Where the story begins

The current economic system is broken. Inequality between the world’s richest and the other 99% has rarely been so great. Global warming is not going to stop at two degrees. Biodiversity is declining. We are more stressed than ever. This century will be remembered as ‘the lonely century’.

One thing is certain: we need a new way to organize our society. The current system turns natural resources into commodities, sees people primarily as consumers, and approaches the economy as an infinitely growing, abstract thing that is separate from the rest of society.

What can the commons do?

A forgotten domain of society is the commons. Here, rules other than market forces or hierarchies apply. In the commons, people move towards a way of living based on community, caring and democratic ownership.

This shift consists of a number of interlocking transitions, which form the backbone of the commons: from individualism to community, from consumerism to a multifaceted existence, from extractive to regenerative practices, and from endless growth to a thriving society. 




The commons
in a nutshell

Commons are originally self-organising, social systems where shared resources are managed by a community. Commons can be about anything, land, data, public space, water, as long as a community shares and manages it democratically.

An example is Wikipedia, where knowledge is not traded on the market and the government does not determine who has access and who does not. Or there are ‘Herenboeren‘, who collectively steward pieces of agricultural land and food production for a defined group of people. There are energy cooperatives, Creative Commons technologies, and many others.

Here’s three crucial characterstics of the commons derived from the work of commons thinker David Bollier:

1. 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.

2. The commons is not a resource. It is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources. Many resources urgently need to be managed as commons, such as the atmosphere, oceans, genetic knowledge and biodiversity.

3. There is no commons without commoning – the social practices and norms for managing a resource for collective benefit. Forms of commoning naturally vary from one commons to another because humanity itself is so varied. And so there is no “standard template” for commons; merely “fractal affinities” or shared patterns and principles among commons. The commons must be understood, then, as a verb as much as a noun. A commons must be animated by bottom-up participation, personal responsibility, transparency and self-policing accountability.