Our World is one of rampant corruption and of unmitigated greed, of bankrupt morality and of thriving injustice. Our World is one of disinformation and misinformation, of conflicts of interest and of boundless deceit. Our World is one of celebrated ignorance, of indolent skepticism and of contagious apathy. Our World is one of omnipresent egoism, of distractions both blatant and devilishly elaborate. Our World is one of decrepit institutions, of malfunctioning systems and of an incompetent establishment. Our World is one of political homogeneity, of mass-produced bureaucrats and of depressing hypocrisy. Our World is one of conscienceless capitalism, of deaths both tragic and utterly preventable. Our World is one of counterfeit guardians, of clandestine pogroms and of censored protestors. Our World is one of impotent charity, of scandals too heinous to even believe. Our World is one of the privileged and the unfortunate and of a divide that has now become immeasurable. Our World is one of misplaced respect, of intellectual cowardice and of absent belief. The delusional puppet of the Global Ruling Class, our World is doomed to inevitable failure, regression and disorder.
Enough Is Enough.
“They” gambled with our livelihoods in the hope of inflating their coffers and lining their pockets. “They” refuse to take responsibility for what their avaricious recklessness has created. “They” serve only one another and ignore the demands of the majority. “They” hide behind a serpentine structure that camouflages their fraud and duplicity. “They” maintain that nothing can be changed, that inequality is necessary. “They” prefer to profit than to support social progress and development. “They” mislead and deceive habitually – “they” rarely have time for the truth. “They” gladly sacrifice their integrity in exchange for material wealth and luxury. “They” promote and propagate their secret agendas both subliminally and flagrantly. “They” craft and erect enticing diversions wherever and whenever possible. “They” advocate a culture of self-obsession, of compliance and of consumerism. “They” hail a perverted and disfigured caricature as an example of true democracy. “They” have abandoned substance in exchange for unbelievably tiresome sophistication. “They” promise urgent and fundamental reform but never deliver when they have the power. “They” pretend to be champions of nobility but soon change their colours given the opportunity. “They” manufacture pandemic fear and abuse it for unwholesome purposes. “They” insist that the State be kept as far removed from the Public as is legally feasible. “They” silently amass prodigious fortunes worth millions and billions of any currency whilst thousands perish everyday of causes that are financially preventable. “They” continue to exploit an unjust framework at the expense of the voiceless and the innocent. “They” use land for recreation and entertainment while many are forced to survive without shelter. “They” can afford to bailout broken fiscal systems but pay no attention to the sick or to the hungry. “They” quote national borders as the chief excuse for their negligence and inhumanity. “They” have no desire to improve our lives – unless, of course, they can find a way to benefit. “They” are selling us synthetic freedom and we are giving them international domination.
Enough Is Enough.
The problems of contemporary global society are manifold: biased judiciaries, amoral food and medical companies, an unelected Free Market dictatorship, a self-serving and treacherous Political Class, merciless and ubiquitous corporatism, a spineless and venal Media, a monetarily distended Entertainment Industry, thousands of avoidable quotidian deaths, carefully manipulated news acting as surreptitious propaganda, a veritable dearth of transparency and accountability, ineffective and diminutive taxation for the prosperous, increasingly encroaching commercialism, a Popular Culture predicated on indifference and narcissism, an Economic System that has become cripplingly convoluted, gargantuan unemployment and pressurized emigration, the deliberate suppression of significant public information, discreetly endorsed bigotry and dwindling civil liberties, Multinational Trade Laws that impoverish the disadvantaged, execrable genocides that are uniformly disregarded, spurious democracy and institutionalized inequality, a Global Ruling Class that is both anonymous and totalitarian – the list regrettably goes on and on and on and on.
My friends, this pathetic state-of-affairs has become untenable. From Washington D.C. to Canberra, from New Delhi to Brasilia, from Brussels to Pretoria and from Abuja to Jakarta, too many people are dying, too many children are suffering, too many injustices are going unpunished, too many lies are being told. At present, we live in a world paralyzed by avarice and blighted by duplicity, devastated by vanity and incapacitated by exploitation. Worldwide, the Authorities repeatedly refuse to listen to any of our grievances, to empathize with our predicaments. In spite of our objections, of our calls for change and widespread reform, they have done absolutely nothing to ameliorate the condition of international society.
