By Josette Combes

The Commons have become an object of research and several initiatives are dedicated to advancing their concept and implementation. We have collected a few contributions to highlight the questions and answers related to them.

It should be remembered that the privatisation of communal areas in Great Britain (the enclosures) is considered by economists as the starting point of the liberal economy which led to the impoverishment of farmers who were stripped of the spaces they used for their survival to the benefit of owners who grazed herds of sheep for the wool industry.

In 1968, Garrett Hardin, in an article entitled “The tragedy of the commons”, defended the principle of compulsory management by the market or by the state of resources, which managed by individuals left to their own free will, would soon become insufficient since “as a rational being, each farmer seeks to maximise his gain”. “Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all “. This is the postulate. It is ironic to point out that this reasoning applies much better to privatization for the benefit of one, which will generate a race for competition to accumulate goods and wealth and to multiply the level of predation on resources.

In the 1990s, Elinor Ostrom (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009) proposed the opposite analysis, demonstrating that common goods are better managed by the populations who take care of them, provided that they respect 8 essential criteria: groups with defined borders;rules governing the use of common goods that respond to local specificities and needs; the capacity of the individuals concerned to modify them; the respect of these rules by external authorities; the control of the respect of the rules by the community which has a system of graduated sanctions; access to inexpensive conflict resolution mechanisms; the resolution of conflicts and governance activities organised in different and interlocking strata.

From now on, the question of the commons is central to the reflection on strategies to remedy the damage caused by the excesses of liberal deregulation. Citizens are organising themselves to save from the destruction of agricultural areas essential to food security, to organise energy production in the form of cooperatives, to force their municipalities to regain control over water distribution under citizen control. An impressive number of researchers and theorists are working on the very definition of what can be considered a common. A list is provided on the Remix the Commons website.

It should be noted that the XVIth Meeting of the Inter-University Network on Social and Solidarity Economy – Montpellier – 25/27 May 2016 brought together a large number of researchers under the title
“The “commons” and the social and solidarity economy. What identities and what common dynamics? See the communication by Carmen Parra.

Elisabetta Buccolo has made a video for us summarising her work on the Italian State’s recovery of ill-gotten assets from the Italian mafia for redistribution to cooperatives or associations provided they have a proven social objective. This strategy is based on a law passed for this purpose. The European Community has recommended that this principle should be generalised, but it is still too little taken up.
In France, the Coop des Communs has set itself the objective of making the concept better understood and supporting initiatives to encourage them to “make a system”.

The Italian network RIES is very much involved in reflection and action to raise citizens’ awareness of the importance of developing an approach by local authorities. It has been asked to participate in the drafting of a popular law on the commons, in particular “on the economic dimension and the management of shared resources.”

Also to be discovered is the advocacy for a living wage and the UN declaration that presents SSE “as an alternative growth model that seeks to strike a new balance between economic efficiency and social and environmental resilience”.

Some good reasons to be optimistic in spite of the current circumstances if we add that the Jeun’ESS group organised by RIPESS met during the World Social Forum, gathering about thirty participants motivated to commit themselves to the development of a solidarity economy. The new generation is coming and that’s good. We will report on this in a future edition.