Post-TINA, Post-Peak (part 2)
In part one, I talked about what lead me to start thinking about economic reality and the broader human situation for the first time.
In this part, I’ll talk about how it lead me to my personal mission.
After some reading, I saw that the commonplace problems of homelessness and famine are abnormalities caused by bad governance. Our use of nature is out-of-control. When I say “out-of-control,” that’s exactly what I mean: almost nobody gets to control what’s happening. You don’t. I don’t. A few people do (as I discovered in “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays) and they don’t seem to care if they destroy us. I also learned from “Progress and Poverty” that we’ve lost touch with the natural world and technology alone can’t fix it.
The real tragedy of the commons is that there is an actual commons that contains so much aggregate wealth that it could free us all to lead lives of meaning instead of servitude, but it has been stolen and is being held just outside our reach. There are unlawful gatekeepers. This isn’t superficial wealth: touching it and shaping in its raw form has intrinsic meaning, but we’ve been denied that.
This vast commons is comprised of two parts: the physical universe, and the compounded value of past human inventions (technological, artistic, or otherwise). It is simultaneously our setting and our character.
The value of this commons is more than enough to cover the basics of life. If each human were paid for its usage, it would immediately solve the TINA problem, end homelessness, and remove people from the knife’s edge of famine. Imagine the freedom and flourishing we’d experience if we knew we had the basics of life covered no matter what and we weren’t forced to “invest” just to be able to make it through old age.
Taxation is coercive, unnatural, and unwanted, but paying for the use of the commons is just. Taxation — if we want to call it that — should be exactly like paying to use something (like a rental apartment or a toll road or a fishing license). It shouldn’t be tacked onto an unrelated transfer of money and used to pay for something we never agreed to. There are no free-riders in the universal commons because there’s more than enough value to pay for public goods.
I believe that coping with the reality of the coming peaks requires an increased sense of responsibility from individuals, but how can someone be responsible for something if they aren’t allowed to govern it? Just as there may be some piece of art, culture or technology that inspires someone to do something with it — (This is how the value of the commons compounds), a person should be able to voice their stewardship over any part of the natural commons that catches their attention. When it comes to what we get to vote about, nation-states with their representatives may go the way of monarchs (here’s hoping), but the commons will remain.
With these realizations in mind, my personal mission is two-fold: to make it possible to pay all of humanity for the use of the commons, and to let everyone touch and shape the commons again.
See also the P2P foundation essay on Public Goods vs Common Goods.