I say that now is the time for us to stand up for what is right. To stand up for freedom and to defend equality, to resurrect democracy and to protect our humanity. We, the People – the almighty majority, we do not need a Ruling Class to show us how to live and to tell us what to value. Now, I do not contend that I know the “right” way – that I know the solutions to our many and varied difficulties. But what I do know is that the current approach is failing and that it is not the only approach that we as human beings may take. I believe that if we as a society honourably discuss and analyse our problems, if we permit each and every disparate voice to be heard, that we will be capable of finding a better answer to our dilemmas, an answer that is more democratic and egalitarian. For, I feel that it would be more socially prudent and responsible to take a long time to make the correct decisions than to take a short time to make erroneous decisions. I genuinely do not doubt that we, the Population, can find another way to live, regardless of the assertions of the Ruling Classes that change is ultimately impossible. I refuse to believe that the status quo is unchangeable. There has to be a fairer, more humane structure for civilized government.
But none of this is remotely obtainable in our world in its present state. The Global Ruling Class has all the power and is in complete control of society. However, I maintain that this is only because we, the People, have allowed such a dire and dismal situation to gradually arise. With their influence over Politics and the Global Economy, over Popular Culture and, indeed, over the Media too, they have succeeded in distracting us, deluding us and deceiving us. They have succeeded in neutralizing the purity of democracy. But none of that is important if we stand up today. Please remember that we are the majority and they are the minority. In spite of their weapons and their dominance, in spite of their affluence, together, our force is unquestionably indomitable and unstoppable. Every instrument that they wield in their oppression of freedom and equality is but a product ofhuman ingenuity and innovation. Therefore they can be destroyed. Therefore they can be replaced. Therefore we can make a better world if we remain united and refuse to be divided.
And so now I urge you to take all necessary action, to do everything possible to bring about the overdue demise of the reign of the Global Ruling Class. Whether you are a student in the United Kingdom or a construction worker in Angola. Whether you are a farmer in the People’s Republic of China or an artist in Guatemala. Whether you are black or white, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, of any religion, of any race, of any profession, of any sexual orientation, please remember that you are a human being above and beyond anything else, that underneath all cosmetic divisions we are all in fact one and the same. Ergo, you are automatically entitled to Freedom, to Democracy and to Equality, to live in a respectable community, to a world devoid of treachery. Therefore, go forth and sabotage this disgraceful system, demolish this vile edifice of inequity and inhumanity. Take your money out of the contaminated banking network – boycott every foul pillar of monetary impropriety. Go on indefinite strike and encourage others to do the same. March in the streets and in the squares from dawn to dusk until they surrender. Occupy all public space until they submit to our demands. Put up posters and distribute leaflets informing people of this righteous cause. Saturate the Media with our message – with the Truth. Complain to the Ruling Class until they are sick of hearing, seeing, knowing you. Represent those who are unable to express their despair and dissatisfaction. Tell everyone, everywhere of the struggle for justice in our society. Fight until you can fight no more for Freedom, Equality and Democracy.
It is only via these honest methods that our objectives can be eventually achieved. We will not be presented with our goals – we must procure them for ourselves. There are those among us who believe that we must resort to violence in order to fell the Global Ruling Class, but I feel that we owe it to all lost knights of liberty to give peace one final opportunity to triumph. However, I must warn you that irrespective of who you are, irrespective of what your opinion is, irrespective of where you come from or of the reasons for which you may be demonstrating, I can guarantee that “they” will beat you down, that “they” will penalize you, that “they” will not show you any mercy or understanding should you challenge their authority and defend what is good and what is right. Remember Ian Tomlinson. Remember Scott Olsen. Remember the Martyrs of Syria. Remember the Fallen Heroes of the Russian Federation. “They” are an old institution and have witnessed many unsuccessful challenges to their supremacy. “They” will not be overthrown so easily, so rapidly.
