Archive for October, 2009

Climate Change; Kenya drought

October 27, 2009

Below is a short video clip which highlights the effect of climate change on Kenya.

Though food aid seems like a short-term panacea to this environmental challenge, my concern is that this may not be sustainable in the long run hence preventive measures must be pursued. What do you think?

Enclosure on commons – a modern day example.

October 27, 2009

The ongoing Niger-Delta crisis is considered by many to be a consequence of the geopolitical structure of Nigeria; however, “enclosure on commons” is clearly evident in this crisis.

From a firsthand perspective, I experienced some of the social unrest caused by the marginalized Ogoni people as they fought for resources they commonly share. As they saw it, their lands, streams and even plantations enjoyed through many generations were violated by multi-national oil companies in collusion with the government.

This exploitation led to;

  • Highly polluted streams (dangerous for drinking or general use).
  • Wide spread poverty given that fishing is a major source of livelihood.
  • Lack of land for cultivation, thereby resulting in widespread hunger and limiting construction of much needed infrastructure and common social amenities.
  • Disunity amongst commons as the limited acres of land will have to be viciously fought for by the vast majority.
  • Socio-political unrest as these disenfranchised groups formed locally organised militia with the aim of gaining attention of the government.

It has been observed that in much of these exploited and resource depleted communities, the only evidence of oil exploration are rotten containers, pipes and machinery used for this process.

This situation is clearly inhumane and until the commons ( in this case the Ogoni people) are allowed to enjoy what they commonly own or restitution is made for what have been lost, the  potential for more chaos  and  tragedy  remains undiminished.

Effect of the financial crisis on the “rich”

October 27, 2009

I recently came across a very interesting podcast on the BBC Business Daily program .This delved into “how the rich have been changed by the aftershock of the great financial earthquake”. A highlight of the program was the interview of John McAfee (founder of McAfee anti-virus software) who saw his fortune shrink from $400,000,000 to $ 4,000,000  at the peak of the financial tumult.  The magnitude of this loss prompted a lot of soul searching on his part; an evaluation of the quest for excessive material accumulation. This eventually led him to share huge parts of his estate amongst the financially disadvantaged.

In line with the above, John opined that never ending deluge of advertisements lead to insatiable material acquisition- a major feature of capitalism. Drawing insight from the world’s poor and comparing it to the wealthy capitalists, he found it rather bizarre that whilst huge number of people experience financial poverty, a few rich; so greatly influenced by branding and image, waste resources that otherwise would have been equitably distributed to the poor.

Please follow the link below for more insight

Credit crunches or commons….?

October 25, 2009

“The greed proved its full power in America again. Starting with 1990 the house prices began to rise continuously, reaching incredible prices. In 2001, 2002 and even 2004 the Central Bank of America reduced the interest rate continuously reaching the lowest interest rate in 2004 (which was 1%) of the past 50-60 years. Mortgage rates fell, the banks opened up to the public, banks of the “subprime” category gave loans based only on demand. People hurried to get mortgages not necessarily to buy houses they live in but buy houses with property development purposes. In this context house prices exploded until the economic situation changed its course. Economy is like nature, today it is sunny tomorrow it rains. Everything changed from economic relations to mentalities. We are faced with a new reality which was mainly determined by inflation, due to the fact that very small rates of interest can easily lead to economic chaos.
When the inflation became threatening the Central Bank of America tried to fight against it by raising the interest rates. Banks started to raise interest rates and increase the price of mortgage. This way people couldn’t afford to pay monthly rates anymore. As a consequence house prices went down dramatically.” (“Life on loan”, Revista 22, No 41)

I believe things happen as follows: I bought a house on mortgage worth 300,000 pounds. I started to pay mortgage and managed to pay 15,000 pounds. Meanwhile the economic situation changed and the price of my house fell to 200,000 pounds. Since my house is worth 200,000 now and I’ve only paid 15,000 I must be mad to pay further, isn’t it? I take the house key and give it back to the bank and this way I get rid of the house. I have lost 15,000 pounds but I have finished paying of this mortgage. The house belongs to the bank now and I do not have any more financial obligations towards the bank. I go to another bank, I get a mortgage of 200,000 and buy another house, very similar to the one I had, or the same house if they put it back on the market. This way I save 85,000 pounds.
This is how the credit crunch started.

