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Democratising the Global and Political Commons - 7 May

on Thu, 05/24/2012 - 21:20

Private goods are produced and sold by businesses to consumers.

Public goods are regulated and provisioned by governments for their citizens.

Commons goods are preserved or produced for the use of everyone.

Over the past few decades, the intergovernmental system has proclaimed its capacity to meet the needs of the world’s population and environment through global public goods.

This concept of global public goods illustrates the lack of understanding and vision in the present management of the global commons.

By definition, public goods are goods and services provided by a government to its people. 

The model of global public goods is virtually meaningless at the multilateral level where there is no representative authority (either through individual states in association or a global institutional framework) to provide public goods to the citizens of the world. 

National governments simply do not have the interdependent power or legitimacy -- nor are they designed -- to protect, manage and distribute resources for the world’s people as a whole.

Global public goods is providing a rationale for the status quo of liberal internationalism.

Both the private and public sectors deny that the world’s collective action problems -- access to food and water, universal health care, education, distribution of aid and technology, transborder safety and security, world peace, a just legal and political system, a pollution-free environment, clean air and an equitable economic system – can or should be managed as global commons.

Under the present system of strong state sovereignty, non-interference across borders and limited multilateral cooperation, governments refuse to establish a representative basis for global resource sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the neoliberal commitment by states to private/public growth is destroying the planet and leaving people dispossessed of their collective resources, unable to express or realize the intrinsic value of their local, regional and global commons.

Capitalism is failing because it does not innately recognize the need for creating and maintaining the commons.

Today’s political economy reduces our understanding of the value of goods and services into two modes: use value (qualitative usefulness and sufficiency) and exchange value (quantitative worth through market prices).

I have suggested a third category — presence value, the experience of what is already right before us and within us, whether pre-existing or created.

A political economy of presence value calls for the multi-level management of the commons through a new metric of sustainability, quality of life and well-being that scales from local levels of social and political organization to higher levels of multilateral governance.

Citizens around the world need to find new, transnational means of ensuring that their governments impose appropriate terms and parameters on both private and public goods; a new means for resource management that is global; and a way to articulate and claim this global political commons.

Reclaiming our governments -- bringing them back under public control and accountability -- cannot be done by allowing the present ownership structures to continue, whether under individual ownership or collective ownership.

We must not assume that because most of the commons have already been privatized, that this situation will go on indefinitely because governments endorse or ratify these privatizations.

What kind of action is necessary?

The status quo response is to work through governments and maximize citizen participation and networking.

A cross-border network of citizen action, coordinating their votes on important international issues, would be a great contribution.

But does this create the kind of global governance that would ensure citizens trusteeship over the resources that belong to everyone -- like the oceans and the atmosphere?

Can we assume that governments, as they are presently constituted, would allow trusts to be created for the world’s common resources when governments were expressly created to safeguard the interests of private ownership?

Is this move toward global citizen decision-making simply a matter of increasing citizen voting power on global public policies through traditional channels?

Can we assume that the status quo of governments will change as a result of coordinated citizen input on international commons policies?

Aren’t we endorsing the myth of the social contract -- that government represents the people -- when in fact the reason for the existence of government is to protect the interests of private property?

National constitutions which protect and defend the primacy of private property, need to be changed so that the connection between local, regional and global interests over our common resources becomes a matter of trusteeship, rather than ownership.

Citizens associations which coordinate their political input across the world must be among the first to push for the transformation of individual ownership into trusteeship.

Ownership is an expression of individualism. This is also true of collective ownership, where a small group of individuals is appointed to oversee the resources for the rest of the people

This is not what we are seeking.

Most of the world’s resources now fall under the ownership paradigm and this trend is rapidly increasing.

And this is precisely why the concept of the commons is bringing forward to reestablish stewardship - or trusteeship - over the resources that belong to all of humanity, from local to regional to global levels.

It is citizens’ trusts that must manage our common goods, in partnership with governments, where governments recognize their role as fostering stewardship of public goods for their citizens.

