Sunday, April 5, 2015

Our Whole Economy is Actually about, and Based on, Commodification of the Commons

Comment by Stefeun

The comment is developed into an article published at Doomstead Diner:

Ongoing Commodification of the Commons
In previous post, my point about the ongoing “Commodification of the Commons”, was to highlight that the capitalism is trying to find new resources, as standard/traditional ones are depleting.
In fact, looking at it in a broader view, our whole economy is actually about, and based on, commodification of the commons:

– the primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining) takes what is “given by Nature” (i.e. for free), and exchanges it for claims on whatever has been given a price (i.e. money). 
The cost we take into account is only the amount of energy spent for extraction (wether it is hours of human labor or barrels of oil or kWh), the matter itself is counted zero. Both matter and energy are considered infinite (!!!).

– then the secondary sector (manufacturing) turns it into refined or consumer goods or tools, and the tertiary sector (services) helps dispatch the stuff and information.

Each and every single operation is using energy and generating waste (entropy).
The waste isn’t taken into accout and “the economy” considers that either Nature, or the Society as a whole, should take in charge the burden of recycling it or making it disappear no matter how (the size of the dustbin must be infinite too!).

Of course most of this waste doesn’t just disappear (cannot quickly reintegrate the natural cycles) and isn’t recycled, even when possible, because doing it requires energy (often more than the valuable output could buy) and therefore is accounted as a net cost nobody wants to take in charge. This process is transforming the Earth into a huge garbage can.

Back to the main point, what we call “the economy” is thus a process of appropriation, which first step consists in taking hold of something that primarily doesn’t belong to anybody, for a private profit*. 
Such a system can work as long as sufficient resource is available for all, and requires only a reasonable effort (i.e. low energy cost) to extract it. As soon as there’s a risk of scarcity, the rules of property prevail and there’s a fight over the resource (arable land, fresh water, mineral ores, fossil fuels as required in bigger quantities to compensate the depletion, etc..).

These property laws are becoming overwhelmingly important as we’re approaching the limits. It started with “this land is mine”, continued with “this subsoil is mine”, “this water is mine”, (by the way progressively shifting ownership from public to corporate, see e.g. landgrabbing), and then -because of diminishing returns- is currently expanding to patents on the living, rights on species, intellectual property, information (big data), etc..?

All these are examples of new resources, enlarging the pool of valuable ones, IOW privatization of whatever-can-be, aiming to -at least- compensate the decline of traditional ones, if not feed the mandatory growth.

The problem here is that the laws of diminishing returns also apply to the energy, most of it being fossil fuels for which we don’t have any substitute nor expandable source.
So, in the end of the day, finding new “fields to mine” is pointless (not to mention dangerous), since we won’t have the sufficient energy to exploit them.
*: Michael Parenti, in “Against Empire” (, states it as follows:

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.” 
(also quoted in

IMHO, capitalism is undeniably speeding up the whole process, especially when financialized, but I’m not sure that another system would have given a better result in the long run, unless it would have considered that the resource is finite (the only net input in our system is the energy from the sun, all the rest is -or should be- recycled), taken into account the waste management (entropy production), and deeply questioned the property rules (to promote cooperation and avoid wealth concentration). 
Unfortunately, this is an utopia, because the winner is always the one who burns most energy, according to the MEP-principle (Maximum Entropy Production, aka 3rd Laws of TDs, F.Roddier/R.Dewar), or the simpler MPP (Maximum Power Principle, as described by Jay Hanson in

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