You see, if instead of this greed and thirst of wealth people would have stopped from gathering more and more money, if they shared their goods instead of fighting for personal wealth this world-wide economic crisis wouldn’t have started for sure.
Isn’t it better to return to commons? What do you think?

Using the space we have

October 18, 2009

I went and saw a really interesting piece of performance art today called Urban bodies. It involved people fitting themselves in all sorts of urban spaces. I will put a photo up shortly to explain this a bit better.

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the space that we have available to us. All the space that we don’t even see because we’re so used to seeing London as a place of high density living, or we’re so used to current urban planning that we can’t see the opportunities to challenge and for innovative sustainable development. It made me think about how we can use our space better. Imagine if we replaced all of the balusters on the pavements with trellises to grow bean and peas? If we mixed showcase gardens with vegetable patches? If we introduced a standard about the amount of concrete permitted in any one area? I’m almost thinking this nmight make a useful starting point for the project we’re going to have to do next semester….

The World Turned Upside Down

October 18, 2009

Dick Gaughan – The World Turned Upside Down
Dick Gaughan performs The World Turned Upside down live in the Céilí House, Lurgan, January 16, 2009.

The World Turned Upside Down is a perhaps the best song written about English enclosures and struggles for commons. It talks about the struggles of the ”Diggers” who reclaimed the king’s land as a commons for all. It was composed by Leon Rosselson in 1975, taken into the charts in 1985 by Billy Bragg and also performed by Dick Gaughan, Chumbawamba and Attila the Stockbroker among others. For a background, text of the song and the original Leon Rosselson track see here

Here Dick Gaughan performs The World Turned Upside down live in the Céilí House, Lurgan, January 16, 2009.

You poor take courage
You rich take care
This earth was made a
common treasury
For everyone to share

October 18, 2009

A commentary on Elinor Ostrom Nobel price briefly discussing the relation between commons and capitalist growth => See

To repair or to discard

October 16, 2009

What can the Western world learn from developing countries with regards to sustainability of personal electronic devices and general appliances?

One of the examples that made an impression on me following the second lecture was Massimo’s story about his defective Canon camera and the prohibitive cost of fixing it.

This got me thinking. I pondered why “fixing” remains a thriving business in developing countries as opposed to the West and other developed countries. Mobile phones, computers, televisions, fridges etc are easily repaired in remote parts of Africa.

Why is this practice not so prevalent in developed countries considering the ecological effect of  discarding defective appliances / items?.

Is this due to the ever growing  pressure of commercialism ?

Is high cost of  labour (as is precipitated by a very high cost of living) to blame ?.

Is such ecological effect well neutralised by recycling ?

The Zapatistas: A movement to preserve commons against modern enclosures

October 15, 2009

The lecture on Commons and “our way of life” made me think about what is one’s way of life. Perhaps George Bush referred to Western way of life as the one to be defended against terrorism. However, by extrapolation, it became obvious to me that everybody’s way of life should be defended against any sort of invasion or disruption. This is exactly what the Zapatistas movement has been doing since 1994 to defend the indigenous’ lands in Chiapas region of South Mexico.

The Zapatistas armed revolution stood against the Mexican’s government attempt to sell indigenous lands to multinational companies for the so-called “development projects” such as the construction of dams. I personally consider this neoliberal invasion as the worst form of terrorism which deprives an entire population from their livelihood. And the Chiapas indigenous’ survival instinct is justifiable and understandable: they have just protected their way of life. They have preserved the commons against the modern enclosures. Perhaps the Zapatistas’ great understanding of the neoliberal danger is well quoted as follows:

“The Zapatistas’ insight of neoliberalism as a war against humanity is precisely this: the deepening of a rat race over the global social body” (De Angelis 2007, p.118).