The real issue is not to accept the limitations of the ownership paradigm but to create the kind of governance structures -- for local and global political commons -- which include and transcend it through scale-free trusteeship of the commons.

Can this be accomplished under the present system of sovereign governments?

Not without a deep transformation of our national sovereign structures.

The economic and political catastrophes that befell the world in the 1930s and 40s inspired that generation to create a multilateral system defined by an unprecedented vision of cooperation and security for the international community.

It promised that global private goods (financial investment, private credit and trade) and global public goods (aid, loans through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and other assistance from international development programs) would resolve the world’s major domestic and transborder economic problems.

This grand experiment in international cooperation has failed miserably.

We cannot expect it to succeed now through simply through citizen networking and coordinated democratic voting among nations.

A new platform needs to be put forward that proposes a new role for government and business in the management of world resources.

The kinds of expertise and understanding that people are developing through local and regional forms of resource management must reach to and be sustained at the global level.

In turn, this global political commons would establish economic systems that are more fair and share necessary resources with all people on the planet.

In bringing this new ontological/political platform forward, the world’s people would organize their local commons, declare their sovereignty as global citizens, and call upon governments to acknowledge the natural rights belonging to all human beings and life-forms across the planet.

A global political commons is necessary if we are ever going to develop global governance.

But it will have to be based on a commons agenda that is both bottom-up and top-down.

Many commons, such as the atmosphere, could be managed indirectly through a political process where citizens engage with one another and with established political processes to manage their resources through their local and national governments.

At the same time, local decision-making requires an international support system that is generative in purpose -- not technocratic, nationalistic or commercial.

Incentives for sharing the global commons must be built into our multilateral rules and institutions.

The new forms of co-governance, co-production, social charters and commons trusts now emerging at local and regional levels can be expected to have a major impact on post-liberal forms of multilateral cooperation, democratic global governance, and international monetary and financial systems over the next several decades.

In this scale-free system, democratic commons institutions would operate at every level of governance independently while overlapping at the same time.

Citizens will thus have the opportunity to participate in decision-making and production at all levels of commons (local, state, interstate, regional and global), bringing governments and corporations back under public control and accountability.

Broadly speaking, the creation of this new framework for global political commons entails three significant changes:

commons trustsexercise a fiduciary duty to preserve natural, genetic and material commons but can decide to rent a proportion of these resource rights to businesses

businessesmay rent the rights to extract and produce a resource from a commons trust, creating profits and positive externalities through innovation, competitive products and services, and adjustment of the market to the actual costs of resources

governmentshifts its primary emphasis from issuing corporate charters and licensing the private sector to approving social charters and open licenses for resource preservation and cultural and social production through commons trusts

Our present problems transcend national boundaries.

We need a new, co-ordinated and effective way to drive all nations to co-operate in solving our planetary crisis by implementing a range of democratically formulated policies.

We need transnational citizen action to require our politicians and governments to cooperate globally in implementing appropriate policies simultaneously for the good of all.

Is it enough for citizens around the world to coordinate their votes in national elections to solve global problems like global warming, financial market regulation, environmental destruction, war, and economic and social injustice?

Only if the platform of this citizen network follows is based on trusteeship, rather than the status quo of private ownership and national sovereignty.

We need an open-source global politics in action that will bring a sense of self-governance in the nations of the Earth that is sustainable.

It is the kind of self-governance that many local communities already practice in the management of their commons.

More fundamental than political agreement is unity.

This unity is what the commons brings us, the advancement of Oneness between all citizens of the planet, self-governance based on unity, a unity based on our collective intentions to create a sustainable community on this planet.

It’s time for a global conversation on the norms, rights and duties of every citizen for global common goods: the shared resources that must be organized by the world’s people themselves.

The global political commons is possible if it follows the path of self-governance and trusteeship.

The commons is the new economics of replenishment.

The commons must be created and sustained for the benefit of everyone in society.

Now is the time to manifest plenty in our world, to manifest the processes needed to ensure that it is used wisely and sustainably, so that everyone will get their needs met today, tomorrow and hundreds of years into the future.