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Commons Fest 2015 Program

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
4th May 2015

The program of the CommonsFest 2015, which is taking place this weekend in Athens, has just been announced here. The event will include seminars, workshops, interactive discussions, exhibitions, and concerts. This year, Richard Stallman, Massimo de Angelis and Pat Conaty are going to deliver the keynote speeches during the three days of the festival (May 15, 16, 17).

Learn more about the aim and scope of the CommonsFest here.




Posted in Activism, Commons, Economy and Business, Events, Featured Project, Politics, Technology | No Comments »

The P2PF/CIC strategic plan will be presented in AureaSocial on Tuesday, May 5th

photo of Enric Duran

Enric Duran
29th April 2015

This spring brings a new collaboration between the P2P Foundation  (P2PF) and the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC), working together on a Commons Transition Plan which follows the agenda developed by the common work group formed by both teams in 2014.

To start off and to raise awareness about the project, a public presentation will take place in AureaSocial on Tuesday, May 5th at 6:00PM. In this presentation, we plan to openly discuss our understanding of this collaborative process, and to share interesting concepts such as Peer Production and the Commons Transition Plan itself, as offered by the P2P Foundation.

Michel Bauwens

Several P2P Foundation members, including Michel Bauwens, Stacco Troncoso, Ann Marie Utratel and Kevin Flanagan, will be in Catalonia from the 30th of April to the 13th of May to observe and study the CIC’s practical and political strategies. The team is eager to hold interviews and meet different CIC members and projects, get to know the various work groups, commissions and spaces, and take part in any encounters than could benefit both inititiatives.

If you would like to collaborate by helping to manage the agenda, we encourage you to contact Joel at joel@cooperativa.cat.

This first convergence will focus on finding common ground between the two collectives as a first step towards a long term Commons Transition Plan, which will be further defined as our collaboration proceeds (and as long as both parties agree to continue).

You can find more information about Commons Transition on this website.

We hope that you’ll take part in the presentation and scheduled meetings. As soon as the agenda is confirmed, we will provide updated information.



Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, Sharing | 2 Comments »

Excellent Profile of Enric Duran and Catalan Integral Cooperative

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
27th April 2015

The Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC, pronounced “seek”) is surely one of the more audacious commons-based innovations to have emerged in the past five years.  It is notable for providing a legal and financial superstructure that is helping to support a wide variety of smaller self-organized commons.  Some of us are calling this proto-form an “omni-commons,” inspired by the example of the Omni Commons in Oakland.

CIC is smart, resourceful, socially committed and politically sophisticated.  It has bravely criticized the Spanish government’s behavior in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which has included massive bank bailouts, foreclosures on millions of homes, draconian cutbacks in social services, a lack of transparency in policymaking.  CIC regards all of this as evidence that the state is no longer willing to honor its social contract with citizens.  Accordingly, it has called for civil disobedience to unjust laws and is doing everything it can to establish its own social order with a more humane logic and ethic.

Journalist Nathan Schneider provides a fascinating, well-reported profile of CIC in the April issue of Vice magazine. The piece focuses heavily on the role of the visionary activist Enric Duran, who in 2008 borrowed $500,000 from banks, and then he gave the money away to various activist projects. Despite being on the run from Spanish prosecutors, Duran went on to launch CIC in early 2010 with others.

His avowed goal is to build a new economy from the ground up.  CIC is a fascinating model because it provides a legal and financial framework for supporting a diverse network of independent workers who trade with and support each other.  This is allowing participants to develop some massive social and economic synergies among CIC’s many enterprises, which include a restaurant, hostel, wellness center, Bitcoin ATM, library, among hundreds of others.

As Schneider writes:

At last count, the CIC consisted of 674 different projects spread across Catalonia, with 954 people working on them. The CIC provides these projects a legal umbrella, as far as taxes and incorporation are concerned, and their members trade with one another using their own social currency, called ecos. They share health workers, legal experts, software developers, scientists, and babysitters. They finance one another with the CIC’s $438,000 annual budget, a crowdfunding platform, and an interest-free investment bank called Casx. (In Catalan, x makes an sh sound.) To be part of the CIC, projects need to be managed by consensus and to follow certain basic principles like transparency and sustainability. Once the assembly admits a new project, its income runs through the CIC accounting office, where a portion goes toward funding the shared infrastructure. Any participant can benefit from the services and help decide how the common pool is used.

CIC members can choose to live in CIC-associated apartments in Barcelona or at a farming commune called Lung Ta, or at Calafou, a “postcapitalist ecoindustrial colony” in the ruins of a century-old factory town that Duran and a few others bought. In a country where the unemployment rate is more than 20 percent for the general population and more than 50 percent for people under 25 years old, the CIC enterprise is not just some wild, half-baked scheme. It’s a system for surviving the vise of neoliberal politics and economic policy.  CIC helps people build their own livelihoods in a socially supportive context – something that the state is notably incapable of doing.

In a play on the famous Gandhi line, Schneider summarizes CIC’s self-styled mission as aspiring to “Be the Bank that You Want to See in the World.”  It is inventing radically new types of finance and exchange to emancipate its members from dependency upon a predatory capitalism and an unreliable state. For example, CIC is developing a global digital currency FairCoin that is adapating Bitcoin-style technology to serve more socially constructive types of exchange.

In a short blog post, it is hard to do justice to the daring ambition and innovation coming out of CIC, so read the full article.  Let the following excerpt about CIC’s backoffice financial sophistication serve as a teaser.  Schneider writes:

Accounting takes place both in euros and in ecos, the CIC’s native currency. Ecos are not a high-tech cryptocurrency like Bitcoin but a simple mutual-credit network. While the idea for Bitcoin is to consign transactions entirely to software, bypassing the perceived risk of trusting central authorities and flawed human beings, ecos depend on a community of people who trust one another fully. Anybody with one of the more than 2,200 accounts can log in to the web interface of the Community Exchange System, see everyone else’s balances, and transfer ecos from one account to another. The measure of wealth, too, is upside down. It’s not frowned upon to have a low balance or to be a bit in debt; the trouble is when someone’s balance ventures too far from zero in either direction and stays there. Because interest is nonexistent, having lots of ecos sitting around won’t do any good. Creditworthiness in the system comes not from accumulating but from use and achieving a balance of contribution and consumption.

The idea was to help people out and radicalize them at the same time. The rich use tax loopholes to secure their dominance; now anticapitalists could do the same.

The CIC’s answer to the Federal Reserve is the Social Currency Monitoring Commission, whose job it is to contact members not making many transactions and to help them figure out how they can meet more of their needs within the system. If someone wants pants, say, and she can’t buy any in ecos nearby, she can try to persuade a local tailor to accept them. But the tailor, in turn, will accept ecos only to the extent that he, too, can get something he needs with ecos. It’s a process of assembling an economy like a puzzle. The currency is not just a medium of exchange; it’s a measure of the CIC’s independence from capitalism.

The full Vice article can be read here.

Originally published in bollier.org


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Lifestyles, P2P Money, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Growing calls for sharing and justice

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
26th April 2015

1-No ttip

The STWR report ‘Sharing as our common cause’ explains how a call for sharing is consistently at the heart of civil society demands for a better world, even though this mutual concern is generally understood and couched in tacit terms.

