Public Commons
Alphabetical List of Links by Subject
Reclaiming the Commons "The key thing about the commons and the notion of reclaiming it is we're reclaiming responsibility for habitat, social and natural.." rabble.ca radio audio

David Bollier: news and perspectives on the commons The commons is….

A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.

A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.

The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.

A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

There is no master inventory of commons because a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.

One of the great unacknowledged problems of our time is the enclosure of the commons, the expropriation and commercialization of shared resources, usually for private market gain. Enclosure can be seen in the patenting of genes and lifeforms, the use of copyrights to lock up creativity and culture, the privatization of water and land, and attempts to transform the open Internet into a closed, proprietary marketplace, among many other enclosures.

Enclosure is about dispossession. It privatizes and commodifies resources that belong to a community or to everyone, and dismantles a commons-based culture (egalitarian co-production and co-governance) with a market order (money-based producer/consumer relationships and hierarchies). Markets tend to have thin commitments to localities, cultures and ways of life; for any commons, however, these are indispensable.

_Thinking Like a Commoner_ by David Bollier

Think Like a Commoner by David Bollier

THE WEALTH OF THE COMMONS: A WORLD BEYOND MARKET & STATE A new collection of 73 essays that describe the enormous potential of the commons in conceptualizing and building a better future, edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich

The Commons as a Rising Alternative to State and Market Jeremy Rifkin's new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, brings welcome new attention to the commons just as it begins to explode in countless new directions. His book focuses on one of the most significant vectors of commons-based innovation -- the Internet and digital technologies -- and documents how the incremental costs of nearly everything is rapidly diminishing, often to zero. Rifkin explored the sweeping implications of this trend in an excerpt from his book and points to the "eclipse of capitalism" in the decades ahead.

6 Things That Should Never be Privatized "The idea behind operating gas, water or electric services as public utilities is that those things are important to people’s health and survival and therefore, must be protected from corporate greed." by Alex Henderson, AlterNet.
Cities Consider Ads On Police Cars USA Today story
Commonwealth: A Return to Citizen Politics book by Harry Boyte - "Commonwealth also was associated with a particular view of property--both private good and public resources... to suggest the concept of a democratic government that sees as its aim tending to the general welfare, especially in opposition to selfish economic interests" (17)
Copyright is Good "Why is it that copyrights should expire ever?"
Defending the Commons "commercialization and/or privatization of the commons always results in less for the public or at least lower quality"
Google Wealth Built on Uncle Sam's Shoulders "Google is a dramatic case study of the ways in which societal investment creates a fertile ground for private wealth creation"
Greens Call Worldwide Water Privatization "Theft" of Public Resources "Greens point to evidence of the devastating economic and ecological effects of water privatization: higher prices and more frequent billing; neglected infrastructure; increased use of concrete and steel in environmentally harmful dams and pipes instead of measures to conserve water; bribery of public officials and cronyism in the awarding of contracts; wasteful salaries and bonuses for water company execs"
Hand to Brand Combat "Klein has written a book, No Logo, which has been called "the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement". The teenager fixated on brand names has become a campaigner against our over-branded world"
Public Assets, Private Profits: Reclaiming the American Commons in an Age of Market Enclosure "Many of the resources that Americans own as a people -- forests and minerals under public lands, public information and federally financed research, the broadcast airwaves and public institutions and traditions -- are increasingly being taken over by private business interests. These appropriations of common assets are siphoning revenues from the public treasury, shifting ownership and control from public to private interests, and eroding democratic processes and shared cultural values"
Public Education and the Tragedy of the Commons "Garrett Hardin argues that free access to common resources brings ruin to all"
Public Spaces, Private Spaces preserving community participation on the World Wide Web


"The commons are both the common wealth that all of us own together, and the public institutions that we've established for our common good. The common-wealth includes such physical assets as our air, airwaves, pure water, the ozone layer, and all of nature, as well as such intangible assets as human rights and liberties. The public institutions of the commons run the gamut from our national treasury to schools, water systems, wildlife preserves, elections, postal service, and parks" [and the Internet](Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer, eds. The hightower Lowdown, July 2004: 2).

Reclaiming the American Commons author
Public Knowledge champions the commons of the internet, science, and culture
Earth Island Institute a think tank dedicated to the commons
Common Assets Defense Fund conducts citizen action campaigns on behalf of the commons


"Their stated and open aim is to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors... the public's property?... Privatize it. Sell it at a discounted rate to their corporate cronies...

"It is the most radical assault on the notion of one nation, indivisible, that has occurred in our lifetime...

"...they bask in the company of the new corporate aristocracy, as privileged a class as we have seen since the plantation owners of antebellum America and the court of Louis XIV. What I can't explain is the rage of these counterrevolutionaries to dismantle every last brick of the social contract..." (Bill Moyers. "This is Your Story. Pass It On." Texas Observer, 8/13/04: 4-9, 38).


"...these commons--in which we all make tax investments... have come to include our police and fire services; our military and defense; our roads and skyways; our air, waters and national parks; and the safety of our food and drugs.

"But the most important of all the commons... is our government itself. It's owned by us, run by us (through our elected representatives), answerable to us, and most directly responsible for stewardship of our commons.

"And the common through which we regulate the commons of our government is our vote...

