Review: Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions)

6 Star Special, Best Practices in Management, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Civil Affairs, Civil Society, Complexity & Resilience, Consciousness & Social IQ, Economics, Education (General), Environment (Solutions), Information Society, Intelligence (Public), Intelligence (Wealth of Networks), Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Survival & Sustainment, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Elinor Ostrom

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Star Collective Common Sense Relevant to CYBER-Commons Not Just Earth Commons, May 27, 2014

I read this book shortly after I had read Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance (Spectre) and my first impression is that the book should be re-issued in 2015, a quarter-century after it was first published, with additional material on how everything here is applicable to governing the cyber-commons. I have to recommend the two books together — STOP THIEF lays down with deep historical and multi-cultural foundation that gives GOVERNING THE COMMONS even more credibility — and for those that do not realize, this book earned the author a Nobel Prize in Economics.

On that note, I would point out that this book crushes the traditional explanations for why the state or the firm are superior decision-making alternatives to bottom-up citizen common sense. This book is also consistent with the LOSING proposal to the Club of Rome that recommended we focus on educating the global public (a universal bottom-up approach). As well now know, the Club of Rome chose the wrong solution, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, because is assumed that top-down mandated measures were the only measures that could be effective.

I am posting to the image section for this book a depiction of bottom up long term consensus thinking versus top down elite mandate thinking, something I created in the 1990’s after reading Human scale. Subsequently I read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and many other books focused on collective intelligence and they all, without exception, support this author’s premise that the only sustainable effective decision-structures for very complex and constantly changing environments are those that blend LOCAL observation, LOCAL rule-making, and LOCAL monitoring and enforcement.

Two recurring themes across the author’s case studies characterized by SUCCESS deal with information on the one hand and learning on the other.

01 INFORMATION — lots of it, very detailed, in real-time, constantly updated, always shared, is the heart of getting it right. In every instance where successful Common-Pool Resources have been managed ably, there has existed an information advantage that cannot be replicated by corporations or governments.

02 LEARNING — always incremental, always trial & error, always with pooling and blending of local and scientific knowledge.

A major recurring theme across the case studies characterized by FAILURE is that of FEAR OF THE FUTURE. What this means is that the affected population is so afraid of the future and so untrusting of their local government that they heavily discount the future and are ready to violate norms and take all they can in the here and now. Fear — and ignorance — destroy the future by destroying human interest in and commitment to the future. Others, such as Col Dr. Max Manwaring, have written ably on how critical it is for governments to retain legitimacy, see his still hugely important edited work, The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

I am charmed throughout by many turns of phrase, but one of the most impressive for me is that organization is a PROCESS not an institution, and that the best processes are those that optimize collective information-sharing, collective decision-making, so as to achieve collective benefits.

I put the book down with four powerful take-aways:

01 Starting point for understanding any governance challenge is with the resource itself — the Earth itself. If you fail to exercise due diligence and earnestly collect, process, and analyze all relevant information about that resource, the rate at which it is being drawn down, and all possible causes and effects, then you are destined to get it wrong.

02 When due diligence IS done, the general trend is to achieve the SHOCKING discovery that the resource is being overdrawn by 200% — instead of a sustainable 100%, the draw, on water, for example, is 300%. Establishing this fact and sharing the information broadly is the single best thing that can be done in any situation.

03 In all success cases, stable long-term populations are vital and REPUTATION is a critical resource all by itself. What this means is that the current failed state environment where elite looting of commonwealths is all too common and the “First World” states accept massive displacement of populations as part of the cost of enabling predatory corporate looting of resources, is in fact counter-productive all around. We are killing a part of the Golden Goose when we sever the century-long ties of a population grounded in specific climes and places. See also Philip Alcott’s brilliant The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State. The author speaks of “human artisanship” as a major resource, I join that with reputation and individual human abilities to think and observe and think forward.

04 TIME MATTERS. The sooner you can get the truth on the table for all to see, the lower the cost of remediation once consensus is achieved, the sooner you can get sustainable practices established.

The book ends with the author concluding that all the prevailing modesl (in 1990 but I would say also today in 2014) “have the peverse effect of supporting increased centralization of political authority.”

Here are two books on why centralization — and the corruption that comes with it — is so terribly wrong:

Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

And here are two books on public wisdom and sacred economics as an alternative:

Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics (Manifesto Series)
Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition

This book merits a revival, only this time, with a forcing function that brings it to the attention of all those engaged in the battle for the soul of cyberspace. As a proponent myself for an Autonomous Internet and Liberation Technology I have a natural bias — I also have hugh faith in the average individual citizen, and confidence in what Vaclav Havel calls “the power of the powerless.” We are not powerless. We are ROOT. It’s time we lived up to that glorious responsibility.

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability (2010)

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