Can the Digital Commons Save the Natural Commons? (2): Reaction from “Poor Richard”

Poor Richard posted an extended comment to the previously published theses by Brian Davey:

“Brian Davey raises several interesting points but I believe there is a flaw in some of the underlying logic.

“Economists tell us that by putting a price on natural resources that this creates a restraint on their use. That is rubbish – it puts them up for sale – and then the banking system and central banks create all the purchasing power needed to acquire them. In order to protect natural resources they must be taken out of the market – and put under the collective control of responsible communities. ”

There are two problems with that analysis:

1) Putting a price on natural resources and ecosystem services is not the problem. In fact I believe it is unavoidable (see below). But it is important to establish a correct price, one without externalities. That insures sustainability. The test of zero externalities is that all transactions and all conversions must be reversible. The price for removing a mountaintop or a forest must be equal to the cost of replacing it.

2) The power of central banks to create unlimited fiat money is potentially fatal to the commons but it has a simple (if not easy) solution. A universal basic income coupled with highly progressive taxation of both income and property can create a maximum ratio between the top and bottom strata of wealth. I don’t know if the ideal ratio would be 100:1 or 100,000:1 — that would have to be determined democratically and by trial and error. If that is done, an artificial expansion of the money supply is pointless. No one gains an advantage from it. This solution provides a monetary homeostasis mechanism regardless of the type of money in circulation.

These may sound like impossible reforms to achieve, but according to my reasoning they are the only possible solutions to the enclosure of the commons.

It is simply impossible to avoid putting prices on the commons.

Regulating access, extraction, consumption, etc., by any means, establishes value. And like night follows day, price follows value in human instincts. A priceless commons would be a transparent fiction. A black market would prevail.

Furthermore, quantification is essential to good management of resources and services. Once you have metrics you have accounting; once you have accounting you have relative values and accounts; once you have relative values and accounts you have rules and calculations for exchange and distribution — i.e., prices by any other name. You can’t tell me that hunter-gatherers didn’t establish rates of exchange for various goods and services. Its in our DNA. Cooperation and sociality are based on negotiation. From this evolved our facility for accounting and symbolic representation, and thence our large brains. Justice is also based upon true and fair accounting. This cannot be removed from the human experience without diminishing the very nature of humanness.

For that reason money and prices are simply inescapable. The only two things we can actually do, no matter how difficult and unlikely they may seem, are 1) put an upper limit on the concentration of wealth by taxation, and 2) price things objectively.”

3 Comments Can the Digital Commons Save the Natural Commons? (2): Reaction from “Poor Richard”

  1. AvatarTom Crowl

    Poor Richard is correct!

    The only true ‘capital’ of a society are decisions (decision= an idea + an action). It the sum total of all decisions of all members. A ‘decision’ may be as simple as an individual’s “I think I should stop my car or I’ll hit the one in front of me!… and then actually stopping. to the complex implications of a nation’s entering a war.

    MONEY is a tool for transferring ‘decisions’ beyond the self-regulating ‘circle of trust’ of a hunter-gatherer group.

    It is helpful to view it this way rather than as a store of value.

    Hence, credit creation monopolized by a narrow group is a theft of ‘decision rights’ and ultimately ‘decision capability’ from the distributed network from which capital actually arises.

    The evolution of money, perhaps inevitably… since it arose without awareness or consideration of a couple of basic human scaling issues (see my blog) has left it… (and I consider this a central evolutionary problem)… a necessary tool… but pathologically broken.

    And I’ve been strenuously suggesting that the only chance to first reclaim and then begin a process of experimentation and design for this vitally necessary tool is to TAKE THE GODDAM TRANSACTION NETWORK! NOW!!!

    The window of opportunity won’t be open long.

  2. AvatarKarl

    Poor Richard is incorrect!

    Any commons which can be bought and sold is not a commons at all.

    One cannot buy “extra” access to the interstate highway system or the Linux kernel. These things are available in their entirety to any person who wants to make use of them. Because they are not accessed through the market system the amount of money available to market participants is irrelevant.

    Richard seems to think that because our forebears may have used shells for money that somehow money will always be with us. This makes as much sense as saying that because slavery was widely practiced in the past that we must accept it today. I reject both slavery and money as effective and moral ways to meet human needs. While money and markets are an improvement over slavery they are still primitive tools which must be abandoned before we achieve anything that could be called “civilization”.

    Using money is not a human instinct and it is certainly not in our DNA. That’s just silly. It’s a cultural artifact which people have been conditioned to use, apparently so far as to make it a new type of religion.

    There can be no objective price, since a single number cannot capture the meaning of any object. Value is a relative thing, and it’s increasingly common to see individual, pay-what-you-want pricing in the market.

  3. AvatarPoor Richard

    Karl is all wrong. LOL.

    Placing some kind of value on ecosystem services doesn’t put a “price” on anything. Prices can only be quoted by qualified buyers or sellers and they don’t need to have any relationship to market values much less to rigorous scientific measurements and computations. On the other hand, the puublic needs a way to estimate the values of ecosystem components and services for purposes such as recovering damages from polluters. This work is essential for conservation as well.

    “Any commons which can be bought and sold is not a commons at all.”

    Obviously Karl has a very personal definition of commons and I wish him luck with that. IMO it isn’t suitable for general-purpose use by a large complex society or for academic and scientific research.

    “One cannot buy “extra” access to the interstate highway system or the Linux kernel.”

    One doesn’t need to buy extra access. As things stand one can grab enough access to ruin the resources for others and we have no way to place a value on the destruction or misappropriation of the common assets. Large trucks, for example, cause the bulk of wear and tear and accidents on the interstates. Most of that is still externalized.

    “There can be no objective price, since a single number cannot capture the meaning of any object”

    A straw man and a sophism. Nobody claims that science is 100% objective. Objectivity is relative, but science is better than made-up bullshit. And nobody should confuse scientific/academic efforts to understand and measure the value of natural objects or systems with revealing the full meaning of any object. However, no one can appreciate the full meaning of an object without some thought to its relative values, in various terms, both to oneself and to others.

    “Using money is not a human instinct and it is certainly not in our DNA. That’s just silly.”

    Karl is entitled to his opinions, he fails to make any specific points or counter-claims to falsify my statements. “That’s just silly” is just a silly argument.

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