Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Commons thinking - Part 1

As the economy continues to implode and news headlines blare the numbers of people unemployed, the number of homes in foreclosure, the lines of hungry people at food pantries and the lack of shoppers at local stores, I find the numbers to be boggling. There are no numbers in the hundreds—everything is at least thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, millions and even billions. And yet each unit in these numbers is actually a person, and we cannot lose sight of the human stories in these numbers.

A situation of this magnitude requires bold and creative thinking, which is so far, in my estimation, in short supply from those who have the power to make things happen on a grand scale: government and corporations. The creativity and boldness that will actually begin to solve our economic problems needs to arise from an entirely different frame than we have used in the past. We need to use a “commons” frame to solve our problems. We often think of the commons as something that exists which we need to take care of, something fragile and easily broken. And, for large swaths of the commons, this is accurate: wilderness, oceans, and air are just three examples of the commons that are polluted, privatized and damaged right now. But the commons is also an approach to problems, and here commons thinking is proactive and cutting edge.

For your holiday thinking, in this blog post and the next one, I will give two brief ideas for how to solve some economic problems on a grand scale, using commons thinking. Commons thinking puts the common good at the center and asks how can all systems be designed or reformed to serve this good? How can all systems and structures insure that all people, (and if not all, then most) have what they need in terms of housing, health care, education, food, work, and so on?

Davindar Kaur, Communications Officer for Share the World’s Resources, an NGO advocating for essential resources such as food, water and energy to be shared internationally, proposes this to address world hunger:
The current economic system, based on ever-increasing economic growth as the overarching solution to fighting poverty, is both ineffective and unsustainable. The key to tackling poverty and inequality must come from a change in principles and priorities from which practical steps can be taken to put long-term structures in place. One such solution would be to define and redistribute essential resources in order to immediately secure basic human needs. The universal right to a life of dignity and survival has long been enshrined in article 25 of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services."

There is no reason why 967 million people should go to bed hungry every day. The problem is not defined by a scarcity of food, but by the insufficient access to resources for millions of the world's poor who lack the necessary purchasing power to survive.

To immediately reduce inequality and end extreme poverty, a new international mechanism is required which can facilitate a greater economic sharing of essential resources. The most critical of these are land, basic agricultural produce, water, energy and essential medicines, which together need to be defined, withdrawn and protected from international markets and no longer traded by multinational corporations.

A similar initiative was supported by over 100 civil society organisations at the recent WTO talks. Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua presented a proposal to remove healthcare, education, water, telecommunications and energy from the WTO "on the basis that these essential public services are human rights which governments have an obligation to provide, and should not be treated as tradable commodities."

Although the UN is in need of considerable reform, it should play a lead role in redistributing essential resources. It is the only international body with the experience, expertise and financial resources to initiate and coordinate such a crucial program. A new body within the UN needs to be responsible for a short-term emergency relief program to address the urgent needs of the 50,000 people who die each day from poverty, of which 30,000 are children. Simultaneously, a long-term program could begin to coordinate securing the wider basic needs of the global public.

Campaigning for the redistribution of essential resources, rather than just more aid or fairer trade, is the first vital step to securing the basic needs of the world community.
Ms. Kaur’s proposal calls for essential resources to be in the commons and not in the market. You can read her entire article on CommonDreams.

Tomorrow, some proposals to address our domestic problems…..stay tuned.

1 comment:

Frances said...

This is terrific Kim. It is amazing how our priorities are focused so narrowly. Look forward to more.