As part of STWR’s ‘global call for sharing’ campaign, it is therefore useful to highlight how recent protest or campaigning activity is invariably focused on the need to share wealth, power and resources more fairly and sustainably, especially in relation to grassroots mobilisations for social and economic justice. In this light, the massive demonstrations in many countries against harsh austerity measures are implicitly concerned with how resources are shared throughout society, most obviously in relation to how a nation’s finances are pooled and redistributed to maintain public services such as education and national healthcare.

Thousands of people are continuing to march in protest against crippling government cutbacks to these services, while the interests of corporations and rich individuals are favoured at the expense of ordinary citizens. The basic injustice of these flawed policies are now commonly hailed by anti-austerity movements the world over, as recently embodied in the growing Printemps 2015 movement in Quebec, the “Dignity” mobilisations in Madrid, and the recent protest rallies in Montreal, Brussels and many other cities.

Often, the demand for sharing is almost palpable in calls for improving the state provision of social protection, as exemplified in an excellent piece by Dave Lindorff about ‘taking it to the streets (and voting booth) to demand Medicare for all and Social Security that all Americans can live on’. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress and President Obama outwardly supporting cuts to these two critical funding programs, Lindorff makes the case for massive grassroots organising to not only defend these programs but also demand they are significantly expanded.

And the only way to do this, Lindorff argues, is to stop shielding corporations and the wealthy from contributing their fair share. He concludes: “Washington needs to be regularly clogged with masses of demonstrators demanding ‘Medicare for all’ and ‘Real Social Security people can live on.’ Furthermore, no candidate of either party who opposes single-payer healthcare and a doubling of Social Security benefits through higher taxes on the rich should receive a single vote in future national elections!”

The Free University movement

If commercialisation is the antithesis of sharing, then the renaissance in student protests is another case in point that demonstrates the growing demand for fairness and sanity in how resources are distributed. Academics and students across the world are taking part in strikes and occupations that are protesting against the corporatisation of education, many under the banner of The Free University movement. At the London School of Economics, for example, students describe their institution as “the epitome of the neoliberal university”, one that is managed and organised around corporate interests which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality. Through Occupy LSE, they propose that students, lecturers and workers should run their own university – a project they’ve named the Free University of London. Similarly in Canada, Amsterdam, Italyand across the UK and US, students are calling for free tuition and an end to the corporate domination of education, in which profit-making and efficiency is prioritised rather than creativity, critical thinking and a higher education that is accessible to all.

As pointed out by Josh Hoxie of the Institute for Policy Studies, the idea that students should be able to attend university without taking on mountainous levels of debt or bankrupting their families is hardly revolutionary. The cost of covering tuition for all students at public colleges and universities in America is also surprisingly low – and could easily be funded by cutting government subsidies to the for-profit college industry and re-arranging education spending. Hoxie argues that tuition costs could be fully met by a more robust estate tax (a levy on the wealth multimillionaires leave to their heirs), which would also rein in or roll back the rising concentration of wealth across the country. Far from pursuing such redistributive tax policies on behalf of the common good, however, the United States House of Representatives is pushing to repeal the existing estate tax passed in 1916 – thus further accelerating inequality and hurting lower- and middle-class Americans.

Implicit demands for economic sharing at #WSF2015

At the World Social Forum in Tunis held at the end of March, the call for a more equal society – based on a fairer sharing of wealth and power – was central to discussions and protest activity where thousands of people had gathered from 120 countries to proclaim that “another world is possible”. On the eve of the Forum’s 10th global meeting, a joint call was released by an alliance of well-known international civil society organisations (including ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus) that effectively summarised the case for sharing by identifying growing economic inequalities between and within countries as a central cause of global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice.

The hard-hitting statement of intent from NGO leaders calls for a new approach to development that goes “beyond tinkering” to address the “structural causes of inequality”, in which social movements and the poor are bolstered in their efforts to hold the powerful 1% to account. Pledging to fight for redistributive policies to reverse inequality, the NGOs also commit themselves to “press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor.”

During the five-day event, 70,000 delegates from more than 4,000 organisations discussed a wide range of critical issues and causes that reflect the global call for sharing, including the interlinked struggles to protect the environmental commons, end poverty and marginalisation, democratise global governance and reform the corrupt global financial system. The Tax Justice Convergence Assembly, for example, took aim at the world’s governments that “continue to invent new tax incentives for multinational corporations and wealthy individuals as part of a global race-to-the bottom”, while “rigged global tax rules fail to protect the tax bases of the world’s poorest nations against erosion driven by international tax dodging”. Reaffirming a broad list of demands agreed at the previous WSF in 2013, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice called for progressive tax policies to tackle inequality within countries, and new international tax rules that make multinational corporations pay their fair share.

In its final declaration, the Assembly of Social Movements also put the spotlight on the neoliberal policies that have “massive impacts both on the Southern and the Northern countries and contribute to an increase in migration, forced displacement, evictions, debt, and social inequalities.” Spelling out the need to create “alternatives for a socially just development that respects nature”, the declaration asserts the commitment of WSF delegates to fight for the cancellation of illegitimate and odious debts, and push for an alternative to the myriad free trade agreements that are imposed by states and transnational corporations. Echoing the roots of the WSF following the ‘Battle of Seattle’ in 1999, it also affirms “that it is possible to build another kind of globalization, made by and for the people, based on solidarity and on freedom of movement for all human beings.”

Resisting the new trade offensive: #A18DoA

A key battle for those who seek a fairer world is the fight against trade and investment deals that are currently being negotiated behind closed doors, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). On Saturday, campaigners and concerned citizens from across the world gathered together in one of the largest collection of protests to date against these emerging free trade agreements, all of which pose a major threat to our environment and human rights. Hundreds of demonstrations took place worldwide – primarily in Europe and the US – in opposition to this attempt to re-engineer the global economy in the interests of powerful corporations at the public’s expense.

Although the “trojan horse” treaties vary in many complex ways, they could reverse decades of progress towards better protection for citizens and the environment. Campaigners warn that the governing principle behind the agreements is that of extending the reach of the market, giving big business unprecedented power over our societies and potentially opening the door to an aggressive corporate take-over of our common resources and public services. As STWR have commented previously, it will remain impossible to conceive of a new economic paradigm based on sharing rather than competing for the world’s resources, so long as these rigged treaties are promoted by our elected leaders no matter what the cost in terms of poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. Yet opposition to the corporate trade pacts is increasing exponentially, and this latest Global Day of Action demonstrates how a growing call for sharing the world’s resources (however implicitly expressed) is fast becoming a potent force for change on the international stage.

There are of course many other popular demands for social and economic justice that intrinsically embody the principle of sharing, many of which are hitting newspaper headlines recently – such as the Fight for 15 workers movement that held more than 230 protests across the US last week. We’ll continue to highlight these grassroots calls for economic sharing in future editorials and commentaries, along with an upcoming focus on the debate around sharing that is increasingly prominent in policy discussions on environmental stewardship and tackling global poverty.

