvy young progressives are resisting against this trend, while many social activists and environmentalists are beginning to chart a new direction for (and entirely new understanding of) the sharing economy – not as a profit-oriented business model, but as a potentially transformative mode of social exchange and economic activity.

For example, a community-building innovator based in New York, Lee-Sean Huang, has coined the term #WeWashing to help identify and critique the abuse of terms like “sharing”, “community” and “we”, which are often debased through online technology platforms or manipulated by corporate marketing techniques. Yet these words are meaningful, writes Huang, and “reminders that we are part of something greater than ourselves. As community members and citizens, we share common bonds and common interests. We are more than consumers.” Huang therefore argues that we need to “preserve the meaning of altruistic sharing and the bonds of community beyond narrowly-defined economic transactions”.

In a similar vein, the environmental news and commentary site Grist recently published a new series on “the real sharing economy”, asserting that sharing “has been appropriated and stripped of all meaning by people trying to sell you things, much like sustainability was.” In contrast, ‘real’ sharing goes far beyond “profit-seeking smartphone apps for unregulated taxi services (Uber) and vacation rentals (Airbnb)”, and could allow “humanity as a whole to consume less, hopefully shrinking our economy’s voracious appetite for materials and energy.”

An article by Sam Bliss at Grist gives a neat overview of how sharing can help us achieve economic degrowth in consumption and production, while “maintaining quality of life, or even improving it with more social interactions and stronger community relationships”. A real sharing enterprise, he argues, is not driven by profits for shareholders but wider concerns of equity, fairness and worker participation. He also acknowledges the potential of sharing wealth and power on a bigger scale, which is the only way to decrease global inequality, achieve true social justice, or fix a broken political system dominated by vested interests.

He even goes on to cite STWR’s report that explains how, in his words, “sharing can be the idea that brings together social, economic, and ecological movements in a grand alliance. Imagine Black Lives Matter, the fossil fuel divestment crusade, and the smoldering embers of Occupy joining forces to fight for a real sharing economy.”

No doubt the divergent perspectives on economic sharing will be openly debated at the upcoming Ouishare Fest 2015 in Paris, which has a wide variety of speakers from Charles Eisenstein, Michel Bauwens and Rob Hopkins to Lisa Gansky, Arun Sundararajan and Jeremiah Owyang (as well as a panel discussion with STWR on the environmental impacts of collaborative consumption – not to be missed for anyone attending!).


Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

The Rise of Biocultural Rights

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
25th April 2015

Bible Quilt by Harriet Powers, via Public.Resource.org

Can law be used to protect and advance the commons?  One of the most promising new developments here is a new jurisprudence of “biocultural rights.” Biocultural rights represent a bold new departure in human rights law that recognizes the importance of a community’s stewardship over lands and waters.  Instead of focusing on individual rights and private property, biocultural rights explicitly recognize a community’s identity, culture, governance system, spirituality and way of life as embedded in a specific landscape.  In other words, it recognizes the existence of a commons.

The history and character of biocultural rights are wonderfully explained in a recent law review article in the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment.  The article,“Community Stewardship:  The Foundation of Biocultural Rights,”  is by Kabir Sanjay Bavkiatte, a cofounder of Natural Justice, an international collective of environmental lawyers, and Thomas Bennett, a professor at the university of Cape Town, South Africa. (Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2015, pp. 7-29)

Here’s an abstract of the article:

The term ‘biocultural rights’ denotes a community’s long established right, in accordance with its customary laws, to steward its lands, waters and resources. Such rights are being increasingly recognized in international environmental law. Biocultural rights are not simply claims to property, in the typical market sense of property being a universally commensurable, commodifiable and alienable resource; rather, as will be apparent from the discussion offered here, biocultural rights are collective rights of communities to carry out traditional stewardship roles vis-à-vis Nature, as conceived of by indigenous ontologies.

Certain core principles lie at the heart of biocultural rights, write Bavkiatte and Bennett.  These include “non-discrimination, protection of cultural integrity, self-government, title to lands and natural resources, together with social welfare for economic well-being.”

The authors concede that “international lawyers have undertaken little or no research into the development of bioculturaBible Quilt by Harriet Powers, via Public.Resource.orgl rights” – something that this article sets out to rectify. They argue persuasively, however, that these rights have clearly surfaced in a variety of international covenants, declarations, conventions and codes of conduct.

