Archive for October, 2013

Can commons be divided into class?

October 29, 2013

Made In Taiwan Products

October 28, 2013

Talking about Western countries finding cheaper labour abroad to maximize production.  Does anyone know what happened to ‘Made In Taiwan Products’?


Is this the end of the ultimate commons, the world?

October 26, 2013

This is terrible news for our common world and one of the most beautiful and pristine place on earth, namely Greenland. In a very debated and criticized vote, the 31 member Parliament has just passed (15 against 14 votes) a law allowing companies to mine for uranium and other rare metals. There is already some mining in Greenland but these are very small-scale operations which don’t make much profit because of high logistics costs due the remoteness of their location and the severity of the climate for a good part of the year. However the Parliament decision has opened the way for large scale operations by English, Chinese and Canadian mining companies. It also opens the way for pushing for the right to exploit the huge natural resources of oil and natural gas situated in the North. The rationale behind their decision is that the economy badly needs the revenue and it would have a serious impact on reducing unemployment.

I beg you to read the following extract and tell me how this is going to help reduce Greenland’s unemployment:

” London Mining PLC said on Thursday it has been awarded an exclusive 30-year iron ore extraction contract in Greenland. The statement said it would pay royalties on sales and taxes to Greenland.

The project, called ‘Isua’ is estimated to cost $2.3 billion, more than the island-nation’s $2 billion GDP.

UK-based London Mining said it could extract 15 million tons from the open-pit mine, which it plans to staff with 3,000 Chinese workers.

Greenland passed a law in December allowing companies to pay foreign workers a lower wages, which could undermine the local Greenlander workforce, which is largely unskilled.”   

I don’t know the details of the agreement, but I feel that if mining was unavoidable, this was an opportunity for a Government to adopt a new blueprint for the future of mining in a developing country. With so much at stake and so many companies knocking at the door, they could have imposed their rules. Why not leasing the land for a short period only, and forcing these big multinational conglomerates  to have 75% of their management and workforce coming from Greenland in return from being allowed to exploit the mines. This would give an enormous incentive for the local youth to study, learn new skills and work, and would really help creating a sustainable economy and environment, as the mines would be more and more managed by locals who would have their environment much more at stake than a foreign manager.

I went many times to Greenland. It is a beautiful country of magnificent fjords, stunning mountains and the midnight sun. I went on week long ski touring trips, sleeping in remote cabins.  I even crossed Greenland on skis following the arctic circle. The nature is pristine, its beauty almost magical. It is a very fragile environment which already is terribly affected by global warming (a reason for the renewed interest in mining is the rapid thaw of the ice cap which has made thoses riches much more accessible), which in turn is going to affect the whole planet (predicted rise of the oceans).

When I read that Greenland had allowed uranium mining, it reminded me of another very sad chapter in the history of the loss of our environment. In a beautiful but sad book called “The End of the Game” , Peter Beard writes in 1965 how “the advance of civilization called for the removal of wild game – the central  symbol of African life. In it he writes ” Only 50 years ago man had to be protected from the beasts: today the beasts must somehow be protected from man”. I believe that in 10 years, to paraphrase Peter Beard, we will be able to write that: in Greenland, 10 years ago man had to protect itself from the extreme dangers of nature; today somehow nature has to be protected from the extreme dangers brought by men”.

Could the Mayans have been right when they predicted that the world would end in December 2012? I believe that what they called the world was probably the environment, nature: our largest common. And we just took another giant step towards the end of that world (my only hope is that approval from the Danish parliament which is needed as Greenland is a semi-autonomous territory of Denmark, will be refused).  I feel that it is very cool and up-to-date  to worry and talk about the environment and saving the planet, but the sad reality is that we undermine its sustainability at every opportunity. When will it be enough? When the coast of Greenland will look like the coast of the gulf of Mexico? When there will be no wild game left in Africa?

As a final reflection, I invite you to read the following long article on why America has to be involved in the Arctic…. It is really a pathetic example of our world:  there is plenty about making sure that the US will have its share of the spoils (resources and profit) and nothing about protecting the environment.

Iceland’s president: Arctic crucial to America (

Related articles

Are open roads ‘open access Commons?

