A social system which aims to settle its consumption of resources within the ecological renewal of those resources, must remove the parasitic effects of enclosure. Enclosure bleeds productivity without a returning productivity and so is destructive to good house-keeping. Rent (a modern or post medieval concept) is entirely idle and has thriven by parasitism of labour. Sustainable economies must be based on the passing on of commons – received from ancestors and passed to descendants. Meanwhile, the modern rentier economy travels crazily towards both denial of resources to descendants and yet to an assumed, idle rent gathering bequeathed to increasingly-wealthy family beneficiaries. In the manner to which we’ve grown accustomed…
De-growth towards an economy of maintainable size can begin by a step by step divestment from what fossil fuels had once supplied. A steady-state economy must eventually settle within a central moral common – within the rule of return. We must replenish as we consume.
So the first steps are easily-defined. Commercial air travel, large container-shipping, suburbia, ring roads, motorways, super markets, family cars, industrial agriculture… – are all impossible to maintain without fossil fuels. We must shed them from our lives.
Another first step must be removal of the parasitic effects of property enclosure – in land, ideas, seeds, money-creation and status. I suppose our favoured (none violent) route may be less to remove enclosures, and more (if we can) to ignore them.
Following steps can only be partially visible – a part of the errors and trials of actually taking the steps. Learning to live together is always complex – to farm; trade; travel within the limited physics of our supply needs co-operation. And we need agreement in what we build. That is where shared moral commons become central to all that we do.
Let’s get things straight. Properties give right to irresponsibility. Commons give right to responsibility.
Although the most pernicious, land property is not the only enclosure. Others include intellectual property, money creation and status. Status commands rent without return.
I may be forced to take my £4 per hour to pay a lawyer’s £250 per hour – She extracts rent for status – well, let’s say, £240 per hour, allowing £10 for labour. Of course, this transaction wrecks my economy. Medical practitioner, dentist and so on, do the same to a smaller extent – but at a still destructive £50 to £100 per hour.
Those who extract such rents, often compound the economic destruction by investing in land property – to bequeath down a family line of rent extraction and further economic destruction!
Plainly, the extraction of rent for status is immoral. Commons would define it so. A law of commons would make it illegal.
Let’s be proud, not of what we have, but of what we do. Cultures are methods, not states. States protect a perennial anachronism.
Methods always have contemporary effects and so must adjust to changing times. They are always moral, because actions always have consequence.
In contrast, states (enclosed monopolies) have a single, blind moral – focused to protect a central amorality. They are morally fervent for the protection of the amoral state. The evidence of that blindness surrounds us in the rapidly accelerating effects of a climate change that are invisible to the singular focus of governments and corporations.
Moreover, the increasing size of monopolies is apparent in the growing distance between rich and poor. Monopoly (enclosure) swells by extracting the wealth created by ordinary labour.
In the UK, we’ve seen signs of hope in the popularity of the MP, Jeremy Corbyn. I think we can say he stands for the commons. We’ve also witnessed an opposite fervour from the monopolies to bring him down. This is not only from the billionaire-enclosed mainstream newspapers, but also from the supposedly impartial BBC and also from the strangely and newly “static” once left-wing newspaper, the Guardian. Both have been vitriolic.
To return to monopoly status, plainly, our rent extracting medical practitioner is not entirely parasitic. She may also be a hard-working moral being – so her role is complex. She lives, partly on a moral common and partly in an amoral enclosure. On the common she possesses the justified respect of the community of which she is a part and she also commands that aforementioned £10 per hour for her labour.
The common says that her rent demand above the £10 for her labour is immoral (anti-community). She can happily step out from the enclosure into the welcoming heart of the common. There, she’d find easy acceptance, happiness, but not what that rent could buy.
Not what that rent could buy – is at the heart of both community and of our current economic problem. It could be a marvellous slogan for the steady-state economy – Not what that rent could buy…
Had we not a rentier economy, would we have measured economic success by the sum of mere spending in GDP? Readers of this will be familiar with the folly of GDP as an economic guide. Such a sum indicates that natural disasters which may destroy homes and ordinary lives are a good thing – an economic stimulus. They appear in GDP as new surges in house building and repairs – and in funeral director’s bills. War and weapons manufactory are all very good for GDP. Yet disaster and war destroy assets and wreck lives. They create extreme unhappiness and collapse economies. Rent does the same in apparently gentler fashion – it shrinks assets and makes life difficult.
Have those who understand GDP’s stupidity as an economic indicator, also spotted that it is just the measure to be useful to the rent-setting of rentiers? Rent demands of status are part of a GDP-like carelessness and similarly pay no regard to the community’s economic well-being.
Commodification of food supply chains has assisted earlier land enclosure by sending many remaining, post- enclosure farmers to the city to seek what they can at the call-centre door – once at the factory gate. That cheap food also releases a higher proportion of wages for house rent, rentier energy supply and rentier consumer goods. Various enclosures manipulate towards increasing rent – seeking the optimum, maximum, bearable rent – blind to the economic pillage they cause.
Only the moral common can maintain a truly convivial economy and only the moral common can free ingenuity and dexterity to adapt cultural methods to the changing physics of supply. What’s more, only common ethics can regulate demand.
