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Stop, Thief! Historian Peter Linebaugh on commoning and our rich tradition of resistance to attacks on the commons

November 12th, 2014 1 comment

Guest essay, courtesy of the Creative Commons license, borrowed from the April 14, 2014 post of the same title at On The Commons magazine/website.

This essay, penned on the 4th of July 2011, is from Peter Linebaugh‘s new book Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance— a compilation of his recent writing on the commons covering everything from Thomas Paine to Occupy Wall Street. Linebaugh–a leading scholar of radical possibilities who coined the word commoning–offers an insightful introduction to the commons and the roots of resistance to protect what rightfully belongs to all of us. —Jay Walljasper

We’re losing the ground of our subsistence to the privileged and the mighty. With the theft of our pensions, houses, universities, and land, people all over the world cry, Stop Thief! and start to think about the commons and act in its name.

But what is the commons? Its 21st century meaning is emerging from the darkness of centuries past.

Primers were once prayer books for the laity. Usually the primer refers to the elementary book used to teach children to read. In another meaning of the word the primer is that which ignites the blasting powder in the old, revolutionary flintlock rifles.

So, here is a primer on the commons and commoning. It does not contain prayers though the matter here is solemn enough. Finally, if this primer leads to action, detonating greater energy or exploding for the common good, why so much the better.

This short primer notes eighteen of the common places in this discussion (food, health, &c.) .

Food: The potluck, the principle of B.Y.O., the C.S.A. or community supported agriculture, the kitchen, are the profoundest human expressions of commoning. The extra seat at the table, the principle of hospitality, are inseparable from human community. The meal is at the heart of every religion. Our daily bread. Food was “rations” on the unhappy ship; on the happy one, food was the sailor’s commons.

Health: Public health, exercise, sports, prevention of accidents and disease, access to hospitals are dire needs. There was a time when hospitals were places of reception for guests, for strangers, for travellers. The practice of the hospital was the embodiment of the principle of hospitality. Salus publica populi romani referred to the goddess of health and well-being, “the public health of the Roman people.” Surely, her worship in our day has fallen on evil times, as medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies in league with government strangle her in their coils. Once the woodlands were a common pharmacopeia not the private property of Big Pharm.

Security: Militarism and money do not safeguard us. On 9/11 the most expensive military in the world failed to protect the American people or even its own HQ. Instead, citizen passengers after twenty-three minutes of deliberation and voting were able collectively to disarm United Airlines flight 93. A sacrificial collective was formed for the common good. As for the Pentagon, the conclusion is obvious. Our protection is our mutuality.

Housing: Squatting, the group house, intentional communities, the hobo’s jungle, the boarding house, the homeless camps are rarely anyone’s idea of utopia yet they meet real needs, they arise from direct actions, they are actual mutualism, they enliven dead spaces, they are cooperative.

Gender: Birth, nurturance, neighborhood, and love are the beginnings of social life. The commons of the past has not been an exclusively male place. In fact, it is one very often where the needs of women and children come first. And not “needs” only but decision-making and responsibility have belonged to women from the neighborhoods of industrial “slums” to the matriarchy of the Iroquois confederation to the African village.

Public Space: Look! Look at Tahrir Square. Look at the popular mobilizations in Spain. People are creating spaces in the urban environment where it becomes possible to engage in the conversation and debate that is essential to commoning. The barber-shop, the corner grocery, the church basement, the ice-cream parlor, the local co-op may not be available. The town hall has gone and the town square has become a parking lot. So, the first step in commoning is to find a locale, a place, and if one is not easily to hand, then to create one. The emerging geography of the future requires us actively to common spaces in our factories and offices.

Knowledge: The commons grows without copyright, lighting your candle from mine does not diminish me or put my candle out. As Thomas Jefferson said, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lites his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Conversation and just talk, or rapping, was once the people’s Internet. Common sense arises from the web of family and neighborhood relationships. But we need a place to meet! How about the school? Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Semantics: The gigantic Oxford English Dictionary has four to five pages on the word “common” beginning with this, “belonging equally to more than one.” We get some of our most powerful words from the commons, such as community, communal, commonage, commonality, commune, communion–with their social, political, and spiritual overtones and histories. Etymologically, these words are the offspring, so to speak, of two Latin parents, com meaning together, and munis meaning some kind of obligation.

Of course we don’t need to stay with English and Latin. In the Andes mountain range, for instance, the allyusis the key word; in Mexico the ejido was the key word. The word “commons” can be tricky, subject to double-talk or the forked tongue, as when it is used for its opposite, as in the privatized housing tract (gated community) or the privatized market (the mall) which will call themselves “the common” but which are actually based on exclusivity unless you possess the do re me!

Working class: The Supreme Court has ruled against class action by women workers. Let us, the entire working class, employed and unemployed, men and women, rise from our slumbers and show that we do not wait on the Supreme Court for permission to act as a class!

Some say the precariate has replaced the proletariat. This simply means that life for us, the common people, has become more insecure, more uncertain, and more precarious. Whether we are old or whether we are young, whether we are poor or getting by, the institutions that used to help us have disappeared and their names have become bad words, like “welfare” or “social security.” As we have learned from our experiences of Katrina or the mortgage crisis, neither government nor corporations are able to abate the situation. As the disasters accumulate we are left more and more to our own devices and find we must dig deeper. The remembered commons of old as well as the spontaneous commons of now need to be available when need arises. Who runs the workplaces anyway?

Being: The commons refers neither to resources alone nor to people alone, but to an intermixture of them both. The commons is not only “common pool resources” nor is the commons purely, “the people.” In other words it is not a thing but a relationship. In medieval Europe the forests, the hills, the coasts, the estuaries were locations of commoners who were respectively foresters, shepherds, fishers, and reed people. The commoner was the person who commoned in such lands, and one parish to another parish intercommoned, and the bullying giants of legend, the lords and ladies, discommoned. In this struggle our landscapes were formed, even our human “nature,” as well as Nature herself.

Knowing: Often you don’t know of the commons until it is taken away. The neighborhood without sidewalks, the water fountain that has gone dry, the land that once your family could use, the fresh air that used to renew your spirit – gone! They are taking liberties with what we took for granted. No more! Stop, thief!

Politics: The commons is outside the government. Commons provides its own security. Custom, or habit and socialization, rather than police force, regulate relations, as anyone knows who has organized a neighborhood soft-ball game or football in the street. In English history politics began as a negotiation between lords and commoners. This is why there is a House of Lords and a House of Commons.

Law: Generally custom, rather than law, safeguards and defines commons. Custom is local, it is held in memory, and the elders are the keepers of community memory. From Africa and Latin America we learn that this may be another guise of patriarchy and privilege. Thus while we respect custom we do not romanticize it.

Economy: The commons is often outside of the realm of buying and selling or the realm of the commodity; it is where life is conducted face to face. The commons is neither a gift economy nor potlatch. No, not everything is free, but yes, everything may be shared. It is a place of reciporicities. This economy is not grounded in those triplets of evil named by Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., namely, militarism, racism, and consumerism. The Industrial Revolution was neither. Quite the contrary. In England mechanization was actually counter-revolutionary and what it produced, besides soot and grime, was the opposite of industry: misery for workers and idleness for the rulers. Talk about oxymorons!

History: The commons is old and it is all over, from Iraq to Indiana, from Afghanistan to Arizona. It is associated with indigenous people and it has many recent modifications.

History is not a story of simple progress along a straight line of stages or up the rungs of a ladder. There have been many stages, overlapping, returning, leap-frogging, if never actually disappearing. Beneath the radar there have been many communities, commoning along. Besides, progress for whom?

Religion: The good Samaritan, the principle of all things in common. The Franciscans say juri divino omni sunt communia, or by divine law all things are common. The Christian New Testament reports that the early Christians held all things in common. Marie Chauvet, the Haitian novelist and observer of voudou, writes, “Someone touched the calabash tree, my Lord God! … someone touched the calabash tree … someone touched the calabash tree…. You cut down all the trees, and the earth is no longer protected. Look, she’s going away and shows you her teeth in revenge.”

Poets and Writers: Our poets and theorists, our revolutionaries and reformers, have dreamt of it. Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin, Claude McKay, Tom McGrath, Marge Piercy… oh, the list goes on and on, from the mystics to the romantics to the transcendentalists, from the democrats to the anarchists, from the socialists to the communitarians, from the wobblies to the reds, from the folkies to the rockers.

England: Some associate the commons with England’s so-called ‘green and pleasant land’ and are apt to quote the following as an ancient bit of wisdom.

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But lets the greater villain loose

Who steals the common from the goose.

True enough, certainly prisons and the loss of the commons went together in English history, though it was an Irishman who composed this bit of wit. Who are the geese in today’s world? In England at the time of the enclosures of commons and prison construction in the 1790s, the Romantic Revolt poured out a huge expression of opposition. Samuel Coleridge writing at the time gave us a few spiritual lines which we can quote as a take away.

Return, pure Faith! Return, meek piety!

The kingdoms of the world are yours: each heart

Self-governed, the vast Family of Love

Rais’d from the common earth by common toil,

Enjoy the equal produce …

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The state as a tool of corrupt and unaccountable elites in enclosing the commons; and climate

June 16th, 2014 No comments

[Excerpted from a 2009 note to John Quiggin on “libertarians and delusionism“. My delusionism is smaller than yours!]

Would domestic cap-and-trade be an enclosure of the atmospheric commons, for the benefit of firms receiving grants of permits and costs flowing regressively to energy consumers, and internationally represents a vast expansion of state authority and bureaucracies, with attendant enclosure of local resources?

Many of the problems that concern libertarians also concern progressives, chief of these being the negative effects of state actions on communities, development and on open-access (and hitherto local, indigenous-managed) commons. This is the same concern that the Nobel Prize committee expressed when extending the prize in Economics to Elinor #Ostrom, signalling their desire for a change in international aid policy. [I have blogged on Ostrom’s views on the climate commons.]

Readers might find these remarks by Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohmann, Sarah Sexton and Simon Fairlie in “Reclaiming the Commons” (1995) to be pertinent:

The creation of empires and states, business conglomerates and
civic dictatorships — whether in pre-colonial times or in the modern
era — has only been possible through dismantling the commons and
harnessing the fragments, deprived of their old significance, to build
up new economic and social patterns that are responsive to the
interests of a dominant minority. The modern nation state has been
built only by stripping power and control from commons regimes and
creating structures of governance from which the great mass of humanity
(particularly women) are excluded. Likewise, the market economy has
expanded primarily by enabling state and commercial interests to gain
control of territory that has traditionally been used and cherished by
others, and by transforming that territory – together with the people
themselves – into expendable “resources” for exploitation. By enclosing
forests, the state and private enterprise have torn them out of fabrics
of peasant subsistence; by providing local leaders with an outside
power base, unaccountable to local people, they have undermined village
checks and balances; by stimulating demand for cash goods, they have
impelled villagers to seek an ever wider range of things to sell. Such
a policy was as determinedly pursued by the courts of Aztec Mexico, the
feudal lords of West Africa, and the factory owners of Lancashire and
the British Rail as it is today by the International Monetary Fund or
Coca-Cola Inc.

Only in this way has it been possible to convert peasants into
labour for a global economy, replace traditional with modern
agriculture, and free up the commons for the industrial economy.
Similarly, only by atomizing tasks and separating workers from the
moral authority, crafts and natural surroundings created by their
communities has it been possible to transform them into modern,
universal individuals susceptible to “management”. In short, only by
deliberately taking apart local cultures and reassembling them in new
forms has it been possible to open them up to global trade.[FN L.
Lohmann, ‘Resisting Green Globalism’ in W. Sachs (ed), Global Ecology:
Conflicts and Contradictions, Zed Books, London and New Jersey, 1993.]

To achieve that “condition of economic progress”, millions have
been marginalized as a calculated act of policy, their commons
dismantled and degraded, their cultures denigrated and devalued and
their own worth reduced to their value as labour. Seen from this
perspective, many of the processes that now go under the rubric of
“nation-building”, “economic growth”, and “progress” are first ad
foremost processes of expropriation, exclusion, denial and
dispossession. In a word, of “enclosure”.