October 26, 2013

roads commoningThis follows my last blog a week ago when a motorist personalised a one way road which resulted in congestion, time loss etc. Today I am looking at whether highway roads are open access, if so why and how. 

Highway roads , street roads and sidewalks in most free market economies have turned to managed as open-access commons. To answer some of the questions on this subject requires a broad spectrum of analogy such resoponses will also help to answer issues on databases access for public domain such as the U.S.and elsewhere to Europe’s copyright-like regimes. I wonder if those responses will help on the new generation WiFi spectrum commons strategies in the construction of the globalised computing environment.Nevertheless, it all points to the interesting discussion on: should all these be under the spectrum of property-like models? These designed institutional questions calls for our greater understanding of the  role commons play in contemporary market economies.


Back to the highway, since our understanding of the umbrella term “the commons,” Refers to quite different classes of problems and solutions. It is imperetive to perhaps to away with the grand unified theory of commons, (But) maybe there is. This draws the theoretical platform of contemporary understanding of the commons needs to deal with two distinct paradigm cases that mark our understanding of commons. For instance, the symbolic implications of the pastures and irrigation districts pioneered by Ostrom against the highways, sidewalks, streets and  as well traditional aspects of the undisputed public domain such as the manifest of copyright term limitations or perhaps the inevitability of inventive step or unavoidability of patents. It appears non of these theoretical  is inexcludable. While, Massimo and Alicante appear to position water in scrip market with divisible and tradeable rights, highways and the public domain in knowledge, information, and culture, is the challenge of any comprehensive theory of the commons.


Lets say, there was no state-based institutional design for sustainable governance of resources on such a motorist who left the car blocking the one way road. To which defined set of claimants of fellow motorists who are part of the highway road  as members of a patent pool would lay claim in such a common. Which gives the impression that enclosures from government on larger scale utilization are unavoidable than would be efficient in small, community owned roads. But the fact that there is state intervetion through doctrines of ‘property system’ excludes it from being a “commons”. Can we say that, No. Just because the primary policy implications in such management of resources, sometimes introducing a government management policy will undermine a well-functioning, collectively-created system better tailored to local conditions than a standardized institutional framework could.

Open access commons are almost never meant to be lawlessness or anarchy. The concept is :freedom-to-operate under symmetric constraints, available to an open, or undefined, class of users. Rules of the road on the open highway are the most basic instance.They are marked by an absence of asymmetric power to determine disposition of the resource. Experiments to institute minimal pricing systems, such as pay access to HOV lanes, or congestion pricing, are exceptions but not the rules, and  available on nondiscriminatory, fixed terms to anyone, more like common carriage than a spot market in roadway capacity.


October 22, 2013

Whenever I think of commoning, the memories of how the people from my Village in the Rural North Western Uganda used to share meals as a family and even as a community amidst scarcity flash my mind. During the festive seasons like Christmas and Easter, the people would pool resources like flour, goats, chicken, vegetables and money which would be used to prepare a big and delicious meal. Families would then gather and share the food and make merry.

Eating together even at a family level can be a powerful way of commoning. Busy schedules of both parents and children today has made it hard to have meals together. But there are benefits that come with regularly eating together at whatever level. Research suggests that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

It provides an opportunity for conversation. This lets parents teach healthy communication without distractions from smart phones, television, computers, and mobile devices. By engaging your children in conversation, you teach them how to listen and provide them with a chance to express their own opinions. This allows your children to have an active voice within the family and the community.

At a community level, there is a sense of security that comes with togetherness which can contributes to building values, motivation, personal identity and self esteem. Anti-social behaviors are minimized. Actually in my village there used to be no thieves until when people started individualizing their properties.

It is easier to share family meals today than the community meals but eating together is a very good way of commoning. It may require effort in planning, but the benefits in mental and physical health to you and your family are more than worth it.

When Life Gets in the Way: Finding Time to Blog

October 21, 2013

The Daily Post

When you begin blogging, losing an hour of sleep to perfect a post or skipping lunch to spend time commenting is a pleasure. Post ideas come thick and fast. And more published posts mean pageviews and readers, so publishing more is better, right?

