The Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, an Athens-based group with a commitment to democratic and ecological cities, recently published an interview with me, conducted by Antonis Brumas and Yavor Tarinski. Among the topics discussed: the compatibility of commons and markets; the potential of urban commons; the links between commons and ecology; and my sense of the future of commoning.
Below is the text of the interview, conducted in March:
Some believe that the commons are incompatible with commodity markets. Others claim that markets and commons may form mutually beneficial relations with each other. What are your own views on this issue?
I think it is entirely possible for markets and commons to “play nicely together,” but only if commoners can have “value sovereignty” over their resources and community governance. Market players such as businesses and investors cannot be able to freely appropriate the fruits of a commons for themselves without the express authorization of commoners. Nor should markets be allowed to use their power to force commoners to assume market, money-based roles such as “consumers” and “employees.” In short, a commons must have the capacity to self-regulate its relations with the market and to assure that significant aspects of its common wealth and social relationships remain inalienable – not for sale via market exchange.
A commons must be able to develop “semi-permeable boundaries” that enable it to safely interact with markets on its own terms. So, for example, a coastal fishery functioning as a commons may sell some of its fish to markets, but the goals of earning money and maximizing profit cannot be allowed to become so foundational that it crowds out commons governance and respect for ecological limits.
Of course, market/commons relations are easier when it comes to digital commons and their shared wealth such as code, text, music, images and other intangible (non-physical) resources. Such digital resources can be reproduced and shared at virtually no cost, so there is not the “subtractability” or depletion problems of finite bodies of shared resources. In such cases, the problem for commons is less about preventing “free riding” than in intelligently curating digital information and preventing mischievous disruptions. In digital spaces, the principle of “the more, the merrier” generally prevails.