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[Nice linky goodness from alert reader Ellen F on the commons. --lambert]

[Stickying this, too. I want to nail the whole project, the whole architecture, so I (and I hope others!) can start posting on individual planks or points before we get too far into the campaign season. --lambert]

The third leg of the triad is Values. We've got the 12 Plank [Point] Platform, the X-Point Structural Thingummies, and now Values. I suggest there's one:

1. Preserve and Expand The Commons.

I've tried to embody everything else -- justice and social justice, say -- into policies that bring concrete material benefits, or implementations that cut across policies. So here we have basically the Ninth Amendment, that covers any left over policies or implementation details -- or forces alterations in policies and implementations after contact with real electorates.


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Submitted by marym on

Preserving and Expanding the Commons is a value that clearly underlies specific planks in the 12-Point Platform (Medicare for All, Post Office Bank,clean food). It also seems to me (though I can’t articulate it very well) that it’s the basis for an actual alternative vision in terms of community, society, democratic governance, co-operation, etc.; in contrast to increasingly bizarre manifestations of the John Galt, bootstraps, competition, exceptionalism, etc. narrative – the results of which (privatization, transfer, rent extraction) can also be called “theft of the commons.”

So, yeah, it’s my favorite phrase right now. Thanks for including it as an element in what you’re building here.

Submitted by lambert on

... who seems to be articulating, as a Nobelist, what I am grouping toward. Alperowitz and Ostrum aren't bad sources for ideas....

Rangoon78's picture
Submitted by Rangoon78 on

The Tragedy of Enclosure
By George Monbiot. Published in Scientific American, January 1994

During the long dry seasons in the far north west of Kenya, the people of the Turkwel River keep themselves alive by feeding their goats on the pods of the acacia trees growing on its banks. Every clump of trees is controlled by a committee of elders, who decide who should be allowed to use them and for how long.

Anyone coming into the area who wants to feed his goats on the pods has to negotiate with the elders. Depending on the size of the pod crop, they will allow him in or tell him to move on. If anyone overexploits the pods or tries to browse his animals without negotiating with the elders first he will be driven off with sticks: if he does it repeatedly he may be killed. The acacia woods are a common: a resource owned by many families. Like all the commons of the Turkana people, they are controlled with fierce determination.

Submitted by lambert on

Basically, what we have here is a claim (by me) that value #1 is a successful fallback position in all policy arguments not covered by explicit planks or processes. That is, we can always say "But _____ would mean we're not protecting|expanding the commons," and have an outcome we can live with (meant pretty literally, in worst case scenario.

We also have a secondary claim (by me) to have successfully made implicit a set of left policy values in the the planks or processes, such that we don't need to make them explicit; the planks/processes are the operational definition of those values. That's why there's no value for justice or equality, for example. On justice, one of the most horrible examples of injustice is mass incarceration of black makes over drugs. But we do have "End the wars," and in expansion of that point, it becomes clear that means all the wars, domestic and foreign, and the militarization of the police force.

I like that because the temperature is so low. It's discussable.

The other component that might be thought to be missing is what I'd bundle together under the tendentious label "identity politics" because I think the combination of analytical tools and "progressive" institutions supporting that brand of "progresssive" politics is utterly toxic.* For example, there's no plank that says anything about ending abuse of women by men in relations they feel they can't get out of. But there is a plank that says anyone who wants a job can have one, so she can leave her situation and get work. And there is a Post Office bank plank, so she can set up her own bank account without havin to rely on anybody else. And more like that.

Anyhow, if this one value does the job, that's a remarkable result. As you see, again, it's also critical important to get this part right, because in discussion, the values are the fallback position. In 10 years or less we want people saying "because commons" exactly (well, hopefully more thoughtfully) than they are saying "because markets" today.

NOTE * Note again the platform is explicitly reformist. In the same way that it doesn't claim to abolish capitalism, it doesn't claim to abolish patriarchy. No telling what would happen next with a lot of co-ops and a shift in pragmatics for "Am I better off with him or without him" though.