Biocultural rights as a new field of law have not emerged magically on their own, but through the convergence of four interrelated movements that have contributed important ethical principles, legal concepts and political advocacy.  Together, these movements have brought the idea of biocultural rights into sharp focus.

The four movements identified by the authors consist of:

  • “post-development” advocates who are articulating a vision for human society beyond the discredited neoliberal paradigm;
  • the commons movement that rejects the “tragedy” fable and empirically demonstrates the effectiveness of local self-governance;
  • the movement of indigenous peoples asserting their right to self-determination, cultural heritage and stewardship of the land; and
  • the push for a “third generation” of environmental human rights that go beyond basic civil and political rights (first generation) and socio-economic and cultural rights (second generation), to recognize community rights to self-determination, economic and social development, cultural heritage and a clean and healthy environment.

Biocultural rights provide a powerful way to challenge technocratic governance – “an expertocracy imposing non-consultative, top-down solutions, resulting in the delegitimation of local knowledge and decisionmaking,” write Bavikatte and Bennett.  Such technocratic approaches are harmful because they “lock in” a set of alien rules and technologies, and prevent people from developing their own, more locally appropriate and more effective rules.

In this sense, biocultural rights can be an important tool in challenging the standard models of “development” and all their ethno-centric, top-down limitations.  Biocultural rights also help validate traditional cultural practices that have adapted to local ecosystems and that reflect a particular way of being in the world.  The idea helps open up a whole new set of solutions beyond the monoculture of neoliberal economic and policy.

In wildlife sanctuaries in India, commons scholars have confirmed that “a protectionist approach that excluded local communities was likely to fail unless governments were prepared to invest heavily in the initiative.  The same projects also showed, on the one hand, that conservation was likely to fail if outsiders (or dominant insiders) imposed rules on a community’s use of resources, and, on the other hand, that forest resources were more effectively managed if community members were genuinely involved in decisionmaking and developing rules for use of the resources.”

Of course, bureaucracies like to issue universal rules, not ones that are locally specific.  They also tend to prefer “market-based solutions” that favor private property rights.Neoliberal jurisprudence focuses on the individual as the most meaningful “juridical subject,” usually ignoring the community and its biocultural relationships. So there are some formidable barriers.

Still, the idea of bioocultural rights provides a powerful legal framework for reclaiming land, culture, traditional knowledge and self-governance. These things should not be driven by markets, but by a deeper set of values, including ecological imperatives. It will take a great deal of bottom-up political and legal action to win recognition for biocultural rights.  But I think it holds great promise for giving commons-based governance a new foundation in law.

Originally published at bollier.org


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Gift Economies, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Ecology, P2P Legal Dev., P2P Subjectivity, Peer Property, Politics | No Comments »

How vehicle makers are trying to lock out farmers and drivers from ownership

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th April 2015

Excerpted from Kyle Wiens:

“JOHN Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.

(This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment.)

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software that powers the products they buy.

In recent years, some companies have even leveraged the DMCA to stop owners from modifying the programming on those products. This means you can’t strip DRM off smart kitty litter boxes, install custom software on your iPad, or alter the calibration on a tractor’s engine. Not without potentially running afoul of the DMCA.

What does any of that have to do with copyright? Owners, tinkerers, and homebrew “hackers” must copy programming so they can modify it. Product makers don’t like people messing with their stuff, so some manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock, making the copy, and changing something could be construed as a violation of copyright law.

And that’s how manufacturers turn tinkerers into “pirates”—even if said “pirates” aren’t circulating illegal copies of anything. Makes sense, right? Yeah, not to me either.

It makes sense to John Deere: The company argues that allowing people to alter the software—even for the purpose of repair—would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.”


Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Benkler on the Uber-ification of Services

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
24th April 2015

Yochai Benkler

Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler gave attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos a dire warning about future instability if the “Uber-ification of all services” continues.  In his intense six-minute talk, “Challenges of the Sharing Economy,” Benkler notes how open networks and collaborative production models have led to the “destabilization of the firm,” and ultimately threaten to bring about “the potential reorganization of the entire services sector.”

In light of this epochal shift, he declares, the critical question is: “Will [this shift] allow embedding economic production in the same kind of social solidarity trust models that we saw with the emergence of Wikipedia? Or will the externalization of risk onto the people formerly known as employees create severe disruption?”

