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The pursuit of profit is an old story, but there was a time when many things were regarded either as too sacred or too essential for the public good to be considered business opportunities. They were protected by tradition and public regulation. [Boundary Issues] We can really begin to take a look at the emergence of the modern age with the enclosure movements of the great European commons in the fourteenth fifteenth and sixteenth century. Medieval life was a collectively lived life. It was a brutish nasty affair. But there was a collective responsibility, people belonged to the land; the land did not belong to the people. And in this European world people farmed the land in a collective way because they saw it as a commons. It belonged to God. And then it was administered by the church, the aristocracy, and then the local manors as stewards of gods creation. Beginning with Tudor England we began to see a phenomenon emerge and that is the enclosure of the great commons by Parliamentary Acts in England and then in Europe. And so first we began to take the great landmasses of the world which were commons and shared, and we reduced those to private property. Then we went after the oceans, the great oceanic commons, and we created laws and regulations that would allow countries to claim a certain amount of water outside their coastal limits for exploitation. In this century we went after the air and we divided it into air corridors that could be bought and sold for commercial traffic for airplanes. And then of course, the rest is history. [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] With deregulation, privatization, free trade, what we're seeing is yet another enclosure, and if you like private taking of the commons. One of the things I find very interesting in our current debates is this concept of who creates wealth. That wealth is only created when it's owned privately. What would you call clean water, fresh air, a safe environment? Are they not a form of wealth? And why does it only become wealth when some entity puts a fence around it and declares it private property? Well, you know, that's not wealth creation. That's wealth usurpation. Over the centuries we have put more and more things in that public realm and lately, just lately, lets say, in the last three or four decades started pulling them out again. So fire-fighters for instance. Fire-fighters started as private companies and if you didn't have the medallion of a given fire-fighter brigade on your house and it was on fire those fire-fighters would just ride on by because you didn't have a deal. Well it gradually evolved a public trust for the provision of safety on that very specific level. This is important. We should not go back from that, and start saying: well, you know, why don't we put that back in the market and see what that does? Maybe it will make it more efficient. Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny. Public institutions have many side benefits. For one thing they may purposely run at a loss. They're not out for profit. They may purposely run at a loss because of the side benefits. So for example if a public steel industry runs at a loss it's providing cheap steel to other industries. Maybe that's a good thing. Public institutions can have a counter cyclic property. So that means that they can maintain employment in periods of recession which increases demand which helps you get out of recession. Private companies can't do that, you know, in a recession, throw out the work force cause that's the way you make money. There are those who intend that one day everything will be owned by somebody. And we're not just talking goods here. We're talking human rights, human services, essential services for life. Education, public health, social assistance, pensions, housing. We're also talking about the survival of the planet. The areas that we believe must be maintained in the commons or under common control or we will collectively die. Water and air. Even in the case of air there's been some progress. And here the idea is to say, look, we can't avoid the dumping of carbon dioxide. We can't avoid the dumping of sulphur oxides. At least we can't at the moment afford to stopping it, so we're dumping a certain amount of stuff into the environment. So we're going to say, with the current tonnage of sulphur oxides for example, we will say: that is the limit, and well create permits for that amount and give them to the people who've been doing the polluting and now we will permit them to be traded. And so now there's a price attached to polluting the environment. Now wouldn't it be marvellous if we have one of those prices for everything? It sounds like you're advocating private ownership of every square inch of the planet. Absolutely. Every cubic foot of air water. It sounds outlandish to say we want to have the whole universe the whole of the earth owned. That doesn't mean I want to have Joe Bloggs owning this square foot. But it means the interests that are involved in that stream are owned by some group or by some people who have an interest in maintaining it. And that, you know, that is not such a loony idea. It's in fact the solution to a lot of these problems.

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 21 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 106
Posted by: rafaelmatheus on May 30, 2010

We used to regard many areas as too essential to the public good to be commercialized; they were protected by tradition and regulation. Now, everything is
becoming fair game in the private taking of the commons -- land, oceans, air, water, education, health, energy and social assistance. Where do we draw the line?

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