For regular sharing-related links of the above nature you can visit STWR’s twitter andfacebook pages, as well as a new scoop.it! page on ‘what we’re reading’. If you see that we’ve missed anything pertinent or you know of any sharing-related issues that we haven’t mentioned, please drop us a line at info@stwr.org. You can also sign up to our newsletter on the homepage if you’d like to receive regular updates in your email inbox about what we’re doing at STWR. To learn more about STWR’s campaign or add your name to the ‘global call for sharing’, please visit: www.sharing.org/global-call

Photo credit: garryknight, flickr creative commons


Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Ethical Economy, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Movements, Politics, Sharing | 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 »

Book of the Day: Government of the Precarious

photo of hartsellml

13th April 2015

* Book: State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious. by Isabell Lorey. Verso, 2015

URL = http://www.versobooks.com/books/1737-state-of-insecurity


“Years of remodelling the welfare state, the rise of technology, and the growing power of neoliberal government apparatuses have established a society of the precarious. In this new reality, productivity is no longer just a matter of labour, but affects the formation of the self, blurring the division between personal and professional lives. Encouraged to believe ourselves flexible and autonomous, we experience a creeping isolation that has both social and political impacts, and serves the purposes of capital accumulation and social control.

In State of Insecurity, Isabell Lorey explores the possibilities for organization and resistance under the contemporary status quo, and anticipates the emergence of a new and disobedient self-government of the precarious.”


Posted in Activism, Featured Book, Networks, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Birth of the Cyber Left

photo of hartsellml

12th April 2015

* Book: Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left. by Todd Wolfson. University of Illinois Press, 2014


From the publisher:

“Digital Rebellion examines the impact of new media and communication technologies on the spatial, strategic, and organizational fabric of social movements.

Todd Wolfson begins with the rise of the Zapatistas in the mid-1990s, and how aspects of the movement–network organizational structure, participatory democratic governance, and the use of communication tools as a binding agent–became essential parts of Indymedia and all Cyber Left organizations. From there he uses oral interviews and other rich ethnographic data to chart the media-based think tanks and experiments that continued the Cyber Left’s evolution through the Independent Media Center’s birth around the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.

After examining the historical antecedents and rise of the global Indymedia network, Wolfson melds virtual and traditional ethnographic practice to explore the Cyber Left’s cultural logic, mapping the social, spatial and communicative structure of the Indymedia network and detailing its operations on the local, national and global level. He also looks at the participatory democracy that governs global social movements and the ways the movement’s twin ideologies, democracy and decentralization, have come into tension, and how what he calls the switchboard of struggle conducts stories of shared struggle from the hyper-local and dispersed worldwide. As Wolfson shows, understanding the intersection of Indymedia and the Global Social Justice Movement illuminates their foundational role in the Occupy struggle, Arab Spring uprising, and the other emergent movements that have in recent years re-energized radical politics.”


Posted in Activism, Featured Book, P2P Governance, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Many Faces of Anonymous

photo of hartsellml

8th April 2015

* Book: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Gabriella Coleman.

URL: http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_04/13908


Astra Taylor:

“But as an anthropologist deeply embedded in the Anonymous community, Coleman could discern things that were invisible to casual observers. These other facets of Anonymous only began to come into focus for me on the first day of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. As I mingled with a small group in Zuccotti Park, I was surprised to see Anonymous vigorously promoting the encampment. Whatever you thought of the protests, Occupy was hardly a cause that a bunch of nihilists (a common view of Anonymous) or die-hard libertarians (a common computer-nerd stereotype) would rally behind. I started to pay more attention.

As the subtitle of her epic and excellent new book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, suggests, Coleman’s subject is mercurial. The group’s ethos of “motherfuckery” (a commitment to mayhem) coexists alongside what some less politically engaged Anons derisively call “moral faggotry” (a devotion to social and political causes). As a result, Anonymous is a remarkable, if confounding—and yes, occasionally noxious—witches’ brew, into which a wide variety of human characteristics have been poured: cruelty, sexism, homophobia, racism, immaturity, and idiocy, but also intelligence, idealism, ingenuity, and even courage.

This perplexing concoction is conveyed in the definition of “lulz” Coleman quotes from the online Encyclopedia Dramatica (if you haven’t come across the site before, imagine a satirical and self-referential, meme-obsessed Wikipedia on acid). Like any subculture, Anonymous has its own jargon and value system, and lulz hold a central, and even paramount, position in its lexicon. “Lulz is a corruption of LOL . . . signifying laughter at someone else’s expense,” the encyclopedia helpfully explains. “Lulz is engaged in by Internet users who have witnessed one major economic/environmental/political disaster too many, and who thus view a state of voluntary, gleeful sociopathy over the world’s current apocalyptic state, as superior to being continually emo.” Some readers might get stuck on the phrase “gleeful sociopathy”—which emphasizes a terrifying lack of conscience—but, for me, what stands out is the sensitivity that contributes directly to this affect. Lulz are not purely aggressive and contemptuous; they are, perversely, rooted in disappointment and righteous indignation. Like the return of the repressed, the emo (short, of course, for “emotional”) element persists and resurfaces, suffusing much of the activity that has put Anonymous on the cultural map in recent years.

The story of Anonymous’s emergence and transformation into one of the most intriguing and, arguably, potent leaderless political collaborations of our time has been told before in books such as Parmy Olson’s We Are Anonymous; in the 2012 documentary We Are Legion; and in a spate of glossy magazine articles. Coleman’s history complements, and frequently corrects, these popular accounts, but the book’s comprehensive detail and deep analysis set it apart. She covers the history of hacking and trolling, revealing the various tech-savvy and humor-loving milieus that spawned Anonymous. She traces the group’s political turn, from the battle with Scientology to actions like “Operation Payback,” which targeted PayPal and other financial institutions for cutting off WikiLeaks, and OpTunisia, which assisted antigovernment protesters during the Arab Spring. Coleman continues her tale as Anonymous fragments, tracking the evolution of spin-off cadres such as LulzSec and AntiSec and the rise and fall of well-known figures like Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond, and the double-crossing Hector Monsegur, aka “Sabu.”

Through it all, Coleman charts her own conceptual course, breaking with the standard narratives, particularly the click-baity cautionary tales about the dangers of Anonymous. Her book offers its share of warnings, but ones more nuanced, compelling, and empathetic than the typical hand-wringing about online mobs and the conundrum of virtual vigilante justice. Coleman is no cheerleader: She questions the wisdom of the hive mind, registers her ambivalence about the supremacy of lulz, and is appropriately mortified by some of the queasier trolling exploits she recounts. But she also doesn’t wag her finger from some imagined high ground, in part because she could be considered an Anon herself. Coleman repeatedly crosses the line between observer and participant, engaging in conversations, helping with media outreach, and editing manifestos, and this inside view is part of what makes the book unique. By becoming part of the clan, Coleman provides evidence of another one of her key points: Anonymous is surprisingly diverse. While mostly male dominated (though some female Anons do rise to prominence), Anonymous is multigenerational and multiethnic. Some high-profile members were revealed to be teenagers, like eighteen-year-old Jake Davis, aka “Topiary,” and Mustafa al-Bassam, aka “tflow,” while others are grizzled social-movement veterans, like the colorful Christopher Doyon, aka “Commander X,” who is currently on the lam in Canada.

