The two rules of commonwealth economies

“The shift that we need now to accomplish politically, not only theoretically, is to change the dominant wisdom from the absolute domination of the subject (as owner or State) over the object (territory or more generally the environment) to a focus on the relationship of the two (subject-nature). We need a new common sense recognizing, outside of the Western liberal hubris, that each individual’s survival depends on its relationship with others, with the community, with the environment.” Excerpted from Arthur Brock, who earlier in the article argues that our current economic models have broken the basic covenants of healthy economies.”*

Arthur Brock starts with defining the two most important rules of commons-based economics, which define the sustainability of common resources:

1. Any limited resource you take is yours only temporarily and must be returned in full when you’re done with it.

2. Use what you take to grow the value producing capacity of the commons.

He then comments:

“These may just sound like nice ideas, but I assure you, they are neither idealistic nor merely theoretical. Organisms and species ignore them at their own peril. Those that break these covenants deplete their environment and progressively erode their chances of survival, eventually causing their own extinction (or near extinction). However, every species and individual that follows those rules enriches their environment and increases their chances of survival.

Let’s take a look at these principles in action in an economy you’re actually very familiar with – your body. Remember, an economy is a system of production, distribution and consumption. Your body takes the nutrients and sugars in food, distributes them to cells, produces other cells, enzymes, hormones, minerals, amino acids, bones and tissue which in turn keep the whole process going. All resources consumed by your body are returned to the larger ecosystem. And while your body is running, all resources that your organs or cells use are theirs only temporarily and must be shared with the rest of the body.

Do you know what cells that stop sharing their resources with the rest of the body are called?


That’s right. When cells stop sharing their resources and devote those resources instead to their own growth, they are considered cancerous. And unless that pattern of cancerous growth is interrupted, the grow consuming more and more resources until they kill their host.

This is what it looks like to break the rules of the commons.

When you think about that kind of cancerous behavior, do you see any connections to how companies are organized to behave? What do you imagine are the consequences of allowing this pattern of behavior continue?

How long until cancerous corporations, people and countries who keep breaking the rules of healthy economies strip the planet of resources and poison our ecosystems to levels that can no longer sustain human life?

When do we activate our social immune system to reject unhealthy patterns and anybody operating in those ways?

These commonwealth economies contain deep wisdom. We have knowledge of the truth of them in every fiber of our being and literally in every cell of our body. Yet in today’s culture and economy we ignore this truth. We diminish it with marginalizing phrases like “Protestant Work Ethic” and deny the desire to provide as much value as we can.

But hard work feels good. It feels good to build something, to make something great happen, or to participate in the flow of energy of physical labor. Accomplishment is satisfying. Yet in the face of this emotional and physical response, we elevate an ideal of being wealthy and just being able to “make your money work for you” which actually means having everyone else do the real work for your profit.

Maybe it is not religious acculturation but rather a biological urge – not a Protestant Work Ethic, but a Biological Worth Ethic. The bees, trees, ants and plants just keep working. They keep doing their part to keep the larger system going. I think they know that their biological “worth” depends on it. If they don’t keep the ecosystem going, there won’t be an ecosystem to feed them. Every creature, every cell, every living system is working to keep these agreements and build greater shared value, except us. We’ve built an entire economy on extracting value for our personal gain.

In our society, the wealthiest people are the ones who “just have money work for them.” Typically it isn’t even their money; it’s ours – our savings, investments and retirement funds. They gamble with other people’s money instead of creating actual new value and then we bail them out with more of our tax money when they lose their bets. Sadly “too big to fail” really means “too greedy to follow the rules.”

2 Comments The two rules of commonwealth economies

  1. AvatarPoor Richard

    “The shift that we need now to accomplish politically, not only theoretically, is to change the dominant wisdom from the absolute domination of the subject (as owner or State) over the object (territory or more generally the environment) to a focus on the relationship of the two (subject-nature).

    Another way to say this is that ALL ownership is conditional. It is a form of custody. The bundle of rights is never held entirely by any one owner. There are always multiple stake-holders with equitable interests in any resource, even when the majority of the bundled rights are in the custody of a private owner. One equity interest that is always present, even when temporarily delegated to private custodians, is the public interest. The public interest includes public health, the sustainable viability of the ecosystem, and the interests of future generations, among other things.

