The privatization of public institutions took a turn for the grotesque this week when the Philadelphia School District announced plans to sell naming rights to a new model high school that will open in September 2006. The school system hopes to sell the naming rights for $5 million, to be supplemented by other naming “opportunities” for individual classrooms (at about $25,000 each), as well as the auditorium and other portions of the school. The high-tech prototype school in West Philadelphia is being developed in cooperation with Microsoft Corporation.
For those who questioned the sincerity of the Bush Administration in its professed desire to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, the administration offers more proof: Order 81. This order, one of 100 left behind by Paul Bremer, former head of the occupation authority in Iraq, practically requires small farmers in Iraq to buy seeds from multinational corporations such as Monsanto.
Gunnar Myrdal, the late Swedish economist, once noted the strange tendency of his profession to barricade itself against human reality. In true sciences, such as biochemistry and physics, hypotheses are tested and disproven all the time. In the pseudo-science of economics, by contrast, “all doctrines persist.”
The re-election of George W. Bush makes it abundantly clear that a fierce new round of pillage and plunder is about to begin. Over the next four years, market enclosure will be taken to new extremes — oil-drilling in the Arctic wilderness, more privatization of government drug research, giveaways of the broadcast airwaves, the shrinking of the public domain, among many others.
Students of the commons would do well to study the design principles and ethics of Craigslist.com, one of the most popular online commons today. Craig has been getting a lot of press lately. Two good pieces include an October 23, 2004, article in the Washington Post, and an interview in (of all places!) the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine, which is not available online.
The new frontier for the commercialization of childhood and public life? Our local high schools. As Bill Pennington of the New York Times describes (October 18, 2004) how budget-squeezed school districts around the country are looking to advertisers for some “free” money.
It may be a sign of the rising disgust at hyper-commercialism that the New York Times Sunday Magazine on August 22 devoted three pages to the hilarious yet serious antics of actor/performance artist Reverend Billy, the self-styled spiritual leader of the Church of Stop Shopping.
Amid all the tributes to Julia Child upon her death, this snippet from one by Alex Prud’homme caught my eye because it shed light on the unacknowledged social life of market transactions. When shopping for food, Child realized that her interest in the seller and his product profoundly affected the quality of what she could buy. On the Sunday, August 22d op-ed page of the New York Times, Prud’homme writes:
Here is further evidence suggesting that the “open content” revolution is gaining momentum.
First, the British Broadcasting Corporation has announced that it will make thousands of audio and video clips of nature programming available for viewing, sharing and editing for free, so long as their use is noncommercial.
It’s been a truism for decades that only strong patents can give drug companies sufficient incentive to take on the long, risky work of developing new drugs. But now this truism about drug R&D is being shattered — by the realities of what strong intellectual property rights in trade agreements are actually delivering (not much) as well as by their morally repugnant results.
Space is apparently the “final frontier” for the free market. If most of us look up at the heavens in wonder, a scheming corps of entrepreneurs are apparently seeing space and celestial bodies (planets, asteroids, solar energy) for their raw market value…especially now that a private rocket has been successfully launched.
I’ve always believed that one of the biggest challenges facing the commons movement is showing how to “see” isolated phenomena in new ways. Now comes an excellent new report that does just that for the “information commons.”
Every year, manufacturers of HIV drugs take in nearly as much as they spent developing those drugs, total. That’s every year. Their profit rate is over 50%, and for this we taxpayers can take a bow. The market for the drugs is subsidized, as it should be. Insurance pays — which means the rest of us pay, whether as ratepayers to insurance companies or taxpayers to the federal government.
A new report by the Environmental Working Group has documented the shocking fact that 20 percent of the mineral wealth of the American West is owned by foreigners. The report, “Who Owns the West,” found that “ninety-four foreign-owned corporations from ten countries have collectively gained control of metals beneath one of every five acres of claimed lands in the United States, an estimated 1.2 million acres of public land altogether.”
Do local communities really have a meaningful role to play on environmental problems when multinational corporations and federal regulators seem to be so much more consequential? This question has always gnawed at me. It was a real delight, therefore, for me to learn about a fascinating new idea for empowering communities to take action: the “community ecosystem trust.”
My wife grew up in what western experts call, not without condescension, a “developing” country. The social life of her village revolved largely around a tree. People gathered there in the evening to visit, tell stories, just pass the time. Some of my wife’s warmest childhood memories are of playing hide and seek late into the evening while the parents chatted under the tree — or on a neighbor’s porch, which was another version of the same thing.