The big challenge today, he argued, is that the social and the political have diverged, as demonstrated by the Occupy movement. And this leads to worrisome social pressures that the political system is disinclined to address.

I realize that Benkler must have been under a strict time limit — he was talking quite rapidly for this talk — but it sure would be nice to hear his proposed solutions for re-integrating the social and the political in functional ways, and how he proposes moving that agenda forward.  But at least the Davos crowd was alerted to this fundamental political challenge. Whether they will deign to recognize the issue and move beyond their adulation for the Uber, Airbnb and other lucrative forms of network monopoly is another matter.

While most people think that answers can only come from Washington, D.C. — FCC regs, antitrust law, etc. — rots of ruck on that, for all the obvious reasons.  I think the only effective solutions will come from P2P architectures and legal innovations that technically and legally stymie the consolidation of services by a single, dominant network player. Neither Congress, regulatory agencies or the courts are capable — politically or intellectually — of delivering satisfactory answers, I fear. The natural “power law” outcome of networks will ineluctably prevail unless some sort of intervention is made.  And if the answer is not going to involve social disruption, as Benkler warns, it’s high time that we begin to address challenges of legitimate, responsive, accountable governance in the network age.

Originally published in bollier.org


Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Development, Peer Production, Politics | No Comments »

University protests around the world: a fight against commercialisation: London School of Economics #UK

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
23rd April 2015

LSE occupation
‘LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. It is managed and organised around corporate interests, which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality.’ Photograph: Alex Kurunis

This week we are serialising extracts from an article by  at the Guardian looking at how students around the world are fighting back against the commercialisation of University education.

London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

What’s happening? A central administration room has been occupied by students since 18 March.

What caused the protest? The occupation is a reaction against the marketisation of education.

Natalie Fiennes is an MSc student studying political sociology and Ellen Lees is an undergraduate student studying social anthropology at LSE.

LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. It is managed and organised around corporate interests, which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality. OccupyLSE proposes that students, lecturers and workers should run a university – and we have named this project the Free University of London.

We are occupying the main administrative meeting room to symbolically disrupt the management of the school, which is responsible for the neoliberalisation of our education. We have used the space to reclaim our education and encourage political participation by teaching and learning from each other. This is a rejection of the commercialisation of education – we are learning for free and we are learning freely.

The space and workshops are being used to focus and refine the demands we are making as a movement on issues of free education, workers’ rights, university democracy and governance, liberation and ethics. The power of occupations is that they create a domino effect: this is only the beginning.

Continue to Read the Full Article – http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/25/university-protests-around-the-world-a-fight-against-commercialisation


Posted in Activism, Featured Movement | No Comments »

Towards a peer society based on the commons

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
22nd April 2015

Occupy London Tent

By George Dafermos, research coordinator, FLOK Society; and research associate, P2P Foundation.

Originally Published – http://openthoughts-peerproduction.blogs.uoc.edu/towards-a-peer-society-based-on-the-commons/

If the previous decade brought the business embrace of Linux, free software and the knowledge commons of science and technology to the fore, the present one marks their entry into the field of politics as discourses with broad social acceptance. From the FLOK Society project in remote Ecuador to Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC) in Spain and SYRIZA in Greece, the epicentre of discussion is a model for the organization of social, political, economic and cultural life, based on the principles of peer production and governance, of social and solidarity economy, and of the social-collective goods which we refer to as “the Commons”.

In consideration of the hitherto destructive results of neo-liberal austerity policies (wherever they have been applied) and given the moral bankruptcy of the economic and political system, it becomes easily understood why increasingly more people around the world, in order to meet their basic needs, are turning to the creation of collaborative, cooperative and collectivist enterprises and economic institutions that embody the principles of peer production and peer governance.

“One should not be surprised by the attraction that the discourse of the Commons and peer collaboration holds for so many people”

For the same reason, the strongest fermentations around the Commons and the most dynamic social solidarity projects have emerged precisely where public infrastructures have been left to wither or have been destroyed by violent privatizations and “enclosures” of social goods like health and education or water and energy1.

In short, one should not be surprised by the attraction that the discourse of the Commons and peer collaboration holds for so many people. If the idea of the Commons and peer production evinces the dynamism of an idea whose time has come, it is precisely because it offers people a moral basis and, most crucially, a practical alternative for the “reconstruction” of their lives and of the societies in which they live. That is why the Commons and peer production intrude on the scene of world history as unstoppable agents of social change.

