Towards a Commons based development model

A contribution from Tommaso Fattori:

(This is a version without notes)

“Before coming to issues of social justice and distribution of socially produced economic wealth (wealth measured in the traditional manner, in terms of GDP growth), there is an underlying and systemic problem, currently only partially hidden by the crisis, which affects the whole global north: the increase in overall economic wealth – albeit concentrated, polarized and not distributed – is matched by a general impoverishment of another kind. We are all becoming poorer in terms of relationships, poorer in time, poorer in “wellbeing” and quality of life, but also poorer in Commons and natural environment, that is, pauperized of the common basis of both life itself and all products/creations, be they material or non-material.

Building a new development paradigm together means being able to simultaneously tackle both the problem of persistent material poverty and social injustice and the crux of the general impoverishment of a non-economic kind, which translates into a decrease in wellbeing for everyone1 and fewer Commons (natural or non-material) available to the whole of society2. For a long time, wealth was associated only with the growth of GDP and the individual accumulation of private assets, with no consideration for the assets comprising common wealth. Yet one is richer when one has equal access to fundamental Commons (be they water or knowledge), when everyone can go to a good school, or a hospital which works, and when one can breathe unpolluted air. On the other hand, becoming richer in private assets and poorer in Commons brings about a worsening of the social and environmental wellbeing of everyone.

Building a Commons based development model does not mean lowering the standard of living of the European middle classes, but rather increasing the wellbeing of everyone, at the same time building inclusiveness for everyone and for each individual within a development model based on decreasing private consumption of superfluous goods and increasing the (material and non-material) Commons which must be universally accessible free of charge, on the expansion of social relationships and protection of the ecosystem of which we are an integral part. It means reducing the need for money and making use value rather than exchange value the central issue, freeing up time in our lives and more in general effecting a de-growth in the production of material goods pertaining to induced needs (changing ways and objectives of production), while ensuring the reproduction and increase of natural Commons and the growth of non-material Commons and relational assets. Something must grow and something must shrink. Such a model requires a different social organization, where sharing and cooperation, rather than competition, are encouraged -that is, where the social and collaborative nature of the human being is emphasised, rather than the homo oeconomicus.

The role of the state and the institutions must be geared to supporting commoning through various forms of Public-Commons Parterships. Commons typically have forms of governance which are polycentric, horizontal and peer-to-peer, which foster the de-centralization and diffusion of power and where the rules for their management and sharing are defined by consensus by the commoners themselves, who therefore have an essential active role to fulfil. There are many real-life examples of communities which govern shared resources, a road which is completely different from privatization, but equally distant from the delegation and transfer of power to a Leviathan-State which is often too bureaucratic and ancillary with respect to the major centres of financial and economic power.

People are not monads but rather, social beings, and both the development and the very survival of each person depends on the relationship he or she has with others, with society and with the environment. The Commons based development model, hence, does not merely need sharing, cooperation and awareness of the interdependence and links between human beings, but also a different relationship with nature, starting by recognising that we are an integral part of it: this is a model which does not artificially separate humans from their natural environment, nor does it see the world as a group of isolated objects, but rather as a network of relationships, a network of interlinked and interdependent phenomena. This requires a relationship of reciprocal care (rather than of destructive exploitation), which is the substance of commoning and of the preservation of natural common pool resources. And so commoning reveals its fundamental ecological and systemic nature, which goes beyond the stark dichotomy subject/object which has been translated into the dominion of the object by the subject (be they the “owner” or the state), just as it goes beyond the merely quantitative approach in favour of an approach based on qualitative relationships.”

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