It’s been two years since my dear friend and commons activist Jonathan Rowe went to the gym, came down with an illness and unexpectedly passed away at age 65. Jon was one of the cofounders, in 2002, of the Tomales Bay Institute, later renamed On the Commons. Over the course of the next ten years I learned a great deal about the commons from my many conversations with Jon and from his unfailingly beautiful essays and blog posts. It is a bittersweet experience to re-encounter Jon’s work in all its understated glory in a new book just published.
Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work (Berrett-Koehler) consists of 22 short pieces that Jon wrote for various magazines and Onthecommons.org. The book offers a series of meditations on various aspects of the commons, markets, property and the human condition. Each of them is brisk, passionate and lucid.
If you’re not familiar with Jon, you may want to sample his writings at the website established in his memory after his death, www.jonathanrowe.org. You should also read the book, which will stand as an elegant, sensitive introduction to the commons for years to come.
I’m grateful to my commons colleague and friend Peter Barnes for foraging through Jon’s eclectic and diverse writings to edit this volume. Peter, who worked with Jon and me, is the originator of the cap-and-dividend / Sky Trust proposal for curbing climate emissions. (See his books, Who Owns the Sky? and Capitalism 3.0.) Peter wrote the book’s introduction, and Bill McKibben and I have small cameos as writers of the book’s foreword and afterword, respectively.
While many publishers might be wary of bringing out what might be seen as a “tribute book,” Jon’s essays shine forth as underappreciated gems that will have a timeless appeal. He was that good a writer.
What impressed me about Jon was how he drew upon a rich well of political activism, Washington contacts and top-flight journalists while living a fairly simple life in the rural village of Point Reyes Station, California. It gave him time to think and reflect on contemporary political culture, and it made his commentary that much more penetrating and deep. For a fuller account of Jon’s life and career, you may want to read the appreciation that I wrote two years ago, shortly after his death.