Wednesday, December 02, 2009

global commons and common sense

Post Autistic Economics Review | Globalisation is the result of economic growth and technical progress. Production systems have attained global reach. However, the rules and institutions that regulate the systems’ relations of production and exchange are still mostly national. Furthermore, national regulation systems have been drastically eroded in the past three decades of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation. The present global economic crisis is clearly the result of this inconsistency or contradiction.

We could say with Marx in the famous Preface to the Contribution that the global ‘material productive forces of society [have] come into conflict with the existing relations of production […] From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.’

The reach of the productive force of technology is paralleled by the reach of its destructive power. The real possibility of MAD (mutual assured destruction) gives testimony to that. The maintenance of global peace and security is also an area in which the logic of the commons can suggest possible ways of progress.

As in the case of MAD, competition for common limited resources has sometimes been described as a game of ‘Chicken,’ in which two drivers head against each other from opposite directions — the first to swerve is the loser. In the race for world resources, those who most voraciously exploit and deplete them are the momentary winners of the suicidal game. To avoid mutual destruction, the logic of conflict suggests the formation of a ‘social norm’ to be collectively followed. An ancient social norm, found in most ethical traditions, is the rule of reciprocity, which applied to the utilisation of a common exhaustible resource gives the norm of equal rights for all. Standard utilitarianism also would conclude that aggregate utility is maximised by equal distribution.

The argument applies to other natural resources such as mineral and oil deposits, which also give rise to differential rents. The fact that in most countries oil is a collectively owned resource and underground resources in general are prima facie considered as belonging to the commonwealth, suggests that mineral resources are naturally seen as the common property of the commonwealth. What is not reflected in most natural resource legislations is the legal consequence of collective ownership, namely the equal allocation of dividends, a question that is central to the global redistributive mechanisms discussed here.

However, the question still hovers around who belongs to the commonwealth. Who composes the commonwealth? Wich commonwealth is relevant? Which commonwealth is the legitimate owner of the natural resources? These questions will acquire increasing relevance with rising expected rents accruing from rapidly increasing scarcity, and the resulting wars for the control of resources. Many wars, and perhaps most current and planned wars, are about the control of resources — oil in particular. The unfortunate fact is that there is no factually legitimate form of exclusive/exclusionary ownership. All forms of privately or nationally restricted forms of property are contestable, and in fact often contested. The only stable, uncontestable form of resource ownership is collective ownership by the global society, according to clear and effective rules of use, acceptable to all. And again, the often avoided question of the equal distribution of dividends must be considered simultaneously.