State Power and Commoning

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* Report: State Power and Commoning: Transcending a Problematic Relationship. By David Bolllier et al. Commons Strategies Group, 2016.


a report about how we might reconceptualize state power so that it could foster commoning as a post-capitalist, post-growth means of provisioning and governance.


David Bollier:

"This is a very complex subject, but in general, one can say that the state has very different ideas than commoners about how power, governance and accountability should be structured. The state is also far more eager to strike tight, cozy alliances with investors, businesses and financial institutions because of its own desires to share in the benefits of markets, and particularly, tax revenues. I call our system the market/state system because the alliance – and collusion – between the two are so extensive, and their goals and worldview so similar despite their different roles, that commoners often don’t have the freedom or choice to enact commons. Indeed, the state often criminalizes commoning – think seed sharing, file sharing, cultural re-use – because it “competes” with market forms of production and stands as a “bad example” of alternative modes of provisioning.

Having said this, state power could play many useful roles in supporting commoning, if it could be properly deployed. For example, the state could provide greater legal recognition to commoning, and not insist upon strict forms of private property and monetization. State law Is generally so hostile or indifferent to commoning that commoners often have to develop their own legal hacks or workarounds to achieve some measure of protection for their shared wealth. Think about the General Public License for software, the Creative Commons licenses, and land trusts. Each amounts to an ingenious re-purposing of property law to serve the interests of sharing and intergenerational access.

The state could also be more supportive of bottom-up infrastructures developed by commoners, whether they be wifi systems, energy coops, community solar grids, or platform co-operatives. If city governments were to develop municipal platforms for ride-hailing or apartment rentals – or many other functions – they could begin to mutualize the benefits or such services and better protect the interests of workers, consumers and the general public.

The state could also help develop better forms of finance and banking to help commoning expand. The state provides all sorts of subsidies to the banking industry despite its intense commitment to private extraction of value. Why not use “quantitative easing” or seignorage (the state’s right to create money without it being considered public debt) to finance the building of infrastructure, environmental remediation, and social needs? Commoners could benefit from new sources of credit for social or ecological purposes – or a transition to a more climate-friendly economy — that would not likely be as remunerative as conventional market activity." (