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Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 5: Reinventing the Commons (pages 65-78)

Trust and liquidity, I eventually realized, are just two small rivulets in an enormous river of common wealth that encompasses nature, community, and culture. Nature’s gifts are all those wondrous things, living and nonliving, that we inherit from the creation. Community includes the myriad threads, tangible and intangible, that connect us to other humans efficiently. Culture embodies our vast store of science, inventions, and art. ...

Social Assets
The value of community and cultural assets has been less studied than that of natural assets. However, we can get an order of magnitude by considering a few examples.

The Internet has contributed significantly to the U.S. economy since the 1990s. It has spawned many new companies (America Online, Amazon.com, Ebay, to name a few), boosted sales and efficiency of existing companies, and stimulated educational, cultural, and informational exchange. How much is all that worth?

There’s no right answer to this question.However, a study by Cisco Systems and the University of Texas found that the Internet generated $830 billion in revenue in 2000. Assuming the asset value of the Internet is 16.5 times the yearly revenue it generates, we arrive at an estimated value of $13 trillion. Another valuable social asset is the complex system of stock exchanges, laws, and communications media that makes it possible for Americans to sell stock easily. Assuming that this socially created “liquidity premium” accounts for 30 percent of stock market capitalization, its value in 2006 was roughly $5 trillion. If that much equity were put in a mutual fund whose shares belonged to all Americans, the average household would be $45,000 richer.

Not-for-profit cultural activities also pump billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.A 2002 study by Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit art and cultural activities generate $134 billion in economic value every year, including $89 billion in household income and $24 billion in tax revenues. Using the 16.5 multiplier suggests that America’s cultural assets are worth in excess of $2 trillion.

These three examples alone add up to about $20 trillion. The long list of other social assets — including scientific and technical knowledge, our legal and political systems, our universities, libraries, accounting procedures, and transportation infrastructure — suggest that the total value of our social assets is comparable in magnitude to that of our natural assets. ... read the whole chapter

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

So far I’ve focused on the commons of nature and community. In this chapter I explore the third fork of the commons river, culture. By this I mean the gifts of language, art, and science we inherit, plus the contributions we make as we live.

Culture is a joint undertaking — a co-production — of individuals and society. The symphonies of Mozart, like the songs of Lennon and McCartney, are works of genius. But they also arise from the culture in which that genius lives. The instrumentation, the notation system, and the prevalent musical forms are the dough from which composers bake their cakes. So too with ideas. All thinkers and writers draw on stories and discoveries that have been developed by countless men and women before them. To paraphrase Isaac Newton, each generation sees a little farther because it stands on the shoulders of its predecessors. In this way, all new work draws from the commons and then enriches it. To keep art and science flourishing, we have to make sure the cultural commons is cared for.

In addition, unlike most natural commons, the cultural commons is inexhaustible. Shakespeare’s plays can be “used” again and again without diminishing them. The same is true of Newton’s theories, Beethoven’s string quartets, and the information on the World Wide Web. Indeed, the more we use these assets, the more value they bestow. And thanks to technology — from Gutenberg’s press to Marconi’s radio to the globe-spanning Internet — sharing this wealth has become increasingly easy.

Today, unfortunately, this cultural commons, like the commons of nature and community, is being enclosed by private corporations. The danger is that corporations will deplete the soil in which culture grows. The remedy is to reinvigorate the cultural commons. ... 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