    These facts are already implicit in many of our legal doctrines, such as eminent domain and laches.

    In the domain of intellectual property, such conditionality can be explicitly defined by various forms of conditional copyright such as the GNU General Public License or Creative Commons license.

    In the case of real property the conditionality of ownership can be made explicit through deed restrictions, easements, trust agreements, and other means. Such arrangements a strongly supported by common law doctrines.

    When progressives and commons advocates criticize the mainstream conventions of property ownership they often fail to realize that they are objecting to various implicit defaults in the customary conditions of ownership. Those implicit defaults are by no means the only arrangements permitted and protected under most legal frameworks based on English common law.


  2. AvatarNingúnOtro

    I’m afraid ALL your lines of thought are contaminated by self-appointed evidence that is accepted unconsciously because you do not wish to challenge the faulty logic all of your current existance is based upon and start all over again, not only with zero assets of your own, but with the guilt of knowing you need to give back more than you can afford to maintain your current status.

    The dominant wisdom, since protestantism dissociated Gods rewards and entrance into heaven from personal merits (who are we damn fools to believe we know on what merits such a mighty one as God should choose to judge whether anyone is worthy of his benevolence?), is that each individual may do as he pleases to attain relevance among his peers.

    That is the reason why protestants (mostly the traditional WASP -White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant-, but do not forget a big chunk of the Dutch people, and the Jewish pennymasters of Judea Jesus chased from the temple)… worship accumulation of wealth.

    Such accumulation, and the competitive atmosphere that develops between several individuals, gifted with deductive, predictive and anticipative brainpower… has NATURALLY brought us all the way to the present situation, where statistics and game theory make the invention of profit-earning strategic moves harder to invent than on the traditional 8×8 chessboard.

    Our elites are prisoners of their mindgame and its logic… they have no alternative but to play the game by the book, as it maximizes the maximum possible benefits at the least risk. At least statistically and game-theorywise.

    As maximizing the survival strategy from their points of view is at stake… they can do nothing less than behave optimal towards the safeguarding of their highest interests.

    I can see through their behavior as if it were an open book, because I judge it through the understanding of THEIR MOTIVES, not mine.

    What we need to accomplish (and it is a hard job), is to analyze the situation acknowledging that there are differentiated social groups with differentiated goals and differentiated strategies that go each their own way.

    It has never been “ONE DOMINANT WISDOM” common to everyone that has to be considered faulty and leaves us now with the task of finding another “ONE DOMINANT WISDOM 2” that might fit better to everyone.

    There is no way to completely switch ODW1 off and ODW2 on for everybody.

    There are several DWx continuously competing with each other and influencing the common battlefield with their acts to achieve total predominance, be they conscious and programmed for maximum efficiency (game-theory optimized strategical planning) or unconscious and chaotic common decency human behavior.

    Common decency human behavior, while widespread and easy to understand instinctively, commonly thought of as being the good guys, lacks understanding of the motives behind the resource-hoarding frenzy of the logically optimized (and therefore ethically lobotomized) bad guys.

    The ultimate cause for all this mischief is a faulty logic, Skynet trapped in and endless iteration of optimization where it ultimately discards acting humanly because it is not the best performing strategy.

    Those among us that do not act the Skynet way just need to identify the logic behind its behavior… and do what is needed to switch it off.

    The least obstruction to this line of action will be possible as soon as we stop threatening the designers and operators of Skynet with the oh so marxist guillotine.

    Because self-preservation is a human thrift… that can not be switched off. As long as it is at stake… anyone will fight to the bitter end, just as we have now with a logic that allows for any risky bets: heads, I win and life goes on; tails, I loose and I do not give a damn about who goes down with me, not even if it is the whole humanity.

    Who put the atomic red button right next to the typewriter where the monkey frantically tries to retype Shakespeares Hamlet using a hammer?

    Foolish humanity, much of the intelligence, so little of the wisdom.

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