It is a commonplace that sometimes you need to leave your country in order to find it. This Election Day found me in Graz, Austria, where I am attending the Elevate Festival, an annual four-day gathering that brings together cutting-edge indie music with a forum on political culture. This year’s theme is the commons.
It’s morning in America!
Serious students of American political history might scowl at that assessment of Barack Obama’s victory last night. Those words are Ronald Reagan’s—who invoked them to great success in describing his sunny vision of how the free market would improve everyone’s lives.
A few weeks ago my 13-year old son excitedly showed me the new accessory he got for this bike. It’s a picture of Barack Obama with the word “believe,” designed to stick in the spokes. Cool!
Creative Commons license, nc, by Larimdame from Flickr
With John McCain’s screeching all over the campaign trail about Barack Obama’s supposed plans to “spread the wealth,” On the Commons Fellow Chuck Collins started thinking about what has actually happened to our economy over recent years.
“After three decades of ‘concentrate the wealth,’ we could really use some ‘spreading the wealth,” he writes on the website of the progressive Christian magazine, Sojourners.
For decades, the public domain was essentially ignored in legal circles. The first significant law review article on the topic did not appear until 1981, and scholarship on the importance of the public domain did not really take off until the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was exploding.
The commons is an unfamiliar concept to most Americans, and one not likely to become a campaign issue in the closing week of the election. But it’s an underlying current of the presidential race that helps define the sharp differences between Republican and Democratic tickets this year.
OTC Fellow Jonathan Rowe talks with the Pacific Sun, the Marin County newspaper, about the erroneous ways that economists measure growth and progress – and the consequences for the rest of us. In the question-and-answer exchange with Don Speich, Rowe explains how “the economy” has become an enormous, media-inflated abstraction that celebrates all expenditures of money simply because they add to the Gross Domestic Product.
Another excellent film about the privatization of water and the brave efforts to fight it — Flow: For Love of Water — is opening in theaters around the U.S. The documentary, directed by Irena Salina, interviews scientists and activists around the world about the growing global water crisis. While most people expect that clean water will always be there by turning on the tap, in fact supplies of fresh water are disappearing or being privatized by a global water cartel.
A commons-based solution to global warming is picking up steam. The Washington Post in an editorial just endorsed the Cap-and-Dividend approach to climate change.
The Obama campaign has also endorsed the concept, which it calls Cap-and-Rebate. The Post calls it Cap-and-Return.
As Hollywood studios and record labels watch a whole new online “sharing economy” arise – in which ordinary people create and share things online without having to buy “product” – Big Media is coming to a dismaying realization: the people formerly known as the audience are morphing into a participatory network. And this new social form is beating the hell out of an already-tattered business model.
Tom and Kitty Stoner accidentally learned the power of community gardens as a place apart in London when they happened upon a small, quiet patch of green near Hyde Park. Impressed by the sense of serenity in the noisy, threatening urban landscape, they started a foundation to help create more than 120 public places in Maryland and neighboring states. They have spent more than $7 million to date creating sacred havens in mostly poor sections of cities such as Baltimore.
Have you wondered why the presidential debates don’t present any serious ideas or encourage any substantive exchanges about policy and political philosophy? Have you noticed that the events resemble a whirring jukebox of familiar sound bites – a highly produced, tightly scripted affair with with no surprises and little passion?
In 2002, attorney Greg Wrenn started a youth group call “Youthscouts” because he wanted his daughter to participate in an organization, unlike the Boy Scouts, that does not discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. But despite countless uses of the word “scouts” before Boy Scouts of America was formed in 1910, and the existence in following years of the American Boy Scouts, the New England Boy Scouts, and the Lone Scouts of America, the Boy Scouts of America is now suing Youthscouts for violating its alleged trademark in the word “Scouts.”
On the Commons seeks your help.
We are preparing a book, The Field Guide to the Commons, and we’d love your recommendations of what should appear in this book—from your own work and that of other people you know who are engaged in the subject. This could include anything from a blog entry you think captures some essential point about the commons to a meticulously thought-out manifesto or artwork.
The following was sent to On the Commons from Students for Free Culture, Berkeley chapter. Their manifesto says it all. “We believe that culture should be a two-way affair, about participation, not merely consumption. We will not be content to sit passively at the end of a one-way media tube…”
In the mid-1990s, my colleague Jonathan Rowe co-authored a major piece in The Atlantic about the gross deficiencies of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a way to measure national well-being and progress. The essential point was that our nation’s obsession with economic growth as an end in itself was (and is) trampling on all sorts of other forms of wealth that we must also nurture. We need stable families and communities as much as economic growth — and sometimes the two are in direct conflict.
From my reading of history, medical care was once a more intimate and ethical endeavor, a calling that involved a respectful communion between doctor and patient. However, in recent decades, at least in the United States, it is clear that medical care has become a technology-driven market transaction. Doctors who were once skilled at seeing illness in the context of the “whole person” are more likely, in today’s environment, to know how to rush patients through 15-minute assembly-line appointments and game the insurance/Medicare system with the right billing codes.
Imagine the public confusion that would result if your city government changed the names of major landmarks every few years at the behest of some corporation. Main Street could become Home Depot Avenue, and then a few years later, Budweiser Boulevard. This is roughly the scenario now playing out with sports arenas as companies are engulfed by scandal, acquired by other corporations and mismanaged into bankruptcy.
When irresistible political fantasies collide with inexorable economic realities, the result is…..abject confusion.
Who owns the water? While oceans, rivers and other surface waters have been recognized as part of the commons going back to the Magna Carta—and beyond that to the Roman Empire, when the public trust doctrine was articulated to ensure people’s right to use seashores—the issue of groundwater has been less crystal clear. In many cases, it’s assumed that landowners are guaranteed rights to all water below the surface of their property.