Because history’s best-known examples of enclosure involved the
fencing in of common pasture, enclosure is often reduced to a synonym
for “expropriation”. But enclosure involves more than land and fences,
and implies more than simply privatization or takeover by the state. It
is a compound process which affects nature and culture, home and
market, production and consumption, germination and harvest, birth,
sickness and death. It is a process to which no aspect of life or
culture is immune. ..,

Enclosure tears people and their lands, forests, crafts,
technologies and cosmologies out of the cultural framework in which
they are embedded and tries to force them into a new framework which
reflects and reinforces the values and interests of newly-dominant
groups. Any pieces which will not fit into the new framework are
devalued and discarded. In the modern age, the architecture of this new
framework is determined by market forces, science, state and corporate
bureaucracies, patriarchal forms of social organization, and ideologies
of environmental and social management.

Land, for example, once it is integrated into a framework of
fences, roads and property laws, is “disembedded” from local fabrics of
self-reliance and redefined as “property” or “real estate”. Forests are
divided into rigidly defined precincts – mining concessions, logging
concessions, wildlife corridors and national parks – and transformed
from providers of water, game, wood and vegetables into scarce
exploitable economic resources. Today they are on the point of being
enclosed still further as the dominant industrial culture seeks to
convert them into yet another set of components of the industrial
system, redefining them as “sinks” to absorb industrial carbon dioxide
and as pools of “biodiversity”. Air is being enclosed as economists
seek to transform it into a marketable “waste sink”; and genetic
material by subjecting it to laws which convert it into the
“intellectual property” of private interests.

People too are enclosed as they are fitted into a new society where
they must sell their labour, learn clock-time and accustom themselves
to a life of production and consumption; groups of people are redefined
as “populations’, quantifiable entities whose size must be adjusted to
take pressure off resources required for the global economy. …

enclosure transforms the environment into a “resource” for national or
global production – into so many chips that can be cashed in as
commodities, handed out as political favours and otherwise used to
accrue power. …

Enclosure thus cordons off those aspects of the environment that are
deemed “useful” to the encloser — whether grass for sheep in 16th
century England or stands of timber for logging in modern-say Sarawak
– and defines them, and them alone, as valuable. A street becomes a
conduit for vehicles; a wetland, a field to be drained; flowing water,
a wasted asset to be harnessed for energy or agriculture. Instead of
being a source of multiple benefits, the environment becomes a
one-dimensional asset to be exploited for a single purpose – that
purpose reflecting the interests of the encloser, and the priorities of
the wider political economy in which the encloser operates….

Enclosure opens the way for the bureaucratization and enclosure of
knowledge itself. It accords power to those who master the language of
the new professionals and who are versed in its etiquette and its
social nuances, which are inaccessible to those who have not been to
school or to university, who do not have professional qualifications,
who cannot operate computers, who cannot fathom the apparent mysteries
of a cost-benefit analysis, or who refuse to adopt the forceful tones
of an increasingly “masculine” world.

In that respect, as Illich notes, “enclosure is as much in the
interest of professionals and of state bureaucrats as it is in the
interests of capitalists.” For as local ways of knowing and doing are
devalued or appropriated, and as vernacular forms of governance are
eroded, so state and professional bodies are able to insert themselves
within the commons, taking over areas of life that were previously
under the control of individuals, households and the community.
Enclosure “allows the bureaucrat to define the local community as
impotent to provide for its own survival.”[FN I Illich, ‘Silence is a
Commons’, The Coevolution Quarterly, Winter 1983.] It invites the
professional to come to the “rescue” of those whose own knowledge is
deemed inferior to that of the encloser.

Enclosure is thus a change in the networks of power which enmesh
the environment, production, distribution, the political process,
knowledge, research and the law. It reduces the control of local people
over community affairs. Whether female or male, a person’s influence
and ability to make a living depends increasingly on becoming absorbed
into the new policy created by enclosure, on accepting — willingly or
unwillingly — a new role as a consumer, a worker, a client or an
administrator, on playing the game according to new rules. The way is
thus cleared for cajoling people into the mainstream, be it through
programmes to bring women “into development”, to entice smallholders
“into the market” or to foster paid employment.[FN P. Simmons, ‘Women
in Development’, The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No.1, 1992, pp.16-21.]

Those who remain on the margins of the new mainstream, either by
choice or because that is where society has pushed them, are not only
deemed to have little value: they are perceived as a threat. Thus it is
the landless, the poor, the dispossessed who are blamed for forest
destruction; their poverty which is held responsible for
“overpopulation”; their protests which are classed as subversive and a
threat to political stability. And because they are perceived as a
threat, they become objects to be controlled, the legitimate subjects
of yet further enclosure. …

People who would oppose dams, logging, the redevelopment of their
neighbourhoods or the pollution of their rivers are often left few
means of expressing or arguing their case unless they are prepared to
engage in a debate framed by the languages of cost-benefit analysis,
reductionist science, utilitarianism, male domination — and,
increasingly, English. Not only are these languages in which many local
objection — such as that which holds ancestral community rights to a
particular place to have precedence over the imperatives of “national
development” — appear disreputable. They are also languages whose use
allows enclosers to eavesdrop on, “correct” and dominate the
conversations of the enclosed. …

Because they hold themselves to be speaking a universal language,
the modern enclosers who work for development agencies and governments
feel no qualms in presuming to speak for the enclosed. They assume
reflexively that they understand their predicament as well as or better
than the enclosed do themselves. It is this tacit assumption that
legitimizes enclosure in the encloser’s mind – and it is an assumption
that cannot be countered simply by transferring what are
conventionbally assumed to be the trappings of power from one group to

A space for the commons cannot be created by economists,
development planners, legislators, “empowerment” specialists or other
paternalistic outsiders. To place the future in the hands of such
individuals would be to maintain the webs of power that are currently
stifling commons regimes. One cannot legislate the commons into
existence; nor can the commons be reclaimed simply by adopting “green
techniques” such as organic agriculture, alternative energy strategies
or better public transport — necessary and desirable though such
techniques often are. Rather, commons regimes emerge through ordinary
people’s day-to-day resistance to enclosure, and through their efforts
to regain livelihoods and the mutual support, responsibility and trust
that sustain the commons.

