Wednesday, February 2, 2011



The battle over the spread of global corporate control in the last two decades is ongoing. The 2008 global economic crisis seems to ‘prove’ that the bankers and corporate leaders are headed in the wrong direction: millions of unemployed, widespread pollution, and the sort of protests we saw in early 2011, in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.
The authors critique comparative advantage theory. “Under comparative advantage concepts, the viability of economic systems depends entirely upon whether the importing community can pay for its imports with the earned income of its exports…in practice, this neat formula rarely works. Export markets are variable, volatile, and unreliable. More than one nation is now facing a hunger crisis caused by the failure of comparative advantage theories, as export prices crash” (p 162).
What are some alternatives? Cavanagh and Mander suggest that natural resources belong to all us and to future generations, and should go under the heading of the ‘commons’.
The commons, the authors say, include earthly resources, the oceans, outer space, the moon, asteroids, as well as cultural resources, electronic broadcast waves, the internet, and the genes of human beings, animals and plants. All of this is being placed into private hands (unelected, for the most part).
These are the authors’ suggestions.
• Recognition of the Commons, as the heritage of everyone on earth
• Strengthen multilateral treaties such as the Kyoto Protocols. By the way, I don’t agree with the authors about global governance of the environment, because I am not sure how democratic this governance would be
• Install more public trust models to ensure ecological integrity. For example, wide swaths of wilderness in the US are kept by the state on behalf of the public.
• Implementing subsidiarity, which means favoring local production whenever a choice exists. Local commons should be the property of the local community. Includes protectionism of local domestic economies. For example, preventing a Walmart from undercutting local merchants, and encouraging small scale local organic agriculture and energy infrastructures.
• Ground capital and investment in the community. Profits made locally should remain local.
• Introduction of new taxes, such as the “Tobin Tax” on speculative financial transactions and ending corporate tax relief.
• Re-introduction of exchange controls, reregulation of banks and finance institutions. Increase capital gains tax and limit tax evasion tactics.

My view: This book is long on proposals for alternatives but these are never presented in great detail. Implicit in many of the proposals is advocacy for a form of political decentralization. But how does that work in real life? I felt that an imagined case study was needed. The authors could have imagined Anytown, USA, adopting the principles of the commons. Questions of how federal, state and local government might interact, could be answered hypothetically. The best part of the book describes successful alternative policies and systems already in use in communities around the world today.

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