With SYRIZA’s electoral victory in Greece, the Commons and peer production are without doubt crossing the chasm into the mainstream in Europe’s politics, turning into factors of massive importance for the Greek government’s plan of productive reconstruction. This raises an important question about the role of commons-oriented, civil society projects and initiatives: Will they cease to exist, given the rise to power of a “commons-friendly” government?

“A true peer society cannot be created from the top down; it can only emerge from the bottom up”

Surely, a government can do many things in support of the Commons. It can halt the enclosures of social goods like water and the dismantling of public infrastructures like hospitals. But a true peer society cannot be created from the top down; it can only emerge from the bottom up. A self-managed society cannot possibly be the result of a top-down intervention, even if that is well-intentioned; instead, it must be the work of all members of society.

For equally pragmatic reasons, the Commons are more effectively utilized and developed as community-managed resources and infrastructures than as state-managed property. That is so because of the collaboration that is required to keep them healthy: not all organizational structures are equally good at fostering collaboration; for that purpose, collectivist and community organizations are usually far more effective than the State.

From this vantage point, therefore, the answer to the main question of this blog — How many peers does it take to change a light bulb — can only be as follows: All of them! For changing the light bulb of society is a task that requires more than a government or a vanguard class of intellectuals and enlightened leaders can do. Whether we like it or not, the (en)lightenment of society can only be achieved by the conscious work of all its members.

1. For example, social solidarity projects, such as the self-managed Social Hospitals in Greece, have performed the role of the ultimate stronghold of resistance and social self-defence.


Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, P2P Movements | No Comments »


photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
21st April 2015

Screenshot from 2015-04-20 18:40:23


Barcelona, IGOP, Autonomous University of Barcelona, May 21st-23rd 2015


The meeting will join, for the first time to the extent of our knowledge, squatting experiences from the three spheres of housing, social centres and workplaces.

We understand squatting as a broad and dynamic movement, with new forms emerging no longer limited to the counter-cultural and political movements that have characterized squatting in Europe in the past decades. As a reaction to the enduring crisis in Europe, in fact, squatting for housing takes the form of a massive movement constituted, for the first time, by ordinary middle-class families. Even workplaces are being occupied by former employees or abandoned land by willing farmers. The workshop, centered on European and North-American cases, will also include experiences from other parts of the world where similar manifestations of squatting are occurring.

The occupation of places for meeting human needs is more than a protest tactic. When applied to housing, social centers and workplaces, it has enhanced the development of self- managed and autonomous initiatives, and cooperative networks and has contributed substantively to political struggles. Challenging unjust distributions of property, the establishment of squatted places gives birth to concrete alternatives to capitalism by furthering a long-standing tradition of autonomist anti-capitalist movements, whose aims go far beyond particular everyday life contestation.

Scholarship related to squatting is an emerging field. In particular, what is being studied are the relationship between squatting and autonomous practices of self-management and squatting as a response to capitalism and the crisis. Comparative analyses between different cities have also been developed over the past few years thanks to the formation of SqEK (Squatting Europe Kollective). SqEK is an interdisciplinary activist- research network with its own research agenda comprised by more than 100 members from Western Europe and North America. It serves as a forum of information exchange through an email list and holds gatherings once or twice per year. SqEK has already held nine meetings: Madrid, 2009; Milan, 2009; London, 2010; Berlin, 2011; Copenhagen, 2011; Amsterdam, 2011; New York City, 2012; Paris, 2013. Last year, we met in Rome, in May 2014.

SqEK meetings represent the occasion where SqEK participants encounter local activists, gather knowledge and exchange information about the experiences of different movements across Europe and North America. Local hosts also have the possibility of learning about different European squatting experiences. Visits to squats and neighbourhoods are organised together with public debates, using both social centres and academic institutions as venues.

The plan for the workshop is to establish wider activist-research networks of international cooperation about squatting and self-management that go beyond SqEK reach, and to include researchers and activists that, although not part of SqEK, share similar interests.

