Many of the resources that Americans own as a people — forests and minerals under public lands, public information and federally financed research, the broadcast airwaves and public institutions and traditions — are increasingly being
taken over by private business interests. These appropriations of common assets are siphoning revenues from the public treasury, shifting ownership and control from public to private interests, and eroding democratic processes and shared cultural
In the face of this marketization of public resources, most Americans do not realize that some of our most valuable assets are collective and social in character — our "common wealth." Collectively, U.S. citizens own one-third of
the surface area of the country, as well as the mineral-rich continental shelf. Huge deposits of oil, uranium, natural gas and other mineral wealth can be found on public lands, along with rich supplies of timber, fresh water and grazing land.
Beyond environmental resources, the American people own dozens of other assets with substantial market value, including government-funded research and development, the Internet, the airwaves and the public information domain.
Our government, for its part, is not adequately protecting these assets. Instead, it is selling them off at huge discounts, giving them away for free, or marketizing resources that should not be sold in the first place.
These include, public lands, genetic structures of life, the public’s intellectual property rights, and cherished civic symbols.
The growing appropriations of public assets — and the spread of market values to areas of life where they should not go — could be called the "enclosure "of the American commons.
PART I: The Commons, Gift
Economies and Enclosure
Part I sets forth the basic concepts that animate this report: the importance of the commons, the value of gift economies, and the harms caused by market enclosures of the commons.
1. Reclaiming the Narrative of the Commons.
To understand the importance of the commons in American life, we must first dispel the misleading metaphor of the "tragedy of the commons." This and other concepts prevent us from understanding how human cooperation can in fact
flourish and produce a robust and innovative commons in many contexts. This fact can be seen in self-organizing community gardens, scientific communities that share research results, and Internet communities that generate and share valuable
information for free.
The American experiment in self-governance is itself a commons, perhaps better known as a "commonwealth."
Through community commitments and cooperation, people often generate remarkable economic and social wealth, defying the standard economic narrative about self-interested utility maximization.
2. The Stubborn Vitality of the Gift Economy.
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