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Going beyond “The Wealth of the Commons”

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th January 2013


Leo Burke has read The Wealth of the Commons and gives recommendations for a second volume:

“”If Bollier and Helfrich had the interest and energy to develop a second volume, I would ask them to expand on three key themes. The first is education. There is a brief article by George Pór on his pioneering work with the London-based School of Commoning. George and his colleagues are attempting to address society’s vast knowledge deficit about the commons. Vibrant and varied educational strategies are needed worldwide to accelerate citizen support for the commons.

Second, we need to understand more regarding strategies that successfully scale. The Internet greatly facilitates ‘horizontal scaling’—how successful commons in one locality or domain can be replicated elsewhere. An example of horizontal scaling is the proliferation of Transition Towns; lessons learned from the Transition movement are discussed in three articles in the book. The more challenging issue is ‘vertical scaling.’ That is, under what conditions can the value memes of successful initiatives at one level of governance be applied at another level? For instance, is there a critical mass of Transition Towns that might give birth to a Transition Region that cuts across international boundaries and, in effect, begins to set up provisional, non-state-based forms of representative governance?

Third and lastly, we need to reflect more deeply on the matter of sovereignty. At present, when we think of the commons, we tend to do so within the context of a fixed set of boundary conditions set by governmental authorities. But such a view reflects an insufficient position. These days, governments tend to represent interests (as in special interests) rather than people. Yet inherent in being human is an intrinsic set of rights and responsibilities. Under what conditions do ordinary people have the right to exercise claims of sovereignty over common resources for the sake of all those affected, including the unborn? In his essay, “Why Distinguish Common Goods from Public Goods?” James Quilligan introduces a provocative notion: “People’s sovereignty for a commons is legitimated through global citizenship, and this global citizenship is legitimated through the local sovereignty of their commons.” Much discussion and debate is needed to unpack this seminal concept. Looking to the future, the courageous assertion of well-considered claims of sovereignty will be essen-tial to establishing broad-scale commons, especially those that transcend national boundaries.

We live in interesting times. Particularly since World War II, the moral authority of the nation-state has steadily evaporated. As a form of governance, it can no longer fulfill its social mandate of providing security and well being for its citizens. Nor is it structurally capable of collaborating with other such entities for the welfare of the totality, e.g., developing workable treaties on global carbon emissions. The market, particularly as a result of unregulated growth in the financial sector over the last thirty years, has imposed an endless-growth-at-all-costs logic on human civilization that is neither environmentally sustainable nor ethically justifiable. Things as they are, are not working. It is time for something new. And this something new will include viable commons at local, regional and global levels. The Wealth of the Commons points the way to a future that is both possible and necessary.”

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