Commons-Based Multilateralism

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James Quilligan:

"In transcending the polarized relationship between business and government, this commons movement is emerging as a potent counterforce to state capitalism. It represents a consciously organized third sector, including citizens as co-managers and co-producers in the shared management and preservation of their own resources.

The commons are not just resources but the sets of relationships they create, including the communities that use them, and the cultural and social practices and property regimes that manage them.

They represent the common responsibility of people to protect and sustain their valuable common goods. But unlike local common goods, which have a familiar legacy of ownership, global common goods have yet to be defined clearly in terms of their interconnectedness, common history and planetary rights. Participatory rules and institutions have not been fully developed for cross-border commons—including outer space and the atmosphere, the oceans and sea-beds, world food supplies and water sources, population growth and migration, technology and media, and trade and finance. It’s clear that human society needs to build a much deeper awareness and stronger identity between its local and global commons.

The decision-making, social cohesion and collective wealth implicit in common goods must be able to scale up and down. Local commons groups need the technical support and knowledge of a Commons-based Multilateralism; yet multilateral rules and institutions must also embody the expertise and skills of community groups based on decisions made at the grassroots.

Ultimately, the governance and production of common goods, both locally and transnationally, will shift the emphasis of government away from the sanctioning of private industry. It will redirect this power and authority in two directions—upward toward the sanctioning of the international commons under a restructured multilateralism, and downward toward the sanctioning of local commons by the world’s citizens under widespread commons agreements. To create scale-free commons, local and global commons groups must share a commitment not to exploit the scarcity-value of depletable resources. As a result, the focus of the private sector will also move away from devaluing commons resources as unaccountable external costs, and businesses will adopt a framework of property management and value that reflects a more accurate measure of the actual costs of resource production." (