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Submitted by Cujo359 on

We also have a secondary claim (by me) to have successfully made implicit a set of left policy values in the the planks or processes

My problem with that thinking is, how do you know what you want if you don't know who you are? * In engineering, you start with your goals, then create a specification (platform) that addresses them. Then you come up with a design ("infrastructure"). Here, it's almost like we're trying to justify a platform after we've made it. What's being asked here sounds a lot like a "who are you (or we)?" kind of question.

That said, I don't know if I could tell you who we are, as in what we really hope for in our futures, and what moral or ethical principles we employ in our lives and our political outlook. I think I know what mine are, but are they anyone else's?

Plus, does why we want the things in that platform matter? I might want it for different reasons than you do. That doesn't mean either of us is wrong or misguided to want them. Just means we're acting like a political coalition.

* Anyone else here Babylon 5 fans? Lots of wisdom there, not to mention a preview of the last twelve years.

Submitted by lambert on

I think the 12-Plank platform has broad appeal. Heck, the Post Office Bank is heading toward the mainstream!

So, I think the answer to who "we" are is:

1) We are the people who believe these things (which is subtler than it sounds at first) and

2) We are 80%+ of the American people.....

At least we hope things turn out that way. Because they had better!

Probably a shorter answer than you deserve, but I'll read before revising.

Submitted by flora on

Your item "1. Preserve and Expand The Commons."

Cujo's engineering approach to examining this statement seems sound.

I would ask - although it will show how dense I am - what do you mean by "The Commons"? 1. What list of things - not all but at least some - would you include in the The Commons?
2. Then, what is it all those things have in common in relationship to citizenship, the economy, the future prospects of America and Americans, of the ability of Americans to "pull themselves up by bootstraps" and keep America a "land of opportunity for all" and "The American Dream" ? Those are cherished American ideals however well (or not) they've ever existed.
3. What does that list say especially about being Americans and what we hold true for ourselves. What are the - forgive me - philosophical underpinnings of all the things in The Commons. Follow it back to a sort of first principles so that it becomes not a list of things but a list of principles to which things outside it relate.

So, for example, my list (and everyone probably has their own list, different from mine), my list of Commons would include public schools with adequate financing and public libraries. Jefferson said an educated citizenry is necessary for a democracy, education is necessary to engage fully as a citizen with the issues of the day, and for an individual's future prospects. But why not charter schools? Because charter schools take tax dollars from the public schools and public education, undermining a key element of democracy - that of fully engaging all citizens in the national questions of the day - and of American children to have an equal chance to rise according to ability, and eventually decreases the general wealth of the country by undermining intellectual development that would lead to new ideas and inventions and future prosperity. Taking money out of public schools starts to foreclose all that.
This is a limited example to demonstrate the idea of going from a listed item in The Commons to an underlying principle or principles. (democracy, equal opportunity, broadly shared prosperity)

My remark is both too long and too vague but I hope you get the gist the question:
"What do you mean by The Commons"?

Submitted by flora on

"The Commons" - are they (the idea of them at least) part of America's founding principles listed in the Preamble to the Constitution ?

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Submitted by lambert on

I think they may be a subset, but I am not sure they are identical.

Tomorrow -- and this answers your other question as well -- I have to read some Elinor Ostrum. I can't believe that I haven't already. Incredible ideas.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I've already said that I think that the concept and definition of commons is a policy issue. The argument that it's a values issue springs from corrupt or inappropriate privatizations. We would not want to expand the commons in the area of religion -- putting religion in the private sphere was one of the good things the American founders did.

A core function of government is to administer distribution of and access to resources. What should be patented; that is, what ideas should be defined as private property, so that access to the patented design is restricted by government to the owner of the patent? Drugs? Genetically engineered organisms? Natural organisms first registered in an office in Washington D.C. How long should this right of private property be enforced? One of the very destructive strains of legislation over the past half-century has been the kudzu-like growth of so-called intellectual property.