And if your conviction begins to waver, if your resolve begins to dissipate, just glance nonchalantly at the world and it will all come flooding back. Wealthy investors being illicitly bailed out with your stolen taxes. Ordinary people being punished for the greed and carelessness of the Ruling Class. Opulent bonuses, pensions and severance packages for unrepentant financial criminals. Supposed paragons of virtue selling death machines to dictators whilst concurrently abusing the vulnerable indirectly. Whitewashed massacres in Mexico, in Sri Lanka and in South Waziristan, to name but a few. Thousands of individuals dying of fiscally preventable causes everyday as mercenary companies post recurrent profits in the millions and billions of dollars. Mendacious politicians using parliamentary expenses to defraud their unsuspecting people while public healthcare and educational services are blamed for corporate and administrative malpractice and incompetence. Celebrities earning obscene fortunes while children starve and remain shelterless, a media too preoccupied with its own debauchery to report on crimes of greater gravity. And, all the while, none but a few intrepid voices in the dark talk of the truly grotesque nature of contemporary society. Don’t worry, my friends, it should not take more than a moment to remember why our degenerate world is in urgent need of a revolution.
What this movement represents, what this campaign symbolizes is inherently and fundamentally incorruptible and virtuous. Nobody can deny that the idea that every human being has a right to freedom, equality and democracy, that everybody is entitled to water, healthcare, food and shelter is, in itself, unreservedly honourable and indisputably commendable. We must never forget this. Regardless of what the Global Ruling Class may say, regardless of what they may do to us, regardless of how many of us may perish in this most valiant and heroic of struggles, this idea can never and will never be destroyed. This idea can never and will never be perverted. This must always be remembered. No matter how many of us may fall, no matter how hard they may strike us, we shall thrive beneath the scythe of their violence, we shall multiply underneath the pall of their tyranny. The greater their oppression, the grander our retaliation shall be. Nothing shall defeat the purity of our virgin aspirations.
And so now I kneel before you in unprotected supplication. I beg of you, every one of you, to resist fell apathy and insouciant distraction. Turn off your televisions. Put down your magazines. Switch off your computers, your mobile phones and your music players. Forget celebrities. Forget all plastic fantasies. Ignore the football – ignore all of their contrived diversions. Think of the future, think of the injustices of the present. How much more money must they take off us before we decide to do something? How many more innocents must die before we decide to say something? Think of your children – think of the thousands starving as we speak. It will never end until we stand up and make our presence felt. They do not care about our plight, about our difficulties. What must they do before we finally say “ENOUGH!”? What must they do before we finally decide to make it end?
Now, I am not a socialist. I am not a terrorist. I am not a conspiracy theorist and neither am I an anarchist. What I am is a humanbeing who believes that people can do better. That the Human Race is capable of building a world of greater beauty. I have yet to read Milton’s poetry. I have yet to see Van Gogh’s mastery. I have yet to savour Mozart’s brilliance. I have yet to behold all of nature’s wonders. But, nonetheless, I am willing to give my life, to sacrifice everything that I have for what is good, for what is just, for what I know to be pure and true. For the deprived and for the dying, for the weak and for the hungry, for the young and for the old, for the sinless children of the future, I can no longer tolerate the wretched state of our society. I can no longer stomach the dishonesty, the avarice. Please, I beg of you to disregard what cold experience may have taught you. Please, I beg of you to believe once more in the virtue of humanity. Please, I beg of you to solemnly trust that this loathsome planet can be changed. Please, I beg of you to join me in this most decent and noble of campaigns. Please.
For Equality. For Democracy. For Freedom.
The Power lies in Our hands.
We shouldn’t blame capitalism for the climate crisis. “What we have isn’t capitalism, it’s corporatism,” it said. “Under real capitalism, the free market would prevent the destruction of our environment.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the argument that our problems would be solved if we just returned to the good competitive capitalism of Adam Smith’s day.
THE MYTH OF THE FREE MARKET
YOU’LL FIND A UNICORN BEFORE YOU FIND A FREE MARKET
I wrote an article recently about Capitalism’s
Top 1% becoming the new aristocracy, based on the news that social mobility is no greater under capitalism’s meritocracy, than under the medieval oligarchy. Some responded, in line with a wider misconception, that if we only had ‘true’ free market capitalism these injustices would be a thing of the past. Today’s piece is a response to that argument. There never has been, is not and never will be a capitalist free market economy – and here is why.
The myth of the free market
Capitalism is meant to pivot around the free market. The theory goes that if only the market were rid of government meddling (regulation) then true competition would reign, with corporations battling it out to provide their goods and services to rational, all knowing consumers. This, according to supporters, would provide stable and accurate prices and quality for goods and services as competition would aggregate supply, demand and pricing.
