Friday, November 11, 2011

The Tragedy of The Commons - in reverse


Pondering the Occupy Wall Street protests this week I re-read a fascinating book: Capitalism 3.0 - A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons.

Places are unsafe when no one cares about them. Or when people are too afraid to walk there. That's why graffiti writers target abandoned spaces. Implied territorial ownership of public places is a very big deal, which is why CPTED practitioners spend so much time reinforcing it.

Capitalism 3.0 provides another way. Author Peter Barnes begins by updating Tragedy of the Commons, an old planning motif stolen from biology:

"our current operating system gives too much power to profit-maximizing corporations that devour our commons and distribute their profit to a sliver of the population."

In short, corporations pay little, if anything, for using our commons. Says Barnes, we pay for the commons. Corporations get a free ride.

He then offers a fascinating idea; hold corporations accountable and return value to citizens in a market-based, citizen-owned, legal entity called a commons trust.


An Alaskan trust called the Permanent Fund already does exactly that. Each citizen owns shares in the Permanent Fund which uses oil revenues to invest. Every year those investments pay dividends to each citizen of the state. How many governments give money back to their citizens?

Barnes thinks the commons trust will work for all kinds of commons.

Think of the possibilities:

* 700 community gardens in New York alone.
* 4,000 farmers markets across the US.
* Large retail malls with acres of parking but no social or cultural value

Read Capitalism 3.0. It's like putting on a new pair of glasses.

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