Characterization of the ideas of Eleanor Ostrom and scholars that study the Commons

October 13, 2009

Here is the characterization of the work of one of today’s Nobel for economics winners by George Caffentzis, taken from

Characterization of the ideas of Eleanor Ostrom and scholars that study the Commons

by George Caffentzis


The Rise of the Neo-Hardinians

“Ostrom’s and her co-workers’ historical self-description of their tendency begins with Garrett Hardin’s 1968 “Tragedy of the Commons” article. For Hardin concluded that a commons is inevitably tragic since those who restrain their use of a common-pool resource will lose out to the unrestrained users. Indeed, the “greedy” will be naturally selected to survive, the “fair” will die out, and the common resource will be exhausted, unless, Hardin argued, the users apply “mutually agreed upon coercion” to enforce rules that would result in the sustainable use of the common resource. This coercion could only be guaranteed by state sanctions on violators. As a corollary to Hardin’s conclusion, neoliberal economists argued that the only efficient rules that limit access to the common pool resource are private property rights that are alienable through a market (Aguilera-Klink 1994). Thus Hardin’s conclusions joined with neoliberalism to not only reject both common property and state property as reasonable ways to organize the use of the great elemental commons of land, water, air, fire and nous.

But in the 1970s and 1980s, this account continues, challenges to Hardin’s and the neoliberal’s abolition of common property began to accumulate both empirically and theoretically:

A key challenge to the Hardin model came from researchers familiar with diverse common property institutions in the field. They argued that Hardin had seriously confused the concept of common property with open access conditions where no rules existed to limit entry and use. As Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop express it, “common property is not everyone’s property.” They and other researchers stress that where common property existed, users had developed rich webs of use rights that identified who had a long-term interest in the resource and thus an incentive to try to avoid overuse (Dietz et al. 2002: 12).

The theoretical justification of Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” reasoning was also challenged in this period. That justification modeled the tragedy as a Prisoner’s Dilemma game, where the rational strategy is to be “greedy” even though the long-term benefits of being “fair,” though “irrational,” are much greater. This model was challenged because in a prisoners’ dilemma game, the players are limited to a one-shot trial and are not allowed to communicate with each other. But if the players of the commons game can communicate and can have many trials it is easily shown that Hardin’s conclusions do not hold. Indeed, the comparison between the prisoners’ dilemma game and the typical common situation is far-fetched.

C. Ford Runge pointed out this absurdity in a series of papers in the 1980s according to this account:

…most users of a common-pool resource-at least in developing countries-live in the same village where their families had lived for generations and intend to live in the same villages for generations to come. Given the level of poverty facing many villagers, their dependence on natural resources, and the randomness they all face in the availability of natural resources, Runge argued that it is implausible to assume that individuals have a dominant strategy of free riding. He suggested that users of common-pool resources in developing countries faced a repeated coordination game rather than a one-shot prisoners’ dilemma game. In such situations, all users would prefer to find ways of limiting their own use so long as others also committed themselves to stinting (Dietz et al. 2002: 12).

Thus by 1989, at the time of the formation of the IASCP, a new tendency was formulated that I call “neo-Hardinianism.” Just as the neo-Malthusians pointed out, on the basis of demographic trends in Western Europe in the 20th century, an increase in wages does not necessarily imply an increase in working class population, so too neo-Hardinians like Ostrom and her co-workers argued that commons situations do not necessarily lead to “tragedy,” they can also lead to “‘comedy’-a drama for certain, but one with a happy ending” (Dietz et al. 2002: 4). In fact, they called one of their books The Drama of the Commons – “because the commons entails history, comedy, and tragedy” (Dietz 2002: 4).

Scholars in the neo-Hardinian tendency have carried on many important empirical studies of common property systems across the planet as well as have made a number of important distinctions in the study of common property. This is not the place to assess their empirical studies (cf. the extensive bibliography on Private and Common Property Rights in (Ostrom 2000: 352-379) and the Digital Library on the Commons mentioned above), but their most important theoretical distinctions are worth reviewing, since some can be useful to the anti-capitalist commonist movement.