That is not to say that one can ignore policy-makers or
policy-making. The depredations of transnational corporations,
international bureaucracies and national governments cannot be allowed
to go unchallenged. But movements for social change have a
responsibility to ensure that in seeking solutions, they do not remove
the initiative from those who are defending their commons or attempting
to regenerate common regimes — a responsibility they should take

Might there be good reason NOT to rush into a vast expansion of government world-wide?

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What are the “commons”? Are they un-ruly, without central formal management?

May 14th, 2014 No comments

[cross-posted from #CCC, the Collaborative Center Community group on Facebook]

What are the “commons”? Are they un-ruly, without central formal management? (Is #CCC similarly unruly, and require top-down management?)

Below is a comment I posted in the #WBOS group, spurred by various comments by others (I’ve tagged those who are also members here):

CB: “To me, any such claim [to property rights] is only valid because of its direct dependency on [an individual’s] rights over their own life.”

“This is actually one of the key libertarian points that I am still struggling to fully grasp. I have asked a number of people about this and gotten (what feel to me, at least, like) a number of different answers. Specifically, could you go over the reasoning that connects a person’s right to life (and/or control over that life) to the ownership of property?”

TG: “The only problem I have with private ownership is that it can, and currently IS, conflicting with the issue of the commons. If we can somehow ramp down on the me me me and exclusivity issues of private ownership, it will be less of a challenge to the notion of the public trust or good.”

NB: “Most of the commons is held as public land, not private. The worst cases of abuse are occurring on public land (and sea).”

JH: “The problem with the commons is that, supposedly owned by all of us, not all of us can be there to make each decision, so we have to delegate to an agent – that agent of “The People”. The agent starts making decisions based on what he says is the general interest, but there’s an interesting correlation between what the agent represents as the public interest and what lines his own pockets.”

Allow me a few quick thoughts.

– There is much that “New Institutional Economics”, “Public Choice” economics and “Austrian” economics researchers and thinkers bring to the perception and understanding of our “commons.” See especially Nobel Prize-winning Elinor Ostrom and her husband Vincent and their enormously influential and collaborative research and thinking.

– Our commons are not “simply” the pervasive commons which are our physical environment and the ubiquitous, deep and extensive informal/formal institutions/practices/norms in which we all swim and that undergird all of our interactions. Our languages themselves are commons (which grammar Nazis provide a crucial and selfless function in protecting :P); so too are much of what I consider to be “social capital”. We are born wealthy, thanks to millions of years of evolution, and millennia upon millennia of social experimentation in myriads of changing environments.

– I am a practical commoner; I see much (but certainly not all) of the “libertarian” effort to structure principled bases for human interaction to be shallow, self-deluded and convenient for a few people who actually run the show. In this, libertarians are very much like (yet not as bad imho as) the statists who scorn them.

– There is something to the “self-ownership” concept, but “property” flows not from “principles”, but from MUTUAL ACCOMMODATIONS in particular societies/environments. As I said elsewhere:

“My key point is that it is cooperating individuals in societies with shared values, mores and customs who come up with “property rights” in the form of agreed practices that they find mutually suitable, not thinkers who are coming up with “principles”, and using them to tell others how stupid they are.

“Societies of cooperating individuals are the sine qua non of ALL property. Those who focus on the “principles” but ignore the need to build community are trying to grow trees at the risk of damaging the forest.”


– Much of what passes for “property” isn’t principled at all, but rammed down our throats by the 1% via “our” governments.

For example, without government-made corporations, our dialogue on what claims by others we should recognize as legitimate/worthy of respect would be much clearer.

Further, most of us fail to see that allowing our governments to claim ownership of our commons — whether physical ones like our public lands, waters, air and the resources within them, or less tangible ones like our self-defense, welfare, communities and the right to use and allocate our personal or shared financial resources — is in many cases simply a scam and a device to privatize and destroy our commons, which, left to our own devices without large central governments and bureaucracies, real life shows IN FACT that we are quite capable of managing collectively (after all, we live in and need our commons!).

The history of our governments is in fact one deep in the gore of the theft of the commons from native peoples and other commoners; see the “enclosure” movements, see the acquisition of and gaming of the allocation of US/state “public lands” for the benefit of the wealthy, see the ongoing #Avatar situations at home and abroad where central governments claim ownership, accept corrupt extraction deals from faceless govt-made “corporation” fronts for more elites, and then use their army/police etc. to arrest/steamroll/kill/starve protesting locals.

– even “self-ownership” is a shorthand and not absolute; societies all differ, but in none are infants/toddlers/juveniles accorded full rights to make their own decisions, and curtailed rights for others of limited mental capacity are similarly ubiquitous.

As “ownership” is essentially shorthand for what individuals, either alone or in groups, will act to defend, the ownership of oneself and personal physical objects differs only in extent (not nature) from the “ownership” of children, of commons, or even of friends or other community members.

I hope the members here will dedicate themselves to a better understanding of, and greater love and defense of, our many shared and overlapping commons.

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A note to Tom Woods:Mises & property (and commons & IP): Is libertarianism now "merely a veiled apologia for capital”?

July 25th, 2010 No comments

I refer to Tom Wood’s post on Mises’s Vision of the Free Society, regarding Ludwig von Mises‘s book, Liberalism.

I left the following comment (emphasis added):

TokyoTom July 21, 2010 at 4:11 am


I’ll need to take a look at this book; what can be covered in a book review is obviously limited.

However, I would note a few thoughts:

1. Even now, “to champion property is to invite the accusation that liberalism is merely a veiled apologia for capital”, as you note, and “The enemies of liberalism have branded it as the party of the special interests of the capitalists,” as Mises observed. This is the case not simply because people then as now do not understand how a market society functions, but for the very good reason that statism is running rampant, allowing the direct owners of capital and executives to cream profits while shifting risks to all of society.

This is undeniably the case with our financial sector, and also with the exploration and development of fossil fuel and mineral resources on land (and offshore) “owned” by government but leased to corporations. Further examples of the use of property by corporations in ways that benefit owners/executives but do identifiable harm to others are easily found; this is often coupled with the statism enabled by the growth of corporations, which growth was itself fuelled by the state grant of limited liability to the shareholders of corporations (limiting recovery not only by debtors but also by persons involuntarily injured by acts of corporations or their agents).