Corporations who provided a good or service which was not wanted, was above the market price or below the market quality demanded by the rational consumer in this open, free market would simply fail and those who met demand would win. Therefore the success or failure of a company would be directly proportional to its ability to meet the needs of its consumer.
So, some might argue that recent failures assigned to capitalism – the bankers bailout, the corporatisation of government, the decline in social mobility – are because we do not have REAL capitalism as outlined above. They might argue we are in fact in a post capitalist, state capitalist of fascist state. There are valid arguments in favour of all these possibilities. But whatever state we are in, it is as a direct and inevitable result of capitalism. These outcomes are not aberrations, but natural and logical given the reward mechanisms of the system itself.
It’s the monopoly, stupid…
While arguments in favour of inviting private interests into the public services rests on the idea of competition, corporations themselves are rabidly anti-competition.
If a McDonalds opens opposite a Burger King, Burger King aren’t over the moon that the capitalist theory of competition is being exercised, they’re figuring out how to kill the opposition. The argument goes that the consumer is the ultimate beneficiary of this struggle, as the consumer will be tempted by lower prices and better quality goods to win them over.
These arguments overlook some key issues. They ignore that it makes sense for the corporation to seek out a monopoly – so a free market gained monopoly would have no different traits than a socialised monopoly – except democratic accountability would be removed.
They also fail to consider that the consumer is not solely a consumer, they are also a member of their society so may well be impacted by the competition in more than one way (i.e. they might benefit from a price cut as a consumer, but lose their job as a result of the bigger corporation pushing their employer out of the market).
The facts bear this theory out. With the rise in ‘free market’ policies of the Thatcher and Reagan governments in 1980’s US and UK, perhaps we would see a dramatic rise in competition? Surely this new, free market would end monopolies and usher in a new era of dynamic, consumer responsive businesses vying for attention.
Let us use food as a case study. In 1990, only 10-20 percent of global food retail was delivered by supermarkets. Today, that figure has soared to 50-60 percent. That is, over half of all food sold in the world, is sold through supermarkets.
The UK has lost 90% of its specialists food retailers – that is butchers, bakers and fisheries – since the 1950’s. In Britain today, 97% of food purchased, is bought in supermarkets, with only four corporations making up 76% of those sales. In the US, 72% of food is purchased in supermarkets. As these figures continue an upward trend, we can see that monopolies are being created in food production.
If we take a look and test the theory that the consumer would benefit from this process of corporate battle, proponents of the idea point to the drop in the proportion of household budgets in developed countries spent on food.
During the rise of the supermarket since the 1950s, the percentage of the US household budget spent on food dropped from 32% to 7%. In the UK the proportion spent on food has dropped from 33% to 15%.
But, with supermarkets making record profits, and household food budgets down, who is paying the price for our food?
The answer is the farmer and the environment. In Brazil, more than 75,000 farmers have been delisted by the big supermarkets. Thailand’s top supermarket chain has carved its supplier list from 250 to just ten. The tiny country of Lesotho has actually all but killed off its domestic farming industry with 99% ofits food purchased through supermarkets utilising foreign agri-business.
Seventy years ago, there were nearly seven million American farmers, today there are two million. Between 1987 and 1992 the US lost 32,500 farms a year and now 75% of US produce comes from just 50,000 farming operations.
Family farming and smallholding has been the big victim of the supermarkets. This means farmers in developing countries being exploited, and consumers in developed countries so far removed from their food chain that they could not tell the difference between beef and horse.
The inflation in food prices in recent years has been masked not only by supermarkets pressurising food producers to ever decreasing incomes and unsustainable farming practices, but the makeup of our food is being diluted…in short, the price might stay the same but we are getting less for that price. The still breaking horse meat scandal is just one example of this.
So when it comes to food as an example, the free market has seen a few corporations rise to dominate the market, set their own prices and lead to negative social impacts. While some consumers might see a fall in the price of the food they are buying, they cannot be sure that they are comparing apples with apples and while perhaps benefitting as consumers, they are losing out as producers.
In fact if we zoom out to what is happening in business overall, for the last three years the US has seen a consistent fall in the total number of businesses. In the US, start ups (new businesses) have fallen as a share of businesses in the economy from 12% to just 7% in just the last few years, whilst still on average employing not more than ten people each. These patterns are reflected across developed economies globally.
