Wealth and Want
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Commons Algorithm


Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 8: Sharing Culture (pages 117-134)

The larger lesson of this chapter is that all three branches of the commons — nature, community, and culture — are under similar assault from corporations, and all need to be fortified. The means of fortification will vary with the particular commons. When commons are scarce or threatened, we ought to limit aggregate use, assign property rights to trusts, and charge market prices to users. When commons are limitless (like culture, the Internet, and potentially the airwaves), our challenge is the opposite: to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number at the lowest cost. To create scarcity where it doesn’t need to exist diminishes rather than enlarges our well-being.

In both limited and unlimited commons, corporate and commons algorithms clash. In limited commons, the corporate algorithm says: use as much as you can as quickly as you can, because if you don’t, someone else will. The commons algorithm, by contrast, says: preserve the asset for future generations, enhance it whenever possible, and live off income rather than principal. In unlimited commons, the corporate algorithm says: restrict use and charge what the market will bear. The commons algorithm, by contrast, says: the more users the merrier, and the cheaper the better. In both situations, the commons algorithm conflicts head-on with the corporate one, and that’s just fine. Indeed, it’s precisely the point.

Commons algorithms need to be unleashed in real-time markets, where they can duke it out with their corporate counterparts. Managers in each sector will know what to do, and the public will know what to expect. If corporations keep winning, then add more property to the commons. Eventually, we’ll get the best of both worlds, and when there’s conflict, more balanced outcomes than we get today. We’ll also gain clarity about the real costs of current practices.

After we fortify, we should enhance; just as we take from the commons, so should we give back. Art and music can be reproduced by corporations, but they don’t come from corporations; they come from the commons. Folk music, country music, jazz, blues, garage bands — these are the roots of our musical heritage. We must nourish the soil in which these roots grow. This, not copyright extension, is the way to enrich culture. ... read the whole chapter



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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper