It's the Planet Stupid!: Capitalism and The Destruction of the Commons
There is a war going on right now between those who are working to protect the commons and the hard-core capitalists, who are working to privatize our economy, culture, ecology, environment and government.
It's the Planet Stupid!: Capitalism and The Destruction of the Commons
By John Atcheson / commondreams.org

The stakes are high. The outcome will determine whether we live in a dystopian chaos, or a civil society; whether we preserve our natural life support system, or live on life support.

At the moment, it’s a rout. The capitalists are winning, and those very few who speak for the commons are ignored, marginalized or ridiculed. 

To understand this conflict, we need to understand what is meant by the commons. Here’s a typical definition:

The cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

I would propose a slightly broader definition, one in which “cultural resources” includes the laws, regulations and norms designed to assure an equitable, just, prosperous and sustainable world. These too are under assault from the capitalists.

Growth, GDP, Wealth and Other Non-sequitors

Ask any good capitalist what an economy is for, they’ll say something like “maximizing wealth,” or “growing GDP.”

Folks have pretty much figured out that GDP isn't synonymous with wealth or welfare, but this still begs the question: what is wealth?

Most definitions offered by economists go something like this: those material things which are produced by labor, can satisfy human wants, and must have an exchange value.  And of course, the medium of exchange we all know and love is money, moola, cash, bucks – in short currency.  But as Chris Martenson points out, currency is merely a claim on wealth, not real wealth. It has no intrinsic value.

One of the problems with this is that there are no practical limits on currency. 

For example, the value of the global derivatives market is $1.2 quadrillion.  Let’s write that out complete with zeroes for the full impact: $1,200,000,000,000,000.

And what is this claim made against?  Well, the source of all real wealth is natural capital.  Without it, all the labor, ingenuity and individual initiative is basically useless.  But natural capital, unlike currency is finite – it has limits.

The Natural Commons – Prerequisites to Wealth … and Survival

The fact that we price the Commons with currency shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what real wealth is, and how it is generated. 

 How, for example, do you price the consequences of having no breathable air, no drinkable water, or highly acidified oceans?  What monetary value do you place on the last coral reef, the last breath of fresh air, the last pollinator, or the last stretch of rainforest? 

The answer is, of course, you can’t price these things and probably shouldn’t.  Denominating things that are both necessary to support life and in limited supply with currency is like trying to convert a stack of dollar bills into air, water, natural resources, and a livable climate.  It doesn’t matter how big the stack of cash is, it won’t work.

Even when you attempt to monetize the value of the commons as Robert Costanza et. al. have been doing for some time now, it turns out that the annual value of just 17 ecosystem services is worth more than the entire human economy as measured by GDP An “ecosystem service” includes things like the value of bees as pollinators, the value flood protection from coastal wetlands, or the value of coral reefs as nurseries for edible seafood. For those who are interested in the numbers, the value of these 17 ecosystem services was $142.7 trillion in2014. And there are far more than 17 ecosystem services and we get these “services” essentially free, year after year.  By comparison, the gross global product –the annual value of all human created goods and services – is only about $76 trillion

Incidentally, humans have wiped out about $23 trillion a year in ecosystem services since 1997, by destroying wetlands, wiping out corals and other destruction of the commons.  This mass liquidation of natural capital doesn’t even show up in our economic indicators.

But let’s get back to that issue of currency having no practical limits”.  So what? Well, capitalists are placing claims against natural capital that isn’t there – in essence, they’re stealing future generations blind while they gin up the biggest bubble the world has ever seen.

Capitalists get the vast majority of the spoils of this theft, we get the crumbs, and the future generations get the bill.  Unless, of course, nature decides to foreclose on the debt sooner, rather than later – which, given the trends in climate change is  inevitable, and much closer than most capitalists believe. 

Indeed, it is very likely that the bill will arrive early, payable within a decade or two, and the terms will be non-negotiable -- continuation of our life support systems – or not.

How and why does this insanity persist?  Future blind capitalists have stolen the government, media and the terms of the debate.

And it’s not just the natural commons. Plutocrats are privatizing or trying to privatize education; prisons; transportation; water supply; infrastructure construction, management and maintenance; policing; firefighting; Medicaid; Medicare; and Social Security – the list is endless. 

It’s not because the private sector does these things better: In general, the public sectorprovides better service at comparable or lower costs than private sector equivalents.  It’s for the sake of profits for a very few fat cats at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

These used to be part of the shared investment we made for the common good.  The very basis of our government is grounded in the notion that governments are established to assure the “commonweal,” or “commonwealth.”  

But since Ronnie “gubmint-is-the-problem” Reagan, Americans have behaved like slack-jawed yokels at a three-card Monty festival, disabling, underfunding and discrediting government and turning the country over to a bunch of crazed Ayn Rand acolytes, making ourselves poorer, while destroying natural capital, our children’s birthright.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

4.2 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 26,258 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,610 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 12,846 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 11,967 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 8,892 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 7,115 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 6,664 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 6,410 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 6,183 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 5,859 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 4,414 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Forest Man
16 min · 3,470 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 3,247 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 3,221 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
American Cartel: How America's Two Major Parties Helped Destroy Democracy
Frank Castro · 2,283 views today · Cartel: An association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 2,151 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
A Woman Who Makes This Statement Today Needs Revolutionary Courage
Sabine Lichtenfels · 1,405 views today · I want to live in a community with men and women, with children, animals and plants so that I am not continually forced to hide my actual being from the others. Perception and...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 1,252 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 1,170 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 1,168 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
It's the Planet Stupid!: Capitalism and The Destruction of the Commons