We Need to Restore an Economy for the Common Good

The commons is not a winner-takes-all economy, but an all-take-the-winnings economy

Douglas Rushkoff
Sep 3 · 3 min read
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Photo: Graiki/Getty Images

The economy needn’t be a war; it can be a commons. To get there, we must retrieve our innate goodwill.

The commons is a conscious implementation of reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruists, whether human or ape, reward those who cooperate with others and punish those who defect. A commons works the same way. A resource such as a lake or a field, or a monetary system, is understood as a shared asset. The pastures of medieval England were treated as a commons. It wasn’t a free-for-all, but a carefully negotiated and enforced system. People brought their flocks to graze in mutually agreed-upon schedules. Violation of the rules was punished, either with penalties or exclusion.

The commons is not a winner-takes-all economy, but an all-take-the-winnings economy. Shared ownership encourages shared responsibility, which in turn engenders a longer-term perspective on business practices. Nothing can be externalized to some “other” player, because everyone is part of the same trust, drinking from the same well.

If one’s business activities hurt any other market participant, they undermine the integrity of the marketplace itself. For those entranced by the myth of capitalism, this can be hard to grasp. They’re still stuck thinking of the economy as a two-column ledger, where every credit is someone’s else’s debit. This zero-sum mentality is an artifact of monopoly central currency. If money has to be borrowed into existence from a single, private treasury and paid back with interest, then this sad, competitive, scarcity model makes sense. I need to pay back more than I borrowed, so I need to get that extra money from someone else. That’s the very premise of zero-sum. But that’s not how an economy has to work.

The destructive power of debt-based finance is older than central currency — so old that even the Bible warns against it. It was Joseph who taught Pharaoh how to store grain in good times so that he would be able to dole it out in lean years. Those indentured to the pharaoh eventually became his slaves, and 400 years passed before they figured out how to free themselves from captivity as well as this debtor’s mindset. Even after they escaped, it took the Israelites a whole generation in the desert to learn not to hoard the manna that rained on them but to share what came and trust that they would get more in the future.

If we act like there’s a shortage, there will be a shortage.

This was section 50 of the new book Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff, which is being serialized weekly on Medium. Read the previous section here and the following section here.

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From Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff. Copyright © 2019 by Douglas Rushkoff. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Team Human

Team Human is a manifesto — a fiery distillation of…

Douglas Rushkoff

Written by

Author of Team Human, Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://medium.com/team-human

Team Human

Team Human is a manifesto — a fiery distillation of preeminent digital theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s most urgent thoughts on civilization and human nature.

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