Instead of lingering on Anonymous’s ethical and tactical lapses, which have been thoroughly dissected in the press, Coleman focuses on the larger social and political context, rightfully raising red flags about the government’s overblown response to the purported hacker menace. An alarming double standard applies to digital protests: While offline civil disobedience or vandalism—think blocking an intersection or defacing a corporate billboard—often leads to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, felony charges are distressingly common for hackers due to the powers granted zealous state officials by ill-conceived legislation like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The ongoing crackdown has been called a “nerd scare,” with more than one hundred people arrested around the world in connection with Anonymous. Many of these individuals did nothing but partake in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks—in other words, they pressed a few buttons to help flood a website with traffic—which, as Coleman points out, hardly qualifies as hacking. And some didn’t even do that much.

But, you may be thinking, orchestrating a DDoS attack is nothing like a sit-in! And isn’t it ironic, you might continue, that a group known for fighting censorship impinges on the free speech of others by causing their websites to crash? Coleman reveals that these and countless related questions have already been debated at length within the Anonymous community. Indeed, one of the book’s most compelling revelations is that every common criticism of Anonymous has already been vigorously taken up by Anons: They have railed against the limitations of social media and affirmed the superiority of offline protests; they have complained about the puerile nature of specific operations; they have vehemently denounced “doxing”—i.e., outing—individuals in the absence of irrefutable evidence of their crimes. Anonymous, so one saying goes, is not unanimous. The group’s often raucous culture of dissension and debate, and the serial improvisations of democracy that grow out of it, all come to life here through extended chatlog excerpts elucidated by Coleman’s engrossing and convivial commentary.

As Coleman shows so well, Anons are irreverent and intelligent—and also impatient. And why shouldn’t they be? They want to provoke a response, this instant, and to play a part in exposing corruption and challenging power. That they do so by submerging their individuality in a collective identity is particularly notable in an age of personal branding and incessant self-promotion: Pursuing individual celebrity, Coleman writes, is the “ultimate taboo.” (Thus does Sabu rail against “those that want fame” and “infiltrators,” right before he’s exposed as an attention-seeking FBI informant.) They are, arguably, the last refuge of a hard-core, underground punk ethos. Coleman returns again and again to Anons’ penchant for heaping scorn on those who use collective endeavors to gain individual notoriety, yet she also acknowledges that a few highly visible characters often contribute disproportionately to the cause.

By examining these sorts of tensions, Coleman offers suggestive insight into the relationship between the networked-attention economy and political activism. Anonymous, like Occupy and various other grassroots campaigns, has been able to cast an enormous virtual shadow, but ubiquity can be a double-edged sword. What’s the true utility of clicks and retweets if people just get distracted and move on to the next thing? Does the emphasis on spectacle only tighten the media’s grip on activists and increase their dependence on both traditional news outlets and digital corporate platforms? How can a group capture online attention and transform it into sustained and effective political pressure? These issues keep my comrades and me up at night.

As honest as some Anons are about the limitations of their methods, the government and military-defense contractors are still committed to inflating the group’s prowess and the danger it poses, propping up an enemy to justify their ever-expanding budgets and purview. How threatening are these Anons, actually? Not very, it might seem, but that’s not the point. Government and corporate outcry against hackers is really about mind games and maintaining power not cybersecurity. In 2011, Anonymous obtained PowerPoint slides from the security firm HBGary detailing a plan not just to spy on and disrupt WikiLeaks but also, crucially, to defame and intimidate supporters and journalists. These allies have a “liberal bent,” the firm noted, but “ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause.”

In the end, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy offers an extended and persuasive argument for defying HBGary’s cynical assessment and siding with the hackers, professional preservation be damned. While most Internet users are busy looking at cat videos or porn or frittering away time stalking their frenemies on Facebook, some young people might be logging on, debating right and wrong, and getting hooked on political action thanks to Anonymous. Maybe such experimenters will become lifelong activists, or maybe they’re just looking for lulz. Sure, their operations haven’t always been pretty, but no social movement is perfect or pure. Few, however, have been as unpredictable, outrageous, and entertaining as Anonymous. To my mind, that’s reason enough to join Coleman in rooting for them.” (http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_04/13908)


Posted in Activism, Featured Book, Networks | No Comments »

From basic income to social dividend: sharing the value of common resources

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
5th April 2015


By Rajesh Makwana

It’s time to broaden the debate on how to fund a universal basic income by including options for sharing resource rents, which is a model that can be applied internationally to reform unjust economic systems, reduce extreme poverty and protect the global commons.

Few debates highlight the many complex issues around how governments should share a nation’s wealth and resources as much as the current discourse on basic income. Also referred to as a citizen’s income, the policy generally refers to the unconditional and universal payment of a regular sum of money to a country’s residents, usually as a replacement for a range of existing state benefits such as pensions, child allowances, tax credits and unemployment payments. Unlike many other policies that challenge the status quo, the scheme commands substantial support across the political spectrum – from progressives who hope it can reduce inequality and improve social justice, to neoliberals seeking to further diminish the role of the state in delivering a full range of welfare services. The idea also has a long historical precedent, with Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mills, Martin Luther King and Milton Friedman featuring among the numerous prominent figures who have supported the idea, in one form or another, since the late 1800s.[1]

More recently, financial and economic circumstances such as mounting unemployment rates, social and economic insecurity and unprecedented levels of inequality, have pushed the proposal back up the political agenda. A Swiss campaign for a citizen’s income gained enough support in 2013 to trigger a forthcoming referendum on instituting the policy, which could result in every citizen receiving the equivalent of $34,000 dollars every year. By January 2014, over 285,000 people had signed the European Citizens Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income, which sparked a much needed public debate on the pros and cons of the policy. With the UK’s Green Party also supporting the measure (despite concerns around how it could be funded) it’s clear that the conversation about how to implement and finance such a scheme is set to expand considerably in the years ahead.

At face value, the idea of receiving an unconditional lump sum of money from the state each week, month or year presents a fair and inclusive solution to the financial constraints many people face in a consumerist society – especially at a time when unemployment and inequality are on the rise. In addition, a basic income could give people the freedom to work fewer hours if they choose, while streamlining inefficient and complicated tax and benefits systems. In response to an escalating environmental crises that extends far beyond the popular discourse on global warming, the measure has also been proposed alongside other policies to pave the way towards a ‘steady state economy’ that is not predicated on endless growth.[2]

However, it is not at all clear whether a state administered citizen’s income would ultimately help or hinder the creation of truly sharing societies, in which ‘freedom from want’ can be achieved within a redistributive economic framework that reinforces the social ties that bind people and communities together. As discussed below, the policy could ultimately play into the hands of those whose idea of individual freedom includes minimising government programs and further deregulating markets, which would ultimately work against the ethic and practice of sharing. There are also important questions around how to fund a basic income that should be explored more fully, especially if the scheme is to be beneficial to citizens in developing countries or even implemented on an international scale to help end world poverty or protect the global commons.

