A group of residents in Stroud are working on the creation of an economy – a commons economy – that will allow them to: divorce themselves from the concept of debt; take control of resources (including: housing, energy, food, and land) and allow them to be owned in common with the community; and provide resources needed by local people at an affordable rate. This group is called Stroud Commons, and they are, simply put, rejecting the rugged individualistic tendency of capitalism, a brave and forward thinking plan, to be sure. On January 9th, Dave Darby and Amrit Sachar from Stroud Commons, and Dil Green from Mutual Credit Services, will be coming to BRLSI to expound their radical new vision for the future of their community in Gloucestershire, but before this status quo challenging event, it’s important to delve into the history of the commons to determine: where the term comes from, and what exactly it means.
The simple definition of the commons is that they are common spaces or resources which are managed within a community and without the influence of a private owner or state. Its chief goal is to meet the needs of all the members of that community whilst also being maintained by that community. An example: there is a well in the centre of a village. The well could very easily be misused and fall into disrepair without proper maintenance or care; the bricks which comprise the well could come loose, and fall in making it useless, or a lack of cleaning could cause the water to become contaminated. If the well was commoned, or became part of a community’s commons, then the well’s state would be maintained and it would be kept in an ideal condition, ultimately benefiting all the members of the community.
This optimistic vision for humanity working in a cohesive and mutually beneficial fashion is in large part associated with Lin Ostrom, the Nobel Prize winning economist, whose work on the concept of the commons was born out of a rejection of the soberingly pessimistic view taken by ecologist Garrett Hardin in his seminal essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, which is also the first prominent use of the word ‘commons’, in conjunction with this concept, in the English language. Hardin believed that the ‘tragedy of the commons’ was that self-interested individual exploitation of shared space at the expense of a large number of others was the typical result of having commons. He posited that if there were a field for all to use: the field would be overused to the point of ruin by people, and their livestock, seeking to maximise personal gain. To return to the well example, it would be like taking an excessive amount of water from the well during a time of drought for yourself and your family, an action which would put the lives of other people in your village in jeopardy.
Hardin believed that people could not manage themselves and their relationship with land and resources; rather, an external authority was needed for resource management. Ostrom agreed with the idea that there are commons, but disagreed with the notion that people can’t manage their relationship with the earth in a sustainable way (not least because the external authority was composed of people too!) Based on her extensive research, she believed that people can create, and in many cases have created, rules for shared resources, and that a preferable solution would be to have smaller community groups managing their commons, and occasionally working in tandem with the government of the larger state. It would in theory be a complex web, but according to Ostrom: a complex, multi-faceted problem needs a complex, multi-faceted solution (not verbatim).
The concept of the commons is endlessly fascinating, and consistently hotly debated, and Tuesday’s discussion will undoubtedly inspire forward looking thought. Do you agree that this could be a solution to our collective problems, or do you see major pitfalls in this plan? Come down to BRLSI and share your opinion!
by Jack Gay
Building the Commons Tues 9th January 7:30pm-9.00pm: