I’m all for the American people getting a fair return on any public assets that private businesses use to turn a profit. But what’s the deal with the new Interior Department regulations that require wildlife photographers and documentary filmmakers to pay a “location fee” in order to shoot inside national parks?
Social scientists trying to deduce the theoretical principles of commons are starting to get some mainstream attention. The latest comes from an article in Science magazine (April 7, 2006), “Cooperation, Punishment and the Evolution of Human Institutions,” by Joseph Henrich, which merited an 18-inch news story in The New York Times on the same day. The Science article reports on a German experiment in game theory that essentially concludes that a functioning commons not only needs cooperation among its members.
The advertising industry is constantly prowling the social landscape in search of new points of entry to our consciousness. Once it finds a fresh opening – blam! – a new form of niche advertising is thrust into our daily lives, whether we like it or not: video ads in elevators, posters above urinals, product placement in novels, ads in subway tunnels, pseudo-tourists who stage social encounters in order to shill products.
“The seeds of poverty for men may lie in the exclusion of women.”
Author: David Bollier
Teaser: If the Democratic Party is serious about fighting for “the common good,” it should get serious about the commons.
Corporations are a lot like politicians. Often they start with a good idea, or at least an idea, in the form of something to sell.. If that thing is a success the corporation becomes bigger. Soon the career – which in the corporation’s case means growth – overwhelms the good idea that started it. Wall Street clamors. Executives seek to justify their outlandish pay. The result is a grim battle to grab more, and then more, without end.
Once again the question: who would bother to develop a technology for which they didn’t hold a patent monopoly? And once again the answer: lots of people. Today’s case in point is bamboo scaffolds.
Markets are often incredibly efficient, at least in terms of stimulating the production and consumption of goods and services. Most of us own more than we want or need. We have closets stuffed with clothes we never have time to wear, garages and attics filled with things we bought but don’t have any real use for. We eat too much.
Most of us are familiar with the Magna Carta as the first document to limit the authority of kings and declare the rule of law and the rights of the governed. But Peter Linebaugh, an historian at the University of Toledo, offers a more provocative view in an essay, “ The Secret History of the Magna Carta” ( Boston Review , Summer 2003). As originally declared in 1215, the Magna Carta may have validated “freedom under law,” as lawyers like to crow.
Commons principles are popping up in the most unlikely places these days. A few days ago, IBM (!) announced the Community Patent Project, an innovative effort that plans to use online networking to establish an online peer review process for patents before they are granted.
It is fascinating to watch mainstream press coverage of Bolivian president Evo Morales and his plans to reclaim his country’s natural resources for Bolivians. None of the press regards this as a victory. Instead, nearly all coverage assumes the skeptical and fearful perspective of foreign investors, who consider themselves the rightful beneficiaries of Bolivia’s natural wealth. “Dammit!” goes the subtext. “Now we won’t be able to earn the same sorts of massive profits that we did before.”
If anything is going to jolt our political culture out of its deep and muddy ruts, it will be artists with wit, vision and humanity. I recently stumbled across a great example, a poster by Dan Thibodeau called “Markettheism: One World, One God.” The 24- by 36-inch poster skillfully riffs off of religious iconography to show how our fealty to The Market is essentially religious in nature.
Last friday the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) concluded five days of tense discussions on proposals for a treaty giving new intellectual property rights for broadcasting/cablecasting and webcasting organizations.
We were in the sitting area of my in-laws’ home in La Castellana, a municipality in sugar cane country on the island of Negros. The television was on, as it always seemed to be; and my son, who is three, was playing with two small trucks we had bought for him in Iloilo. A group of kids appeared at the door to see these strange visitors from the place faraway, and the little boy who, though distantly related to them, did not look much like themselves.
With the rallying cry of “accountability” and “self-sustaining,” many university administrators are seeking to convert hot research departments into cash cows. But do such plans really serve the interests of academia and the public? Or are they merely liquidating the value-creating capacities of robust research communities? The headline on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal (May 4) sums it up: “Once Collegial, Research Schools Now Mean Business.”
When bottled water is placed next to Coca-Cola and other sugar-laden soft drinks, it seems a positive alternative, or at least benign. But take a closer look at the process by which that small unit of ordinary water has been acquired, packaged and marketed to you – for $1.50 a bottle, say – and you begin to see how bottled water is often a deep offense against the commons.
One morning in my freshman or sophomore year, I went for a swim at the old Indoor Athletic Building. The cavernous pool was nearly empty, but in the shower afterward, I became aware of a presence to my left. I looked around. My eyes went up. And there, in the buff, craggy and dour as if he had been pondering the conventional wisdom in his study, was John Kenneth Galbraith, all six feet eight inches of him.
If there is a test case for the proposition that corporate property regimes lead to the improvement of a commons, then it is food. More specifically, it is the traditional foods of a particular culture. No one owns these. Here in the Philippines, no one owns the idea of pansit, which is a kind of noodle dish, or of skewered chicken, or of shucked corn roasted on a street corner. These are part of a food culture; and according to our leading economic lights, they should therefore stagnate into a culinary puddle of lassitude and waste.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of New London, Connecticut, could use the power of eminent domain to take people’s homes and give them to a private developer. The idea was that the resulting economic development would serve the public interest. At the time, a friend sardonically asked me if that meant that eminent domain could be used to seize a Wal-Mart and turn it into a park. Ha, ha.
It’s sometimes hard to see and understand how the knowledge commons is being privatized and locked up. In the past week, I’ve identified at least three major fronts in which industry groups are actively trying to assert proprietary control over information or infrastructure that belongs to all of us. The most intense and consequential struggle is over net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers act as common carriers.