Questioning the political context

A convincing case for an unconditional basic income has long been put forward on the basis of personal liberties and freedoms. As outlined in various international agreements, access to food, shelter, healthcare and a decent standard of living is a basic human right, together with economic security during retirement or when unable to work.[3] Since the state is the primary guarantor of these rights, it is reasonable to propose that an unconditional income is a viable route to securing these fundamental entitlements and achieving a degree of social security. In line with this perspective, Professor Guy Standing argues that basic security for all as an unconditional right is fundamental to securing personal freedom, especially at a time when a new ‘precariat’ class of disaffiliated migrants and temporary workers suffer from systemic insecurity across the globe – largely as a consequence of economic globalisation.[4]

This idea that a basic income can increase freedom by enabling people to work less and devote themselves to more creative pursuits or unpaid work in the ‘core economy’ has a common sense appeal, particularly when job insecurity is on the rise and people are increasingly questioning how to balance their work-life commitments. In his book Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein sets out a convincing case for creating the conditions in which people can pursue work that doesn’t necessarily generate a return, as this will give us the freedom to act on the desire to give freely without financial incentives.[5] Philippe Van Parijs takes a similar perspective on basic income as a route to freedom, arguing that in order to be truly free, people need to have access to the means needed for “doing what they might want to do”.[6] These are convincing philosophical arguments that add further credence to the premise that a citizen’s income would promote equality and social integration, as everyone would receive an equal level of state benefits regardless of their personal circumstances.

However, there are several reasons why the issues of rights, freedom and equality need to be considered from a broader perspective, especially by those who are troubled by the encroachment of neoliberal ideology in policymaking. For example, the New Economics Foundation emphasise a key ideological difference between benefit systems based on social insurance and the provision of a guaranteed basic income for all. As they explain, a basic income is “an individualised measure, not a collective one, focusing resources on providing everyone with an income at all times rather than on pooled risk-sharing mechanisms which provide help for everyone when they need it. This may reduce people’s capacity to act together, by encouraging them to provide for themselves with their income rather than promoting social solidarity, collectively funded services, and shared solutions.”[7]

Given the huge costs associated with providing citizens with an unconditional state income, we should also be concerned that the scheme could compete for funding with other government funded services, such as healthcare, education, childcare support and social housing. Together, comprehensive welfare services such as these ensure that certain basic needs can be universally met without having to rely on commercial alternatives. Rather than implementing new basic income schemes, the aim should perhaps be to scale up social protection along the lines of a proposal by Barbara Bergmann, who recommends that a universal basic income is only considered after a well-funded ‘Swedish-style’ welfare state has first been established. This would include, for example, far more generous allowances for children, pensioners, the unemployed, and those with a disability, or even more generous work leave policies and free university education.[8]

Under the current trajectory of public policy in which welfare services are being subjected to increasing waves of neoliberal reforms, there is clearly a risk that existing mechanisms of redistribution and social solidarity could be severely undermined if replaced by a basic income. Introducing the scheme during a period when welfare services are being dismantled by economic austerity could mean that individuals would be left to pay for essential services at market rates instead, which could of course fluctuate substantially over time and weaken the monetary value of the basic income. Although this approach might appeal to those who favour freedom and personal choice, the individualistic nature of a citizen’s income is also the reason why many free marketeers favour the measure as an alternative to state funded social services. For these reasons, it is prudent to be wary of any attempt to implement the scheme within a political context characterised by laissez-faire capitalism.

The coming era of leisure

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes famously posited that standards of living would be between four and eight times higher in a hundred years’ time, and that people would need to work a mere 15 hours a weeks.[9] Although Keynes’ era of leisure is still a pipedream for most people despite the tremendous improvements in living standards he rightly predicted, there is evidence to suggest that formal working hours will have to be dramatically reduced in the years ahead. The reductions in wages that would follow such a dramatic shift in employment patterns provides a pragmatic case for the state to provide a supplementary unearned income to all citizens. There can be little doubt that patterns of work are already going through a dramatic transformation: robotic automation, digitalisation, the internet and other technological developments are responsible for significantly reducing the availability of jobs. Much of what is produced is now shared for free – including software, journalism, film, information and music. Although corporate profits are at an all-time high, demand for labour is falling and wages as a share of GDP have been in decline for the past three decades in the UK and the US. People are also living longer and retiring later, while part-time or temporary work, insecure casual contracts, and self-employment are increasingly the norm for those who find themselves precariously underemployed.

As people in developed countries adjust to an economic reality in which there is much less available work, reducing the length of the formal working week might be unavoidable. Since it is unlikely that wages would increase proportionately as we work less, an additional form of income could be necessary in order to prevent millions more people falling below the poverty line. A citizen’s income would also acknowledge and help sustain the indispensable unpaid work that currently takes place in the core economy, including raising children and caring for the elderly, maintaining community relationships and support networks, as well as the various voluntary services provided by individuals and civil society organisations. Paying a basic income to facilitate a shift towards fewer formal working hours or to support the core economy would strengthen interpersonal sharing and reciprocity within communities, and it could mean that people would no longer be forced to do menial or difficult jobs that they would otherwise undertake reluctantly for fear of survival.

Of all the arguments for a universal income scheme, this one is perhaps the most convincing – especially since there is evidence to suggest that working less and sharing available work more equitably across society would have a range of additional benefits, such as reducing levels of consumption and markedly improving quality of life.[10] However, the overall impact that the policy could have on the labour market is far from clear cut. For example, there is the claim that a citizen’s income could be a disincentive for workers, which might be especially problematic in relation to necessary but menial tasks that workers would avoid if they had an alternative source of income.

Putting aside these disputed concerns, the main impact of a citizen’s income on jobs would be to deregulate employment laws. In other words, employers would have little obligation to pay a living wage if governments are already supplementing incomes, and workers would be more prepared to leave their jobs as unemployment would no longer be such a concern for them. Francine Mestrum convincingly argues that the policy would effectively shift labour costs that are currently borne by companies to society as a whole. A basic income could therefore become a subsidy to employers who would no longer feel obliged to pay decent wages or provide adequate benefits to their employees.[11] As such, it is possible that a citizen’s income could be particularly problematic in developing countries that are working towards enhancing working conditions and employment rights.

