Chris Cook: the Commons as a Corporation

This point of view, ‘the commons must be a corporation’, may come as a shocker and is by no means an easy text, I had to reread it a few times, but, worth pondering.

Chris answers the question: what is the optimal solution for combining a community, a commons, and the necessity to make a living. Answer: the commons, under the governance of a democratically governed corporate entity, allows for multiple community agreements detailing the use of the stock for creating value.

Chris Cook:

“I distinguish between Community and Commons.

Joint and Several

I see the former as an associative agreement between individuals ‘severally’ or separately in respect of the use of productive assets held in Common.

I see the latter as an associative agreement between individuals jointly or collectively in respect of the creation and exchange of value.

The Community agreement sets out entitlements to flows of value from productive assets eg land/buildings in common ownership.

The Commons agreement sets out the way that rights to these flows may be exchanged between community members.

An example of the way in which such a distinction is already customarily made is the way that there is a statutory and mandatory Joint agreement between company shareholders collectively: the ‘Memorandum and Articles of Association, but also typically one or more – consensual – parallel shareholder agreements between shareholders individually.

You may know that partners in a partnership have both joint (collective) liability and several (individual) unlimited liability each for each other’s actions. While the former – a joint agreement to a common purpose – is a key attribute, the problem for many individuals is that they do not necessarily trust all of their partners individually….

What is the optimal solution for commons-oriented common stock entities?

Commons Entity

My answer is firstly that this must be a corporate entity for the very reason that corporate entities were first invented – because humans are mortal. It was the church who innovated the office of Archbishop as a Corporation Sole which is immortal, to hold church assets, and this was and is distinct from the human Archbishop, who is mortal.

Secondly, it should have an open constitution – that is to say, that it should include provision for organic change in response to circumstances.

Thirdly, the constitution should provide representation for all of the stakeholders:

(a) Users of the productive assets held in common;

(b) Investors (in money or money’s worth) in the unitised value (ie undated credits redeemable in payment) from use of the assets;

(c) Managers – who commit the use value of their energy and intellect;

(d) Custodian – comprising the stewards of the asset; of the records relating to the use of the asset; and of the purpose of the governing agreement.

In the UK I use as custodian an entity called a Company Limited by Guarantee, a ‘not for profit’ corporate entity with an enormously flexible constitution. It is also possible to irreversibly make such an entity a ‘Community Interest Company’ or CIC, which applies a statutory asset lock, preventing assets from being alienated/sold off for individual profit.

But this asset-stewarding collective entity would differ in each jurisdiction.

Community Entity

This entity would be a constantly changing living network of associative agreements. These would all be sub agreements – I call them Enterprise Agreements- and these could be informal (possibly unrecorded other than mentally) or formal and documented.

It may well be that a registry of enterprise agreements and entitlements is kept by the Custodian.

I envisage that these associative enterprise agreements will be simple, and virtual, and will use the sort of tools now available in prototype eg


Property and Money

As Bentham pointed out, Property is a relationship, not an object, and what we are doing is to document that Community relationship between the subject (individual) and object (productive asset) in a new way, using consensual and reciprocal/mutual/collaborative protocols, rather than conflicting protocols documenting absolute property rights of permanent ownership and temporary use.

Money is also not an object, but a relationship, and here the need is to document – in a collective Commons agreement – the framework of trust outlining P2P rights and obligations as between productive people (as distinct from between productive people and productive assets) both individually and collectively.


It is quite possible for these collaborative agreements to be applied to any existing legal entities – Public or Private – in any jurisdiction, since they are consensual and complementary. Similarly, it is possible for unitisation to be applied in addition to any existing financing or funding options.

However, my thesis is that the conventional forms will rapidly wither on the vine since they will be outcompeted, and that conventional capital will consume itself and emerge in a non-toxic and sustainable form.”

1 Comment Chris Cook: the Commons as a Corporation

  1. AvatarTom Crowl

    Definitely worthy of exploration!

    And getting at exactly the kind structure I’ve been trying to imagine for the ‘universally-owned’ P2P transaction network I’ve been blabbing about… (rooted in an idea for facilitating the micro-transaction and networking to facilitate citizen lobbying in response to the Citizens United decision… but with potentially broader applicability as a payment utility…)

    Fixing the Political Relationship

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