Economists Dream of Commons Without Commoners
Last November I was lucky enough to be in Berlin when the newly founded Mercator Research Institute for Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) formally presented itself to the world. I was initially impressed that a new scientific research institute with serious financial backing would make a commitment to studying climate change and the commons. The new Institute even regards the late Elinor Ostrom as a prime inspiration, to the extent of naming its auditorium for her.
I wondered if the new institute would be a fresh opening for some very different conversations about climate change. I mused that perhaps the Mercator Research Institute could validate the eco-friendly practices of countless commoners around the world. It might point the way to a different vision of “development” and more meaningful notions of “sustainability.” It might even force the economics discipline to revisit some of its core assumptions about human cooperation and reinvent itself.
Alas, I now believe that few of these scenarios are likely. After listening to the four speakers at the MCC’s inaugural one-day conference on November 15, “The Green Growth Dilemma,” the institute seems poised to explore modest, socially minded twists to the standard economic narrative. In other words, a fairly tame, meliorist agenda within the crumbling edifice of neoclassical economic thought.
There will apparently be no deep critiques of the basic goals, assumptions and methodologies of economics as it is practiced today. Nor does it seem that the potential of the commons as a form of participatory socio-ecological management will be probed. That topic lies too far outside the framework of standard economics. Or at least, no one focused on such commons at the institute's inaugural conference.
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