"...Sen. Chuck Hagel... in Nebraska... the head of the voting machine company (now ES&S)... Hagel's Senate victory against an incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in the November election... Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely black communities that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska, nearly all on unauditable machines he had just sold the state. And in all probability, Hagel will run for president in 2008"

"Why are we allowing corporations to exclusively handle our vote, in a secret and totally invisible way? Particularly a private corporation founded, in one case, by a family that believes the Bible should replace the Constitution; in another case run by one of Ohio's top Republicans; and in another case partly owned by Saudi investors?

"When I lived in Germany, they took the vote the same way most of the world does -- people fill in hand-marked ballots, which are hand-counted by civil servants...

"We could have saved billions that have instead been handed over to ES&S, Diebold, and other private corporations.

"Or, if we must have machines, let's have them owned by local governments, maintained and programmed by civil servants answerable to We The People, using open-source code and disconnected from modems, that produce a voter-verified printed ballot, with all results published on a precinct-by-precinct basis" (Thom Hartmann. "The Ultimate Felony Against Democracy." Progressive Populist, Dec. 1, 2004: 10).


".. the Bush Administration is racing to privatize everything of value. it is actively creating a fiscal crisis with policies revolving around tax cuts and empire-building"(Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 93).

"..the Bush Administration is so blatant in.. its rush to strip citizens of everything they hold in common" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 94).


"Corporations plan to use the GATS agreement to profit from the privatization of educational systems, healthcare systems, childcare, energy and municipal water services, postal services, libraries, museums, and public transportation...

"..the agreement prevents the government from taking actions on behalf of its citizens. Once a private contract has been given to a corporation, it CANNOT be revoked, even if the prices are so high [that] they lead to social unrest and violence" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 130-131).


"One of the key aims of the GATS treaty is to turn publicly owned water services over to private enterprise...

"Public water was first sold off to corporate operators in England. Prices jumped 250 percent and watering English gardens has, at times, been criminalized...

"..the water privateers marched on Egypts, Indonesia, and Argentina. But when they reached Cochabamba, Bolivia.. the thirsty poor resisted...

"Six died in Bolivia. Another 175 were injured... after the military fired gas and bullets at demonstrators. The victims were opposing the 35 percent hike in water prices.." (177).

"To quell the spreading demonstrations, President Banzer announced cancellation of the water privatization on April 5, 2000...

"World Bank director Wolfensohn has a solution to the lack of water: raise its price" (180).

"..nearly one thousand executives and bureaucrats gathered in The Hague in March 2000 to review and refine a program to privatize the world's water systems.

"..these private operators.. can only turn a profit if prices rise radically and rapidly.." (Greg Palast. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. NY: Plume, 2003: 181).


"...Enclosure in Britain, which violated existing communal property rights by enclosing common land, but contributed to the development of [the] woollen industry by promoting sheep farming on the confiscated land...

"...the recognition of squatter rights in the violation of the rights of existing property owners was crucial in developing the American West... the famous Sanderson case in 1868, where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overrode the existing rights of landowners to claim access to clean water in favour of the coal industry, which was one of the state's key industries at the time...

"Hence, what matters for economic development is not simply the protection of all existing property rights regardless of their nature, but which property rights are protected under which condition" (Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder: Developement Strategy in Historical Perspective. London: Anthem Press, 2002. page 83).


"..."the commons"--that is, our common inheritance, like the atmosphere or the electromagnetic spectrum (bandwidths). These are the common inheritances of all humanity, and most people who discuss them in this way refer to them as "the commons." Yet the idea of a common inheritance and of using it for the public good is not yet part of the frame structure that most people use every day. For this reason you can't just make up a sound bite about the commons and have most people understand it and agree with it" (George Lakoff. Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: 105).


Property vs. Belonging

"...the late Toronto professor Crawford MacPherson... starts his analysis by reminding us that our current concept of property is largely an invention of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We are so used to thinking of property as the right to exclude others from the use or benefit of something, says MacPherson, that we've lost sight of the fact that in previous times, property was also defined as the right not to be excluded from the use or enjoyment of something [commons]. MacPherson resurrects the older sense of property, the right of access to property held in common--the right to navigate water-ways, walk along commonly used country lanes, and enjoy access to the public square...

The US is going the other direction with "common interest developments (CIDs). In these gated communities, not only are the homes privately owned, but even the streets, sidewalks, town squares, and parks are privately owned by the members who live there. Nonmembers often must seek permission at the gates to drive down the streets, walk on the sidewalks, stroll in the parks, or visit shops in the square. More than forty-seven million Americans... already live in these private communities, and the numbers are growing dramatically. CIDs may become the dominant living arrangement [in the US] by mid-century" (Jeremy Rifkin. The European Union. pp. 193-194)...


Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom August 7, 1933 – June 12, 2012

New institutional economics New institutional economics (NIE) is an economic perspective that attempts to extend economics by focusing on the social and legal norms and rules (which are institutions) that underlie economic activity and with analysis beyond earlier institutional economics and neoclassical economics.

Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate Ostrom received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources.

Elinor Ostrom, defender of the commons IT SEEMED to Elinor Ostrom that the world contained a large body of common sense. People, left to themselves, would sort out rational ways of surviving and getting along. Although the world's arable land, forests, fresh water and fisheries were all finite, it was possible to share them without depleting them and to care for them without fighting. While others wrote gloomily of the tragedy of the commons, seeing only overfishing and overfarming in a free-for-all of greed, Mrs Ostrom, with her loud laugh and louder tops, cut a cheery and contrarian figure.


Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS