It’s only a short article with not much analysis or detail, but The Economist magazine seems to have embraced the commons. This is a stunning reversal for a publication that has long regarded Garrett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” fable as gospel and sufficient reason to expand private property rights.
Yet there it was, in the September 12 issue: “The alternatives to privatization and nationalization,” the headline declared, proposing commons as a better way to manage wealth. This was followed by the heretical subheadline: “More public resources could be managed as commons without much loss of efficiency.”
Gobsmacked by this conclusion from a champion of market economics, I immediately pored through the unsigned article to see the reasoning behind the article. Alas, there was not the indepth analysis that I had hoped for. Still, it was encouraging to see The Economist reconsider the English enclosure movement. Instead of celebrating the Industrial Revolution as a necessary Great Leap Forward, the article questioned whether enclosures actually resulted in productivity gains, as frequently claimed by capitalist historians.
“Privatising shared resources, it turns out, does not always lead to a productivity boom,” writes the author, nor does it “always lead to a productivity boom.” Citing research by Robert Allen of NYU Abu Dhabi, the author notes that English lords did not necessarily reinvest their profits to improve productivity and spur innovation: “Most indulged in fine living; many were debtors rather than savers.”