Unless Austrians are content to leave the criticisms of (and policy responses to) corporate excesses to socialists, Marxists and Keynesians – and to be dismissed as defenders of corporate statism – it may behoove us to raise our own voices more forcefully.

In this connection, I would note that Mises himself noted that property is imperfectly defined and leads to problems of external costs:

“Property rights as they are circumscribed by laws and protected by courts and the police, are the outgrowth of an age-long evolution. … The legal concepts of property do not fully take account of the social function of private property. There are certain inadequacies and incongruities which are reflected in the determination of the market phenomena. ….

“It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.”

2. Yes, private property greatly advances social cooperation (and may even be “the central pillar of modern civilization”), but private property is never perfect – and is supported by an array of collective institutions which order people’s market interactions – and there are many important resources that are not privately owned but which are open-access resources that must be managed collectively. I am not sure to what degree Mises has addressed such common resources, but they (and the effort to develop effective institutions to manage them) can be quite important, as was recognized by the award last year of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson:



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On ocean drilling, it's time for Ron Bailey, oil flack (and other libertarians), to meet Ron Bailey, "tragedy of the commons" guru and to stand up for the Oil Serfs

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

I was a bit critical in my last post of Ron Bailey’s suggestion that a gross “cost-benefit” analysis was a sufficient basis for supporting risky ocean drilling activities, without regard to the institutional structure (a government-managed commons) and incentives at play (profits accruing only to oil firms and royalties to government, but resource users facing downside risks with no rights to disapprove or exercise oversight).

Now I’m puzzled, because in a June 8 post at Reason Online Ron specifically acknowledges the very important research of Nobel Prizing winning political economist Elinor Ostrom (see my posts on the relevance of her work here) on the ability of communities of users to effectively manage commons resources and so to dodge the “tragedy of the commons” outlined by Garrett Hardin. Ron’s post makes particular note of the possibility of effective cooperative management of fisheries, in contrast to the tragically counterproductive  mismanagement by governments of collapsing fisheries and refers to an excellent study by libertarian law prof Jon Adler that is very relevant to the mismanagement by the federal government of marine resources in the Gulf. Here’s the salient port of Ron’s post (emphasis added):

The good news is that research shows that just talking can make Hardin’s logic of ruin anything but inevitable. In fact, historical research shows that Hardin’s overgrazed meadows are rare. For example, the tragedy of the commons didn’t occur in Medieval England because local herdsmen negotiated a set of rules (communication) and established enforcement mechanisms (punishment) to allocate access to scarce pasturage among themselves.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues have repeatedly found the same thing in their field work. All over the world, local people talked among themselves and worked out serviceable rules for protecting and benefiting from common pool resources, like streams, forests, and fisheries. Take the famous case of the harbor gangs among lobster fishers in Maine. Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers. This informal management results in a more sustainable fishery and boosts the incomes of the local fishers. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last fall found that local communities are much better at managing forest commons than are governments. In contrast to government management, local communal ownership boosted incomes and forest sustainability.

Ostrom previously noted that large studies from “around the world challenge the presumption that governments always do a better job than users in organizing and protecting important resources.” In fact, a 2002 study correctly noted, “The overall state of the world’s fisheries is much worse today than 45 years ago, even though most fisheries have come under government regulation in this period.” By preventing local people from talking among themselves, it is often the case that governments actually create prisoner’s dilemmas over resources that result in the tragedy of the commons.

Here’s to hoping that Ron and other libertarians start recognizing and elucidating  the very negative role that the government has played in the Gulf crisis, by preventing fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and the like from exercising control over the resources that sustain them, but has instead very tragically favored – and ineptly/corruptly overseen – oil companies, thereby skewing incentives, frustrating management between fishers and oil companies, and setting up directly the presently unfolding tragedy of the commons.

The problem that we see in the Gulf and other offshore drilling is very much akin to the “Avatar”-like problems of mineral exploitation elsewhere around the world: oil or other mineral extraction companies operate without extensive property rights but on the basis of government approvals, with the companies and governments/elites  reaping the rewards, but with non-consenting natives bearing all of the downside risks. Gulf coast fishermen and residents, meet the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, Nigeria, and New Guinea.

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A handy list of TT posts on BP, the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons, Corporations and Oil Serfdom

June 18th, 2010 No comments

For a preceding post, I put together an index to my posts to date, and  thought it might be useful to bump it up to a more neasily accessible stand-alone post.

In case anyone has missed it, I’ve done quite a bit of posting on the BP problem, in a manner intended to be fruitful (and not simply a noodge). Here are my posts, in chronological order:

Risk-shifting, BP and those nasty enviros (a response to Lew Rockwell)

Poor statists! If we close our eyes tightly enough, we can see clearly that Corporations are innocent VICTIMS, of governments that foist on them meaningless grants like limited liability & IP, and of malevolent, grasping citizens

Sheldon Richman doesn’t feel sorry for BP, either

Corporations uber Alles: Conveniently inconsistent on “abstractions” like “the environment”, Austrians overlook their preference for “corporations” over individuals,& their lack of interest in problem-solving

Persons-R-Us? Here’s someone’s interesting thought experiment: “What If BP Were A Human Being?”

Does it make any sense to treat corporations as “persons”, given the differences in incentives structures?

As BP’s oil spills into one of those inconvenient “ecosystems”, now even Reason TV rants about “dying oceans”

Time-out for some light humor on BP’s “ecosystem”: The BP Oil Spill Re-Enacted By Cats in 1 Minute!

Who’s at the short end of the stick when Government “Play[s] Fast and Loose with Civilization” in the Gulf of Mexico?