Streamlining the benefits system

The most practical reason for introducing a citizen’s income is to overhaul and simplify complex means tested benefit systems that are failing their targeted claimants. According to a number of basic income proposals, a new agency could not only provide a standardised benefit but also coordinate a simplified income tax system in order to help recoup costs associated with the scheme. In the UK, for example, a single weekly payment could replace child allowances and the state pension, while eliminating the need for various tax allowances, credits and reliefs. The aim would be to integrate the tax and benefits system and treat everybody in the same way rather than have different rules for claimants and tax payers.[12]

Apart from the obvious financial savings that streamlining the benefit systems would generate, a single universal payment to all citizens would address a range of issues that currently plague welfare services across the world. These include abolishing complex administrative procedures associated with testing the eligibility of claimants, as well as preventing the ‘benefit trap’. Means testing is also widely regarded as a demeaning and socially divisive process that can leave claimants feeling stigmatised or branded as scroungers or even cheats. Many people aren’t even aware of their entitlement to benefits, or they can be confused by the eligibility rules and put off by the possibility of receiving increasingly harsh ‘benefit sanctions’. With almost a third of people not claiming the state payments they are entitled to in the UK alone (amounting to around £10 billion of unclaimed aid a year), it is fair to conclude that means testing is simply not providing the economic security it was designed to deliver.[13]

Despite these unequivocal arguments for redesigning and simplifying state benefits, the big hurdle for implementing a citizen’s income is the problem of cost as the scheme appears unaffordable when translated into concrete figures. The income would need to be high enough to ensure that those who are no longer able to claim most other state benefits could survive above the national poverty line, and this same amount of money would need to be provided to every citizen regardless of their financial circumstances. Even though this would be a huge financial commitment for cash-strapped governments, the UK’s Citizen’s Income Trust have detailed how a basic income scheme can be designed to be ‘revenue and cost neutral’, even though they recently conceded that an unacceptable proportion of poor households would lose out under their proposal.[14] Research suggests that even a revised scheme that reduces any negative impacts would not be sufficient by itself to keep households above the relative income poverty line.[15] Although such a scheme might be more politically palatable, it would also defeat the objective of simplifying the benefits system as a number of means tested allowances would still be necessary.

The great tax shift

Unless alternative means are found to fund a basic income, a truly comprehensive scheme for sharing a nation’s financial resources is likely to remain unaffordable, while a less costly version may not provide a worthwhile alternative to existing benefits. But if funding is the primary issue, why not link the policy to wider reforms for how governments raise public revenue? Campaigners in countries across the world have long advocated for numerous ways in which states could raise huge quantities of additional income for urgent social and environmental purposes, such as implementing higher taxes on extreme wealth and very high incomes, closing tax havens, ending corporate tax avoidance or implementing a financial transaction tax. Alternatively, governments could divert a percentage of their colossal military budgets, or withdraw a proportion of the vast subsidies currently paid to agribusiness and the fossil fuel industry.[16] Similarly, new levies on environmental ‘bads’, such as pollution or waste disposal, could help raise revenues while providing a disincentive to ecologically destructive activities.

While countless civil society campaigns continue to focus on these and other redistributive proposals, a number of even more radical approaches to reforming the way governments raise public revenue are also being more widely discussed by progressives. For example, may proponents of systemic tax reform argue that levies on earnings, employment and profits disproportionately impact those already on low incomes, while encouraging environmentally damaging activities, and penalising the contributions that people and companies make to society. Land value taxation is widely regarded as a logical and fairer alternative to existing methods of raising revenue and, like basic income, it has considerable support among both progressives and conservatives. In accordance with the need to dramatically reform both fiscal and benefit systems, James Robertson has proposed a new social compact in which land value taxation would play a central role in funding a citizen’s income.[17] Robertson’s proposal illustrates the possibility of funding a more comprehensive basic income scheme that would also enable governments to take decisive steps towards creating a more just and sustainable economy. Nonetheless, the political will to pursue these widely supported measures remains conspicuously absent, which points to the need for a more visible public debate about the various means governments can employ to pool and share a nation’s financial resources.

Social dividends from shared resources

In light of the inherent difficulties connected to reforming established tax and benefit systems, it is also worth considering alternative options for establishing a citizen’s income that could have much wider implications for creating a sharing society. Although this approach is rarely part of the popular discourse on implementing a basic income scheme, there are a growing number of proposals for instituting a ‘social dividend’ that is based firmly on the principle of sharing as it recognises that all citizens have a right to income from ‘natural property’, such as land and other resources that are either inherited or co-created by society. The idea can be traced back to the work of the American revolutionary Thomas Paine, who stated that “the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race”.[18] The notion that the earth is our common inheritance was also central to the ideas of the social theorist Henry George in the 19th century, and still maintains strong support among Georgists as well as commons theorists.[19]

As explained by Peter Barnes in his book ‘With Liberty and Dividends for All’, the majority of the wealth that is inherited or created together by society is captured and extracted by the rich rather than distributed fairly among citizens. Meanwhile, the damaging social and environmental costs of this process are largely borne by the public or the biosphere. The simple idea at the heart of most proposals for a social dividend is therefore to charge user fees on shared resources, which can then be distributed to all citizens as a basic right. Although an agency would initially be set up by governments to administer the program, it would operate independently of the private and public sector as a ‘commons trust’ that could conceivably manage a range of shared resources – from land, fossil fuels and atmospheric carbon storage, to the electromagnetic spectrum and intellectual property. According to a calculation by Barnes based only on a specific selection of shared assets, the programme could provide every American citizen with as much as $5,000 a year.[20]

Given the various problems associated with existing basic income schemes, not least of which is funding, issuing social dividends from user fees on shared resources could be a sensible alternative to the tax-funded benefit programs considered above. The social dividend approach would address a number of the concerns that drive proponents of a citizen’s income, such as providing a non-labour supplement to falling wages and incomes, or reducing social and economic exclusion. Moreover, sharing the value of co-owned resources in this way would not necessarily interfere with existing systems of welfare and social protection, which could still be reformed independently to address some of the failings highlighted previously.

Barnes also reminds us that while the idea of reforming tax systems remains problematic and contentious, distributing income from user fees appeals to both liberals and conservatives. The programme could be set up as a self-financing commons trust that operates outside of the public and private sector, and managing the fund would neither inflate nor deflate the size of government. Like taxes, user fees on ecologically damaging activities would also provide a disincentive to both producers and consumers, effectively internalising environmental costs into the price of products. Additionally, a social dividend would be an effective way to integrate the principle of sharing into the way nations govern the use of co-owned assets, as it gives form to the notion that natural resources should be managed in the interests of all people and future generations – which is clearly a prerequisite to creating a more equal and sustainable world in the 21st century.

From national to global dividends

Sharing the value of co-owned resources is not just a theoretical premise; the practice has long existed in Alaska where 25 percent of all mineral lease rentals, royalties, bonuses and other payments received by the state are placed into a permanent fund that is currently worth over $53 billion.[21] The fund was initially set up by the government of Alaska in 1976 and is now managed on behalf of its citizens who receive an annual dividend from the income it generates, which amounted to $1,884 in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the fund is popular with residents and acts as a crucial economic stimulus, while being transparent and cost effective to manage. Moreover, in stark contrast to when the fund was first established, Alaska now has one of the lowest rates of inequality and relatively low levels of poverty compared to other US states. For these reasons, the Alaska Permanent Fund provides a unique example of the benefits of sharing resource dividends directly with citizens, and is regularly referred to by campaigners working on a wide range of progressive causes.

