Tragedy of Enclosures

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James Quilligan:

"Beginning with Garrett Hardin’s classic example of shepherds who share a field to graze their flocks — but unwittingly cause the land to be overused and degraded — the idea of scarcity through over-consumption has been called a Tragedy of the Commons.

There are countless instances of openly-accessed resources becoming vulnerable to encroachment and misuse, leading to acute social or ecological problems. Yet Elinor Ostrom and others have shown that failed commons are not inevitable. When local users communicate, build trust, and organize to create rules to govern how their resources should be used, they can protect their commons from overuse in the interest of the common good.

So the primary challenge facing the world is not one of failed commons.

Rather, it’s a tragedy of enclosures — the legalization of private property and commodity exchange by the state, and the transference and overuse of commonly managed resources by the marketplace.

The history of the privatization of capital and natural resources is well known. Beginning in the 12th century in northern Europe, and intensifying during the 16th century, the emerging free market laid claim to what seemed to be an endless supply of natural resources existing in empty and limitless space. Enterprising merchants, bankers and politicians enclosed these ‘vacant’ areas and turned them into legally titled property. Over the past several centuries, similar enclosure movements have spread across the world, subjugating and extracting resources which were previously un-ownable, fully accessible and often governed by local custom. Under the system of property rights and sovereign boundaries that has evolved, resource managers (public sector) and producers and providers (private sector) are kept distinctly separate from resource users (commoners).

These social divisions produce and reproduce the modern institutional norms of economic management and the creation of market value through profit and interest, which are said to be the basis of dynamic social progress and economic growth. But through this process of wealth creation, poor and native peoples have been evicted from their villages and lands and displaced from their means of subsistence, while customary rights and traditions over resources are criminalized.

The history of enclosures is a legacy of struggle and violence over rightful claims to property, which continues today." (