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May 4, 2013

Why Should We Care About the Commons Now?

Yes, it’s history. And also our best hope for the future

Both the idea and the reality of the commons have been declining since at least the 18th century. Why now, at the beginning of the 21st century, should we struggle to revive them? What purpose do they serve in a modern, urban society?

The simple answer is that we have to.

Despite the many benefits it brings us, the market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—stop depleting the commons that sustain it.

To put it another way, we’ve been living off a fat commons bank account for centuries and now it’s running low. We must start making some deposits so we’ll have something for tomorrow.

In the beginning, the Americas were a vast commons. The original inhabitants lived in harmony with nature and other species. For the most part, they took what they needed and left the rest alone.

Then European settlers came. They filled North and South America with cities, farms, factories, highways and shopping malls — more stuff that drew more resources from the Earth than ever before. These settlers founded great multicultural nations. But as they did so, they turned forests into charcoal and plywood, wetlands into row crops and parking lots, the atmosphere into a dump.

If our old Manifest Destiny was to carve up the commons, our new task is to rebuild it. We must do this to protect the planet, enhance our quality of life, reduce inequality and leave a better world for our children.

From Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons , Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA. All rights reserved. www.bkconnection.com