The market is being constituted by a decreasing number of businesses, fewer new businesses are being launched and the monopolies created that produce negative impacts on communities across the globe.
What keeps the free market free?
What keeps a free market free? As we have seen above, it is not in the interest of the corporation to maintain a free market.
The corporation has no reason to apply any kind of ethics whatsoever. Adidas employs child and sweatshop labour in the Far East because it is cheaper than employing people on a living wage, with decent terms and condition.
So, historically the government, as the purported servant of the people has been the enforcer of rules necessary to restrain the ‘market’ from behaviours which, while logical from point of view of the corporation, lead to undesirable social outcomes.
However, the logic of the corporation is then to seek maximum influence over the regulator. In this case, corporations use their vast wealth to buy influence in houses of parliament or government across the globe.
In the US, by 2011 the largest thirty corporations spent more that year on lobbying government than they spent on taxes. Big oil alone spent over $169m in lobbying the US government in 2009. Between 1998 and 2008 (the year of the bailout) the US Banking Sector spent $3.4bn lobbying for deregulation, reduced capital requirements and avoiding the regulation of derivatives (which caused the financial crisis). When they aren’t lobbying, they are simply gaining positions of power within the government itself to directly redraft legislation to suit them.
In the UK, corporations with outstanding tax issues with the HMRC (the tax collector) are currently in working groups with the HMRC to redraft the very tax rules they are doing their best to avoid. The largest accountancy forms are also using consultancy positions within government as tax policy advisors, to market themselves to tax evading corporations to help break the rules they wrote.
In the US, there appears to be revolving door between Monsanto (controversial purveyor of genetically modified foods) and the Food Regulating Agencies. Islam Siddiqui, vice-president of Monsanto-funded lobby group CropLife is now a negotiator for the US Trade Representative on agriculture.Roger Beachy, a former director of a Monsanto-funded plant science centre has become the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Michael Taylor, former vice president of Monsanto, is now the deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA – the US’s food and drug regulator).
There is a major problem here. The outcomes of the above are that when corporations break the law, they are either not tried or given a fine which comes nowhere near the profits reaped by breaking the law. And worse, corporations are buying the drafting of laws which make their unethical and damaging behaviour legal.
We have seen recently that banks have instituted fraud on a global scale by simply making up the LIBOR rate, the base interest rate, at the cost of savers and pensioners and to the benefit of their traders who specialise in debt, not capital.
In 1950, corporate taxes made up 30% of federal revenues in the US. By 2012, this had fallen to just7%. In the UK, Corporation Tax rates were cut from 52% to 35% over just two years between 1984-6 and has continued to be cut until it stands at just 21% today.
Corporations do not want any rules which stand in the way of making profit. Left unregulated, they would simply operate in ways which maximised their profits regardless of social outcomes. When we introduce a regulator, corporations seek to and succeed in compromising them. The issue is not to blame one or other of the players, but the game of capitalism itself.
Pulling our heads out of the sand
It is time to get real. There are a number of sheer economic realities which also undermine the idea of the so called free market. I would recommend reading Professor Steve Keen’s Debunking Economics to get a better handle on those.
But whether it be sheer mathematical reality, or social reality, the free market myth is nothing but a nonsense. It is a self serving nonsense propagandised by its beneficiaries.
In 2008, the banks did not uphold the principle of free market values and keeping the state out of the market – they begged the state to use tax payer money to cover their debts whilst only they enjoyed the profits. The IMF recently estimated that this bailout has so far cost the taxpayers of the world £7.12 trillion ($11.9trn). That is the equivalent of a £1,779 hand out to every last human being on earth.
The truth is that most of the globe now labours under corporatized states. Every new policy is tested against the reaction to it by ‘the market’, as if it were this free, independent aggregated assessment of the worthiness of state actions. It is not. It is simply big businesses reaction to the action of the state. All the market reaction tells you is whether or not a cabal of corporations think they can make a profit from it.
In conclusion, not only is the market not free, but it never can be. It requires legislation to prevent rational corporate behaviour which would undermine it, and any regulator (state or otherwise) will be corrupted by corporations seeking to influence them.
The sooner we abandon this madness, the sooner we can answer the bigger question: how do we create a means of economic organisation which has the highest chance of meeting our social goals?
Surely, underneath all this GDP growth nonsense is a basic ambition to increase living standards around the world, to raise the levels of health, education, social cohesion and progress (technological, scientific etc) across the globe such that we can all benefit from it whilst not destroying our planet.
We labour away under a system which forces us to abandon ideas and aspirations to deliver these goals for the sake of a limited number of overbearingly powerful people and corporations to increase their profits.
The answer cannot be to unleash these people on the world without even the token regulation they have now, but to fundamentally transform our social, political, economic and environmental organisation.
We must abandon the myth of the free market, just as we gave up on Santa Claus and Unicorns – it is time to put away childish things so we can become grown up caretakers of ourselves, each other and the planet
What deregulation means
In the “free” market in electricity, grabbing water systems was a sure bet: Governments had already paid for the pipes and the market is captive, customers undeserved and thirsty. Thatcher’s England led the way with the first privatizations. In Britain, water bills shot up astronomically for consumers .
Once deregulation comes rest assured gas ,water and the cost of electric services will rise in an ever upward spiral
Workers were fired en masse, allowing Enron to pocket their pay, in violation of the company’s solemn promises to invest. Without maintenance workers, water mains were left broken. Enron’s profitable neglect of the system left water contaminated.
“Maintaining our water infrastructure in public ownership is of major importance for future generations. It is essential that we ensure that this asset is maintained under democratic control and not allowed to fall into the hands of those who would wish to exploit this resource for private profit at the expense of the public interest,” said Jack O’Connor, president of Services industrial professonal and technical union (SIPTU).
SIPTU Sector Organiser, Michael Wall, said: “The alliance will focus on the role of staff in the new company and highlighting the consequences for the country if the process of privatisation of water services is continued.
“The unions will develop a joint policy and actions across the country as the efforts to reduce public ownership of water services is rolled out.”
The unions involved in the new alliance are SIPTU, UNITE and the TEEU.
What IMF loans mean
Take the case of Ecuador
While trying to pay down the mountain of IMF obligations, Ecuador foolishly “liberalized” its tiny financial market, cutting local banks loose from government controls and letting private debt and interest rates explode. Who pushed Ecuador into all of the nonsense why none other than the IMF so their corporate friends could benefit
Statement from SIPTU Ireland
Maintaining our water infrastructure in public ownership is of major importance for future generations. It is essential that we ensure that this asset is maintained under democratic control and not allowed to fall into the hands of those who would wish to exploit this resource for private profit at the expense of the public interest,” said Jack O’Connor, president of Services industrial professional and technical union (SIPTU).
Don’t turn the tap off and let the IMF benefit from Ireland’s utilities
IMF image produced by Alec Foley
In 1649, a group of English communists started fighting the notion of private property in what became known as the commons movement. They were using the unstable period in England’s history to introduce a new economy, one that would see land, wells and other means of wealth as shared resources. This group would prevent a small class of people from collecting and consolidating the rights to basic human life, such as water and food. In an annual celebration that doubled as a protest, they would circle the village commons and level or dig up any hedges and fences that designated spots of private ownership. They became known as the “levelers” or “diggers.”
The movement, which was subsequently quelled in 1651 by landowners and the Council of State, has seen a revival in the past decade. It remained dormant for so many years because of its fundamental threat to modern economics, putting community needs at the center of society rather than those of the individual.
The commons protects large resources from privatization, such as the lobster fisheries in Maine or grassland management in Mongolia, and allows collectives to regulate extraction. Exploitation is avoided because no one individual has more of a right to the source than any other.
“[The commons]” is “an intellectually coherent way of talking about inalienable value, which we don’t have a vocabulary for,” David Bollier, author of “The Wealth of the Commons,” said in a conference Tuesday at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Washington, D.C.
It is a way, Bollier says, of formally introducing the “political, public policy, cultural, social, personal, even spiritual” aspects of life into our economic system, which now, he says, can deal only with monetary value.
“You could say that it’s a different metaphysics than that of the modern liberal state,” he says, “which looks at the individual as the sole agent.”
The commons movement is a reaction to exploitative free market capitalism. It rejects the notion that resources, spaces and other assets are purely a means to wealth. It condemns the privatization of public works, such as the parking meters in Chicago, which allows the sovereign wealth fund that controls it to increase the rates.