Although we focus on squatting as a highly contentious and potential tool to scale up protests and defiance to the power elites, the meeting will serve also to work collectively on the issue of proactive self-management. Thus, we are open to exploring how to organise squatted places beyond their occupation to build up alternative ways of living, cooperative networking and radical politics. The financial crisis has resulted in the acceleration of squatting initiatives in many of the most affected urban areas, especially in Southern Europe. The event will create an opportunity to gather researchers, activists and the interested public to discuss the most recent developments in squatting and self-management.

Barcelona is the city where the Spanish organisation PAH (People Affected by Mortgages) was born five years ago (2009) and is increasingly more active.

Although squatting has been common in most European countries over more than four decades, the present crisis has raised the legitimacy of squatting among groups previously alien to such a movement. PAH’s mobilisations, for example, have found support beyond current and former squatters and have seen support from the wider M15 movement, a popular protest movement against corruption, unemployment and neoliberal policies .

We also aim to bridge present-day housing-rights activists with the emerging workplace self-management initiatives, a relatively recent phenomenon in Europe and that resemble those in Latin America since 2002. Finally, we aim to convene people directly involved in these new practices of occupation with more experienced activists involved in establishing autonomous social centres or counter-cultural housing projects.

As diverse as the experiences of squatting for housing, work-place occupations and counter- cultural social centers might appear, they all share the practices of self-management and the explicit desire to constitute alternatives to capitalism. In fact decision and production processes, strategic visions, social campaigns and political actions among housing activists and self-managed workers have much in common with the praxis of autonomous movements.

The workshop will bring together different generations of activists and activist- scholars and to bring into dialogue political struggles from a variety of places. This will also be a chance to debate and overcome divisions between, for example, squatted and legalised (but widely autonomous) social centers. Another gap the workshop will bridge is that between establishment and continuity in cases where occupation succeeds and leads to a viable project of self-management. While bonds are beginning to form between housing rights activists and autonomous movements, most of the occupied workplaces remain isolated. The meeting will also address this relative isolation by contributing to the formation of networks crossing these three fields of squatting, social centres and occupied workplaces.

Proposals for the advancement of integrating research, theory and practice through discussions about decision-making processes, the organisation of production, the development of strategies, the formulation and carrying out of campaigns, among other facets are welcome.

We call for posters that would answer the following research questions:

Affordable rents, public housing, adverse possession: what possible futures for the squatted houses?

What political and legal strategies have the occupied factories and land followed?

What should be the principles of a campaign to defend all kind of autonomous and self-managed social centres as urban commons?

Which common grounds in the three lines of struggles? How to articulate these three urban struggles?

Information on deadlines, proposals, practical info, etc.



Posted in Culture & Ideas, P2P Movements | No Comments »

University protests around the world: a fight against commercialisation: University of Toronto #Canada

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
21st April 2015

This week we are serialising extracts from an article by  at the Guardian looking at how students around the world are fighting back against the commercialisation of University education.

University of Toronto, Canada

What’s happening? Graduate students at the University of Toronto have been on strike for three weeks.

What prompted the strike? Graduate and teaching assistants are essential to the University of Toronto’s teaching. But they are paid a minimum financial package of C$15,000 – far less than is needed to meet the cost of living.

Omar Sirri is a PhD student studying political science at the University of Toronto –

“The basic graduate student funding package has not seen any increase in more than seven years, leaving graduate students doing teaching and research to live more than C$8,000 below the poverty line. Sessional faculty, course instructors and teaching assistants do more than 60% of the teaching at the University of Toronto, but only 3.5% of the university’s budget is allocated to them.

To address this, graduate students should be guaranteed a minimum amount of funding that sits above the poverty line and increases as inflation and the cost of living rises.
Instead, management have sought to increase undergraduate and graduate student enrolment – particularly international students – in order to increase profits to the university. Rather than addressing the serious financial needs of its students, the university administration team spent weeks refusing to return to the negotiating table. A recent offer failed to address the negative impacts of precarious work in academia that have allowed for the exploitation of lower level and non-tenured academic staff.

To prevent further labour action and disruption for all students across university campuses in Canada, university administrators will have to address these serious structural deficiencies that have decayed the quality of education and research at public universities in Canada and across North America.”

Continue to Read the Full Article – http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/25/university-protests-around-the-world-a-fight-against-commercialisation


Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Another Life is Possible – Homage to Catalonia

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
19th April 2015

Stories about the construction of a sustainable, solidary and decentralized economy

I spent much of the past month visiting and meeting with people and projects across Catalonia. There is no doubt something resilient in the Catalan spirit that has enabled them to respond to the current crisis with what are some of the most creative and inspirational expressions of social solidarity to be found in Europe. This documentary represents part of that.