The Alaskan model also has important applications for low income countries, particularly those that struggle to reduce extreme poverty or are afflicted by the ‘resource curse’ – the paradox of countries being rich in mineral wealth but unable to achieve sustained economic development. For example, the economist Paul Segal argues that governments in developing countries should distribute rents due on their natural resources directly to all citizens as an unconditional cash transfer.[22] Such a program would provide incentives for people to register with the fiscal system, strengthen state capacity, help ameliorate the institutional causes of the resource curse, and reduce corruption. Sharing the value of resources in this way would be entirely in accordance with universally adopted human rights covenants which state that “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources”.[23] Most importantly, Segal highlights the considerable impact that a social dividend derived from resource rents could have on extreme levels of human deprivation. According to his calculations, this measure alone could halve global poverty if implemented internationally by all developing countries, and he concludes that the scheme “would be easier to implement than most existing social policies”.[24]

This same model could also be applied to fund basic income schemes in developed countries that have sizable reserves of oil, gas and other industrial minerals, such as the US. As Segal notes, prior to the systematic privatisations that characterised the 1980s, just such a proposal for ‘A People’s Stake in North Sea Oil’ was floated in the UK by Samuel Brittan and Barry Riley. More recently, economists have proposed similar models for a basic income funded by resource revenues for Nigeria, Iraq and Bolivia. According to a study by World Bank economists, a universal basic income in the form of a ‘direct dividend payment’ derived from just 10 percent of national oil revenues would be sufficient to close the poverty gap in Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, and could half the poverty gap in larger countries such as Mozambique and Nigeria. The report’s authors explain how it would also be possible for a proportion of these revenues to be used by governments to fund public goods, which could further help reduce poverty and enhance social welfare.[25]

The discourse on how to fairly distribute the value of a nation’s co-owned resources is critical, especially in relation to creating effective sharing societies without poverty or extreme inequality. But the process of deriving social dividends from shared resources need not be confined to the nation state, and could even be used to fulfil the entitlement of every human being to a fair share of the global commons. For example, Alanna Hartzok outlines how a Global Resource Agency could feasibly collect resource rents from the exploitation of shared resources such as ocean fisheries, the sea bed, the electromagnetic spectrum, and even outer space.[26] The resulting fund could be further bolstered through levies on activities that damage the commons, including carbon emissions and other forms of pollution to the oceans and atmosphere. In a globalised economy characterised by a vast array of economic processes that fall outside the jurisdiction of national territories, such a mechanism could clearly be an indispensable source of finance for underfunded global governance bodies such as the United Nations and its affiliated agencies. The finances raised could also support the provision of global public goods or help meet other international priorities such as providing disaster relief, ending hunger or mitigating climate change. Furthermore, this international model of economic sharing could also distribute a proportion of the revenues generated as a global citizen’s income based on an equal share of the value of global resources. Since rich countries are responsible for the vast majority of resource consumption and pollution, an international citizen’s income raised through user fees on the global commons could also amount to a sizable redistribution of wealth in favour of citizens in the Global South.[27]

Another international route to raising the finance needed to eradicate extreme poverty is suggested by Professor Thomas Pogge, who proposes that all human beings should be recognised as having an inalienable stake in the world’s natural resources and that they should therefore be entitled to a share of the value of any natural resource (such as crude oil) regardless of where it is extracted.[28] He calls this share a Global Resource Dividend (GRD) and proposes that it is fixed at 1% of gross world product, which currently comes to $780 billion per annum.[29] Pogge suggests that it would make sense to differentiate between natural resources by collecting larger shares for those that are most damaging to the environment (like coal). In this way, he argues that the GRD could help avert ecological harm while enabling the world’s poor to share in global economic growth and reduce their financial disadvantage. Pogge’s original proposal does not constitute a universal citizen’s income, as it selectively targets the dividend to provide those living in extreme poverty with up to $250 a year. According to his calculations, however, if the GRD was used to create a truly universal basic income “the poorer half would still get an income boost of over 20% on average … The income of the poorest quarter would go from currently 0.9% of gross world product to 1.15%, a tidy 28% raise.”[30] There can be little doubt that a global citizen’s income financed through resource dividends would have a transformative impact on those who live below the global poverty line, and could even be considered as an adjunct or alternative to conventional development assistance.

Expanding the public debate on basic income

If the ultimate intention of a citizen’s income is to secure the basic right of all people to live in dignity and fully develop their capabilities, it is clearly in relation to the very poorest in society (and across the world as a whole) that any form of basic income would be most beneficial. In this respect, the evidence suggests that a citizen’s income based on resource dividends presents an important systemic solution to poverty that has the potential to counterbalance the injustice of a global economic model in which wealth predominantly flows to the richest 1% of the world’s population. The policy also has significant ecological implications in relation to the emerging ‘degrowth’ debate on the impossibility of pursuing endless economic growth without irreversibly harming the environment.[31] In line with this perspective on the limits to growth, resource dividends for all could facilitate the necessary shift away from unsustainable patterns of production and consumerism, and stimulate a much needed public debate on the nature and purpose of work.

There are clearly many convincing arguments for how a citizen’s income based on resource rents could play a pivotal role in establishing a truly sharing society in which the fulfilment of people’s basic rights are not limited to their capacity to earn wages. However, it should also be apparent that any form of basic income or social dividend is not a panacea and should only be implemented as part of a comprehensive program of progressive reforms. As Share The World’s Resources emphasises, the objective of public policy should be to establish systemic forms of sharing that decentralise and devolve political power and embody the fundamental right of all people to a fair share of the wealth and resources that are created by nature or society as a whole.[32] Thus unless any basic income scheme is implemented as part of a broader policy agenda to address the structural causes of inequality and environmental crises, its longer term benefits would remain questionable.

Although there is growing support for social dividends funded by user fees, any call for reforming the way collective resources are managed is unlikely to gain political traction at a time when the institutions of central government increasingly embody market principles, and proposals for radically restructuring economic systems are still generally outside of mainstream political debates. Furthermore, it is difficult to overstate the power and influence that fossil fuel corporations could wield over policymakers who are considering setting aside a proportion of co-owned wealth for the benefit of citizens, especially in resource rich countries where user fees would have a negative impact on corporate profits.[33] Clearly, if resource dividend schemes are to be implemented more extensively, it would be necessary to challenge the neoliberal consensus that currently dominates public policy at the governmental level as well as in global institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But despite the expected resistance from those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, it is reasonable to assume that policies seeking to share the value of common pool resources would be extremely popular with voters, especially if they were more closely linked to existing calls for a citizen’s income. If the proposition also had more support from within civil society and among progressive parties, there is every chance that such policies could rapidly move up the political agenda. As the media continues to highlight basic income schemes with increasing frequency, there has never been a better time to broaden the public debate to include alternative ways to fund the proposal – particularly if this draws attention to systemic methods of supplementing personal incomes through policies based on redistributive justice and the principle of sharing.

[1] For an historical perspective on an unconditional basic income, see <www.basicincome.org/basic-income/history>

[2] See for example, Clive Lord, Citizens’ Income and Green Economics, The Green Economics Institute, 2011.

[3] For example, see Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

[4] Guy Standing, The Precariat: A New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury, 2014.

[5] Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, Evolver Editions, 2011, see Chapter 14.

[6] Philippe Van Parijs, Real Freedom For All, Clarendon Press, 1995.

[7] New Economics Foundation, People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement, February 2015.

[8] Bruce Ackerman, Anne Alstott and Philippe Van Parij, Redesigning Distribution: basic income and stakeholder grants as alternative cornerstones for a more egalitarian capitalism, 2003, see Chapter 7 by Barbara Bergmann.

