Commons and Its Institutions
"We don’t have to be particularly inventive in finding a fall-back scenario when markets fail. The most reformist, gradualist, pragmatic approach is the best, boring as it may be.
It could look as follows (the figures relate to the world; the sequence doesn’t imply hierarchy, but only the material size of the respective spheres):
1 Public Services
"For the whole infrastructure and the production of existentially necessary goods the present existing state must and can be transformed into an institution of extended public services on a larger-scale.
It is obvious that more transparency and democratic participation will be needed than today’s administrations offer, more resilient structures.
States must also observe Ostrom’s rules of governing the commons, which, in fact, are nothing but principles of good governance. To renounce on large scale social cooperation because there is a risk of degeneration into hierarchical power structures (Cf. Holloway) is a form of defeatism and is not compatible with the needs of the large urban societies we live in.
From the initial function as an apparatus of repression the modern state has gradually been transformed into a cooperative entity, in which each member contributes what s/he can afford (taxes) and receives what s/he needs (public services, from education to loans and health care). Once inequalities have been diminished and oligarchic interests have disappeared, states can in turn reduce their repressive and governing functions (“power over”) and become sober cooperative administrations of things. The neo-liberal ideologues’ hatred directed at “the state” in any form is conceivable when considering its cooperative aspect and potential.
In the eyes of the neo-liberal predators the very existence of the state is scandalous, even more so of a state that has partly assumed the role of an institution of the commons. The global financial crisis is being used to destroy all the commons-aspects of the state: in Greece, in Portugal, but also in the still “healthy” regions of Europe.
Should we ever be confronted with local, regional or global collapses, we won’t have the time to establish fancy alternative models of large-scale social cooperation have been diminished and oligarchic interests have disappeared, states can in turn reduce their repressive and governing functions (“power over”) and become sober cooperative administrations of things. The neo-liberal ideologues’ hatred directed at “the state” in any form is conceivable when considering its cooperative aspect and potential.
(We’re not talking here about small survivalist projects in alternative niches.) We must use what we have, and since the state is available it can function again as a fallback option. Let us reclaim the state then!51 It s not the first time that this has happened and can therefore happen again.)
2 Food Subsistence
Based on Agro-urban Neighborhoods The household (from Greek oikos=house, family+nomos = order) is the basis of any economy and is therefore the first social module of subsistence. Besides general, public and industrial subsistence, housing, food, clothing, everyday culture etc. belong to the every-day life organizational sphere of subsistence.
The second pillar of a post-growth society are therefore subsistence communities on the level of neighborhoods, that can, most importantly, assume most of the food supply and production. This sphere comprises about one sixth of the overall economic activities if we take current household expenses as a reference. Neighborhoods are the basic social module of a society based on the commons.
The neighborhoods are the source of the empowerment, the trust and the communicative capacity that we need to determine our own destiny. Neighborhoods provide the social conditions to establish attitudes and values that enable people to make society sustainable."
3 The Creative-Cooperative Sphere
To be honest this sphere is a residual category.
It comprises all kinds of activities that are made possible by public and communal subsistence (the two other spheres).
It’s a creative-cooperative sector that must respect the social and ecological guidelines, but is characterized by the principle of free association (or individuality). Activities in this sphere can be individual or assume the form of “club-commons,” cooperative firms, foundations etc. Membership (Ostrom’s rule 1) is required, but access is open in principle. Any form of exchange or production can be tried out: markets, bazaars, gifts, open workshops, fairs, money, bartering etc. In this area trading instead of sharing isn’t a systemic issue." (http://www.o500.org/books/pm_power_of_neighborhood.pdf)
"The trinity of the commons corresponds to the political wisdom of the division of powers, of checks and balances. It represents material democracy and structural prudence, which teaches us not put all your eggs in one basket. Do not trust yourself too much.
Most of the different types of commons and of activities can be distributed in six modules:
These modules are emergent entities, generated by possible reintegration of functions, minimization of transport, economies of scale, communicative and political considerations, general features of stable, resilient systems. It is obvious, that they must be interpreted according to local conditions. The suggested modules are not identical in every circumstance, but they share more what Wittgenstein called “family resemblance.”58 We must not think of them as containers or gated communities, but rather as clouds with a fuzzy silhouette, as defined spaces and meeting points at the same time.
There is an intrinsic connection between functions and the size of the territories they serve. The cooperative state of public services works best in medium-sized territories that can be integrated without excessive use of energy for transportation.
What we need is a global secession of medium-sized territories.
Big nations can be replaced by criss-cross federations and coalitions of territories that are defined by function, not by historical fictions. Territories can be members of sub-continental or global cooperatives for specific purposes. Such communal enterprises are already in existence, e.g. the CERN, a cooperative effort of nations, big and small. Unfortunately CERN isn’t subjected to real democratic monitoring and in this respect not a perfect model.
Sub-continental or global cooperation is needed to develop the new ecological products, modular components or materials that can be used or assembled in territories or even neighborhoods." (http://www.o500.org/books/pm_power_of_neighborhood.pdf)
- book: The Power of Neighborhood and the Commons