Sure… until it’s not. Until work starts piling up. Or you get sick. Or a friend is in from out of town. Or you have to bake three dozen cupcakes for Sally’s class — by tomorrow. Sometimes, we all get trapped under a beam in the burning barn (metaphorically) and can’t get to the computer. When that happens, how do you find time to blog without turning your creative outlet into just another obligation?

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The fatal flaw of capitalism is greed.

October 20, 2013

In capitalism greed is part of the system, politely known as rational self-interest.Competition is the central mechanism which makes it work best described by Professor Lionel Robbins: ” Every day thousands of people cast their votes for hundreds of products and services on  offer, and from competition to win votes better products and services arise.” That is said to be how capitalist system brings best outcomes.

But that is not how things have worked out in recent years. on the contrary, there has been a dramatic widening of inequality. Was Karl Marx right when he said ,’ The end result of competition is the end of competition.’

“Jirga” The World’s oldest Common

October 20, 2013


images 2On hearing the word “Jirga”, the first question that comes to mind is what is Jirga? Well to a common person, Jirga is a “Common” unofficial institution comprised of local, elderly, and influential men in Pukhtoon communities, who undertake dispute resolution, primarily through the process of arbitration. These Pukhtoon communities exist in, north western and western, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas FATA (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

To discuss “Jirga System” in Commons blog appeared imperative to me after having an insight to Alinor Ostrom’s principles of Common design. Although these principles lack in their arguments against Enclosures, but provide fair grounds to analyze the characteristic of a community towards its Common pool Recourses (CPR).
– “The term ‘common-pool resource’ refers to a natural or man made resource system that is sufficiently large as to make it costly (but not impossible) to exclude potential beneficiaries from obtaining benefits from its use.” (Ostrom 1990: 30)

In this scenario, Justice Provider or conflict resolution entity, “Jirga”, is complicated to refer as Common pool resource, as one individual’s access to call for justice does not subtract from the right of another person’s access to justice. However, the community safeguards the “Jirga” in the same manner as Ostrom defines the principles for a community to care for its CPR.

I consider “Jirga” as Common. A common, that existed, when there was no government and no state, the people had to develop some sort of ethics to regulate their life. These ethics were born by necessity and turned into traditions, Jirga has sustained in itself for centuries but leaving its history, structure and activities unwritten for outside world.

The basis for Jirga is considered the teachings of Holy Quran, which commands Muslims to Shura (consultation), in the matter of resolving issues of special importance to a community, however this political gathering stems back from times prior to Afghanistan embracing Islam. Jirga has been practiced in Afghanistan for centuries.

The operation of Jirga involves a public session where male members of the community gather to deliberate upon an important issue concerning the whole community. It is social frame of life, to undertake issues between individuals, between communities, and sometimes to address the concern of national and international affairs through verbal communication (Loya Jirga deals with national and international affairs). The Jirga may or may not result in an agreement on the issue, but the process itself leads the parties, including the interveners, to maintain a certain level of formal communication, thus ensuring peace.

Another aspect of Jirga, in compliance to its existent as Common, is the inclusivity of all the members from every social layer of the community. There is very little hierarchy evident in its structure. “Sitting in a circle, Jirga has no president, no secretary or convener. There are no hierarchical positions and required status of the participants. All are equal and everyone has the right to speak and argue, although, regard for the elders is always there without any authoritarianism or privileged rights attached to it. ( (by Dr. Mumtaz Bangash)

These proceedings of Jirga evidently demonstrate the Ostrom principles of “Clearly defined boundaries- for users,” “Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions” and “Collective-choice arrangements” By the community for the cause of commons.

The principles of “Efficient Monitoring and Graduated sanctions-punishment, fines and sanctions” have also been practiced. when The Jirga passes a judgment after necessary investigation into the dispute. No effort is spared to reconcile the disputing parties. However, if a party declines its verdict, the jirga may resort to punitive measures such as a fine in cash to punish those who violate the decision.

