Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Customs in Common - Goldman

Goldman’s piece on the commons in an incredibly large, comprehensive, reflexive and retrospective look at the many different views and ideologies that plague the commons to this day; He takes several different views, distills them down and produces a piece that makes sense. Starting with Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons”, weaving through then to Human Ecologists who use field-based science to identify the surviving features of the commons tenure systems and resource-management institutions. Onward to then ties in the World Bank and its Developmental Experts who’s main goal is to find the problem and “fix it” or follow a more policy oriented path, and then bringing the scope of the issue full circle with GRM’s (Global Resource Managers) who take a global stance on the “degradation that threatens to imperil all life on earth”.


“Custom’s in Common” is what I find to be Goldman’s breaking down of the complexities and bringing the information on the commons to the masses in a piece of literature that is vastly more interesting to read and far easier to understand. He, for me, took every aspect of the commons in which there may have been a question and adequately explained what each private sector is attempting to do about a global degradation of social and ecological institutions (ie: the commons).

Shifting through each page Goldman has written reminds me just how much I love being a Marxist, down deep in my soul. Human Ecologists do work from a local perspective by shying away from the power elite. In doing so they are on one hand aiding the problem with temporary solutions but on the other hand only masking a bigger issue. Once their aid is no longer sustainable it is wiped away and they must start with a fresh slate to again produce temporary solutions.

>Developmental Experts step in to “fix” the problem, as state above. This is where the use of policy making and power elite come into play. This is the idea that the problem can be resolved with an increased amount of paperwork and spending. While the World Bank does have its heart geared in the right direction there is a horrible misuse of the resources which could possibly pose a solution. To me, Goldman hits the nail on the head when he says, “… like so many other Bank-financed projects trying to develop common lands, developers “proceed in the absence of a clear understanding of the sociological context and institutional arrangements (including property rights) on the ground.”” (9). Yes, exactly.

Global Resource Managers (GRMs), aptly labeled: expert “world watchers”, take the issue to the next level, the global level. When looking at the issues from a global perspective hordes and hordes of new and fascinating ideas, risks, pitfalls and cataclysmic disasters begin to appear. They are looking globally at the degradation of global commons and proposing effective solutions for the GLOBAL issue. However once again capitalistic interests run rampant through solutions because how else are we expected to solve the problems but to spend, spend, spend?!

This section of the literature is where it becomes visable that the GRMs interests are to push what is ALSO a Northern problem on to Southern countries. This is made clear as day in respect to the WRI and their framing of global warming as a Third World problem. Goldman writes “…By neglecting to distinguish between “luxury emissions” such as air conditioners and automobiles in rich capitalist countries and “survival emissions” from rice and milk production in poorer capitalist and socialist countries…” (20). Compelling information, however, shocking? Not so much.

Goldman’s conclusion really sealed the deal and brought all of the information together in my brain. Natural and human processes are largely wrapped up in the world’s Gross Domestic Product. Everything is judged based on capital, the economy, competition, et cetera. Capitalism sucks.

The End.


  1. It seems to me that the problem is that everyone defines the commons differently. Goldman says that, "commons tragedyists and anti-tragedyists alike ignore the temporal and spatial dialectics of the lifeworlds they claim to know, and those they inhabit." People who study this problem aren't looking at the whole picture. If both tragedysits and anti-tragedyists looked deeper into the problem then they may be able to come up with a solution. Even if they do come up with a solution it's going to be difficult to get people to listen. Americans freak out when things change....a majority of them like capitalism and don't see the problems it brings.

  2. The two critical reviewers did a very nice job in laying out what the article had to offer and what the authors main points were. The commons crisis is trying to be solved by various types of groups, which are the human ecologists, the development experts and the GRMs. Like we have learned, it seems that no one group has any real truly altruistic solutions and they usually make this extremely complex problem into something that seems utterly simple.
    One of the main problems, as I see it, is trying to form these technological solutions for these commons problems. It is both amusing and depression to hear about these new tech solutions that will without a doubt lead to a new set of problems which will then need another solution to fix.

    Another interesting thing to point out is that many of these developers who try and solve this commons crisis often are placing blame on individual actions of those who live in the global south and that don't have the resources to do much. These developers solution is to privatize the commons in the 3rd world. And what would be the purpose of this? Ohh, to foster capital growth. Its always about capital it seems. We can never do something that would actually be helpful to the planet unless it is going to make a few people some money.

    Another important thing the author points out is the reason for so much interest in the commons. Money! the commons problem has promoted many social movements which might hinder the workings of the state, economy and development. And the depredation of the planet will also invariably threaten the reproduction of capital. God forbid to say that is might also threaten human life, but what I have learned is that capital far outweighs human life. I am with the others who say that capitalism sucks/is a jerk.

  3. I also agree with the comments on money hunger solutions that become potention options to privatize the commons in 3rd world countries. The developers point fingers on the global south and attempt to blame 3rd world countries by stating that they do not utilize resources to stabalize the commons tragedy. The new technological solutions will produce more problems which will result in a cyclical process most people do not want to participate in. Its depressing to know that individual lives are being measured on a scale that is being outweighed by money invested capitalism.

  4. Goldman points out that instead of actually trying consciously to solve environmental issues there seems to be an effort to provide solutions that will never actually work. Development in the name of capitalism is the solution provided...but only really worth while for the people who are the developers. Whenever we see one of these issues presented in an article, it seems to be the people that really have no clue what to do, that are the ones making decisions. Really? And no one ever asks what the residents of the south think would be a good idea?

    These think tanks are where ethnocentrism is derived, these people say that the commons are the problem and that we can sum it all up in numbers, and that those numbers outweigh the worth of the people in the south. Capital Growth is the name of the game with a side of Jeffersonian Politics in the mix as well, blame the little guy, after all, he is one of the ignorant ones.