Capitalism 3.0 – A New Way To Think About What We Own

I’ve just finished a very interesting book, Capitalism 3.0, A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons, by Peter Barnes. The book talks about ways we can restructure our laws and rules of ownership to cover who should pay for polluting and other harmful things — costs that our current system ignores and even encourages. The change is based on our realizing that we all own certain things in common.
Here’s a quick way to understand the ideas in this book:
Suppose you live next door to a sawmill operation. The owner makes lots of money, but aa waste product, sawdust, is building up on his lot. This big pile of sawdust is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s getting to the point that he’s going to have to shut down his profitable operation if he can’t find some place to dump some sawdust. So one day he comes to you and asks if he can dump some sawdust in your back yard. You answer, “If you give me $25,000 a year, each year you can dump 5 truckloads, but no more, in my yard.” You are $25,000 richer, you limited the sawdust to a level you could tolerate, and the sawmill can continue to operate and make money.
This happened because you “own” that property and have the “right” to refuse to let others make money by dumping their waste in it – or to negotiate for some of the resulting profits. This sounds so basic – but there is a reason I put quotes around the words “own” and “right.” The concepts of ownership and rights only exist because they are granted to us by law, and laws are nothing more than creations of government. It didn’t used to be that way, that regular people could “own” things and have “property rights,” but people thought it would be a good idea, and made it happen. And in America it is set up that we can do things like that because, guess what, WE’re the government. (It says that in our Constitution.) More on this later.

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Centrists, Leftists, Etc.

There is a lot of talk about “the center” and “centrists.” Lots of people say the blogs are on the left.
To put this in perspective, when and where is the last time you heard anyone talk about nationalizing the oil companies? That would be a “leftist” proposal.
After all, the oil companies do not “own” the oil any more than anyone can own the air or the water. They are extracting OUR resource, under license from US to operate, and as corporations are granted limited liability by US. In exchange, they are supposed to be serving the public interest. A discussion about whether they are serving the public interest might involve questions about how much they are setting aside to cover the costs of putting carbon into the air, or to pay for research into transitioning away from fossil fuels a they start to run out, how much they pay their employees, and other ways that WE might benefit from allowing them to extract OUR resource. So obviously, they are not serving the public interest.
A broader discussion would ask whether we need to reform the corporate system into something that really does serve the public interest…
The fact is, “leftist” arguments are not even part of our national discussion. Without that perspective in the discussion, it can’t really be said that there even is a “center,” can there? And without ALL sides contributing to the marketplace of ideas, how can society arrive at solutions that incorporate the best ideas from all the different perspectives?
(Cross-posted at the Commonweal Institute Blog.)