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Since the dispossession of the commons we have been forced to compete more aggressively, which has led us to fall into the perverse wheel of consumerism and, in an apparent paradox, to end up mistreating the goods on which our very survival depends.

In the 14th century, by decimating the population, the Black Death increased the bargaining power of the peasants. Revolts broke out which in many countries put an end to serfdom and that meant a rest for the land, which began to be managed more communally, respectfully and democratically. This obviously did not sit too well with the powers that be at the time. They viewed the loss of privileges with fear. As soon as a few years had passed and the situation was restored, of course, came the counteraction by force: the enclosures of land (enclosures). Many lands ceased to be shared properties and became enclosed, delimited and distributed among the nobility.

These land enclosures made possible the original accumulation at the end of the Middle Ages, and with it the beginning of Capitalism. A large part of the population, no longer having a basic and guaranteed subsistence resource, was much more forced to sell their labour power. And we are still in this spiral. Without idealizing the past at all, there is no doubt, we have to recover a greater democratic and redistributive management of common goods.

At the end of the 1960s, an essay entitled The Tragedy of the Commons resonated throughout the Western world and generated a wide-ranging debate that is still alive today. Although some of the conclusions of the author -GarrettHardin- are by no means negligible:

"Seeking maximum individual benefit in the short run, benefits no one in the long run." or "many individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest, may ultimately destroy a shared and limited resource" Following the historical account, many of the premises he starts from have been proven false. The selfishness of individuals is clearly tempered by the influence of group control.

If this latest stage of neoliberal capitalism and the illogic of the market and the invisible hand has manifested anything, it is that private property ends up in hands with fewer and fewer direct ties to one's possessions. A Luxembourg investment fund can own the public utilities network of a sub-Saharan African country. Or a percentage of all the important companies in another country, conditioning its policy of action. This causes something very obvious: detachment. If you have no contact with the good in question, and it doesn't affect you much in what state it is in, the only thing that will matter to you is that it generates direct profit, and probably in the short term .

This is what happened with the feudal regime first, and with the enclosures and possessions of the nobles later, by taking away the possession of the land from those who cared for it and depended on it, the land was just another resource and therefore lost a lot of value. If you have 100 lands you won't care about the state of one of them, you may even squeeze it so much in the short term that it becomes unprofitable.

If, on the other hand, your wellbeing depends on that land, the food for your family, you will probably defend it and take care of it with much more will, care and passion.

This is where our next protagonist comes in: the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom. With her work, many of the ideas that underlay the "tragedy of the commons" mentality are no longer valid.tragedy of the commons"which was so fertile for later neoliberalism in the 1980s - were definitively dismissed. Elinor defended 8 basic principles as mechanisms to avoid the following the tragedy of the commons without resorting to excessive hierarchical regulation:

1) Define clear group boundaries.

2) Match the rules governing the use of the commons to local needs and conditions.

3) Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

4) Ensure that outside authorities respect the regulatory rights of community members.

5) Develop a system for community members to monitor the behavior of other members.

6) Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

7) Provide accessible and low-cost means of dispute resolution.

8) Develop accountability for governing the common resource at nested levels, from the lowest level to the entire interconnected system.

All of these basic principles go to show that one should not generalize about commons management. However, there are some lessons of overwhelming logic that have been proven in other fields of science:

when members of a group manage to collaborate, the group in question becomes a higher-level organism.

This idea was first proposed by biologist Lynn Margulis to explain how early organisms evolved from symbiotic associations of bacteria. That is, not by competition, or not only, but above all by cooperation. This perceptual change is fundamental to stop destroying our own environment.

Following Margulis, after the implementation of globalisation we have become a group, a World-System, which is therefore obliged to cooperate: the issues of health or climate change are evidence of this. Either we cooperate to survive, or we all pay the consequences together, although some pay less than others, in the first instance.

Recovering as much as possible the management of the commons in a balanced way is a question of survival that the anthropologist Jason Hickel analyses in his latest book (Less is More, How Degrowth Will Save the World:) Once you reach a certain level of per capita income adding more not only doesn't benefit, but statistically translates into lower life expectancy or lower "well-being." And this is logical, countries like the United States where per capita income is very high but so is inequality and competition, generate a state of much greater unhappiness than that recorded in other countries where health or education are guaranteed by the management of the commons, this determines that countries with a much lower per capita income - such as Costa Rica - have even higher life expectancy than the United States of America.

And all this, in the case of Costa Rica, with a management of the commons that is considered one of the most ecological on the planet. In the end it is something logical, if you want to compete and grow at the highest possible level, this means an increasing pressure on ecosystems. So once a certain level of per capita income or GDP is reached, an increase not only does not necessarily mean a direct improvement in the quality of life, but the opposite, since it means more pressure on individuals and ecosystems.

Although, yes, for this squaring of the circle to occur, the commons must be those who help to provide that minimum subsistence that guarantees a decent quality of life.

If our destiny is common, our politics must also be common.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

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