Capitalism 3.0: a guide to reclaiming the commons
by Peter Barnes.
Barnes is a successful capitalist who believes capitalism in its present form is gravely flawed, yet he does not look to the state for correction. He sees the first phase of capitalism as one of shortages where demands exceeded supply of goods. Around 1950 this changed and now we are in capitalism 2.0, a time of excess goods and a shortage of buyers. This phase is characterized as being global in scale, abundant credit, ubiquitous advertising, and negative externalities (shifting trues costs to future generations or other countries for polluting, to take one example). He discusses the influence that capital has on the political process and cites three pathologies that come from what he calls "the anachronistic software that governs capitalism": destruction of nature, widening of inequality, and the "failure to promote happiness despite the pretense of doing so. "
Changing capitalism to address these problems is a long term project (30 to 50 years). Central to this is the reality of the commons. The main danger to the commons is enclosure which benefits a few and takes from many. For instance, taking water from a river or lake and dumping pollutants after an industrial process. Barnes sees a need to expand the number of variety of commons that already exist--or could, given sufficient public will and legislative changes. Some of the common resources include those in nature (forests, the air, and water) but also the radio spectrum, aspects of culture and knowledge, an equitable health care system, the Internet, and social security. He devotes a large part of the book to explaining how these might work, their relation to corporations, and the need for birthrights for people in various commons. On a small scale the Alaska Permanent Fund is a good example of a variation on a land trust. Residents of the state get an annual payment from the payments into the state coffers by the oil companies drilling on Alaskan land. In 2006 the sum was $1106.96.
I enjoyed the chapter on sharing culture because a theme of my work since 1990 has been the desire to digitize and spread all sorts of digital information and works. This is being carried on in different places, notably by the Internet Archive, collectives in Europe and Asia (some of whom believe intellectual property is an oxymoron), and various "open" projects supported by foundations like Hewlett, Sloan, and the Open Society Institute. The underlying infrastructure to store and move this information is based on the Internet, ever cheaper storage (hard drives, optical discs) and low cost access to these resources. The unlicensed public spectrum has become extremely popular in the countries where it is legal. Wi-fi is just one example of this spectrum commons.
Just as I was reading the chapter on "Building the Commons Sector" I was wondering what Second Life would be like were it not a commercial enterprise run by a dot com. What if it were more like Burning Man where different rules apply to those participating. Barnes talks about his son playing Sim City and wonders what Sim Commons would be like. His diagram of the new commons sector included managed global commons, lists of national, regional, and local ones, as well as open cultural commons. His final chapter encourages each of us to get involved, and I think back to my own work from the late 80's to the mid-90's with electronic community networks which I called "electronic greenbelts" alluding to the no-build zones in urban areas that were, in effect, commons even though nobody was grazing sheep. These were not entirely successful, but they did pave the way for involvement in other projects for public access and the current wave of municipal and rural wireless networks being deployed.
I hope this book is read and critiqued, especially by social activists who are critical of capitalism. I look forward to their reactions.
Barnes and his publisher agreed to distribute a free version of this new title, yet they hope it will be a commercial success through the sales of the hardback version. Certainly, it is cheaper to download the pdf file, skim it on screen, but to read the whole version, most will prefer reading a printed format and not on a pda or mobile phone or even a large LCD screen.