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What the Archdruid said


[P]olitics are subject to rules very different from the implacable mathematics of petroleum depletion and net energy. At some point in the not too distant future, the political system of the United States of America is going to tip over into explosive crisis, and at that time ideas that are simply talking points today have at least a shot at being enacted into public policy. That’s exactly what happened at the beginning of the three previous cycles of anacyclosis [definition*] I traced out in a previous post in this series. In 1776, 1860, and 1933, ideas that had been on the political fringes not that many years beforehand redefined the entire political dialogue, and in all three cases this was possible because those once-fringe ideas had been widely circulated and widely discussed, even though most of the people who circulated and discussed them never imagined that they would live to see those ideas put into practice.

Yes, it's about time:

1860 - 1776 = 84

1933 - 1860 = 73

2013 - 1933 = 80

Very interesting post on "the commons." Can the market state manage a "commons" successfully? I doubt it. Readers?

NOTE * I"m very dubious about this framework. Wallerstein and Arrighi seem to have gotten hold of the right end of the stick.

No votes yet


Submitted by MontanaMaven on

JMG's definition of government

...the core purpose of government in the American tradition is the maintenance of the national commons. It exists to manage the various commons and commons-like phenomena that are inseparable from life in a civilized society, and thus has the power to impose such limits on people (and corporate pseudopeople) as will prevent their pursuit of personal advantage from leading to a tragedy of the commons in one way or another. Restricting the capacity of banks to gamble with depositors’ money is one such limit; restricting the freedom of manufacturers to sell unsafe food is another, and so on down the list of reasonable regulations. Beyond those necessary limits, government has no call to intervene; how people choose to live their lives, exercise their liberties, and pursue happiness is up to them, so long as it doesn’t put the survival of any part of the national commons at risk.

It still seems to me that the commons is best managed as locally as possible.
Much to ponder.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

This strikes me as the libertarian fallacy, but maybe he defines "intervene" in a particular way. There's the obvious issue of infrastructure, both physical and civic. For example, as we should all know from the controversies of recent years, schools are not neutral environments. What does the state support in terms of physical facilities? What should we teach as science? According to one school of thought (to use the term loosely), teaching evolution is restricting some rights to exercising liberty. What kind of transportation infrastructure do we build? Just roadways?

How does a currency system work without government intervention beyond some definition of "protecting the commons"? Unless the government renounces fiat money and ties money back to precious metals or other underlying asset, it will have to act in ways that hurt some people (who will scream "unjustified intervention") and help others.

Of course, I'll be in total support if the argument is that so-called intellectual property laws are an illegitimate intervention into our lives, but then we will need some alternative way of providing support to artistic and scientific endeavors. I like Dean Baker's work on this, but it would constitute a government call to intervene.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

I liked that definition. I don't see it as a complete one, but it's certainly one of the government's most important functions.

It still seems to me that the commons is best managed as locally as possible.

Mostly, though I think there will be times when federal-level decisions are required. Mostly, I'd expect the federal government to provide standards and financial aid, as needed.

Submitted by lambert on

This reminds me of the idea of subsidiarity in the EU. But if we built jurisdictions based on sheds, boundaries would look very different from how they look today. But I still think they would be fractal. My locality's responsbility not to dump sewage in a stream, but there needs to be a jurisdiction for the river as a whole and its watershed, and then perhaps for all water....

And how about boundaries between localities, where conflicts happen?

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

And how about boundaries between localities, where conflicts happen?

That's probably the biggest reason for both federal standards and financial assistance. Frequently, the "commons" is bigger than any particular local jurisdiction, even states. The localities know what they want to get out of the commons, but sometimes one of them will be the all the cows.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Seems Greer looks for commonalities. And one common idea has been the possibilities beyond boundaries or boundaries themselves. By the 20th century Europeans had "conquered" most physical space on earth. The Europeans had seized a lot of territory. They established norms. But some people yearn for the "beyond" outside the norms "where new societies could be invented from scratch. ("The Pirate Organization" by Durand and Vergne p. 43.)

Well, if we can't expand to other planets then the only possibility for imagining a better world might be if we had some sort of collapse be it environmental, social, political.... And he'd like us all to work on alternatives when they happen. Very similar to David Graeber's "Revolutions in Reverse" and Dimitri Orlov. So far the only idea lying around here as Naomi Klein pointed out has been Miltie Friedman's shock doctrine.

So what will be the boundaries or should there be any boundaries at all? Like in cyberspace.