On the Need for a Integrative Framework for the Provisioning Economy

Pat Conaty, responding to a paper by Marvin Brown:

“Thanks for sharing your paper on new vocabulary. You raise here such a key issue. Vocabulary does matter and indeed it is foundational to co-constructing the Commonwealth paradigm that all of us on this list in somewhat different and complementary ways share as a vision.

I also think you are right Marvin in stressing the need to open up the Big Conversation about What is the economy for? A majority of the public would agree with you I believe that fundamentally it is or should be about provisioning to meet the needs for a good life. Aristotle lives on in his sage perception of this fundamental truth. However not that many understand the Aristotelian analysis about money which is fundamentally barren (especially today as it is weightless and freely generated electronic symbols) and should be confined and constrained by law as a means of equitable exchange and should not be allowed to run riot as an anti-social and usurious rent-seeking weapon.

Your suggestion Marvin to work on a common vocabulary of key words to guide actors, agencies and institutions in ways to civilise the economy and socialise markets is key. I don’t agree with your point that property is not an important foundation for building commonwealth. Yes your argument is right about corporations as we know them. But property does matter, just as markets need reframing.

The issue for me is how we democratise and equitably distribute property rights and ensure they are inclusive. As John argues the case well on the need for socialising markets and making fair trade the norm not the marginal extra, so we need to do the same with property rights and by extension reinvent the corporation for people and for the planet.

Framing the legal charters correctly for these missing and vitally required new institutional forms viz. banking, exchange, accountancy and collective work is crucial to assemble the new economic democratic systems that are a sine qua non for defending and extending the commons. The vital parts are visible in relation to emerging good practice for building commonwealth to meet provisioning needs, from Community Land Trusts for housing and workspace to large scale Community Supported Agriculture for food systems like Seikatsu Clubs in Japan, but the bringing together of the whole system is not yet what enough people doing pioneering commons work are focusing on. This is a major weakness and unless addressed, good practice will remain marginal and ameliorative and not have the potential to become transformative. Developing a shared vocabulary as you suggest Marvin is a superb place to begin this journey.

A confusion that arises that prevents us building the meta-narrative together is that the exclusive property rights that are dominant are connected with undemocratic political economy of capitalist accumulation. The alternative below the radar screen but that does reappear from time to time during an accumulation crisis in the dominant system (like the time we are passing through) is the democratic and co-operative accumulation road. The problem though among in fact many in the mutual economy sector is that many in the Co-op movement lose confidence in their own mission during the boom periods and end up aping the capitalist model and thus losing the plot.” (email, August 2013)

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