Skip directly to content

Out of the rubble of the failed financial system

on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 23:33

The emergence of a commons-based economy seminar series

Out of the rubble of the failed financial system, economic recession, overconsumption and continuing environmental degradation the commons approach represents a coherent alternative model for a system based on social justice and environmental sustainability.

The concept is used to describe the space between the public and private in society. Commons can be located on a global, local or virtual level and can be described as shared gifts which aim to be as inclusive as possible and ensure as open access as possible. The commons can be natural resources (such as oceans, atmosphere, forests, indigenous land, fish stocks); social resources (values, culture, support networks), intellectual resources (open source programming, information) and many other types. They can also include public goods (public healthcare, education, water delivery systems, parks, etc.).

A commons based approach recognises the importance of these shared common resources for societies as a whole and for individuals in particular and seeks to develop practical mechanisms for their application, use and preservation. It also takes a future generation view and recognises the need to maintain and preserve their existence, rather then exploit them to the full at any given moment in time. It diverges from the “rational individual self-interest maximising” approach and demonstrates the potential for co-operative action.

In practice and in theory the commons have been an integral part of development of modern-day societies. Some specific examples of commons include the following.

·      The right to roam still found across the English countryside is a remnant of the past before the beginning of private property and enclosure of public spaces; it allows for a pathway open to the public passing through private property;

·      Indigenous cultures across South America and Africa still have social structures and mechanisms based on common resources and land ownership;

·      Ancient and modern day metropolises have brought people and cultures from all corners of the lands and world and through this mixture have been conducive to the creation and spread of new ideas, fashion, music, dance, literature, infrastructure, etc.;

·      The human genome is an example of so-called life commons;

·      The multitude, is an emerging concept seen by many as the unity of peoples who oppose the merging of corporate and state interests on a global level;

·      The Creative Commons (CC) certification acknowledges intellectual ownership but allows for the sharing for non-commercial purposes of the product;

·      The Pirate Party, founded in Sweden centred on values such as freedom of information and sharing of knowledge. In the European Parliament election of 2009 the Swedish Pirate Party received 7.1% of the votes, winning two seats and achieving the first major success in an election. The German Pirate Party managed to win 8.9% of the votes in the Berlin state election in 2011;

·      Wikipedia with its global community of contributors also represents a new way in which common knowledge is created, shared and made accessible.

·      Among the most prominent in the wider public domain is the work of Elinor Ostrom who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 for her work on mechanisms for managing common resources such as fisheries in the US, pasture by locals in Africa and irrigation systems in villages in Nepal.

To explore this approach and the Emergence of a Commons-based economy, professor James Quilligan, a leading commons economist, is holding a 12-seminar series in London between 7 and 18 May 2012. In addition to his vast theoretical knowledge and facilitation of these seminars James Quilligan also brings his practical experience in actual design and organisation of commons.

The series will begin with an opening session on Commons in the House of Commons on 8 May entitled: Political Economy and the Inclusive Commons hosted by Michael Meacher, MP. The session examines how the aggregation of the social good and the radical atomism of individual rights have both eroded the meaning of citizenship and communities. It describes the commons as a third sector that can create a more beneficial balance in society, bringing people a new form of political power.

The following seminars will explore the understanding of the commons from various related perspectives. They will cover the commons in finance, civil society and social movements, political participation, economic transition and others. Each of the seminars is organised with a partner organisation (which include Finance Innovation Lab, Westminster Hub, St. James PiccadillyInstitute for Public Policy ResearchNew Economics Foundation, Civil Society Forum and others).

The seminar series is jointly organised by the School of Commoning and the Christian Council of Monetary Justice. The programme and more information on the topics, partners and participation can be found here.

The aim of the series is that the seminars bring value on multiple levels including the individual participant, the organisations hosting and the larger social system. They will form the basis for the creation of successful prototypes, which can inspire further interest, research and application of the commons ideas and principles.

The output of the seminars will provide the material for an online toolkit comprised of a film, an e-book and a knowledge map. It will be part of the resources offered by the Convergence for a Commons-Based Economy to be launched at the closure of the seminar series on the 18th May and financed through a crowd funding campaign. More details are available on the programme’s crowd funding site (here).