Ed Dolan on Other People’s Money: Government, Oil Spills, Financial Crises & Limited Liability

Scott Sumner misses government role in “sh*t happens”; epitomizes discussions of BP/offshore oil development

Kevin Carson says, “In a Truly Free Market, BP Would Be Toast”

More useful discussion by Carson, both on BP’s fate in a free market, and on the inept, feckless and captured regulatory state

Matt Yglesias, like many Austrians, misses the role of government in “Agency Problems and Corporate Misconduct”

A BP Reader: statist corporations, “the environment” and the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons

Sheldon Richman joins Gene Callahan in naively arguing that, IF man’s activities are responsible for climate change, we need not government but simply louder and more obnoxious enviros

As Callahan and Richman laud consumer/moral pressure on polluters, others tell us a BP boycott is stupid

Rand Paul: a caricature of libertarian views on energy

BP: Unless we are to get lost in legal fictions, like Harry Shearer we must look beyond the shareholder curtain

Such a big crisis, yet so few words? Scratching my head over sporadic, thin drive-by postings at LvMI on our growing BP/Gulf disaster

Oil-Serfs-R-Us or the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons: the puny Lousianna “Shrimp King” humbled by BP & the Feds

“Economic insight and analysis”? Statist voicepiece WSJ headlines Broken Window Fallacy nonsense: Oil Spill May End Up Lifting GDP Slightly!

Sad: in a numbskull post, “libertarian” Ron Bailey touts cost-benefit analysis as justification for offshore oil drilling, ignores issues of who benefits, who loses & who decides

On ocean drilling, it’s time for Ron Bailey, oil flack (and other libertarians), to meet Ron Bailey, “tragedy of the commons” guru and to stand up for the Oil Serfs

The Eve of Destruction: Excellent post on how Government and statist corporations like BP are stifling community responses to the unfolding Gulf disaster

Disturbing news/views on the manageability of the BP gusher

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Oil-Serfs-R-Us or the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons: the puny Lousianna "Shrimp King" humbled by BP & the Feds

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

The Guardian ran a story last weeks that illustrated some of the human costs of BP’s oil debacle. Lew Rockwell and Stephan Kinsella insist  that the legal fiction known as “BP” is the largest “victim”, but I find their moral clarity rather obtuse, if not perverted.

As men live and work in communities and make their livelihoods in coordinated activities, I’m not sure I agree with Stephan Kinsella’s insistence (in responding to my arguments that state-grants of limited liability to shareholders are unjustifiable and have significant pernicious consequences) that our focus in measuring responsibility must always be on individuals; I do, however, agree that such an examination may be quite helpful – even as I note how Lew, Stephan and others ignore their own prescription when rushing to defend massive, faceless organizations like “BP”, or when fulminating about evil, man-hating  (and corporate-funded) “enviro-fascists”.

With that in mind, I ran across the following article in The Guardian last week that presents human face of what “BP” (and its dirty partnership with the federal and state governments who have deprived users of natural resources of any rights to control such resources) has wrought in the Gulf (my emphasis):

BP oil spill ruined my life, says Louisiana shrimp king; Dean Blanchard’s firm used to account for 11% of the US shrimp supply. Now, he is reduced to supplying fuel and water to BP clean-up crews

(Susan Goldenberg, June 11)

Of all the folks in Louisiana spoiling for a fight with Tony Hayward, none perhaps brings more gusto to the challenge than Dean Blanchard, the local shrimp king.

The outer walls of the trailer office of his seafood empire are plastered with homemade signs reading “BP=Bayou Polluter” and “President Obama: BP took my business and my money.”

The frontroom is painted shrimp pink, and Blanchard is working himself up imagining what he would like to do to the BP chief executive if he ever got the chance: fist fight, public wrestling match, jail time?

“He took away everything I love most in the world. I am going to hunt that son of a bitch down like a ‘coon,” he said. “He wants his life back after all he has done to us? The hell with him.”

Then he speculates about peeing in the Queen’s water fountain. “What do you think would happen to me? I’d go to jail for that, and it would be relatively minor environmental damage.”

He may not immediately look the part in his faded shorts and blue vest and the jumble of buildings around the docks, but in the shrimp world, Blanchard is Hayward.

BP ranks in the top three oil companies; Blanchard says his are the third biggest shrimp docks in the world, with some 6,000 fishermen bringing him their catch. His company accounts for about 11% of the US shrimp supply.

In the pre-spill era, that would have put Hayward and Blanchard on near equal footing, he reckons. Oil and shrimp were the two poles of existence in this part of Louisiana. Offshore rigs and refinery tanks are as ubiquitous as fishing trawlers.

Blanchard had a foot in both worlds. One grandfather got rich on shrimp, establishing the business he now operates near BP’s local command centre. The other grandfather got rich from oil.

Now, with the gusher on the ocean floor and fishing banned in much of the Gulf, there is just oil clean-up. At the Sand Dollar marina, redeployed fishermen and shrimpers, hauling containment boom through the water instead of nets, share space with the coastguard and national guard.

The money is only a fraction of what it would be for a successful shrimp season and 2010 was shaping up to be a banner year.

“Every 10 years, when you get a cold winter, you get a really good shrimp crop,” Blanchard said. “We were licking our chops.”

On a good run, a big shrimp boat could earn $1m (£686,000) a day. The going rate for fishing for oil is $3,000, less for smaller boats – not a lot once divided among captain and crew. Several of the men say they have yet to be paid.

Blanchard says his losses are on a far grander scale. “I’ve lost $15m worth of sales in the last 50 days. That would have been $1m in my pocket,” he said.

A few of the big freezer boats are still going out, but Blanchard says he is reduced to selling BP fuel and water for its contract clean-up crews, and renting out dock space. By his terms, it’s a pittance and he has no idea when he will get back to work.

“What I make off of BP I could make in eight hours,” he said.

He is equally scathing of BP’s oil clean-up strategy. “I could take two 32oz Big Gulp cups from the 7-Eleven and do more than what they are doing,” he said.

Blanchard is far from the only angry man in town. The mayor, David Camardelle, was in Washington this week to testify before Congress. He nearly broke down. “The shrimp died. It’s a ghost town. The boom doesn’t work,” he said.

Around the corner from his operations, a family has erected 101 simple white crosses memorialising what has been lost to the spill.

There is sea food industry, with crosses for tuna, shrimp and oyster catches, but also “beach sunrises”, “seafood gumbo”, “redfish rodeo”, “family time”, “porch sitting” and “dog on beach”.

And for all his bluster, Blanchard is overwhelmed by the loss.

“I think I did everything right, and here this idiot came and didn’t know how to run his business and put me out of my business. People used to respect me in this town. Now I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what to do.”

I’ve yet to run across an LvMI post at all sympathetic to people to like Dean Blanchard, much less one in which a poster bothered to put a thinking cap on to make any useful suggestions, such as an insistence on rolling out “catch rights” for fishermen, and rights to veto or monitor petroleum exploration and development.