When an economy allocates wealth to private entities, Bollier says, those property rights inevitably get consolidated until a few large institutions control its means.
Instead, he says, we need to protect the commons with rules that bar individual ownership of that property. It is not, however, a space that is left as a free-for-all; it still has regulations and state recognition that prevent private groups from exploiting it.
The commons introduces a “role for organized self-governance as opposed to government,” Bollier says, “although they can be made complimentary.” The community manages the resource and has an involved interest in keeping others from decreasing its supply, he says, because the license belongs to the public.
But the commons is not restricted to natural resources—it extends to the Web, science and other technologies.
The Internet has become the setting for a fierce battle between public advocates that would like to designate forums as open and free, and companies that seek to control more of its content through bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Many programmers have handed over their copyright ownership to the public in the form of General Public Licenses and Creative Commons licenses, which allow the public to use and contribute to forums without having to pay for usage. It also keeps companies from using personal information, as with Facebook, to target potential consumers.
Additionally, one-fifth of the human genome is privately owned through patents. Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics, for example, owns the breast cancer susceptibility gene, which guarantees monopoly control over research into cancer. It discourages many other researchers from exploring treatment, something that could ultimately stunt our capacity for medical advances.
The issue extends further: Monsanto uses Genetically Modified Organisms to displace natural seeds, multinational water bottle companies are privatizing groundwater, and software companies retain copyrights on mathematical algorithms that others then cannot use.
“Enclosure,” Bollier says about patents and private ownership, “is about dispossession. It’s a process by which the powerful convert a shared community resource into a market commodity … This is known as development.
“The strange thing about the commons is that it’s invisible because it’s outside of the market and the state,” Bollier says. “It’s not seen as valuable and isn’t recognized because it has little to do with property rights for markets or geopolitical power … but there’s an estimated 2 billion people around the world whose lives depend upon commons like fisheries, forests, irrigation water and so forth.”
The neoliberal market does not, paradoxically, grasp the purpose behind the commons. Our current system is one-dimensional, Bollier says, and is designed to attach a price to everything.
For years, sustainability experts have sought ways to incorporate moderation and conservation into the neoliberal model through such incentives as cap and trade. But companies, Bollier says, will pay the extra fees until it is no longer economically viable, proving that in a system of privatization, people are willing to shell out penalty payments as long as they do not disrupt their profits.
“There’s an allure in trying to meet microeconomics and neoliberal economics on its own ground,” says Carroll Muffett, moderator of the discussion and president of the Center for International Environmental Law, “to say ‘if you want to put a price on everything, here’s the price for this and look how massive the price is,’ whether it’s access to water or it’s pollination … but for me the danger is: Is meeting them on their own ground what we should be doing? Is there an inherent compromise in there that risks giving up something that ultimately cannot have a value put on it?”
Until recently, Bollier and Muffett say, there has been much wiggle room for the free market to expand. But as the basic needs of fresh water, energy and food are being overproduced or vanishing because of climate change, companies are finding that their only options are to draw from the scant resources of Third World communities to meet their profit margins. It is a test to see what, in the end, neoliberalism holds higher in value: money or life.
Muffett says that question has already been answered in the building of the coal-fired Medupi Power Station in South Africa. An assessment of the power station projected that there wouldn’t be enough water to keep the plant operating and meet the needs of the local community. The watershed adjacent to the plant is already so overtaxed that it doesn’t reach the sea. The company, Eskom, proposed to reroute water from another watershed for its main operation and use the local supply for its filtration system. It would raise the price of water for the community to keep “poachers” from draining the source.
“The water that’s being poached,” Muffett says, “is to give people access to fresh water and to water their crops for subsistence living.
“Putting a price on that for a community is ultimately missing the point. The water isn’t fungible. If I give you my gallon of water and you give me $1,000, I can’t drink the thousand dollars.”
Both Bollier and Muffett say this is the result of an economy based on the philosophies of Thomas Malthus and John Locke, whose models do not guarantee the right of existence. To exist, one must have money. It becomes the defining characteristic of life.
“That’s the risk in the natural capital approach,” Muffett says. “It’s saying ‘if you give me a thousand dollars, that’s a substitute for my bees, my pollinators, for the land where my ancestors are buried.’ And there is no substitute for that.”
This article was made possible by the Center for Study of Responsive Law.