[9] John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, 1930. See Part V, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren

[10] New Economics Foundation, 21 hours, February 2010.

[12] Citizen’s Income Trust, Citizen’s Income: A brief introduction, 2013.

[13] Dan Finn and Jo Goodship, Take-up of benefits and poverty: an evidence and policy review, Inclusion / Joseph Rowntree Foundation, July 2014.

[14] In 2013, the UK’s Citizen’s Income Trust (ibid.) estimated in the total cost for a basic income at £276 billion per annum, which it suggests is the same as the cost of benefits, tax reliefs and allowances in 2012-2013. According to their illustration, most adults would receive £71 per week, while younger people would be due less and pensioners would receive twice as much.

[15] Malcolm Torry, Research note: a feasible way to implement a Citizen’s Income, Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), September 2014.

[16] For an example of how governments could raise funding for progressive causes, see Share The World’s Resources, Financing the global sharing economy, October 2012.

[17] James Robertson, Beyond The Dependency Culture: People, Power And Responsibility, Adamantine Press, 1998.

[18] Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, 1795.

[19] See for example the Henry George Institute <www.henrygeorge.org>; The Institute for Economic Democracy <www.ied.info>; and the collection of essays in The Wealth of the Commons, edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Levellers Press, 2013 <www.wealthofthecommons.org>.

[20] Peter Barnes, With Liberty and Dividends for All, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2014.

[21] For more information about the Alaska Permanent Fund and its history, visit <www.apfc.org>

[22] Paul Segal, Resource Rents, Redistribution, and Halving Global Poverty: The Resource Dividend, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, June 2009.

[23] See the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 1

[24] Paul Segal, op cit.

[25] Shantayanan Devarajan, Marcelo Giugale et al., The Case for Direct Transfers of Resource Revenues in Africa, Centre for Global Development working paper 333, July 2013.

[26] Alanna Hartzog, The Earth Belongs to Everyone, The Institute for Economic Democracy, 2008. See chapter 9 p. 127, chapter 14 p. 172, and chapter 30 p. 334.

[27] For more information on a global citizen’s income, see James Robertson, Sharing the Value of Common Resources: Citizen’s Income in a Wider Context, 2009.

[28] Thomas Pogge, Eradicating Systemic Poverty: brief for a global resources dividend, Journal of Human Development, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001.

[29] This figure was provided in an email from Professor Pogge on 21st March 2015, in which he also explains that “The poorer 1/2 of humanity now have about 4% of global household income or about 2.4% of the gross world product. Getting this extra 1 percent of the world’s social product to them would raise their average income by over 40% (from 2.4% to 3.4%). This would clearly be highly significant.”

[30] Quote provided in an email from Professor Pogge, ibid.

[31] Giorgos Kallis, The Degrowth Alternative, Great Transition Initiative, February 2015.

[32] Share The World’s Resources, A primer on global economic sharing, June 2014

[33] Transnational Institute, State of Power 2014: Exposing the Davos Class, January 2014

Originally published at Share the World’s Resources’s Website

Lead image by Christopher Andrews


Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Money, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

Fierce Assaults on the “Attentional Commons”

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
2nd April 2015

Social Media Information Overload

People in tech circles often talk about the “attention economy” with knowing nonchalance.  Instead of things being scarce, they note, the real shortage these days is people’s attention.  Hence the ferocious drive to capture people’s attention.

This analysis is true as far as it goes.  What it fails to address is that the “attention economy” is not really an “economy.”  It is a predatory invasion of our consciousness. Sellers are using every possible technique to colonize our minds and emotions at the most elemental levels in a relentless attempt to prod us to buy, buy, buy.

Author Matthew B. Crawford made an eloquent case for the “attentional commons” in an opinion piece, “The Cost of Paying Attention,” in Sunday’s New York Times (March 8).  “What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common?” he asks.  “Perhaps, if we could envision an ‘attentional commons,’ then we could figure out how to protect it.”

Crawford recounts a series of all-to-familiar intrusions upon our attention:  ads on the little screen used to swipe credit cards at the grocery store…. ads for lipstick on the trays at airport security screening lines…. “endlessly recurring message from the Lincoln Financial Group” along the moving handrail on an airport escalator….the ubiquitous chatter of CNN and TV ads in the airport lounge.

“The fields of vision that haven’t been claimed for commerce are getting fewer and narrower,” Crawford writes.  He concedes that you can put on headphones or play with your smartphone – but the point is that neither of these strategies prevent a shared social space from being destroyed. Without such spaces, we are deprived of the opportunity to develop certain types of attitudes and relationships.  Our inner imagination and ability to reflect atrophy.  Such subtle, inner virtues that pale in the face of cold, hard cash!

Crawford writes:

“An airport lounge once felt rich with possibilities for spontaneous encounters. Even if we did not converse, our attention was free to alight upon one another and linger, or not.  We encountered another person, even if in silence.  Such encounters are always ambiguous, and their need for interpretation gives rise to a train of imaginings, often erotic.  This is what makes cities exciting.”

The most insightful part of Crawford’s essay is about the structurally unequality that gives some people access to silence while depriving others of that blessing.  Silence is now a luxury good available only to those who can afford it.  At the airport, wealthier people can retreat to the gracious silence of business lounges.  The rest of us in the “peon section” are subjected to an endless barrage of raucous commercial noise and visual clutter.

Crawford astutely notes:

“Other people’s minds, over in the peon section, can be treated a resource – a standing reserve of purchasing power to be steered according to the innovative marketing schemes hatched by those enjoying silence in the business lounge.  When some people treat the minds of others as a resource, this is not ‘creating ‘wealth – it is a transfer.”

Of course, the real problem is how to reassert our claims to the attentional commons and make that different ethic stick.  Crawford doesn’t have much to say about practical solutions, alas.  Perhaps because there ARE no easy solutions.

I once bought a remote control culture-jamming device that was able to turn off blaring TVs in public spaces.  A crude bit of electronic subterfuge and self-protection.  I never tried it on the invasive CNN noise in airport lounges, however.  I’m sure it would not have worked.

What’s really needed is a courageous voice for humanity in the board rooms and executive suites, one that is willing to stand up for our rich interior selves and reject the objectification of humanity into demographic units to be harvested for sales to advertisers.  But I have no illusions that high-minded moral suasion is going to carry the day.  Serious business people are not likely forgo the significant revenues that can be had from enclosing silence and mass attention.  Some other leverage points for change must be found — such as our civil protests and socially disruptive interventions.

Crawford’s essay reminds me of two great works on this subject, one quite short, the other a book.  The short piece is Ivan Illich’s classic essay, “Silence is a Commons,” which talks about how the arrival of electric-power loudspeakers on the Dalmatian coast where he was raised, and how they dispossessed people without speakers and enclosed the silence that was once the common wealth.

A book that bears further study, from Crawford and the rest of us, is Malcolm McCullough’s book, Ambient Commons:  Attention in the Age of Embodied Information (MIT Press, 2013), which takes this whole line of analysis to a much richer place — the ways in which the design of urban spaces and buildings can create ambient commons or, alternatively, private enclosures of the mind. The subtle structural nature of these enclosures is precisely what makes them so worthy of our attention.


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