I note that I have already posted extensively on oceans/fisheries management; for interested readers here are links to some of those posts:

More later.

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A BP Reader: statist corporations, "the environment" and the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons

June 16th, 2010 No comments

For lack of a better place I left the following note on the moribund comment thread at Lew Rockwell’s May 5 “Feel Sorry for BP?” post:

TokyoTom June 16, 2010 at 2:41 am

It’s more than a little disappointing – given how serious the economic damage being wrought by the BP situation is, and the role of government and BP in the genesis of the problem – how unproductive this thread has turned out to be.

Here is more information and analysis for any interested Austrians out there:

My related blog posts (including comments on/links to posts by Sheldon Richman, Kevin Carson, Ed Dolan, Matt Yglesias, Scott Sumner and Shawn Wilbur) can be found here:

Roderick Long has links to various posts by others (Carson, Richman, plus Darian Worden, Gary Chartier, Alex Knight) here:

My posts on fish and ocean drilling are also relevant:



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Avatar, tragedy of the socialized commons and crashing salmon stocks; how the dirty hands of government destroy wild resources

February 17th, 2010 No comments

It’s a sad, sad story, now being played out practically wherever wild salmon stocks once were abundant. (This version refers to the Pacific Northwest, particularly to events in British Columbia).

First, national governments wrest control over salmon fisheries from native peoples, and eliminate low-level, community-based management systems.

With new socialized ownership, it becomes eternal “open season” on salmon and newcomers (whites or whatnot) go hog wild, resulting in the classic “tragedy of the commons” race to catch salmon before others do, without regard to others or to future harvests.

The state steps in to regulate take, banning nets at river mouths — smart fishermen take their nets to sea. Governments find themselves compelled to further regulate seasons and fishing gear, as fishermen who have no ownership stake in the resource look for ways to beat restrictions and to beat out competitors for unowned fish. Natives who don’t join in the race are left with ever slimmer takes.

As no one owns the salmon and has no legal rights that can be enforced against upstream users, governments build dams to benefit farmers (and nuclear bomb production sites and industry), and developers and loggers begin to trash streams and rivers. Reacting to howls from interested citizens, states begin to pass laws limiting the rights of property owners to use and manage their properties.

Governments get into the salmon hatchery business as salmon stocks start to plummet, and endangered species protection laws get passed. Loggers, developers, farmers and industries with cheap hydropower vent anger over “capitalism-hating” enviros and legislators, even as governments eager to please favored constituencies (farmers over natives, naturally) divert water in summer from dams to farmers, leading to large fish kills in lower and warmer rivers.

As fish stocks continue to fall, enterprising businesses get licenses from regional governments to “farm” salmon by raising them in pens (using ocean water flows, and catching and grinding up five pounds of other fish to raise one pound of salmon). Farms begin to proliferate – and begin to be seen by fishermen as externality-generating machines: farmed salmon become plagued with sea lice, which spreads to migrating wild populations, concentrations of salmon pollute neighboring waters, wild salmon populations begin to fall drastically, and other “feed stocks” of salmon are adversely affected.

Alarmed local people and adversely affected fishermen and natives organize, try to get consumers to stop buying farmed salmon, and go, hat in hand, to petition (1) governments to stop licensing new “farms” and (2) farms to adopt much more expensive methods that would seal of the farms from the wild environment. Salmon farming companies assert that they have rights to pollute, and no legal responsibility for damages suffered by others – that licensing regimes eliminated common-law rights to sue for nuisance, etc. Farmers tell governments to be “fair” and that governments should “co-invest” to subsidize any new farming methods.

Predictably, as wild salmon dwindle and temperatures rise, no one seems to wonder what things would be like if governments stopped trying to “manage” the salmon and playing the middleman, but found some way to recognize property/harvesting rights and to enforce basic common law rights against nuisance, and stepped out of the way.

I made some of these points in an email I sent today to some parties at interest:

I sent the following note to when I joined their mailing list; some of you might be interested:
Yes, one of your chief enemies are the salmon farmers, but the
real reason for the problem is that the government – and not the First
Nation or any other fishermen – owns the wild salmon.
As a result, the First Nations, commercial and sports fisherment
and other supporters of wild slmon and natural ecosystems have NO
direct rights to protect the wild salmon and are largely relegated to
feebly petitioning government (and the farming companies, whose
managers are obliged to care first and foremost for profits generated
for owners), and have little or no ability to directly sue the
salmon-farming interlopers whose pollution is damaging your livelihood
and the greater Northwest ecosystem.
This is exactly the problem we see with many other
government-owned/managed resources – in Canada, the US, China, the
Amazon, developing countries – and it’s why Elinor Ostrom was given the
2009 Nobel Prize in Economics
. Solutions regarding common resources lie
in resource users having recognized rights and an ability to bargain
with others in the community. Where governments own resources, then
they deny to those whose livelihoods and ways of life are at stake a
voice in their own present and future. (In the case of salmon, this has
deep, “Avatar”-like roots in the historical pushing aside of native
and resource management practices in favor of new,
Western-dominated governments.)
So, to First Nations and fishermen, I say – sue the farmers
directly for nuisance pollution – assert your rights! Don’t leave them
simply as another interest group petitioning government.
But also start pushing for direct, recognized property rights
in the wild salmon, which would end the “tragedy of the
commons” resulting from a free-for-all ocean take. Ending ocean take
and replacing it with traditional river-mouth-based harvests will
better protect the wild resource and give you stronger rights to make
claims on those upstream who poison and damage habitat. And take a page
out of the book of Target US, and organize a CONSUMER BOYCOTT OF ALL
FARMED SALMON. And work to eliminate all legislative grants to insiders of immunity to lawsuits for activities that damage the economic interests of others (i.e., that produce “nuisances”).

Strange But True IV: NOAA proves govt CAN learn – and seeks to end tragedy of commons in fisheries by implementing "catch share" quasi-property rights!