Of course, the primary one is between common property and open access regimes, since the confusion between them is the basis of Hardin’s deduction of the tragedy of the common. Common property regimes are “where the members of a clearly demarcated group have a legal right to exclude nonmembers of that group from using a resource. Open access regimes (res nullius)-including the classic cases of the open seas and the atmosphere-have long been considered in legal doctrine as involving no limits on who is authorized to use a resource” (Ostrom 2000: 335-336). On the basis of this distinction, common property and open access regimes are mutually exclusive and anyone who had as their political ideal the creation of an open access regime would not be a supporter of the commons.

The second important distinction is between a common-pool resource (which is a thing or stuff) and a common property regime (which is a set of social relations). A common-pool resource is such that (a) “it is costly to exclude individuals from using the good either through physical barriers or legal instruments and (b) the benefits consumed by one individual subtract from the benefits available to others” (Ostrom 2000: 337). Because of its two defining characteristics, a common-pool resource is subject to problems of congestion, overuse and potential destruction. Access to, withdrawal from, management and ownership of such a resource can be in the form of a common property regime, but it need not be. “Examples exist of both successful and unsuccessful efforts to govern and manage common-pool resources by governments, communal groups, cooperatives, voluntary associations, and private individuals or firms” (Ostrom 2000: 338). Much of the work of the neo-Hardinians has been to study what attributes of common-pool resources that “are conducive to the use of communal proprietorship or ownership” and what attributes of common-pool resources that “are conducive to individual rights to withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation” (Ostrom 2000: 332).

The neo-Hardinians, however, seem to be less interested in the fact that not all common property regimes involve common-pool resources. On the contrary, when we examine the history of common property regimes, we must conclude that many have been based on non-common-pool resources. For example, money income, personal belongings, literary texts, and even children have been communalized. Thus the 15th century Taborites’ first act of forming their community was to dump all their personal belongings in large open chests and begin their communal relations on an even footing (Federici 2004: 54). On the basis of the history of common property regimes it is difficult to decide what types of goods are “conducive” to private property and what kinds of goods are “conducive” to common property.

The third important distinction is between common-pool resources (e.g., a fishery, a river) and public goods (e.g., knowledge of a physical law, living in a just and peaceful society). They share one characteristic, i.e., it is difficult to exclude people living within the scope of these resources or goods from their enjoyment. But they also differ in another characteristic, for a common-pool resource like a fishery is reduced when something of value like a particular fish is withdrawn from it while a public good like knowledge of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is not diminished when still another person uses it to construct a new engine.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues developed still other distinctions of interest, e.g., between renewable and non-renewable common pool resources as well as between local and global common-pool resources. But there is a distinction between common property regimes that they do not deal with: those regimes antagonistic to and subversive of capitalist accumulation and those regimes that are compatible with and potentiating of capitalist accumulation. In fact, the discourse they employ seems to assume that the discussion of common property regimes is conducted in the context of a capitalist system. Neo-Hardinians like Ostrom recognize that certain common property regimes are perfectly compatible with capitalism or, since they seem to shy away from such a term, with “markets.” Indeed, much of their discussion of particular “successful” commons center on these commodity-producing commons. From Maine lobster fisheries to Alpine pastures, commodities have been profitably produced over long periods of time through the self-regulating behavior of fishers and pastoralists operating in common property regimes (Acheson 2003) (Netting 1981).

But shouldn’t these commodity-producing commons be contrasted with subsistence-producing commons (cf. for more on this concept see (Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen 1999: 141-164)? Aren’t some of these subsistence-producing commons also capable of undermining capitalist development by hindering the emergence of an exploitable proletariat? What of those common-property regimes that provide subsistence goods to the commoners which make wage work unnecessary? What of a common property regime that is providing the food and energy for an anti-imperialist revolutionary army?” (