Life’s physics resists my tools, so that I come to a better understanding of both physics and tools…
Should I? Shouldn’t I? We ask those questions every minute of everyday life. They do not occur inside a monopoly. The only question inside a monopoly is – how can we best maintain the monopolistic state.
Meanwhile, it is not the monopoly which applies the monopolistic provision – It is we little people. For the most part, the last remaining farmers read instructions on the sides of pesticide and herbicide drums and do as they are told. They’ve no idea why. Many say, they are the “cutting edge” of their “industry” – applicants of the latest intellectual property. In any case, they add to GDP by their purchase of patented machinery, fertilisers and pesticides, and while being so few, become more aggressive in protecting the state of that rural way of life… It is true, their backs are to the wall.
The real economy has its back to the wall. Soon, climate change will wash much of what remains away. Climate change may even wash the rent away.
We’ll be struggling to reclaim commons then. It may be simpler to reclaim them now.
Everywhere, status foils our attempts to reclaim commons. Sometimes this is not to maintain the payment of rent, but to maintain influence.
I’ve personally encountered this in the academic world in which defended hypotheses have conferred a status to their proponents. Then, peer review gives to those ideas something like an intellectual property, but without the rental value.
It should be a scientific delight to argue the merits of a hypothesis. After all, every hypothesis has been proved to be wrong – nature is always more complex than the simplicity of our minds. Today’s peer-reviewed hypotheses will also be wrong. That is the virtue of the cultivated scepticism of science – knowledge of its perennial fallibility.
Professorships stand on past pronouncements and professors, being but little people (like all of us) defend their status from embarrassment, when they should have been delighted by a challenging thought.
Peer review, which could be a curious and helpful exchange of possibilities, has become a dangerous industry. I’ve written elsewhere of the now manipulated confusion between technology and science (The Music of Narcissus). Technologists contribute to the peer review system as though theirs is a science. Of course, and worse, most are commercial technologists. They often come from within the monopolistic interests of pharmaceutical, bio-technology and energy corporations and so on.
The intervention of such people is the intervention, to be blunt, of big money and rentier enclosure.
A genuine scientist, who holds to such and such a proposition may find it and his reputation (and the reputation of his institution) used by monopolies for their own ends. Research grants often flow from that direction. To have a hypothesis challenged, which may undermine the marketing of let’s say a certain herbicide, puts the human creature, our professor, under extreme and inhuman pressure.
A large chemical company will not attend to his protest that all hypotheses are fallible and will always be wrong in some way. They will not be curious about his notion that perhaps open-mindedness is the beauty of science in a world of brash stupidities… They will be even less pleased by his new position that perhaps a herbicide he’d once thought safe, should now be withdrawn from production.
In a sentence – The academic world, by its association with commerce, has been corrupted. Where necessary, it has been enclosed. Of course, many academics resist enclosure and it is possible that some institutions have done the same. Sometimes, to step back onto the common will enhance a reputation – and certainly that must be so among the truest of peers.
There is a hypothesis which has informed the climate calculations of the IPCC, the Paris Accord, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 (adopted as policy document for Welsh Government) and many others.
It says that we can burn a crop for a biomass boiler, return nothing to the soil at all and the following season’s crop yield will remain the same. Soil carbon will remain the same. Photosynthetic leaf area will be the same and in consequence, atmospheric CO.2 will remain unchanged having been absorbed in the same quantity of photosynthetic biomass.
That utter fantasy is defended tooth and nail by all academia. Had they read it, no farmer, or gardener would accept it. Yet nearly all farmers and gardeners do accept it because they have not read it. They assume that “the scientists” must be right. I write about this in the unpublished, End the Burning Begin the Growing. My counter hypothesis is probably mistaken in some way, but I present it as a spur to further thought. The truth is that, as a farmer, I know the IPCC calculations are not only wrong, but ridiculous. Nothing can replace experience. https://convivialeconomy.com/2016/07/05/ending-the-burning-beginning-the-growing/ I think it is another tragedy of the enclosures.
This particular enclosure is (I propose) a tragedy of epic proportions. It is the cause of the unexpected rapidity of climate change.
I am a farmer without academic peers and yet I and my farming peers know that crop yield cannot be maintained without a return of sufficient biomass to the soil. We can guess, with a fair certainty, that an attempt to do so will result in diminished soil biomass (soil carbon), reduced crop yield (leaf carbon), reduced photosynthetic power, and so increased atmospheric CO.2. That is even before burning the crop. That results in a greater climate change effect than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels release more or less the same CO.2 as biomass fuels, but in their case, untouched biomass continues to live and breathe. In the case of the mentioned hypothesis, the true peer review would have been between farmers. Growing crops is a technology – an art – not a science. Science has stepped outside its area of exploration to a place where it has no experience – and to me, no credence. Science has stepped out from innocence (where it belongs) to experience, where in this case it is creating terrible havoc.
We’ve seen how technologists have been disrupting the true scientific community. Is this Science’s revenge – by disrupting the true technological community?
Outside a farmer’s knowledge of good husbandry, even a historian could easily point out the folly of the biomass burning hypothesis. Here’s the pillaged soils of Rome. There is Easter Island. Here’s the blowing dust of Oklahoma…
Anyway, this passage is written in despair.