“A documentary, a research project, a story of stories about the construction of a sustainable, solidary and decentralized economy. Weaving nets that overcome the individualization and the hierarchical division of work. Thousands of people every day all over the world. Here and now.

“Homage to Catalonia II” is a documentary that is part of an academic research project. We investigate new economic cultures, new forms of living and of understanding the economy. For the IN 3, the High School Institute of Research of the University Open to Catalonia.

We study the social impact of the economics|economies that do not follow the patterns of the market, where profits are the priority, and that have the satisfaction of the needs and the desires for the persons as a goal.

A project of Joana Conill, Manuel Castells and Àlex Ruiz produced by IN3 under a Creative Commons license. This is the English version, there are also versions in Catalan and Spanish.

“Homage to Catalonia II” is a tool for research. Not a finished, conclusive and closed work, but a work in progress. We want this documentary to be open to everybody, in and out of the university realm, that’s why it has a Creative Commons license.

See Also – “Come Back” – the Story of Enric Duran’s action and its aftermath


Posted in Commons, Featured Movement, P2P Movements, Videos | No Comments »

Ongoing Commodification of the Commons

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
15th April 2015

By Stefeun. Original article at Doomstead Diner here.

Reverse Engineer kindly invited me (1) to develop here one of the comments I posted on Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World. It was a link to a very good article by Cory Morningstar on her blog “The Art of Annihilation”(2).

To summarize it, she says that the non-governmental organizations, and especially the environmental activists, are in fact working for Big Corp, voluntarily or not.

In this purpose, the capitalism is trying to find new resources, as standard/traditional ones are depleting.

Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:


It’s ironic because the divestment campaign will result (succeed) in a colossal injection of money shifting over to the very portfolios heavily invested in, thus dependent upon, the intense commodification and privatization of Earth’s last remaining forests (via REDD), water, etc. (environmental “markets“). This tour de force will be executed with cunning precision under the guise of environmental stewardship and “internalising negative externalities through appropriate pricing.”

The commodification of the commons will represent the greatest, and most cunning, coup d’état in the history of corporate dominance – a fait accompli extraordinaire of unparalleled scale, with unparalleled repercussions for humanity and all life.

Further, it matters little whether or not the money is moved from direct investments in fossil fuel corporations to so-called “socially responsible investments.” The fact of the matter is, all corporations on the planet (thus all investments on the planet) do and will continue to require massive amounts of energies (including fossil fuels) in order to continue to grow and expand ad infinitum – as required by the industrialized capitalist economic system.

The windmills and solar panels serve as the beautiful (marketing) imagery, yet they are somewhat illusory – the veneer for the commodification of the commons, which is the fundamental objective of Wall Street, the very advisers of the divestment campaign.


Then I started looking at it in a broader view, and realized that in fact our whole economy is actually about, and based on, Commodification of the Commons.


– the Primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining) takes what is “given by Nature” (i.e. for free), and exchanges it for claims on whatever has been given a price (i.e. money).

– then the Secondary sector (manufacturing) turns it into refined or consumer goods or tools, and the Tertiary sector (services) helps dispatch the stuff and information.

The cost we take into account is only the amount of energy spent for the extraction, the transformation or the distribution(3). The “real” cost of a given product is therefore the total energy embodied in it. Apart from heating or cooling it, which obviously uses thermal energy, most of the embedded energy is mechanical energy (= Work) used to move it. Wether this work is hours of human labor or barrels of oil or kWh consumed by a machine only matters for the order of magnitude.

The material itself is counted zero (!!).

Both material and energy are considered infinite (!!!).

Each and every single operation is using energy and generating waste (entropy).

The waste isn’t taken into accout and “the economy” considers that either Nature, or the Society as a whole, should take in charge the burden of recycling it or making it disappear no matter how.

The size of the dustbin must be infinite too!.

Of course most of this waste doesn’t just disappear, as it cannot quickly reintegrate the natural cycles. It isn’t manually or mechanically recycled either, even when possible, because doing it requires energy (often more than the valuable output could buy) and therefore is accounted as a net cost nobody wants to take in charge (as an example, look how successful the carbon-tax is).