One of the major goals of the TPP is the extension of American intellectual property laws into other countries, so that India would have to pay American monopoly prices for drugs easily manufactured and needed by its people. The specific negotiations of American foreign policy seem to me more about policy than values.

How to state the value? Things that contribute to the general welfare should not be made artificially scarce by government action. How to state the policy? My best shot was to talk about the commons, because that's what's been specifically attacked by conservatives (the "tragedy of the commons" fake myth).

It's about what counts as property, and that seems to me a policy issue.

Submitted by lambert on

... they are about things that are scarce ("common pool resources") like air or water.

Religion isn't, so the commons can't be extended to them.

I don't think it's programmatic enough to be a policy; it's at a level of abstraction (say) above the Fed's dual mandate. The concrete material benefits for planks need to be easy to state and see (and may be a reason to revise Planks that we have, or move them).

"Don't piss all over the fucking planet, you morons. Other people have to use it!" I think that's a values statement.

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Submitted by nihil obstet on

The term is now widely used to denote cultural and intellectual goods, such as items in the public domain. I've seen it used to refer to public goods, like public schools and libraries. If it's reserved for naturally occurring finite material goods, then I'd still argue for a plank along the lines of "No monopolies" or the related issue of "Corporate accountability."

Submitted by lambert on

... between corporations and co-ops might be even more effective in limiting their powers.

That said, I'm guessing that co-ops will be less rapacious than corporations. However, I don't actually know.

Ellen F's picture
Submitted by Ellen F on

The commons is an old concept that has been all but lost here in the US. Commons is a word with several definitions. The three key elements involve a shared resource (material or immaterial, a gift of nature or human-made, rival or non-rival, exclusive or non-exclusive), a community who shares the resource, and the governance practices they use to manage the resource. If it’s a true commons, governance is always democratic. Elinor Ostrom discovered that there are countless forms of governance depending on a wide variety of elements but there are eight design principles that are found in successfully managed commons:

There’s three types of property: private, public (state-owned) and common. We frequently call public property commons (i.e. parks, airwaves, public lands) because the state has been trusted to protect our shared property. Instead the state has been colluding in the greatest theft in history. These days I call this unholy marriage the market state.

Reclaiming and expanding the commons has the potential to be the paradigm shift that can make the old model obsolete. But it’s not a panacea. Commons need to be governed well and democratically. But we better do it sooner than later, before all our shared resources are gobbled up by the privatizers.

You might find these links helpful:

Definitions about the commons from a variety of perspectives:

Published in 2012, this book features 70+ short essays on the commons. It’s available free to download.

The Commons and Economics conference was held last year in Berlin. There are some fabulous talks available on the front page of the site.

Check out David Bollier’s blog for current commons happenings:

There is an inspiring movement to declare and govern the Great Lakes as a commons which involves pubic trust doctrine, a social contract and deep engagement by the people who live there.

I fully support adding “restore and expand the commons” to the list!

Submitted by flora on

I like Ellen's structural definition of Commons. A public school can be seen as a commonly shared man-made resource that serves a community and is controlled by the community in a democratic (hopefully!) way thru the school board. Libraries, too.

Submitted by jcasey on

Ellen, thanks for a great list of links. One of the key insights that Nobel Prize winner Ostrom demonstrated was that "commoning" was not NOT just an idealistic, "blue sky" aspiration. It is, and has been, successfully implemented in thousands of instances (which she documented). For those interested, here's a link to the online mag, On the Commons.

Commoning combines some of the best aspect of anarchist thought with some principles for creating systems that actually work, "on the ground", for sharing resources in a democratic fashion.

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Submitted by Rangoon78 on

The history of the commons in England is quite fascinating to me. The question of what exactly are the commons today is an important discussion. I offer this as historical perspective:

"The power of property was brought into creation by the sword", so wrote Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) – Christian Communist, leader of the Diggers movement and bête noire of the landed aristocracy. Despite being one of the great English radicals, Winstanley remains unmentioned in today's lists of "great Britons".

-Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger's Life and Legacy (Revolutionary Lives)

For Winstanley, enclosure was like the Egyptian bondage, dishonouring both Mother Earth by preventing her from feeding all her children, and the Father, "the spirit of community." Likewise, the nine Diggers of Wellinborough in Northam ptonshire argued: "we consider that the Earth is our Mother.....and that the common and waste Grounds belong to the poor." A 17th century Roxburghe Ballad notes the pretence that enclosures are for the common good, when they are really for private gain and "hurt a whole Countrey."

From the review of Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger's Life and Legacy (Revolutionary Lives)

As part of the radical ferment which swept England at the time of the civil war, Winstanley led the Diggers in taking over land and running it as "a common treasury for all" – provoking violent opposition from landowners.

Gerrard Winstanley is a must read for students of English history and all those seeking to re-claim the commons today.

Submitted by lambert on

1) Does "Preserve and Expand The Commons" strike you as a value, or a policy? My litmus test for a policy is "concrete material benefits," so I would tend to see an implementation along the lines of Ostrum's 8 design principles as a policy. OTOH, I may be simply be sloppily sentimentalizing the commons.

2) Is the p2pfoundation active?

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Submitted by Yeoman on

Government is a commons.

I've been reading Thomas Hobbs. He says we start with "a condition of war of every one against every one". When we form a government, we give up some of this liberty, aka a condition of war, in exchange for some damn peace. It's a fabulous deal, one in which we don't have to worry about someone stealing our stuff, etc., and can turn to more enriching activities.

That thing we created is a commons, and Ostrum's 8 rules for managing same seem to fit the governing commons to a T.

You asked if "Preserve and Expand The Commons" was a value or policy. I'd say it is inherent and therefore a value. But if you were going to have one value, and one only, it would have to be the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Again, even that more closely sums up the intention of the founders of our government than the current Libertarian thought that fails to put The Individual into a context, a society, a commons and only succeeds by that omission.

Government IS our commons. We've forgotten because it's so far away from functioning under Ostrums 8 rules.

That's my quick take. I just wanted to say hi, thanks for the kudos on the sotu, and I probably won't be able to spend much time here for awhile, but I will try to get caught up with your platform building.

Ellen F's picture
Submitted by Ellen F on

Lambert, I can make a case for both value and policy. I need a little more info about the platform which will help me see how you're using the terms. Can you provide a link to the current policies and values?

The p2p foundation is very much alive and well. Michel Bauwens is doing extraordinary things. He's currently in Ecuador serving as the lead researcher for the FLOK Society (Free/Libre Open Knowledge). Ecuador is on track to becoming the first commons-based society on the planet. Very cutting edge stuff.

Submitted by lambert on

.... "The third leg of the triad is Values."

If it's both, then the question is whether we've embodied the values in Planks/Structural changes -- or in bullet points we put under them for explanation, expansion. If not, we might need to change those planks/points.

So that's the first question, and the second is: How would you express as a value.

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Submitted by psychohistorian on

I would encourage all to read Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism by David McNally. In it he describes the historic devolution of the commons in Europe as the proletariat/Vampires of the day started "fencing off" their private property.....until the commons were gone.

To me the commons cannot be defined without working out the whole private ownership of "property" thing...and especially the ongoing accumulation of such. I understand it is a hard nut to crack but the world is now a small place and it is impossible for the propertarians to be all somewhere and us Commons folk somewhere else.

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Submitted by psychohistorian on

Ok, I will try to be additive rather than just saying what I see as problems.

How about "Preserve and expand public commons by limiting ongoing inheritance"

I certainly would like to hear from each aspiring Congresscritter what they think about the implication of our existing federal/local rules about ongoing inheritance and changes they think should be made to those rules, if any.

Submitted by lambert on

... "Confiscatory inheritance taxes" as a bullet point under "Steeply progressive taxation".