Elements of a new commons-oriented (Res Communes) economics

Excerpted from Jules Peck:

“I’m involved currently with a group of people from the Transition Towns movement, Nef and elsewhere which is developing a draft document which we plan to put online as an open-sourced wiki manifesto. The idea is that anyone out there will be able to help us fill in the gaps.

It’s a vision of economics which is very much in the ‘for, by and of the people’ heritage and its been inspired by the work of Nobel laureates like Ostrom, Stiglitz, Sen and Kahneman, and the work of Manfred Max-Neef, Peter Barnes and Tom Crompton, amongst others. Their work has been updating our understanding of socio-economic relations, values, co-operation, the commons, reciprocity and wellbeing and pointing the way towards alternative forms of socio-economic relations beyond growth and capital-ism.

In line with the commons/state/private sectors of ancient Rome, this new economics Res Communes economics would aim put the citizen centre stage of a socio-economic transition to a resilient, mutualised, co-operative, communitarian, localised and participatory democracy, with a radical shrinking away of the short-termist private, Res Privita and state, Res Publica sectors.

Transitioning to this new form of economics will have wide ranging implications including for everything from social relations, equity, cultural values (from extrinsic to intrinsic wellbeing satisfying values), new visions and narratives of ‘prosperity’, commercial, national and international accounting, the balance between ‘use’ and ‘exchange’ values, and the end of a debt-based monetary system.

To see how elements of this are already emerging, witness the flourishing participative democracy and budgeting movement pioneered in Porto Alegre Brazil and now taking hold in the UK and elsewhere.

We should rightly question everything about our current economics. If elements can’t be compatible with sustainable wellbeing economic principles, then they ought to go. Even currently construed shibboleths such as markets will need to prove they can be our slave not master if they are to make the grade for the transition to this new economics.

There are many new and old forms of alternatives to the shareholder-owned enterprise model that are showing the way forward. Take the countless mutual, employee, community and cooperatively owned enterprises which include some of our best-loved enterprises like John Lewis and Waitrose. There is no reason why we could not all work for, buy from and own such enterprises which can live beyond the growth obsessed profit motive.

Witness the Buen Vivir movement championed by Evo Morales and the flourishing commons and ‘commoners’ movements that, as commons-guru David Bollier of puts it, is repudiating “the corruption of the market/state duopoly”.

Take Spain’s £4.3bn Mondragon Co-operatives Group, with 53,000 stakeholder-owners. The World Bank has said that, for over twenty years, Mondragon was “more efficient than many private enterprises…. there can be no doubt that the co-operatives have been more profitable than capitalist enterprises.”

Indeed, some of our best loved enterprises in the UK are co-ops such as John Lewis and Waitrose and the mighty Co-op Group which, aside from its food and farming markets is now representing a healthy threat to the myopic privately owned banking system which has done so much harm to society. And think of perhaps the world’s most successful and well known commons-based, collaborative, non capitalist, participative enterprise – Wikipedia – with over 7m entries and used by 2m people a day.

These sorts of successes are showing that the idea that profit maximising, shareholder-owned capitalist enterprises are far from the only alternative. Maybe some day soon we will all work for, own and buy from similar enterprises.

Perhaps the time has come to move on from the tired, left-right dialectic of state-versus-market, capitalism versus communism. Nether state nor private ought to have the upper-hand. In a truly participative economic democracy it should be the people and the notion of the commons which calls the shots. This will have huge implications for politics.”