economics

The Macro-Economic Challenges of Building a New Commons-Based Economy

As commercial interests try to convert what has essentially been a commons into a total market order, the Internet is experiencing a mid-life crisis.  The open Internet is in the process of being enclosed by a variety of commercial forces.  The struggle for political and creative freedom is getting more urgent and complicated as commercial forces try to “develop” the Internet.

The challenge for people who believe in free culture is to reinterpret the core values of the Internet and somehow develop new ways to protect them in today’s more complicated environment.

So what the some of the key macro-economic trends of our time?

"The Great Transition"

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." So begins a significant new report by the New Economics Foundation in the U.K., quoting economist Kenneth Boulding. "The most pressing problem facing humanity now," says the report, The Great Transition, "is how to share scarce planetary resources in ways that are just, sustainable and support the well-being of us all."

Putting People Back into Economics

Last weekend I traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, to speak at a community-organized conference on the commons. As I got up to speak, I paused and gulped: there in the audience was the pioneering scholar of the commons, Elinor Ostrom.

It was not an academic conference, but rather a gathering of 125 regular citizens at the local Unitarian-Universalist Church. Several slides in my presentation drew upon her work or mentioned her. Would she agree with my interpretations? Would I get something wrong?

Ending the Free Market Hoax

It’s a great victory for the commoners that our tax monies for student loans may soon go directly to students, via a U.S. Education Department program, rather than through banks. Yesterday, by a 253 to 171 margin, the House of Representatives voted to shift billions of dollars in college student loans to the Education Department. The move prevents Sallie Mae (the largest private corporation providing student loans) and banks from continuing to act as parasites on public resources and as predators of needy students.

What Is Value?

All economies require social trust to work. While there are many reasons for the lack of confidence in the marketplace today, surely one of the most important is the unreliability of price as an indicator of value. A lot of people just don’t trust prices as reflecting the actual worth of a house or corporation, let alone the intangibles of social life or nature that we also value.

This is symptomatic of the crisis of neoliberal economics and public policy. As I see it, there are a number of mutually reinforcing reasons for the waning confidence in the price system:

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