December 21st, 2009 No comments

Fellow libertarians, O Cynical Ones, you might be surprised to note that, at least in some cases, it MAY be possible to educate thick-headed and corrupt government bureaucrats and political appointees about the reasons for policy failures, and the government MIGHT even actually decide to cean up  its act. While the task may be difficult, it is apparently NOT impossible; there is a silver lining; and persistence may pay off in greater local authority.

The case in point? Signs of hope that the US government is learning from the painful lesson of many disastrously managed fisheries, and is starting to empower fishermen to self-manage that the resources on which they rely, by setting policies that favor “catch share” programs. (I have blogged on the fisheries “tragedy of the commons” a number of times; serious problems continue.) “Free-market” enviro-libertarians have been making the case for such changes for thirty-odd years or so.

(BTW, this is exactly the point that Elinor Ostrom has been making for years, and why she was awarded the Nobel prize in economics. Further, as I have previously noted, even mainline enviro groups – those enviro-facists – have been specifically calling for “catch share” programs as a way to slow the disastrous tragedy of the ocean commons.)

Here are excerpts from a December 10 online release bu the , “NOAA Encourages Use of Catch Shares to End Overfishing, Rebuild Fisheries and Fishing Communities”: (emphasis added)

NOAA released today for public comment a draft national policy
encouraging the use of catch shares, a fishery management tool that
aims to end overfishing and rebuild and sustain fishing jobs and
fishing communities
. In doing so, NOAA recognized that catch shares are
not a panacea or one-size-fits-all solution, but are a proven way to
promote sustainable fishing when designed properly at the fishing
community level.

“We have made great progress in rebuilding many fisheries, but more
than 20 percent of our fish stocks have not been rebuilt, and even
larger proportion of our fisheries are not meeting their full economic
potential for the nation,” Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.
“Catch shares is a tool that can help us realize the full economic and
biological benefits of rebuilt fisheries.”

Catch share
programs, which include Limited Access Privilege programs and
individual fishing quotas, have been used in the U.S. since 1990 and
are now used in 13 different commercial fisheries. Four new programs
will begin over the next year. 
NOAA estimates that rebuilding U.S.
fish stocks would increase annual commercial dockside values by an
estimated $2.2 billion, a 54-percent increase over current dockside
values of $4.1 billion, and help support jobs in the seafood industry
and across the broader economy.

“From Florida to Alaska, catch share programs help fishing communities
provide good jobs while rebuilding and sustaining healthy fisheries and
ocean ecosystems,”
said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce
for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Although this is a
national policy, our emphasis is on local consideration and design of
catch shares that take into consideration commercial and recreational
fishing interests.”

A catch share program differs from traditional fishery management by
dividing up the total allowable catch in a fishery into shares. These
shares are typically allocated based on historical participation in the
fishery. They may be assigned to individuals, cooperatives, communities
or other entities, who would be allowed to fish up to their assigned
Catch share participants also agree to stop fishing when they
have caught as much as they are allowed.

Under traditional
management programs, fishermen compete for a total allowable catch.
This has lead to fishermen racing each other to catch as many fish as
they can before the total catch limit is reached. This results in more
boats and gear than necessary, quotas being exceeded, increasingly
shorter fishing seasons, unsafe fishing and high levels of bycatch. It
also may result in too many fish brought to market at once, reducing
their market value to fishermen and coastal communities.

“Catch shares allow fishermen to plan their businesses better and be
more selective about when and how they catch their allotment, because
they know their share of the fishery is secure,”
said Dr. Jim Balsiger,
acting administrator of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
“They can plan their fishing schedules in response to weather, market,
and individual business conditions. Catch share programs help eliminate
the race to fish, reduce overcapacity and bycatch, enhance the safety
of fishermen and their vessels, and improve economic efficiency. They
also help ensure fishermen adhere to annual catch limits because the
value of their share is directly linked to the overall health of the
fish stock and its habitat.”

While catch shares are not
always universally embraced when they are first introduced, their
benefits have been well proven. “We fought against the program right up
until the time it passed,” said Alaska fisherman Rob Wurm, referring to
the halibut and sablefish catch share program, which began in 1995.
”But to my surprise, it really has worked well. It has created a lot of
stability, stopped the race for fish and changed the fishing
environment in ways that have made it safer and allowed us to avoid
bycatch.” …

Members of NOAA’s Catch Shares Policy Task Force, which includes
participants from each of the eight councils as well as NOAA experts,
provided significant input on the draft policy.

Among the policy’s components:

  • Development
    of a catch share program is voluntary. NOAA will not mandate the use of
    catch shares in any commercial, recreational, or subsistence fishery.
  • The
    individual fishery management councils will consult fishing communities
    to evaluate the data, effects, and enforceability of any potential
    catch share program before moving forward. In some cases, councils may
    find catch shares not to be the most appropriate management option.
  • NOAA
    will provide leadership and resources and work in partnership with
    fishery management councils, states and members of the public to help
    with the implementation of catch shares. This includes assisting
    fishing communities as they make the transition, and conducting
    regional workshops, online seminars, and other educational and outreach
  • Well
    thought-out and developed catch share programs will promote sustainable
    fishing communities by supporting good jobs, and promoting preservation
    of wharfs, processing facilities, and fuel and ice suppliers.
  • Catch
    share programs can be designed to set aside shares to allow new
    participants into the fishery, including new generations of fishermen,
    small businesses, or others.

NOAA encourages
those councils adopting catch shares to consider a royalty system to
support science, research and management as fisheries become more
profitable under the program. NOAA will also seek appropriated funds to
supplement what may be collected through cost recovery and royalties to
assist in the design, transition period and operation of catch share

Readers may note very close parallels between NOAA`s approach and the common principles for sucesssful management of open-access resources that Ostrom has identified.

Let`s hope that the US and other nations can use similar approaches to begin to manage any number of fisheries that are crashing or are under severe pressure around the world – due both to government-instigated commons problems and to races to catch fish in pelagic regions not subject to meaningful government control. We could use approaches that actually empower the fishermen, and end both government mismanagement and politicization and chaotic systems of widespread, roving and destructive “fish raiders”. The alternatives of fisheries that have crash and been placed under bans (under the CITES convention) and politicized deadlocks that we see for whales under the IWC are not very attractive.

So, we ARE making some progress.  Forgive me for suggesting that similar efforts by libertarians to play a productive role regarding energy policy might also eventually pay off?