Then the principle of “Nesting of small-scale governance systems within larger governance systems when localized CPRs are part of larger systems” (Layering of governance structures equals the inter-reliance and density of CPR organism) also exist in Jirga. If one of the parties is not satisfied with the verdict and feels that the Jirga has not done justice, they can quote precedents and rules to plead their point and reject the decision. In this scenario, the aggrieved party has the right to bring another Jirga to re-examine the issue. In doing so, the decision given on the third occasion is usually considered final.

Consequently, I believe that the Jirga is “Common” and has ever been the Common resource for quick and inexpensive justice, for the people In Afghanistan and Pakistan, living in the tribal areas, Surrounded by mountains with low government’s influence.

Some argue about whether it is in the interest of Pakistan to have two parallel judicial systems, while others take it as having state within a state challenging the writ of the government. Answers to these questions are far more complicated then they seem. The tribal groups – particularly Pukhtun and Baloch over the years, have been reluctant and sensitive to adopting the western judicial system in practice at the local courts – They also had defied the British writ for almost a century and compelled, that world power to accept in this region, the shariat (Islamic law/code of conduct) and traditions, beside their laws. The tribal territories in Pakistan are still administered under a complex political system.

Beside that there are some general human rights concerns about the use of Jirga, there are some specific issues relating to women’s rights which primarily focus on issues of access, participation, representation, fairness and the use of punishments and practices. The reality is that local leadership in tribal Areas is almost entirely dominated by men. As a result, the Jirga is the main social system which regulates all facets of Pakhtun community-those who control the Jirga control society.
In actuality, it is not the jirga system that allows for abusive practices, but some elders who in recent times have exploited the system either to forcefully impose the Shariah(islamic law), speaking loosely, or to side with a particular party for political gains.

Following the news on bbc, ( I believe, new “Common”is emerging as “Pakistani women use Jirga to fight for rights”

Further reading

A clever sticker on a bin!!

October 20, 2013

Saw this today in Oxford! All bins have such a sticker stuck on them. A simple way to tell the inhabitants of Oxford why they should recycle their garbage and how to do it. Recycling is very important for the preservation of our common environment, but education is paramount for doing it efficiently. Why can’t we have the same stickers on our bins in Kensington & Chelsea?





One way highway road system a ‘Commons Good’ and the need for enclosure

October 19, 2013

In my tour in the analysis of the highway roads as a ‘common’, I got so immensely interested in making in ‘rods’ yesterday into how such things happen. I was stuck on one of the one way roads not because of the so called ‘traffic congestion’ or due an RTA but due to someone who parked his car right in the middle of a one way road as there were no restriction lines. I could not turn back because of the ‘one way law’ which positioned me against the law if I tried. While both of us were using the commons, as our right, due to its characteristics such as non-excludability and non-rivalrous consumption made us both not ‘free riders of the commons’ because we had paid the required road tax, MOT and insurance. In fact, being a public road excluded it from being ‘private provision’. Therefore, knocking around for him to remove his car from the road would appear monotonous and rude as they were no restrictions. Nevertheless, that was for the law enforcement authorities to do but I really needed some coercive power to make him move his car. I had the right to share the common thus drive through without him blocking me. My point is: it’s a common good and individual acts of excludability leads to consequences in the form of enclosures (check my last blog ‘highway as a common good’), I spoke of road cameras, restrictive lines, barricades etc. If the road was a private good, my fellow motorist would even lock the gate to avoid more traffic., it brings me to the highway road as ‘common pool’, a terminology usually applied to a natural resource such as a fishery, forestry although the term can be used to describe many goods and services that are freely provided for some reason often by the state, in this case the highway road fits well. A common pool exist when all people or simply a number of people who face vary high collective decision making costs have free or “common” access to a scarce good or resource. The cost of moving this motorist as more cars queued apply to this concept of ‘common pool’ as large numbers of other cars faced varying high collective decision making costs due to the underpinning notion that free or “common” use  of a scarce good or resource(one way road)is subject to rivalry in consumption. The one blocking the road diminishes the benefits that another user gains and the diminution often involves crowding (congestion) and a deterioration in quality for all users hence highway travel time rises, surface damage increases etc. I viewed this scenario as the “tragedy of the commons”.  The question still remains as to how much rights and ownership do we have on this ‘common pool’ or how commoning can one common the highway roads.