This process is transforming the Earth into a huge garbage dump.

Back to the main point, what we call “the economy” is thus a process of appropriation, which first step consists in taking hold of something that primarily doesn’t belong to anybody, for a private profit(4).

We’re stealing from our environment, and in return vomit rubbish that cannot be reused neither by humans nor by Nature, unless spending huge amounts of energy or waiting several years, if not millenia. Steve Ludlum says that what we proudly call “wealth-production” is in reality an organized destruction of our real capital, that cannot be recreated. There’s no substitute, and what is gone, … is gone forever(5). The economy is a component of the natural environment, not the other way round.

Such a “steal & waste” system can work as long as sufficient resource is available for all, and requires only a reasonable effort (i.e. low energy cost) for its extraction. Not to mention the rate of waste-production that must remain low, and with high level of recyclability. In other words, the human population density and the technological level must both be very low, in order to acheive something in which equilibriums are evolving slowly enough to resemble a “steady-state”(6).

As soon as a risk of scarcity appears, the rules of property prevail and there’s a fight over the resource (arable land, fresh water, mineral ores, fossil fuels as required in bigger quantities to compensate the depletion, etc..).

These property laws are being reinforced and are becoming overwhelmingly important as we’re approaching the limits. Once the resource is depleted in a given place, we must take over areas where it is still available.It started with “this land is mine” (colonization), continued with “this subsoil is mine” (oil-wars), “this water is mine”, etc…

By the way, the ownership is progressively shifted from public to corporate (while debt flows in opposite direction), see e.g. landgrabbing(7). Big Corp is more flexible than Nations, thus better adapted to changing environmental & economic conditions.

Then, because of diminishing returns and finiteness of the planet, it becomes increasingly difficult to find new land to conquer, good seams to work, oil-fields to take over. Therefore, in an attempt to catch up with the loss of usual resource, Big Corp is currently expanding its property claims onto patents on the living, rights on species(8), intellectual property, information (big data), etc…

All these examples of new resources, enlarging the pool of valuable ones (IOW the reckless race for privatization of whatever-can-be), are aiming to compensate the decline of traditional ones, if not feed the mandatory growth.

Beyond the likely irreversible changes triggered and the increase in savage destruction caused by this process, the main problem here is that the laws of diminishing returns also apply to the energy, most of it being fossil fuels for which we don’t have any substitute nor expandable source.

So, in the end of the day, finding new “fields to mine” is pointless (not to mention dangerous), since we won’t have the sufficient energy to exploit them.


PS about the economic system: IMHO, capitalism is undeniably speeding up the whole process, especially when financialized, but I’m not sure that another system would have given a better result in the long run, unless it would have considered that a- the resource is finite (the only net input in our system is the energy from the sun, all the rest is -or should be- recycled), b- taken into account the waste management (entropy production), and c- deeply questioned the property rules (to promote cooperation and avoid wealth concentration).

Unfortunately, such a no-growth system is an utopia, because Life is a succession of unexpected shortages, and the winner is always the one who burns most energy, according to the MEP principle (Maximum Entropy Production, aka 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, acc.to F.Roddier/R.Dewar), or the simpler MPP (Maximum Power Principle, as described by Jay Hanson in http://dieoff.org/).



(1): I discovered Our Finite World by end of 2013, that was a few months after I decided to jump off the industrial workforce because I had less and less understanding of how it worked and what I was doing there. I had already grasped parts of the story here and there, but Gail sort of opened my eyes and helped me connect many dots by clearly explaining the interactions within our complex system, which should always be considered as a whole and not studied as independant parts.
(3): I don’t consider here the financial costs. After all, capital and debt are claims on amounts of energy that has been or will (never) be consumed elsewhere.
Note that I’m talking about cost, not price. The price is a result of power struggle, and can be lower than cost in some -temporary- cases (e.g. barrel of oil today).
(4): Michael Parenti, in “Against Empire”, states it as follows:
“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.”
See http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/695226-against-empire ; also quoted in Cory Morningstar’s article linked at (2)
(5): I assume that most of the DD readers know Steve Ludlum better than I do (many articles and podcasts available here on the Diner).
(6): Gail Tverberg explains why a steady state isn’t realistic: http://ourfiniteworld.com/?s=steady+state
(8): speaks for itself: http://www.speciesbanking.com/
The mother-site is… drumroll here…: http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/

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