From Private Goods to Common Wealth
“Res Publica” once guaranteed the public’s welfare with shared ownership of resources. In just a few generations, the stewards of our common wealth turned the tables, stealing and selling our shared inheritance. It’s time for a return to our roots.
The idea that the land on which we live belongs to no one—which is another way of saying, to everyone—is as old as we are. The biosphere is, after all, both ubiquitous and ancient. We were born into its bounty, and simultaneously forced to find our way in a wilderness—one that provided everything, but required our collaboration in order to survive it, and thrive.
When the Dutch bought Manhattan Island in 1626 for 60 guilders from a group of indigenous Lenape who used it only for hunting, and for harvesting wood to fashion bows from hickory trees (called “manaháhtaan”), the locals had no idea that they were granting more than access to this shared resource, and would no longer be permitted to continue there practices there.
To the Lenape, the concept of “ownership” didn’t exist. In fact, to most pre-industrial tribes, common wealth was the only way resources were understood, with trade being reserved for external communities.
Privatization and exclusivity weren’t allowed to take root in the world’s indigenous cultures precisely because they undermined the prevailing societal constructs that had led communities to a state of physiological and socio-emotional balance. Equal access and the sharing of resources cemented their stability.
Before the modern era, “It takes a village” was more than a platitude.
That’s because what was bad for one person was bad for the group.
Enter the cooperative.
When roving tribes evolved into fixed villages, we brought what worked with us. That included the notion of shared prosperity, because there was no better motivation for putting forth one’s best efforts than the guarantee of sharing in joint successes, from which everyone benefited. There were three reasons for this. First, we are…